This is just a part of the collection of my political memorabilia from the late sixties and early seventies. The button at the top left is from Radio Habana, as is the pic of Che, which has a 1973 calendar on the back. The button with the torch I got when I was in Cuba in 1973 as well; it’s from Cabo Verde y Guinea Bissau. The Cubans were providing military assistance for their liberation struggle and we were fortunate enough to be able to meet a few of their fighters, who gave us the button.
The one next to that is from the fight to lower the voting age to draft age (I couldn’t vote until I was 21.) Next over, to the right, as a Vietnam era veteran I was eligible for membership in VVAW and I worked very closely with them for several years during that time. The next one conveys my general feeling about drugs … which hasn’t changed much in the ensuing years. The last button is from the time when Angela was on trial for providing the weapons Jonathan Jackson used in an ill-fated attempt to free his brother, George Jackson, from prison while he was in court at the Marin County Courthouse.
Below that is my ticket to the fundraising concert for Angela, where I was one of the armed bodyguards for the McAfee family, who put their farm up for Angela’s bail. Finally, the ticket in the middle is from when I attended an event at UCLA where several of the defendants in the “conspiracy” spoke about their trial. Sacha Baron Cohen was, regrettably, not present that day. Neither was Abbie Hoffman.
I quite accidentally came across an old Facebook post, which I’m pasting in below, that I wrote and shared a little over six years ago. I’m a little ashamed (embarrassed might be a better word) that I announced my intention, only to not complete what I said I had started. I truly had started but, shortly after doing so I was approached by a former colleague at Rocketdyne and was offered a job.
Since my primary goal at the time was to bring in enough supplemental income to allow us to maintain our modest, yet comfortable, lifestyle, I dove into the job head first. I had also gotten an editing gig shortly after the post, which took a great deal of my time and overlapped with my return to Rocketdyne. For a couple of weeks I was working up to 13 or 14 hours per day.
So, here I am six years later and I have begun serious work on what I used to think were my memoirs. This past Wednesday I woke up thinking I needed to better understand the difference between a memoir and an autobiography. After a moment’s worth of research I realized I was not working on my memoirs; rather, I was working on my autobiography.
I have, therefore, decided I am now working on three projects. The most ambitious is my autobiography. Ancillary to that effort are two subsets of my life, which I will write and publish as memoirs: one surrounding my experiences of more than 50 years of drug use and what I learned about myself and others; the other about my experiences with the Peace & Justice movement during the late sixties and early seventies and how it’s affected my politics and my philosophy of life.
I had done a fair amount of work on an outline, which currently consists of 158 entries (many of which are partially written, some recently and others copied from blog posts that are relevant to the subjects I cover. Many of the blog posts need to be somewhat re-tooled to fit the format of either a memoir or an autobiography, and much needs to be added, but I’m currently at almost 16,000 words. My Peace & Justice movement project is currently at nearly 3,800 words, and my drug use project currently consists primarily of a reasonably thorough outline.
Previously, I was deeply concerned about our household income. I am not as concerned now and a couple of things are driving me to complete these projects reasonably soon. The first is my age and the age of others who were substantial parts of my life. As far as my political activities back in the day go, at least three of the people I am writing about are no longer with us, with two of them passing in the last few years. I was hoping to interview them. That’s no longer possible. Fortunately, they’ve all left a legacy and there’s plenty of material for me to glean from and help me remember the activities I shared with them, as well as others who we worked with who are still available.
The second reason isn’t directly related to my age, but is nevertheless a result of it. As I’ve written about previously, I have what are called “essential” or “familial” tremors. There are three areas in which these tremors affect those who suffer from them: the neck muscles (my mother was a “bobblehead”); the vocal cords (think Bette Davis); and the hands. My experience is mostly with my hands, though on occasion I can swear I feel it coming on in my neck muscles as well.
I want to finish these projects before I can’t type at all. There were times, during my two-year return to Rocketdyne, when my left hand was shaking so badly I couldn’t log on to my computer. I had to enter my user name and password with one finger on one hand. There are times when my left hand shakes so much I can’t possibly type like I’m used to.
I’ve already contacted a half dozen people, including former roommates, a former girlfriend, and my first wife. They have all not only expressed a willingness to be part of this, they have already provided me with recollections I had forgotten, all of which will surely improve the quality of the stories I plan on writing.
So I’ve set a goal for myself. Currently, it’s 500 words per day but I’m going to probably up that to 1,000 words per day. It’s not really all that difficult once I get going, especially since my outline now is quite thorough and all I need do is tell my stories. Another goal is to, as I mentioned in my post of six years ago, stand up a Kickstarter campaign to see if I can raise any money. I don’t need a lot and I think I have a fairly interesting story (actually stories) to tell.
For the first time in my life, this IS my job. If nothing else, I will leave a legacy for my two daughters, to whom these works will be dedicated.
I am on the verge of taking on what I believe to be an important project. I’ve been thinking about it for well over a year and I have discussed it with several old friends who were part of the experiences the project will speak to.
I plan on writing a book. It will be a combination of my memoirs, as well as a history, of a part of the peace & justice movement, specifically in Southern California, from about 1968 until 1973. At the time I was part of a group of amateur, yet reasonably well-trained, people who provided much of the security for rallies, demonstrations, and numerous cultural events. We provided building and personal security, including occasional armed bodyguard work, for people like Jane Fonda, Daniel Ellsworth, Tony Russo, a group of Vietnamese students studying in the U.S., Roger McAfee and family (they put their ranch up for Angela Davis’s bail after Jonathan Jackson’s disastrous attempt to break his brother, George, out of the Marin County Courthouse), Mrs. Salvador Allende, and cultural groups such as Quilapayun, Arco Iris, and Holly Near – to name a few.
The book I propose to write would be a combination of my memoirs and those of many others (some of whom I have recently contacted and who expressed great interest in seeing this happen) who I worked with. I was a member of groups such as The Peace Action Council with Irv Sarnoff, The Indochina Peace Campaign with Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, and Bruce Gilbert, Vietnam Veterans Against the War with Ron Kovic, as well as individuals such as Dorothy Healey, Frank Wilkinson, and others – many of whom I will need to do some research on to refresh my memory.
Part of this piece will be aimed at setting the record straight. Part of it will be pointing out the many sacrifices lots of people made in speaking and acting out during that time. We thank members of the military for their “service”, regardless of what they did and what their motives truly were, yet the people who risked so much during those difficult times were – and frequently still are – vilified as traitors and un-American. I’d like to help set the record straight.
Those of my friends who have any experience or thoughts about those times and the activities I will be addressing are welcome – actually, encouraged – to share them with me. While I am willing to read, even address, contrary opinion, anyone who attempts to engage me in frivolous argumentation will be asked to stop and, if that doesn’t work, will be unfriended. I am interested in useful, thoughtful opinion even if it doesn’t agree with how I see or remember those days, but only if it helps me understand my perspective more completely. I have a well-established POV after all these years and I’m not interested in useless argumentation over its validity.
This also means I will be incrementally backing off of Facebook; posting far less and paying less attention to others, even with the all-important mid-term elections looming. I want to get this done while I’m still able to and I will have a lot of reading, interviewing, and writing to do. I’m also thinking of using Kickstarter to raise some money so I don’t have to worry about further depleting what savings we’ve managed to accumulate prior to my somewhat forced retirement. I’m thinking, if a guy who’s merely making potato salad can raise $70,000, I might be able to find enough interest to get $15 – $20,000. I’m anticipating the need to travel for some interviews. Many of the people involved at that time likely won’t be available via online technology.
I will probably share this more than a few times in the next couple of days or so. Knowing there’s only a small percentage of my friends who will see this at any given time, I think it will be useful to share it at different times. Please forgive me if I annoy you. Feedback is, of course, more than welcome. I’ll also be sharing my progress as I go along.
The photo on the bottom has haunted me for 50 years. Not that I think about it every day . . . or even every year, but over a half century it’s come to mind far more times than I would have liked. So, when I saw the top picture on my phone, it instantly evoked the extra-judicial execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém. I needed to do this to stop thinking about it. Too much thinking about death lately. 😕
Thanks to a post I made on Facebook yesterday, I came across this wonderful excerpt from a story by Kurt Vonnegut, “God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian”. I’m thinking it might fit nicely somewhere in my book. Many thanks to my Facebook friend Sam Garrett for pointing me to it.
“This morning, thanks to a controlled near-death experience, I was lucky enough to meet, at the far end of the blue tunnel, a man named Salvatore Biagini. Last July 8th, Mr. Biagini, a retired construction worker, age seventy, suffered a fatal heart attack while rescuing his beloved schnauzer, Teddy, from an assault by an unrestrained pit bull named Chele, in Queens.
“The pit bull, with no previous record of violence against man or beast, jumped a four-foot fence in order to have at Teddy. Mr. Biagini, an unarmed man with a history of heart trouble, grabbed him, allowing the schnauzer to run away. So the pit bull bit Mr. Biagini in several places and then Mr. Biagini’s heart quit beating, never to beat again.
“I asked this heroic pet lover how it felt to have died for a schnauzer named Teddy. Salvador Biagini was philosophical. He said it sure as heck beat dying for absolutely nothing in the Viet Nam War.”
You can substitute Iraq for Vietnam and it works just as well, eh?
One of the reasons I’ve decided to write about my experiences with the peace and justice movement in the late sixties and early seventies – specifically about a group of peace activists who dedicated huge amounts of time and energy providing organizational and security expertise – is because I believe there’s a concerted effort to marginalize those activities and their contribution to ending an unjust and predatory war.
Tom Hayden was one of the people I spent those years working with . Here’s a recent post from Tom’s website/blog. He writes, “We must call for inclusion in the memorial dialogue to prevent a false narrative of Vietnam [that] will lead to Vietnams without end.” Here, also, is an excerpt from a response to a request from Vietnam Veterans for Factual History, located in Missouri City, TX. (http://vvfh.org/):
“One reason I believe it’s hard to arrive at a true reckoning is that it would require an admission by too many authorities in the government and media that they lied – or distorted the truth, or were ill-informed themselves – when they sent millions of young Americans into dubious battle.
“But I believe it’s possible at grass-roots level, all across the country, for people like ourselves to engage in honest truth-digging and exchange of perspectives about those most intense years of our lives.”
My intent is to tell the story of a group who fought very hard — and who risked much — to bring an end to that war, from my perspective and through the recounting of my experiences. Knowing my memory has probably faded and, in any event, is incomplete because I wasn’t everywhere, I am contacting those people with whom I worked back then. Tom is one of them. You can read more about it at his Peace and Justice Resource Center. Here’s a link to the post I’m quoting from.
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.