I was a delegate representing San Francisco’s Noe Valley to the 1968 founding convention of the Peace and Freedom Party. I lived with my young family at 24th and Dolores in an apartment that cost $75 a month. For the three days that uniquely odd collection of leftwing radicals met in the Richmond Auditorium to organize opposition from the left to the liberal’s war on Vietnam, I commuted from the city to the convention with a black man named George, so light skinned that without his Afro he would have been assumed to be at one with the white oppressors.
George had no last name. Or no last name he cared to share. We’d pick him up on Broadway and we’d drop him off on Broadway. He was always very pleasant, funny even, on the trips back and forth over the Bay Bridge. But one day, as a kind of warm-up act for Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers, George was transformed. Literally spitting into the mike, my fellow commuter said he hoped to see “every single one of you white motherfuckers strangled in your motherfucking sleep.” Then he said he wanted to cut our motherfucking throats and thin-slice our mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children unto the tenth generation. As an organizing tool, a rallying cry, George’s position would be a tough sell out in the world, but George received a standing ovation from the people he’d just said he hoped to murder.
I was so dumb I hadn’t even realized the guy was black. I’d thought he was one of those guilt-ridden white guys who’d spent a lot of time organizing his hair into an afro in solidarity with the black struggle. On the ride back to the city that night I made sure I was the first guy into the back seat. No way George was getting the drop on me.
I still wonder if George told us his name was George to test us, to see if any of his fellow commuters, all of us white, knew that “George” was the old time racist shorthand for black men working as porters on trains. If that’s what George was doing, we flunked the test, not that he was likely to have spared any of us even if we’d passed.
I never saw George after the convention, but I thought about him a few years later when the Zebra killers began snatching random white people off Frisco’s streets and murdering them so the murderers could qualify as Killer Angels for the Black Muslims. The Zodiac killer was also doing his part to keep up the Bay Area’s body count, and Big Z, ironically, said he, too, was racking up white slaves for the next life.
It was an unhappy time, children, and don’t you think it wasn’t just because your grandfather still tells stories about how groovy the music was.
Back at the Richmond Auditorium and the formation of the Peace and Freedom Party, Seale, the star attraction that day, announced for openers that he hated us all “as the white liberal racist dog-pigs” that we obviously were. He went on to say that although we were racist dog-pigs and a hopeless bunch of crackers, we must, nevertheless, “free Huey [Newton] by any means necessary.” Seale then asked, “What’s wrong with picking up the gun?”
Well, for one motherfucking thing the white racist dog-pigs on the motherfucking government side have a lot more motherfucking guns, big ones, too, and they outnumber lunatics like us about 500,000 to motherfucking one. Seale closed by assuring us that he had “hate in his heart.” He, too, received a standing ovation from the suicidal throng.
Eldridge Cleaver was next. The Black Panther “Minister of Information” also wanted Huey freed by any means necessary. “You’re either for us or against us,” Cleaver said, adding, “And we don’t care if you’re with us or not.”
The Roberts Rules of Order Boys, representing various com-cults, quickly introduced a couple of clarifying resolutions. One was simply to free Huey, the other was to free Huey by any means necessary. Oddly, the convention was very well organized right down to each of us being issued a laminated name tag. I still have mine.
Mario Savio got up to point out that “by any means necessary” could be interpreted as burning down Oakland to free one man. A couple of hundred maniacs leaped to their feet to cheer Savio’s reading of the resolution.
Robert Avakian, aka Chairman Bob, of the Revolutionary Communist Party, said Huey had to be freed, and whatever it took was fine with him. Chairman Bob compared Huey to a man being held by a lynch mob, and you wouldn’t stop at killing a lynch mob to free an innocent man, would you?
Yes, as it turned out.
The by any means necessary resolution lost 227-223, but when it was amended to read, “Free Huey Newton by any means necessary which would further the black liberation movement,” it passed by a 3-1 margin. The motherfucking white liberal dog-pigs had prevailed!
I was still pondering what I could do to free Huey which would also advance the black liberation movement when Huey was freed to await a new trial on cop-hunting charges. The liberals that the Panthers said they wanted to garrote had put up the $50,000 bond to get Huey out of jail. Then I read that Huey was living in socialist luxury overlooking Lake Merritt, had hired a bodyguard, and had beaten up his elderly tailor. The great revolutionary went on to murder a black prostitute and, strung out on crack, was finally shot to death by a drug dealer. The whole pathetic show, romanticized to this day by the amnesiacs at places like KPFA, was added confirmation that the decision of thousands of rad-lib hippies to move to the country was the right one.
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By 1967, as every other journalist in the country knows, the most intimidating effects of the Cold War were over. No radical gave the FBI a second thought except to sneer at them. The Peace and Freedom Party, at whose founding convention in Richmond yours truly functioned as a delegate from Frisco’s Noe Valley, all kinds of commie groups were jockeying for power. John Ross was constantly at the mike on behalf of a Maoist group called Progressive Labor, the Camejo Bros were doing their thing on behalf of the Trots and the goddess only knows who else from whatever other splinter group was up front. The CPUSA, “the ultimate liberals,” in the apt phrase of Fred Gardner, were always the most conservative lefties around, and about as “radical” as the Democratic Party of Mendocino County. In fact, the CP’s remnants, now organized as a letter-writing club, twice endorsed Clinton for President!
WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN! Meanwhile, who should pop up on the front page of the Press Democrat but the jolly mugs of Irv Sutley and his ex-wife, Toni Novak. The pair illustrated a piece by the paper’s uncomprehending political writer, James W. Sweeney, on the death of the Peace and Freedom Party as a qualified ballot presence in California. Sutley and Novak were among the party’s founders. (Me too. I still have my little plastic-covered name tag from the founding convention at the Richmond Auditorium. “Bruce Anderson, Noe Valley.” That event may have seen the greatest collection of loose cannons ever assembled in one place in the Golden State — everyone from Black Panthers to the commie cults. I vividly remember John Ross, later a writer for the AVA, representing Progressive Labor, constantly leaping to his feet to amend the constitution. It was quite a show. Those were the days.) Thirty years later, and much, much sadder if not wiser, here’s the Press Democrat’s lame brain Sweeney saying, “An outgrowth of the anti-war and civil rights movements, the Peace and Freedom Party never ducked labels like socialist — or even Bolshevik — even as political fashions changed and the larger mainstream parties grabbed for middle of the spectrum.” Huh? Three errors of fact and two completely erroneous surmises in one paragraph. James W. Sweeney was having a good day. First off, P&F always ran from the socialist tag, and not because its goals were basically left Democrat, but because it never knew exactly what it stood for as is evident from its wimpy, flower child-like name. Second, in all the years I was at least a nominal member of P&F I never once heard a single P&Fer utter the term “Bolshevik” except in reference to Russian history or as a little joke. And Sutley piped up to say, “We’ve had a good run.” Well, kinda. P&F’s Darlene Commingore knocked Bosco out of Congress and yours truly threw a big shock into Dan Hauser one election, but we never accomplished much except to scare Democrats, which is always worth doing.
LIKE EVERYONE I TALKED TO, without exception, I am euphoric about the creation of the Mendocino Greens. The first organizational meetings have been conducted with an absolute absence of the rancor and factionalism characteristic of action meetings in the sixties. It seems as if we have all learned something, or as a friend put it, “We’re all ten or fifteen years older, too, which helps.” Any “activist” from the Bay Area recalls how difficult it was to achieve consensus for any unified action against the Vietnam War. I remember vividly the meetings leading up to the formation of the Peace and Freedom Party and I remember even more vividly the founding convention held in the Richmond Auditorium. Chaos, fist fights, bitter disagreements, and constant hamstringing of general sessions by nuts who had mastered Roberts Rules of Order. Not that they were nuts necessarily, but the organized communist groups were the most disruptive, especially the Trotskyites, or Trots as they were called. The instant something didn’t go their way, they’d begin to disrupt the larger meeting.
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We seem to be past all that, thank god. In a burst of premature optimism, I wrote that in ’84. The Mendo Greens were co-opted by soft Democrats of the Dan Hamburg variety and, internally, obnoxious nut cases soon dominated meetings, driving people away.