Origins of a Wobbly Life
By Arthur J. Miller.
Why do I write these words? I am no leader, I am not famous, I am no philosopher. No one will ever put an 'ism behind my name, leastwise they better not. Not with my life you don't! I write because I strongly believe that the most important stories told are by the rank and file activists, the organizers and so on.
The path to social change must come from understanding the realities of the day to day lives of common people. What are their hopes and desires? What drives them to rebel against the conditions they find themselves living in? What makes a person become a radical activist or organizer? Leaders and philosophers don't make movements. Without the willingness of people to engage in struggle, all the leaders and philosophers put together create nothing. Though the historians always give credit to leaders and philosophers for the struggles of the people, the fact is that it has been the countless unknown activists and organizers that make things happen. It is those people, along with the common people that I seek stories from. It is my hope that in my writing I can help inspire these people to write their own experiences.
Some say we are all born with a free and open mind, and through a process of intimidation and manipulation we are molded into obedient servants. I like to think we were all born innocent, then fell from the grace of God---the creator, the creation, the spirit that runs through all of us, or what ever definition you prefer. I have no grievance against God or the creation. It is the acts of humanity that I find fault with. I do not know what lies behind the creation, but I view the acts of inhumanity like killing each other in the name of God to be anti-God. I respect each person's right of spiritually and that every view of the creation had merit, that includes those that believe in nothing at all.
I only know that when a new life is born that its innocence is warped by a decadent society. Murderers, rapists, racists, fascists, masters, and slaves are not born that way. They are created. And so are rebels. No one gave me a book to read to start me down the radical road. Rather, my evolution in that direction came from the conditions around me.
I was born into a Navy family and like most Navy families we moved around alot. I was born in San Diego then moved to a small town in Virginia not far from Washington, D.C., then moved to Guam, then to San Francisco, then my father left the Navy and we moved to El Cajon which was a white working class town close to San Diego.
It was the situations that I found myself in that develped my thinking. The first thing that I became aware of was racism. My family was not outright racist, for I never heard racist comments, but my parents did believe in going along with the way things were. And clearly back in those days racism was an institutionalized part of American culture. My parents never questioned that, even though they did have a love of other cultures and sought to be exposed as much as possible to them.
Thus I did not learn about racism from my home, rather I saw it play out right in front of my eyes. In my early days I did not understand racism, rather what I understood was attitues and harassment against my friends so was against that and sometimes took action against it. When I lived on Guam I hung out with Native kids because I found them to be fun and most of the Navy kids were boring. It was as simple as that. That created the next situation for my delvelopment which was that if you did not go along with the way things were you were viewed as some type of misfit, a trador, and not only did I see the racism against the Native kids I also experience harassment from some Navy kids and school authories because of my direse to make friends with who I wanted to. In time I was removed from public school and placed in a all white Catholic school.
This created new problems for me because I was not Catholic and really did not have any religion. I don't remember ever going to any church with my parents. I was born with one hell of a stubborn streak and never liked things being forced upon me. I did not understand Catholicism and its rituals and I resisted that from being forced upon me by a group of very mean Nuns. They had a very bad habit of hitting me with their yardstick anytime I did not get things right or rebeled.
It is interesting that this was a school and the Nuns were teachers but one of the problems I had with learning they made worst. I had what was called a "wandering eye". When I focus on something one eye would drif a little to one side. With reading this meant that the words I was trying to read would get mixed up. If I pointed at what I was reading I could focus at the end of my finger and thus read. Schools taught that kids needed to read without pointing to the words. So every time I would point to a word a nun whould hit my hand very hard with her yardstick. Because of this I really did not learn how to read until the 7th grade when I had gotten unterested on books and taught myself how to read my own way.
I did not get along with the nuns and after seeing a movie about Attila the Hun, I started call the nuns Huns and Mother Superior, Attila the Hun. In time I got kicked out of that school. That started my long line of expullsions from schools. I went to 11 different high schools before I dropped out. The interest thing is that while in school, after I taught myself to read, I got good grades in some classes. I got A's in history, math and scince, but English classes did not seem to workout well for me.
When we left Guam and moved to San Francisco, we lived in military housing. In the upper apartment lived a Black family who had a kid about my age. We became friends and did many things together. Well many of the white kids did not like that and thus there were a number of fights. That is when I first heard the term "Nigger lover" yelled at me. The fights ended because the white kids did not like what happen when they provoced me. It is not that I was a good fighter it was that I would go into an intineses violent rage upon them, throwing punches as fast as I could and hitting them with anything I could find. The last fight a group of white kids made the mistake of starting a fight when I just happened to have a baseball bat. Though the fights ended the school authoiries kept harassing me and eithen though we were always out numbered and never started a fight, I was labeled as "violently anti-social".
We then moved to El Cajon and for 1963 to 1969 I managed to get kicked out of numberous schools. be arrested 10 times and got put away for a year and one day and place into two Foster Homes. Finally when I was 17 the court declaried me an "emanicapated minor" and kicked me out on to the streets without a home or a penny to my name.
When I taught myself to read I started out reading novels and history books. I also like reading the daily newspaper and watch TV news. It is there that I found that there were others rebeling against the way things were and I had learn that there was no freedom in America throw personal experiene. In 1966 I started to read about others who were rebeling. I read about the Civil Rights Movement and though I strongly agreed with their goals, I felt that their talk of non-violence and love would not work on the beast that I had known. The news and the war in Vietnam always viewed "Communists" as the enemy, so I read about Communism. But I found that once you got beyond their sloguns they were very authoritarian and for me the struggle was about freedom and not about creating new masters.
In 1967 I got involved in the anti-war movement and later that year I saw first hand how brutal the cops could be as they busted many head at a protest at the Century Plaza Hotel up in L.A. Out of that involement in the anti-war movement I later helped move AWOL military folks from San Diego to L.A. Some people had learned that I had lived in the east county and knew the roads. Driving out of San Diego on the interstate were check points. By using back roads in the east county, I was able to get them to L.A. without any notice.
After being put away for a year and one day I came back to the area where I had lived before and now some viewed me as a bit of a rebel and by then for some that was viewed as a good thing. Among thes youg folks were some that were against the war and had a little involvement with the Pease and Freedom Party. We use to get out literature from the Peace and Freedom Party. One day we got a stack of papers from the Peace and Freedom officie. It was a new paper called the San Diego Free Press. The first issue was full of information about the Black Panthers who a number of them were running in an election as canadates of the Peace and Freedom Party. I had been very inprired by the ealy Black Panthers and took those papers out in the streets to sell them. After that I sold each issue of that paper and when I went out on my own sold papers for a living.
After King had been killed I noticed that the flag was not at half mask. So, without attacking any attention to myself I just walked over to it and lowered it. Later that day I did the same thing again. The next day I brought some lighter fluid from home and got there early and pulled the flag down and covered it with the lighter fluid and lit that old flag up and raised it back up the pole. I then went back out of the school and returned my normal way at the right time. I noticed that a new flag was flying but it was now at half mask. I got called into the vice principals office and he told me that he was sure that I was some how behind the flag burning. He told me that he was not going to do anything about it because he did not want people to know that it happened and he did not want to make a martyr out of me. He then told me that my time was coming. Soon after that he faberacated a reason to have me arrested and expelled from that school.
Later in 1968 I got involved in doing support work for Black Panthers, wrote my first article on Panther prisoners. And I had started to support other struggles like the Farm Workers and some union strikes. I walked my first picketline that year. Both political prisoner support and support of on going struggles like strikes I viewed as solidarity work and I felt that was very important and though I maybe heavly involved in other things I had to always make room for solidarity work. And that I have continued to do throughout my life. From Panther prisoners to Los Trares, to Spanish anti-fascists, to Leonard Peltier who I started working for in 1979 and continue to work for to this day.
Selling underground papers was not a bad way to make a living, back in those days. On an average week you could make over $100. When there was something important going on or there was a special issue or a really good cover you could make a lot more. Along with the Street Journal we also sold the L.A. Free Press and the Chicago Seed and some smaller papers. One issue of the L.A. Free Press published a list of Narcs and I was able to sell a few hundred in San Diego. I took 500 of the up to San Francisco and in two nights I was able to sell them out in front of the Fillmore and the Family Dog to people waiting to get inside. One issue of the Chicago Seed had a cover with Mickey Mouse wearing a Spiro Agnew watch and that sold so well that we had to order more of them from Chicago.
The problem that the street vendors was not in how much they made or their conditions, but harassment by the cops. San Diego was a conservative military town and the cops clearly felt that they were the storm troopers of the ruling class. The fact that there were people selling underground papers in their streets was not something that sat well with them. Then would often arrest street vendors seize their papers as evidence and more often than not drop the charges before it ever went to court. The city council passed a law that stated that you could not stand in one place on a sidewalk which they called "blocking the sidewalk". One of our cases got that law ruled unconstitutional. But even after that ruling they still arrested people for that and then dropped the changes and stated that they did not know about the ruling. I was arrested on that out at the County Fair. When the cop told me that I was in violation of that law I stepped back in to some bushes and then I was arrested. I asked them what was I being arrested for, blocking at bush? I also pointed out that the law had been ruled unconstitutional. They held me at the fair until it closed that night then they released me. They did the same thing the following day when I tried to sell papers there again.
On the first day members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) were also there trying to sell their paper. I had been interested in checking them out because through my reading and my personnel experiences I saw the need of revolutionary organization. They were active in San Diego and I had dealt with them in antiwar organizing. But on that day at the fair as soon as the cops showed up they took off. They would not even stick around and witness my arrest. I felt that any group that was so easily intimated by the cops was not a revolutionary organization.
My normal place that I sold papers at I was not harassed by the cops. This was in front of a big department store in a liberal/alterative part of town. It was my guess that the store just did not want the possibility of losing business. One day I decided to try selling papers at the airport. I was quickly arrested. This time they did not drop the charges right off. There was a civil rights lawyer in town that had been handling street vendor free speech cases and she agreed to take up my case. As soon as she filed some motions my case was dropped.
This was not good enough for me. I felt that more had to be done and that meant organizing the street vendors. I made up fliers calling for the first meeting of the Street Vendors Free Union, which was to be held at my house (which was a very dumb move for that put a lot of heat on my house). I placed those fliers everywhere that street vendors picked up there papers. I also went around and talked to vendors out on the streets. I told them that the only way we could get the cops off our backs was to organize together and fight back. About twenty people showed up at the meeting. There were street vendors, the main distributor of the L.A. Free Press and some members of the Street Journal collective.
The distributor wanted us to join the Hip Businessmen's Association and he spoke to us as if we were independent small time capitalists. We did not like that at all and then we brought up the fact that he had been exploiting us by charging us way too much for papers. That started a bitter conflict with us and a number of so-called hip capitalists in town. All hip capitalism was to us was exploitation with a cool smile on its face. After a bit of arguing with him he got up and left.
Then we got down to our real business. We decided to form our union, which would organize legal defense for vendors and that we would begin a campaign of direct action against the harassment. At first this meant that anywhere that street vendors were harassed or arrested we would show up in force as witnesses. After our first action we changed this. Our first action was at the airport where I again tried to sell papers and was arrested again, with some 20 people watching. After that what we did was that any place where there was harassment we all would show up and sell papers.
We also decided that we did not need Hip Capitalists in the middle between us and the underground papers. To eliminate them we set up a street vendors coop in which the coop would get the papers directly. My house was the first place that the coop was run out of.
One of the people at the meeting pulled out a union pamphlet and stated that we maybe able to affiliate our union into a bigger union. That bigger union was the Industrial Workers of the World
(IWW), or as people liked to call them, the Wobblies. He read a little out of the pamphlet, including the IWW Preamble. "The working class and the employing class have nothing in common," "abolish the wage system," "an injury to one an injury to all", damn those words sounded good to me. We all were overwhelmed with the idea of joining up with a revolutionary union. We delegated a person to find out how we could join.
The members of the Street Journal collective told us that they would help us in any way that they could and that not only did they like the idea of us joining the Wobblies, but also that they would take back to the collective the idea of the collective joining with us in the IWW.
At our next meeting all the street vendors there joined the IWW. Thus on that day, April 4, 1970, I started my long membership in the IWW. I am still a member today and I expect to continue to be a member until that day comes when I am plant into the ground. We went out and signed up all the full time street vendors, many of the part time street vendors and the San Diego Street Journal collective. The Wobblies had returned to San Diego, and as I would find out late that may have meant more to the local power structure than it did to us, for the IWW had a history in San Diego that was not forgotten by the ruling class.
After that second meeting when we joined the IWW. When we got our union cards in the mail there was a letter from the GST of the IWW that included the statement "you now belong to a bonified subversive organization, act accordingly." We did. The Street Journal people put up a big poster in the office window that read "STREET VENDORS UNITE! JOIN THE STREET VENDORS FREE UNION-INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD!" It had my name on it, my phone number and even a map how to get to my house. After that the heat got so bad that I could not leave my house without being harassed by the cops. And they all knew me by name. We had to move the Street Vendors Coop out of my house because of that In Downtown San Diego in the warehouse district the Street Journal had an office, next to that they had a little store and next to that Movement for a Democratic Military (MDM) had an office and a GI coffee house.
The Street Vendor's Coop and union moved in with MDM. We had a small office space, where we had a phone where street vendors could call up if they were harassed and then we would organize a sell-in.
We also had space for the papers we carried. The Street Journal turned over to us all of the distribution of the paper to street vendors. The L.A. Free Press did not much care for us and wanted to continue to work through Mr. Hip Capitalist, but we explained to them that not one copy of their paper would be sold in the streets of San Diego if we did not get the papers directly, so they had to give in to us. We started to carry papers from all over the U.S. including the IWW paper and the Black Panther paper. The Black Panther paper had not been sold openly in San Diego since a year before when the cops forced the San Diego Panthers underground. Later on we started to sell a paper put out by the Viet Cong that we got out of a clearinghouse up in San Francisco. We also carried such papers as the Liberated Guardian (the staff of the old Guardian had split off and formed their own paper which was also an IWW shop), the Dallas Notes, the Chicago Seed, the Nola Express (from New Orleans), the Fifth Estate (from Detroit), The Sun (from Ann Arbor), the Space City (from Houston), the Berkeley Tribe, the East Village Other (from New York), the Great Speckled Bird (from Atlanta), Raising Up Angry (from Chicago), to name a few.
In the mid to late '60s there was an explosion on underground papers around the country. There were the older papers like the L.A. Free Press, Berkeley Barb and others. These papers were a bit sleazy and were capitalist enterprises. The second wave of papers were mostly cultural hip papers that would included only a little radicalism like antiwar articles. The third wave of papers were more politically radical and among them were radical papers that were more specialized around a group of people or issue. Like Women's papers, Black papers, Indian papers, Chicano papers, poor white papers, GI papers and so on. It seemed as if most every city and most every group and issue had its own paper. In my view this was great, and if it could be maintained it was one of the things that made social revolution possible. Most of the papers we carried were the more radical ones.
To those in power, the cops and the local right wing, we were becoming everything they hated. That was just fine with me, the more they hated us the more I felt like I was getting back at them for all that I had been through. The movement was important to me, but I also had my personal battle with those that I hated, so the more they hated and reacted to what I did the more I did it.
After changing our tactics from what we did at the airport we were very successful. We open up the whole damn city to free speech and the cops always back down to us when we showed up in force. After a while they just stopped harassing our people for selling papers. We would even send people to places in town where no street vendor had sold papers before. With the city opened up to us we began to hit the suburbs. The first place we hit was a shopping center in La Masa. The way that we had things worked out was that when a street vendor was approached they would pack up their papers and not force the issue until we got a lot of people out there. At the shopping center the street vendor was told that he could not sell papers there so he left and called us up. We got out there with about 25 people and started to sell papers. Then the center's security people came out and told us to leave. While everyone else continued to sell papers I talked to the security people. I told them that we had a right to free speech anyplace that was open to the public and that since they had tried to prevent one person from selling papers, now they had 25 people selling papers. The main guy told me that if we did not leave he would have the cops arrested us. I told him that if that happened we would have a 100 people out there the next day and that every day we were arrested or harassed the following day there would be more people. And I made the mistake of telling him that the center would have a hard time doing business with masses of people being arrested everyday. When the cops showed up, they arrested only me. I was told that I was being charged with extortion. After they took me away they tried to threat the others but they would not stop selling papers. One of our people called back to the office to get more people and to get a lawyer working on my situation.
At the police station they told me that I was in real bad trouble and that I was facing time locked up. They were a bit shocked when I laughed at them and told them that I had been getting locked since I was 9 years old. Then they tried the bad cop number on me and I again laughed at them and told them that if they kept that up they would get a heart attack. Then they changed their tone and told me that if I agreed to ask the other vendors to leave they would drop the changes. I told them that I did not want them to drop the charges, because this seem like it would be a nice court fight. In truth I did not give a damn about courts, but I had learned a long time ago that it was best to say that which they did not want to hear. Even when you are in a situation like this you do have some power to control the situation. After it was clear to them that nothing was going to work on me they called in the head of the security of the shopping center. He told me that if we agreed to sell papers in a booth, that they would provide, that it would be ok to sell papers there.
I then said that I would have to go back there and discuss it with everyone else. They agreed to that and took me back to the center. We all got together and bull shitted for a while making the security people and the cops stand there waiting for us. Then we sent one person over to them and asked to see the booth and where was it to be located. After that was done we agreed to the arrangement and all left but two people who set up at the booth.
As fate would have it I started to become closer to some of the Street Journal people. At that time they lived in two houses, which were right next to each other, in the Hillcrest part of town. About a block away MDM had a house where many of them lived. And I lived about two miles away. On Jackdaw Street all of us were very close and we shared things and were involved in things together, but we were not a commune. The Street Journal people functioned as a paper collective and they lived in a commune together. Part of me was fascinated by the whole arrangement, while another part of me was a little resistant of the idea. That came from the fact that I had always been very independent and tended to act upon my own impulses. The Street Journal was under a good deal of harassment from the local cops and from the far right wing militia organization called the Minutemen. Because of that they had 24 hour armed guards at their two houses. Two nights a week I use to go over there and help stand watch for them. That gave me the opportunity to spent long nights talking with a few of them and I was able to learn the story behind the paper.
As I have already stated, the Street Journal started out as the San Diego Free Press. The original group of people who began the paper were college radical students and professors out at the
University of California at San Diego (UCSD). That paper came about out of the struggle around
Marxist professor Herbert Marcuse who the conservative Californian university system was trying to fire. Marcuse was best known for his book One-Dimensional Man which called for youth to question capitalism and to take part in "the great refusal" of the values of the dominate society. Though I agreed with the idea of "the great refusal" and I already hated the values of the dominant society, I found Marcuse to be rather authoritarian in his views of how to go about this and of the new society. He had the view that a radical minority or vanguard had to force their views on the majority. To me this sounded like the recreation of what we already had. What I sought was the creation of real freedom that was not under the domination of anyone. I had already experienced a society that had tried to force their domination over me and my resistance to that is what made me a radical. I came to reject the values of this society because I rejected their domination, thus I could never accept the Marxist views. Marcuse helped me understand that, though it was not his intent. Still because of him I was coming closer to what I was really along, an anarchist, though I had yet to learned of anarchism. After clashing with Marcuse on a few occasions on the issue of domination I kept my distance from him.
Around that time some of Marcuse's students, including maybe his most well known student, Angela Davis, organized Black and Chicano students together for the creation of a Third World College which they named after Patrice Lumumba and Emiliano Zapata. That struggle had a great influence on the S.D. Free Press and later the Street Journal for it took a strong stand in support of all oppressed people. And had strong ties to both the Black and Chicano liberation movements.
The idea of Marcuse of "the great refusal" and the rejection of the societies values, was translated into the Free Press and later in the Street Journal in the form of exposes on the corruption of local politicians and business people. In the old days of journalism this type of work was called muckraking.
The first real important target that the Street Journal took aim at was multimillionaire "Mr. San Diego" C. Arnhold Smith. Smith was basically the top dog in the San Diego power structure and was Richard Nixon's largest campaign contributor in his '68 presidential campaign. Like all such top dogs, Smith thought that the system was his to use in anyway he wanted and that laws were just for the inferior masses. While it is true that the system is set up to protect the rich and to maintain and advance the system, but also this system is based upon greed and competition. Its a dog eat dog world, and there are always littler dogs ready to devour the top dogs and take their place. What muckraking could do is to give the littler dogs the scent of blood and that would drive them wild feeding on the carcass of the top dog. This is what the Street Journal was able to do to Smith and some of his clonnies.
The Street Journal ran articles about how Smith had built his fortune by having the U.S. National Bank and the Westgate-California Corporation (which he sat on the board of directors) buy companies that he owned at greatly inflated prices. Then he would buy more companies and have those bought also. Then there were articles on his real estate deals. like when he was tipped off on where a new bridge was going to be built so that he could buy up land and the sell it for a huge profit. There were many articles on one of Smiths clonnies the Alisio family. The one scam by them that got people really worked up had to do with the race track they ran down in Tijuana where poor workers were paid to be "stand in" winners for the owners of the race track. In other words the Alisios were always the big winners. There were also articles on the Mayorand City Council's connections to the scams that were going on. So the littler dogs eat up the bigger dogs, Smith ended up losing his companies and spent time in prison. The last I heard of him was when he sued his ex-wife for alimony. The Alisios got busted on the largest tax evasion case in the history of the U.S. at that time. The Mayor and some of the City Council got indicted, but the charges were dropped after Nixon would not let the federal investigators, who had built the case, testify.
Right after that indictment we did a cover of the Street Journal in which we took an old Boss Tweed cartoon and changed the names and put in new names. At the top of the cover we put the headline "SAN DIEGO HAS BEST CITY GOVERNMENT MONEY CAN BUY!"
I took 200 copies down to city hall at lunch time and sold out of them in less that a half an hour.
While I was there the Mayor came out with a bunch of his hanger ons, and I started to yell out the
headline. He turned and looked at me and if looks could kill my life of upsetting the authorities would have ended on that day.
The Street Journal also ran articles on the Coply Press which was owned by the Coply family, an old powerful family in San Diego. They owned the local daily paper, the San Diego Union and a number of other papers around the country. The San Diego Union was a very reactionary paper that only printed the news that they wanted people in San Diego to know about.
The reactionary powers that controlled San Diego had many reasons to hate us. First by starting out by defending Marcuse, then the muckraking, then being young antiwar radicals, our sell-ins,
selling such hated papers as the Black Panther and the Viet Cong paper, our close work with MDM and then joining the IWW, which they took as the proof of our connection to the international Communist conspiracy. Within months we would greatly add to this list.
Three times the Street Journal's office windows were shot up. Two times the office was broken into, once they stold 2,500 copies of the paper and equipment was smashed. The next time $4,000
worth of typesetting equipment was destroyed. We had our vehicles sabotaged and one of them firebombed. One of the houses was raided and another time one of our guards was arrested. The threats against all of us were very real and helping out by pulling guard duty was something that I did not take lightly. Little did any of us know that what had happen so far were just the warning signs of the coming storm.
The day that the storm broke lose started out a normal day, like most others. I had take a bundle of Street Journals out to San Diego State College where they were having a radical teach-in that day. The main speaker was to be Angela Davis who was in the middle of her fight with the authorities of the University of California who was trying to fire her from her teaching job at UCLA. The students putting on the teach-in had been receiving a number of threats, mostly they were against the life of Angela Davis. As soon as I got there I was recruited for the security team.
They asked me if I could get some of the other people that I was connected with to help also. I first called the MDM office but nobody was there. Then I called over to one of the Street Journal houses and was told that they could not speak to me at that time. That is when I knew something was going on. After Angela Davis spoke and left I went over to the Street Journal, it was my night for pulling guard duty, so I thought I would just show up early and find out what was going on.
What had happen is that an undercover cop has been exposed. But this guy was not just any undercover cop, he was Jay King. The man had been involved in almost every radical group in the city and was viewed as one of the top radical leaders. The group that he was most involved with was MDM. This was a complete shock to me, not only because he was a person that we all looked up to, but also he was a person who I had strong connections to. I had pulled many long hours of office duty for the union at the office that we shared with MDM. Of all the top radical leaders at that time he was the one that took the greatest interest in me. We spent many hours at the office talking and I had signed him up into the IWW. He was a tall older man with long hair and beard and a pock marked face who liked to wear a black beret. He looked every bit the radical in the image of Che Guevara. He always spoke of the need to take the struggle to a higher level which was basically to bring the war home to the streets of America. Like the young naive fool that I was, I was very taken in by all his so-called revolutionary talk. I would have been more than willing to go alone with anything he wanted.
As we later found out he had already set up a group of young radicals in a bombing plan in which he had supplied the bomb and then they were busted. Since this folks would not talk to the cops, or anybody else about what really happened, no body knew that Jay King was behind it until he was exposed. I hear from time to time people saying that when an undercover cop is found that the best way to deal with it is to just keep and eye on them. The argument is that it is better to know who is the cop, rather than expose them and only have a new undercover cop to deal with who you don't know who they maybe. This idea is very dangerous. It takes time for undercover cops to work their way into the movement. And when you have one that has gained trust and respect, like Jay King had, you run the risk of what they will be able to do with that trust and respect. Once you know for sure that a person is a cop, expose them right away. But, the most important part in this is knowing for sure that the person is a cop. One of the tactics that the cops will use is to try to get people to think that someone who is important to the movement is really a cop. When people start looking at each other in paranoia, then the cops tactics has worked. If you ever hear someone say of another person that they are a cop, ask for the proof. If they have no real proof, then tell them that they are doing the work of the cops for them. Real proof is not hearsay or easily planted information.
Jay King turned out to be Lieutenant John Paul Murray, second in command of the San Diego Police Department's Red Squad. He was found out when a woman was admitted into a local hospital and Murray came to visit her and acted like they were very close. A person who worked at the hospital was a friend of some of the MDM people and knew that the person he knew as King was having a relationship with one of the women at the MDM house. He wondered who this women was that was in the hospital and he looked into her file. In that file it stated that she was married to a John Paul Murry who was employed by the San Diego Police Department. He then called MDM and told them what he had found. There was either another undercover cop who was in the inter circle of MDM or that phone was tapped because the cops found out very quickly that their top undercover agent was exposed. The cops brought in a number of MDM people and told them that if anything happened to Murray they would be killed.
The Street Journal was going to press at that time and a page was removed and a statement was added about Murray. A few of our people made up "wanted posters" on Murray and we postered them up all over town. One person even nailed one to Murray's front door. Some other person ordered and had delivered funeral flowers to Murray's wife. As it turned out Murray was not the only undercover cop that we exposed, in the next few months three more were found that I had signed up in the IWW.
After Murray was exposed the cops turned up the heat on everyone. One night at the MDM office and GI coffee house when a meeting was taking place the cops and the military police started pounding on the door. Then they kicked the door in saying that they had reason to believe that there was an AWOL person there. They then grabbed the first short haired person they could get and began to drag him out. Then they stopped and asked him if he was in the military. I guess it had dawned on one of them that arresting someone for being AWOL would not look so good if they were not in the military. What the cops failed to notice was that the whole affair was being filmed. Attorney Mark Lane was going around the country putting together a documentary on GI coffee houses and he just happened to be there that night filming. He later held a press conference and released what he had filmed that night to the local press.
In less than a week after Murray was exposed the house I lived in was raided. I had heard a knock on the front door and when I went over there to answer it my back door was kicked in and a bunch of cops came running in with the guns drawn. They knocked me to the floor and put a gun in my face. Then they tore up the house and ripped up some the papers that we had. After they were done they told me that they had been tipped off that there was a stock pile of guns in the house.
Because of the raid, the continuous police harassment and the threatening phone calls, the Street Journal people suggested that I move into one of their house. I did not really want to do that because I like where I was at and I had known some of the people on that dead-end street for a while. But the reality was that I had to move away for the sake of my friends there because of all the heat that was on me.
The cops had also forced the Street Journal office and the MDM office to close down. What they did was first try to get the landlord to evict us. When that did not work they arrested him for
"suspicion of murder" even though he did not fit the description of the murderer. Then the landlord was willing to evict us and the cops dropped the charges against him.
The Street Journal was beginning to expand to include more people and groups involved in it. The first part of that expansion was to include El Barrio which was published by the local Brown
Berets. A number of the Brown Berets that worked on El Barrio also joined the union.
The Brown Berets was a Chicano organization that was deeply influenced by Reies Tijerina and his movement Alianza, which numbered somewhere between 10-15,000 members. After Alianza
seized the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, Reies Tijerina and Alianza became role models for the
Chicano youth all across the southwest. The other contemporary influence was Corky Gonzalez and the Crusade for Justice. They also drew from the historical spirit of Emiliano Zapata. Though they did strongly support Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, the Brown Berets rejected the idea that social change would only come through nonviolence. Like the relationship that the Black Panthers had with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, both the Panthers and the Brown Berets felt that the dominate system had no real moral valves to appeal to and that social change had to come "by any means necessity" as Malcolm X put it. On this I was in complete agreement.
Another idea that the Panthers, the Brown Berets and other such organizations had in common was Revolutionary Nationalism. My views on this has been strongly influenced by some of the writings by Vine Deloria, Jr. and others on the question of nations. Basically there are three types of nations. First, there is the nation state of the dominate society. Then there are the natural nations of indigenous people like the Lakota or Hopi. The dominate nation state groups people together based upon race, culture and other such things. Their policies are based upon those groupings. From the viewpoint of the liberation struggles these groupings are nations of oppressed people. The purpose of the dominate nation state is to assimulate these groups into the hierarchical order of things in which these groups are placed at a lower level and are subjected to the control of the higher levels. This process makes it necessary, if there is to be any real form of liberation, that they establish self-determination for their oppressed nations. And to do this by revolutionary means is what Revolutionary Nationalism is basically all about.
The Brown Berets was an outgrowth from the Young Citizens for Community Action and was founded in November of 1967. It was a part of a new wave of revolutionary self-determination organizations that were created because people had grown tired of asking for their rights and getting little more than the iron heal of repression. These organizations, rather than asking for things that the people never got, decided to work to formulate a revolution to restructure society altogether. For the Brown Berets their revolutionary nationalism came in the form of the Nation of Aztlan. In San Diego most of their work had been around the education system, police brutality, the Chicano Moratorium and the Chicano People's Park.
With the offices closed down and with the addition of El Barrio to the Street Journal, it was decided that a third house was needed. An old three story victorian mansion has found in Barrio Logan. It had been owned by some liberal priests who could not keep up the payments on it. This new house became the center for the street vendor's coop which was given the complete distribution of the Street Journal. Because of the muck raking the Street Journal had built it's circulation up to 10,000 weekly. There were 150 newspaper boxes and many stores that the coop took care of. The new house also was the union center, and included a few Brown Berets, MDM people and a few people from the other two Street Journal houses. I also moved into the new house. In the surrounding community within a few blocks of the house, lived a number of other Brown Berets. Living in this house was very different than the other Street Journal houses because it seemed that the community wanted us there and supported what we were doing. This became very real for us when the harassment of the house began shortly after it opened.
Soon to follow El Barrio came a new part of the paper that was put out by some of the San Diego Black Panthers who had been suppressed by the police. This new section was called Black
Community Newsservice. Later when money problems had hit MDM they would publish their paper within the Street Journal from time to time. Each part of the paper was responsible for their own section. This worked out very nicely and it gave all of us a great feeling of unity in struggle without any domination from any of the parts. Out of the necessity brought about because of limitations of money and the repression that we were all under, created a working unity that I have not seen since. The experience of this unity influenced the rest of my life, for I learned through it that all struggles are connected and that self-determination can be maintain while united in common struggle.
The harassment from the cops and the right wing started not long after we opened the new house. On many nights the cops would come by and shine their spotlights into our windows. On one night the back of our house was fire bombed and before our watch could get from the front of our house to the back the cops were already there leaning on their car laughing, watching the back of our house burn. This was an act of attempted murder, for we had people sleeping right above the area that was burning. The next day we called in union members to help stand watch. We also brought in every gun we could locate. So for awhile after that we had armed wobblies there to protect the house. And people from the community were also keeping an eye out for us. But the cowards would not come back when we were organized to defend ourselves.
The most active of the right wing groups in San Diego were the Minutemen. They had members in the San Diego Police Department and the Fire Department which they used the Fire Department's faculties and radio band. According to the testimony of a right wing leader and FBI paid informer, Howard Berry Godfrey, the San Diego Police Department and the FBI had organized, trained and equipped the Minutemen and later the Secret Army Organization. And that they had been responsible for gun shots fired at the Street Journal, the smashing of office windows and equipment, the stealing of 2,500 papers, the fire bombing of a Street Journal car (which after that happen the cops threaten to impound the car at our expense), the arson of our office and a number of other acts. They had connections with some of the business community, the FBI and the military police. C. Arnholt Smith once stated at a stockholders meeting after being questioned about some of the things that the Street Journal had printed about him, that his wished that there was a "way to bomb them (the Street Journal) to the far side of the Coronados" (group of islands off the coast from San Diego). It seemed that he had people trying to do that for him.
Even without Godfrey's statement it was easy to see that we were being hit by an coordinated attack. The countless arrests of street vendors and Street Journal people, the illegal raids on the Street Journal by the S.D. cops and military police, wire taps, hidden microphones, infrared photography and so on. And then the acts of the Minutemen and later the Secret Army Organization. All this clearly pointed to a planed out attack upon us by local business people, the S.D. police, the district attorney, the military, the FBI and the paramilitary right wing.
In the '60s and early '70s the federal government was going insane with programs against anyone they viewed as a threat to them. There was the Interagency Committee on Intelligence which was made up of the directors of the CIA, NAS, FBI, and the DIA out of which came the Huston Plan under the direction of the President. All these agencies complied their information into the Interdivistional Information Unity data bank. Each agency had it's own programs and lists of dangerous people. The CIA had it's Operation Chaos. The FBI had it's COINTELPRO program.
And there were direct links to state and local police. How much of this was involved in what happen to the Street Journal, we may never know. But what we do know is that on a national level the underground press was a target of all this pertically COINTELPRO. And they had many reasons beyond just disliinge the Street Journal because it was an underground paper. Hell we caused the down fall of Nixon's main money man, Smith.
Here is an interesting foot note to all this, FBI SA Richard Held in the late '60s was involved in the repression of the Black Panthers in L.A. and San Diego, then was an overseer of the Secret Army Organization (and its acts against the wobblies and others), then he pops up at Pine Ridge
overseeing the GOON Squad there and the repression of AIM, then involved in the same type of work in Puerto Rico and then was involved in the bombing of Judi Bari (another wobbly). The man gets around doesn't he?
One day, two self-descrided "leaders" of the L.A. Panthers showed up at our house telling us that we were not to work with our friends of the Black Community Newsserice because they were renagades. They also told us to take down the Panther posters in the house and that the Panthers do not make any alliances. They also did not like us selling Panther papers on the streets.
We were not sure what to make of all this because it seemed as if they did not want us supporting the Panthers in any way. They were very verbally abusive of us, issuing us orders and what not.
What was these people's game, we thought? The headquarters of the Panthers was in Oakland
and they knew full well we were selling the Panther paper, for they were the ones sending it to us.
And as for the posters, it was them who sent them to us. They knew about Black Community Newsservice for they got our paper. We connected Oakland and asked them about this and they stated that they too could not understand this and that we should continue as we always had been doing. They stated that they were grateful to us for keeping the Panther paper on the streets of San Diego. As it turned out those two guys were working for the FBI trying to disrupt the movement and support for the Panthers.
With all the work involved with the Street Journal and the union, we had little time for much else. We tried to go to most of the demonstrations, both to cover the event for the paper and to do our part in the struggle. It was a while before I was willing to write for the paper because I felt that I was not much of and writer and could not write on the same level as others involved with the paper. Here I was a high school dropout among former college professors and former college students. One day I was asked by a few women of the collective why I did not write. It seemed to them that I had strong opinions, but I never put them down on paper. I explained my reasons and they decided to teach me. Maybe the most important thing they said was that there are two types of writers. There is the writer who can write about nothing and make it sound good. The other type of writer was those that had a good story to tell and let the story hold the interest of the reader, rather than the way the words were used. Though not everyone has the ability to be the first type of writer, anyone can learn to be the other type of writer. They helped me with my first article, which was on the street vendors.
My first big article was going to be on the upcoming Yippy invasion of Disneyland. Walt Disney was a known right winger and supported the war in Vietnam. Since he supported the invasion of Vietnam, the Yippies thought it was a good idea to invade Disneyland. The idea that was spreading throughout the antiwar movement was to bring the war home to those that supported the war. The word that came to us was that everyone was going to crash the gates. The Yippy leaders and other party members paid their way in. Those on the inside did manage to take Tom Sawyers island and seize control of the pirate ship for a while.
Those of us on the outside tried to break in. Some made it, some did not. I was one of those that did not. The group I was with ripped down a fense and started up a hill. Much to our surprise a line of cops came up from the other side of the hill. We were greatly out numbered so we turned around and ran like hell. I ran on to a city bus hoping to get away before they saw where I went. A Disneyland rent a pig saw where I had gone and he came onto the bus. I bluffed him off the bus with fake Karate moves. Once off the bus we resumed the chase. Finally some other cop jumped me from behind and drove me to the ground. Then other cops piled on, just like what you see in football games. I was charged with assault on a cop and a few other things were thrown in just to make it sound nice. Once I was in the patty wagon I found that some of those arrested had done nothing at all and were not a part of the invasion. Their only crime was that they looked like they could have been one of us. One guy who had his face all smashed in was just a tourist from the Netherlands who had picked the wrong time to walk up and try to buy tickets for his family. When the cops came up to him he asked them what was going on and they then went about showing him by beating his face with clubs.
The cops had used plastic handcuffs and they were on very tight. People in the patty wagon were complaining about it. One dumb pig replaced them one by one and they were so lose that we could slip out of them. When they took us to the jail, as we got off the patty wagon one by one we handed them our plastic handcuffs. The look on those poor cops faces was beautiful. The next day we were taken infront of a judge who set the bail on all of us at $1,000. The Yippies had organized no outside support for those that got busted. My people got me and the other Street Journal people bailed out. Many who had nobody on the outside had to stay in. There was not even lawyers for them. After this it was years before I would have anything to do with Yippies again.
I never got a chance to write that article because the day after I got out of jail the cops showed up at our house with tow trucks. They said that all of our vehicles had been parked in the same place too long and thus they were abandoned. I called them liars and one of our people produced a ticket that he had gotten in one of them just a few hours before. They still said that they were going to tow all our vehicles away. So I walked over to them and placed them under citizens arrest for grand thief auto. They then arrested me for disturbing the peace, interfering with an officer and threaten to charge me with trying to start a riot. I told them their rights all the way to jail. They would not let my people bail me out until I went to court. As it worked out the same day that I went to court in San Diego was also my next court date for the Disneyland bust, which was one county away. I did not realize it at that time but they were out to play games with me.
They did not notify the other court that I was in jail in San Diego. My bail in San Diego was set at another $1,000. When my people raised that bail, the jail found that I had a warrant out on me from the other court and that bail was $10,000. When they were able to find a bail bondsman to handle that, the jail found another warrant out for me from Riverside county. But when my people
tried to deal with that one the jail told them that they had no record of me being in their jail. Folks
started to try to find me, thinking that I had been sent to some other county. What really had happened is that the jail did not rebook me after my bail was paid. Thus according to the San Diego jail they were not holding me. My guess is that what they were trying to do is to make me miss another court date and then my people would be out the bail money and I would have a much higher bail put on me. They knew I was in their jail because of the head count. If it had just been a mistake they would have found it by counting one too many people in their jail. Though I did not know what was going on, I did have some understanding of the law. I knew that either county had but five court days to come and get me. On the sixth day I wrote up an inmate request slip demanding to be released. And they released me.
Because of the police harassment and brutality a coalition had been formed to organize a march and rally. This we called Stop The Pig Day, or STP day. I had not been at the first few meetings because I had been in jail. At those meetings there was a split as to who would lead the march and put together the security. Since I was not a part of the split and had good relations with both sides I became the compromise. The march was lead by and the security was done by the IWW. We organized a security team as if we were expecting to be attacked by the cops. By using a communication system and a well worked out plan we would be able to change the direction of the march on a moments notice. If we were attacked in any direction, we would change the direction of the march to where the cops were not at. Our security also had smoke bombs so that if we were attacked we could lay down a cover of smoke and it would be hard for the cops to see our new direction. We had 38 handheld smoke bombs and in the front we had a huge marine smoke bomb. We also had people carring guitar cases full of ax handles just in case the cops were dumb enough to charge us through the smoke. The only thing I forgot was that I only knew one anti-cop cant. So there I was an 18 year old kid with a bullhorn leading some 300 people down the main street in downtown San Diego with the cant, "No more pigs in our communities! Off the pigs". I don't have to wonder why the cops in San Diego never much liked me. The cops let us have our day without any trouble. I was a little disappointed because I did want to see how well our system worked. Nobody but our group of wobblies knew how we had organized our system.
One of the big business/politician clubs (I don't recall it's name) invited the Street Journal to come talk to their club on "the role of the underground press". Such an opportunity could not be passed up. The first idea was to try to build Wilhelm Reich's rainmaker. Some of the Street Journal people were into Wilhelm Reich. They had printed a pirate edition of his banned book The Mass Psychology of Fascism, which had been unavailable in the U.S. since the '50s when it along with other writings by Reich had been banned. They idea was to go to this club and demand that the city government be abolished or we would make it rain for 40 days and 40 nights.
This idea had a nice connection to Sa Diego history. Many years before San Diego had been in a
long drought. A so-called rainmaker had been hired and when it started to rain it would not quit.
This caused massive floods and the Otay dam had broken. It is also interesting to note that the Wobblies had been involved in building the dam and spoke out about its poor quality, which they called capitalist sabotage. I should point out that most of the poorer people lived in the older parts of town which were mostly on higher ground, so many of the rich would be flooded first.
We were unable to build the rainmaker. Instead of that plan we showed up in force and our speaker retold the stories of the IWW in San Diego and then proclaimed that "the Wobblies are back!" And then we all walked out.
When I had the time I was still reading books on revolution. As I did I was becoming more frustrated because none of these books seem fit me very well. I had voiced that frustration at times in our meetings. Then one day one of the former college professors handed me a book on anarchism. Finally I find out what I really was, an anarchist! In that book were the following words by Michael Bakunin which he spoke to the authorities in Russia, which seemed to fit me completely; "I am an impossible person, I shall remain impossible as long as those who are now possible remain possible." I was not antisocial as the authorities liked to call me, I was impossible!
I started to read every anarchist book I could lay my hands on. And I passed them along to the other core Wobblies and then we were all anarchists. We found anarchist papers (mostly from outside of the U.S.) and carried them in our coop. We now carried black flags at all the marches.
We ran across an "Eat The Rich" graphic in a paper and that gave us an idea. We did up an "Eat The Rich" flier which included the names of some of the big business people in town as the food served at a great "Eat The Rich" feast. We then placed a flier in every copy of the Wall Street Journal in all the newspaper boxes in downtown San Diego. That prank even made it on the tv news.
Then one night everything came tumbling down. A meeting had been called of all the Street Journal people. At that meeting we were told that most of the people of the Street Journal were going to leave and that all three houses were going to be closed down. This decision was made by the "leaders" and that was that. They told us that they wanted to move on to other things. That was easy for the college professors for they had their other life to go back to. Those of us who did not have anything to go back to were left high and dry. Most of these folks left town. A few started a print shop that also left town a bit later. Some of the women opened their own house and started a women's paper. The rest of us went where ever we could find a place to go. I found a very small place a few blocks from where our house had been.
A handful of us tried to keep the Street Journal going, but we were only able to get a few issues out. After it folded a group of people from the Progressive Labor Party took the name and got out a few issues. They thought that they could capitalize on all that the Street Journal had done and make it seem like that it was they who had done it.
A few months before the Street Journal had folded there was a diagram of how to make a molotov cocktail published in El Barrio. Two FBI agents came and told us that the police were considering busting El Barrio for that and that we should print a retraction. It was obvious that the FBI was trying to create a division between the Street Journal and El Barrio. The Street Journal handled this in the same way it did about everything else. A very sarcastic retraction was printed next to a diagram of how to build a hydrogen bomb we had found in a magazine.
A short time later we were tipped off that the houses were going to be raided over this. We put out a call for people to surround the houses on the day that the raids were to take place. We were then informed by the State Attorney General that the raids had been called off out of the fear of the reaction that it would have caused.
Shortly after the Street Journal folded three Chicanos, David Rico, Ricardo Gonzales and Carlos Calderon,(two of which were IWW members) who had worked on El Barrio were arrested for Criminal Syndicalism, commission of murder and manufacturing fire bombs. It seems that the cops felt that once the Street Journal had folded that they could then move in and repress the rest of the movement. This case became known as "Los Tres de San Diego".
Criminal Syndicalism was an old law that had been passed in 23 states to try to crush the IWW
lone ago. Basically the Criminal Syndicalist laws were passed to outlaw views that the authorities were fearful of. Since the authorities could not suppress movements that they feared by laws against acts of crime, they made the act of thinking a crime. Many Wobblies went to prison for doing nothing more than being a member of the IWW. After the 1920s these laws were no longer used against the IWW. It was not until Los Tres that IWW members found themselves once again facing the charge of Criminal Syndicalism.
The local Wobblies organized a General Defense Committee (GDC) of the IWW. The GDC of the IWW had been dormant for many years before that. The GDC helped with the Los Tres de San Diego Defense Committee, and gather support from the rest of the IWW. One old time Wobbly was very instrumental in aiding this case, that was Fred Thompson. Fred had done time for Criminal Syndicalism in San Quentin years before, and was very likely the most knowledgeable person around on that law. He aided the lawyers with first hand knowledge and did research for the case. He also helped raise defense funds among old time Wobblies.
The IWW convention was coming up and Los Tres asked me to go to it to plead the case. This I did. While I was in Chicago for that convention Fred and I talked over the case, both for what he could do to help and for information for an article that would be in the IWW's paper, the Industrial Worker.
There was an undercover cop who was the most important part of the government's case. The key to the charge of manufacturing fire bombs came from a Brown Beret meeting in which this undercover cop stated that the Berets decide to build firebombs. The other people who were at that meeting were being intimidated by the D.A. that if they testified to the truth of what was said at that meeting that they too would face charges. So when Fred asked me if it were possible if the undercover cop placed the diagram in El Barrio, I said it was possible. I felt that it would not be a smart move on my part to state that I had direct knowledge of who drew up that diagram. For I was more directly connected to it than were two members of Los Tres. I not only knew who did it, but I was the only other person there when it was done.
After the IWW convention I took a few more trips to spread the word about the case. While the case was going on doing support work for Los Tres was my main movement activity. Getting so involved in this case led to my near continuous work in support of political prisoners over the years.This was not a conscious decision, but rather there was always the next case that needed help.
Ricardo Gonzalez lived only a few houses away from me. We spent a lot of time talking and out of that came the idea of starting a new paper. We gathered a few members of the Chicano and Black community together and we put out the first issue of Martumba. The lead article was on Los Tres. We held a benefit for the paper after the first issue, but someone stold the money. And then a number of developments happen in the case and we could not get back to raising money for
The first move by the D.A. was to drop the commission of murder charge. Then the defense lawyers filed a motion on the constitutionally of the Criminal Syndicalism law. The judge dropped the Criminal Syndicalism charge rather than rule on its constitutionally. That left but one charge in which only two of Los Tres were charged with. Because of the threat to charge other berets that were at the meeting if they testified, the last two members of Los Tres excepted a plea bargain.
I had been involved in a few other things like a print coop and a committee that was planning for demonstrations at the San Diego Republican Convention (which was moved to Miami). But after Los Tres I felt like most everything I had worked for was gone. I was still being harassed by the cops and the right wing. Even my parents received a bomb threat from the Secret Army Organization. Many others were also being harassed. A radical professor at San Diego State College, Peter Bohmer, which the college was trying to fire, the Secret Army Organization shot into his house hitting a former member of the Street Journal. Peter went through a lot of hell in San Diego. Years later we met again after I moved up to Tacoma, Washington and he was teaching at Evergreen State College in Olympia. He was the only person left from those days that I still know of. I had gotten married to the girl who saw me being dragged back into the Aid. We sold what we could and then hit the road to find the revolution elsewhere.