August 28, 2023

Well, how did I get here?

by David Ranney


Early Years
Race and Class
Christian Science
My Introduction to the Black Civil Rights Movement
My First Academic Career 1966-1973
Moving to Chicago
Two Revolutionary Organizations: Sojourner Truth Organization (STO)
And News and Letters Committees (N&L)
My Return to Academia (1983)
Global Decisions Local Collisions
New World Disorder
Where is Here?


I am not writing this for publication. I will make it available to any family or friends who are interested and might find it helpful to their own development, curiosity or understanding. But I really wrote it for myself in an attempt to answer the question posed by the Talking Heads and David Byrne in the song, Once in a Lifetime: “Well, how did I get here?” So what is written here are a set of reflections rather than a formal memoir.

Around the time I was well into my 80th year I began thinking about why it was that my two brothers and I turned out so differently. My oldest brother, Phil, ended up as a conservative Republican lawyer who spent his entire working life in a conservative Republican law firm. My younger brother Mike has for some time been a liberal Democratic Party activist, the CEO of the Ohio Psychological Association and an openly gay male who is married to a wonderful husband, Greg. Politically, I consider myself to be a revolutionary Marxist-Humanist who has been engaged in active revolutionary politics since the late 1960s. (At the end of these reflections I will briefly explain what that label means to me). Drawing this distinction between my own political trajectory and that of my brothers, I want to be clear that despite our differences I have always felt very close to my two brothers.

When I entered Dartmouth College in 1957, Phil was a senior there. We both  considered ourselves Republicans. I actually voted for Nixon over Kennedy in the Presidential election. (Interestingly, Phil who was then out of Dartmouth, studying law at Case Western Reserve and working as an administrative assistant to the Democratic Party Mayor of Lakewood, Ohio, voted for Kennedy). Later he went on to represent some key players in the Committee to Re-elect the President (Nixon) who were in big trouble around the Watergate break-in. But my views changed too and very rapidly. By the time I got to graduate school at Syracuse University I found myself actively involved in opposition to the Viet Nam War and in support of the growing Black civil rights movement. And I was embarrassed about my youthful flirtation with Nixon! 

As anyone who reads this will soon find out, the rest of my life was a steady march politically and ideologically to the left – to what my friends and I proudly call the ultra-left. So I have been trying to figure out how this trajectory came about. Some of my current friends and comrades are referred to as “red diaper babies,” meaning that their parents were either in the Communist Party or in one of the Trotskyist parties. I was, by contrast, a “red, white and blue diaper baby.” My parents were very conservative, American flag waving Republicans (in those days that meant that they were to the left of President Eisenhower and supported Robert Taft over Eisenhower in the Presidential primaries. But they were not what might be called “alt-right” today). Their support of Taft was likely because he was a solid social and fiscal conservative and from Ohio. I don’t that it had anything to do with Eisenhower’s strong support of U.S. imperialism and his choice of the Dulles brothers to carry it out. But they were likely in support of that too.

Early Years

I was raised with my two brothers in an all-white conservative mostly Republican suburb just west of Cleveland, Ohio. Phil, was three years older than me. Mike was seven years younger. In the Cleveland area at the time, Blacks didn’t dare stray west of the city. A few were permitted to enter in the daytime for domestic work. I heard kids say that if they came to our town after dark or tried to live in our town they would get the shit kicked out of them. I wasn’t sure why. But I didn’t ask until years after I went away to college.

My dad had an unusual name: Omar Steel Ranney. He was a graduate of Dartmouth College and worked as a journalist. He was the theatre and movie critic for the largest newspaper in Ohio, The Cleveland Press. He was very well known as he wrote a daily column called “Stage and Screen” that was read by the parents of most of my friends. He was also President of the School Board. He came from a family of industrialists. My grandfather founded Bettcher Manufacturing Corporation in Cleveland. My dad was named after the CEO of American Steel and Wire in Cleveland.  He died very young at the age of 49. That year, 1957, he had been named by a panel of Cleveland luminaries, “Man of the Year.”

Because of his early death, my memories of him are few. He was considered a celebrity by people in the Cleveland area and was very well liked by everyone he encountered. He won his run for School Board by a huge margin. What I most remember him for was his sense of fairness and his kindness to everyone. My memories of him are mostly happy. He would take me to work with him and I got to go into the printing plant and watch the typesetters work the hot type machine and watch the presses rolling. And I went up to the city room and watched the artists touch up pictures and draw cartoons. I sat at his desk. We went to theatre and film openings and met the actors backstage. I once had dinner with my dad and the Lone Ranger without his mask. I remember the man telling me that I should never tell anyone who he really was. I didn’t tell him that I still had no idea who he was. On another occasion, I traveled with my dad on a circus train and stayed in the private car of a famous movie cowboy, Hopalong Cassidy (“Hoppy”) who was traveling with the show. During the trip, I fed Hoppy’s horse whose name was Topper, handled Hoppy’s gun and fell in love with a bareback rider who was also eight years old. 

My relationship with Mother was more complex. She was a stay-at-home mom but also a very talented writer who worked with my Dad on independent writing projects – newsletters for the taxi cab industry, a guide book for the Cleveland Zoo, a magazine about Cleveland area entertainment. She lacked a college education, something that represented a great disappointment in her life. As a result she was vehement that her three boys would excel academically in school and go on to college.

Her mother and father also lacked college degrees. My grandmother was a stay-at- home mom and her husband was a traveling salesman who had the skills but not the ambition to be an engineer. He designed and sold fire suppressing sprinkler systems for public buildings. He was good at what he did but had a serious alcohol problem. My mother grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and Atlanta, Georgia. She was raised to be “upper class.” She was educated in a strict, conservative Protestant girls school. She was taught all of the class and racial prejudice that prevailed at that time. 

As she grew up, her dad’s alcoholism became worse and worse. He would lose his job regularly but because he was so likeable and competent he would get the job back once he dried out. That happened a number of times, causing the family income to go to zero. They left rented living quarters at times in the middle of the night because they couldn’t pay the rent. Mother was called upon even as a young girl to find her father when he had passed out in a bar somewhere and bring him home. He eventually died in a hotel room in Toledo, Ohio and it was Mother and my dad (they were engaged at the time) who went and claimed his body and saw to the funeral and burial. All of this made Mother tough, persistent and determined that her boys would not have to live this sort of a life. 

My dad was soft spoken but firm. My mother did most of the heavy lifting when it came to discipline except once.

My parents went away for three days. I think my dad had some interviews to do in New York and Mother went with him. Mike had not yet been born. They brought in an older woman to take care of my brother Phil and I while they were gone. Her name was “Mrs Rickmer.” My parents told my brother and me that she was a “Christian Science nurse.” To this day, I have no idea what that means. But I do remember that she was mean and wouldn’t let us leave the house to go play on the Lincoln School playground across the street. Phil and I plotted against her. We told her we couldn’t reach something in a closet and when she went into the closet we shut and locked the door. I can’t remember how long she was in there. What I do remember vividly to this day (I believe I was six or seven at the time) was coming home from school with my brother. My dad was in the yard trimming a tree. I was so glad to see him.

“Hi dad. What are those sticks for?”


We go inside. Our mother is standing in the kitchen looking at us with narrow steely eyes. It is a look we knew well.

“Both of you take off your pants.”

“Why?” my brother croaks.

“Do it!”

We do it and I watch in terror as my mother drags Phil into the yard, holds him over a picnic bench while my dad switches his legs. He is screaming as she leads him back inside. I can see blood on the back of his legs. I try to make a run for it but Mother grabs me and begins to drag me into the yard. I plead with them to no avail and face the switching. After it is over they take us to the bathroom and gently wash the cuts on our legs. They both feel bad. Dad tells us in his kind and soft voice that Mrs Rickmer would not be asked to care for us again. But in spite of that we needed to know that this behavior would not be tolerated. I have never locked anyone in a closet for the past 78 years.

Race and Class

My Mother’s childhood--being raised in all white, Protestant, middle income neighborhoods and schools in the South--shaped her racial and class attitudes as an adult. Ultimately this led to serious conflict with me. I had virtually no contact with Black kids other than playing against them in inter-scholastic sporting events. We never socialized. An older (fiftyish) Black woman named Louise came to our house once a week to iron shirts and help my mother clean the house. I have no idea where she lived or how she got to our house. I think she may have also worked for some of my mother’s friends. 

Louise was the only Black person I ever talked to until I went away to college. My mother had a special fork, knife, spoon, dishes and sugar bowl for Louise which she used for her lunch. Louise washed and dried these when she was through with them. They sat on their own shelf in the kitchen.  When I was about eight or nine years old (probably around 1947), I grabbed Louise’s spoon to eat some ice cream. 

“Put it back! my mother declared.


“It’s a ‘nigger spoon’. 

“What does that mean?”

 “They have a lot of diseases so we provide her with different dishes and silverware.”

Mother was always polite when she talked to Louise and Louise was polite back. She ironed the shirts in the basement of our house and I enjoyed going down there after school and telling her about my day. Louise always gave me a big smile and a big hug when I came down. She treated me like one of her own. I also liked listening to the music she had playing on the radio. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. (Do “they” have their own radio stations too?) I loved Louise and her music. But I never questioned the spoon or wondered why she couldn’t live in our town. 

In Lakewood, families living along the lake were a mix of professional people and a number of very wealthy business people. There were some mansions on the lake. I have no idea who lived in them. To the South of the lakefront were the homes of managers and clerical workers. Then to the South of that was an area known as “Bird Town” because the streets were all named after birds – Robin Street, Lark Street etc. Here lived the families of the working class – whose men worked in West Side factories that included large steel mills and auto plants. Most of these families were first or second-generation Eastern Europeans. 

I spent most of my childhood in the section of Lakewood near Lake Erie. Class divisions were strong in Lakewood at that time. My brothers and I were brought up not to mix with the children “from the other side of the tracks.” There actually was a set of railroad tracks that ran through the center of Lakewood that was a sort of dividing line where Bird Town and its surrounding homes began.

The very wealthy sent their kids to private schools. We didn’t mix with them much either. A lot of Catholics sent their kids to the Catholic schools. And we weren’t supposed to mix with them. Even when we were little kids playing on the playground of Lincoln School, my mother warned me not to get too chummy with the Catholic kids. Around the time I was about 10, I particularly liked a girl named Kitty who came from an Irish family up the street. My mom expressed her disapproval of this, which caused me to stay away from her. When my brothers and I began dating, the anti Catholic sentiment of my mother came on even stronger. We were forbidden to date Catholic girls. We were told that if you married a Catholic all the children would have to be raised Catholic and we would have to convert.  

I attended Lincoln Elementary School between the ages of 5 and 12. Lincoln was right across the street from our house. The kids “from the other side of the tracks” didn’t go to Lincoln or play on the playground. Except for Kitty, the Catholic thing didn’t come up much either since most of the Catholics were in “their own schools” as my mom put it. I was really confused about Kitty. I had no thought of marrying her. I was only 10! 

There was also a large Irish Catholic family who lived across the Street. They went to Catholic schools but were regulars at the playground. I was very conscious of trying to avoid playing with them but it was hard to do. It wasn’t a very large playground. One time one of the boys from this family made fun of me when I made an error when we were playing softball. I walked up to him and punched him in the face. He fought back furiously--religious warfare on the Lincoln School playground! I quit almost immediately. I was scared of him and the other kids all cheered him on. My initial attack was uncalled for. I came home battered and humiliated. I told my mother and my dad that he had started it but I stopped because I was afraid his brothers were about to really beat me up. It was all a lie. I started the fight because he was Catholic. And I ended it because I lost the fight. My mother told me I shouldn’t fight with those “tough mick kids.” My dad told me I shouldn’t be fighting.

Most of the tension along class lines I felt at Lincoln had to do with the fact that my dad was considered a celebrity. I remember one time that Kitty, who I was reluctantly avoiding because of my mother’s admonitions about Catholics, told everyone I was stuck up – thought I was better than everyone else because of my dad. That view kind of stuck with the other kids until I showed up on Saturday mornings at the playground with a handful of free movie passes that my dad had given me. I guess they still thought I was stuck up but a free movie is a free movie. I believe Kitty went to the show with us as well.

When I went to Junior High there was a significant change because Horace Mann Junior High school (Grades 7-9) included kids from “the other side of the tracks.” And I was  drawn to them. To me they were exciting and attractive. The kids I had gone to Lincoln with labeled them “rackies.” (In the next generation I think the term was “greasers” as immortalized by the musical and later film, Grease). I began to hang out with the rackies and tried to look like them, walk like them, talk like them. I wanted to buy a black leather jacket, wear jeans to school decorated with chains. My mom put her foot down hard making me wear stupid looking dress slacks and buying me an acceptable brown leather jacket. I tried to act tough, strutting down the halls with a guy named Butch who was considered the toughest guy in school.  I all but abandoned my Lincoln School and playground friends and in 8th and 9th grade began to take some of the working class girls to the frequent “sock hops.”

One day I was in the locker room after gym class when one of the kids who was not particularly popular but who was clean cut to a fault and clearly not a rackie bumped into me. I’m not sure whether he did it on purpose or not but I remember Butch and his friends looking at me to see how I would react. I pushed the guy and he pushed me back.  

“I hope this is not going to be a pushy kind of chicken shit fight,” Butch declared. “I hate pushy fights.”

I remember this as a moment of truth. I wanted to be a rackie but really was not a fighter of any sort. Yet, I suddenly hit the guy with my fist, right in the mouth as hard as I could. And he hit back. It was a full out fist fight. We slugged it out until we were both exhausted. I didn’t quit this time (because all the rackie kids were there and cheering me on?) Fortunately neither of us was any good at fighting. We were both bloodied and bruised but there was little damage done. In fact we shook hands when we were no longer able to throw punches. But I was immediately accepted by the other rackies, which isolated me further from my old Lincoln School pals.

One day I was riding home on the bus when one of the kids who had also attended Lincoln tripped me as I walked to my seat. My papers spilled out on the floor. He was much bigger than me and considered a bully. He laughed as I gathered up my papers. Then he stood up. Without hesitation, I hit him squarely in the mouth and knocked him down. He didn’t fight back. He seemed scared of me! And my reputation as a “tough guy” was gaining ground.

But it soon came to an abrupt halt. The next day I was called into a meeting of the safety council and accused of “fighting.” I explained that the other guy started it. The safety council was made up of the more popular upper-class kids and I found out they were bullies one and all. Their faculty advisor was an ex-boxer. He told me I would have to be punished. The kids bent me over a table and hit my butt with a paddle. It hurt! But worst of all I was humiliated and my rackie friends seemed unwilling to retaliate. Class trumps “toughness”? Then the principal called me into his office. My homeroom teacher was there as well. They told me that I was hanging out with “the wrong crowd” and needed to stick with my own kind. They held up my older brother Phil, who was already in high school, as a model and said I should be more like him. They also said they were going to talk to my parents about my fighting and my choice of friends.  

When I went home, I said nothing to my parents about any of this. But Mother had plenty to say to me. She said that she had talked to the principal and that she agreed with him. In my defense I told her I really liked my new friends and had asked a particular girl to a dance and was not about to break the date. My mom relented on that point. I don’t remember my dad even being part of the conversation. But then I told her about the fight with “Big John” as we called him and the beating I took at the safety council meeting. She had noticed I was limping and asked if that was the result of the beating. I said it was and she demanded I drop my pants so she could see the damage. We went into the bathroom for the unveiling. 

For the second time in one day I was to be humiliated but I dropped my pants nonetheless. Saying no to Mother was not an option. There was significant bruising. Mother was outraged and the next day came to school with me and marched me to the principal’s office and demanded punishment for the teacher and the kids who had beaten me. I have no idea if anything happened to the teacher or the boys who beat me. But I was totally embarrassed and depressed! Some of the kids snickered about “running to my mother.” Even some of the teachers made snide comments and my credibility with the rackies plummeted along with any semblance of self-confidence. I didn’t feel I belonged anywhere. 

Another side of my mother came out when she went to the school that day. Her bigotry was contradicted by a sense of fairness and offset by a fierce loyalty to the family – me included. She was quick to come to my defense if she felt I had been treated unfairly. Despite many conflicts around our differences over race, class and religion (there were a number of years that went by when we never spoke to one another) it was ultimately her sense of integrity that defined her moral character for me. Her blindness to the unfairness of her views on class, race, and religion softened as she got older. Her integrity never faltered. A strong reaction to her views on race, class and religion set me on the path I took for the rest of my life. But her contradictory sense of fairness and her integrity were also a foundation for my later political activism. 

I remember another time, back at Lincoln School, I came home during the lunch period (the school was right across the street). I took one look at Mother and knew something was wrong. My stomach tightened.

“You and I are going to the principal’s office.”

She grabbed me by the arm and began marching me across the street to the school. Her grip was like a vise and I started to shake all over. I hadn’t seen her this mad since Phil and I locked the baby sitter in a closet for a whole day (that didn’t end well for us).

“What for?”

“You defaced school property! That’s what for. And you will pay for it somehow.”

When we got to the principal’s office I thought I was going to puke (a word I wasn’t allowed to say).

The principal, looking unusually stern said: “You carved your name on the door of the school, didn’t you!”

“Yes sir, but it wasn’t just me.”

My mother practically exploded: “I’m not concerned about the behavior of others. We are here about you. Let’s go look at the door.”

We walked out of the building, into the schoolyard and over to a small door that led into the basement. When Mother saw the door she gasped. The door was covered by years and years of name and initial carvings. In fact, it would have been impossible to find my own entry had the door not been painted recently.

Mother turned her anger onto the principal

“This is what you called me about?” Her voice was tight; her eyes hard.  She looked directly into the eyes of a principal who looked as scared as I was a few moments ago.

Before he could answer she went on: “The is absolutely ridiculous. If David needs discipline, he will get it from me. But it makes no sense to punish him for something that has clearly been tolerated for years and does no harm to anyone or anything.”

At that she took me by the hand, led me home, fixed me lunch. As we ate she said: “Don’t ever do anything like that again.” I didn’t.

When I reached ninth grade I had passed through my “rackie” phase. I was still friends with a lot of those kids but now I decided I wanted to be a football player. Many of my old friends, rackies and the old Lincoln School crowd were trying out. The team colors for both Freshman and Varsity were purple and gold. The freshman team was called “The Purple Pups.” (Better than the Yellow Dogs, I guess). Despite the name I wanted to play. The girls came to watch and I fancied myself in shoulder pads and a helmet. . I told my mother I wanted to be a Purple Pup. 

“No. You’re too small and you’ll get hurt.”

I pleaded my case to her and my dad over dinner.  “Tryouts are tomorrow. Please??”

My parents loved football and had season tickets for the professional Cleveland Browns games. But neither felt I should do it. But as I looked at my mother I saw her eyes soften. She looked at my dad and he nodded. They had been talking this over.

“You can try out on one condition,” she said. “If you are selected for the team, no matter what the circumstance, you can’t quit.” Neither of my parents smiled when my mother made this pronouncement. I felt jubilant but puzzled. Why would I want to quit? Once I made the team and practices started I found out. 

I was not only too small but also too slow and really pretty bad at athletics generally and football specifically. As it turned out, my main function was to be a “sandbag” for the bigger better players. I was a guy in shoulder pads and a helmet who they could hit and try to knock down. If we goofed off at all our coach, Carl Antel, would make us do laps around the field. Carl was the kind of guy who seemed to believe that all of life’s difficulties could be solved by imposing twenty push-ups and a lap or two around the field. 

After my first practice I came home aching all over, bruised from head to foot and thoroughly discouraged. Wearing shoulder pads and a helmet was clearly not worth this. I thought of quitting during those early practices many times. I remember looking at Mother with hurt and sorrowful eyes. 

She would lightly ask, “How’s practice going?

“Just fine.” I didn’t dare bring up the idea of quitting. 

As a member of the Purple Pups and later the junior varsity I spent most of my time getting knocked down by bigger and better players, doing pushups and laps around the field and sitting on the bench in a clean uniform, looking at the cheerleaders longingly during the games. 

My junior year I continued this madness. I was now on the varsity. My only moment of glory came at a pep rally before the season. The coach planned a scrimmage to show off the team. The entire school was there. The starters were introduced by name over the PA as they ran on the field. Then the rest of us ran on. Coaches Scully and Antel planned to begin the scrimmage by pitting the starting defense against the sandbags. The team had been written up in the papers as a contender for the Lake Erie League championship. The newspaper story highlighted the defense particularly. 

The sandbags, including me, who had been selected by the coach for the scrimmage  decided to call ourselves the “bird town buzzards” since many of my fellow sandbags lived in bird town. I was on the line playing left end. The coaches told us (and our opponents) that we would run a play right into the middle of the line. It was a set up where the entire school and press corps would observe the mighty varsity defensemen demolish us. 

We huddled up. The quarterback was supposed to pretend he was calling a real play. Instead he laughed.

“Fuck this. We’ll go long and try to get a touchdown.  Ranney and Willie, run straight down the field as fast as you can and I’ll try to get a pass to one of you. When we come out of this huddle make a straight line across the field and I will lead us all in a little snake dance.”

We came out of the huddle laughing and did a little snake dance as we came up to the line. The starters were laughing too. What in the hell are those clowns doing? I glanced at the bench. The coaches were red in the face – definitely not laughing. But they had no idea of what was coming. Neither did the vaunted defense. 

As the quarterback started the calling out signals, I could see the defensive backs edging toward the middle of the line, greedy to smash the guy with the ball. As the ball was snapped most of the buzzards formed a protective wall in front of the quarterback. I ran as fast as I could. We took them by surprise. I ran right by the surprised defenseman who was supposed to be covering me as he was running in. I could see a long pass coming my way and I grabbed it. 

The play had started down at our own 20-yard line. We had been told that they would blow a whistle immediately after we were crushed and start another prearranged play. When I caught the ball I could hear the coach blowing furiously on his whistle. I kept running and went 80 yards for a touchdown followed by a brief celebratory dance in the end zone! The students in the stands all cheered. The coaches did not. The next day at practice I set an all-time record for the number of push ups and laps done in a single practice session.

I never realized at the time that as much as I was feeling hurt and humiliated being knocked around in practices and sitting game after game on the bench, Mother was feeling it just as bad if not worse. But her admonition and my promise not to quit kept us both members of the Purple Pups, junior varsity and varsity (until I was cut senior year). I never knew how hurt and angry mother was until many years later, after her death. In looking though her files I came across an essay she had written but never published. It was called “Parents on the Bench.” My brothers and I published it along with a selection of her other writings in a book called Mind Pictures: A Family Tribute to Dorothy M. Ranney.

Her essay revealed that she also sat on a bench, rain or shine for game after game. Her bench was in the stands with the other parents. Her essay was written in the third person—as a short story. It enabled her to say things she had not been able to say at the time. It moved me deeply. I am taking the liberty of changing her words to first person and printing the following excerpts because they reveal a great deal about the person she was and the influence she had on me.

“Going through a series of sports with three sons who were all heart and not much ability, had made (me) the best sport in the school system.

(I) started with cub scout games and then the games through elementary basketball and track to junior high and assorted sports and even football and basketball varsity. (I) prepared PTA meals for the teams, went to dinners honoring coaches, and attended games in rain, snow and mud. (I) even washed uniforms afterward and through it all, became the best darn bench mamma in town.

But whether it was a junior high team, or an elementary school team or varsity itself, (school sponsored athletics) had only one purpose—to let the natural athletes display their skill.

The greatest fallacy in school athletics is that the coach teaches sports to his boys. The coach does nothing of the kind. He takes the fellows that are the naturals and puts them through their paces. The ones that need teaching are the punching bags, the fall guys, the fellows that get put in for a few seconds before the whistle blows…

What will break the conspiracy of silence on a subject that is as much a deficit in our school systems as lack of science or the teacher shortage? When will school athletics, into which so much money is poured, be geared for all the children? When will parents of the average youngster speak up and reveal the truth—that coaches, homeroom teachers, athletic leaders and the schools in general, do not teach sports at all?

Christian Science

My father’s kindness, talent and celebrity certainly had a great influence on my early years. My mother’s strength, perseverance and bigotry also left a mark. But what also had a great impact and in fact haunts me to this day is my religious upbringing. My parents were devout Christian Scientists, and so was I until making a dramatic break with it in my college years. My religion clearly separated me from the other children I played with and went to school with. 

Christian Science came into our family through my grandmother (we called her “Ganny”) on my mother’s side. At the height of their family troubles, my mom and her mother were living in Atlanta. Mother was going to a private Presbyterian girl’s school. Her father was off on a massive toot somewhere and her mother was left to her own devices. Their apartment was two doors down from a Christian Science Church. Mother told me that she and Ganny  could actually hear the hymns on Sunday from their house. One day Ganny walked down to the church and the people there welcomed her. She began to study the bible and the “key to the scriptures” written by the founder of CS, Mary Baker Eddy. Ganny then brought mother into the fold. When mother and dad got together, he learned about CS from Ganny and my mother.  My dad had been raised in a Protestant church; I’m not sure which one. But as long as I knew my father he was totally devoted to and studied Christian Science doctrine. I know the rest of his family never bought into any of it. His mother sometimes came to church with us. My aunt and uncle never did and, on reflection, I think they were likely hostile to my mom because of it.

There is a lot more to CS than many people can imagine. It is not simply some faith healing cult where followers “don’t believe in doctors.” CS is a very complex and all- encompassing doctrine. In a nutshell it is this:

Christian Scientists believe that our human existence – pain, pleasure, sickness, health and even death—are an illusion. The key to a happy, healthy life is to understand your true nature: we are all spiritual and perfect in every way. We are made in the likeness of God. Our entire lives are dedicated to understanding our true nature. Christian Scientists also believe that the writings of the founder, Mary Baker Eddy were divinely inspired; they come directly from God.

Mary Baker Eddy began preaching her doctrine to a handful of followers in 1866. She published Science and Health: With Key to the Scriptures in 1875 and founded the church in 1879. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Eddy laid out 26 lessons that were studied for one week at a time twice a year. They consisted of a topic, a “Golden Text” and responsive readings from the Bible, followed by specific pairings of Bible readings and associated interpretations from Science and Health. The topics have been mostly unchanged for over 100 years. They include such things as: “Life; Truth; Love; Spirit; Man; Substance; Matter; Are Sin, Disease and Death Real?” (spoiler alert: no!); “Ancient and Modern Necromancy, Alias Hypnotism and Mesmerism Denounced.” (There is a long story behind this last one! I’ll get to it shortly.)

The lessons were divided into six sessions. In my house, a session of the lesson plan was read as a family every morning. At church services a lay person designated as a “Second Reader” would read the biblical selections and another lay person, the “First Reader” would then read Mrs. Eddy’s interpretation. Every Wednesday night the more dedicated would go to church to sing hymns and hear testimony of Christian Science healing. My parents seldom went to the Wednesday service but we gathered as a family every morning to listen to my mom and dad read the lesson. If someone got sick we called in a person known as a Christian Science Practitioner who would talk to you about the “illusion” you were experiencing and read appropriate Bible and Science and Health passages to prove the point.

This daily ritual, accompanied by occasional Christian Science treatment, went on from the time I was a baby until my dad died of a heart attack in his sleep one night when he was only 49 years old!  He was receiving Christian Science treatment at the time. I was 18 years old.

When we were kids we didn’t go to the adult Sunday service but went to Sunday School where we read bible stories. The Christian Science stuff went on at home during the daily lessons. I likely didn’t understand a word of it until I was about 10. But even then they were mostly words. What in the world would a ten-year old make of these words from Mary Baker Eddy?

“Question: What is the Scientific Statement of Being? Answer: There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All in All. Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material but Spiritual.”

Even today this is difficult to get your head around.

As children we memorized the above “Scientific Statement of Being” and recited it at least weekly. Sometimes my mother or a Sunday School teacher would read it, having us chime in at certain points: Mother: Spirit is immortal Truth; Kids (including me) matter is mortal error. The read-response routine went on and on.

But there was a dark side to Christian Science doctrine. While sin, disease and death are illusions, there is something that can keep us from realizing that. It is called “aggressive mental suggestion.” We never talked directly about Satan as other religions do. But aggressive mental suggestion is the Christian Science counterpart of the devil. It scared the hell out of me and in weak moments still does. The best way to explain this is to briefly offer some historical context.

In the late 19th Century, a medical theory known as “Mesmerism” claimed that the healing of disease could be achieved through hypnosis. (This is the context of the last lesson I listed above). The idea came from the writings and practice of a German physician named Mesmer who was active in the previous century. He believed that animals generate an energy called “animal magnetism” that can influence health. He used hypnosis along with other treatments (like swallowing magnets) to cure his patients. He was investigated by a panel in Paris that included Benjamin Franklin. They concluded that his ideas were without merit. Nonetheless there were Mesmer Societies all over the world and his ideas were on the ascendency in Mrs. Eddy’s time. She saw them as a challenge to her own ideas.

She did not deny the possibility that animal magnetism could appear to have harmful effects on human beings. But she said that the effects of animal magnetism were also an illusion. Her remedy to combat all these illusions was meditation on man’s perfect nature combined with prayer rather than hypnosis and magnets. In fact, she argued, hypnosis should be avoided as it is based on a false view of what Mind actually is. She pointed out the dangers of aggressive mental suggestion through animal magnetism and counter-posed “mortal mind” with “Divine Mind.”

Before talking about my own encounters with Christian Science I want to say just a bit more about the founder of the religion, Mary Baker Eddy. I recently read a very long but insightful biography of Mrs. Eddy that offers substantive historical context to the religion (Gillian Gill, Mary Baker Eddy, Perseus Books, 1998). Mary Baker lived her young life mostly in poverty even to the extent of experiencing homelessness. Her first major tragedy came when her older brother, who she adored, died at a young age in 1841. Her first marriage ended tragically when her husband, George Glover, suddenly died of an infection in 1844 after only a year of marriage. She was expecting a child at the time. She not only lost the love of her life but George had accumulated much debt and left Mary destitute. She found herself with a young child and homeless when her sister offered to take her in but not the child. So she temporarily placed the child with a friend. She attempted later to get her son back but the friend would not let the child go. In 1853 Mary Baker married a dentist named Daniel Patterson. At this time her health was rapidly declining. Patterson had also accumulated a great deal of debt, had a number of extra marital affairs and eventually abandoned her. Meanwhile, Mary Baker Patterson became increasingly interested in “mind healing,” which was gaining popularity. Medical science was dominated by a lot of bad ideas and quackery. Mary sought out a famous  “mind healer” named P. P. Quimby and studied with him for nearly a year. And she found her own health improving. After Quimby died in 1866 Mary had a terrible fall and found herself paralyzed and near death. From her bed she began to study the bible, and to the astonishment of friends and family, suddenly recovered. It was at this point that she decided that “mind healing” did not come from the insights of Quimby, nor his predecessor, Mesmer. Rather she believed that the teachings of Jesus were the basis for spiritual healing. She called it Christian Science and she wrote a book about it. By 1870 she had established a practice of Christian based healing. It was enormously successful. In 1877 she again fell in love and married one of her devoted followers, Asa Gilbert Eddy. He died after only a year of marriage. But her movement began to grow at an incredible rate.

It is important to understand that in the 19th Century, women had no social standing apart from men. Progressive women at the time tended to take up three important social issues: the abolition of slavery; the right of women to vote; and prohibition of alcohol. Mary supported all three but emphasized prohibition as it dovetailed with her belief that the mind, what she called Divine Mind, was sacred.  

As Christian Science grew, Mary Baker Eddy became very wealthy. And many men began to attack her quite viciously. The male leaders of established churches were outraged by her claims of divine inspiration and her challenges to Christian church doctrines. Meanwhile she was attacked as a fraud by the newspapers and by other individuals who were competing with her in metaphysical healing. She was subjected to insults but also to lawsuits on a range of things from stealing the ideas of P.P. Quimby (by his estate) to being sexually promiscuous, to being senile or even dead and being controlled by other people. She was accused of hiring a hit man to murder one of her critics. Her son sued because he didn’t think she had left enough for him in her will. She won all the lawsuits, was found innocent of the murder for hire charge, and appeared in court to prove that she was neither senile nor dead. But the constant attacks in the mainstream press and in the courts were incredibly exhausting and distracting. Mark Twain wrote a whole book attacking Christian Science. Yet he greatly admired Mary Baker Eddy. Here is what he said about her.

When we do not know a person—and also when we do—we have to judge the size and nature of his achievements as compared to the achievements of others in his special line of business…Measured by this standard, it is thirteen hundred years since the world has produced anyone who could measure up to Mrs. Eddy’s waist belt. In several ways she is the most interesting woman that ever lived and the most extraordinary. 

As a little boy and into my late teens, the Christian Science notion of aggressive mental suggestion plagued me with guilt and fear. If I got sick had I let my guard down? If someone else got sick, did I somehow have something to do with it? Could someone who didn’t like me make me sick? Could they make my parents sick?  We were not supposed to give diseases a name. A cold was not to be called a cold. What was it then? And what if someone dies? Can aggressive mental suggestion kill? 

In 1949, I was in 5th Grade and 10 years old. I was on the Safety Council. We stood at street corners with little flags helping the crossing guard get kids across the street safely. We also put on “safety plays” at school assemblies – lessons about safe and unsafe practices all in rhyme. They were written and directed by Mother. My mother’s work with the safety council probably helped me to be selected Captain when I reached 6th Grade.

The present captain was training me for the job. We went around and checked to see that everyone was on duty. We wore a special blue badge. The captain’s name was Jane. She had blond hair, a face full of freckles and a wide smile. She would mess up my hair and then run off as she giggled. We were good friends.

One day I came home after playing softball on the school playground. I looked at Mother and knew something was wrong. She looked hurt and angry (what now?).

“I need to talk to you, Dave. Sit down at the table.”

I sat. (What had I done?) My stomach was in a knot; I had the familiar sensation that I was about to puke…er throw up? Regurgitate? (Mrs Eddy says don’t give it a name. How about mortal mind?)

I looked pleadingly at Mother.

“Something terrible has happened.” She swallowed hard, there were tears in her eyes.


“Jane was riding her bike home. She was hit by a car. It wasn’t her fault. The driver wasn’t paying attention.”

“Is she ok?”

“No, dear. She was killed.”

“I just saw her a half hour ago. That can’t be true!” (Are sin, disease and death real? Mrs Eddy says no.) At this point I was desperate.

“I’m afraid it is.”

What happened right after that is a blur. I think I wept and I think my mom wept with me. Jane’s Mother had requested that the safety council members be honorary pall bearers.

“What’s a pall bearer?”

“They are special friends. When they are adults they carry the casket to the grave. Because you are too young you will stand around the casket during the service and follow the casket out the door of the church.”

I had never been to a funeral and hadn’t a clue what this was about. “What’s a casket?”

“It is a coffin. It is a box where they put her. She is to be buried in that box.  I talked to Mrs. Shield (our Christian Science practioner) this morning. She will be there this afternoon. I want you to talk to her beforehand.”

We go to the church. Mrs Shield is waiting at the door. She walks over to Mother and me as we walk to the church. I am in my Sunday best – white shirt and slacks. I wear the special safety belt and badge.  Mrs. Shield gives me a hug. She looks directly at me.

“The casket is open. You need to remember this. Jane is not in that box. She is God’s perfect child.”

“Where is she?”

“She is with God. She now knows the Truth about God and man. Don’t look at the body in the box but think of Jane as God’s perfect child.”

The church doors are still closed. I am told to gather with the other safeties. The minister and Jane’s mom come out and line us up. As Safety Patrol Captain, I am to go first. We are told we will stand around the casket as people come in to pay their respects. When the service starts we will sit in the front row with Jane’s mother.  When it ends, we will stand around the casket as they close the lid (what does that mean?) 

The doors are open and we march up the aisle. I try not to look at Jane but it is not possible. Jane is lying in a white box. I have never seen a dead person before. Her cheeks look sunken in. Her skin is a ghastly white (they didn’t use make up in those days on kids, my mom explained much later). The freckles seemed to have disappeared. There is no wide smile. She didn’t look at all like Jane. (Maybe Mrs. Shield is right. This isn’t really Jane at all. But if not, who is it? Who’s the dead girl in the casket?)

The ushers and minister have positioned us on either end of the casket. I am standing next to Jane’s head – less than a foot away. (How can I not look?)  People file in and stand before the casket and hug Jane’s mother who is also standing in front of Jane (she doesn’t [didn’t?] have a father). Many are crying. Some kneel and touch each of their shoulders and then their head and stomach. (what is that about?) I look at my fellow safeties, several are crying openly. I am choking back tears but trying to look brave (why? Because I am the leader now). I can’t help but glance at Jane’s face as she lies there. I can now see that it is her. (Yet, “Jane is not the person in the box.”)

Finally we sit as the minister comes forward. I am relieved to be away from Jane’s head. But now I am sitting directly in front of the casket. Jane’s mother is sitting next to me weeping. I feel the tears running down my face. 

I don’t understand much of the service. He says she is in heaven (the same as “she is with God”?) Even the passages in the bible are mostly foreign to me even though we have read the bible out loud as a family as long as I can remember.   He reads the 23rd Psalm (That one I know). Then we recite the Lord’s Prayer. I know that too except we say “debts and debtors” and they say “trespasses” and “those who trespass against us.”)

Then we stand as a group. We move forward standing in front of the casket. More prayers. Then a man comes and closes the lid on Jane. I may have gasped. I thought I was going to faint. I am terrified.

I wake up screaming every night for months. Mother and Mrs Shield say it is a fear of death. “Death is unreal.” This rings hollow. Now 74 years later I can still see Jane’s ghastly white sunken face as she lies in her casket.

In the summer, for five years beginning when I was nine years old, I went to a Christian Science boys camp called “Camp Leelanau.” My older brother, Phil, was there too. Mike was too young. Every morning there was a “quiet hour” when we were told to silently read the Christian Science lesson for that day. On Sunday there was a traditional Christian Science Church service and we even had a Wednesday night session where the owner of the camp “Major Huey” would lead us in some responsive readings from the Bible and Science and Health and then talk to us about something or other. Then we would have testimonials of Christian Science healing.

Many of us faked the silent daily readings. One ploy was to fold up comic books that would fit behind our Bibles and our copies of Science and Health. So Batman and Captain Marvel trumped Mary Baker Eddy. Holy Moly, Shazaam! 

The testimonials demonstrated that most of us just didn’t get what the whole thing was about. I remember one kid telling how he fell out of a tree and broke his arm. Then his parents took him to the hospital and his arm was healed. Another time, “The Major” gave us a lecture about masturbation and how this practice (which I guess was prevalent in the cabins at night) was not in line with Mary Baker Eddy’s teachings, citing various Mary Baker Eddy abstractions about carnality, sin and mortal mind. I think I was 12 at the time. We were all squirming and giggling. Someone told their parents and the Major, I was told, got in a lot of trouble. How could you tell your parents about something like that? In any case the sounds in the nights after the major’s talk indicated that the practice likely increased. Some of us had no idea that such a practice was possible.

When my dad died, the impact of my rigorous religious training began to falter. And my fear and guilt connected to aggressive mental suggestion and mortal mind increased exponentially. 

About three months before his death, my dad went to the editor of the Cleveland Press, Louis Seltzer, and told him he needed a raise. The expenses of raising a family were too great for the salary he was getting and he argued that the popularity of the column he wrote every day justified more money. Seltzer turned him down cold. When word got out, the chairman of the board of the Cleveland Metropolitan Opera Association called my dad and offered him a job as Director of the Association. It was a year-around job that called for him to promote opera in the Cleveland area and to handle public relations during the few months when the opera was in town. The Board included many of the most wealthy and influential people in the area. The offer came from Vernon Stouffer, the CEO of a major restaurant and prepared food chain. The board had access to money but wanted to build up interest in opera. I’m not sure how much they offered him but it was considerably more than he was being paid at the newspaper and he took it. 

A week after he started he had a heart attack. Although I was 18 years old, my Christian Science upbringing included a complete lack of knowledge of the nature of disease and its treatment (which Christian Scientists dismissively called “Materia Medica”). In addition, we were admonished to “never give a disease a name” because it would be a recognition of the existence of disease. So I didn’t understand what was wrong with my dad and why he wasn’t going to work. In the midst of this I announced I was going on a date. My mother was furious. She grabbed me and pulled me into my room and closed the door. 

“He’s had a heart attack!” she hissed at me.

(I thought we weren’t supposed to give disease a name?!) 

“Is that bad?” I asked.  She stormed out the door. 

I went to my dad’s room. He was sitting in a soft chair, looking frail. I hugged him. He said: “Never mind her, go on your date. I’m ok.”  I went.

The next day as I was getting ready for school the doorbell rang. I answered it. It was Mrs. Shield, the family Christian Science Practitioner. She was a kind older woman. She said softly. “Don’t worry about your father. He is the child of God.” I remember that she said the same thing about Jane four years ago and I remember starting to get really scared.

Several days later he seemed to be fine. Perhaps this would be the topic of a testimonial at the next Wednesday service. Opera was to open in a few days and my dad went to work on the publicity (which he had been working on at home all the time). Opening night was a production of Carmen. I attended with my mother and a friend of mine. My older brother was away at college and knew nothing. My younger brother, Mike, was too young to go to the opera. I remember my mom and dad were more dressed up than I had ever seen them. Dad had on a tux with tails. We took a cab to the theatre. When we got out, Dad looked at me staring at him. He laughed and turned, flipping up his tails in a sort of half-moon gesture. 

Dad had to write some publicity about the opening after the show and he was due to hold a press conference early in the morning. So, he told us, he would stay downtown in a hotel. We got in separate cabs and I remember him saying to my mom, “Good night, Sweetie. I’ll see you in the morning.”

He died that night in his sleep. When he didn’t show up in the morning for his appointments, opera officials had the manager open his room. My mother told me he had died in bed, without moving a muscle. He never knew what hit him. 

Because of his celebrity, his death was announced on the radio before my mom was told. Louise was ironing shirts in the basement when she heard of it. She ran upstairs and told my mother. A few minutes later Vernon Stouffer and others were at her door.

Meanwhile I was in a study hall at the high school. A teacher came over and told me I was wanted at the principal’s office. My stomach tightened. What now? As I left the classroom I saw two friends of mine standing on the stairs. One had one of those small transistor radios that were easy to sneak into school. They stared at me with sorrowful eyes. I have always remembered that stare. When I reached the office the Superintendent of Schools was with the principal. They told me that dad was dead. We needed to go to Lincoln Elementary School to tell Mike and go to our mother. 

I got into the Superintendent’s car and he drove over to Lincoln School where Mike was. When we pulled into the school, the Superintendent asked me if I wanted him to tell Mike. I said no. The Lincoln Principal was waiting at the door and he took me to Mike’s classroom. I opened the door and walked in. I remember seeing Mike sit straight up in his chair, beaming from ear to ear to see his big brother there. I told the teacher I needed to talk to Mike about something. I took him out into the hall and told him. He began to cry and I helped him to get into the car. I was not crying then. I was in shock. I don’t think I cried until much later – maybe years later.

At my dad’s funeral the casket was open. This is the first I had seen him since the night of the opera. I whispered to my mother asking her why the casket was open if we were not supposed to look at him. She told me (later) that because of his celebrity she had been asked to have it open so the public could see his body. A Christian Science reader got up and read from Science and Health. “Life is without beginning and without end.” When I think about this today I get really angry. I remember at the time being bewildered and feeling numb. But I must have begun at that moment to question everything when I heard these words. Ok, if life is without beginning and without end, what in the hell happened to my dad? What is he doing lying in that coffin?

But for a time all of us – my mother, my two brothers and I – pulled together and hung on to Christian Science. But Mother had begun to question some of this. In 1958 (a year after Dad died) she wrote this unpublished poem, which she called “The Rival.”

Last night my love I dreamed of you.

A nightmare thing of mist that passed

A romantic laughter ringing through

Her taunts, that you were hers at last.

My hands reached for her long black hair

She ran, I followed, fought for breath

Then wakened, with the truth to bear

The dark haired lady’s name was death.

Mother, my brothers and I all struggled with Dad’s death and the Christian Science context of that death for many years.  I became a bit unhinged about the notion of aggressive mental suggestion. Mother hinted that maybe people who were jealous of him actually caused his death. She brought up Catholics again in this context (I’m not sure why).

To Mother, death as the Rival was very vivid and real but years later, near the end of her own life, Mother wrote this.

The “dust man” dream, we seem to experience, is the illusion. Some of it is beautiful and joyful, but some of it is drawn by the deceiver, Satan, and it is horrible beyond description. It seems so real. We go through a lot, and the last enemy, the Bible tells us, is death. I believe we see the total unreality of the human experience at the moment of death, and we finally see that we are and always have been perfect, substantial, active, living, learning, joyful and eternal. That is what Jesus was sent to show us. There is no death.

While Mother had moments and years of doubt about Christian Science, at the end of her life she returned to its basic teaching about life and death. I took a very different path.

The following year I went away to college. I went to Dartmouth, the same school as my dad had gone to and where my brother was then a senior. I was lost and depressed and scared. I spent a fair amount of time sitting in my brother’s room at his fraternity house. He helped me get through a rough time. Phil and I both hung onto Christian Science. Dartmouth had a Christian Science Society that met in a small house off campus. I went faithfully every Sunday although I ceased the daily morning ritual of reading of the lesson. 

I was working in the Dining Hall and my courses were hard for me. I was put into a remedial writing class. I was incensed but also depressed about this. (the son of two writers can’t even write?) The writing clinic was intense. I had to write a critical essay on Milton’s Paradise Lost twice a week and have a one-on-one with an English professor who tore it apart with a red pen! Then I would rewrite as I was writing new essays. (As painful as this was, I did learn to write). So when I wasn’t serving out slops in the dining hall, I tended to stay in the library writing about Milton’s classic poem, doing  homework or simply staring into space. I lived in a dorm and had two room mates. One was from Ireland (a Protestant!), the other from the Cleveland area.   In addition to sex and sports, we began to talk about religion and politics. It was the first time I had ever done this outside of my family.

On Sundays after the church service my brother Phil and I would have a lunch with the other Christian Science students prepared by our Christian Science advisor, Mrs. Carter. All I remember about Mrs. Carter is that she prayed and sang way too loud. I thought she was weird. I didn’t really like her, the other boys (except Phil) or the whole thing. I couldn’t talk to any of them about my fears, Jane and Dad’s deaths, 

or my questioning of the religion I was brought up in. Yet I held on for a while. I continued to go to the Sunday services.

One day I was with my roommates and some of their friends. I recall being in the gym building sitting in the stands. We took our exams there. We might have been waiting for tests to be distributed. One of the kids asked me why I went to Christian Science services on Sunday. I didn’t answer (I didn’t have an answer) He then began to taunt me.

“Did you know that Mary Baker Eddy was a lecher? She screwed all sorts of men.”

I didn’t answer and looked straight ahead. Then he said something about my dad’s death implying that this is what killed him. I suddenly stood up. He did too. I pushed him as hard as I could and he went tumbling down the stairs. He was bigger than me. He got quickly to his feet and came charging back up. Fortunately before he got to me our friends intervened and stopped the fight before it started.

The next year my brother was gone – graduated and on to law school. I began taking religion classes, learning about the origins of Christianity, the history of the Roman Catholic Church, Protestantism and the various splits, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism. I couldn’t get enough of this. I ended up with a minor in religion. My professors were kind and I found I could talk to them about Christian Science and my feelings about all that had happened. One of them pointed out similarities to Buddhism and other Asian religions.  The approach of these professors was intellectual and non-judgmental about Christian Science. But they affirmed the legitimacy of my questions.

Yet, I needed more of a break than simply stopping my weekly attendance at the Society and Mrs Carter’s lunches. One possibility: Christian Science forbade smoking and drinking. I embraced both.  I began chain smoking – when I studied, in class, in my dorm room, during debate tournaments (I was on the Dartmouth Debate Team). I had no idea how self-destructive this really was (no Surgeon General’s warnings yet). I felt terrible but it was a visible display of my break with Christian Science.

Then there was drinking. In my sophomore year at Dartmouth I joined a fraternity. Every frat house had a bar in the basement and purchased a keg or two every Saturday night. There were no women at Dartmouth in those days and it was customary if you didn’t have a date or some other activity to make the rounds of the fraternities on Saturday nights, having a beer or two or three at each stop. I dove into this custom with relish. Once a year we had what was called a “sink night” to celebrate the entry of new pledges into the fraternities. The beer flowed to the extent that we would throw first cups of beer at one another and as the evening progressed, entire pitchers. Drink a container of beer, fill it up again and throw it at someone. (take that Mary Baker Eddy!) 

When I was on the debate team my junior and senior years, we often went away to tournaments on weekends. After a day of debating there were social events and I continued my nearly out of control drinking on the road. One time we traveled to a debate tournament at Georgetown University in Washington DC.  After the first day of the tournament, there was a snooty party in an elaborate room decked out with dark woodwork, oriental rugs and a fireplace. Waiters came around with silver trays full of glasses of Sherry. I downed glass after glass as the drinks kept coming. I then (I later learned) began throwing the empty glass (made of real glass) into the fireplace. And then proceeded to stagger into a banquet hall. My debate coach, Herb, who was a good friend as well as the coach, tried to bar my entrance.

“Your reputation has preceded you. Stay the hell out of here. I’ll get you a cab that can take you back to your dorm.”

I pushed past him laughing. When I entered the hall the smell of spaghetti sauce made me nauseous. I ran to the bathroom and vomited. I then washed my face and proceeded to stagger to my place at the table and tried to eat. At some point I simply passed out, face in plate! Herb and my debate partner Marvin apparently dragged me back to the bathroom and wiped the spaghetti sauce off my face and put me into the cab. I was awake now and had to stop the cab several times to puke on the street. A friend got me to my room. My debate partner woke me the next morning. 

“Rise and shine asshole. We have to be at our first debate in an hour. Herb is more than a little pissed off at you. He’s even a little pissed off at me. I threw a few glasses myself.”

I had never before (or since) had such a hangover. He brought me black coffee and aspirin. (no Christian Science practitioner this time) My head was spinning and throbbing. To top it off I felt very embarrassed. I ate some toast and was able to keep it down.

“I don’t see how I can do this, Marvin.”

“I don’t either from the looks of you but we have to give it a try. Herb will kick you off the team for sure if you don’t show.”

(At this point I found myself thinking about my mother. She would have been enraged at my behavior the night before. But what I could hear her saying was: “Always finish whatever you start. You don’t quit! You never give up!”  That admonition suddenly kicked in as I painfully made my way to the debate hall.)

I walked into the room where the debate was scheduled. We were in the semi-finals of the tournament. Ironically we were debating national health insurance. I thought about all the ironies – a Christian Science boy with a hangover debating the right to health care. When I walked into the room, one of my opponents, a snotty, prudish, prim and proper young woman was grinning at me. 

“Well look at what the cat dragged in. This should really be a fun morning.” (Debaters’ version of trash talk). 

Everyone in the room laughed.  Between her trash talk and mother’s training I pulled myself together. Irony once again…I drew on my mother’s stubbornness (you can’t ever quit something you start). My mother whose own young life had been so torn up by her father’s alcoholism; who brought me up to be an upstanding tee totaling Christian Scientist was about to save me from total humiliation which I richly deserved.

I looked at my opponent, stuck my nose into the air and with a faux British accent replied, “Indeed.”

I never debated better than I did that day. We obliterated our snotty opponents and went on to the final round and won there as well. At the awards dinner following the tournament, not only did we receive the tournament trophy, but I was awarded a trophy for best individual speaker. 

My Introduction to the Black Civil Rights Movement

But that ended my spree of excessive drinking. And I have not touched a glass of sherry since.  Herb didn’t kick me off the team but he gave me a silent treatment for weeks despite nearly daily apologies. He relented and sent Marvin and I back to Washington for a special event in which we were to debate students from Howard University, an all Black college. It wasn’t really a tournament – more of a showcase for their own debaters before a school assembly. 

I remember walking into a large auditorium. I believe that Marvin and I were the only white people in the room. I don’t remember much about the debate itself. I’m quite sure we lost that one to a very good team. What I remember most was how strange it felt to be a clear minority. My encounters with Black people had been extremely limited. The Civil Rights Movement was on the rise. I knew the names of Rosa Parks and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The Montgomery Bus Boycott had occurred four years before my debate at Howard University. The Supreme Court decision, making school segregation illegal, had been in place for five years. A black student at Dartmouth had been accepted into our fraternity. The national fraternity officers tried to kick us out since at that time the fraternity constitution specified that we were to be all white. But we petitioned the other chapters and some of the senior members of our Dartmouth chapter went to a national board meeting and threatened to leave the national organization in a very public way. The result: Ray was now a “brother.” But it was being at Howard that made me aware of the staggering injustices of racial segregation for the very first time. The Howard students were warm and accepting of Marvin and me.  And at the social hour we had great fun--good conversations about life at Dartmouth and Howard and about the Civil Rights Movement. There was no need for alcohol to fuel the conversation. I returned to the Dartmouth Campus with some new stirrings in my outlook.

In the last semester of my senior year I was selected to participate in a special program at MIT in Boston. At that time “urban studies” was a new field and I had expressed an interest in it. Those of us in the program were to live in a Settlement House located in a rather dilapidated neighborhood that was mostly Black and Lebanese. We attended a seminar with Professor Robert Wood, a well-known academic who had written on the subject of Suburbia. I did my first research on cities and suburbs with Bob Wood and we were given time to simply experience Boston – learn and use the subways, visit the various neighborhoods, go to community meetings. One day I was in my room at the settlement house working on a paper. Bob came in the door. I looked up surprised to see him. He had never come to the settlement house before.

“Where are you going to graduate school, Dave?”

“Graduate school? I don’t think I am going to go to graduate school.”

“Of course you are. What else are you going to do?”

“I have no idea.”

He tossed a large envelope on my desk. “There is a new program in Metropolitan Studies at Syracuse University,” he said. “The director is a friend of mine and I have already written you a letter of recommendation. Fill out the application.”

I did. 

It turned out to be a program that would lead to a master’s degree in urban planning (a relatively new field at the time) and a Ph. D in Social Science – a mix of political science and economics focusing on metropolitan areas.  I barely looked at the explanation of the program when I filled in and sent the application. I couldn’t really explain to Mother what it was all about or even where Syracuse was. But I was accepted with a full scholarship that included free tuition and a monthly stipend that was enough to pay for an apartment, food and books. Dartmouth had prepared me well for graduate school. Thanks to Milton and a sadistic English professor I now knew how to write well. Being a part of the national championship Dartmouth debate team and its truly great coach, I knew how to speak, think on my feet and do disciplined research. Georgetown University’s snooty cocktail party curtailed my heavy drinking. The students at Howard University opened my mind and heart to the need for a civil rights struggle.

My graduate studies at Syracuse set me off on an academic career. It took me four years to get my degrees. But beyond the academic studies, it was the people I met and experiences I had during my studies that played a vital role in developing who I am today. One of these people was Rudy. 


In the summer of 1961 I was working as a Cleveland Zoo guide, driving a tour train throughout the grounds. I made fairly good money and since I did not have upcoming school expenses I was able to purchase a VW Bug. That Fall I packed up the Bug with all of my belongings and headed for Syracuse, New York. From the years of driving to Dartmouth College from Cleveland, I remember passing an exit on the interstate to Syracuse. I took that exit and made my way to a gas station where I bought a map of the city (no GPS in those days) and figured out how to get to the university housing office so I could find a place to live. They had temporarily assigned me a dorm room complete with roommate. I decided I had had enough of dorms and roommates and looked on the office bulletin board where they had listings of apartments for graduate students. I readily found one and moved my stuff in there.

The next morning I was scheduled to meet with my advisor and my fellow grad students. There were only five of us in the meeting—two professors (Alan “Scotty” Campbell, a political scientist and Seymour Sacks, an economist) and three students who were the very first students signed up for the new Metropolitan Studies Program. The three of us were all just out of college. We introduced ourselves. Susan Fleiss Lowenstein was from New York. The other was Rudy Lombard, a tall handsome black man from New Orleans. He had gone to Xavier University, an all black New Orleans school.  Susan was married and was living with her husband in a married student housing complex. I asked Rudy where he was living.

“Still looking.”

“There are a lot of listings on the board at the University Housing office.”

“I’ve looked at all of them. When I went I was told they were already rented.” He then laughed.

“That can’t possibly be true.” 

“You really are clueless, Dave. What they don’t tell you is that they don’t rent to Negroes.”

I was truly stunned and very embarrassed. “I really am sorry. I guess I thought that only happened in the South. Is there anything I can do? The Housing Office certainly should not post them if that is the case.”

“That’s okay. I ran into a white guy I know from the Civil Rights Movement. He’ll get an apartment for the two of us and I’ll just move in. It will probably work out. We’ll get to the Housing Office later. I’ll let you know and you can be with us then.”

Rudy and I became really good friends. Most importantly for me was that he really turned my head around and got me to see the world as it really is. I knew my mother was raised in the racist South and carried the attitudes she learned from childhood. I had heard some of my relatives use the N word. I had heard racist remarks by my high school friends and knew that black people couldn’t live in Lakewood Ohio. I knew that the national fraternity I belonged to was white only until we integrated it by welcoming Ray. Of course I had read of the workings of the Klan and the resistance to school desegregation and voting rights in the South. But somehow I hadn’t realized the depth of racism in the U.S. including in the North. And I really had not given any of this any thought…until now…until I became good friends with Rudy. But I had grown up with a sense of fairness and human decency toward others, which left me open to eventually embrace not only the Civil Rights Movement but all sorts of radical movements that would come my way.

I spent a lot of time with Rudy – we studied together and partied together. He introduced me to likeminded friends including George Wiley, a black chemistry professor who eventually gave up his tenured faculty position to join the movement full time and to become the founder of the Welfare Rights Organization. He introduced me to some of the black athletes as he organized a strike over their racist treatment by the athletic department and the university generally. And Rudy recruited me to participate in my first demonstration demanding the City of Syracuse pass an open housing ordinance and forcing the University to join in. 

One day on our way to class, Rudy pointed to an office door where the name of the professor was displayed. “Daniel Patrick Moynihan.”

“You know this guy? He’s a friend of Scotty’s,” he declared.

“No. I heard he was on leave and thinking of going into politics.”

“He and a sociologist named Nathan Glazer just published a racist monograph called The Negro Family. It’s a good example of academics blaming the victims of racism by claiming we don’t have stable families. You should read it. I’m going to organize a demonstration in front of this office. If you agree with me, maybe you can join us. Moynihan’s not here but he’ll hear about it,” Rudy laughed. 

I did read it and found myself at my second demonstration with about 30 other students passing out flyers about why the Negro Family was racist. We had quite a discussion in our Metropolitan Studies class with Scottie and about 20 other students. Scotty said that Moynihan told him we had hurt his feelings. I don’t remember much about the discussion but Scotty ultimately supported us and also announced that he was debating a very reactionary city council member on the proposed open housing ordinance. We all went and cheered him on.

When I first met Rudy he was dedicated to non-violence as a tactic in the Civil Rights Movement. He made it clear to me that he was not a pacifist. But he believed that they would be able to win over the vast majority of people in the U.S. if they faced the violence of the Klan in the South with courage and the moral righteousness of their cause. Rudy had begun his activism in his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana in the late 1950s. As a student at Xavier University Louisiana, he organized a chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and became National Vice President of that organization. He was also active in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). While at Xavier in 1960 he organized a number of sit-ins at segregated lunch counters and was arrested and sent to jail after being convicted of “malicious mischief.” His case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where in 1960 the justices voted 6-1 that his arrest was unconstitutional. His case, Lombard v. Louisiana, was one of the Supreme Court cases that established that discrimination based on race in places of public accommodation was unconstitutional.

In 1961, Rudy, as a member of CORE and SNCC helped organize the Freedom Rides movement in which black activists rode interstate busses into the segregated South. Despite the fact that Supreme Court cases had declared that segregated seating on interstate busses and segregated interstate transportation facilities was illegal, people were still being arrested for violating local laws that supported such segregation. The freedom rides were met with extreme violence by white mobs—busses were set on fire and riders were beaten with baseball bats as local police looked on. It took President Kennedy and his brother Robert to summon Federal marshals to stop the violence. 

When he came to Syracuse in 1961 Rudy was a seasoned activist and he immediately established a chapter of CORE with Chemistry professor, George Wiley. This is the context of my start as an activist with the open housing demonstrations and later (1965) our demonstration over the release of the so-called Moynihan Report. One year after entering Syracuse and meeting Rudy I spent a year as a student intern with the Ford Foundation and the government of the State of West Bengal in Calcutta, India (more on that later).  When I returned in 1963 I found Rudy somewhat changed. I recall shortly after I got back I was visiting Rudy and his roommate on the front porch of a house where they had an apartment. Rudy asked me if I had become further radicalized by my experience in India. As we began to discuss that and his own experiences in Civil Rights activities some white guy walked up the three stairs on the porch and standing in front of us said: “I didn’t know they let in this neighborhood. We all stood up and Rudy stepped forward and slugged the guy right in the face with such force he was knocked off the porch. The guy got up and ran away. The non-violence tactic was wearing thin! The violence of the Klan and white mobs in the South was having an impact and the non-violence stance of King and other civil rights leaders was being questioned. 

The following year the Syracuse CORE chapter was organizing demonstrations opposing a city Urban Renewal plan that would eliminate a black neighborhood and replace the housing with government buildings. And I participated in some of these. In the summer of 1964 I went home and worked to earn money so I could continue to pursue my Ph. D degree. Rudy participated in a massive voting rights campaign in the South. SNCC had offices where they trained civil rights workers in Greenwood, Mississippi. The campaign was known as Freedom Summer. In June of that year, three of the SNCC activists in Greenwood were brutally tortured and murdered by the Klan. Among the killers were a county sheriff and his deputy. Rudy told me that the sheriff had sent word to him that if he were to come to his jurisdiction they would get him too. Later he was almost lynched in Louisiana as he participated in a voter rights drive there.

Rudy returned to Syracuse in August that summer. Before he left I had told him that prior to leaving Calcutta there had been rumors of CIA actions in Vietnam as a civil war between communists and nationalists had broken out.  During my return from Southeast Asia, I had also seen first hand evidence that the U.S. was bombing communist positions in Northern Thailand. These were secret (and illegal) actions on the part of the U.S. CIA and military. In August, Lyndon Johnson was President following the assassination of President Kennedy. He came to the Syracuse campus to help dedicate a new building. Rudy and I decided to watch and sat on the grass in front of the building. There was a long delay of his talk and we were told he was dealing with a serious policy matter. When he appeared he told us that he had to change his speech and tell us about a serious incident in Southeast Asia. He then claimed that the North Vietnamese had attacked an American naval ship and the ship had returned fire. It was the famous Gulf of Tonkin incident. The so-called attack by the Vietnamese was a lie but Congress passed a resolution on August 10, 1964 giving President Johnson the go ahead to launch the Vietnam War. I recall Rudy and me looking at each other and me saying that this was bullshit. He smiled and nodded. He saw a connection early on between the war in Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement. He was later joined by other Civil Rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King. But from that moment on I became a committed anti-war activist. 

I recall at one point we were called to the Dean’s Office and told we had to take a loyalty oath to the United States in order to retain our scholarships. Our money came from something called the National Defense Education Act. We had some national defense money. I told him I needed the money to finish my degree yet found it hard to take such an oath. He said he agreed with me on all counts but counseled a little civil disobedience was in order.

“So we’ll go to the dean’s office together. When you raise your hand to take the oath put your other hand behind your back and cross our fingers. It will be ok.”

Rudy and I lost touch for a time after we got our degrees. I began my academic career and Rudy continued to press on civil rights in the South. But we met up years later in the 1990s and resumed our friendship. Rudy chose not to pursue an academic career despite earning a Ph. D. He did many things over the years. He ran for Mayor of New Orleans. He interviewed black chefs in New Orleans and wrote a book about them that included their favorite recipes. He also started a financial investment firm. He did some work with a former black athlete from Syracuse who was a lawyer heading up the National Basketball Players Association. Rudy’s job was to help young athletes invest and handle their money. In the early 2000s, at some point he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He beat the cancer and headed up a research project with some of the doctors at Northwestern University Medical School on the link between the diet of black men and their rates of cancer. 

I met with him on and off during the 1990’s  until 2014. In the early part of that year I called him and told him I had written a book that I wanted to give to him. He told me he had been in the hospital but I could come over to his apartment and we could go to lunch somewhere nearby. When I saw him I was a bit shocked as he had lost a lot of weight but said he was ok. What I didn’t know (and he was not telling anyone) was that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and it was terminal. In late Summer I got an invitation for Pat and me to go to New Orleans for a special get together to honor Rudy. We went to New Orleans in October. He and his family and friends had organized a three-day party to celebrate his life – a sort of wake for himself that he could still attend. It was a remarkable affair. Most of the people there had been in CORE and SNCC and many struggles in the South. There were parties and a special tour of New Orleans. I recall one guy getting on the bus for the tour. He took one look at everyone and said: “I’m going to sit in the front because the last time I rode a bus with you folks the Klan set it on fire.”

The last time I spoke to Rudy was at one of the parties in New Orleans. He was clearly exhausted and couldn’t stand. I came up and gave him a big hug and said,

“Thanks old friend for turning my head around so I could see the world as it really is and for encouraging me to do something about it.”

He hugged back and smiled and then said. “You were easy, man. You were easy.” 

Rudy died two months later. Those words mean a great deal to me.


One day, early in 1962, I was in my Metropolitan Studies seminar, waiting with the other students for our professor, Scotty Campbell, to start class. 15 students were taking the class including Rudy. At the beginning of class Scottie announced that he had been in touch with an officer of the Ford Foundation who told him that the Foundation had entered into a partnership with the Government of West Bengal, India. The Foundation had supplied a team of consultants to work with their Indian counterparts in a state agency called the Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Organization (CMPO) to make a development plan for the Calcutta Metropolitan Region. Scottie asked if any of us would like to spend next year working with them. He explained that we would receive a monthly stipend for living expenses and the Foundation would also pay necessary travel expenses. Syracuse University would give us academic credits for a full school year of studies toward our degrees and continue any financial aid we had been awarded on our return. Typically of me in those days I raised my hand without a moment’s thought. I looked around the room. Rudy looked at me and raised his eyebrows. Only one other student, a woman with long blond hair named Bobbie, had raised her hand too. Scotty asked us to stay after class and he would provide more details. The year in India would play a key role in shaping my life including my political outlook.

The program started that Summer in Syracuse. About 20 students from around the country gathered for training in Indian history, politics, economics, culture and the Hindi language. Only three of us were assigned to the Calcutta project with CMPO. The others were all to be interns at the U.S. consulates in a number of different Indian cities including Delhi, Bombay (now Mumbai), Calcutta (Kolkata), and Madras (Chennai). Our training program lasted one month that was split between Syracuse and Delhi. After this time we were dispersed to our assignments. Bobbie, a woman named Janet and I made our way to Calcutta. 

Despite all the training I was initially in a bit of shock over what I saw. The worst was the poverty. Homeless people were living on the streets all over the city. Delhi was bad but Calcutta was worse.  Large numbers of beggars followed us asking for money everywhere we went. At that time there was not a visible homeless population in the U.S. While we certainly had poverty, I had never seen anything like this. Both Delhi and Calcutta were incredibly over crowded. And the temperature when we arrived in Delhi was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit! In both Delhi and Calcutta the smell of urine and feces – that of both dogs (there were lots of feral dogs) and people was overwhelming.  Aside from Canada, I had never been out of the U.S. before. I had not even traveled much inside the U.S. – mainly Cleveland and Lakewood, Ohio; Hanover, New Hampshire; and Syracuse New York. Delhi and Calcutta were for me a plunge into the real world.

In Delhi we stayed at an international scholars’ center where we had our rooms, classes and meals. While we went on a number of excursions in the area, we were quite well taken care of by both the U.S. State Department and the Ford Foundation. In Calcutta, we had offices in a West Bengal Government building occupied mainly by the CMPO. And the Foundation set us up with housing. They deliberately avoided the compound where most of the American U.S. Consulate employees lived; we had apartments in a few Calcutta neighborhoods as did the U.S. consultants. But our apartments came with a cook who also shopped for our food. There were no supermarkets at that time – just a large area of the city where various merchants set up stalls where you could buy anything from meat (often live chickens) and vegetables to elephants and tigers. The area was called New Market. I never did see what was new about it. Recently we have read about the so-called “wet markets” as a possible breeding ground for the COVID virus in China. Well, this was one of those in India. Our cook did not want me to come with him when he shopped. There were no fixed prices. Everything had to be bargained for, and he made it very clear that my presence would make everything much more expensive and more difficult for him.

Initially Bobbie, Janet and I pretty much stuck together and became close friends. But gradually we began to branch out and made friends with a wide range of people – some of the consultants and CMPO professionals and also with Indian students. The students began to open up new horizons for me as we went to Indian cultural events together and talked about political issues that challenged my naïve perspective of the role of the U.S. government and Western Imperialism in the world. We talked a lot about race in the U.S. I felt fortunate to have been introduced to that by Rudy. But we also talked a lot about the role of the caste system in India and its use by the British to divide and rule during the long period when India was a colony. 

My office mate, a man named Ved Prakash, told me how he and his friends refused to use their caste names as a protest against the system. He was secular but raised a Hindu in the city of Lahore and later Lucknow. Lahore is located in Pakistan where a majority of people were Muslim. When India won independence from the British, Muslims demanded their own territory. The ancient religious divide between Hinduism and Islam had also been exploited by the British to facilitate their rule of India. And after independence antagonisms between Hindus and Muslims reached a boiling point. The British had ruled India since 1857. As part of the terms of independence in 1947 the British left a parting “gift” agreeing to partition the area awarding two regions of India to Muslims.  One was located in the Northwest that they called Pakistan and the other in the Northeast known then as East Bengal. (Later Pakistani civil war ended in independence for East Bengal which changed its name to Bangladesh). All the rest was designated as India. 

In 1947, vicious fighting broke out between Hindus and Muslims. Hindus living in what today is Pakistan and Bangladesh were slaughtered as they desperately tried to get to India. The same went for Muslims living in India. Many of the people living on the streets of Delhi and Calcutta were Hindu refugees from that time—only 15 years before I arrived in India. The wounds were still fresh. Ved told me of his own experience. His dad was traveling on business in India while Ved, his mother and younger siblings were in Lahore. They had no way to contact each other when the violence broke out. Ved was the oldest of the children – a young teenager. During the day he gathered rocks and took them up on the roof of their house, then barred the door at night and threw the rocks at the mob that was trying to break down the door. They eventually escaped from Pakistan into India and finally located Ved’s father in Lucknow. 

This personal background made me understand the plight of refugees to this day. And it also helps me understand the ongoing hatred, now manipulated by Pakistani and Indian politicians, between Hindus and Muslims in that part of the world. I was also beginning to develop a world-view about Western imperialism. As I lived in Calcutta and interacted with fellow students who were working in U.S. consulates throughout India, I began to look at the role the U.S. government was playing not only in India but in Southeast Asia which ultimately shaped my view of the future war in Vietnam. My experience in India with local people also had a major impact on my developing world view, most importantly interactions with a number of students like Ved. But I also read Indian newspapers – some very far left. Also important was the fact that I was immersed in my daily life in a very different part of the world. These experiences constituted the beginning of my development of a critical view of the governments of the U.S. and much of Europe. I also gained a great appreciation of Indian culture – art, poetry, dance, music and film. And I learned a lot about urban and regional planning through my participation in the CMPO’s metropolitan development planning process. 

But my daily exposure to the poverty and misery of so many in Calcutta without much of a political analysis of what was going on had some negative impacts on me. The Ford Foundation consultants and consulate employees had access to a lot of alcohol. And that was also extended to me. And I went back to my earlier consumption that began at Dartmouth. My oldest brother, Phil, came to Calcutta toward the end of my stay and to travel home with Bobbie and I through Southeast Asia. There was a going away party that got fairly wild and I remember Phil remarking: “I think I’m getting you out of here just in time.”

We traveled extensively throughout Southeast Asia. Before Phil arrived I was able to visit places all over India from Srinagar in the Northwest to Kerala state in the South and many places in between. (Bobbie and I were in a relationship at this point and married shortly after we returned to the U.S.). After Phil arrived the three of us traveled in: Burma (Myanmar); Thailand; Singapore; Malaysia; Hong Kong (which was independent of China at that time); Japan. After that we made one stop in Honolulu and then Phil and I went on to Lakewood, Ohio and Bobbie to Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. We had originally planned to stop in South Vietnam, but there was a U.S. State Department warning urging all Americans to stay away. Vietnam was split into two countries in 1954 in the aftermath of a war of independence with France. The North had a communist system and the South was closely tied to the West. In the late 1950s  South Vietnamese guerilla fighters known as the Viet Cong were loyal to the North. And they began to fight South Vietnamese military who were still loyal to France and later the U.S. Now what had been a rather low key civil war in South Vietnam was beginning to heat up. There was also a militant movement of Buddhist monks who protested the policies of the South Vietnamese government and the presence of foreigners (French and Americans) in the country. Monks began a series of self immolation events to demonstrate their opposition to the government.

So we stayed away. There had been rumors back in Calcutta that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was conducting covert operations in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.   When we got to Thailand we saw some evidence of this. Flying into Bangkok we nearly had a collision with another plane. As I looked out the window I saw it was a fighter jet, but the plane had no markings that would identify it with any nation. As we taxied toward the terminal I saw more fighter jets. While in Thailand, we hired a guide who took us into Northern Thailand by train to the ancient capital, Ayutthaya. It was in the midst of a rural area but had many ancient temples and sculptures—some lying in overgrown grasses. We stopped for lunch at an open- air café located in a large tent. An old man came up to our table. He was smiling and he said something to our guide in Thai. 

“He wants to shake your hand.”

I stood up, smiled and shook his hand. He talked some more. The guide translated:

“Are you an American?”

I nodded and he went on to speak through the guide.

“Thank you for killing our communists.”

The guide explained that the planes we saw in the airport were bombing communist positions in Northern Thailand. Although we smiled at the man, the whole episode gave me a bad feeling. That explains why I knew that when President Johnson gave his Gulf of Tonkin speech at Syracuse University that it was bullshit. That speech gave the green light to the United States’ open and expanding participation in the Vietnam War and it began my own activism in the anti war-movement. 

(The fact that the U.S. was carrying out “special operations” in Southeast Asia before we were officially and legally part of the war was confirmed years later by a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel. He told me that while I was touring in Thailand, he was in Vietnam and Laos training fighter pilots and was wounded when his plane was shot down by the Viet Cong. He said they had disguised his plane by painting it white with red crosses on it.)

I returned to Syracuse to resume my studies in 1964 and got my Ph. D in 1966. Bobbie and I got married in 1965. My advisor, Scotty Campbell gave me a gift of a book contract to write a short textbook on urban planning and local politics. That plus the fact that the field of planning and metropolitan studies were new, and that there were few Ph. D’s in the field, generated a number of job offers. Bobbie had not yet completed her Master’s degree in Sociology but I took the first offer I got which was at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. And we packed up our belongings including our dog Rocky and made our way to the town of Edwardsville. 

My First Academic Career 1966-1973

I taught political science and economics and was attached to a special technical assistance center that had a contract with the City of East St. Louis to do special research determined by their city administrator and the mayor. East St. Louis was a poverty-stricken Black town ruled by a corrupt white Irish politician, Al Fields, who kept his position by a system of patronage that included Black leaders. I analyzed their municipal finances for the city administrator and once was asked to go with Mayor Fields to meet with Governor Otto Kerner and his treasurer, Adlai Stevenson Jr. in an effort to get more money from the state. The Mayor asked me on our ride to Springfield to speak honestly and tell him what people said about him. I told him many people believed that he was a corrupt politician who fleeced the city. He laughed and said, “Kid, whenever I run for office I kick any opponent’s ass and I always turn in 98% pluralities for the Democratic Party candidates for state and federal offices.” After we finished our meeting with the governor and treasurer there was a long line in the hall of people who were waiting to shake hands with Big Al Fields. He turned to me grinning and winked. Incidentally, in 1971 Otto Kerner was convicted on 17 counts of mail fraud, conspiracy and perjury and sentenced to 3 years in prison. Al Fields retired that same year after being Mayor of East St. Louis for 20 years.  He was succeeded by a Black politician named James Williams. 

My first academic job at Southern Illinois ended after just one year. A fight within my department between factions on the faculty resulted in a number of positions being cut. Mine was one of them but it had nothing to do with me. I don’t remember what the issue was. But my time working in East St. Louis was an eye opener. I had the opportunity to meet with a lot of Black working class people. And I got my students to learn to do door to door surveys asking people what was needed in their neighborhoods. I could see how Al Fields did what he did. I also learned that my students who were all white were afraid of Black people.  It was also clear that there were stirrings in East St. Louis as the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum. Al Fields maintained his position by giving jobs and doing petty favors for potential leaders. But change was in the wind. 

Again, I had many offers. My textbook had been finished and published and it was adopted by a number of the new urban and regional planning programs that were springing up around the country. I took a tenure track position at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I got a three-year contract after which the faculty could offer me tenure, renew my three-year contract or fire me. If they took the second option, after another three years the faculty and university administration would either grant me tenure – a job for life-- or they would fire me. That type of contract was nicknamed “up or out.” After what happened at Southern Illinois it sounded good to me. Bobbie liked it too and liked Madison. An added attraction is that my office mate in Calcutta, Ved Prakash, was a faculty member in the department in Madison. We were to share an office once again and continue our friendship. So once again Bobbie, Rocky and I packed up our belongings and moved to Madison. While we were in Edwardsville a doctor determined that we could not have children together. So we decided that once we got to Madison we would look into adoption.

When we got settled in Madison we began to look into adoption services. We liked the person we met with at Lutheran Social Services. She told us that while we didn’t have to be Lutherans, we did need a religious affiliation. I had become friends with a Sociology professor who specialized in India and Southeast Asia. His wife was also with the department. Both were members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). We had talked a lot about India and the war in Vietnam. The Madison Quakers were opposed to all war on religious grounds; they were pacifists who believed that God is in every human. So killing was immoral. But they were particularly vehement about the Vietnam War, believing it was driven by an irrational anti-communism and U.S. military industrial complex. They had no ministers, sermons or dogmas. The services were called meetings and consisted of people gathering together in silence until someone felt “moved” to speak. Some meetings were almost all silence. But speakers did usually express their feelings about Vietnam and the civil rights movements in the U.S. Bobbie and I both felt quite at home there and ultimately became members. When we did we called Lutheran Social Services and they almost immediately came through with a six-week old baby who we named Christopher.

My academic work at the university was quite varied--from statistics to urban politics (using my textbook) to financial planning (mainly public finance) to urban planning theory. I worked with a campus wide effort that combined engineering, regional planning, economics and political science to come up with an approach to water quality management in the Wisconsin River basin. I published another book coming out of this project called Water Quality Management. I participated in some experiments in education, co-teaching a seminar with faculty members of the Educational Policy Department for Chicago teachers who were teaching in black neighborhood schools. For our own students we experimented collapsing individual courses into a single team-taught course that involved an extensive field trip to Chicago and to the Menomonee Indian Reservation. Our curriculum was geared to solving problems identified by Chicago community groups and Menomonee tribal activists. The experimental nature of my teaching was very controversial to older faculty who began to feel threatened by all the experiments. But much more controversial was my growing involvement with both anti-war and civil rights issues on campus. Some of them let me know that despite my two books, I was skating on thin ice.

The four years I was a professor in Madison were packed with the most militant demonstrations I had ever witnessed. I participated in all of them. Their militancy reflected the growth of these movements through the U.S. and in other nations as well. In my first year of teaching in Madison (1967), I had a discussion with one of my students about the difference between fascism and police brutality. I argued that fascism was more of a popular movement. It was a fairly academic argument. But a few days later he burst into my seminar on planning theory and shouted: “If you don’t believe we have fascism, come take a look at what is happening at the College of  Business. The cops are beating the shit out of everyone around there!” We decided to end class and go take a look. The building was just three blocks away.

What was happening was this: the Business College was holding a career day and had invited corporations to interview students. Among those invited was the Dow Chemical Corporation which was producing napalm for fire bombs as well as some explosive ingredients of cluster bombs being used against Vietnamese insurgents. A student anti-war group decided to block the interviews. The campus police were unable to stop them so the university called in both city and county police who did indeed beat the shit out of everyone they could get their hands on. The students were joined by many others and they fought back. When we got there we couldn’t get near. Three sets of police in riot gear including gas masks were gassing and clubbing away and had the entrance to the building surrounded. The fight went on for hours. 

The university called for a full emergency faculty meeting. It was held in a large auditorium. There were about 2000 faculty members on campus at that time and most of them came. The Chancellor of the University gave a speech about the need for order on campus and then showed a film of the police action. As the film rolled we could plainly see police clubbing students blocking the building. It was sickening to me but roughly half of the faculty were on their feet applauding the police! There was much shouting. Two faculty members trying to take the stage to speak got into a fist fight! Throughout all of this I sat in a bit of a daze. I couldn’t believe that the faculty of this “liberal” university could applaud the police. Some of the faculty who I knew from the Friends Meeting tried to speak and condemn the reaction of the university and the police to a moral act of civil disobedience (blocking Dow Chemical).  They were booed by many and cheered by some. I was proud of them. The students who got word of what was happening blocked the doors to the theatre and demanded that we pass a resolution condemning the behavior of the university administration and the police. More police came and arrested them as well. (This was all later documented in a wonderful book by David Mariness, They Marched Into Sunlight. He not only describes the Dow demonstration but also a battle in Vietnam that was happening at the same time in which U.S. soldiers were ambushed, the Battle of Ong Than.)

The students called for a campus wide strike. I joined. The university docked my pay for that day. The non-striking faculty in my department let me know their displeasure. But that wasn’t all. A number of faculty led by Quakers got a hold of addresses of the parents of all the students at the University and sent a letter to them asking them to contribute to a bail fund for the students who were arrested. Those of us who sent the letter were called to the Chancellor’s office and told we all faced suspension or possible firing for soliciting funds in the name of the university. We had a heated exchange with the Chancellor. He didn’t carry out his threat. But this put me clearly on a path toward increasing militancy.

Each year I was at the University of Wisconsin demonstrations became so extensive and militant that the National Guard was called. In 1968 the campus was shut down in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King. In 1969 it was the police murder of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton who was killed in his bed in the dead of night in a hail of police bullets. In 1970 National Guardsmen at Kent State University opened fire on student protests killing seven and wounding many others. Students in Madison smashed windows and looted stores in protest. When police cars came they smashed the car windows. While I didn’t do any of that (being a good Quaker at that point), I did attend protest rallies and organized discussions and teach ins about the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement that was growing across the country.  And I began to be known as one of the “radical” faculty members. 

Toward the end of the semester in 1969, the tenured faculty in my department met to discuss my future at the university. There were nine tenured faculty members in the department. Four voted to promote me with tenure. Four voted to fire me. And one voted to extend my contract for another three years. The compromise was an offer to extend my contract. A few of those who wanted to promote me were likely to retire in three years. I did the math and decided I better find another university. Bobbie was very unhappy about this. She had made friends in Madison. She was active in a faculty wives group and in an artist group (she was painting at this time). Chris had made some friends as well in a childcare circle. She was angry that my developing political outlook had led to this. 

I again had a number of offers. The best was from the University of Iowa in Iowa City. I again was offered a three-year contract with an agreement that they would consider me for tenure after just one year. Our Irish Terrier, Rocky, died that year. We decided to find another Irish when we got to Iowa. So the three of us: Bobbie, Chris, and me, packed our things and moved to Iowa. We left Madison in mid-August in 1969. A week later a group calling itself the New Year’s Eve Gang bombed a University of  Wisconsin building that housed a special research center financed by the U.S. Army. A graduate student was killed and three others were injured. The bombers had earlier tried to bomb the Baraboo Munitions Works by dropping explosives from a plane they stole on New Years Eve. The explosives didn’t go off that time. Three of the four were captured and did prison time. A fourth was never found. Despite my activism in the anti-war movement in Madison, I didn’t know any of them.

We bought a house in Iowa City and also got an Irish Terrier puppy. Chris named him “Uff.” We began to settle in. The chairman of my department told me that to get tenure I would need to get a research project underway. He sent me to the computer center where I could access a document that showed who had grants in my field and where the money came from. I went into a copy room where I could get a printed list. By mistake someone had left a print-out of the university computer center’s budget in the room. I put it into my briefcase thinking it might be useful. When I got back to my office and looked at the budget I realized that I had important information. Over half of the revenues of the University of Iowa Computer Center came from the U.S. Department of Defense. Specifically they were being funded by the Rock Island Arsenal, a near-by complex that made munitions used in the Vietnam War. The Computer Center was working on a project to make U.S. howitzers and other artillery more accurate. This constituted proof of direct participation by the University of Iowa in the Vietnam War.

I had observed that the University student newspaper had taken a strong anti-war stance so I walked over to their office. There I met Lowell May who was co-editor and a law student. I showed him what I had and he suggested we write an article that would have both of our names on the by-line. (Lowell and I would go on to become life-long friends and comrades until his early death in 2018). When the paper came out students immediately mobilized and marched on the Computer Center. The University was forced to place a 24-hour guard around and in the building for several weeks. I had made instant friends and enemies.

My years at the University of Iowa and Iowa City (1970-74) were important years for my own political development. And it was a time of considerable upheaval in my personal life. My political involvement in local, national and international issues greatly accelerated. We went to the Iowa City Society of Friends and attended several services. But it was totally different from Madison. While members opposed the war, there was little discussion of that at meetings. I joined a group of Quakers who held a weekly silent vigil for an hour in front of the campus. But I stopped attending Friends meetings, realizing that I was not really in tune with the theology without the politics of Madison Friends. Instead I was much more attracted to radical groups on campus. Bobbie was increasingly put off by what I was doing. She had enrolled Chris in a pre- school and generally took care of him when he wasn’t in school. At one point I told her I was joining a group that was going to try to block a bus taking army recruits to their induction and I might be arrested. She told me if I were arrested she was leaving and taking Chris with her. I went to the action and stood in front of the bus but as the police closed in to make arrests I backed off, realizing I wasn’t ready to give up on our marriage and possibly lose Chris. But a while later Bobbie simply disappeared and was gone several days. I was worried and scrambled to find childcare when I wasn’t able to be home. She came back but had no explanation. Then a few weeks later it happened again. This time she was gone for a month. At this point I joined a cooperative day care where Chris could go after his pre-school ended and on weekends and I had friends with children who helped out other times. 

I was also part of a group that was organizing cooperative housing collectives that some called communes. They were just different groups of people with different ideas about how a group living together would manage things. Some groups experimented with sharing sexual partners (which all ended in disaster). Some were quite haphazard. There was no organized cleaning, cooking and shopping. Houses were usually rented. But I bought a big old farmhouse and a group of us moved in. It included students, children and some faculty. Some were single and some were couples. We were highly organized and had weekly assignments for chores and regular house meetings to work out tensions over anything that came up. We shared expenses for food and supplies. Since I had a faculty salary I made the payments on the mortgage. We had three children including Chris. It worked out pretty well. Just as we got settled Bobbie suddenly came back. I had rented the house that Bobbie and I had bought when we moved to Iowa City to a group of women for their own cooperative house. Bobbie said she would try living with us at the coop. And she did for a brief time. But out of the blue at one of our house meetings she announced that she was returning to Madison and taking Chris with her. She filed for divorce and left. She wanted me to sell our original house and give her all the proceeds after that mortgage was paid off. Chris would spend summers with me and every other Christmas. I had limited visiting privileges in Madison. This was very hard on me but I tried to make the best of it and agreed to her terms. Taking Chris to Madison actually made some sense. She had a close circle of friends there that my political activities in Madison had torn her away from. That’s probably where she was during the periods she had disappeared. 

In addition to my teaching load there was a lot going on politically. Daycare was one of these. Prior to my arriving in Iowa City a group of parents who had organized cooperative daycare in their homes demanded that the university make a number of houses they owned available as daycare facilities. The houses were a perk for entering faculty who paid a minimal rent while they got settled at the university. The university refused the demand that some of these houses should be devoted to cooperative daycare.  So a large group of the parents marched to the Chancellor’s office to press their demands. And they brought their children with them along with reporters from a number of media outlets including the New York Times. They opened the doors to the suite of offices of the Chancellor and other high-level administrators and told the children they could play with anything in the offices. The children streamed in, the Chancellor panicked and called in the police and instructed them to arrest the parents. The children freaked out calling for their mommies and daddies and the TV stations and media photographers got it all. The university took a huge public relations hit and after several negotiations agreed to make six houses available. This was the rosy dawn of the Iowa City daycare movement. 

Groups of parents teamed up and formed daycares that represented different views of what childcare should be and how children should be raised politically. Parents and volunteers alike would sign up for a shift at daycare that included a hot meal at lunchtime. The daycare I belonged to was called the “Free Underground Childcare Kollective” or FUCK Daycare for short. As you might guess it had a counterculture orientation. It was the result of a split when in its initial phase boys were bullying girls and the parent strongly disagreed about what to do. My side of the split had argued that the adults talk to the children about why bullying was wrong. But a group of radical feminists insisted we should teach the little girls to beat the shit out of the little boys. They ended up forming a separate daycare that was all women with men who agreed with their principles providing childcare at night if the mother worked late or just needed a night out. Within FUCK there were considerable disagreements on what actual care was. Some adults favored just letting kids do whatever they wanted and used the time during their daycare shift to get other work done. Others, including myself, wanted more structured activities. We had a dispute over prohibiting adults from smoking dope while on duty (I was for the prohibition). We had disputes over basic sanitation. We had government supplied surplus food for the hot meals and an inspector took that away from us because of unsanitary conditions including dirty kitchen and rodent feces in the bulk oatmeal bin. I led a faction dedicated to cleaning it up and then went to a social worker to plea for reinstatement. The social worker said to me: “If you were me and a working-class welfare mother came to me to find daycare, would you recommend they come to one called FUCK and operates the way yours does?” I replied: “Well not just yet but we’re going to get there.” We eventually got reinstated but I was labeled as “straight” which was considered an insult. I concluded that socialism wasn’t made in a day—contradictions among the people! 

Chris was initially part of this daycare arrangement until Bobbie left and took him to Madison. He also had a few summers in daycare. The differences I had with some of the other adults became more intense when Chris was there. I recall going to pick him up one day and neither of the adults on duty had any idea where he was. One of them was stoned. The house had a back yard where the kids could play. There were some fairly dirty kids and no adults out there. I asked one of the kids where Chris was. He pointed to the roof of the house. Chris had climbed a tree and jumped over to the roof. He put his arms in the air and shouted “The amazing Christopher!” I calmly talked him down and then took him home. I wasn’t so calm at the next parents meeting. 

During this period in the early 1970s the women’s movement was gaining strength nationally. It was very strong in Iowa City and was dominated by women who called themselves radical feminists. Men in the movement were very sexist at this time and were being confronted by various segments of the women’s movement. A number of women argued that men should organize themselves into “men’s groups” to read and discuss radical feminist literature, engage in self-criticism of their own sexist behavior, and learn to have relationships with other men. A group of women asked me to join such a group in 1971. I didn’t initially know any of the men involved except one of my students named John. But in my group were two people who became lifelong friends and comrades in the movement. They were Hal Adams who was a professor in the University of Iowa Education College and Kingsley Clarke who was a young lawyer who represented the Black Panthers in Des Moines and had just established a law office in Iowa City where he did a lot of pro bono work mostly with students who needed legal help. I think Hal, Kingsley and I learned a lot and hopefully improved our behavior. We read radical feminist writers like Robin Morgan and Shulamith Firestone and discussed the implications of their writings for our activities in the movement. We discussed our behavior in movement meetings where men had been criticized for dominating discussion and “mansplaining” (the practice of many men of repeating what a woman had said as if the point came from him). At meetings of a group I belonged to called People’s Alliance there were women who kept track of such things and reported the results at the end of the meeting. So we discussed those reports and criticized ourselves accordingly. We talked about our failed relationships with specific women and how sexism played a role in that. And most importantly we tried to talk about our relationships with other men and with each other, answering the criticism that men avoided such relationships, requiring women to handle all our personal needs.

The other two people in the group were a different story. One guy named Dan was ok but totally counterculture and I didn’t really feel at all close to him and didn’t relate to what he talked about. My student, John, also lived in my coop with his girlfriend. He was also a teaching assistant in one of my undergraduate classes. He was a lost cause. I learned later that in my class he acted as a gatekeeper between my students and me. If they wanted an individual appointment they had to go through John (there were 100 in the class). And he used this position to hit on the women students. Also he would regularly go out after men’s group meetings and pick up girls in bars and then come back and criticize himself for doing so in our men’s group. But all in all I think the men’s group was an important experience in my own political development.

Many radicals on campus were organized into groups that had national affiliations. Some were part of the new left sectarian factions that had come out of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) when it splintered in 1969 (It dissolved altogether in 1974). Some groups were Maoist and some called themselves “Marxist-Leninist-Mao Tse Tung Thought” groups. Some were social democrats oriented to electoral politics. There were also some anarchist collectives. A group called New University Conference (NUC) recruited me. They were a loose coalition of different tendencies, which suited me just fine as I had no idea how I might best define myself. The leadership of NUC both locally and nationally had been part of SDS and saw this organization as one that would have a focus on campus issues, the Vietnam War, anti-racism, and anti-sexism. We did a number of things that were interesting. For one thing we had some leadership roles in the daycare centers. We also had a program called “Open Up the Schools” (OUTS) where we organized students to raise questions with professors who were using racist, sexist, homophobic, militarist textbooks or demonstrating these tendencies in their lectures. For example, I read some of the textbooks that was being used in large introductory sociology, economics and political science classes and wrote up some fact sheets challenging what was in them and also a list of questions to ask professors. We passed these out as students went to class. Other members did the same in other courses. We also passed out information about the Vietnam War and other local and national issues and invited the students to join with us.

One of our members, Peter Larmour, was a professor of intellectual history and taught courses in Hegelian Philosophy and Marxism. I participated in a study group he led in which we read Volume I of Marx’s Capital. This was my first serious study of Marx outside of undergraduate college reading of The Communist Manifesto. Also during this period I got together with a number of other people to read and study the work of Mao and of Lenin. Another important event in my formal political education occurred in Des Moines. A Chicago based group called Sojourner Truth Organization (STO) developed a three-day workshop that featured Marxism as well as their own feminist and anti-racist politics. One of their organizers who lived in Kansas City led the workshop but we got pamphlets and materials published by STO in Chicago. Kingsley Clarke, Lowell May and I all attended. The three of us plus two others who were at the Des Moines workshop along with Hal Adams would become members of STO a number of years later. 

NUC dissolved itself in 1972 and some of its members started a new organization called New American Movement (NAM). NAM was also a national organization that considered itself socialist, feminist, and anti-racist. Different chapters around the country exhibited a variety of socialist tendencies. In Iowa City most of us who had been in NUC joined NAM whose national office was in Minneapolis. NAM was not exclusively university based and each chapter had their own action priorities. In Iowa City we created a citywide coalition called The People’s Alliance. We started a newspaper that we passed out for free in public places. We were involved in ongoing anti-war work. And we continued to develop cooperatives that included daycare and housing but also a cooperative grocery store and a cooperative for bicycle repairs. I also taught a course in the history of cooperatives in the U.S. and cooperative management under an independent study number. This won me more disapproval from the Iowa faculty and within my own department. The History Department condemned the course because, they argued, I had no formal training in historiography and was not qualified to give college credit for the history of anything.

The People’s Alliance organized around a wide range of international, national and local issues. Internationally there was anti-war work and anti-colonialism work that focused on support for insurgents in African national wars for independence from various colonial powers. Nationally we did support work for United Farm Workers by launching an Iowa City boycott of lettuce, grapes and wine. We joined with a local Chicano/Indian Center that was supporting striking workers in the Southwest who were making Farah jeans. Locally we joined with an independent women’s collective who had opened a free women’s medical clinic. Among its activities was an underground illegal but safe abortion facility.  We also launched a campaign opposing an urban renewal proposal and instead proposed programs that would promote low- income housing, a landlord tenant code, public transportation improvements, publicly funded after school child care. We opposed city development priorities that benefited high-cost housing and contributed to runoff that flooded lower income neighborhoods. We supported collective bargaining rights for city and county workers. And we presented the city with an alternative budget.

To promote these ideas we did a variety of things. One was to do door to door canvasing and try to organize block clubs. We published articles about various initiatives in our newspaper and also did property research that exposed local politicians who used insider information to speculate on land whose value would be enhanced by the urban renewal proposal. We held free spaghetti dinners where speakers explained some of the issues and our stance on them. We campaigned on  and defeated a referendum to enable the urban renewal proposal to go through. And I ran with another member of the People’s Alliance for city council. We both lost but got a surprisingly high vote total and most importantly used the campaign to promote People’s Alliance politics and proposals. (I really didn’t want to be on the council and was relieved that I lost). 

All of this was exhausting. I did these things on top of my faculty teaching and advising work. Research and academic publication took a back seat. But at this point I had tenure so my job was not in jeopardy. After the City Council elections, People’s Alliance began to wane. Students who had been active were graduating and leaving Iowa City, and the housing coops and various activities we had initiated. The left nationally was becoming increasingly sectarian and that carried over to Iowa City as individuals in organizations who were not part of NAM launched attacks on People’s Alliance priorities and political line. About this time the national leadership of NAM decided to move the national office to Chicago and hire two people to run it. I was given the opportunity to be one of the people who would do this. I asked the university for a one-year leave of absence which my department granted. (They were probably relieved to have me out of town for a year).

The years in Madison and Iowa City were a time of great political development for me. They corresponded with a time of political upheaval not only in the U.S. but all over the world. There were anti-colonial wars in Africa, the Vietnam War in Asia, labor-student insurgencies in Europe. In the U.S. there was the anti war movement, civil rights and liberation struggles for the liberty of Blacks, Chicanos, American Indians, Puerto Ricans. There was a very vibrant women’s liberation movement. There were major insurrections around the murders of Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. There were also insurrections around police brutality. There was a large support movement for the United Farm Workers (UFW) and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) who were trying to organize migrant workers to improve pay and working conditions. There were insurgencies in factories that operated outside established union organizations. There were also vibrant counter- culture initiatives. Music was one aspect highlighted by the Woodstock concert. Also there was a lot of experimentation with drugs – especially marijuana (that was illegal at the time). There was a break out from the repressed 1950s around sex – smoke ins and love ins! And there was also a lot of experimentation with counter institutions to try to see what a new society might look like. That was the context of our experiments with cooperatives in Iowa City – daycare coops, a women’s health care collective, a food coop, bicycle repair coop, housing coops. 

While this was a tremendous time for my own learning and activism, it was not sustainable. There were some lasting effects of all of our activism. The food cooperative grew and exists to this day.  But it is not part of any political movement that I know of -- pretty much a regular supermarket. A few of the members of the People’s Alliance stayed in Iowa City and continued to press the agenda we had initiated. At least one person ran for City Council and won. For me, as our activities in Iowa City began to diminish and key activists began to leave, I longed to be in a place where I could expand my political work beyond Iowa City. 

Moving to Chicago

In 1974, I left Iowa City and went to Minneapolis where I was joined by one of NAM’s leaders, Roberta Lynch. We packed up the NAM national office and moved it to Chicago. I intended that the Chicago stay would last only one year. But I never went back to Iowa City.  Also after arriving in Chicago, I was joined by one of the People’s Alliance activists with whom I had a relationship, Beth Shope. We eventually got married. Chris at this point was living in New Jersey with his mother but spent each summer with Beth and me.

For about a year, Roberta and I ran the NAM National Office. The NAM headquarters was now located in the Chicago neighborhood known as Buck Town or Wicker Park.  As I recall, there were about 40 chapters of NAM located all over the country. What united NAM was some unspecified notion of “socialism,” anti-war, anti-sexism, anti- racism, anti-capitalism. But all of these were defined in different ways in different chapters. The organization had a leadership that was called the National Interim Committee (NIC) that met every six months. Individuals or chapters could write pamphlets and submit them to the NIC as discussion documents. The National Office would then publish and distribute those accepted by the NIC. We also put out a newsletter reporting on what various chapters were doing and also what new literature was available. Once a year there was a national meeting of everybody where reports and political positions were debated. The national office would organize all national meetings. Most chapters were actively involved in anti-Vietnam War work. Others were involved in a variety of initiatives including immigration rights, health care, housing rights, support for migrant farm workers, support for groups advocating independence for Puerto Rico, support for anti-colonial wars and movements around the world, unionization efforts, street theatre, local and national elections to name a few. There was little coherence. And there was a fair amount of conflict among chapters. 

Nevertheless, I learned a lot about various political currents around the country. The Chicago chapter met monthly in a large house in Hyde Park that was home to a commune whose members were part of NAM. Two of our members, John Judis and Jim Weinstein were successfully starting a socialist newspaper that became In These Times. Another was Dave Moberg who became a well-known independent journalist writing mostly for the Chicago Reader and sometimes In These Times. If there was a political center for our chapter it would have been what we call today “Democratic Socialism.” At that time there was an effort to organize a democratic socialist presence in the U.S. Congress as well as in state and local governments. It was called the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee or DSOC. DSOC was led by Michael Harrington whose book The Other America galvanized a movement against poverty. I went to meetings regularly and worked on some projects around immigration rights, anti-war and support for the Puerto Rican Independence movement. But I never felt very at home in my NAM Chapter. 

After moving into the NAM office on Milwaukee Avenue I began to unpack boxes placing files in cabinets and pamphlets and books on shelves. One day a guy poked his head in the door and introduced himself as Don Hamerquist. He told me he helped run a print shop at the end of the hall and wondered if we might use their services when we wanted to publish pamphlets and flyers. He took me to the shop and showed me around. While touring the print shop, I was intrigued to discover that Don was one of the founders of Sojourner Truth Organization (STO), a New Left revolutionary organization. I had been exposed to some of STO’s ideas through the workshop I attended while living in Iowa City. Don characterized their pamphlets as discussion documents. They included STO’s views on revolutionary organization (“Toward a Revolutionary Party”), an explanation of STO’s emphasis on industrial organization (“Mass Organizations at the Workplace” and “Reflections on Organizing”), and their well-known stance on the role of white supremacy in maintaining capitalism in the US (“White Blindspot” and “Black Worker, White Worker”). I had heard from Kingsley that he had joined the organization. Don and I became friends. I was very attracted to STO politics and found them more to my liking than the Chicago chapter of NAM. I was especially interested in the fact that STO had an industrial concentration in which many of its members, including Don, worked in factories. I eventually convinced Don and other STO members to join NAM and become a second Chicago chapter. That would give a lot of people an exposure to STO politics and offer an alternative to democratic socialism. I then joined the STO chapter. But in less than a year at a national meeting of NAM the overwhelming majority of members voted to merge with the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC). That merger resulted in a new organization called Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). They famously tried to get Bernie Sanders elected President of the USA. STO didn’t go along and we left NAM and I left the national office. Beth joined STO as well.

At this point I was supposed to return to Iowa City. I had already gotten an extension on my leave of absence and they would not consider another. But I decided to stay in Chicago and work with STO. It meant giving up my tenured position at the University of Iowa. But all of us were hopeful that with continuing effort we could achieve a new non-capitalist society. Beth and I moved to South Chicago where Kingsley lived and where he had founded what we called a “Workers’ Rights Center.” Beth got a job in a factory in the area and I began to do paralegal work with Kingsley. To earn money and to understand the lives of the people on Chicago’s Southeast side I also got a job at a factory. I did full-time factory work for the next seven years. In terms of my own political development, the factory work, the work in the Workers’ Rights Center, and my association with STO was the most productive period of my life (productive in the sense of personal political development). I have written about this period (1976-1982) in detail in my memoir, Living and Dying on the Factory Floor: From the Outside in and the Inside Out (PM Press, 2019). So I won’t go into this any further. But I will discuss my membership in two revolutionary organizations that overlapped with this period and beyond—STO and later News and Letters Committees (N&L). 

Two Revolutionary Organizations: Sojourner Truth Organization (STO) and News and Letters Committees (N&L).

Between 1976 and 1988 I was a member of three revolutionary organizations. One of these was NAM, which I already discussed above. The other two, STO and N&L, were particularly important to my political development. Before discussing the nature of the priorities and politics of each organization, I want to briefly mention the movement activities I was involved in during this period. There was a great deal going on.

After leaving NAM with STO, Beth and I moved to South Chicago.  I began working with Kingsley at the free legal clinic that we called Workers’ Rights Center. It was volunteer work and involved a lot of different things. There were a large number of workers who were being laid off from their factory jobs and who were having trouble getting their unemployment benefits. I worked on that and represented a few at administrative hearings and also organized a large demonstration at the unemployment office in South Chicago. We also helped a black steelworkers caucus developing and distributing leaflets around struggles inside of U.S. Steel South Works. We also offered support for a number of other worker struggles in the area. 

The Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a radical lawyers organization, initiated an effort to defend migrant workers who were being arrested by the immigration authorities. There were raids on factories in which Latinos were arrested and often deported. There were even arrests on the street. The NLG launched a “Know Your Rights” campaign and trained us in basic immigration law, developed leaflets in English and Spanish telling what to do if you are arrested and providing a phone number to call. We went to theatres showing Spanish language films and passed these out while a NLG organizer explained immigration rights in Spanish to the audience. We also leafleted factories passing out the rights leaflet but also urging resistance to raids by all workers.

But my main activity between 1976 and 1982 was on the shop floor of a number of Southeast side factories. Part of my motivation for going into the factories was that my leave at University of Iowa had run out and I had lost my job. So I needed to make money. The work at the Workers’ Rights Center was unpaid. But there was a political motivation too that I can best briefly explain by quoting from my book.

During the time I was in STO there was an emphasis on political work with those in the factories. It was believed that people who made useful goods could most clearly see the class exploitation inherent in capitalism and their own potential to construct a new society based on the motto: “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” 

I saw my political task in the factory to give full support to a variety of initiatives coming from the workers themselves. I was not trying to agitate to get workers to do anything in particular. Nor was I trying to recruit workers to join STO. I did see part of my role to discuss with workers the link between their actions, other political insurgencies around the world and the potential for a new society. My life on the factory floor was mostly a huge learning experience for me. I learned from the inside the nature of the factory system but most importantly about the everyday lives and attitudes of the workers I met there. 

I did other political work during the years I was in STO and N&L. One of these involved the prisons, supporting the initiatives of radical black prisoners – especially an organization called New African Prisoners Organization (NAPO). We did some of this in coalition with other groups who were trying to improve conditions in the prison but we also printed and helped distribute the radical NAPO newsletter to those incarcerated in the State of Illinois. The newsletter was quite revolutionary. At one point there was a prison uprising in Pontiac Illinois State Prison in which four guards were killed. The state charged nine people with First Degree Murder. They were all either leaders of Black revolutionary organizations or Black gangs and were singled out for that reason. I assisted the legal team and helped develop publicity focusing on the prison conditions that gave rise to the uprising and the fact that those charged with a capital offense were not guilty of the murder. 

Other political work involved supporting national and international revolutionary struggles. We knew a number of Iranian students who were members of a variety of Iranian radical organiztions who were trying to overthrow the Shah (King) of Iran. Both STO and N&L supported several groups of students by mobilizing demonstrations against the Shah and organizing teach-ins about the struggle for his removal. Another important issue involved Puerto Rico. I began to work with organizations supporting Puerto Rican independence while still in NAM. This work continued after I left but took a more radical turn in STO. The Movimiento Liberación Nacional (MLN) stressed Puerto Rico’s colonial status relative to the U.S. and the need for a system of independence and socialism. They supported armed struggle to achieve this. They specifically supported the work of an underground armed organization called Fuerzos Armada de Liberacion Nacional (FALN).  Between 1974 and 1983 FALN had been accused of over 120 bombings in the U.S. Initially our Puerto Rican work involved supporting the freeing of Nationalist Party prisoners who had been convicted of attempted murder for two armed actions—one in 1950 and another 1954. Oscar Collazo and a comrade Grisello Torresola had been involved in a 1950 shootout as they attempted to invade the temporary residence of President Truman. Torresola was killed and Collazo had been imprisoned since. In 1954 there was another armed attack by four nationalists on the U. S. House of Representatives. A number of congressmen were wounded. The four--Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irvin Flores, and Andres Corder--were arrested, tried and had been in prison since then. Their contention that they were all political prisoners of war was supported by STO. But our work took another more immediate turn when in 1980 eleven people were arrested in Evanston, Illinois and accused of being part of the FALN and charged with seditious conspiracy. They refused to mount a defense claiming that they were political prisoners of war and didn’t recognize the legitimacy of U.S. courts. Their trial was used to bring to light their demand for independence and socialism. We participated in demonstrations demanding both their release and independence for Puerto Rico and developed and distributed educational materials on the issue and their case.

Meanwhile in Central America – particularly Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala—there were struggles against U.S. imperialist actions and U.S. supported regimes in those countries. A revolution in Nicaragua by a revolutionary group known as Sandinistas had been successful in overthrowing a very oppressive regime but the U.S. was funding a counter revolution led by several groups known as “contras.” We participated in a coalition that supported the Sandinistas and engaged in militant protests against U.S. funding of the contras. We organized protests against repressive regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala that had been put in place by covert actions of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

There were some difficult personal times during much of this period. Beth decided to move out and filed for divorce. The cause was not political; she had just grown tired of me and didn’t want to be married. She had been in both STO and N&L and remained in N&L after she moved out. She was also doing factory work and when she moved she stayed in South Chicago. We remained friends and comrades and it was the right thing to do for both of us. When she left I was actually relieved but felt sad nonetheless.

While in STO my political development underwent a rapid move to the left. STO’s politics and even the period when I left it and moved to N&L are very well documented in Michael Staudenmeier, Truth and Revolution: A History of Sojourner Truth Organization 1969-1986. In addition there is an archive of most of STO’s most important pamphlets and articles ( ). STO first brought me to an alternative set of politics to NAM’s democratic socialism and also to the many different “Marxist-Leninist-Mao Tse Tung thought” organizations. And two of the founders of STO and their writings had a great influence on me. One was Don Hamerquist who offered a perspective on a different sort of revolutionary organization. Much of this was summarized in the early 1970s in a pamphlet called Toward a Revolutionary Party that was largely written by Don. I also think that Don’s more recent ideas show the development of his politics in revolutionary organization whose seeds were in the earlier works. A selection of his writings since 2000 are collected in Luis Brennan, (Ed.), A Brilliant Red Thread: Revolutionary writings from Don Hamerquist (2023). Several things were unique on the perspective of revolutionary organization offered by STO. Many of the new communist groupings offered their members a stale political line, which involved intervention in and infiltration of struggles to impose that line. Working class people were seen as the objects of the revolutionaries who tried to sell people on a pre-packaged line and recruit some of them to their organization. STO believed that political lines were derived from mass struggles through the experience of working-class people with capitalism. The people were thus the subjects of struggle and revolutionaries supported people to draw out the revolutionary implications of their struggles and to aid in the struggles themselves. Further STO did not believe that this would be accomplished through trade unions. While other groups attempted to penetrate and control unions, STO stressed extra union activity we termed mass worker organizations that were greatly influenced by the Black revolutionary union movements in Detroit. (For example see the pamphlet,  “Mass Organization in the Workplace,” (1972). This pamphlet reflected a development of an earlier piece written in 1970 by Don that is included in STO’s, Workplace Papers called “Reflections on Organizing.” What is important here is that organizing work of STO members was discussed by members and reflected upon resulting in organizing perspectives being developed and revised as a result of interaction with working class people in the process of some sort of struggle. STO was alive for me in a way no other organization had been previously and it drove me to enter the factories myself and add my own experiences to the development of its ideas. And that dynamic also guided my work in the factories. 

Another person in STO who greatly influenced me was Noel Ignatiev (then named Noel Ignatin). By the time I met Noel in the early 1970s, he had been in and out of the Communist Party (CP) and a CP split off group called the Provisional Organizing Committee (POC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). He was also one of the founding members of Sojourner Truth Organization (STO). I met Noel when I joined STO. But before I joined I was already familiar with the open letter Noel and Ted Allen wrote called White Blindspot. The essay was part of ongoing discussion within Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) that attacked the Progressive Labor Party’s position on the “Negro liberation movement” on the ground that it “places the Negro question outside of the class struggle.”  In White Blindspot, Ted Allen brought with him an insight from his historical studies of early slavery in the U.S. where, he argued that the white race was invented as an incentive to non-African workers, enticing many to join their capitalist oppressors rather than make common cause with black slaves. Noel developed his analysis based partly on his studies of history especially the abolitionist movement, the Civil War and the Reconstruction period. He was greatly influenced by W.E.B DuBois’, Black Reconstruction in America. In addition, he studied and admired the activities of a number of leaders of the abolitionist movement, especially John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips. He was also greatly influenced by his observations and participation in shop floor struggles during his 20 years as a factory worker.  His experience working as an electrician at U.S. Steel Gary Works are chronicled in his book Acceptable Men (Charles H. Kerr Press, 2020). 

In “Learn the Lessons of U.S. History,” written in 1968, Noel wrote:

“White supremacy is a deal between the exploiters and a part of the exploited, at the expense of the rest of the exploited—in fact, the original sweetheart deal.”

After leaving factory work, Noel went back to school and eventually wrote the book How the Irish Became White that further developed his ideas. He also founded a journal called Race Traitor. Its masthead read “Treason to the White Race is Loyalty to Humanity.” Noels ideas developed over the years as the practice of white supremacy  changed with the times. This development is demonstrated in a book of his essays published in 2022 after his death. (Treason to Whiteness is Loyalty to Humanity by Noel Ignatiev, edited by Geert Dhondt, Zhandarka Kurti, and Jarrod Shanahan, Verso Books, 2022).

As important as Noel’s writings were to the development of my own ideas and political practice, my close association with Noel during my STO years also contributed to my political ideas and practice.  During a few years when we were both working in factories, Noel lived next door. And we would regularly share stories of  life in our respective workplaces and discuss the implications of our experiences for STO politics– particularly on the struggles against white supremacy. We also worked together in the Worker’s Rights Center and we worked on immigration issues. 

But all of this would come to an end. The militancy of workers on the factory floors around the country was beginning to wane. The majority of STO including both Don and Noel argued that factory insurgencies were in a “period of lull.” A vote to de-emphasize industrial organizing in 1978 caused me and a number of others to leave STO. We briefly formed a new organization we called Midwest Action League (MAL). Kingsley and the Workers’ Rights Center went with the MAL. As we left STO there was growing conflict at my factory workplace, Chicago Shortening. It resulted in a very militant wildcat strike that is described in detail in my book Living and Dying on the Factory Floor. Kingsley represented us as a lawyer and the Worker’s Rights Center became our strike office. The members of the MAL were active in supporting the strike.  We lost the strike after a bitter struggle and most of us were fired. One of the workers who was not fired but supported the strike was murdered by one of the strike breakers who took our jobs. After the strike MAL dissolved.  But I continued working in factories until 1983. There were more militant struggles in the factories I worked in. And I continued to work on the immigration issue, support for Puerto Rican independence, the Iranian struggle, and social justice issues in Central America. But I was working on these things mainly with Kingsley through the Workers’ Rights Center and a few other MAL comrades. We had no other organization.

In 1981 Kingsley and I were at a political rally where many left groups were selling their newspapers. Kingsley was reading one he had bought and passed it over to me and said. “This looks like something that would interest you.” The paper was called News and Letters. Its editor was a black auto worker from Detroit named Charles Denby. News and Letters was also the name of a revolutionary political organization founded by a woman named Raya Dunayevskaya. The organization labeled itself “Marxist-Humanist.”  Two of her books were advertised in the paper: Marxism and Freedom; and Philosophy and Revolution. I ordered them and read them carefully taking lots of notes. I was blown away by the scope and depth of what she had to say and wrote her a long letter of appreciation that included both what I liked and some things I questioned. I got a warm response from her and a call from one of the Chicago members inviting me to a meeting where they would be presenting and discussing a new book by Raya that was in manuscript form. It was called Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution. At that meeting one of the members gave me a copy of the manuscript. And shortly thereafter I got a call from Raya inviting me to come to Detroit to meet with her. I spent a few days in Detroit and had substantive political meetings with Raya and a number of the Detroit members. That included Charles Denby who had written a book called Indignant Heart: A Black Worker’s Journal. Unfortunately I visited him in the hospital where he was being treated for cancer. We had a great discussion that focused on the factory work; but that was the first and last time I would see him. He died soon after my visit.

News and Letters people were interested in my factory experiences and also in the fact that I was having a political/philosophical dialogue with Raya. I learned that their organizational form and practice was very similar to STO. Their emphasis on fighting white and male supremacy was also similar. Shortly after my trip to Detroit I joined the organization. Within a year, the national headquarters of N&L, Raya, and a number of the Detroit members would move to Chicago. And for a time I was part of the national leadership.

Before discussing the influence of the theory and practice of News and Letters on me, I want to say a little about its founder, Raya Dunayevskaya. Raya Shpigel was born in 1910 in a small Jewish village in what is today Ukraine. Then Ukraine was a part of the Russian Empire. Following the 1917 Russian revolution that deposed the Tsar (king), civil war broke out as Royalists, aided by all of the Western imperialist powers fought to restore the monarchy. Raya’s village was under the control of the Royalists and they launched pogroms against Jews because they were anti-Semitic but also because they correctly perceived Jews to be supportive of the communist revolution and opposed to the Tsar. The pogroms forced Raya and her family to leave Russia in 1922. They traveled to the U.S. and settled in Chicago. When they arrived in the U.S., her name was changed to Rae Spiegel; she was 12 years old. She spoke only Russian and Yiddish but quickly mastered English and met others who considered themselves to be communists. She joined the Communist Party USA as a teenager and wrote a youth column in the Party newspaper, The Daily Worker. In 1928 at the age of 18 she attended a meeting in which the members of the Party were asked to publically condemn Comrade Trotsky who led the Red Army during the revolution and the civil war that followed. This was part of the Stalin purges of many of the leaders of the 1917 Russian revolution. She refused to condemn Trotsky saying that she wanted to hear Leon Trotsky’s side of the story. Party leaders beat her up, threw her down a flight of stairs, and expelled her from the Communist Party. She then made her way to Boston and later New York where she met up with other former CP members who had taken Trotsky’s side. She eventually joined the Socialist Workers Party headed by Trotsky who was now in exile and being pursued by Stalin’s assassins.  By 1937, Trotsky was living in Mexico and Raya went to work in his compound in Mexico City as his Russian secretary. She stayed for a year and returned to Chicago after the death of her father. In 1938 she broke with Trotsky’s view that Russia under Stalin was still a “worker’s state.” She was part of a tendency within the Trotskyist movement who argued that Russia was state capitalist. In 1940 Trotsky was assassinated by one of Stalin’s agents. But her work in forming a political tendency that had studied the Russian five-year plans and considered it state capitalist continued. The tendency Raya helped to organize was known as the Johnson-Forest Tendency. Johnson was the pen name for C.L.R James. Raya, who had now changed her name to Raya Dunayevskaya (her mother’s maiden name), took the pen name of Freddie Forest. She and James wrote an influential book containing an analysis of the Russian economy called State Capitalism and World Revolution. She, James and others formed a new organization called Correspondence. They eventually split into two groups, with Raya’s organization called News and Letters.

It is impossible to summarize a whole body of thought and the work of News and Letters Committees in a short space. I won’t attempt to do that. But I will try to briefly lay out what particularly influenced my own thinking. Marxism and Freedom: from 1776 to Today was first published in 1958. It was Raya’ first effort to write a full exposition of her ideas after breaking with C.L.R James. She does not discuss the break itself but rather takes off from the state-capitalist position to develop a full view of what Marxism means in relation to the movements and struggles of that time. She states in the introduction “The unity of theory and practice, which characterized the forty years of Marx’s maturity (1843-1883), is the compelling need for our age as well.” She goes on to layout the two sources of the impulse to write Marxism and Freedom. They were the activity of U.S. workers—especially black workers, auto workers, and mine workers. Between 1956 and 1957, black workers were beginning a struggle for their liberation. Also the U.S. working class as a whole was battling automation and oppressive conditions on the factory floor. She was also inspired to write Marxism and Freedom by a number of revolts against what she termed “Russian totalitarianism.” These included: revolts inside Russia in the Siberian slave labor camps after the death of Stalin; the uprising of East German workers who challenged their Communist regime in 1953; and the Hungarian Revolution against their Communist regime in 1956. She says: “Thus in the wilds of Siberia as well as the heart of Europe the tocsin had sounded for the beginning of the end of Russian totalitarianism.” 

What most influenced me was the development of the close relationship between theory and practice. She says, “Theory requires a constant shaping and reshaping of ideas on the basis of what workers themselves are doing and thinking.” But she also saw an active role for revolutionary intellectuals connected to the workers’ struggles. She argued that there is a “movement from practice that is itself a form of theory.” Specifically she saw in the movements of the black working class and other workers in the auto plants and the mines as well as the Russian and Eastern European revolts, a basis for a whole new society that would be neither capitalist nor state capitalist. But revolutionary intellectuals needed to be a part of these movements not to control them but to bring to them what she termed “a movement from theory that was itself a form of philosophy.”

To develop these formulations she looked at the relation of theory to practice in Marx’s work. What she stressed was how worker struggles in Marx’s time – the French Revolution, the 1848 revolutions in Europe and the abolitionist movements against U.S. slavery and ultimately the Civil War in the U.S.—led to Marx’s theory as expressed in Capital as well as his development of the Marxist-Hegelian dialectic based on the work of German philosopher George Hegel. She then shows the implications for how we look at Lenin and the Russian Revolution, and its demise with Stalin and state capitalism. She terms this “The Problem of Our Age: State Capitalism vs. Freedom.” She analyses the Russian five-year plans, the purges by Stalin, the uprisings in Eastern Europe, the automation struggles and Maoism.

In 1973 she published a second book: Philosophy and Revolution: From Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao. In this book she develops further the relationship of Hegel’s philosophy and what she terms “Marx’s historical materialism and its inseparability from the Hegelian dialectic.”   From this vantage point she critiques alternatives to Marxist thought in the form taken by Trotsky, Mao Tse-Tung and Jean-Paul Sartre. In the concluding section of the book she again returns to the movements of the 1960s and early 1970s as a form of theory and the need to meet these with a movement of theory as a form of philosophy. The movements include the African revolutions, the Eastern European revolts and what she calls “new passions and new forces including the black liberation movement in the U.S., the anti-Vietnam War youth, rank and file labor uprisings and women’s liberation. 

These are the two books I bought that day after reading the News and Letters newspaper and then meeting with Raya herself in Detroit. At the time I was at the tail end of my seven years working in Chicago factories and was headed back to academia as a professor at the University of Illinois Chicago. I was more than a little excited with her formulations of practice as a form of theory and her admonition that we, as revolutionary intellectuals must help articulate a vision of a new society in the struggles of the day. And that articulation must be grounded in what she called Marxist Humanist philosophy. 

This was my first encounter with Hegelian philosophy. It excited me because it gave me a new way to think about what I had experienced on the factory floor. I immediately recalled an incident at Chicago Shortening where I was working when we had a wildcat strike. We were blocking the company railroad yard where there were tanker cars full of product. The company president came out and said all he wanted to do is “make shortening.” When a cop ordered us to clear the way, one of the workers stepped right up to him and said: “This is about how we are going to feed our babies, man. Now that’s something worth fighting for so moving us out of here ain’t going to be easy.” Thinking about News and Letters and Raya’s formulation about theory and practice made me see this and other episodes I describe in my book Living and Dying on the Factory Floor, in a new light. While the company president insisted that this about how to make shortening, the worker, whose name was Charles, said to the contrary it was about how to feed our babies, asserting that “feeding our babies” was of primary importance. And it opened up the discussion among workers to a broader way to see our struggles. I observed that the workers were suddenly much more open to talking to various other revolutionaries who visited our picket line and explained their own struggles. These discussions also included some black workers at another factory, Iranians who were trying to overthrow their monarch, Puerto Ricans who sought independence and socialism for their nation. 

After I joined News and Letters I began reading more of Marx, Hegel and other revolutionary writers and to think further about my experiences on the factory floor. I had further involvement with the Puerto Rican movement, Iran, and Central American liberation struggles – especially in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. Also I became involved with the struggles in South Africa to end Apartheid and free Nelson Mandela. The theory and practice of Marxist Humanism and my involvement with News and Letters guided my activity. 

I got to know Raya quite well both politically and socially. One memorable activity was organizing a book tour with her third major book Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution that was released in 1982. Eventually I was elected to a leadership position in News and Letters, serving on what we called the Resident Editorial Board that met regularly at Raya’s house in Chicago, discussing the events of the day, the work of the organization, and our relation of theory to practice. It was a tremendous learning experience for me.

However, I began to worry about the lack of real involvement of our comrades in various struggles around the world. I told Raya I feared some in the leadership and rank and file were building a cult around her and were in no position to meet practice with theory. She all but dismissed this and told me if that were the case I should put a stop to it. She then proposed that the paper go from being a monthly publication to bi-weekly. I argued at the Resident Editorial Board (REB) meeting that too many members were simply selling papers without an organic connection to real world struggles so that going to a bi-weekly would make that problem even greater. There was a lot of debate about this but Raya persisted and when the paper began to be produced and published twice a month I resigned from the REB.

Raya died in 1987. After she was gone there was a distasteful struggle over leadership of the organization. In 1988 I sadly decided to leave News and Letters. Some of the people I respected the most were being marginalized. And I saw no use for continuing my involvement. Eventually the organization began to splinter. There continues to be something called News and Letters Committees that continues to put out the newspaper. Two other fragments are the International Marxist Humanists Organization and the Marxist Humanist Initiative. I have made little effort to make sense of all these splits. I worked with people in all three groupings when I was a member. I have not found another organization to affiliate with. So for the past thirty-six years I have remained unaffiliated but continue to interact with a number of former comrades. Kingsley, with whom I have worked and debated various developments has remained my friend and comrade for the past 54 years.

My Return to Academia (1983)

By the winter of 1982 I found myself out of work. My last full time factory job was at a chemical plant called Foseco. We made a special product used in the steel making process. Its main ingredient was silicone flour. The air was always full of silicone dust making for a very unhealthy work environment. The work was also dangerous – I had some very close calls. And I was working with a third shift maintenance crew—midnight to 8:00 am and was physically exhausted all the time. I decided I needed to find another place to work. I didn’t realize at the time that the global economy was beginning a major shift that would eliminate thousands of factory jobs. In the first month after I left Fosco, I filed 24 applications for factory jobs and visited another 28 plants that told me they were not accepting applications. I was drawing unemployment compensation and picking up a little part time “handyman” work doing home repairs. My wife, Beth, left me during this period, which meant I had to pay the entire rent on our apartment. I finally got a part-time factory job at very low pay. I was really beginning to worry about how I would carry on. Then, a friend of mine introduced me to an urban planning and public policy professor at University of Illinois Chicago. His name was Rob Mier. I had been out of academia for 10 years but he remembered me from the textbook I had written. He had used it in his classes at one time. I remembering him asking: “Where have you been all these years?” I remember replying: “It’s a long story.” But I gave him a short version and told him I was ready to return to academia. Surprisingly, rather than being put off by my shorthand explanation, he was fascinated by what I had done. He headed up a unique research center that was asking community organizations in Chicago’s working class and lower income neighborhoods to pose questions for research they would find useful. Much of it reflected the impacts of the massive factory layoffs that were picking up steam throughout the metropolitan area. He had a special grant shared with Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve (also in Cleveland) to help them develop a similar program there. So he hired me to work on that and sent me off to Cleveland (my old hometown) along with another staff member at our University of Illinois Center for Urban Economic Development (UICUED). Her name was Pat Wright. We went to Cleveland together and worked on the Cleveland Project as we called it. Later in 1983, we started a relationship that was both personal and political and eventually got married. We have been together ever since (41 years as I write this). As I worked on this project with Pat, a position opened up for a senior faculty member in the Urban Planning Program with which our center was affiliated. I applied for that and got the job with tenure! Between a close political and personal relationship and a steady living wage job, I had hit the proverbial jackpot!

I was part of News and Letters at this point and was working with some left and progressive political groups on campus. We were doing support work with liberation struggles in Central America as well as anti-apartheid work in South Africa. In addition, Raya’s new book was out and I organized a study group to read and discuss the book. Pat joined me in all of this and eventually joined News and Letters too. Shortly after that, my son Chris who had been living in New Jersey with his mother expressed his desire to live with me in Chicago. So as Pat and I started a life together, we were joined by my 13-year old son. It all worked!

Despite all of these positive things, I was not totally comfortable about returning to academia. I was teaching economics – both theory and analysis and doing research projects at UICUED. My projects at UICUED were community organization based and I worked a lot in Chicago’s Westside black communities and to some extent in the Mexican communities where Pat, Chris and I lived. Most of that work had to do with trying to get people who had been laid off from factory jobs trained and reemployed, and to influence city policy to attract the sort of industries that might hire such people. But I could never really connect much of this with the political outlook that came from my association with STO and News and Letters and my experience with struggles on the factory floor. I was able to teach a little Marxist economics in my classes. I used examples from my factory work to explain, otherwise abstract economic analysis theory (which seemed to also keep the students awake). And my grasp of Hegelian-Marxist dialectics that I had studied in News and Letters did impact how I went about my research.  But I really missed much about factory life and what I learned by talking with the workers I was working with. Aside from the study group around Raya’s book, I resisted talking with my academic colleagues about my politics. I kept my UIC work and political activities in two separate compartments. 

Global Decisions, Local Collisions

But the wall I had built between academia and politics began to break down. The impetus, oddly enough, was over the issue of “free trade.” In 1991, one of the people I had been working with on job loss due to factory closings in Chicago told me that he had been invited to go to Zacatecas, Mexico to attend a meeting of activists from the U.S., Canada and Mexico who were concerned with ongoing negotiations among the three countries to develop a free trade agreement called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The nature of the concerns varied but in the U.S. there was a coalition forming that was focused on preventing more manufacturing job loss, environmental degradation, and worker rights. Our meeting in Zacatecas coincided with a meeting of the trade ministers of Mexico, Canada and the U.S. who were drafting NAFTA. Our meeting was in part a tri-national protest. But this very broad coalition was also trying to explore possible common ground among various activists within and among the three nations to oppose NAFTA and possibly craft some sort of alternative. My friend asked me if I wanted to go and on October 24, 1991, I made my way to Zacatecas. 

The gathering in Zacatecas included a wide range of politics from progressive-liberal to more radical. The demands, as a result, were not for an end to capitalism. Rather it was an effort to see if we could have a broad international alliance to stop NAFTA. For me it was an opportunity to gain insights that led me to see NAFTA, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and various other trade agreements as a strategy of the ruling class to reorganize global capitalism to combat a growing systemic crisis. This strategic shift on the part of global capital was brewing during my factory days but none of us on the left saw it coming. For the time being I wanted to simply join with all who wanted to oppose the ruling class initiative and help build an anti-NAFTA, anti-WTO alliance.  I have written about the nature of the ruling class strategy, its impacts in Chicago, and the struggle against it in my book Global Decisions, Local Collisions that I wrote between 1999 and 2000. 

On my trip to Zacatecas I had to change planes in Mexico City. Initially I was the only person in an enclosed waiting room for the flight to Zacatecas. Soon three men in dark suits who were clearly armed entered the room and sat across from me. Initially they just subjected me to a stare down. But then one approached me, and told me in Spanish that he was a periodista (journalist). He then asked me who I was, where I was going and why and another took my picture. I guess that was meant to intimidate me. It did! But then a large group of Canadians and Mexicans who were going to the same meeting I was entered the room and several told the “men in black” to fuck off. I felt both relieved and also that the meeting was something important.

When we got to Zacatecas we were told by the conference organizers that the government had closed the auditorium we were supposed to meet in and had removed all the seats. We found an alternative auditorium at the Autonomous University of Zacatacas in the law school. And we began three days of debate on what the terms of a tri national alliance against NAFTA would be. It was an important experience for me. Liberal Democratic Party leaders and many conservative Republicans strongly supported “free trade.” Our opposition coalition was a bit of a hodgepodge. Not only were there a number of coalitions from three different countries, participants represented many different sectors of society—economists, trade unionists and labor rights advocates, lawyers focused on intellectual property rights and international dispute resolution institutions, environmentalists, faith based organizations, women’s rights movements, indigenous peoples’ movements, immigration rights advocates. Simultaneous translation specialists offered translations in English, Spanish and French. 

After three days of discussion and debate we came up with a set of principles for a “just and sustainable fair-trade agreement.” Then a small group of people were elected to summarize and condense the three day discussion in the form of a “Final Declaration” that included 15 demands. We then held a very raucous march fueled by strong drink and a mariachi band that ended up at the hotel where the official trade ministers were staying. We arrived at 3:00 am and we were very loud!  We demanded to see the trade representatives of the three nations. The Canadian and Mexican representatives actually came out and received a copy of our declaration. The U.S representative, Carla Hills, who was appointed by President Clinton refused to show her face. This was the beginning of a process that was to continue for the next decade.

As NAFTA was being negotiated, talks also began to convert a post-World War II global agreement called the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) into a World Trade Organization (WTO). While GATT was a broad protocol governing trade of commodities, WTO added intellectual property rights and trade in services and also included penalties for violations and a dispute resolution process that clearly favored corporations. The Clinton Administration also floated an idea initially proposed by President George H.W. Bush to expand the NAFTA agreement to all the nations in the Western Hemisphere. Clinton was calling it a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). Also in the mix of this “new world order” were the conditions that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had been putting on loans to the developing world. Both the World Bank and the IMF were part of the post-World War II arrangement known as the Bretton Woods Agreement to rebuild Europe and Japan after World War II. But their mission had gradually been changed to control the economies of the developing world by making huge loans conditioned on many of the same provisions that we were objecting to in the NAFTA and WTO proposals. 

After the Zacatecas meeting, there was an effort to use the principles and demands we had agreed upon and use them to organize a tri-national effort to stop NAFTA. While we were successful in building considerable opposition, NAFTA was passed into law in 1993. WTO then came into being in 1995. The IMF and the World Bank continued to force developing countries to open their borders to western capitalist domination. And there was an increasing threat that NAFTA would be expanded to include the entire Western Hemisphere through the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). My involvement in the coalitions in opposition caused me to link my work against plant closings in Chicago to what I saw as a global ruling class strategy.

Between 1991 and 1999 I attended many demonstrations and contributed to an analysis of impacts of the ruling class initiatives that many were now calling a “Washington consensus” or “neo-liberalism.” We also expanded the coalition that opposed this strategy to include activists from other nations. In Mexico City in 1994 we founded a Hemispheric Social Alliance (HSA). An even broader alliance was formed to demand the cancellation of “third world” debt. And also activists from many different nations around the world attacked the conditions placed on loans from the IMF and World Bank.  In the midst of this I worked with the American Friends Service Committee (A Quaker social service organization) in Chicago to develop a popular education curriculum on these developments using Paulo Freire’s methodology as described in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. We used this curriculum to bring a greater understanding of what all this meant to rank and file union members – including Teamsters and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and a number of community groups.

In 1999 I got a sabbatical leave from the University of Illinois to write a book to sum up my understanding of the Washington consensus and how the policies and programs of this new world order were impacting the people of Chicago. The book was called Global Decisions, Local Collisions: Urban Life in the New World Order. I argued that Chicago’s experience was a manifestation of a clear shift in the way the global capitalist system performed its central function of capital accumulation and distribution. The impacts discussed were: employment and wages, housing, and the nature of Chicago city politics. 

Writing the book was an opportunity to reflect on much of what I had worked on in the 1990s. I was never very comfortable with the coalitions I had been working on. My own politics were clearly anti-capitalist and my goal was to help develop a revolutionary movement. That was not the politics or goal of most of the organizations I was working with. The U.S. coalition members included trade unions including the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Unions (AFL-CIO). Union leadership saw NAFTA and WTO as a challenge to American jobs. They saw all the job loss as a threat to the power of the unions and some of the union leadership and rank and file were quite xenophobic and nationalistic. A number of conservative Republicans and libertarians like Ross Perot were opposed to NAFTA and WTO while liberal democrats supported it. It was President Clinton who pushed it through in the U.S. Most of the liberal think tanks were focused on winning over the Democratic Party officials; there was a lot of lobbying on specific bills in Washington. These kinds of things contradicted my own politics.

In addition, after NAFTA passed and was signed, the WTO and FTAA were still in the proposal stage.  An opposition to the left of the coalitions I was working with was developing but it lacked much coherence and lacked the international ties I had developed. Also a movement opposing World Bank and IMF activities in developing nations was also gaining momentum.  All of these developments were broadening the forces in opposition to the so-called “Washington Consensus” policies.  In 1999 the militancy of the opposition took a decided leap forward. I was on my sabbatical, writing my book when the WTO negotiators were meeting in Seattle, Washington. Demonstrations were planned that had a much more militant component than had previously been the case and were much larger. This is when the black bloc tactic showed itself on a national if not international stage. Black bloc participants broke ranks with the demonstration organizers and led blockades of roads, attacked property and fought with the police. They were joined by others including workers who broke with union leadership in favor of the more militant tactics.  The security forces in Seattle were overwhelmed and the city came to a standstill. Since I was away for this one, I gained most of my information from friends and comrades who were there. Many who joined the more militant tactics accused the “peaceful demonstrators” of trying to control the demonstrations while those employing less militant tactics accused the black bloc demonstrators with trying to impose their approach on others.

After I returned from my sabbatical year I again joined the effort to stop the onslaught of so called free trade deals and other manifestations of the Washington consensus. That included a number of demonstrations where many different sets of tactics were employed. The most notable for me was several days of protest in Miami, Florida where the trade ministers of every nation in the hemisphere (except Cuba) were gathered trying to hammer out an agreement based on the NAFTA model. The political objectives, tactics, ages, ethnic and national backgrounds of the demonstrators were as diverse as I had ever seen. Estimates of the number of demonstrators depended on who you asked but based on looking at a number of estimates and actually being there I would say at least 10,000 and probably closer to 20,000 were in Miami to protest. One of the things that made the demonstration distinctive was that in addition to marches and clashes with the “security” forces was that different groups of people were holding meetings of their own to debate and clarify their position on the specifics of the FTAA proposals. 

The diversity of demonstrators added to the complexity of the protests. The AFL-CIO brought busloads of union members and their families. People brought children and even babies. There were large contingents of people committed to pacifism. There were old people with lung conditions (I was one of them!). There were also activists from other countries in the hemisphere for whom arrest and deportation could put them in considerable jeopardy in their home countries. And there were black bloc anarchists who wanted to engage in more militant tactics. There were meetings among the various groups to accommodate the diversity of the groups and a compromise was worked out. The demonstrators were assigned to different contingents according to what tactics they were willing to engage in. There were a large number of people who wanted to do civil disobedience but did not want to destroy property or fight the police.  The black bloc people agreed to come in at the end of the demonstration before they drew the ire of the police so those with babies or passports from other countries could avoid violent interaction with the police. I was asked by people from American Friends Service Committee who I had been working with on these issues to accompany some of the people coming from other nations. I was to make sure that if they were arrested, they would have immediate legal representation.

But the police did become a major problem irrespective of how we were organized. The biggest difference between Miami and previous demonstrations was the role of the police. What they did became known as the “Miami Model” It was a reaction to what happened in Seattle and was intended to act not only as a way to control demonstrators in Miami but as a means to discourage demonstrations at future meetings. The Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, mobilized virtually all of the police forces under his control – city, county and state police and put them all under a central command. These forces engaged in very violent tactics – rubber bullets, pepper spray, clubs – as they engaged in preemptive arrests. $24 million was allocated to mobilize the various police forces and they were supplied with combat quality equipment and communications devices. Jeb Bush’s brother, the President of the United States, kicked in $8.5 million of this from a special fund that had been allocated for the Iraq War.

The result was a real free for all. People with long hair and raggedy clothes were arrested and treated violently while simply walking down the street. And at the marches groups of people were “kettled” and subjected to violent arrest even if they were marching peacefully. Several thousand women who had been arrested were strip searched.  I managed to avoid arrest along with the foreign nationals I was supposed to look out for. As the march seemed to be winding down the civil disobedience people began attempting to block roads to the FTAA meeting place. They were immediately arrested. Then the black bloc people engaged the police and some of the fancy downtown stores. In the aftermath the police had a massive job of processing all the people they arrested. Then came lawsuits that the city and state largely settled out of court. The women who were strip searched, for example, entered into a class action lawsuit, which was settled for $6.5 million. 

The WTO treaty that Seattle demonstrators tried to disrupt was passed in 1995. But the FTAA, which is what Miami was all about, failed. But neither outcome was determined by the demonstrations or any particular set of tactics. The demonstrations did raise consciousness about the broader issue and possibly encouraged future demonstrations despite the efforts of the President and the Governor of Florida. Like NAFTA, WTO had a lot of support in government circles – both liberal and conservative politicos. FTAA did not and was blocked largely by countries that wouldn’t go along.

While I took part in the Miami demonstration and a number of others, I chose to stay with the broader coalition that had worked together on the NAFTA campaign. I did this even though I did not support the political objectives of many of the members of the coalitions. I largely worked with an international team of analysts doing research on the impacts of NAFTA, WTO and IMF/World Bank loans. During the anti FTAA campaign, the Hemispheric Social Alliance published a major document called Alternatives for the Americas. I contributed a lot to that. It was an alternative hemispheric agreement to what was being proposed for FTAA and what had been implemented in NAFTA. It was based on extensive discussions at a number of international meetings that included activists in the coalition. The 111-page document was published in 2002 and posed the question: what would this alliance favor as an alternative to the policies of NAFTA, FTAA, WTO and the conditions placed on loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. It had 19 chapters representing a wide range of policy areas: General Principles; Human Rights; Environment and Natural Resources; Sustainability; Gender; Labor; Immigration; Role of the State; Education; Communications; Foreign Investment; International Finance, Intellectual Property Rights; Agriculture; Market Access and Rules of Origin; Services; Enforcement and Dispute Resolution. It was not an anti capitalist-document per se. But it would have been impossible to implement under a capitalist system. It was intended to be a guide to organizers and activists from a broad array of organizations and concerns for them to articulate what they were for as part of their organizing. While working on this and other published studies of impacts of Washington Consensus policies, I also participated in many demonstrations not only in the U.S. but in Canada, Mexico and Chile. 

I chose to continue my work with the broad coalitions rather than align with Marxist or anarchist grouplets even though it was clear that my work was being funded by NGOs and Foundations who were trying to keep the anti Washington Consensus forces from challenging capitalism itself. Funds and support came from the likes of the United Nations, McArthur, Ford and Rockefeller Foundations.  At this point in my radical development I became convinced that the policies and programs we were challenging represented a major global shift in the way capitalism was performing its critical task of accumulating and distributing capital. Challenging that was a way to challenge capitalism itself.  The challenge needed a perspective of an alternative. Such a challenge also needed to be international and it had to come from the bottom up – from grass roots organizations. Finally, individuals like myself participating in the challenge needed to be connected on a day-to-day basis with working class people who had jobs and families.

At that time in my life I was also working in Chicago communities including South Austin and Pilsen and was working with people in those communities mainly on employment issues, housing and fighting utility shutoffs. This afforded me the opportunity to talk to them about the relevance of NAFTA and related programs and policies to their lives.  Many of the activists I met at the Miami and other demonstrations lacked that grounding. They were focused mainly on militant tactics at the demonstrations, some left-wing rhetoric and were uninterested in the analytical work we were engaged in. Some had contacts with other groups like their own in other countries but generally lacked an internationalist perspective grounded in people’s everyday lives.

One experience stands out in terms of connections to working class people and broader social issues. I describe it in my book Living and Dying on the Factory Floor.  Long before my activities with the Hemispheric Social Alliance, I worked for several years at a factory in South Chicago called Chicago Shortening. It was a small plant and I knew the workers there quite well—knew about their families, their neighborhoods, their interests outside of work and what kinds of skills and mindset they brought to work.  This knowledge came over a period of more than a year from conversations during breaks and some as we were working together on the shop floor. During that period I was also involved in a number of struggles outside of work including the movement for Puerto Rican independence, immigration rights, support for the Sandinista effort to overthrow the dictator of Nicaragua and the Iranian student movement to overthrow the Shah of Iran. I talked to workers about some of these activities but they didn’t really come into focus until there was a clear intersection between the movements I worked with and day-to-day life on the job. One thing that happened is that the immigration authorities we called “La Migra,” tried to raid our plant and round up “illegal” Mexican workers. Prior to the raid there had been a great amount of antagonism and racism between black and Mexican workers. I had distributed a pamphlet in the plant to black workers that had been written by STO member Noel Ignatiev (Ignatin). It discussed immigration policy and the raids and made an analogy to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 when white bounty hunters abducted black people off the streets of Northern cities. The pamphlet described the activities of both free black people and white abolitionists to try to resist the 1850 law and thwart the activities of the bounty hunters. I saw workers glancing at the pamphlet but there wasn’t much discussion. But one day immigration agents attempted a raid on our plant. The Mexicans were warned off before the raid started and some of the black workers spontaneously took their places at workstations which thwarted the whole operation. The Black workers got the point of the pamphlet.

An even more dramatic connection between my political work outside the plant and the Chicago Shortening workers came when we went out on a very militant wildcat strike. There had been much agitation prior to the strike about working conditions and health care benefits. One day one of the workers pinned a picture he had clipped out of a newspaper to the bulletin board in our locker room. It was a Sandinista guerilla fighter in full combat gear who was carrying an automatic rifle. He looked at me and smiled and said: “Now these folks really have their shit together, don’t they!” When we went out on strike, Puerto Rican and Iranian activists came to the picket line to show their support and as they marched with us they explained what they were struggling for and against. Then one day we had to go to court for a hearing on our strike and we ran into a number of the Iranian students. One of them had been attacked by a Savak agent (Iranian Secret Police) who the Iranians identified in the halls of the courthouse. Again, spontaneously, a number of the Shortening workers went after him and chased him out of the building. On another occasion a number of the workers decided to march in a Puerto Rican independence demonstration. 

I didn’t have nearly that dramatic of a connection to my work with the Hemispheric Social Alliance. But the work did involve activists who were connected to grass roots people on issues like human rights, environmental racism, workplace health and safety. They participated not only in demonstrations but also in the analysis we did of impacts of the Washington consensus polices and programs and in developing alternatives.  Obviously my work in this area did not stop NAFTA, WTO, IMF/World Bank activities. But then, neither did the Battle of Seattle or the black bloc clashes with the police in Miami. 

New World Disorder

Then a series of events radically altered the context of the whole struggle. The first of these was the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  The President then declared a “war on terrorism” and launched an invasion and occupation of Iraq. The invasion started on May 20, 2003 and continued until 2011.  These events put the struggle around Washington consensus policies on the back burner as left wing activists put their energy into anti-war work. In addition the 9-11 attacks generated a nationalist and generally chauvinist surge in the U.S. and greatly undercut the work we had been doing in working class communities. This was punctuated for me personally at an anti war demonstration protesting the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I was (peacefully) marching around the Federal Building in Chicago with several hundred demonstrators as people on the streets screamed insults at us. Suddenly out of nowhere a guy stepped into our march and slugged me in the face, knocking me to the ground and then disappeared into the mob of people screaming their insults. 

I think back on that personal incident and wonder if this didn’t represent a beginning of the rise of right wing populism and fascist oriented groupings that are so prominent today. 9-11, the bombing and occupation of Afghanistan, the “War on Terrorism” that included the torture and imprisonment of suspected “terrorists” and the eight years of occupation of Iraq certainly contributed to the reaction that put Trump in office, and led a lot of leftists to focus on winning elections rather than building a new society. 

But in addition to the aftermath of 9-11 there was another important development that has consumed me for the past 15 years. In 2008 there was a major economic collapse in the U.S. and around the world. There was an early warning of the collapse in 2006. For a number of years banks had been offering mortgages to a lot of people with low credit scores. They offered these “sub-prime” mortgages at low adjustable interest rates. But the low rates were only locked in for a few years. This gave rise to a boom in housing sales. But in 2006, fearing inflation, the Federal Reserve Bank raised interest rates. The banks had been willing to give out these sub-prime loans because they were able to package them with good loans and sell them to investors and speculators as “mortgage backed securities.” This was referred to as part of a “derivatives” market and this market was hot. But when the interest rates on the sub primes began to rise, there were so many mortgages in default that the price of mortgage backed securities plummeted. And it turned out that the derivatives markets included much more than mortgage backed securities. Debts of all sorts were being packaged, bought and sold. They were called “collateralized debt obligations (CDO).” And both commercial and investment banks were speculating heavily when it became clear that the situation was beginning to unravel. Some large investment houses went down and banks found themselves insolvent.  The ripple effects of collapsing mortgage backed securities and collateralized debt obligations caused a stock market crash. On 9-29-08 the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by 54% or 778 points. 

Pundits were scratching their heads and calling what was happening the “greatest recession since the great depression.” My reaction was quite different. I very quickly concluded that all those Washington Consensus policies and programs that we had fought so hard against, simply didn’t work for the capitalists and the crisis of capitalism that had spawned these programs and policies was reasserting itself with a vengeance. Any economic system must be able to feed, cloth, house, educate and care for the people who live under the system. In the case of capitalism, that system needs to produce the goods and services that people need to live a decent life. People must sell their labor to produce these goods and services and use the wages that they get to purchase them. Debt is a claim on the value of future production. But when debt itself is treated as a commodity, productive labor is not involved and the system breaks down. The labor of many people is simply no longer needed. Some people appear to get very rich. But those riches are largely a fiction or what I call phantom capital. What had happened was that claims on the value of future production were outstripping current production at an alarming rate. And many found themselves without enough to live on and increasing numbers of people could see that “the emperor has no clothes!”

To spell out some of these thoughts I published another book in 2014. It is called New World Disorder: The Decline of U.S. Power. I decided to write this book to include some significant developments in global capitalism since I wrote Global Decisions, Local Collisions. For one thing my editor for Global Decisions told me the book was too long and I had to make significant cuts. He suggested I eliminate an entire chapter on the implications of globalization of the economy for U.S. militarism. I complied with my editor’s demand as much of my analysis of militarism was speculation on my part. 

But then there was 9-11. I remember the 9-11 attack well. Pat and I were getting ready to go to work. I was happy because the day before I had sent the final edited and copy edited manuscript off to the printer. I was in the kitchen fixing breakfast and switched on the news and saw images of a plane smashing into one of  the World Trade Center buildings. Then another plane hit a second building and eventually both buildings collapsed. Among the many thoughts I was having was the fact that an important part of my speculations about globalization and militarism were materializing before my eyes.  What I speculated about was what the U.S. would do about nations that were not going along with the programs and policies of what was now being referred to by President Bush as “The New World Order.” Was there a military dimension to these developments? After 9-11, a representative of the U.S. Department of Defense met with the Heritage Fund, a Washington based conservative think tank. The presentation involved military plans to protect the New World Order. One slide I was able to reproduce was headed: “On 9/11, A Map Redrawn.” Here was a map of the world where they distinguished between “The Core” and the “Mostly Non-Integrating Gap.” They defined the later as a “globalization gap.” And they plotted various U.S. military responses by in different nations defining a “globalization gap” between 1990 and 2002. The caption read “If you are fighting against or losing to globalization, you are likely a problem for the U.S.”

This military orientation to both 9/11 and globalization explained for me the military actions since 9/11 – Afghanistan, Iraq, the establishment of GITMO full of suspected but uncharged  “terrorists,” kidnapping, torture, and detention in secret facilities in other nations. In doing my anti war and anti globalization work during this period I tried my best to make a connection between the policies contained in NAFTA, WTO, IMF, World Bank, the activity of private investors and the wars being waged by the U.S. on all these fronts.

In New World Disorder I not only included the relationship of globalization to militarism but spelled out why capitalism has what I called “crises of value” and how the current crisis fits into this. I make the point in the book that when there is a crisis of value, the entire global system goes into a mode of “churning and flailing” as various blocs of capital frantically seek a way out of the mess. While the recession was staved off with bank bailouts and more debt by 2009, the crisis itself remains in place. Investors continue to trade in derivatives, debt continues to rise, some people get filthy rich, others live in tents under the expressways of Chicago and other major cities. In the U.S. and other richer countries, there is a social breakdown as more and more people find they are not needed in the capitalist order. In the U.S., the prison population swells, in poor communities young people turn to crime and the police are brought in to keep order. People near the bottom of the ladder fear falling all the way off of it. So we see a rise in right-wing populism – a resurgence of racism, nativism, male supremacy, homophobia. 

These problems are not confined to the U.S. Wars and economic collapse around the world have given rise to the dislocation of people and a search for a new home that isn’t there. The wars themselves are a part of the churning and flailing as elites try to find new ways to get and stay rich. The new world order created a new class of transnational capitalists who have no allegiance to any one nation. The actions on the world stage increasingly undermine the efforts of individual nations, including the U.S., to feed, clothe, house and educate their people. All sorts of transnational alliances are in the making. These alliances are increasing global tensions among the old hollow nations and among transnational capitalists. 

The COVID pandemic, the many ravages of global warming, and the war in Ukraine are exposing the depth of the crisis of capitalism as a whole. There is much evidence that whether COVID was the result of an accident at a lab in China or whether it was initiated by contaminated animals in a Chinese wet market, it was ultimately generated by the global capitalist system. Biologist Rob Wallace (Big Farms Make Big Flu) and urban analyst Mike Davis (Monster at Our Door and The Monster Enters) greatly influence my thinking on this. Wallace emphasizes that the practice of large-scale factory farming that China imported from the U.S. has established ideal conditions for the transfer of various viruses including Covid to various animals being raised for food and from those animals to humans. Mike Davis emphasizes how uncontrolled urbanization is destroying pristine habitats where viruses have lived undisturbed for a very long time. The need for capitalist growth is behind rapid habitat destruction, most notably in Southeast China. A recent book by a Chinese collective known as Chuang, (Social Contagion) develop these ideas specifically for the outbreak of COVID in China and I wrote an introduction to this book that links the deindustrialization of Western capitalist nations to the industrialization of China.

As COVID spread to become a world wide pandemic, the vulnerabilities of global capital that were created in part by the policies and programs I termed the Washington consensus were exposed further. The high mobility of capital required intricate supply chains to enable the production of global products. The pandemic disrupted these chains causing major shortages of goods around the world.

The insatiable need for capitalism to grow is ultimately behind climate change and global warming. Economic recovery or development is measured in terms of growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Per capita consumption is two thirds of GDP and it is consumption that requires not only more energy but the manufacture of plastics and other pollutants. Even liberal commentators  talking about the need for “green” this and that fail to note the contradiction between the need to increase consumption and investment and the degradation of the environment.  What has been predicted by environmentalists since the 1960s, is now a reality. Forest fires burn out of control, destroying the natural carbon neutralizing habitat and wildlife while pouring even more carbon into the atmosphere. A warming globe is causing polar ice caps to melt raising sea levels while producing monster storms. Climate change is generating historic droughts. There is increasing demand for fresh water that is exceeding supply in many regions throughout the world. 

These environmental conditions and the fact that capitalism is no longer able to feed, clothe, house, educate and care for many people in the world are generating wars and thousands of displaced people who seem to roam the world with no place to go. Many of those who are simply not needed by the capitalist system and are unable to sustain themselves not only lead to the refugee crisis in many parts of the world, but also lead many nations to use the police, army and prisons to contain them. 

Where is Here?

I started these reflections with a line from an old “Talking Heads” song that asked: “Well, how did I get here?” Throughout most of the essay I addressed this question by examining the experiences, people, organizations, and books that have most shaped who I am today. So I want to try to sum that up by talking about where “here” is for me. Earlier I described what life as a young boy was like at Camp Leelanau, a Christian Science boys summer camp. One thing they drummed into us in that camp was the admonition shared with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and many other organizations and venues charged with socializing children. It was: “Always leave the campsite cleaner and better than when you arrived.” When you think of the campsite as the state of the world, none of us “senior citizens” can say we came even close to meeting that admonition. And the best I can do is to summarize some thoughts that I hope will encourage the next generation to do better.

In general, I remain a committed revolutionary who seeks a world where the full and free development of every human being is its ruling principle and the whole point of society. While I am discouraged at the fact that we are so far from that vision inspired by Marx and many other revolutionaries throughout history, I still believe it can be done. And I hope that some of my experiences might contribute to the quest of the next generation of revolutionaries.

My time in STO and N&L gave me the philosophic grounding that guided my political and theoretical work. I still believe that what I learned is sound and can be used by others. One major insight is that people who must live in a capitalist system find various ways to resist the exploitation and oppression that are a critical part of the system. And those acts of resistance contain within them the seeds of a new society. Acts of resistance, some in the form of dramatic uprisings and others in the form of seemingly mundane daily anti establishment activities, articulate what masses of people are against and have within them a possible vision of what they are for. That doesn’t mean all acts of resistance will lead to a better world for all but many can. 

One of Raya’s most important contributions was her writing on the role of revolutionaries in class struggle. She rejected the Leninist and Stalinist notion that workers need a party to follow. Rather theory must be built and rebuilt on the basis of the practice of the masses resisting capitalism. The working class in this view are the subjects of revolutionary action. Both in her writings and in our meetings she emphasized the necessity of what she called the “dual rhythm” of revolutionary movement. That dual rhythm included the tearing down of the old and the construction of a new society. The two are not separated. Not only does everyday resistance to capitalism contain the seeds of a new society, but practice transforms theory itself. There is a dialectic relationship of practice and theory in which the revolutionary participates, creating and recreating theory as a full participant in the revolutionary process of tearing down the old while constructing a new society.

Among other things, this philosophical approach to revolution that unites practice and theory requires a new type of organization. When Raya split with C.L.R. James and founded News and Letters, she was trying to create such an organization. But ultimately, in my judgment, it failed. When Raya died she was compiling notes for a new book, which she said would be on the philosophy of organization. I don’t know what happened to that. Sadly, it remained unfinished business.

In the last decade or so, as the movements of the late 1960s and 1970s were firmly in the rear view mirror, I have been without organization. But I continue to put out many of these ideas – often with everyday people—as talks and discussions. I have often been accused of being an “idealist” or a “romantic.” It is said that a revolution that results in a society in which the full and free development of every human being as its ruling principle and the point of society itself is a pipe dream because it defies common sense, goes against human nature and fails to recognize that certain things about our society are permanent and can’t be changed. I have spent some time thinking and writing on the subjects of permanence, common sense and human nature. A number of years ago I wrote an essay based on a talk I had given to a congregation of Unitarians, after which one of the faithful came up to me and said: “We are hard wired to behave in certain ways. It is just human nature.” In the essay I had this to say about permanence, common sense and human nature.

These considerations limit the possible and become what the British poet, William Blake termed our “mind forged manacles.” He articulated that in a poem, written in 1794. 

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,

Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.

And mark in every face I meet

Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,

In every infant’s cry of fear,

In every voice, in every ban,

The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.

The essays I wrote can be found on my web page There are discussions of the notion of “permanence” in my book, Global Decisions, Local Collisions. 

The science fiction writer, Ursula K. LeGuin has been quoted as saying: “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable—but so did the divine right of kings.” She is expressing the optimism that what is considered permanent, common sense, and human nature can change. In my talk and in some of my writings I have argued that indeed the task of breaking these mind forged manacles should be at the heart of all revolutionary activist work. This to me is the meaning of Raya’s formulation that revolutionaries should meet the movements from practice with a movement from theory that is a form of philosophy. Revolutionaries who are connected to actual movements from practice are in a position to observe the theory emerging in the course of struggle and to engage participants in the mass struggle with philosophy. In the process we can help to break the mind forged manacles that might hold the movement back. This also needs to be done in the context of political organization with a clear anti-capitalist and socialist vision where individual revolutionaries can debate the meaning of the struggle and receive collective guidance on how to proceed. The revolutionary organization is also in a better position to link a variety of struggles going on around the world together.

There is no formula on how to do this. Collectively seeing what is new in today’s struggles and discussing what is holding them back is part of what needs to be done. But revolutionaries have to also be part of these struggles and be in a position to connect with people who are the subjects of the struggles. This doesn’t seem to be the case today. I myself have not been engaged in this manner for some years. I miss being part of an organization like STO and News and Letters. I am physically unable to participate in demonstrations. So I write books and essays and give talks. It’s the best I can do but is hardly revolutionary. 

As an observer now, I don’t see any left-wing formations that can meet the challenge of meeting a movement from practice with a movement from theory and dealing in detail with how to break the mind forged manacles and form a vision of what a new society might look like (what are we for exactly?). It does seem there have been some real opportunities. Beginning in 2010 there were uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain. Some brutal dictators were displaced but largely replaced by other brutal dictators. This should offer up a real example of the limitations of simply overthrow. But the overthrow did spark other uprisings.

In the U.S. in 2011 there were a series of uprisings known generally as Occupy. They were largely against the concentration of wealth, income and power in the hands of the top 1% of the population. They began in New York City and spread throughout the country. In addition there seemed to be an uptick in police shootings of black men beginning in 2006. This had been happening, of course, for much longer. But protests were becoming more militant. In New York, there was the death of Sean Bell in 2006; Anthony Smith in 2011 in St. Louis; Laquan McDonald in 2014 in Chicago; Eric Garner in 2014 in New York again. But then in 2014, the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri raised the protests to a new level as Black youth attacked the police and were supported by a national assortment of anti-racists and leftists. But the killings continued. Freddie Gray in 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland; Alton Sterling in 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Philando Castile in 2016 in St. Paul, Missouri. But a new level of resistance broke through with the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The reaction was violent and sustained and it also spread all over the country. Uprisings occurred in 650 cities in 50 states. But in that same year two other police killings sparked separate militant uprisings:  Brianna Taylor was gunned down in Louisville, Kentucky and Jacob Blake in Kenosha. In Kenosha a right winger gunned down two demonstrators, killing one and was acquitted. And the killings go on, most recently Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee.

I’m not about to try to do any sort of analysis of all of this. Many are writing and thinking about it and I was not physically or politically a part of any of it. But I do want to make a few brief observations to add to my answer to the question of “Well, how did I get here” and where exactly is “here”?

First, during the Occupy demonstrations and the wide spread spontaneous battles against police violence, it seemed that many people saw these as the start of some sort of revolution for a new society. I had seen something like this before when cities across the country erupted in similar uprisings – especially after the deaths of Martin Luther King, and Fred Hampton. I think that then, the left was far more organized than it is today. But what I observed most recently is that many leftists did brave and militant things and joined the spontaneous outpouring of rage by black youth. But they had little if any organic/political connection to those youth, and tended to hop from one hotspot to another. Some flew to Paris to join uprisings there and then back to Kenosha, Wisconsin to join that uprising. I didn’t see much disciplined, collective organizational guidance that could have met this significant “movement from practice with a movement from theory.”

Secondly I saw little evidence of understanding or even interest in how the nature of the global capitalist system was possibly giving rise to police violence or inequalities that were the focus of the “Occupy” demonstrations. I have argued in my own writing that from time to time capitalism is no longer able to feed, house, clothe, educate and care for the people forced to live under it. In my book, New World Disorder, I argued that when that happens there is a period of “churning and flailing” as capitalist go in many different directions to find a way out of the mess. That happened beginning in the 1980s and eventually it led to the system we have today. Factories closed and opened across the world, huge supply chains were built, a new logistics industry was created, transnational corporations and new global institutions began to undermine the effectiveness of the traditional nation state and most importantly the tail of finance began to wag the dog of global capitalism. This system seems to have once again run its course and we are going through a new round of churning and flailing.  Today’s churning and flailing generates all sorts of struggles and political directions left and right. Activists need to understand the connection between the struggle they are involved in and this bigger picture in order to think through strategy and to better participate in the “movement from practice.” Unfortunately when churning and flailing began in the 1970s and 1980s, we (including me) on the left failed to see it. 


I think it is now time to bring these reflections to an end. I’ve tried to show what brought me from being a red, white and blue diaper cis male baby in an all white Republican suburb (that was determined to remain so) to “here,” which I have tried to describe in this final section of my reflections. My father’s kindness, talent and celebrity certainly had a great influence on my early years. My mother’s strength, perseverance and bigotry also left a mark. A strong reaction to my mother’s views on race, class and religion set me on the path I took for the rest of my life. But her contradictory sense of fairness and her integrity were also a foundation for my later political activism.

My political development was a long and slow slog – no single epiphanies. I’ve tried to outline the various people and events that shaped who I am today. We used to call my long development “consciousness building.” Events, specific people, experiences, specific books and authors all have added up over the years. There is no magic key to consciousness. Each of us develops in different ways and at different speeds. I hope my own development might contribute not only to the readers understanding of who I am but to think about what might contribute to the conscious development of others.

Dave Ranney 8-24-23