Repairing Damaged Environments and Bearing Witness Against Police Brutality (Ethen Perkins — Part 1)

Sylvia: It’s May 18th, 2017 and I’m interviewing Ethen Perkins. Activism has not been your main career. What have you done most of your life?

 Ethen: Most of my life I was an environmental consultant working on various projects. Some of them involved neighborhood groups who were protesting against something that was happening in their neighborhood that they didn’t like. Some of them were also government agencies or private individuals or companies or developers. So, I kind of worked with all different kinds of people. I suppose in that phase of my life, my advocacy was mainly for things like endangered plants and wetlands and habitats for endangered animals and things like that. That would be who I thought was my client really.

The plants were your client?

 I would be trying to satisfy their needs. So, I got into restoration of habitats and kind of bringing things back and that was a very fun and rewarding part of the work that I did. The great part about that was that once I had achieved a restoration it was sort of like the work disappeared. People saw this great spot and they didn’t realize that before there was a bunch of landfill or something that had been removed. The reward was to kind of have my work disappear. And to know that the plants were doing better than they were before. There were more of them or the animals had habitats and so on. That was lovely work. I enjoyed it greatly.

What kind of training did that require?

 Well, I got a PhD. in Botany from the University of British Columbia. The coursework I did in ecology and environmental things was what I used most of my career. I did that for years. For a while I was directing an environmental field station in Southeastern Oregon. And I had a place called Malheur Field Station, which was right next to the wild refuge.

Oh, is that the place where recently there was a long confrontation with armed militants who opposed federal control of the refuge?

 Yeah. That’s the same place. When I was there the previous director had riled up the local ranch communities with the book that he published called, “The Sacred Cows at the Public Trough.”

The years that I was there was kind of like mending fences with the local ranching community. But, also continuing to advocate for the environmental nature of the wildlife refuge and the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] lands and so on that were around there. Mainly because the field station depended on bird watchers and naturalists and botanists and so on coming to see things like Steens Mountain and the fantastic bird life on the refuge and all that.

It was also fun and interesting working with natural history groups and school groups to appreciate the value of the vast marshes that were out there. And the fact that they harbored larger numbers of successful sandhill cranes than most other places, for instance. Taking school kids out to see sage grouse, leks, and the strutting and so on.


 Leks. Which are clusters of males trying to interest females in reproduction. They are in decline throughout the West really, and probably eventually will be on the endangered species list unless something changes. They lose a lot of their habitat to ranching interests that remove the sagebrush. Or fires that remove the sagebrush. It takes a long time for it to come back. I became very much an advocate for that.

And then I worked for some years as a land steward for the Nature Conservancy for the state of Iowa. I would go from one little patch preserve in the midst of cornfields and soybean fields to another one a hundred miles away and see if I could figure out how to protect the orchids or whatever was in those little patches of remaining natural areas. And then I would burn the prairies so that the orchids would come back stronger.

You personally burned the prairies?

 Yeah, I did. I would make the plan for it and then gather volunteers together and we’d go out and say, “Well, we’re gonna burn this section of the prairie this time.” And then I would come back later and look and see what had happened to orchids and things like that. So my activism was really associated with environmental concerns for years. Sometimes I would map people’s wetlands and help them figure out if there was room on their property to build a house without hurting the wetlands or what they might have to do if they did need to put a road through to the wetlands — things like that.

I usually ask people about their childhood, their beginnings. What made you an activist in the first place?  Also, since I know you are a Quaker now, have you always been a Quaker?

 No. When I went to Canada, at graduate school I started. I became a Quaker inside myself. I was being drafted into the Vietnam war and in various ways, I knew that war was wrong and got some counseling suggesting that I look at my religious views of war. I read through the New Testament and realized that’s not what Christianity is about. I’m a Christian and that means that I need to be a pacifist. It was clear that those people that are Christians and justify war aren’t really following what the text says, in my opinion.

Well, certainly in the Old Testament there’s a lot of glorification of all these great warriors.

 Right, right. But, the real battle is an internal one not an external one. And external wars are not what Christ was advocating in any way.

So, what was your upbringing?

 I grew up in various different Christian denominations, winding up being a confirmed Lutheran and going to a Lutheran college for a while, which is where I got into the Urban Studies program. And wound up graduating from the state school in Oklahoma. So, that was my background up until the realization that I was a pacifist. And that as a Lutheran I didn’t stand a chance of not going to prison if I had gone in front of the Tulsa draft board, which is where I was. There was evidence from other people who were Quakers, and Amish and Mennonites who had been told, “No, you can’t be a conscientious objector.”

Was your family religious?

 My dad wasn’t tremendously religious and my mother has always gone to some sort of mainstream church of one kind or another. I’m the oldest of four kids. Amongst my brothers and sisters there’s a wide spectrum — everything from agnostic to very fundamentalist, literalist kind of interpretations of the Bible. My brother believed in faith healing, and was a member of the Christian cult called the Children of God, for years, pentecostal type. I’m the only one that’s Quaker. It’s been an individual journey there, for sure.

So, I thought, well, as just a Lutheran, there’s not a chance in the world that my draft board won’t draft me, in which case I’m gonna have to go to prison. But before I met the draft board to go in front of them with my papers, which I had already submitted to them, Nixon ended the draft. So, the draft board never called me before them.

[laughs] That was good luck!

 Yeah. But, anyway, then when I went to Canada, I had read about Quakers and I thought, I just need to go to a Quaker meeting and see what this is about. And when I did, sort of like immediately, I thought oh yes, this is a place that I could call a spiritual home.

Before I went to Canada, I had started out with several other different degree plans and was in Chicago just after the 1968 demonstrations and riots during the Democratic Presidential Convention. I went to Chicago for an Urban Studies program in the aftermath of all that and that was when there was the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial.

Now, when you say Chicago Seven, are you talking about the enormous protests against the nomination of Hubert Humphrey?

 Yes. There were enormous protests and in the aftermath of that, Abbie Hoffman and Bobbie Seale and several other people were arrested and charged with conspiracy to riot.  During the trial, I witnessed the demonstrations and marches that were going on outside of the Federal Building. For instance, there would be a group of onlookers and then there’d be a cluster of Black Panthers marching in one direction shouting their slogans, and in the opposite direction, marching parallel to them, was the American Nazi Party. So, it was kind of an extreme kind of rhetoric of those two groups mixed in with what was going on up in the courtroom where Bobby Seale was bound and gagged to a chair so he couldn’t protest. He couldn’t express his opinions about the whole process.

 William Kunstler [a leading radical defense attorney at the time] was their lawyer. The day I got to visit the trial was the day that Allen Ginsberg testified. And he said, “Well, the people were getting kind of upset so out in Lincoln Park I tried to calm them down. I got them all to sit down and we started chanting the mystic syllable.” And Judge Hoffman said, “Could you demonstrate what that is?” So Ginsberg, in his deep voice starts going, “Omm.” And the whole courtroom filled with this sound, and the judge gavels, “That’s enough! That’s enough!” [laughs] It was an interesting moment. It was a very interesting day in court to see all this.

The best story I ever heard about Abbie Hoffman was him going into the Wall Street stock exchange and at that point the viewers’ balcony was open to the Exchange. And he took a small handful of dollar bills and threw them over the balcony. And all of the traders stopped trading to pick up those few bills. [laughs] He stopped the stock market cold with a few dollars. Very symbolic. Very wonderful.

I’ve heard you say that, when you were in Chicago, you met Fred Hampton. [Hampton was a Black Panther leader who was assassinated by the Chicago police in 1969.]

 I’d heard him talk a number of times. I was in this group of college students attending an urban studies program in Chicago. We came from all over the Midwest, little colleges. One of them was an African-American college, I forget which one. But they sent a bunch of people to the program and all of those guys stayed together. People were staying in apartments and then they would go do various things. Like one of my assignments for the college credits I was taking for Urban Studies was to go see what was going on with the conspiracy trial.

And so we would get together as a group in various places and have things. And the black students would all kind of be their own little subgroup within our group. The Black Panther leadership had been staying in the apartments of these other black students. And then they suddenly moved to another place. And when the Black Panther leadership moved to another apartment that’s when the Chicago police essentially murdered them all.

 The reports on the subject usually say that they had their own apartment.

 They did have their own apartment. They had been living with our students. Then they moved into their own apartment. And when they moved into their own apartment, then in the very early hours of the morning the police basically massacred all of the Black Panther leadership, Fred Hampton and others. Our faculty knew them.

This guy named Jody Kretzmann had a press pass. He was the son of the president of the school I was going to at the time, Valparaiso University. And he had a press pass so he went in and looked in and said there was no shootout at all. It was all just a massacre. He said it was clear from what you could see that they had just been murdered. And of course, that injustice has never really been rectified.

Well, their relatives sued for civil damages. Many years later, after years of litigation, nine plaintiffs, including the mothers of Hampton and Mark Clark, a Panther leader from Peoria, received a total of $1,850,000. So, I mean, that was a judgment in the courts.

 Oh yeah. It should have been. It was awful anyway. That pretty much radicalized me in many ways. They were my fellow students. And I had gone to the Black Panther rallies and so on and met Fred Hampton and the others as part of our studies, you know. I think if the massacre had happened with the black students from these colleges, the innocence of the whole thing would have been much clearer. They obviously avoided that in this COINTELPRO way.

When you went to a Black Panther event there would be white guys with ties standing around all the edges taking pictures of everybody. Part of the FBI investigation. All of us started wondering what kind of files do the FBI have on us? It was totally intimidating.

That massacre had a big impact on me. I was living in New York and working in a pre-college program, helping young high school graduates from poverty neighborhoods get prepared for college. About two-thirds were black, most of the rest were hispanic. In high school they’d been tracked out of college preparation. So, now we were trying to reverse the tracking and give these kids a chance.

 There were Black Panthers in the program and I knew one of them pretty well. I was in charge of the library and I was creating a library for the purpose. [sighs] This is a very long and complicated story. I had gotten acquainted particularly with one Panther who was advising me as to some things I should be buying for the library. Meanwhile I had a white friend who I knew from my days in Berkeley who was working as a VISTA volunteer in Bedford Stuyvesant which at that time was a totally black, poor community. Now and then this VISTA volunteer would come to dinner at my place.

So one time he brings a friend along to my house. Then he whispers to me,“He’s a Black Panther and he’s from Oakland!” Well, I had been living in Berkeley and working in Oakland previous to this. It soon became clear to me that this dinner guest of mine was the son of a sergeant in the Oakland police who was the highest ranking black in the Oakland police at that time. This sergeant was their “show nigger” if you’ll pardon the expression, an apologist for the cops no matter what they did. Everyone on the left knew he was a creep, you know? And when I asked the Panther who was having dinner at my house if this guy with the same last name was his dad, he seemed proud to say yes.

So I realized to my horror that this guy was a plant, an FBI provocateur. And for months I carried that around in my head wondering if I should tell the Panther I knew, that I trusted, that he was an FBI spy because I didn’t know what they’d do to him if I blew his cover. I didn’t want his blood on my hands. Still after that shooting, I couldn’t hold back anymore. I spilled the beans. I ratted on him.

 They started having him tailed by Panthers he didn’t know. I think they tapped his phone besides.  Anyhow he guessed that they were onto him and left. But before he left he borrowed money from community people just to turn them against the Panthers, because he wasn’t going to pay them back. Anyhow the Panthers were grateful to me for reporting what I knew because this FBI agent was aiming to trap them into serious trouble with the law for conspiracy to do terrible things.

 Right. I recently read a book about the Attica prison revolt and how there’s connections with Black Panthers in that revolt, too. But of course the saddest thing about that was, when the New York State police came in to squash the revolt, people were just murdered indiscriminately. A lot of the hostages the prisoners were holding were murdered as well. The New York police came in and killed inmates and hostages indiscriminately.   

 This book is a recently published historical review based on information that this gal found in some of the county courthouses of upstate New York around Attica, where it had been stored and kind of forgotten. One interesting thing was that many of the prisoners that weren’t killed in that riot were transferred to Green Haven prison. And in Green Haven, shortly after Attica, Quakers were working with those people and developed a program called the “think tank.” The think tank worked with Quakers and civil rights activists like Bernard Lafayette to create the Alternatives to Violence Project workshop programs.

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Fundraising for Good Causes and Teaching Others to Do the Same (Cleo Tung)


Sylvia: It’s April 19, 2017 and I’m interviewing Cleo Tung who works for Partnership for Safety and Justice. And we’re gonna talk about her activism. Has this been your main career?

 It has not. Fundraising has always been the work that I’ve done. It’s still, but in terms of criminal justice reform, it’s pretty new.

Have you had special training for this?

 I think it’s more just work experience. I sort of fell into fundraising. I started fundraising when I was young.

Yeah, and how old are you now? [laughs]

 [laughs] I’m 29. I started fundraising when I was, I don’t know, third grade?  My mom used to encourage me to do a lot of community service. I think my first fundraising project was I would sew pillows. And I went door knocking. And I sold them to all my neighbors. And I raised these funds and I donated it to, it must’ve been UNICEF, I think. From there, I was always really enjoying fundraising. But it was never at the forefront of my mind as a career. I fell into fundraising at UCLA and UC Irvine. And my academic background’s in criminology.

 I got my undergrad and my master’s in Criminological Research. So I was always really wanting to get back to that. So when I saw Partnership for Safety and Justice and their call for a fundraiser and they were working on criminal justice reform, it seemed like the perfect match.

That’s really amazing, you’re sewing pillows in third grade. This was on a sewing machine?

 It was by hand. It was labor intensive, but it was fun.

What kind of pillows were they? 

 I think I just went to the fabric store. And I bought a bunch of fabric and stuffing, and my mom had taught me how to sew maybe the weekend before. They were really just small, decorative pillows. The craftsmanship was not great. [laughs]

 Well it was distinctive.


So, in a way your activism takes the form of fundraising. That’s unusual.

 It is. I think that’s what I really love about it. Oftentimes people associate activism with canvassing or marching, right? Or organizing. But, to me, fundraising is organizing. It’s one of the most meaningful ways for me to plug into a cause that I really believe in, because really what you’re doing is you are mobilizing people to give their resources towards achieving a shared vision, right? I think it’s just one of the most direct ways that you can actually be involved in a movement.

I think maybe the culture around money and the taboos around money make people really hesitant to get involved in fundraising. But, for me it’s this really amazing way to unpack some of the power dynamics. You have this traditional sense of philanthropy where the wealthy, maybe, wealthy elites will give a gift and they have ideas about how a group will use that money. But, when it comes to grassroots fundraising and really getting community members to pitch in, I think it just takes on a whole different shape, when it comes to a movement.

And the results can be very different.

 That’s right. That’s right.

So, you said that your mother encouraged you to do this. Now, was she interested in social causes or any kind of activism?

 You know [sighs], my parents immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan. And I think their approach was that they struggled to make a comfortable living for me and my siblings and they worked really hard to basically create a life of privilege for us. So it was really, I think, their idea of giving back to the community and community service. It was still very individualized. Where it was rooted in their personal experience. So growing up they really encouraged us to do community service, to give back in a traditional sense.

My mom would encourage me, my brother, my sister, to pick something that we really cared about and just go for it. So, for example, she would load us up in her van and drive us to an old folks home and we would basically just have conversations with the folks there, and then also because we all played instruments, we would perform for them. Or my mom would, as part of her work at a women’s shelter, she would have us come with her, right? So we would help out in the kitchen and we would organize supply drives. I think her activism was kind of in that realm but it was in some ways still very apolitical. Our community service growing up and my background really was apolitical. I don’t think I became really involved in activism until I broke into my 20’s.

 I’m curious. Your parents came from Taiwan. Are they originally from mainland China?

 No, both were born in Taiwan. And were the first generation to grow up in Taiwan. On both sides their parents had fled China and the cultural revolution.

Now I have a historical framework. I have a question here which you almost answered already. What in your past led you to become an activist? It’s sort of a transformation from community service to a more political application of this.

 Right. Right.

And what issues have you worked on?

 I think really the main focus and my passion has been criminal justice reform. Really looking at how our system currently operates and addressing all the ways that it’s broken and fails our communities and our families. That’s been really at the heart of all the work that I’ve done. And I’ve just been really fortunate that I was able to find a full time position that pays me to do it, right? Because not everyone gets to have this activist role as their full-time job. [laughs]

Now, why did you ever major in criminology?

 It’s interesting. I originally wanted to be a lawyer and more specifically I wanted to be a prosecutor. I had this very, I think, naïve and romantic idea of the law and of being right, quote unquote, being on the right side of the law. And for me, as a young person, it really came down to, well, if people break the law I want to be the person who helps right those wrongs. And wow, how naïve I was to think that. [chuckles]

 Also, I was really interested in the reasons why we were criminalizing certain behaviors and why certain societies had more crime vs. others. So, that led me to study criminology and criminological research. Because, I had this intention then that I would use that then to go to law school. But actually I had a change of heart with that. I interned for the Attorney General’s office in D.C. And I was on the civil side but our offices were shared with the criminal side. It was the summer when Obama was running for office. I remember now because I met him.

I remember there was a case being brought against the D.C. police and I think it was something around excessive use of force. I wasn’t working on that case. I was just an intern and so I was kind of on the sidelines. But, I think just being around it, kind of getting a sense that perhaps we were on the wrong side of it cause we were defending the police force, it just left a really strange and bitter taste in my mouth. Made me realize that perhaps that’s not the trajectory that I wanted to be going toward. So after that internship, which was–the people there were great and it was a great experience–but I think it just changed my ideas about where I wanted to be.

How long have you been with Partnership for Safety and Justice?

Almost 2 years, so not very long.

What other issues have you worked on?

 The other issue that I worked on previously was around immigration. And a lot of the work that I did with that was really, again, individualized, it wasn’t part of collective action. So, I am a second generation Taiwanese-American and there were just moments in my life where I realized that immigration is such a controversial topic. It’s easy to talk about it conceptually, but they’re real people, right? And so my parents were real people. I remember one experience my dad told me when he first immigrated to Arizona. He was at a restaurant and he was just eating by himself and someone came up to him and started singing this song. And I don’t think my father really knew what the song was. Until the man started singing it more. And, so it was, “This land is your land. This land is my land.” But, when he started singing it he just kept saying, “This land is my land. This land is my land.” And this was one of the first interactions he had.

How awful.

 So he told me about this. And for me, you know, I grew up in the suburbs and in a different generation. In Southern California. And so for him to share this with me kind of just struck a chord and I realized, ‘Right.’ I might be comfortable, right? Living in the suburbs and I’m a person of color but Southern California is also pretty diverse, right. And I’m with my community, but there’s still a lot of work to be done? And I think that really reminded me that you have people immigrate into the U.S. all of the time and they’re experiencing that every day.

Certainly. Now what are some of the most interesting or satisfying experiences you’ve had as an activist–if you will accept that name of being an activist.

 I think there’s so much, but recently, I think, specific to my role as a fundraiser. I think one of the most meaningful things has been being able to train up community members. In their fundraising skills, and showing them that this is a really valuable tool to have as an activist. And to really engage folks who maybe are afraid or feel strange about fundraising. To really empower them to have those tools, right. To actually go out. So, for example, last year I had a donor campaign over the course of six weeks where I try to recruit people. And they’re saying, “Well, I don’t really have the funds to give.” Or “I don’t know anybody who’s rich.” Right?

 So for me it was really, “Let’s unpack that conversation.” Because it’s not really about who we know who’s rich, it’s really about how do we get peers and people like us invested in the work that we’re doing. And we don’t want to exclude folks because of their giving capacity. We want to broaden our networks and our community. So, for me, it was really meaningful to bring folks into the fold who maybe don’t consider themselves as philanthropists, but are activists. Training them on fundraising and then giving them those tools so that once the campaign ended they had this experience to go and actually fundraise for whatever cause they wanted to. They were now equipped to do the things they would be passionate about.

What kind of tools are you talking about?

 I think really just getting the language right, to ask for a gift. Or planning out the logistics of a campaign. How do you run a fundraising campaign. And who do you ask and what are the principles of fundraising. Cause you’re not gonna ask a stranger down the street, you’re really gonna start with your friends, right. And your family and the people who really care about the issue. So, I think it’s really just formalizing that process. So, that’s been really satisfying as an activist. And I would say just being able to see real results. To actually connect the dots.

So, for Partnership for Safety and Justice a lot of our work is policy advocacy. Being able to actually see the work that we put in to advocate for better solutions to crime and harm. And actually seeing movement. So, for example, we have a policy that we’re trying to pass right now that would create more community based responses to addiction and mental health related crimes as opposed to using prison as the default response. So to actually see this policy move out of a committee and be voted on and to see people from across the state show up at the Capitol. And speak truth to power. And share their experiences of why they care. I think that’s been the most rewarding.

So, as a fundraiser do you also feel you’re involved in getting people to come and testify and so on?

 I am. So, that’s what I love about my job. Fundraising is organizing. And so many of our donors are also our volunteers and our activists. And our grassroots leaders. So, it’s really fun for me to have all these different layers of a relationship with someone. And it’s not transactional. I’m not just going to them to ask for a gift. It’s actually building long term, meaningful relationships with people.




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Principled businessman from an impoverished childhood runs for public office (James Barber)

 It’s March 23rd and I’m interviewing James Barber.  I know you’re an activist and you’re a candidate for public office. Have you been involved in activism long?

 Not terribly long. Probably for less than a year. Or about a year. I guess it depends on what being an activist entails.

 I know you from the Bernie campaign and you always struck me as someone who had a lot of experience with group dynamics.

 Actually not. [laughs]  Prior to the Bernie campaign I had my own business for twelve years so that was the sole focus of life. I did pressure washing and window cleaning. We did that all across the county and different areas of the state. I didn’t even pay attention to politics during that time.

 We had about nine or ten employees at a time. I got out of that business because it’s pretty hard on the body and twelve years was about enough. I got into real estate. Between the end of that and when I started real estate, I spent a lot of time online and Facebook and really started to pay attention. Got tuned into Elizabeth Warren and what she was doing and she really caught my ear and made me realize that this was something I needed to pay attention to. Politics are kind of important. [light laugh] So, that led to me hearing about Bernie and then from there it was all downhill.

 So that was when I realized, it seems my whole life has been about how I can help people. Even my business, it was never about how much money can I make. I would go and I would talk to people about what I could do, pressure washing or window cleaning for them and it was, “How can I help them?” That was what kind of led me to real estate because that’s the biggest purchase of most people’s lives. And I figured that that would be a good way to help people. Then I figured out how politics really impacts everybody’s lives, and the biggest purchase of their life, and really every single aspect. And then I realized, if I wanna really help people I need to pay attention to that.

So you come into this whole attitude of being involved on your own, it’s not something that was in your family?

 Not at all. The family background is actually fairly conservative. And we didn’t ever talk politics. We were poor. My parents were divorced when I was real young and I mostly lived with my mom. We grew up on government assistance, having to get food stamps. So really the focus of life my whole time growing up was just the next paycheck. Survival. We didn’t really pay attention to anything outside of that. When I was young I just focused on school, and school and school activities takes up so much of your attention. We were in a small town up in Washington and so that might’ve played a factor also.

Was this a Republican community?

 I don’t even know. Little town called Shelton, Washington.

Would you say that your parents, or your mother in particular, because you were living with her, were they registered voters or did they participate to that extent?

 I don’t even know if my mom voted because it was just never talked about. I think my dad might’ve been a registered Republican for a long time. I basically just identified as Independent my whole life. Because I didn’t really have the issues on my mind. I didn’t feel that I was knowledgeable enough about things to really vote that much. So, I didn’t vote. I would vote in [general] elections but not worry about what happens in the primary. If I didn’t think I knew enough about the people I wouldn’t vote. Because I didn’t want my vote messing anything up because I didn’t know what the issues were about. [light laugh]

 I think you’re probably expressing the way a lot of people feel who do not vote or don’t vote regularly.

 It could be. I know a lot of people who — the daily struggle is too much. They don’t have the bandwidth to consider what’s going on outside of how to get the next paycheck or how to get the next meal.

You know, it’s interesting, I’ve now interviewed, going on 20 activists, and certainly talked to other people. You are an unusual case. Because many of the people, typically, they come from political backgrounds of some sort. Where public affairs were dinner table conversation.

No, we didn’t have that. And it was funny because it ended up–we’ve never been a political family–and somehow my mom and my dad, who’ve been divorced for a long long time, and me and my brother and my sister, we all ended up seeing Bernie Sanders. And coming together behind Bernie Sanders. For the first time, we’ve all suddenly become kind of political. Yeah. It was pretty neat.

And I guess you’ve gotten more confidence in your own opinion and your ability to deal with these issues.

 I think I’ve always been confident in my opinion. As long as it’s well reasoned, and I’ve done research, and I’ve always done a lot of reading. And a lifelong learner. It’s real important to me to dig into the issues, and really know about ‘em. So, when I do speak I do sound confident in what I’m saying cause I tend to have done quite a bit of research on most subjects.

Do you have much formal education?

 Not a whole lot. I mean, I graduated high school, almost a 4.0 student.  High school is fairly easy but moving on to college I just went to Lane Community College. And I was never interested in getting a degree. I was more focused on what I wanted to learn. And that was business management. I took business management, accounting, I even did real estate classes back then. Not anticipating becoming a realtor, but thinking I would invest someday. And it turns out I became a realtor.

 So that was about the extent of it. Most of my college time, too, because I grew up poor, we didn’t have money and so I had to work. I ended up working two full time jobs while I was going to Lane Community College.

Again, you’re different from people that I have interviewed before because I shouldn’t have said exactly what I said about people always having dinner table conversations. Sometimes there were people who came from backgrounds which were privileged and where they resented some of the attitudes of people they grew up with. Particularly those who were older than you who got involved in the whole Vietnam War thing. So what issues have you worked on, would you say?

 Bernie Sanders’ campaign was kind of a big issue. Probably the biggest issue so far of my lifetime. At least on my radar. Everything that he stood for. Single payer health care I think is one of the biggest issues. Income inequality, that’s probably at the top of my list. I think income inequality is detrimental to our society. The level of income inequality that we face today is tearing our society apart and we’ve gotta figure out a way to solve that. From what I’ve read, historically, the level of income inequality in a society can be directly attributed to the destruction of that society. And the downfall.

 So we definitely need to get a handle on that. I’ve  been working towards that. Not anything specifically other than helping to get people aware and get people active. When Bernie’s campaign lost, it represented so many important issues. It’s really hard to just focus on one. For me, especially, because I care a lot about everybody and a lot of different things. Climate change. So my path involved, rather than focusing on any one issue, was to try to harness the energy of the people and get the people activated. Because if I can get ten people activated that are excited about ten different issues, now we’ve got ten different people working on all those issues. Instead of just me focusing on one.

And you are running for office. So when is that election?

 May of 2018 is the primary for that election. The seat is East Lane County. I’m running for county commissioner of District 5. And it’s a non-partisan race. So, the primary in May of 2018 will determine either the winner, if somebody gets over 50%, or the top two who will run, and [the runoff election] will be on the ballot in November. If nobody gets over 50% in the primary, then there’s a runoff between the top two.

 East Lane County happens to be the biggest district in our county. It extends out to the edges of the county, basically from the city of Coburg out to the edge. Marcola area, Mohawk. Walterville. All the way out to McKenzie Bridge and Blue River. Dexter, Pleasant Hill, all the way out to Oakridge. Creswell all the way down to Cottage Grove. And then it circles around the edge of Eugene and it grabs the Churchill neighborhood and it goes all the way out to Crow Rd. It’s very large, very diverse.

Well, you have such an interesting background, sort of backbone of America, you know, but you’ve seen it all, particularly having, if I may say so, having had to use public assistance. So, you know that people really need it when they get it.

 Absolutely. I don’t think people want to be on public assistance. I think there’s a misconception. There might be some people that take advantage of it, but the numbers are so small in comparison to the people that need it and the good that it does. Who knows where I would be if we didn’t have that.

Probably wouldn’t be as healthy as you are, either.

 Certainly not. I mean, coming up on food stamps and other government assistance, to see where I came from and to see that I started my own business. And graduated from high school. I attended some college. I got loans in college. I paid off those loans from college. And owning my own home. Everything I’ve done, I don’t know that that would’ve been possible if I didn’t have that assistance in my life. And really, none of our family is considered lazy, I don’t think. My brother and my sister are workaholics. My dad’s always been a workaholic.

What was he working at?

 He had a number of things. He owned a pen company down in California. It was called Scottie Pen. He just made pens. He printed labels on them. He did that for a number of years. I don’t know a whole lot about that. But, he also did real estate rehabilitation. Back before it got popular on TLC. And he worked for a helicopter company down in California. He’s done all kinds of things. He’s manager of a tile company. It was mainly because I was with my mom that we lived on government assistance.

Because he didn’t give a lot of help.

 No. And really it was that we were so far away. We went up to Washington while he stayed in California. And he’s always been busy but never really successful financially for whatever reason.

And how old are you?

 I’m 39.

What are the most interesting or satisfying experiences you’ve had as an activist?

 Boy, going to Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention. I was not a delegate. I was a state delegate for Bernie Sanders. But I had never really done any public speaking to that point, until I had to run for that position. So really there were so many wonderful people that were vying to be national delegates. I didn’t try all that hard. [laughs] I just put myself up there because I knew that I would fight for Bernie up until the bitter end. I was confident in my abilities, in my drive to support Bernie and to represent him at the national convention. I just didn’t know about anybody else. Most of my time on his campaign was online.

 Cause I was working at the time. I’ve got three kids. I’ve gotta make sure I’m working most of the time. So, most of my time was spent in online support, [probably phone banking to bring out the vote] sharing stories and such, while other people did a lot of their work out in the fields. I did travel to Nevada [with a contingent from Eugene] and helped with the caucuses down there, helped people get to the caucuses in the primary. I went down there to help with those caucuses, for Bernie.

That was one of the few things that I did prior to the convention. Most of my activities in the real world, offline, happened just prior to the convention. Or just after the primary here in Oregon. And then at the convention. Attending the convention was a wonderful experience. I was a ‘plus one’ to one of our national delegates. A plus one just means I’m a guest of one of the elected national delegates. So, I was able to attend. I was able to get into the facilities during the day, although there was restrictions on getting into the convention center at night when they did everything. When all the voting occurs. But I was able to attend that first night. Which was the only night Bernie spoke. And, that was really one of my proudest moments. I ended up spending the next 3 days walking around. They had protests going on outside the convention, and inside the convention, and all over the city.

And we knew that Bernie was gonna come talk to our Oregon delegation Thursday morning. He worked his way around to all the delegations–Thursday morning was gonna be ours. So I spent the 4 days during the convention gathering stories from everybody I could. I had two blank books that I carried around with me. I would ask people if they wanted to write a heartfelt note to Bernie and I would give it to him on that Thursday morning breakfast. And, people loved it. I mean, people had so much that they wanted to say to him.

There was one guy that I remember, young, tough looking kid, and I asked him if he wanted to fill something out for Bernie. It was midnight and we’re out in the park there where all the protests are going on and people are marching. I got this young, tough kid and he said, “Sure.” And he grabbed the book. And he thought and thought. And he started weeping. And he had to hand it back to me. And he said, “Give me a few minutes and I’ll fill it out but I gotta collect myself.” And that was so touching. And I encountered a number of times, things like that. The people had this urge to express themselves and tell Bernie how much he meant to them. And for me to be able to provide that opportunity was really special.

That’s a brilliant idea. It touches the heart and it gives others a chance to share what they feel.

 So we filled up two books. I did give them to Bernie that Thursday morning at the breakfast. I have no idea if he read them yet or not cause I haven’t talked to him. I like to think that he did.

He did. Or someone on his staff looked at them and said, “You’ve gotta see this, Bernie.”  I mean, I would certainly do that if it were my experience. And I think it would give him strength to keep going. Which he really needs now.

 He really does. We all do.

OK Anything else you can think of that you wanna tell me? About what activism means to you or what it’s done for you?

 So, yeah, the last six months I’ve spent as chair of “Our Revolution Lane County.” That used to be Lane County for Bernie Sanders. A group that I wasn’t a part of much until when I was part of that group that went to Nevada. Coming out of the convention, though, there was a real sense that we couldn’t let things dissipate. This energy. This passion for everything that we’ve been fighting for. And so we changed our name.

It’s not an affiliate of the national group, “Our Revolution,” which grew out of Bernie’s campaign. Our goals are to engage the community. Our motto is “engage, educate, and activate.”  Three important aspects to get people involved and to bring about the change we need to see in our society. And hopefully accomplish the things that were laid out in Bernie’s platform. I keep coming back to Bernie, but you know, he has a special place in my heart. But moving beyond him it’s not just about Bernie, it’s an idea. It’s a sense of hope that we can do better, we can be better. And  that’s what I’ve been working on. We wanna continue doing that.

And through Our Revolution Lane County, our hope is to inspire people to get involved. Inspire them to be involved in the political process so we can get out, we can march, we can protest and we can write letters in hopes of influencing our elected officials. Or we can become the elected officials. So, that’s the path I decided to take, you know? We need people to step up and actually become those elected officials. And it’s not easy. It’s certainly not for everybody. There’s a place for everybody in getting these things accomplished.

And I am so proud to stand with all these activists out there and all the people that have said, “Enough is enough.” And they’re ready to make a positive change in their communities. And they’re looking for ways to do that. And I hope to be part of their voice in government itself. And I hope that they will see people that they can trust in government. And know that their fight is not in vain. And we’re gonna do everything we can to help them. And yeah. That’s, that’s my hope. I hope people stay engaged, involved. We need to somehow earn back the people’s trust.











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Debunking fake history and fighting oppression like the Civil War soldier he’s descended from (Chuck Hunt — Part 2)

Chuck:  So anyway civil rights, women, anti-war. Developed into an understanding of gay liberation. And then, of course, being in Canada, where you had National Health Insurance, I began to understand issues of health care distribution and health and illness. Canada in the seventies was rapidly overtaking and passing the United States in life expectancy, and infant mortality was declining fast. Both of those surpassed the United States very quickly while I was up there. So, those issues became imperative. Then I moved down to graduate school at the University of Oregon —and the Central American movement and their refugee movement was going.

I traveled to El Salvador. That was another one of those cases. We arrived by airplane. And all gathered in a room and the government didn’t wanna let us in. And I had this great big thing hangin’ around my neck with the badge of the United States Senate on it from Hatfield.

And I always kept it right over my heart so they’d have to shoot through it if they were gonna kill me. Well, it was kind of interesting. Because here we all were. We got off this airplane. They herded us into this room, and my camera disappeared. And it never appeared until I left. You know, all kinds of stuff. But then, these guys started coming in the room with fully automatic military arms. (I know what guns are. I hunted since I was a kid.) And they started coming into the corners of the room.

And we all decided to sit down and this minister next to me, I was a president of the Graduate Teaching Fellows at that time. He leaned over to me and he said, “You know, I don’t think a sit-down strike in El Salvador is gonna end in the same way that it would if we were in the United States.” And I have to admit, I was a little tense at the time. I looked at him and I had a few words for him. I said, “If you didn’t know that when you were coming down here, you’re a very stupid person.” And fortunately we were released. This was not long after they killed the four nuns. And they realized that if they started opening up on us that they’d lose U.S. aid.

Sylvia:  How big of a group were you?

Oh. Probably 55. You couldn’t kill all of those people. You couldn’t even shoot at ‘em, or you’d be in serious trouble. 

So who was it exactly that was doing this? This was government troops?

O yeah. This was government Salvadoran troops, yeah. And they had green uniforms. [nervous laugh] And Uzi’s. And M16’s. And it was a very tense time. They let us go. I was horrified by what I saw. But, anyway.

There is an expanding understanding of labor, which came out of a lot of reading as a consequence of the anti-war movement. Then I ended up president of the Graduate Teaching Fellows here. There are not hundreds of things I’ve accomplished in my life, but the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, and the graduate teaching fellows at this university have health care coverage. And we fought for that when I was president. And we got an addendum to the contract. They didn’t want to put it in the contract cause they were afraid it would stay. Well, it did stay. Even though they didn’t attach it. We had a pitiful little health care concession from them. But, we got it started and now they have good health care. So, it was labor, golly, I don’t know….

Well, you’ve covered quite a bit already.

It’s hard for me to live without ending up with these issues, I mean, you know, you’re there. 

[laughs] Right. Right. You want to talk about what you’re doing, what you’ve done in the last 5 or 10 years?

OK. So, the last 5 or 10 years. So, I’m teaching at the University of Oregon and one of the primary things that I’m interested in doing is opening students’ eyes. And so one of the wonderful things I used to do is teach an American Society class. I used Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. Which is a wonderful book. In fact Carnegie Mellon requires everyone who sets foot on campus and works for the University to read the book, including the entire janitorial staff. Everyone. It’s a wonderful book. James Loewen’s spoken here a number of times.

He’s written a number of very fine books. But that was kind of my approach, let’s see what we can do to give an alternative view. I remember students being totally shocked that Helen Keller was an anarchist and a socialist militant. That she, in fact, was a little irritated that nobody remembered her for that but always for her blindness and lack of hearing. I remember students just stunned. Why nobody ever told me this, you know.

And then of course, you heard the Columbus lecture.

Sure did. It was stunning. That year you had to hold it outdoors on campus and there was quite a crowd! You told about him bringing disaster to the indigenous people.

Those were the kinds of things that gave students a different point of view. And that was important to me.

So you used to do that every Columbus Day.

Right. Actually, I did it every quarter I taught the Intro class. Even if it didn’t fall on Columbus Day. It was an interesting lecture. And just the other day I ran into one of my former students. I run into him all the time. He’s a teacher down in Roseburg, and he uses for his high school classes, Lies My Teacher Told Me. He said, “I can’t thank you enough. I mean, it’s a wonderful thing for those students down there.”

Lies My Teacher Told Me has a series of eight chapters, maybe ten chapters. I’m not sure just how many. Each chapter takes a kind of  mythology. One of them is Columbus. Another deals with how Native Americans were really treated.

Another is a wonderful chapter on Race, which I just love, cause I’m named after Charles Frank Hamilton. Charles Frank Hamilton was with the 42nd Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War. He was severely, terribly wounded on November 30th, 1864. And died from the wound four years later. It took him four years to die. And Loewen talks about how those soldiers really understood. And I have a letter from my great great grand uncle. They began to see African-American troops. They fought side by side with them against the South. And you can see it in the letter, a realization of what racism means.

And I guess the actual worth of the people.

Right, right. Yeah. And in 1864, if you look carefully at the election returns it’s the U.S. troops who give Lincoln his victory. And that’s including my uncle. So, that’s why, by the way, the Hamilton side, Charles Frank Hamilton, my grandfather, Claude Hamilton, are Lincoln Republicans. They’re Illinois Lincoln Republicans. So, I mean, it all goes back in history.

This is an aside, I usually don’t permit myself very many, but one of my very favorite movies is Glory. Which is about these black troops.

Oh’s fantastic! Yeah! Which is true! I mean, one of those guys, the guy who carries the flag back out is the first African-American to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor. He’ll receive it 25 years later? Takes ‘em 25 years to finally give him a Congressional Medal of Honor! They fought their way in, could not get backup.

Where was it they were fighting?

Oh, Fort Wagner, South Carolina. And that’s an incredible story. My grand uncle, great great grand uncle, whichever it is, saw those troops and it changed those Illinois Volunteers. Sadly enough, he died in 1868 at the age of 28, from this grievous wound. It says on his gravestone, “He carried the ball until death.”  I guess they couldn’t take the lead ball out of him. And it killed him eventually. [pause] But, anyway, where are we?

Well, the last 5 or 10 years.

Yeah, so I’m teaching. But trying to be active around a number of issues, certainly international issues. Been very concerned about the Middle East. About U.S. attacks on Iraq. I was teaching, actually, the morning of the 2001, September 11th attack. And had a number of students, some had relatives in New York. Some in the Pentagon. Everyone survived but it was a tense moment.  I remember coming up into the Sociology Department and saying, “Well? We’ve seen what they’re gonna do. Now, what I’m really worried about is what we’re gonna do.” And, horrified by the Bush Administration, I began to teach about torture. It was very upsetting to myself and students, but I thought we had to teach about it.

The only regret I have in 2008, when Obama was elected, was that my parents weren’t still alive. They would’ve been just thrilled. Yeah. Yeah. Somewhat frustrated by Obama. He was way too conservative. He’s also a corporate Democrat. So, I mean, we demonstrated and petitioned and did all those things around a number of issues over the last, oh, 8 or 10 years. What has happened though is I saw my teaching as really one of the most important things I had to do. And that’s kind of disappeared three years ago [when I retired.] And so it’s been hard to decide where I wanted to focus. Demonstrations are fine. But you want to do something more than that. And gee, my country elected, put a crown on a clown. And tried to pretend that made a president.

It’s sort of abolished my confusion about what I needed to do. So, lately what we’ve been trying to do, as you know, is go to congressmen, go to senators, write letters, phone calls,

..write letters to legislators and also to the Register Guard [our local newspaper] of course.

The other thing that I’ve found quite wonderful is I have relatives in Massachusetts. So, we get on the phone together. And I try to get them to do things which I think they do. My sister-in-law in Massachusetts, I don’t think she can say Donald Trump’s name. She’s amazing. She’s a very mild-mannered lady but my brother says she’s just outraged. I have relatives in Virginia, my nephew in Virginia, we communicate with them. I have a son in Colorado which is particularly fun because they have a Democratic and a Republican senator and the Republican senator now knows my son cause he harasses him at least every week. And my oldest son is a doctor in Colorado and he spent six hours testifying at the Colorado State Legislature about the ACA, Obamacare.

So what’s happened is kind of amazing. The whole family. Yeah. My brother, my sister, my nephews, my sons.  My wife’s been very active and we’re always worried about that because she’s not a U.S. citizen.

Right, she’s a Canadian.

And we actually put off a trip to Canada here this month because she’s a green card holder. And we’re a little nervous about what that meant even though she’s married to me. She’s not got citizenship here. So if she was from one of the seven countries [whose citizens have been blocked from entering the U.S.] if she went out of the country, that would be it. Couldn’t come back in. She always tells me under the Patriot Act she can disappear at any moment. And they don’t have to tell me where she is. Apparently, under the Patriot Act, if you’re a green card holder, if they decide you’re dangerous, they just grab ya.

She doesn’t look very dangerous to me.

Well, you know, she’s very active. Much more active on a daily basis than I am. And we’re always kind of concerned about her. Because, and I had to laugh about a month ago, she looked at me and she said, “I think I’m gonna get my U.S. citizenship.” And it totally shocked me cause of course she’s an outspoken Canadian. I mean, she’s very proud of it.

Well, she could have dual citizenship.

Exactly. And I said, “Kathy, it will mean that if you get jailed you won’t be in the danger that you are now.” She said, “No, no. I’m not afraid. I wanna vote against him. I want to be able to vote against this guy.” So I think she’s gonna get her citizenship which is kind of stunning. Now, I have to tell you, she has always kept the Canadian citizenship. Both my sons have Canadian citizenship. I have permanent resident status.

In Canada, you mean?

Yes. And frankly, we’ve always maintained that because I do not trust this country. So, we’ll see. I don’t wanna leave. It’s my country. Kathy’s settled here. My sons are working here. We’re all settled. But, we want to be able to go if we have to. Cause I don’t trust ‘em. And I’ve been expecting this country to take this turn for a long time. So, we want to be able to leave if we have to. We’ve maintained that right and ability to go to Canada if we have to.

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From “Lincoln Republican” Roots, an SDS Organizer and More (Chuck Hunt — Part 1)

Sylvia:  This is March 3, 2017 and I’m interviewing Chuck Hunt. I know that you’re a retired sociology professor who seems to have been an activist on the left for much of your adult life. So you want to talk about what you’ve been doing all your life? Or much of your life?

Chuck:  The problem with that is I’ve had about seven lives. There’s the one where I grew up in Claymont, Delaware. Then, there’s a whole life at University of Wisconsin as an undergraduate student, and then as an SDS activist. Claymont, Delaware from age 1 to 18. In 1965 I go as a student to University of Wisconsin, so that’s the second life and that lasts for five years, from 1965 to 1970. The last two years are working with SDS in the anti-war movement. And then ’70 to ’73, I was a paralegal in Seattle, working in a law collective. And we were a political law collective. In fact, took the first gay rights cases in the state of Washington. From ’74 until ’85, I lived in Alberta, Canada and was a beekeeper and a farmer.

Was that because you were trying to avoid the Vietnam war?

No, I had beaten the draft a long time before that. I was restless. I wanted to try something different. And I was basically urban raised and decided I’d be a farmer. Crazy, but it was really fun. During a good part of that I was also a teacher. Because in this little remote town where I lived, I was the only person with a college degree except for the teachers in the elementary school. So, I did high school upgrading for folks and we got a lot of people to graduate from high school.

When you say “high school upgrade,” what does that mean?

Once you got through 9th grade at Dixonville, which is a little community that I lived in, you had to get up at 4:30 in the morning, catch a bus by 5:30, travel 50 miles by bus, go to school and get home at 5 or 6:00 at night, having done the reverse.  People didn’t go to Grade 12. So, they needed high school upgrading. The farms didn’t make a living. They needed a winter job, and if I could get ‘em a high school diploma, they got better winter jobs.

So, did they take something like a GED or something?

It’s kind of a GED, although they took courses. I taught 76 different high school courses.

[Laughs] Amazing! A man of many parts.

Oh, yeah. You had to learn ‘em all. We used correspondence booklets which were designed for high school classes. So, I did that until ’85. From ’85 until ’90 I came to University of Oregon and got my PhD. in Sociology. Worked on African AIDS and the distribution of the disease in Africa and its relationship to social structures and history. From ’90 until ’96 I was at the University of Utah as a professor. Didn’t like it. And came back to the University of Oregon and taught from 2006 until 2013, when I retired.

Now is there anything in your background before you did all these things that tended to make you an activist?

I guess you’d say family, place, and time. I was born in 1947, so I’m growing up in the fifties and sixties. So it’s the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. And the place, interestingly enough, is Claymont, Delaware—which is part of Brown vs. Board of Education. There’s seven schools in that decision. One of ‘em is Claymont High School which is the school I went to.

My family was Midwestern. Dad was from Minnesota, Mom was from Illinois, and they were small business Republicans, but certainly kind of Lincoln Republicans. My dad was a chemist for the DuPont Company. And my dad ran for the school board before Claymont High School integrated. And he ran cause the guy down the street ran as a segregationist. My dad ran as an integrationist. And they tried to kill him. People from the community. Guys went after him with a knife. My dad lost the election. He came in third out of three. Segregationist came in second. The guy who didn’t say anything about segregation won. And it was the last time my dad ever went into politics.

And how old were you then?

I would’ve been three or four. I heard about it as I grew up. In the fifties at dinner table the civil rights movement was what was talked about. That’s mostly what we discussed. My family was very very pro-civil rights. In fact I was, on my way over, thinking about my eleventh Christmas. It would’ve been just after the events in Little Rock. They were trying to integrate Central High School.And, of course, there were white folks rioting.

That was the moment. I was only ten or eleven years old, and all of a sudden I realized what was going on. And of course, in the environment of my family which was, you know, very pro those  eight or ten students, it was stunning. I mean, I just was appalled. They would show it on TV.

You’d see all these white folks.

These vicious, angry people.

Yeah! Trying to attack black people and these students going to school. One of the girls almost got killed! I guess she got separated. And [Governor] Faubus, you know, put up the National Guard and tried to prevent the blacks from going in. And then Eisenhower finally nationalized the National Guard and the African American students got to go to school!

Well, that was in September, and I have to say I had a very privileged childhood. We were an upper middle class family. Dad was a chemist for DuPont Company. We did really well. I never wanted for anything. And life was pretty easy. I was eleven years old, and all of a sudden, I realized that wasn’t what everybody had. And it was absolutely shocking. And I remember going to my parents that Christmas and just saying, “I don’t want anything for Christmas. I’ve got everything I need and I just don’t want you to give me anything.”

Now, how many children in your family?

There were three. There was an older brother and an older sister. And of course, my folks were horrified. You know, “What is this?” And I didn’t fully understand and they didn’t really fully understand what was going on. Cause they kept saying, “Well, we have to. Come on.”

Well, it turned out there was a Signal Corpsman from the Second World War across the street. He was a ham radio operator. And so I said, “Look, if you’ve gotta get me something, why don’t you get me a shortwave radio. And I’ll listen to the shortwave.” And they did. They gave me a beautiful, I still remember it, NC-60 Special, and I strung a wire out and I listened. And I collected cards. And I made the mistake of writing for a card, which I got, a beautiful one, from Radio Beijing China. And a letter from them, I was 12 years old. They sent me these beautiful hand-painted watercolor Chinese calendars. And later would send a whole lot of other stuff.

But, anyway. The FBI and J. Edgar Hoover sent me this letter which said, “We know you’re a good American. This is coming to you without your request and you don’t want it. Please check the box below and we’ll interdict it and keep it.” Well, I didn’t want to.

My father, however, by this time, had a top security clearance. And there was no choice. And it was the first political argument he and I ever got into. I just said, “No. I will not.” And he said, “Well, you don’t have to. I’m checking it and sending it.” So, the FBI kept all my stuff. The nice thing was about four years later the Supreme Court ruled that they couldn’t do that. And so from J. Edgar Hoover, I got the entire collected works of Mao Tse-tung, two volumes, two Little Red Books. two separate, small plastic Red Guard badges, and all the calendars that they’d sent.

They had to give ‘em to me cause they couldn’t keep ‘em anymore. I was surprised when I went after my FBI file from the sixties, they had no record of that. But they definitely gave me an education at the age of twelve about what freedom really meant in this country.

Now the other kind of mistake which is sort of funny is that my dad was a technical person, a chemist, and so I’m a junior in high school, going into my senior year, trying to figure out where I’m going to college and dad said, “Well, you know. The University of Wisconsin in Madison has got a wonderful chemistry department. I know it’s an excellent school. Why don’t you apply there?” So I applied at Northwestern and University of Wisconsin. I had an interview with Northwestern. I don’t think they were impressed with me. I was really not impressed with them. I wrote ‘em a letter and withdrew my application. And was admitted to the University of Wisconsin.

What my father didn’t know was that he was sending me to this school which would become the center of the anti-war movement in the 1960’s. Berkeley was civil rights, some anti-war. But Wisconsin was the anti-war movement and that’s where I ended up.

[laughs] We had the first tear gas, first billy clubs, you know, all that. I mean it was kind of funny in a way. My dad was not very happy about it. Although, in 1966 just after my sophomore year, my dad pulled me aside and said, “Listen. We don’t need to argue. I’m totally opposed to this war.” I think by 1960 he’d voted for Kennedy. My mother was still for Nixon. By 1966 my father was a left Democrat. And by 1968 they both would be contributing to the [Eugene] McCarthy campaign.

My mother no longer was on the Democratic scale. She was far too left. So there was this transformation in them as well as myself. Within a month of being at Wisconsin, I was at anti-war demonstrations. And the funny thing, too, was years later when I told my dad I was coming back to graduate school at University of Oregon [laughs] he looked at me, “Now, Charles,” he said, “You’re not going to get involved with those people again.”

And I looked at him and I smiled and I said, ‘Dad. I AM one of those people.” And I was surprised. He actually laughed. He got quite a kick out of that. So, I mean, it was a time. It was chance I ended up at University of Wisconsin.

Like I ended up in Berkeley!

Right, exactly! You just sort of happen to be there. I embarrassed fairly easily so I probably wouldn’t have done it on my own. But, there were loads of other people. I graduated in three years. Then spent two years just organizing for SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] in Milwaukee and Madison and I was at the Chicago convention of SDS where it split. And all those sorts of things. And then I stayed at Wisconsin for another year, and we tried to hold SDS together at Wisconsin, not being subject to the Progressive Labor, Weatherman 1, Weatherman 2, all that crazy factionalism. Eventually, SDS just fell apart at Wisconsin, too. And that’s when I went to Seattle.

What are the most interesting or satisfying experiences you’ve had as an activist?

You have to be careful. Because a lot of the experiences are very frustrating.

Actually, I’m gonna backtrack because I left something out. What issues have you worked on? Now, obviously, the whole anti-war thing.

Civil rights too, certainly. Actually, in January of 1969, I was put in jail because we were demonstrating about an African American Black Studies program at the University of Wisconsin. Which they didn’t have. By the way, when I went for my interview for my NEXUS card to get into Canada a year ago, they mentioned that. And we had quite a talk.

NEXUS is easy admission into Canada, where you don’t have to go through customs. You just show ‘em the card. You’ve been pre-approved. And this American border guy brought up this arrest in 1969. The mistake is that I have the file too, which I told him. I said, “Did you read down and see where the charge was dismissed?” And he sort of was quiet. And I said, “Do you really want to talk about a dismissed charge here? Cause if you do, I’d like your name and I’d like to speak to your supervisor.”

. And he said, “No.” And I said, “You don’t think that’s gonna prevent me from getting a NEXUS card?” No, he didn’t think so. But it’s still on the FBI record. Which I got from the 1960’s. I was wrapped up in COINTELPRO and all that stuff. It’s a 477 page file. And they used to call up my folks and harass ‘em, you know, nasty stuff.

I was active in Boston and the Boston Draft Resistance Group. There was a brief time when I was a research assistant at Harvard. And I was a conscientious objector against the draft in 1965. And there was some thought, when I graduated in 1968, I was gonna have to do alternate service. I was not going to do it. I started but then I decided I wouldn’t do it. And that’s when I was at Harvard for a brief while. So, they had a record at Harvard, Milwaukee, Madison, Wilmington, and Washington, D.C. Everywhere I’d been. The issues, of course, are civil rights. That’s where you began in the fifties. But anti-war, certainly.  But, of course, you got involved in the women’s movement, which grew in 1968, ’69. And that, I thought, was very interesting.

What role did you play in that?

Well, just in SDS. And probably most women would think, you know, “O golly. He was opposed.” I wasn’t at all. I was very supportive. But, it was hard to know how to do that then. I remember one time in a paper I wrote for SDS, I criticized the women’s movement because they were having consciousness raising sessions but they were not going out and talking to people. And I caught hell for that. You know, I was a man telling ‘em what to do. I still stand by that critique.

But, anyway, then I went to the law firm in Seattle and we picked up gay rights, which of course, had happened at Stonewall in 1969. At least one of our attorneys was gay and we had a little storefront law firm. And there was the Gay Activist Center right across the street. So, we went over and took classes. I had a binary sexual concept, you know, men and women. That was all there was to it. And slowly I got awakened from that. And so we began to take cases.

We also were the first firm, state of Washington, that won custody rights for lesbian mothers. We took a marriage case between two folks [two men]. And I still remember one client in that marriage case. We were in Smith Tower by that time. That’s a big tower in Central South Seattle. And we’re up on the 21st floor, and they had elevators that had operators. People operated them. And so I walked in with one of our clients for gay marriage who had a habit of wearing a pleated dress. John. He was a wonderful guy. Awful lookin’ legs. Terrible lookin’ guy in a dress. And wearin’ a skirt, a pleated skirt. And I’ve never seen anything like the fear on the elevator operator’s face.  This elevator operator was a guy. He was terrified.

And it was very surprising but it really gave me an indication, I mean, I’m not totally liberated either, but this guy almost left an impression in the side of the elevator. He was squeezing over, he was terrified. And then one time John and I were walking down the street together, going into the law firm and some guy started screaming from across the street, I mean, it was scary!

How big of a person was John?

Very small, a good deal smaller than I was. I figured I’d be the first one to get belted if the whole thing broke out. Which by the way matched another experience of mine when I made a friend with an African American guy when I was working on the boardwalk of Ocean City, Maryland, 1963. He was working across the way behind the scenes. You couldn’t work out front if you were African American. We both had a break. We were good friends. His name was Will. And we walked down the Ocean City, Maryland boardwalk together and just about got killed.

Because you were an interracial

Yeah, we were integration. They thought we were there for some kind of trouble and boy! Stuff started flyin’! Will and I had to take off and run down the street. And it was wild. We never tried to walk down the boardwalk together again.

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Making a New Life and Speaking out after Prison (Patricia Coldeen)

Sylvia: It’s February 13, 2017 and I’m interviewing Patricia Coldeen. I know you’ve been through some hard experiences and in recent years you’ve made yourself a whole new life.

What do you think in your past led you to become an activist?

 Patricia: I was raised in a family where I was encouraged to believe in our system. Which sometimes can get very discouraging. But, to write letters and vote and participate in marches and things like that. The first thing I remember is a bill was introduced to pass legislation to make it legal for vehicles to be on Oregon beaches. And we were like, ‘No!’ I was probably like 4th grade or something? 5th grade? Grade school. And it was Senator Mark Hatfield.

So we wrote a letter to Mark Hatfield laying out all the reasons why we didn’t want this to become a law. How it’d be detrimental to the beach and we even got pictures. I remember commenting on California beaches and how trashed they were, that there were couches. There were old tires. I don’t remember how we got that information but we included it in our letter. Cause I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, we don’t want our beaches to look like that!” And we sent this letter off and we got a response. “Thank you for” you know, “showing interest,” and he was in favor of not passing the bill as well.

It didn’t pass. And so I remember feeling that empowerment, you know? So, that was my first kind of experience with it.

Was this was a family project, to write the letter?

 Yes, definitely. And that instilled in me that idea that we can make social change and we need to become part of our system–which can be very overwhelming, you know? But I’ve always believed in our political system! Which sometimes can be very discouraging at times.

Well, particularly since you found yourself on the wrong side of the law.

 For sure on that. Definitely. I remember my mother trying to tell me, “Trish, you have to join the system to beat the system.”

What was your family background? What did they do for a living?

 My father was an air traffic controller. And they were quite older parents. My dad had fought in World War II, the tail end of it. He was in the Air Corps. He became an air traffic controller. My mother had been a bank teller. Raised four children. She did some different jobs, like clerical for a psychiatrist for a little while. Mostly just raised four children. Which was enough!

So you know, I got involved in drugs and alcohol. Part of that was kind of like rage against the machine. Which, you know, is like this term, there’s a band called that. It started in my junior high years. We got transferred away from Eugene into Yakima, Washington, which is a really close-minded, very small community. Lot of migrant workers there, you know? A lot of family turmoil going on and having to leave all my siblings.

 I’m the youngest. And my brother and sisters all stayed back in Eugene and went to college. But I got involved in drugs and alcohol and that’s a whole long story in and of itself. It took over my life for a very, very long time. But, I still remember at different times we would talk a lot about the goings on of the world. The next thing that stands out to me is I was with a Hispanic man who was 15 years older than myself and he taught me a lot about Cesar Chavez and the labor movement and what he had been through in L.A. And I was, always, “Oh! How cool that was!”

And then we went to war in the Gulf. The first Gulf War. And Frank was his name, Francisco, he found out about a march [here in Eugene] and we marched from the Federal building to I-5 and stopped I-5 traffic, North and South. So, we marched from the Federal Building to Glenwood and on to the I-5. And I felt like that really made a statement because we stopped I-5 traffic. It felt very empowering.

 And then we got tear gassed and I remember we had to go to Burger King and wash our face, cause it did burn. I didn’t get it bad. But, it was enough to make me wash my eyes out with water. So I’ve always felt compelled to be involved in things. But, then on the other hand, drugs and alcohol really takes that away from you. Takes your choices away, takes your ability to become involved in your community, you know? So I ended up in prison. Ended up in prison three different times. Cause I would just get out and do the same thing over again.

What were your drugs of choice?

 Heroin was my drug of choice. I did methamphetamine, too. Yeah. You know? It’s so weird. Now I help people recover. I work in an alcohol and drug treatment program.

You said you had two jobs, what else are you doing?

 I work at a Jackson’s. Connected with Shell and Chevron. It’s a little market in Glenwood. And they hire people with felony convictions. And they have a tuition reimbursement program. Helped me pay for going back to school and getting my bachelor’s at the University of Oregon.

And I’m on my way to transitioning out with them. I’m down to two days a week and I’m probably gonna be one day a week and I really want to write them a letter. Cause the owner’s out in Idaho and they’re expanding. I really felt a sense of responsibility to be a good employee, to speak out and tell the people around me that I had a felony conviction.

This is kind of a transition into the second part of my activism, to become part of Partnership for Safety and Justice and their work for sentencing reform. [Partnership for Safety and Justice works with people convicted of crime, survivors of crime, and the families of both to advocate for policies that make Oregon’s approach to public safety more effective and more just.] Part of it was like, once I got into recovery I felt a sense of responsibility to speak out and say, “I’m a person in recovery from drugs and alcohol. I have felony convictions and look who I am today.” You know? I’m not that same person. With help and support we do change.

 And the stigma that’s associated with it, and the shame that’s associated with it. Like, one of my co-workers was reading the paper and there was two people that were in the limelight. And she said, “Oh. I don’t like that guy. He’s got felony convictions.” And I looked at her and I said, “Lois. I have felony convictions.” I think she said, “He’s a felon. He’s a felon.” You know? And I look at her and I’m like, “Lois. I’m a felon.” And she goes, “Oh yeah!” [laughs] She knows, she just forgot! [laughs] It was a teaching moment.

When you were incarcerated, was there any way for this tendency of yours to speak out or to organize, to be used?

 In different ways, sure. It’s really hard when you’re really angry and you see yourself as a victim. I really believe there has to be a shift. And mixed in with addiction and not being ready and blaming everybody else. But I did some things that were really cool. The first time I was in, I was able to become involved with a writing group. It was called Write around Portland. They came in and we got published. And it was really empowering.

 I wrote a poem about where we bombed Baghdad. That was the second time. And writing poems and prose about my feelings. It was really a place to be heard — where, you know, you don’t have a voice? You really don’t have much of a voice in there. And we’d speak out, write letters [to publications of the Partnership for Safety and Justice that we received in prison.]

So then when I got out I was reading, living in a recovery house. I was 44. Cause I went to prison three times. I would just get out and do the same thing and, you know, be angry at everything that’s going on around me, feeling very overwhelmed. I think a lot of addicts and alcoholics feel things very intensely and we don’t know how to deal with it.

So this just kind of calms you down and makes you feel good?

 Yeah. Yeah. Where you can manage your feelings and they’re not so overwhelming. You know?

And how did you run against the law? May I ask what you were in for?

 Well, most of it was really just having possession. Or prostitution. I did sell drugs for a little while and they caught me doing that. Paying for my habit. It all came down to that. I didn’t do any violent crimes. You kind of push those morals and values about what you would never do. You push ‘em a little further and a little further till you do things that you think you would have never done. Which for me was prostitution and some of those things. You just do whatever you gotta do. I relate to that feeling of doing anything to get it, you know.

 So finally I was able to get some treatment. The first couple of times I didn’t get treatment. I had three years I went to prison the first time and did not get into any kind of treatment. I worked. I got out in the parks and that was a really cool experience and it gave me some confidence back in myself and my abilities.

In the State Parks we got to use chainsaws. We got to clear paths. Hard work. It was hard, physical work out in the parks, cleaning up after ice storms. Using wood chippers, clearing trails, all of it. I loved it. Cause I liked the physical and I love nature and it was really good for my spirit to get out there. So you got out of the prison for a little while. You had to return and every day you returned you had to do a strip search, cavity search, everything, to go back into the prison. But it was worth it.

But then the second time, I did get a treatment program and I almost felt like I was gonna get it. I did get quite a bit of support when I got out but I was just too scared to let go of whatever it is I thought drugs and alcohol was doing for me. You think it’s your lifeline and I just wasn’t ready to let go of that yet. Then the third time, I was like, OK, I don’t wanna go to prison anymore. I’m done. You know, in and out of county jails, in and out of prison and, I was like OK. I’ll do whatever it takes to stay out of prison. It took getting clean and sober.

And then I was 44. So I was living in a recovery house and I read the paper and it was by Ron Chase [then the head of Sponsors, a great program for rehabilitating formerly incarcerated people into the community. He was] talking about Partnership for Safety and Justice and their Think Outside the Box campaign to remove: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” from job applications. So far it was only Eugene and Portland, and Ron Chase at Sponsors was talking highly of Partnership for Safety and Justice. So I called Partnership for Safety and Justice and said, “What can I do? I need to get involved in this.”

At this point were you going to community college?

 Yes! I was going to Lane Community College and trying to figure out what I want to do. Part of me has often thought if I was younger I would’ve gotten more involved in the political system. I remember the Vietnam War and protesting that, and my sister had the M.I.A. bracelets. We loved Kennedy and when he died, and you know, the next Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and all that was going on in my house a lot. Time magazine was always on the table and I was a real news junkie. Anyway.

Partnership for Safety and Justice was such a wonderful fit for me. With them I was able to phone bank for Val Hoyle [then running for the Oregon House of Representatives]. I was able to go door to door and help, and KEZI came to my house and interviewed me about the Think Outside The Box campaign and I was on the news! And a couple of my customers commented at Jackson’s, cause I’m a clerk there and pump gas, and “Oh! I saw you on the news!” There it is again, that responsibility to talk about, “Yes, I am a person who’s formerly incarcerated. I have been convicted. And yet, I’m not just a ‘felon,’ I am much more.”

.I’m a human being who made some mistakes and now I’m trying to change my life and with support and help and if you offer me a job and you know, help me, let me have a house.

Food. You know? And my education. Which in some states you can’t get an education.

 Actually, no, I shouldn’t say that. The Federal Pell Grants, they do deny you at first, but now there’s a form you can fill out and say, that was my experience. But I had to say “Yes” and they would deny it and then I filled out a form that I’ve completed treatment and so then you can get it. I think that’s actually gotten better. I think that’s changed.

So you’re saying that it used to be that they refused you and they had a way of your getting over that hurdle and now it’s even easier.

 Yeah, I think they’ve made it even easier. But, in some states you can’t vote. In some states you can’t get food stamps. It’s the new Jim Crow. You know, Michelle Alexander, she’s an amazing woman. She’s an African-American woman who wrote the book, The New Jim Crow. I learned about Michelle Alexander by going to a three-day symposium. I got to go live up at Reed College for three days, stay there and do activism workshops. People came from all over the Western states. And we got to live there and we took workshops on telling our story, the best ways to make social change. The different social media, how to organize, how to reach different populations. And a woman came and talked about Michelle Alexander.

She was a prosecuting attorney. I think she’s now a defense attorney. And her book is amazing. And it’s very scary because she’s all factual. She just lays it out about history and how things evolved over time and if you look at the way African-Americans were treated even after the Emancipation Proclamation.

 Still not being able to buy land, get housing, discriminated against, all those things. So it’s very scary when you think about what’s happening today. When Michelle Alexander lays it out, it’s very telling–the disparity for all the African-Americans involved in our criminal justice system and the drug laws that punish crack cocaine–which happened to be, you know, in African-American communities–much [more severely] than the white powder cocaine of all the rich white lawyers who had that. And, so after you get these felony convictions you can no longer rent a place. People can legally discriminate against you if you have a felony conviction.

When we talked before you said something about having gone to Washington.

 So, a couple more things that are really awesome. Through Partnership for Safety and Justice, I got to work on that Think Outside the Box campaign and it was successful. And now I think the whole State of Oregon has made a law that they no longer have “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” on their applications.

 You have to talk to the person face to face before you [can ask that question]. And then decide whether they’re qualified for the job. After that I got to go to Portland and talk about the obstacles and barriers for people who have felony convictions and to talk to a panel that came from Washington, D.C. There were doctors, some people in political office, some people in criminal justice.

 I think it was through Voices and Faces of Recovery. But Partnership for Safety and Justice helped me get there. And it just felt very empowering to be able to speak out, tell your story. When Sponsors was gonna be cut some funding, I went to the Public Safety Budget Committee meeting, and spoke up for what Sponsors had done for me. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that. And how prevention and recovery works, you know. And then, with Patty Katz [then on the staff of Partnership for Safety and Justice,] we got to go to Washington, D.C. And it was a gathering called Addiction Unite.

It was about lobbying for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that allocated money for prevention, aftercare services, and the education of physicians about the dangers of indiscriminate prescribing of oxycontin. Fortunately it passed.

The event was really cool, Patrick Kennedy came out and talked to us, cause he’s in recovery. [Patrick Kennedy, the youngest son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, served for two terms as a congressman for Rhode Island.] I read his book. It’s called A Common Struggle. It’s a really good book. It’s about his overcoming addictions. And mental health issues.

So, we got to go march on the mall there. And there was quite a few people. I mean we expected like 30,000. But a hurricane came through. There was a couple states that couldn’t come and be represented and we barely made it through. But there was like 10,000 people there and we got to go talk to legislators. We got to talk to [Senator] Ron Wyden’s aide. And [Congressman] Peter DeFazio, we got to talk to his aide.

 So that was really empowering. It was really amazing. And all kinds of musicians came. And it was covered in the news. Washington, D.C.’s news, yeah. Not as much as we would’ve liked it to be. It was streamed live. My sister got to watch it on TV. Somehow, on one of her cable channels, it was streamed live. It’s just really empowering when you feel like you have a voice and may be heard, you know?

My most passionate work now is at the Willamette Family Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program. We have several different sites. We have a residential program where women and mothers live. We have a new dads program that we got a grant for–fathers can live there with their children. Which is just this amazing thing. The location is in Eugene.

We work really hard to have wraparound services where we offer mental health, medical clinic downstairs, [to deal with] whatever obstacles might come into your way to being successful in treatment. Like rides, housing–which is limited, not much. Peer support. That’s my job is to help them connect with different resources in the community. And we really want to make everything right there. Like the medical clinic is just downstairs. Mental health is just right there. So they don’t have to go, I mean, “You gotta go over here to get this. You gotta go over there to get this.” I sign ‘em up for Ridesource [an individualized transportation program in Eugene] right away. Get the bus pass nailed right there, so they have got transportation, you know. I really feel good about Willamette Family and the work they do in the community.

Who supports them? Where do they get the money?

 Oh my goodness. Well, we did get the Rotary grant. I think three places got that. One of ‘em was us. We’re a non-profit so there’s some federal monies that come in. Medicaid, OHP help, pay for a lot. The Oregon Health Plan. Medicaid. And whoever else we can ask for money from. I know that we’ve got a lot of people that are good at doing that. They go out to the different community members who want to support us. It’s Willamette Family Services. They’ve been around since like 1967.

 Buckley House, that’s how they started. That was the first, George and Honey Buckley, it was out of his house. He was an alcoholic in recovery and he would just take people in. And he had a sign in his house that said, “Not every human is an alcoholic, but every alcoholic is human.”

That sign still stands in Buckley House today. I don’t know if it’s the exact same one butabove the door there, when you walk in, that’s what you see. And we try to remain true to that philosophy. I went through Willamette Family. They’re definitely part of the foundation of my recovery. So, it’s pretty cool I work there.








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Opposing Rape Culture on Campus (Cimmeron Gillespie — Part 2)

Sylvia: Would you like to talk about current issues on the University of Oregon campus?

 Cimmeron: To throw in a story about fighting the patriarchy, [laughs] for a while the University of Oregon, in response to sexual assaults, would send out notifications saying, “Don’t get assaulted,” basically. You know. “Just follow these safety tips. Don’t go in dark alleys, travel with a friend, carry pepper spray.” And the problem with these sorts of things, it’s not like they’re totally unhelpful but it basically says to a survivor of sexual assault, “YOU did things wrong. This is your fault.” It doesn’t say this person who both broke laws and violated your personal safety and was not being consensual, this person is at fault. It blames the survivor. You did wrong because you didn’t follow these safety steps.

So there’s been a push from the Women’s Center on campus saying, “Hey, look. You’ve gotta change this.” They’ve been contacting a certain dean, again and again. There was no response. Basically he said, “Ah, well, we’re talkin’ about it, we’re working on it.” And he shut ‘em down. They talked to him for years, and he made no movement on it. It was clear, nothing was gonna happen.

So I went with some friends of mine who were involved, a friend who was involved in the Women’s Center, and we went to a senior administrator and we sat down and we said, we want a meeting about this. And the first thing he said was, “Oh! Well, didn’t you go talk to [this same dean they’d been talking to]? And we said, “Look! His role in this university is clearly just to silence dissent. His role is clearly NOT to take action.” It’s just to channel people’s feelings and emotions so you don’t have to deal with this. But, this is a real problem that needs to get dealt with. You need to change this!

What you’re, in effect, saying is that you’re essentially condoning sexual assault, blaming the victim. You’re telling the perpetrators, “You’ve done nothing wrong. These survivors did things wrong.” And we had a very good meeting. And the administrators who I talked with at that time, said you know, you’re right, this is terrible. [laughs]

 And by the time they sent out another report, that a sexual assault had happened on campus, they had begun making changes. It’s not perfect but I think it’s important to continue to push and think about the ways that we can oppose rape culture in our society. The culture of justifying rape, of blaming survivors, of not teaching consent, of not getting people on the same page. That just like normalizes that sexual assault happens. “Oh, it’s bad that it happens.” But, like never saying like “These people are sexually assaulting people!”

So, what actual changes came about on campus? Were there statements about rape is bad or whatever?

 Yeah, well, instead of having all the comments blaming survivors, instead, their first comment was, “this happened. Everyone should know that sexual assault is breaking laws. You should not do it.” [chuckles] And then went on to have some other suggestions and they made some changes to what they were saying. [sigh] In a lot of cases these reports just say, “This happened in this area.” It’s not like they’ve caught someone. It’s just letting people know that something has happened.

It’s far from perfect. I think there’s a broader conversation that our society has to deal with, talk about consent. That should be happening in every school right along with sex education. The fact that you can talk about biology, but not talk about how do you talk about permission about sex, that that’s not a part of every single sex education curriculum is to me horrifying, cause what that sets up is people wanting sex, knowing how to have sex, and not understanding how to have consent and how to have it in a mutually respecting way.


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