Sometimes I forget why I bother. I've been an activist for so long, a troublemaker, a protester, a volunteer for head-bustings and other inconveniences, one of those who run into places when everyone with any sense is running out, and sometimes I get tired of trying. Then someone will say something like "It won't do any good anyway," or "One person can't change anything," and I remember exactly why I try.
There have been people who have inspired me, some few have heard of and others everyone has, and it doesn't matter, because it is the fire in them, as well, and the reason why they tried and in many cases continue to try, that keeps me going.
Daniel Ellsberg at Quantico, 2011 protest on behalf of Bradley Manning
Daniel Ellsberg is but one inspiration. Bradley Manning is another. They span the larger body of my time as a wild-eyed idealist. (I had to outmaneuver the Virginia State Police's riot squad to get out of that one).
Then sometimes I just wake up, look out the window into my wooded back yard and feel joy at seeing the birds out there, the squirrels too, the groundhogs and chipmunks, the buds on the wisteria, the fact that the great white oak is still standing and is not next to me in the bed.
Then also I remember, and this is the bottom line: I do all that other shit because I want to be able to sleep peacefully in my own bed, with or without whomever I please, wake when I will, work as I will or not work, and in every case take in the wonders of nature, the earth, the planet, the universe itself, to get up and dress as I please, to forget for a moment what the late Sammy Abbott, local firebrand activist and one-time Mayor of the City of Takoma Park once said in explanation of his sarcasm and apparent bitterness, that "I wake every morning to realize that somewhere someone is getting screwed."
The path may be never-ending, but if I don't try, if people like Sam Abbott and Daniel Ellsberg didn't exist, we'd all be getting screwed all the time, and so would the birds, the trees, the very air that I breathe and do not take for granted. In order to be able to live, to love, to work, to enjoy bliss and peace and to watch a little beauty and perhaps share it with someone, I cannot be still for long.
I was radicalized in 1960, inducted into both the Civil Rights and Labor Movements simultaneously. I have done more pointless and annoying things, caused more trouble, and it doesn't warrant a gold star or an "attaboy," or anything, because I do it for myself as much as I do it for anyone.
We are all in this together.
Sam Abbot (l) and Reginald Booker address House Subcommittee
In the late 60s, after Col. Hassan gave me the boot out of his Black Man's Army of Liberation not because I was white but because I shouted at a judge who was hearing a case against a fellow member of said Army, I would join forces with one-time Communist candidate for the House of Representatives (and later firebrand Mayor of Takoma Park, Maryland, the city where he lived) Sam Abbott, to prevent an atrocity known as the North Central Freeway from crossing the Potomac via the Three Sisters Islands and heading straight into Georgetown, slicing DC apart, destroying the neighborhoods of Brookland in DC and Woodside (collectively) in Silver Spring, Maryland, with Takoma Park's beautiful Victorian houses a mere POOF in the path between. In the midst of this I took time out to elude National Guardsmen blocking passage in and out of DC during the April, 1968, riots, to wander the affected areas and speak with fellow activists, residents and business owners.
Then one day Sam Abbott appeared at the House chambers along with a lady I didn't know well, a public school teacher, registered Republican and self-professed conservative. For the only time in anyone's memory I watched as Sam Abbott was upstaged by this lady, Etta Mae Smith, also of Takoma Park, who made the following statement:
"Since 1964 I have accumulated two four-drawer filing cabinets on road material, plus boxes and boxes of newspaper clippings. How I long for the days of Girl Scout troops, Red Cross volunteering, short civic commitments, church projects, and the serious study of music before I get too old. One saving grace in the fight to save my own home is I have been involved with people from all backgrounds, colors, capabilities, to save their own homes and the Nation's Capital.
"...I am a conservative, and I like that word, as I believe in conserving. I would like to see a committee established to take a long look at what man is doing to his environment today...I shudder when I think of the heritage we are leaving our children."
The North Central Freeway project died officially in 1977, though a reminder remains, in Silver Spring, MD, where a leg of what was to be part of it serves as the connection between what was briefly known as The Avenue of the Presidents (16th Street) and Georgia Avenue.
In the 1980s, when the once-thriving downtown of Silver Spring had become a virtual wasteland, a ghost town peppered with little junk shops and drug markets, there was a great movement to revitalize this once wondrous local center. One group wanted to "fix" it by building a mall over the main intersection, a monstrosity the size and scope of Mall of America in Minneapolis, but without any space for parking except underground and in the air. As I was then living in one of the old neighborhoods that the North Central Freeway would have demolished, I became involved in a counter-movement to help recreate a human scale version of what had once been.
Then I discovered that there was a plan - a secret plan - to divert southbound Georgia Avenue traffic onto that creepy part of 16th Street, an insane interchange that would have taken some of the houses in my neighborhood, created enormous traffic noise and congestion, and force cars directly to the giant Mall From Outer Space.
My neighborhood was a hotbed of political activism, and with the late Gene Lynch, who would eventually become governor Parris Glendenning's administrative assistant, we stole discovered and stole the working drawings for the interchange. I hid them in the attic of my 1922 bungalow while Gene drew attention away from me and toward himself, since his house was in the path of the 13 lane abomination the drawings illustrated.
The stewards of those plans claimed, at a Park and Planning Commission meeting that no such plans existed and that there would be no such interchange built after the mall was constructed.
I had the pleasure of producing the missing plans at that meeting.
I have helped incite more than one riot in my search for a little peace.
The revitalization war went on for years. I felt we were losing, and during that time I fell in love and ran away to Southern California.
Ulitmately that adventure can to an end and I came back east. When I came back I discovered we had won - and Gene had terminal cancer.
Sam Abbott was by then dead also, as was Etta Mae Smith. So of course was Dr. Martin Luther King. So were a lot of people whose names no one knows.
Once in a while someone will tell me my optimism and continued efforts to keep the world safe for people who like Scout meetings and church socials and watching the birds outside the window in the morning, or walking beautiful, human-scale streets at night, or not having to help finance a war that would kill thousands upon thousands of people to no good end, people who would like to learn about music or just listen to it, who want to wake up in their own bed in their own home, perhaps with the person they most want to see first thing, or just see those birds outside the window, that those efforts, that urging on my part is foolish.
When Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," some people told me the best way to shut him up was to quit listening to him.
Wait. What? I am not the one whose mind is being poisoned by people like Limbaugh, and not listening to Glenn Beck wasn't what forced him from the public eye and mind. I don't need to turn off my TV. I'm not a Dittohead.
My answer to those people is articulated wonderfully by Hakim Bey in his "Transformation/Utopia":
"Perhaps this world will never conform perfectly to our needs--people will always die before they are ready, perfect relationships will end in ruins, adventures will end in catastrophe and beautiful moments be forgotten. But what breaks my heart is the way we flee from those inevitable truths into the arms of more horrible things. It may be true that every man is lost in a universe that is fundamentally indifferent to him, locked forever in a terrifying solitude--but it doesn't have to be true that some people starve while others destroy food or leave fertile farms untilled. It doesn't have to be true that men and women waste their lives away working to serve the hollow greed of a few rich men, just to survive. It doesn't have to be the case that we never dare to tell each other what we really want, to share ourselves honestly, to use our talents and capabilities to make life more bearable, let alone more beautiful. That's unnecessary tragedy, stupid tragedy, pathetic and pointless."
All I really want is to sleep in my own bed in my own house, alone or with somebody (part of a line my mother used to use to answer the question "Do you always do that?" to which she would reply "Only if I'm alone or with somebody"), to wake up and watch the birds and not have to deal with the gnawing feeling Sammy Abbott once described as the reason he was such a volatile guy: "I wake up pissed off every morning because I know somewhere, somebody is getting screwed."
Outside my window
I travel the path toward the time and place where that won't be so. Sure, I may never get there, we may never get there, but we can try and keep the bastards from getting comfortable.
I may never get to Ixtlan, I may never get home, but I by god know where home is, and it doesn't have bile-spewing, hate-filled, bigoted, war-loving, mall-building members of the Nova Mob in it, those people that William S. Burroughs described as "undreaming, insect eyes."
No. My home is full of love, and I will, if necessary, beat their collective ass into the ground to get there.
And perhaps Don Juan was right when he supposedly said "Only the path is real." I will keep following it, because it is the only way toward home, and home is where my heart is, home is where I am, no matter where I travel upon the face of the earth.
As The Navigator used to say, "Keep going." Well I am, I'm trying.