By John Johnson
I sit at my computer on a warm-hot summer day in the Valley, unsure about what I want to write. I turn to MSNBC and see photos and reports celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Among the main speakers are Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, and in a second I’m carried back to 1963. Back to the days of real hope, love and friendships.
I sit in my little rented guest house in Van Nuys working on the September issue, reminded of why I still do it. I have a fine landlady who subscribes to Change-Links, and a little patio where I feed the neighborhood squirrels, as I recall those heady times.
At Valley State College, now Cal State Northridge, I helped organize the first SDS chapter in LA. One of the first to join was Lynn Halmi, whom I dated. She and I opened an SDS office on Hoover Street where I put out an SDS newsletter. We helped set up SDS chapters at many local colleges and later high schools. We worked closely with the Brown Berets and Black Panther Party and I made friends with two key organizers, Leroy Huggins and Bunchy Carter, who were later assassinated by the FBI (using patsies).
A year later Lynn moved to Berkeley. I visited her there a few times but it was too far away for us to maintain a relationship. She was the first person to talk with me about anarchism in a serious political way. She knew about Bakunin, Malatesta, Emma Goldman and other famous anarchist organizers, whose books and biographies I hungrily read. My thanks to Lynn Halmi and others like her for spreading the truth. They all made a difference.
After a big anti-war and Dow Chemical demonstration I organized at Cal State LA, I was warned that the cops were going make nocturnal raids and arrest those involved. I figured that included me, so I took off for Berkeley and Lynn’s house. But the cops never came to my place so I hitched back to LA.
I mentioned in another issue that Lynn saved be again. At the massive 1967 anti-war demonstration in Century City, I found myself in between hundreds of cop and thousands of pissed off demonstrators. Out of the crowd a car drives up and its Lynn with her sister. She quickly lets me in and drives through the cops.
After the massive anti-war actions faded I then dug into community and labor organizing, helping to form groups in poor neighborhoods. Some of us got jobs in factories. I ended up in a warehouse at Olive View Hospital in Sylmar. By the 1980’s many of those groups faded away. Soon I lost touch with most radical groups. Though for a time I maintained relationships with some folks connected to the Weathermen. This gave the FBI an excuse for popping by my house on a hill in Echo Park a few times. A few years later, after I had moved, by some weird coincidence, a group associated with the radical SLA moved into my house. When the FBI came back — presumably to harass me — they arrested them. Some young middle class folks ended up spending time in jail.
Lynn has long since been married and lives somewhere up north. But for a time she was my main connection to the movements in Berkeley — a smart and inspirational woman and a savior or sorts.
These days and for the last several years I’ve been close to a woman with whom I was close during the late sixties. We had lost touch but she heard me on KPFK talking about Change Links a number of years ago and gave me a call. We got together and have been since and she too has saved me, so in that regard my life doesn’t change much.
But the stealthy changes going on all around us accelerate: Corporate America and its police state are still on the move, decimating civil liberties. Jobs by the millions have been shipped to places where workers endure horrible conditions for slave wages. Hundreds of phony pro-corporate elections have boosted the power of phony puppet leaders who flagrantly abuse the power. Only a few countries now remain that attempt to defy US imperialism.