I linked to the Wikipedia page on Saul Alinsky in a comment earlier, and it got me thinking. I first read Alinsky's Rules for Radicals in 1993 or '94, I think. I was a radical at the time, I know that. But now, I think I'm a middle aged white guy with a wife and a mortgage and a steady job. I never thought I'd be that. I've been describing myself as a democratic socialist of late. That may be far to the left of you, but it's nothing like my anarchist youth.
You know, the right likes to make a big deal of the fact that Obama studied Alinsky. So did Hilary, for that matter. He was a radical, and everyone who aspires to help oppressed communities organize to achieve political power should study him well. But this diary isn't about Saul, or community organizing. It's about me. And growing older, I guess.
I was born a radical. There's really no other way to describe someone who was born on a commune, to a mother and father who were in a three way marriage with a card carrying communist woman. I've got a half brother who is six months younger than me.
My very early childhood was idyllic. I remember a lot from before I was three, talking with others, I realize most people don't. My mom worked at a cooperative preschool, loosely based on Montessori. I always called my parents Jayne and Don, because the other kids did. The commune was nice, except for the rooster that attacked me. I was around two and a half when I first heard the album "Free to Be, You and Me" and had the book read to me, in 1973 I think
But the commune didn't last. The three way marriage with the nice radical lady didn't last, and neither did my parent's marriage. They split when I was three and a half. They were 60's college hippies, so the split was very civil, very enlightened. No messy custody battles, it was always up to me where I lived.
My mom remarried a psychotic trucker and bought a farm in the back woods of West Virginia. Trust me, I wish I was making this up. They were going to raise beefalo. Well, long story short, the bottom fell out of the beef market, the trucker went crazy, the farm went bankrupt, and we had to flee to live with her parents in Las Vegas.
My dad had gotten his Ph.D. in psychology and went on to become head of Connecticut's state program of psychology for the deaf. He remarried too, and they have a family together. I never really felt like a part of it, though I think we all tried. I spent every summer with him, but I think my half brother Max, son of the communist lady, who lived ten miles from Don and got every Thursday with him, actually got more time with him.
I went to kindergarten and first grade in Las Vegas, at a public school that had won all sorts of awards for excellence and I was in the gifted program. My mom always managed to get me into such a program through all our moves. I was always taught to think for myself, and to question everything, at home and at school, and I was never bullied or picked on.
From Las Vegas my mom moved to Boise for her airline job. I had a lot of Mormon friends. My mom was agnostic. I was taught about all kinds of religions, from Norse mythology to Hinduism, I remember my mom got us a book on world religions about that time. Then she married a republican Vietnam vet and we moved to Seattle. I was in third grade by then.
Leo turned out to be a great father figure for me, but I suppose their marriage was doomed from the start. The marriage lasted for two and a half years. They did much better as lifelong friends afterwards. I was devastated by the breakup and the loss of a father figure, so in the middle of fifth grade I decided that having suicidal thoughts wasn't normal and I needed a change.
I moved in with my father and his family in North Haven, Connecticut. North Haven never welcomed me like other cities had. That's when I learned I wasn't really part of my father's family, either. Normal public schools were terrifying in comparison to what I had grown accustomed to. And psychologists don't necessarily have a better handle on their own personality and family dynamics than anyone else does. So in seventh grade I moved back to Bellevue, Washington with my mom, where she got me into the best public school ever.
Five teacher/administrators and one hundred to one hundred and twenty kids. It was some kind of charter school. We always had to hide out in the back of some other school, at first it was Bellevue high school, then it was a grade school. We called the teachers by first name, got to pick our classes, and everything was run by teacher/student consensus. Yes, it actually worked and we learned things. A lot of things. It wasn't for gifted kids, but in some ways it was even better than the gifted programs I had been a part of.
By high school, though, persistent depression had set in and I became an underachiever. Meaning I made Cs in advanced classes. My mom dated a series of men, then she met "the guy," Tim, and that is when my life got really weird. He worked at Boeing Computer Services with her, but had been a news photographer. He'd opened his own paper but it had gone bankrupt and he had gone to work for Boeing as an editor to pay of his debts.
He had two jobs lined up, one working in Los Angeles, one working as a Mediterranean correspondent for Associated Press. We would live on Crete, it was in the middle of the Mediterranean and thus convenient to travel anywhere, and there was an American military base there and a school I could go to. We picked that one. To this day, I really, really don't think Tim expected that.
I was fifteen and a half when we left America. We took a month long trip through Europe starting in Amsterdam and working our way south. Tim started acting weird. Money he was expecting wasn't coming in. He spent more time at various banks. We spent a week in Rome waiting for money. We spent a month in Athens, things were deteriorating, but it was when we got to Crete that the whole thing really fell apart.
There were no transnational links from Crete. It's the backwater of Greece, which is a backwater of Europe. There was a military base, a Naval support base, but it was tiny. They sent their kids to a school in Spain. One weekend, Tim went back to Athens to pick up his cameras, which he told us he had left there to be cleaned. He never came back.
I was slowly beginning to realize that this world was not like the world of "Free to Be, You and Me." It was not the hippie paradise that my mother had tried to create for me. I stayed in Greece for a year, working under the table, first as a dishwasher, then as a cook. I was a pretty good cook, still am.
Then I moved back in with my dad in Connecticut again. It was horrible. I got my GED. Went to a state school for computer science, could have taught the classes better myself. Was a college activist, worked for Greenpeace. Got a girlfriend, finally. Dropped out of college.
We moved to San Francisco. She got hyperthyroidism and went a bit crazy. She ended up getting better a year or so later, but by that time she had fled back to Connecticut and I was dedicating myself full time to groups like Food not Bombs, Homes not Jails, Earth First! and the Industrial Workers of the World. I couch surfed, slept in the union office, and in the back of my big delivery truck. I went to actions all over the west. I helped protect Headwaters Forest, fed homeless people despite police crackdowns by a democratic Mayor, Willie Brown, and helped with several IWW organizing efforts, including helping them go online before almost any other union and survive one of the first cyber attacks by (allegedly!) agents of Border's Books, in retaliation for possibly the first cyber picket, that we put together.
I was a radical. I defined myself as an anarchist. The whole system was corrupt, all of it. Oppression and injustice and unnecessary suffering seemed built into it, top to bottom. We were most definitely not "Free to Be, You and Me." But I was going to fight to my dying breath to change that. As a white male, maybe I haven't suffered oppression like some other people, but my mom had always made sure I understood what it was, and why I should fight it.
I helped start a programming cooperative, but then at a Rainbow Gathering I met a woman. Then I met another woman and she said she would be my spiritual guru, of a sort, and lover for two years, tops, if I moved to Hawaii with her. So I did.
She was pretty good, taught Re-evaluation Counseling, a mutant offshoot of community organizing and Scientology, I kid you not. I didn't know about the Scientology part of it at first, they split off early and don't like to talk about it. Basically: heal your own inner trauma, achieve personal liberation so that you can help achieve societal liberation. Hawaii was fun and I learned a lot about myself. I'm still crazy though, RC couldn't really fix that.
She left, two years on the dot. I stayed in Hawaii for a while, did some organizing with a Hawaiian sovereignty movement, got involved in polyamory, then did something I never thought I would: fell in love with a man. Oh, I'd fooled around with guys before, but I'm pretty much a Kinsey 2. My parents taught me that every sexual orientation is okay, and that sex is a wonderful, shame-free thing that adults do with a person or people they love. Still, never saw myself being with a guy long term until I met Mark Pesce. I will skip over our tumultuous four month affair because it would sound too much like LA name dropping and I am damn sure I am straining my audience's credulity as it is.
Yadda, yadda yadda, back to San Francisco, growing pot for a legal non-profit, doing computer security keeping the feds out, I settle in with and eventually marry that first woman I met at that rainbow gathering two years prior. She wants monogamy, I'm okay with that. Then our mutual best friend dies, the club closes down due to paranoia surrounding the Supreme Court decision and the management absconds with most of the money, and my consulting side business goes belly up with lots of debt due to business partners doing too much speed. Then my last living grandparent, the grandad who I was closest to and who taught me all about the outdoors, gets sick and it's only my mom to take care of him.
Having nothing left in San Francisco except my wife's halfway decent job working for the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, we moved to New Mexico to help my mom deal with my dying grand-dad. I got a job with the state, doing systems administration for the child welfare agency. The wife meets a tall, dashing ex-Mormon, ex-Reagan-youth, newly liberal older man and suddenly, non monogamy is back on the table. We've been in a polyamorous relationship with Merril for three years now, irrevocably corrupting him into the farthest lefty weirdo reaches of thought, I'm sure.
Then my mom gets pancreatic cancer and dies a slow painful death. So I get a house and a fairly sizable insurance settlement. I've got a rewarding job doing good things. It's for the once hated "State," to be sure. Heck, I've saved the state hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by moving systems to Open Source. What would my younger anarchist self think?
But here I am. Forty. A middle aged, middle class white man. With a home, a mortgage, a car I bought new (Materialist! Bourgeoisie Sellout!), a secure job with a retirement plan. So many Americans worked their whole lives for this, and had it taken away from them. I fought the system pretty much my entire life, and somehow I end up with this.
The world is still not fair. And I feel guilty that it's unfair in my favor for once. I'm not a radical, I don't go to protests, I don't occupy buildings, I don't chain myself to trees anymore. I'm not a radical, I'm "The Man," the bourgeoisie property owning liberal I once despised. And I don't really know how it happened. Life's just weird, I guess.
Well, there it all is. I needed to get that out. And now it is linked to my real name. Here I am, present and potential future employers who know how to do a web search. I don't care. I'm tired of feeling tied down and limited in my actions by these material responsibilities and trappings of middle class life I've somehow acquired. I'm tired of feeling like I have a position to protect, things to defend instead of people and ideals.