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Mendocino Talking: Bruce Anderson

(Author’s Note: Bruce Anderson is editor and publisher of this newspaper, the Anderson Valley Advertiser (the AVA) in Boonville. Despite his protests about being interviewed for his own paper, he finally agreed to be part of this series. He and his wife Ling, married 50 years this month, raised three children in Boonville and now enjoy two grandchildren. He describes himself as “a socialist with strong, nay overwhelming, anarchist instincts.” He was born in Honolulu where “the Japanese tried to murder me when I was two years old.” His mother left Honolulu on a troop ship with him and his brother because everyone thought the Japanese were going to invade and occupy the Hawaiian Islands after Pearl Harbor. The family arrived in San Francisco where they were put up at the Fairmont Hotel, which was the evacuation center for the Hawaiian Islands people. They settled in San Francisco in an apartment on McAllister near Fillmore and his father worked at the Hunter’s Point shipyards loading and unloading submarines during the war. Bruce takes it from there.)

After the war, around 1946, we rented a house in Corte Madera in Marin. I went to high school in Mill Valley. Then to the Marines. After the Marines I started taking junior college classes, eventually going to Cal Poly to play baseball on scholarship. My late, younger brother, Ken, also attended Cal Poly and played baseball and basketball. As children we were completely captivated by sports. I didn’t liberate myself from jockdom as a participant until my early twenties, but I still read the sports page first.

My youngest brother Rob and I became politically active in the early sixties with CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), reading a lot, working odd jobs, going to meetings, and showing up for demonstrations. We were instinctively drawn to what my father called “crank lit.” He always said we were going to get in a lot of trouble. Sure enough. Rob was the first guy in California to refuse to register for the draft and ended up serving 18 months at the Lompoc Federal Penitentiary. As he was leaving Lompoc, my cousin Jimmy, the first person in the history of Arizona to refuse registering, was just arriving at Lompoc. All politics of the 60s was portrayed in the media as violently revolutionary, but it was really all basic liberal reform stuff.

In 1963 I joined the Peace Corps to get a free trip to somewhere far away. I was assigned to the state of Sarawak in Borneo, a place I'd never heard of, where I met my wife, Ling. I was assigned as a teacher and plugged into this British curriculum way off in the jungle. One of the classes I had to teach was British Commonwealth history. I would tell my class, “The way it works, kids, is you’ve got the common and they’ve got the wealth.” In fact, that's the way the world works. They had to sit for tough exams in English, which wasn’t their first language, so there was no monkeying around as there is here in our schools. I stayed about a page ahead of my classes.

When we came back to the US in 1967, I resumed my political activity. I was one of the founding delegates to the Peace and Freedom Party Convention in Richmond. A social worker friend talked my wife and I into becoming foster parents. We started doing that in San Francisco in 1969 and then moved up here in 1970 on the naive assumption that juvenile delinquents would be less delinquent under the redwoods. I was soon running afoul of local educational authorities, the county office of education… the juvenile court system… These were depressing experiences, to say the least. The County Office of Education was particularly outrageous — so fundamentally incompetent and crooked, it was — and is — breathtaking. In January of 1984 I borrowed enough money to buy the Anderson Valley Advertiser from a woman desperate to get out of here, and I now had a weapon to fight the courts and school system in Mendocino County. And all other Enemies of the People, real and imaginary. [laughs]

Yes, I've been in jail a number of times, beginning in 1961. Twenty years later, here in Mendo, I was sentenced to 60 days in the county jail here for a scuffle I got into with the crook then functioning as County Superintendent of Schools. The jail was falling apart, holes in the sheet rock, sheet rock dust falling from the ceiling, showers that wouldn’t turn off, radically overcrowded, etc. The first three nights I slept on the floor. I circulated a “writ” that went to the Superior Court saying the County Jail was operating way outside the law. Every guy in my unit in the jail signed it. Like a lot of Americans, they had no idea they had any rights at all, or that there were any laws about what goes on in jails. Our easy over, jive, Superior Court knew the jail was falling down and overcrowded but of course they kept sending people there anyway. No, I don't have much respect for judges or the justice system, a system now totally for sale. The upshot was the county had to build a new jail. I’m very proud of that one.

I was Public Enemy #1 in the County during those years, a few years later getting myself another 13 days in iso for not surrendering so-called evidence in the Bear Lincoln trial.

Yes, the late Judi Bari and I were very good friends and I was all for Redwood Summer. [Organized in 1990, Redwood Summer was a movement of environmental activism aimed at protecting old-growth redwood trees and the jobs that went with from the corporate timber onslaught.] She wrote for my paper. I think Journalism was her true gift. She was a good, clear writer… and an excellent impromptu public speaker. She was a gifted person for sure.

We had a falling out after the bombing attack on her life because I thought she wasn’t being honest about it. I thought she knew a lot more about it than she said, but now I think she did what she had to do in the circumstance, really a fancy case of domestic violence.

BruceAndersonLater, it all came together in Federal Court in a case co-edited by the government and pseudo-left lawyers. I was excluded, by name, from testifying. Both sides agreed, in a private session, to exclude me and four or five other people who were skeptical about what had really happened from testifying. The feds and the jive left were and are allied in that one.

Then there was the recent murder of a Ukiah doctor’s wife. I believe Peter Keegan murdered his wife, Susan. I knew her, not palsy-walsy, but I knew her over a long period of years and always liked her. It continues to shock me that she died the way she died. I was convinced from the beginning that Keegan flipped out and bludgeoned her to death. DA Eyster’s reluctance to prosecute is astounding… I’m not going to let go of it. I don’t see how a death certificate can read “Cause of death: homicide” and there be no prosecution of the sole suspect. There are a lot of things I don’t let go of. Not letting go is supposed to be the function of a free press. The Keegan murder has barely been mentioned anywhere except in my paper.

Print is dying and us with it. Print media are all headed to GizmoLandia. We’re doing better on our website than we are with our print subscribers. Not many young people read in print form anymore, and they certainly don’t read “long.” When my daughter was a high school kid she would hold up the paper with its long columns of gray and say, “Ah, look at this… I’m already bored.” That statement was a harbinger of what has now arrived — the death of newspapers.

Yup, there’s been a few insults strewn among the AVA’s dependably turbulent pages over the years. I’m not going to deny it. We give and we get. But when you have public people occupying public positions who won’t engage, I think it’s just irresponsible of them. Argument, no matter how rhetorically violent it gets, comes with the job. And if you're unwilling to defend yourself, don’t whine privately about it. You’re a public person. Engage! Or climb under your bed and stay there.

Our most dedicated enemies have always been the conservative liberals who dominate Mendocino County politics… the active part of the Democratic Party and the rest of these wealthy, up-from-hippie Prufrockians. I’ve always regarded them as a huge hog in the political stream because nothing genuinely progressive ever comes out of them. For example, one would think, in a lightly populated county like this one, if you have 30 habitual drunks killing themselves on the streets, real liberals would lead the charge to get something done about it. But it just doesn’t happen. Fracking, GMOs, all this over the hill and far away stuff passes for so-called Mendo “activism.” And at election time they vote en masse for plastic — Huffman, Chesbro and the rest of them.

I think it boils down to class. We have a bunch of trust funders and wealthy people who are liberal on social issues, but the millions of people here and everywhere who live with the wolf at the door are not their concern. I think the lib labs would do the right thing if given some leadership on the true issues, but there isn’t any leadership. Locally, Supervisor McCowen is as close as we come to doing something about local street people. Of course we live in a time of social collapse, and many things are not being addressed intelligently, or at all. Our children will reap the whirlwind, and the wind has been picking up now for two decades.

(Coming Next: Martin Bradley, Ukiah Latitude Observatory.)


  1. humbilly October 22, 2014

    Well done Mr. Anderson, a singular media voice crying out for justice in the wilderness of this anesthetized society.

  2. Whyte Owen October 22, 2014

    Thank you for sticking with long form, and attracting and keeping your regular contributors. And don’t apologize for your web edition – way above average in form as well as content.

  3. karyn feiden October 23, 2014

    Singular voice indeed. Hard not to think of Bruce Anderson amidst all the encomiums being written for Ben Bradlee. Both men share a commitment, as Bradlee said, to “start looking for the truth after hearing the official version of the truth.” Certainly Bruce’s persistent pursuit of justice in the Susan Keegan homicide case is a powerful example.

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