(Sandy is a school teacher and environmentalist who has been involved in several cooperative businesses and community non-profits over the years.)
Hitchhiking and biking have always been a big part of my life. I started hitchhiking when I was 12, in 7th grade. In my late teens, I hitchhiked to New Orleans and back, and to Wyoming. I also have picked up a lot of people who were hitchhiking. Never really had any serious issues. Every year I still hitchhike somewhere. I probably ride my bike about 2,500 miles per year.
I grew up on the cliffs in San Diego… the Sunset Cliffs at Ocean Beach, a great place to grow up. We lived 150 yards from the ocean and its 60 foot cliff… and at about age 10 my friends and I could go down there and hike and swim. Then I attended UCSD for about 6 months… I had a bunch of homework to do Sunday night for my classes the next day and thought to myself, “I don’t want to go to school right now.” So I quit.
My sister lived in Fresno, so a few months later I went back to school at Fresno State University, but I quit again. That year I really became aware of the issues around the environment. We started an Ecology Club there around the first Earth Day. Related to that I got involved in socialist politics around 1971. I realized that Capitalism wasn’t healthy for us and didn’t make sense for our planet… it was bad news for the future of our environment.
I got married in 1972 and my wife and I moved and went to school at Sonoma State. We had a daughter and lived there together for 5 or 6 years before we split up. While attending college off and on, we were into natural foods and cooperatives, and then helped start the Santa Rosa Community Market which was a collective and is still going, and also helped start Country Peoples Warehouse at the same time. I then started working full-time at the warehouse. After a few years, around 1976, we started the Red Clover Worker’s Brigade non-profit. Out of that we decided to start a bakery inside the warehouse building. I went back to school full-time for a year, then began working full-time for the bakery… which is the worker-owned cooperative Alvarado Street Bakery, famous for its sprouted bread products distributed all around here and in the Bay Area and Sacramento area. From our original 6 employees, it's up to around 130 employees. I worked there for 13 years. I also met my wife Louisa there, and we have 2 children.
Working in a cooperatively-owned business really got me practicing socialism. After 40 years I still think socialism is the way to go. There was an article (monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/why-socialism) by Albert Einstein in the first issue of Monthly Review magazine in 1950 on socialism. To paraphrase Einstein, he starts out saying that a lot of people think we shouldn’t dabble in things outside our expertise, but I’ve been living on the planet and I know a thing or two, and I think socialism is the way to go. Helen Keller was also a socialist.
In 1988, we wanted to live in a more rural area, so we moved up here to Mendocino County and I started working at the Ukiah co-op which was the Homestead Exchange then. At this point I had three kids, so after a year I decided I had to do something different, so I took some accounting classes at Mendocino College. Then I bought a bookkeeping business that someone was selling, and did that for 5 or 6 years, and met a lot of fascinating, alternative people around here. But it really wasn't my thing… I was more of a war tax resister rather than a tax preparer. Meanwhile, Louisa was becoming a teacher. I then became a school bus driver with Ukiah Unified, and that was really fun. It was a good gig for me. I have a lot of patience; kids don’t bother me. I sold my accounting business. But was only working about 30 hours per week driving buses, so I was hired by the Mendocino Solid Waste Management Authority with the Haz Mobile, and I worked there full-time for a couple of years while I went back to school and got my BA degree, and then my teaching credential in 2000. I work now as a substitute teacher.
We bought a car that could use biodiesel fuel, and Yokayo Biofuels had started up here in Ukiah, and they asked me to head up the oil collection system… signing up restaurants all over the Bay Area. I thought I’d do that for a year or so and go back to teaching, but I stayed there seven years until it became profitable and I went back to substitute teaching. Soon thereafter, the Federal subsidies were cut, fuel prices started tumbling, and they had to pull the plug and close.
As a socialist and environmentalist, I’m constantly looking at life through those lenses. Our planet is in terrible shape, and I really think the education system serves capitalism, and it’s unfortunate. We are providing cannon fodder for the military to fight its wars… it is devastating to the environment… to the people of the world… to the ecosystems… and to various species that are exploited, endangered, and sometimes driven to extinction. I want the things that are bred, valued, emphasized, and rewarded by capitalism to end very soon… this decade, before 2020. But that may be wishful thinking.
Life doesn’t need to be so stressful, and so competitive, and so individualistic. Our typical school systems are very hierarchical and the kids are often told what to do. "Ok, open your math book to page 72 and do all the odd problems on the page." Little Jimmy in fourth grade maybe likes math, but he’s busy drawing a picture of a dinosaur. He wouldn’t mind doing some math later, he just doesn’t want to do it right now. Is it fair to make him do it right now? I don’t think so. Kids want to learn stuff, but they want to have fun, they want to interact with other kids…
I got turned on to Sudbury Valley School in Framingham Massachusetts (sudval.org) that is based on the famous Summerhill School (summerhillschool.co.uk) in England which is very student-centered and practice participatory democracy. The kids, whether they are six years old or sixteen, run the school. They have democratic meetings a few times a week and are involved in the hiring and firing of staff and the day to day decision making. And, they can go fishing in the pond down the road if they want, or they can go to math class. They’ve been doing this for forty years and there are now schools all over the world modeled on Summerhill and Sudbury.
I have a lot of respect for teachers, but I think we could do better. School could be less about force-feeding subjects… which a significant minority rebels against and starts hating school. It could be more democratic, more cooperative and student-centered, which would help create a more democratic and more sustainable world.
(Coming up: Thomas Brower — Farmer, Mendocino Lavender; Tom Liden — Photographer. Mendocino Talking archive: www.theava.com/archives/category/features/mendocino-talking)