AADL Talks To: Pun Plamondon
Fri, 12/09/2011 - 4:12pm
Pun Plamondon was a directionless teen with left-wing leanings when he met John Sinclair, Leni Sinclair, and Gary Grimshaw in Detroit in the mid-1960s. He grew to become the co-founder of the White Panther Party/Rainbow People's Party as well as its Minister of Defense. In that role he found himself on the run as one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Criminals and the subject of a case before the United States Supreme Court. In this episode we talk to Pun about that journey, including the formation of the White Panther Party and Rainbow People’s Party, being there for some of the key events in 1960s Ann Arbor, and finding his Native American roots.
- [00:00:00.00] [MUSIC PLAYING]
- [00:00:05.33] ANDREW: Hi, this is Andrew.
- [00:00:06.63] AMY: And this is Amy. And in this episode, AADL talks to former White Panther Party minister of Defense and unrepentant radical, Pun Plamondon.
- [00:00:16.07] ANDREW: We talked to Pun about the formation of the White Panther Party and Rainbow People's Party, being there for some of the key events in 1960s Ann Arbor, and finding his Native American roots.
- [00:00:28.78] When did you first become interested in politics?
- [00:00:31.55] PUN PLAMONDON: I left high school in the 11th grade, would have been 1962. And just kicked around, hitchhiked throughout the South, and up and down the East coast, and actually, was searching for beatniks.
- [00:00:52.38] In 1963, I guess it was, I got a job through my cousin with the AFL-CIO as a union organizer. The union was organizing migrant farm workers. I was 19. Those who can remember will remember Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers Union, the grape boycott, the table lettuce boycott. And what was going on was that the AFL-CIO had decided that they would support and encourage Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers Union west of the Mississippi. But east of the Mississippi, the AFL-CIO would try to organize them.
- [00:01:42.31] And in the course of doing this, is the AFL-CIO acknowledged that to organize migrant workers, you need a different type of an organizer than a cigar chomping, wide lapel, slouch hat--
- [00:01:58.35] [LAUGHS]
- [00:02:00.05] PUN PLAMONDON: --auto worker organizer, you know what I mean. Now, this was all happening at the same time in the South. In the Civil Rights movement, there was an organization called SNCC-- the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. And in its early days, that was made up of Black young people as well as white young people. A lot of the Freedom Riders from New York and from up north were active in SNCC. And it was a multiracial civil rights advocate organization.
- [00:02:39.67] At a certain point, the Black leadership of SNCC-- around Stokely Carmichael's time, I believe it was-- decided that they wanted a Black controlled, a Black run, and a Black administered Black leadership organization. And the non-Black folks in the SNCC were invited to disassociate themselves. This was very painful for some because of honest solidarity that was, and does build up among friends in struggle. But most of the people I knew said it had to be done and it was a good thing.
- [00:03:26.70] The reason this connects is that at the same time that the AFL-CIO was trying to put together this organizing team, there were a bunch of white folks, progressive white folks, from this other organizations, SNCC, that were now kind of lost, looking around. And it so happened that two of the guys that they hired were former SNCC members. And they hired me. And they hired my cousin, Julie, who was married to one of the former SNCC guys.
- [00:04:00.95] And our advance man was a Chicano who, as we would go into a farming community to organize, he would be the advance man who would go in a few days early, find out, what's the Catholic church's position on migrants? Would they help us? Do they have a mimeograph machine? Could we use their basement for a meeting? And this was also during the time of Lyndon Johnson's economic opportunity program, whatever it was called. The War on Poverty, or something.
- [00:04:36.03] So there was a lot of progressive people in this office-- this type office, this urban office-- who would help us organize. So these two guys, and advance man, and Julie-- a very progressive young woman-- and myself got hired to be the organizers. None of us spoke Spanish. But we had that enthusiasm, based mostly on ignorance. But we were eager to do this. This was a good thing. The conditions that migrant people lived in, and the control that the grower had over the migrants was medieval. It was wrong.
- [00:05:17.91] Now up until this time-- up until my time with the union-- I was a very angry, pissed off, hateful, violent, some would say vicious, teenager. You see them around all the time. And they got that look about them because they're pissed off. And I didn't even know I was pissed off. But I certainly was.
- [00:05:46.49] And then I was also a young, blooming alcoholic. So when you combine those two things, I was pretty much a loose cannon that had a lot of problems and created a lot of problems. And I pretty much hated about 180 degrees that I looked out on. That means I pretty much hated everything and everybody. Success, that was enough for me to have a dislike, a happy home, a nice car, a job, good grades, because I was just a terrible student and a very unattractive individual.
- [00:06:30.98] But then I started working with these union guys. And they had some sort of an analysis, they had something to say about why it was like this. I mean, you could see some of these labor camps, and the appalling conditions, and the poor children not getting any education, and people were sick. And I'd get drunk and want to blame somebody, and then just want to start breaking shit.
- [00:06:59.23] And these guys had an analysis. And they talked about the working class. And they talked about the ruling class. And they talked about the power structure. And they talked about the status quo. And they talked about apartheid in South Africa. This was 1963, '64.
- [00:07:18.95] And for our expenses, they gave us American Express cards. Well, my one buddy from Arkansas who was a former member of SNCC, he's saying, we ought to go on protests. We shouldn't use these American Express cards because they have holdings in South Africa. And to a 19-year-old, I mean, I've never thought like this. I never knew you could look at something and make an analysis. And it blew me away.
- [00:07:48.24] And I admired them tremendously. And then I could listen to them talk. They were all students and activists, so they had something to say. And they had been doing this talking thing, they'd been doing this for a while.
- [00:08:01.01] And all the people I'd been hanging with were pretty much other alchies like me, or wife beaters, or just whatever was going on in 1963 in America, you know, racism. And here were people with a whole new world view. And it saved my life because, for one thing, instead of having this shotgun approach to hating everybody and everything, I could narrow my focus down. And these are the people that deserve my wrath, you know, the ruling class, the ultra-rich, the people who stand in the way of change and want to maintain the status-- these are the ones that are causing not only my grief, but the grief-- and then you start looking around in Vietnam, and the Philippines, and what was happening in what's called Latin America, the Banana Republics. And geez, they're doing it everywhere. And it's all the same people. So that's when I started getting a political consciousness.
- [00:09:03.67] AMY: I wanted to fast-forward a couple of years, because you've just outlined that you grew up with a sense of anger, there was a sense of violence. But when you were in Detroit in '67, you were making sandals. I mean, Trans-Love Energies was a taxi service. I loved reading that in the book.
- [00:09:22.74] Did you feel, even though you were sort of participating in that particular movement, and things were more about peace and love and understanding, and all of those cliches that we associate with the Summer of Love, did you bring still with you that anger? And it was just sort of on the back burner? And you were always intending to move into a different direction? Or did you really feel part of that particular culture?
- [00:09:47.68] PUN PLAMONDON: No, I felt part of that Summer of Love. I mean, for me it was all about the drinking. That's what unleashed the monster in me. But when I moved to Detroit and fell in with Sinclair and the Detroit Artists Workshop-- which morphed into Trans-Love Energies-- I was just hanging with a whole different class of people than I was hanging with up North in Traverse City and the northern environs, going to the bar at 10:00 in the morning, and going out and shooting deer and selling the deer to try to pick up some money to buy some more beer.
- [00:10:28.17] And I mean, it was like being homeless but in way Northern Michigan, the resources just aren't there. And I was living just a life of an outlaw. I mean, I was always wanted for something. In my realm, nothing too serious, speeding tickets, or too many points on my license, or drunk and disorderly, or just every day, sundry offenses.
- [00:11:03.01] But when I moved to Detroit, I started hanging with Grimshaw, and Sinclair, and Emil Bacilla, the filmmaker, and Leni. All these people, they were creative. And they had something going on. They were either going to go hear a lecture about this guy over here, or they were going to see something over here. Or these jazz musicians were coming through. And I'd never been around people like that. The people I hung with were-- the thing going on was getting some booze and not having a job, and having an old lady who would slip you a couple dollars, which gets thin very quickly under any conditions.
- [00:11:45.87] So it was a whole new universe for me. And Sinclair and them were putting out a newspaper. And I can remember it just blowing my mind. You mean, just a citizen can put out a newspaper? I thought, the newspaper in Traverse city has got this big press, and you got all these reporters, and they went to college. And you'd just do it.
- [00:12:10.10] And everything about that summer of '67-- up to and including the riots-- was just mind-blowing for me, because I was in the old thought. I was in the Ike Eisenhower thought of-- stay in the line, keep your head down, try to beat them for everything you can.
- [00:12:31.23] The big thing in Traverse City is the cherry factories. And among us guys is-- yeah, I got a job, man. I don't have to do nothing but sit there and watch cans go by, man. They pay me a buck and a quarter an hour. You know, it's like if you can get a job where you don't have to do nothing but still get money, that was the role model.
- [00:12:53.20] So these people were different, just different. Although I didn't ever have any physical strife in Detroit. We did here in Ann Arbor. But I was always ready to go. But it's like, if you're hanging out with 25 Buddhists, you don't come off as a fucking American. You try to mellow out and try to be a little bit like they are. So I was hanging out with 25 very creative geniuses who I tried to emulate in a lot of ways.
- [00:13:24.86] ANDREW: Did you ever feel somewhat outside of that group? Because that group was, by and large, they were poets, photographers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and you didn't identify yourself as an artist.
- [00:13:37.68] PUN PLAMONDON: Yeah, right, no. Well, by that time, I hadn't just fallen off the turnip truck. I'd been hitchhiking up and down the East coast, and Greenwich Village, sleeping in doorways and phone booths, when they used to have phone booths. And throughout the South, I witnessed firsthand the racism and all that sort of stuff. So I'd been around.
- [00:14:01.17] And part of my survival skills is the ability to find out where I'm useful and fit in. Part of the fitting in is being able to talk a little bit, have something to say, being knowledgeable about something. I write in my book about back in the days before these politics, but when I was drinking so heavy, that I was a good conversationalist.
- [00:14:27.18] And I was a good conversationalist because I read National Geographics from cover to cover when I was doing all these 30 days for drunk and disorderly, 40 days, 90 days for assault and battery. Over and over, I'm reading National Geographic. So I can talk to you about stingrays, or caves. I don't know enough. But I got the lingo down.
- [00:14:51.95] So I brought that to me with Detroit. And one of the first things I noticed was Sinclair and some others were collating books. In fact, it was Jim Semark's book, The Sun. And along a long table like this. And everyone's walking in a circle and collating books. So I jump in the circle.
- [00:15:14.30] After a while, everyone's gone but me and Sinclair. So Sinclair busts out the old methamphetamine and [SNIFFS] we do a couple lines, and keep going in the circle. And I got to meet the guy that way, and know. And he gets to know me. And, oh, I'm from Traverse City. Well, that's a small town. Like he's from Davison. We have that similar.
- [00:15:35.38] So our language, our frame of reference is all the same. Although, we're totally different people. He's a very passive gentle man. I don't think he's ever been in a fight in his life, where that was my standard.
- [00:15:50.95] AMY: Although, he was able to back down the police that came without a problem.
- [00:15:58.07] [LAUGHING]
- [00:15:58.11] PUN PLAMONDON: Lunatic, scared me. Well, he didn't have a gun under his chin. And he's inviting them to sh-- go ahead, shoot me, shoot my wife, shoot my daughter. Oh, Jesus.
- [00:16:09.73] ANDREW: Yeah, we asked Leni if she was ever scared. And she said, oh, terrified. I was terrified frequently, because John just wouldn't shut up. He'd just keep shouting at the police.
- [00:16:20.43] AMY: So the other thing you said in your book-- and I've read it a couple places-- the survival skills, that you were content to play second fiddle sometimes. And I'm wondering if that's still true. And also that you tended to gravitate towards the brightest. And of course, Sinclair fit that. He was very charismatic.
- [00:16:40.57] PUN PLAMONDON: I've never wanted to be the head man in charge. I want to be the guy standing behind the head man in charge, whispering in his ear.
- [00:16:47.91] AMY: OK. [LAUGHS]
- [00:16:50.94] PUN PLAMONDON: I work better that way.
- [00:16:52.90] AMY: Through that period of time, then, you guys were getting harassed a lot by the police, and of course, the FBI. Anyway, you guys are being hassled a lot. And I'm just wondering, so what was the tipping point? Or in your view, when did guns become involved? When does this notion of minister of defence-- tell us about the origins of the White Panther Party.
- [00:17:11.19] PUN PLAMONDON: Well, guns were always in my life. I mean, growing up up North, my dad hunted. All my uncles hunted. All my neighbors hunted. Everybody hunted. There were guns around.
- [00:17:26.26] I started shooting guns like all of my playmates. We all got BB guns at 10 years old, or whenever it was. And we all got in trouble with our BB guns for shooting something we weren't supposed to shoot. But that's just a boys will be boys sort of thing.
- [00:17:43.34] And I was never a pacifist. I was never one that believed in turn the other cheek. I admired Gandhi, I read Gandhi and admired him tremendously. And to this day, I'm in awe of how you could do this. The same with Martin Luther King. But as far as dogs and fire hoses and stuff turned out on me, it just wasn't in my makeup, or in my world, that you don't actively resist that.
- [00:18:14.11] So when I personally started reading about all the Black Panthers getting shot, Vietnam of course was going on hot and heavy, and I kept hearing, and suffered myself, from all these pot busts and this harassment from the law, and it was just out of hand. It was just out of control. And so I developed what I call my policy anyway was, if you've got a warrant, and you come and knock on the door and ask for me, I'll come out. But if you come to my door and kick it in without announcing or following just common citizenry politeness, or whatever, then I'll respond by defending myself.
- [00:18:59.90] And that led to a lot of later rhetoric that was over the top. Because that really got a bunch of people, now the hippies are going to get armed. And the reason I was a minister of defence is I was the only one who'd ever shot a gun. You know, I mean, geez. These people, most of them are from Livonia, Dearborn, and stuff, man. They don't know from guns.
- [00:19:29.38] So the one thing I found out and learned-- and I think we see it in effect today with some of the right wing radio personalities-- is that, in my case, once I started on what might be considered an outlandish position, you not only have to defend that position, but to get the attention of those around you above the din of what's going on, you've got to take a little more outlandish position, more outlandish. And after a year, you're way out here on the end of this limb.
- [00:20:09.06] And in my case, I didn't even realize that this was happening to me. But I remember doing tapes. I used to do audio cassette tapes that would be played at the summer concerts. And I was just full of this militant, mindless rhetoric. Oh, it just gives me chills to think about it. If I ever heard it, I know my ears would be struck deaf. It's just embarrassing.
- [00:20:38.54] ANDREW: As you were saying it, did you believe it?
- [00:20:43.83] PUN PLAMONDON: Well, see, that's part of the problem with not knowing who you are. When I got done writing my book, one thing was clear to me, is that for all my militancy, for all my rhetoric of violence and off the pig, and .357s, and sawed off shotguns, when it came right down to it up there in the Upper Peninsula, when we were getting pulled over by the cops, I didn't want to shoot nobody.
- [00:21:17.25] And I wrote it in such a way in my book-- which was all true-- that the barrel of the M1 got tangled in the strings on the tent, and the various other things. That's all true. But I didn't say it quite so frankly in the book. I'm trying-- in the book-- trying to create this lovable outlaw character. And if his change happens too soon, go from the outlaw to the redeemed. And if that redemption happens early in the book, then what's the point of reading it?
- [00:21:58.76] But I could have revealed the redemption there, because I really didn't want to shoot that cop or anybody else. Even though for years now I've been talking about, off the pigs and arm yourselves, and if they kick in your doors, and all this militant rhetoric. And in the bottom of it all, that ain't who I am.
- [00:22:22.49] AMY: See, there were a couple points in the book where you had a gun, and you're wondering what to do. And I mean, I kept thinking, don't, don't. And it would've been a completely different story.
- [00:22:38.22] PUN PLAMONDON: The other time was in California, with the highway patrol. That's a great story.
- [00:22:42.60] AMY: That's a great story.
- [00:22:43.79] PUN PLAMONDON: Because he chased me down to give me the goddamn gun.
- [00:22:46.48] AMY: [LAUGHING] I know.
- [00:22:48.19] PUN PLAMONDON: [GASP] Then he says, just keep it on the seat, don't conceal it. So all the way back to San Francisco, I got this nine millimeter sitting on the seat beside me. Oh, Jesus, I'll never forget it.
- [00:23:00.99] But there was another case. Because we were deep in the mountains, there was a car every five minutes where we were. Of course, there might have been one the next minute. But the point is, if I was ever going to shoot a cop, this was the time to shoot a cop.
- [00:23:17.71] ANDREW: I wanted to ask, guns and arming yourself, and being able to defend yourself were a very important part-- at least in the rhetoric-- of a lot of far left groups in the late '60s and early '70s. But the mainstream left today is extremely anti-gun. Do you feel like those two things are connected? Do you think that that's strange? Do you think that there was a turnaround? Or do you feel like the far left still believes that you need to arm yourself and be prepared, and the mainstream left just never did?
- [00:23:50.47] PUN PLAMONDON: I don't think the far left thinks you need to arm yourself. I think the computer and social networks and all this other technology has changed everything. I think you can have a real revolution whereby one class overthrows another. But I think it can be done through the revolutionary use of the technology and the information, and whatnot.
- [00:24:14.29] The left the-- what do you call the left? The big blob of the left, the Democrats, the so-called progressives, their aversion to guns is a logical extension of their politics going back to the '50s or '60s or '70s, or anything. They're just liberals, they're not to be counted on. They're wishy-washy. To me, one of the worst things in the world to be called is a liberal. Look what they've done.
- [00:24:52.21] So that big liberal blob, they're idealists in a lot of ways. And one of the idealist views of the world is there'll be no violence, and that guns cause violence, and all that.
- [00:25:07.11] The other part, the militant left I think, if they're anything like me, and I certainly don't speak for them, but they've grown. They've learned something. I mean, it's folly to think you're going to take up arms against the United States of America. However, I mean, if the world collapses and the stop lights don't work anymore, it might come down to Ypsilanti against Ann Arbor. But god, you can't really plan on it.
- [00:25:36.22] AMY: But you just used the word folly. And that brings up another beautiful contradiction. John Sinclair is always saying you had to appreciate the humor that you guys had back then. The silly, outrageous things that you did. And I'm just curious if it was like you were trying to scare the parents, and sort of wink wink, nudge nudge to the kids. Is that sort of what it was?
- [00:25:59.00] PUN PLAMONDON: Sure, if you can do that. I mean, if you can pull it off. I mean, we made no bones about stealing the kids from the parents. I mean, that was right up front.
- [00:26:09.74] And if you look at that somewhat famous photograph of all the people standing in front of 1520 Hill Street, them kids are 15 years old. These are all runaways. This is well before there was drug help. We were instrumental in getting drug help. We were instrumental in getting the Ark, the runaway shelter for young people. That's why they were staying in our basement, there wasn't any place. And now there's all sorts of programs.
- [00:26:39.31] I was going to read this.
- [00:26:40.36] AMY: Go ahead.
- [00:26:42.36] PUN PLAMONDON: One of my favorite poems of all time. This is a memo from the chief of staff for former members of the Rainbow People's Party.
- [00:26:51.94] "There was a necessary essence of contrary to play what fool was simply otherwise, as against the fool roles long writ out for us in advance. There was nothing to be gained and much to be risked in the effort. There was a flower of folly there, fit perhaps for laughter. But it was fearful what it took to fertilize. And still less funny what it took to pluck it. There is Grace from it, to have seen one's ego stark naked in the harsh light of its demands, stretched out like an unshed snakeskin on the beautiful table, with such a flower as its centerpiece. There went my outsized heart, for one, utterly spent. Not so important, indeed. But still, not a seemly subject for any second guesses but our own." That tells it. There was a flower of folly.
- [00:28:16.17] AMY: That was David?
- [00:28:17.04] PUN PLAMONDON: Yeah.
- [00:28:18.51] AMY: Can you talk about David? Because he's not here to interview.
- [00:28:22.66] PUN PLAMONDON: Well, David was the best of any of us. He represented the best of what we could be. He was a son of a bitch, boy. I mean, just quiet, not like me, loud and gregarious.
- [00:28:50.77] Although, he got along. But his power was so internal that he didn't have to push it. It was just his wisdom, his poetry, everything about him was just solid. You know, the words aren't there to describe this cat. But he meant a lot to a lot of people, boy. People bust out in tears just saying his name.
- [00:29:19.76] But he was hard ass, too. He was our chief financial officer. A lot of his duties were keeping the finances together. And that meant a lot of borrowing money. And I went with him once to borrow money. Not from the bank, but from professors and various peoples around some dope dealers, and whatnot.
- [00:29:45.67] The time I went with him, was a professor. And as we were parking in front of his house, he says, man, when we come out here, we got to have $5,000. We can't leave without $5,000.
- [00:30:00.02] And so we go in, and the guy's a great guy, he'd lent us tons of money in the past, some of which we paid, some of which we didn't. His son hung around. His son was a musician, so he wasn't with us, exactly. But he was around. And he admired what we were doing.
- [00:30:17.33] And he'd say, no. And we couldn't leave. We'd have to say it, we need this. We've got to have this. And David would do it in all his sincerity and all his power again. And me, I would have wilted 10 minutes ago. Man, I don't think the guy's interested. That's just what I picked up on. But David made the guy crawl. And it ended up, we left there with five grand, a check for five grand.
- [00:30:48.32] Well, he's a big professor. He's got a $300,000 home, at the time. So it wasn't like you're taking money from a welfare mother or something. But I just can't live under that stress. You can't leave this place without the money, man. [SIGH] God.
- [00:31:04.73] And he'd live in that stress for years. And then he paid it all back. That's the most amazing thing. A guy like me, psh. I'd have, like everybody else did, hit the road. David stayed. And that, oh, man, that probably might be the best example of what kind of person he was, how he felt his word meant something. And he ended up getting busted for his efforts.
- [00:31:37.05] So anyway, that's a favorite poem of mine. Well, obviously, I put it in my book.
- [00:31:42.06] AMY: Can we talk a little bit about when you were underground, and in Algeria? And I noticed that you point out in the book that you eventually-- even though you felt outside, you felt like an outsider-- you very much felt like you were missing home. And home was Hill Street at that time. And the people, and the human touch, and the food, and everything else. And I was just curious, to what degree did the commune and the Party fulfill that need as a family you felt you had never had?
- [00:32:17.29] PUN PLAMONDON: Well, it did in fact. I mean, I was tremendously loyal to all the people, as well as the place, as well as the idea of the White Panthers, and of socialism, and communism, and a better world. And I was committed to that, and really was. And I think it might have been the first time in my life that I had that connection of, this is where I belong. And I've found what I'm looking for.
- [00:32:46.32] But it isn't, certainly, unique to me. As I said earlier, all them kids, or 90% of them kids were runaways. And I think that they found the same thing, because we had kids doing stuff that no one hardly would believe. I had kids getting up at 7 o'clock in the morning and going to PE class. And we're reading The Fundamentals of Leninism, by Joseph Stalin for Christ's sakes. And they're reading this shit, and commenting, and talking about what's going on here. What are the fundamentals of Leninism?
- [00:33:19.70] I mean, these are runaway kids who otherwise would be-- were, in fact-- sleeping on the streets. And they were the cadre of our party. And they had responsibility, sell papers, put up flyers, whatever you can do. You can always do that. But other people were into food. So they got organized and helped start the People's Food Coop, the longstanding Ann Arbor institution.
- [00:33:48.54] Not that we started it, but that were right there with the other people getting it going. And they could count on us for a van, or whatever. I can remember going to Eastern Market, buying vegetables, goddamn boxes and boxes of lettuce, and all this stuff.
- [00:34:05.09] So, yes. I think it was true for me. And I think it was true for many others who weren't raised in conventional, loving homes.
- [00:34:16.77] ANDREW: And yet, there's this aspect that you talk about quite a bit in your book of faking it, of playing the role of a revolutionary. So it sounds like you never really felt at home enough to just be yourself until years later in life.
- [00:34:32.46] PUN PLAMONDON: Well, I didn't know what myself was. I didn't know what a self was supposed to look like. It's funny, I was up in Traverse City visiting some friends and I saw an old friend. And he handed me a nice, beautiful portrait of myself in my football uniform. And I was shockingly handsome. I was a beautiful young dude, man, at 16 years old.
- [00:35:02.56] And I never knew it. When I was 16, I was poor, I had some zits, I didn't have a car. All my friends had money for beer, and I didn't have any money for beer. I was conventional, low self esteem.
- [00:35:21.68] All my friends were talking about going to college. I was poor, I wasn't going to college. My dad wanted me to get a job driving a Pepsi truck. Oh boy, if you get in there at Pepsi, by god, that's a lifetime job. And I'm 16, just crying over this.
- [00:35:40.38] I mean, but I wasn't crying, because I didn't know how to think about it. I just knew that I wanted to resist at all costs this idea, my dad's idea. But he came out of that depression. That thing about, the job is everything. If you have a job, you can have a job, man, and it's a job. And I just never bought into it.
- [00:36:01.07] I've had plenty of jobs. But it's never been my career. I've worked in construction all my life. But I never saw it as a career.
- [00:36:08.78] AMY: Do you think you can separate your personal experience from your political convictions? Do you think people can?
- [00:36:16.34] PUN PLAMONDON: Well, I've always argued that every action is a political action. So no, I don't think you can separate yourself from your political self. I mean, I bet you there are people who can try, and probably put a lot of effort into it.
- [00:36:33.41] But if you're going along with the status quo, you're going along with the status quo. If you can find ways over here to resist the status quo, maybe something over here, maybe something here, or here, the idea is to keep collecting these somethings. So that you're, at some point, not just as an individual but we as a movement, we're resisting the status quo with this whole conglomerate of institutions and individuals who all have a similar world vision. And we're resisting, because that's what it takes is resistance.
- [00:37:08.32] And so no, I don't think you can separate it. Although, like I said, I bet you people do, and they try, or whatever. I'd be leery of anyone who tries to do that, though. And we used to get flak. We lived up above the new mobilization to end the war in Vietnam. And they had a sign with 3 foot letters, a new mobilization to end the war. So we were a target.
- [00:37:32.27] And right around the corner from us was the Fifth Estate newspaper. So we were forever getting fire bombed, and rocks through the windows, and bricks through the windows, and cops. I mean, we're living in the thick of it.
- [00:37:45.04] And the guy who's the chairman of the new mobilization to end the war in Vietnam works at General Motors and drives a yellow rag top Corvette. And one day, we're standing out there and we're all chummy, hey man, how you doing, and whatnot. He's wearing a button down shirt with a tie, standing next to his rag top Corvette. And he wants to give me a hard time about not going to a demonstration. And I'm just like, you're out of your fucking mind, man. You work for General Motors, first of all. And you're driving this. And you look like a honky.
- [00:38:22.24] So [GRUMBLING] fuck them. Fuck them all. As William Burroughs says, "Fuck 'em all. Squares on all sides. I'm the only whole man in the industry."
- [00:38:33.76] [LAUGHING]
- [00:38:36.09] PUN PLAMONDON: I got my William Burroughs quote in. Don't cut that, now.
- [00:38:40.83] ANDREW: So at what point did a switch flip, where instead of just going along and individually and as a group, engaging in these local actions, turn into, you know what, we need a name? We need an organization. We need to have officers. We need to have a mouthpiece. How does that switch get flipped?
- [00:38:59.30] PUN PLAMONDON: We had to get organized. Well, as you know, Sinclair was facing his marijuana charge. At the time, before the laws were changed, simple possession of marijuana, if convicted, carried a penalty of 10 years minimum, and a maximum of 20 years.
- [00:39:23.45] And you can believe me when I tell you that there were plenty of people in Jackson prison, and throughout the Michigan prison system, who were doing just that sentence. For sales of marijuana, and/or distribution, the minimum was 20 years in prison and maximum was life. And again, I'll say that there were plenty of people throughout the system who were doing those kind of sentences. Sinclair was charged with giving away two joints, or distribution. So that carried 20 to life.
- [00:39:56.88] In the fall-- I guess it would have been of 1967-- my wife and Grimshaw and his girlfriend, Judy, and I went to Traverse City. And we were visiting some friends who lived on Grand Traverse Bay. And we had the Monopoly board out. And we were playing these marathon games of Monopoly, sucking down a few beers and smoking some reefer, and whatnot. I rolled a joint, for which there was probably eight of us, and we smoked it, and it was put in the ashtray. Grimshaw rolled a joint. Again, small, put in the ashtray.
- [00:40:34.88] Unbeknownst to us, there was a police informer there, a young kid who had gotten busted for possession. And the cops made a deal, if you get us, somebody else will let-- you know. So Grimshaw and I were charged with sale and/or distribution of marijuana.
- [00:40:52.63] At that time-- I was back in Ann Arbor-- and Lt. Stodemire came to the door with a warrant for me. And at that time, Grimshaw was living on the other side of town in an apartment. And while they were arresting me on this warrant from Traverse City, Sinclair got on the phone and called Grimshaw. And said, the cops are here with a warrant for your arrest. And I wrote about that in my book, with the cops trying to holler into the phone, you're under arrest, you're under arrest.
- [00:41:24.00] So Grimshaw beat it out of town, went to Berkeley and started working on the-- at that time it was the Tribe-- Berkeley Tribe. I went to jail. And was in jail for 87 days, or something, under $20,000 bond, until we got the bond reduced to $1,500, which we put that money up and I was released.
- [00:41:46.34] When I get back to Ann Arbor, I have a little talk with Sinclair. He's facing 20 to life. I'm facing 20 to life. We've got to do something. And we had all these people and all this experience. In Detroit, we were more like cultural revolutionaries. And we let our anti-war as well as our position on the status quo be reflected through our art, poems, graphic arts, film making, Leni Sinclair, the whole thing.
- [00:42:19.66] So I told Sinclair that we needed to respond to this assault in a political manner. And to do that, we had to get politically organized. And Sinclair agreed. And he suggested that I look around for a model by which we can organize ourselves.
- [00:42:41.42] Well, I knew SDS. And I went to several SDS meetings here at the University of Michigan. But they, quite frankly, were dull and drab and talked on and on and on. Plus, all the students were rich. There weren't any poor kids at this University in 1968. The scholarship thing, multiculturalism hadn't come along. It was all Jerry Ford, as far as I was concerned.
- [00:43:09.30] So I related to the desire, and the idealism, and their enemies were my enemies sort of thing. But as far as being part of their organization, it wasn't in the cards for me, too dull. From my experience in Detroit, I had been exposed to, say, the Nation of Islam.
- [00:43:29.42] And I admired the Nation of Islam on a number of levels. First of all, they took these shiftless bastards, these pimps, in many cases drugs fiends, hustlers. They dressed them up, cleaned them up, put them out on the street with a vision and a standard by which to conduct their lives. And that I admired because that's hard to do, to take these kind of people.
- [00:43:59.08] It's one thing to take a college grad and explain to them why you got to do this. But as a Marxist would say, this lumpen proletariat, these workers without jobs, they were another story altogether. So I admired that. The other thing I admired about the Nation of Islam was that they were trying to create alternative institutions in their community. There was the Betty Shabazz bakery. There was the Betty Shabazz dry cleaners. There was the taxi service. There were these various things around the community that were creating an alternative to the dominant, or to the status quo. I like that.
- [00:44:39.95] I had nothing to do with their religious ideology, just what they were doing for real with people. That I admired. I was also exposed to the Republic of New Afrika in Detroit. That's the [INAUDIBLE] brothers. You might remember that the Republic of New Afrika were encouraging Black folks to move to five southern states. And through just simply overwhelming numbers, they would take over.
- [00:45:07.41] Those were the only people that would print our newspaper. We couldn't get a regular newspaper from the suburbs to print it. The only ones were these Black militants down in Detroit.
- [00:45:18.02] Of course, there was a Black Panther Party and I had been following them for a long time. I admired them a great deal because they adhered to some principles that they were going to conduct themselves. They adapted, as you know, most of it from there the Red Army, Mao Tse-tung, will not steal a piece of needle or a piece of thread from the masses.
- [00:45:39.88] Again, what these dope fiends, and rapists, and B and E artists, and armed robbers, that's what the lumpen proletariat in Oakland in particular was. I mean, these were the hardest people to organize to a college educated person. They would be terrified around these people. But to the Black Panthers, man, this is our cadre. These are the people who can dig it. And they did dig it.
- [00:46:08.20] And I went out there, I stayed with the Black Panthers in Oakland, and participated in their free breakfast for school children program. Which doesn't get any ink. The only ink they get, of course, is their guns and all this. But again, it was an alternative institution to the dominant. They met a need, and they fried a breakfast to all these 600 kids a day, every day.
- [00:46:34.21] And the tremendous amount of organizing that had to be done to do that, you had to convince the pastor of the Church. Then you had to convince all the church ladies. Then you had to get the parents to send their kids. And then you had to get the parents to help.
- [00:46:47.73] Well, I remember we were going around to Safeway, and whatnot, with people I wouldn't ordinarily hang out with, church going Black ladies. And we're putting around, and carrying groceries. And god, it was just wonderful. And it was real grassroots organizing that was meeting a need. It wasn't like a demonstration.
- [00:47:07.53] A demonstration doesn't meet a need of the masses. It calls attention to an issue, granted. But there's something about meeting a need that's way more fulfilling than going to a demonstration, for me anyway.
- [00:47:22.23] And then there was the Yippies, and their sense of theater. And the stuff they were doing on the street. I was just in Wayne State, and I told a story about me and Abbie Hoffman, and several others, Stew Albert, and several others, going to the Washington DC police department for a permit so that we could levitate the Pentagon. And the chief says, well, how high are you going to levitate it? And we said, about three feet. He says, I can't give you one for three feet. But I'll give you one for 18 inches. So that's good theater.
- [00:48:00.73] I mean, I've got to tell you another little story. I live in a little farming community in Delton. It's not even incorporated. It's Is just a few little buildings. But they have a Rotary Club. And I got invited when my book came out to come and present to the Rotary Club. There might be 15 or 8 or 15 people in the whole club.
- [00:48:23.22] So I get in there, and they're all my neighbors. And I get, well, this is our president. And I get introduced to him, and I say, someone was telling me that you were a police officer in Los Angeles. And he says, I certainly was. He says, hell, I might have maced you.
- [00:48:39.37] [LAUGHING]
- [00:48:43.00] PUN PLAMONDON: I'm in the right place. So it's that kind of thing. I don't know how I got off on that, what sparked that memory, but--
- [00:48:49.77] ANDREW: Well, you just touched on a lot of the political movements at the time. And I know it was a couple years later, but I'm curious if you can remember what your thoughts were at the time about what the Weather Underground was doing when they went underground and started bombing things. How did you feel about what they were doing?
- [00:49:06.52] PUN PLAMONDON: Well, I knew a lot of them people before they were weatherman. The Felch Street house, over on Felch Street, I think it was the last house in Ann Arbor that had a dirt floor, as I recall. I'd never seen another one around Ann Arbor. But that was always something that was striking about the Felch Street house. Roofs sagged, and the whole thing leaned.
- [00:49:27.03] That house went through several monikers. When I first came here, Billy and Diana were working with the Radical Education Project. And they had a little second story place on, it might be Felch. They were the Radical Education Project. So that's how I first met them.
- [00:49:49.45] And then it was shortly after that, that SDS started going through these big purges. And there was the Radical Education Project, that was one splitter. There was the James Gang. And that's the next way that I knew the Felch Street house. And that's when I met Skippy Taube. And Skippy was trying to recruit me away from the Panthers to become the James Gang. And I was trying to recruit him to becoming a White Panther. And I promised him, I say, you can be minister of education. And so we made him minister of education.
- [00:50:31.41] But then there was another big meeting in New York or somewhere. And SDS was just shattering, and all these factions. And there was the Revolutionary Youth Movement. And then there was RYM II-- Revolutionary Youth Movement two. And what came out of that splittering was the Weathermen. Well, I thought it was a suicide mission, myself.
- [00:50:57.30] So that's one of the differences between me and the Weathermen. They wanted to go underground. They planned to go underground. They made certain arrangements, and they had safe houses and different codes. And they knew who was going to go underground.
- [00:51:13.82] When I went underground, it was like I heard on the radio and, hey, I'm out of here. And they relied on their network of people. And the network of people I relied on were all poets, mostly, all beatniks and poets and musicians and stuff. And it was all like, hey, I'm in town, man, can I crash at your place? Sure, come on by. Until it hit the press, and then I was-- you know.
- [00:51:43.10] But anyway, I supported them. I loved them. I liked both Billy and Diana, those are the ones I knew the most. I met Mark Rudd and Genie P., my wife. She was hanging with a bunch of them, too. She was hanging with Bernadine, I think.
- [00:51:59.04] And so anyway, I didn't think it was a way to go. I could understand their Days of Rage. I didn't go to the Days of Rage and didn't want to be anywhere around it. But I would never say anything bad about them because they were so much in the struggle.
- [00:52:18.61] ANDREW: But you didn't think it would be effective in any way?
- [00:52:20.69] PUN PLAMONDON: No, I just thought you'd get yourself killed. Although I must say, when they bombed the Pentagon I said, uh-huh right! Because the whole thing about bombing isn't to destroy the government. It's to show that they're not omnipresent and they're not invincible. The soft underbelly is a soft underbelly. And it's to excite people, to get them to not necessarily carry out similar actions, but to get them to do something. If somebody can do this over here, at least I can do this over here.
- [00:53:00.91] AMY: So what is your take on the bombing of the CIA recruiting office? What happened do you think? Who is responsible for that?
- [00:53:10.68] PUN PLAMONDON: Well, I was charged with the crime. But I've never admitted or denied doing it. It suits my purposes to leave it vague. I suspect that they were trying to implement what Lenin called armed propaganda. Or in other words, what I talked about earlier about showing the soft underbelly, or inspiring propaganda, trying to get other people to see that these people aren't invincible, and that collective action does have an effect. I suspect that was the motive.
- [00:53:50.92] You probably recall that there was a bomb set also at the Institute of Science and Technology, where the scuttlebutt was that they were involved in war research and laser bombs and smart bombs and various things like that, and also at the ROTC building. And they're not very much in the scheme of things. Thank goodness no one ever got hurt.
- [00:54:16.50] But they're token and symbolic resistance against a machine. Look at the wall, 54,000 people on that wall. And most of the anti-war activists I was involved in took it personal. I mean, we took it personal. They were doing this in our name.
- [00:54:34.78] I, quite frankly, don't give a shit who shoots each other. There's some people I'd like to shoot. But they can't do it as a government. They can't do it in my name. They can't do these wrong things in our name.
- [00:54:50.23] And now we're having debates about torture. I mean, growing up as a kid-- when I was little, 10 years old-- my uncles and the various other people in my community would come home from the Second World War, from the Korean War. And they had all these stories about how the enemy had pulled their fingernails out and jabbed them in the eye with a sharp stick-- or whatever it was-- to get information. And my country didn't do that. And I was so proud of that, that my country was more civilized.
- [00:55:22.31] At 10 I didn't have this language, of course. But I had the sense that we were righteous because we wouldn't do that. And I'd read stories about the King of England back in 1404, and how he would torture people. And we were better than this.
- [00:55:40.60] I understand they're starting a new branch of medicine here at the University, torture medicine. So the doctors are going to specialize in keeping torture victims alive, so that they can be tortured again tomorrow. Call that the institutionalization of torture.
- [00:56:00.71] Now that's not true. But that's where this leads, ultimately. Social workers and counselors counseling the tortured so that they can be in a good frame of mind to be tortured again tomorrow. I mean, that's what happened in Germany, that sort of institutionalization of racism. And that's what I felt we were fighting. I took it real serious, and can be moved to do a lot of things that we wouldn't do when we don't take it personal.
- [00:56:34.94] ANDREW: As far as institutions and the government go, one of the things that comes out in your book-- in your story-- is that elected officials, however they might be perceived as corrupt or cowardly, you don't see any evidence against that. But there were several members of the judiciary who treated you with great fairness, and were committed to the idea of justice from a basic judge all way up to the Supreme Court who believed in the Constitution and believed in justice. Does that gives you hope that this system works? Did it give you hope at the time that this system could be salvaged because there were people who believed in that?
- [00:57:21.52] PUN PLAMONDON: Salvaged has never been in my vocabulary regarding the United States. Well, it just meant they were on our side, that they saw the world the way we did, at least on this issue. It isn't much of a stretch to identify with Judge Keith. I mean, he's a civil rights activist. He's a brilliant legal scholar. And he's-- some would say liberal. I wouldn't. I'd say he's principled. And by God, this means something to him.
- [00:57:55.15] And when you get to that level of court, they're not doing it for me. I'm a beneficiary. But it's all about this issue, the principle that they're arguing. Certainly, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, they could give a shit about Pun Plamondon. I mean, I was just a vehicle that they could hang this thing on. You know, is Mr. Plamondon's rights being victimized? There's a place in the argument in the Supreme Court where the government's saying, well, we'll let Mr. Gossett-- you might remember that Mr. Gossett represented the judge-- we'll let Mr. Gossett see the transcripts, but we won't let Mr. Davis, or [INAUDIBLE] or whoever it was.
- [00:58:35.82] So it wasn't about me. Although, I'm eternally grateful to all of them, would shake their hand, would walk across the street to shake their hand, had I a chance.
- [00:58:48.66] ANDREW: How did things change when you went from the White Panther Party to the Rainbow People's Party? How did not only the point of view change, and the way you wanted to be perceived change, but how did day to day operations change?
- [00:59:00.00] PUN PLAMONDON: Well, I was in the Wayne County Jail at the time of that. And I'd like to see if anyone, maybe at the Bentley, has saved the correspondence. Because Sinclair was in Jackson, I was in Wayne County Jail, and we were having a written dialogue regarding changing the name. Sinclair wanted Woodstock Nation. Woodstock had just happened the previous summer.
- [00:59:25.86] First of all, we came to a collective agreement that we needed to change the name, for obvious reasons. And the obvious reasons are that the White Panthers was a very militant thing-- image-- that we created, and I more than anyone else. But I recognize that when we're going to trial, we don't want to come off as the bomb-throwing anarchists. We're much better being looked at as liberal Democrats.
- [00:59:57.64] So the name change was obvious. I wanted Rainbow People's Party, I and my little faction. And I don't mean that in an antagonistic way. But I, and the people that thought the way I did, wanted Rainbow People's Party, because Jesse Jackson hadn't co-opted the name yet. It was a beautiful image for the kind of world we wanted to create. And it was a more accurate image of our own organization, because we did have Hiawatha Bailey and other black folks in our organization.
- [01:00:29.97] And I argued that Woodstock Nation would be old news by next year, and that we didn't want to tie our image to something that would be old news. And so we debated it, just the way it says in Mao Tse-tung how you're supposed to. And we don't vote, we go for consensus. So it took a long time. But finally, we convinced Sinclair and his posse that this was the way to go. And we changed the name.
- [01:00:59.11] And of course, preparing for trial, it meant that all communications and everything was pretty tame, and no rhetoric about offing pigs. And I wrote some articles about not trusting Judge Keith, because to me he was just another part of the cog and the wheel. And I didn't know his history, had I been inclined to research it, or ask Buck.
- [01:01:26.55] I don't know if Buck even knew his history. But then, lawyers will never tell you. They'll always say, well, you got 60% versus 40%. Or Buck's that way, anyway. He'd say, how are we going to do on this motion? [GRUMBLING] We got 60%, or they got 60. [GRUMBLING] How's this Judge? Well, he's 40%.
- [01:01:48.50] But that one move that Keith did, man, cemented him in my pantheon of gods. That the Fourth Amendment still applied, and that to wiretap Mr. Plamondon you had to show probable cause and then you had to get a warrant. And since the resulting wiretap was warrant-less, it's invalid to use in court.
- [01:02:16.15] And we didn't believe them because they kept saying, well, we're not going to use it. There's no evidence on this. We're not going to use it in court. And we're saying, well, we don't believe you because you could pick something off there and use it without us knowing it.
- [01:02:31.31] Then the other argument we made was there might be something on that tape that vindicates us and proves we didn't do it. So we need the tape, or the logs, or the transcript. So that's the one move.
- [01:02:45.54] ANDREW: We did this a little bit with David Sinclair already, but if you could give us brief sketches of some of the other people who were involved at the time. And we'll start with John Sinclair, what he was like at the time.
- [01:02:56.66] PUN PLAMONDON: Which time?
- [01:02:57.72] ANDREW: Late '60s, early '70s. When he wasn't in prison, or you were on the run, or--
- [01:03:02.07] PUN PLAMONDON: Well, he was pretty much wrapped up with the day to day operation of the MC5. So there'd be long times-- six weeks, couple months-- I wouldn't even see him. He'd be in Boston, or LA, or New York, or meeting with somebody. When he was home-- like I say in my book-- if you wanted to spend time with Sinclair, you had to catch up with him and then get in his groove. That was the only way.
- [01:03:28.70] And so when the MC5 had gigs, if I wanted to spend time with Sinclair, I'd go to the gig. I mean, I'd ride with Sinclair to the gig because we'd have all that time in the van. And then coming back, I generally drove because he'd fall asleep, or whatever. But that's how I scheduled my time with him.
- [01:03:49.74] And as I look back on it now, Sinclair's advice was always, do it. Sounds good, to do it. Or like the story I tell about wanting to scrub down our neighborhood just before the riots started. Hey man, I got this idea about maybe getting some-- [GRUMBLING] and doing that. Hey, sounds great, do it. So he wouldn't be involved, but he kind of encouraged you to do your stuff.
- [01:04:14.69] Like, I wanted to print some maga-- I printed Diane di Prima's revolutionary letters, a little booklet that we used as fundraising for our various trials. And again, I'd say, hey man, what're-- [MUMBLING] Do it. So that was not just Sinclair but that was the attitude of the day. But it meant something coming from Sinclair because he was so dynamic. And he had done all this. I don't know if he ever made a sweep in, but he'd organize people. So anyway--
- [01:04:42.90] ANDREW: How about Leni Sinclair?
- [01:04:45.03] PUN PLAMONDON: Leni's one of them rocks at Gibraltar, man. She's just solid, never sought the limelight, a very astute political mind. Of all of the central committee, David, John, and Leni probably had the most astute political minds. In other words, you could run an idea, or why we should do this by them and they'd get it right away.
- [01:05:13.95] That was my one blessing is I could grasp very quickly the idea of alternative institutions to meet the real needs of the people and be in the resistance to the dominant institute. I understood that quickly. There was a while there I organized a group called LSD, which was Legal Self Defense. We'd have various benefits around the op. The MC5, various other bands, would play benefits. We'd collect a little bit of money. And that was $200, was a lot of money.
- [01:05:46.15] Then when people got busted for pot, the idea is that we had a list of lawyers, and here's $200. Now you give us the $200 back once you get your-- We did a few. One thing about me is I'm not very good on details and following up, and I might have spent the money, I don't know.
- [01:06:06.02] But it worked for that summer when we needed it so much, when we needed this cohesion. And we needed to respond in some way to Sheriff Harvey. And this was our way of doing it.
- [01:06:18.11] AMY: Can you talk a little bit about Genie?
- [01:06:20.50] PUN PLAMONDON: Genie P.?
- [01:06:21.22] AMY: Yeah.
- [01:06:22.50] PUN PLAMONDON: She was a princess of the worn forest. And Genie P. Had no fear. Genie P. was a very good organizer. And she organized a group that I wasn't interested in organizing. I was more interested in organizing bikers. I spent a lot of time organizing bikers, bikers in Detroit, Ypsilanti, Inkster, Black bike groups as well as white bike groups.
- [01:06:54.35] She organized the younger ones. When I say younger, I'm talking about the 15, 16, 17-year-olds. By this time, I was trying to organize an older type of activist. She organized-- you probably know-- the Psychedelic Rangers.
- [01:07:12.10] One of the negotiations we had with the police department around these free concerts in the park was that the cops had to stay out of the park because every time the cops go in the park, they start a riot. They don't know how to handle this set. If we provide our own alternative-- there's that word again-- our own alternative security force, we don't need the cops. The cops can be out on the road directing traffic, where they belong.
- [01:07:40.94] So they went for it. So Genie P. organized the Psychedelic Rangers. I No grant money. I mean, this was just stone-- hey, gather around here, that kind of organizing, man. That's amazing. That's courage, for one thing. And it's just, fill in the breach, man, stepping up into the breach.
- [01:08:04.18] I just admired her so much. By this time, they were all kids. And I just wasn't so much into them, like I was probably two years before that. And damn if she didn't do it, and kept the cops out of the fucking parks. I mean, there's City Council and county commissioners who can't do that. You know I mean?
- [01:08:30.35] And Genie P. Was just a girl. I mean, she didn't have no degree. She was very smart. But what I'm saying is that it was so empowering at that time to be encouraged and to see what you can do.
- [01:08:48.07] I learned mine when I was in the union because they were paying me big money. And I'd drive down. And I can remember Saginaw, this huge 80 acre field full of pickles, man. And all these people bent over in this pickle field, and pulling my car over and walking out there and organizing these people.
- [01:09:07.39] I didn't have a clue how to do it. I knew that you had to say, habla ingles to a whole bunch of people. And you'd ultimately find somebody who habla ingleses, and then you organize him. And then he tells all the-- hey man, union, Cesar Chavez, da-da-da.
- [01:09:23.98] And I know what that takes because I had some times where, man, I'm out here out in the middle of this 80 acre field all by myself, with a bunch of people who don't even speak my language. And I'm trying to get them to commit to something. But once I got over it, it was all right. And that's what Genie P. did, man. And Jesus Christ, kids doing some of the most incredible stuff. Man.
- [01:09:51.61] AMY: Gary Grimshaw?
- [01:09:53.20] PUN PLAMONDON: Oh Gary Grimshaw is just a genius of geniuses. Just a wonderful guy. I don't know, self sacrificing to a fault. When we lived in Detroit above the Artists Workshop-- the Artists Workshop commune was a former dentist's office-- there were all these cubby holes. And Grimshaw, his cubby hole was right across from my cubby hole. And We got to be real good friends. And as we mentioned earlier, he's very quiet. And I think that just comes from spending hours and hours at a drafting table, and just drawing, and living in this world of colors and design and stuff.
- [01:10:41.22] But I used to go in all the time and say, what're you working on? And he'd show me his latest poster for the Grandian. The technology has all changed now. But in those days, you had one piece a paper with the design on it. Well, this is blue and then this overlay comes over it. And he'd have this piece of acetate and he'd show me that. And that's red. And then he'd have another piece. And walls of four color posters of all this art work done. And it was just amazing.
- [01:11:11.73] And when I got to start doing designing and printing fliers-- little 8 and 1/2 by 11s-- all that stuff, by watching Grimshaw and asking him about his work, that all applied to what I was doing here. And I understood about framing a piece and the bold headline at the top, and what a subhead is, and then how you work your way down in information, and always make sure the date and the place and locations. And all that stuff, which I guess kids go to school for that. And I learned it in one summer just watching Grimshaw.
- [01:11:51.71] He is just a wonderful person. And he was one of those ones, like we spoke about David and Leni, Genie P. He's one of those ones who put his life on the line. I mean, he wasn't just there for the glory. He was there with his guts out on the street. He hid me when I was on the 10 most wanted list, causing him some stress with his wife, as you can imagine. I can imagine someone on the 10 most wanted list coming to my house today. I'd say, you're out of your fucking mind, man. Get out of here.
- [01:12:28.32] [LAUGHING]
- [01:12:30.21] PUN PLAMONDON: And I feel bad about it. But that's how I would feel. And I can hear Judy, now we got to move again. Get him out of here. And he's still as solid as he ever was. He designed and did the cover of my book, of course for free. And didn't ask for anything and never would. He's just a good, generous, solid dude who I love dearly.
- [01:12:59.67] ANDREW: How about David Fenton?
- [01:13:01.13] PUN PLAMONDON: Fenton is another one of them geniuses. When the Supreme Court ruled in my favor, our favor, around the wiretap issue, I was released from prison. 10 months later, I was re-arrested on a 30 pound marijuana deal that kind of backfired. I wasn't the dealer, but I was hanging in with the dealer. And so we had to go to trial up in Cadillac, Michigan.
- [01:13:29.30] And we were well organized. We rented a house up there that slept 10 people. And we sent some cadre up there. Skippy Taube came out as the house manager, did all the cooking, all the cleaning, took messages. In those days, remember, it's all telephone calls and stuff. But that answering the phone and taking messages was a really important part of our operation.
- [01:13:56.42] It was one level up from SDS. As I mentioned in my book, there wasn't a phone number for SDS. You couldn't call SDS. You couldn't call a lot of different people. Or if you did, you'd hear, [GRUMBLING VOICE] yeah, no, I don't know. And they'd hang up, like calling a frat house or something. But we took it serious.
- [01:14:16.80] And we learned that from the Black Panthers because they had this thing called the officer of the day. And it's rotated, so everyone got to be the officer of the day. And you learned about taking messages, escorting people through the house, keeping track of the keys, keeping track where David Sinclair is and where is Pun Plamondon, and just being that person. And since everybody had to do it, we all were learning these skills of how to deal with the public.
- [01:14:46.89] And no one in the movement was doing that because they didn't have any long-term vision. It was all about the next demonstration. It was all about ending the war. And then we can all go back to just living in the suburbs. Where we were trying to be professional. We were really trying to build something.
- [01:15:04.52] So anyway, Fenton was our media genius. And he went up to trial with us. And every day he would interview either the prosecutor, or Buck Davis, or a witness, or he'd have some story. And then he'd go in-- I just love this-- with his little tape recorder, little cassette tape recorder, and he'd take the phone, and he'd take the mouthpiece out of the phone. And he'd take these alligator clips, and he'd hook them to those two leads on the phone. And then he'd hook the other alligator clips into his tape recorder, then he would call WABX in Detroit, and he'd say, yeah, I got the latest on Pun's trial in Cadillac. And they'd say, run it. And he'd mash the button.
- [01:15:51.13] And what happened today in court is out over to WABX, for Christ's sakes. And the ABX-- the Air Aces, as the DJs were called-- they'd always play it, oh, right from the front lines, we got him-- And it blew me away. And Fenton would do it every day.
- [01:16:09.14] And once a week, we brought a mimeograph machine with us and reams of paper. And once a week, we would put out a press release. And we'd send it to not just ABX, but the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, point out contradictions in testimony, and do all this shit that big time defenses do. And we were doing it for nothing.
- [01:16:32.97] We got all of our food donated by Eden Foods. I just think, that's such a cool-- they're such a capitalist institution now. They were right out there.
- [01:16:47.09] So that's the thing about Sinclair is that he had this way of attracting these people. And with his constant encouragement, do it, yeah, sounds great, do it. I like to say that I grew up in the time of no and can't. You know, no, don't do that, and you can't. For me, growing up in no and can't, and then hanging around with Sinclair was like it was a new day.
- [01:17:22.09] And Sinclair brought a lot of guys-- Rudnick and Frawley. They were both DJs. He stole them from New Jersey and got them to move out here so they could go on the radio at WABX. Sinclair had completely infiltrated-- himself personally-- had completely infiltrated WABX to the point where he got them to hire these two guys from New Jersey. I mean, Jesus.
- [01:17:47.80] And Fenton was one of them. Sinclair recruited Fenton away from the Liberation News Service. The Liberation News Service was the one alternative or underground news service in the whole country. You bought a subscription and they sent you a big pack of stuff.
- [01:18:03.87] Most of the stuff that isn't about Ann Arbor in the Ann Arbor Sun comes from the Liberation News Service. You'll see it sited. We stole it, because you're supposed to pay so much a month, and we never did it. It worked out in the end.
- [01:18:18.37] So that's Fenton. So Fenton was highly qualified. He was running the Liberation News Service. And Sinclair swooped in and stole him. And we stole a guy named Richie Silverman from Prentice Hall publishers. Prentice Hall was publishing Sinclair's book. And in the course of buying and publishing Sinclair's book-- what is it? Rainbow Nation, I think-- the guy he's supposed to be dealing with is this guy, Richie Silverman. Shit, f canceled, or I mean, after they published Sinclair's book he quit Prentice Hall and moved all the way to Ann Arbor and got to be a big shot in the Blues and Jazz Festival.
- [01:19:01.42] And the Blues and Jazz Festival, that's another whole--
- [01:19:03.47] AMY: I know.
- [01:19:04.30] PUN PLAMONDON: Jesus Christ
- [01:19:06.54] ANDREW: Do we want to talk about how things in Ann Arbor started to fall apart?
- [01:19:11.67] PUN PLAMONDON: In '74, when the White Panther Party started to dissolve, I left Genie P.-- or she left me, it isn't really clear. And I moved in with lovely-- I can't remember what alias I used in my book for this woman. Oh, she was beautiful. And then I got hooked up with the New World Film Co-op. And I don't know, it's probably not the same around the University now. There's not a lot of film co-ops?
- [01:19:43.23] AMY: They may have all kind of fallen apart.
- [01:19:45.65] PUN PLAMONDON: Yeah, it would seem, with the internet and Netflix and all that stuff, it would have. But at that time, there were a lot of them. There was five or six or eight of them. And they were all jockeying for and fighting for auditorium space. And the New World Film Co-op was right in there.
- [01:20:05.25] Well, these guys-- the New World Film Co-op-- had an office on the fourth floor of the Michigan Union. At that time, student groups had office space, fourth floor Michigan Union. They turned that office space into a print shop. And they were printing not only their own flyers, because that was the principal thing for movie co-ops is print flyers and get them up. I know there's a lot of flyers around town still. It was even more so then. But they were also soliciting and getting jobs from other film co-ops, as well as from just-- because they started advertising-- walk-ins, students and whatnot.
- [01:20:50.30] So the White Panther Party fell apart. I moved in out on State Street with this beautiful woman. And the New World Film Co-op contacted me and said, hey, do you want to run our print co-op? And I said I'd be interested. And so I said, I'll do it if you separate the print co-op from the New World Film Co-op.
- [01:21:14.61] And so they did that. And I had my offices on the fourth floor of the Union. I did all of their printing for free. But the money that I charged, I kept it for everybody else. It wasn't a co-op, first of all, it was just the name. But it was cheaper printing than Kinko's, or any place else around town. It was cost plus 30%, as I recall.
- [01:21:38.84] Ultimately, the New World Film Co-op ripped off the University for like $40,000. It kept getting films from distributors, not paying the bill, but then sweet-talking a distributor for another film, and another film. And at the end, when their shit started falling apart, they were telling me that they owed the University $40,000 and that they were going to El Salvador.
- [01:22:03.77] So I did that for a couple years, ran the print co-op. It might have been the best job I ever had because, as you know, on the second floor is the billiard room. I had an answering machine in my office on the fourth floor that said you can contact me at this number. And the number was the pay phone right next to the snooker table on the second floor. And in those days, you'd bring your quart of beer with you, you'd bring your little doobie.
- [01:22:37.95] And I hung out with a lot of political people there, Moose Pamp, and some of the people from the American Indian movement who were going to the University here, they hung out there. And so that's how I spent probably two years while I was running the co-op is down there in the pool. And then my buddy, the Cheezburger, contacted me. He was working for Kiss, and Kiss was putting on six new trucks for this big tour, the "Dressed to Kill" tour, and would I want to be a truck driver? And I said, sounds good.
- [01:23:09.65] So I don't know how about everybody else, how they fell apart, because I know that our party, we had a big meeting. I'm told this, I don't particularly remember it, but I'm told by Sinclair that we had a big meeting in January. And people had to decide. Sinclair was moving to Detroit and taking the newspaper with him. They had a floor, a suite, in the Fort Pick Shelby Hotel, or something like that. And now's the time to decide. Do you want to stay here in Ann Arbor, do you want to move to Detroit with us? I decided to stay.
- [01:23:46.52] I think had I decided to move with them, I might have been voted out because things are really starting to fall apart. Genie P. was in good graces with Frank and Peggy and Genie P. And Barbara Weinberg moved, and David Fenton moved. I like to say the serious people moved. And I decided not to.
- [01:24:11.93] ANDREW: Now, why would you have been thrown out? Was that because your personal relations had falling apart? Or was it drinking?
- [01:24:20.04] PUN PLAMONDON: Well, if my personal relationships had fallen apart, it was because of drinking. So I don't know exactly. I know that Sinclair and I weren't getting along. When the financial crunch comes, everything is heightened.
- [01:24:35.51] He might accuse me of not bringing in any money. And I would respond by, you put on the whole Blues and Jazz Festival and didn't earn any money. And it's just cold, it's kind of like a divorce. It's just cold in the house, there's no joy, no one's glad to see you. And I just had that feeling. Plus, I'd been staying away for weeks at a time. And Genie P. staying away with her new beau, or whoever it was, for weeks at a time.
- [01:25:04.56] So it wasn't like any anguish or anything about it. It was like, let's get it out on the table and we can talk about it. Because I love-- and I think they and me, throughout all this-- I love them, and loved them. Well, I might get angry, or they angry at me. But I know what these people went through. And they went through a lot of it for me. I'm probably sitting here because of the effort and the love and the energy that these people put into me.
- [01:25:33.45] So if anything, Fenton might have-- I know he's got an opinion on Sinclair. But I wasn't there for whatever grief those two had between them. But on the other hand, I don't think Fenton thinks all that highly of me. Probably today, if we're sitting like this, no doubt we would have mutual respect.
- [01:25:59.63] But I wasn't his favorite person. I was pretty hard on him. I mean, he was a New York Jew, you know. And I didn't know any better. I don't feel that way now. I've changed a great deal. But he wasn't into manual labor. He didn't know anything, in my opinion. He knew how to take photographs, and he always had a radio with him. And that just used to pissed me off.
- [01:26:26.98] AMY: A little bit earlier, when you had gotten back from being underground, you had mentioned that you were a little behind the times. You were talking about how the women's movement has started, and they were treating them differently there.
- [01:26:39.05] PUN PLAMONDON: Gay movement.
- [01:26:39.76] AMY: Was that part of this as well is that you just, from that point on, that you felt like as though you were just sort of starting to separate with them? Or was this just more as the financial thing fell apart?
- [01:26:53.41] PUN PLAMONDON: I never felt I was separating from them until the real financial crunch came, because that was the Blues and Jazz Festival we did in Windsor. And the first one that we did here, no one made any money but it wasn't a flop. And then the second one, during the year, that's when the goddamn Republicans passed a law about amplifying. They thought they were going to stop us, so we had our Blues and Jazz Festival in exile, which just complicated everything way beyond.
- [01:27:31.53] After I got out of prison-- I got out in July and the Festival was in September-- so I was made the head of program sales. So I went out on the streets and got my little hippies and Shakey Jake and other folks. And we sold out on programs. And they were only a buck and a half. But still, when Sinclair and I would argue, I would say, I'm the only son of a bitch who made any money.
- [01:27:59.74] [LAUGHING]
- [01:28:01.96] PUN PLAMONDON: Selling programs. So you know, I love all them guys. They were just tremendous. It's a wonderful [INAUDIBLE] It's the only reason to be alive, really, is having those kind of people around you, and those kind of things. I find that life today is very boring for me. There's not much that inspires me. Talking about this stuff, particularly with younger people, is, I feel I'm really trying to pass something on here. And we'll see how it works.
- [01:28:35.39] AMY: John said the very same thing when we talked to him, boring these days. After that, you continued to have the trouble with drinking. I know that you had done some more of the touring with the bands and such. Did you miss-- through the '80s, the late '70s and '80s-- did you then wish that you could be back in a situation like that?
- [01:28:59.29] PUN PLAMONDON: Oh, no.
- [01:28:59.77] AMY: No, you were glad to be done with it?
- [01:29:01.25] PUN PLAMONDON: The issue was over, the Vietnam War had ended. I thought, and I put some little bit of effort into thinking that we need to channel this anti-war energy into the environment. That's going to be the next thing. That's the one thing that everyone can coalesce around. The draft is gone now. But it didn't happen that way. People just went their own ways because the draft, I think, was the real catalyst that brought all that effort together that ultimately ended the war.
- [01:29:36.52] No, I didn't miss it. And on the other hand, man, I mean, I'm working for Bob Seger. I'm riding in jets, I'm stay in Hyatt Regency hotels. I'm meeting a lot of interesting women. What's to wish about?
- [01:29:53.55] Unfortunately, it was just that lifestyle that led to my ultimate downfall, plenty of alcohol, lots of money in my pocket, and plenty of cocaine. So it all ended as anyone would know it would, except the person who's doing it to themselves.
- [01:30:14.07] But that's why Seger finally let me go, is everyone on the road-- the Cheezburger told me later-- they said, everyone could see it, you were just going down the tubes. And so Seger let me go. Then the cocaine wasn't around anymore, but there was plenty of alcohol. And I just dove head first into alcohol abuse, and stayed that way for probably two or three years.
- [01:30:40.52] And I wasn't literally run out of Ann Arbor. But I burned down all my friends after a while, sleeping on their couch, eating their groceries. Everyone else is getting up at 8 o'clock and going to work, or doing something. And there's me, and I'm not that much fun anymore because I'm drunk all the time and I'm mean and I'm unkempt. You see them kind of people on the Diag all the time. And that's just the kind of person I was.
- [01:31:07.88] So I moved over to the west side of the state and started mooching off my sister, and stayed with my sister in her basement as long as I could. And she pawned me off to my brother, and did the same thing there. I finally got run out of my brother's house and got a job at this summer camp, this Circle Pines, which is made up of all progressive people. Its origins are back in the old labor movement. It was founded in 1938 as the first cooperatively owned recreation summer type camp in the country.
- [01:31:45.07] And its roots are all in the old labor movement, and the old Communist Party, and Socialist Party, and that sort of stuff. So it's my kind of people. But nevertheless, once one is on that ever increasing downhill slide due to drugs or alcohol, you've got to hit something to stop. And so I finally hit my bottom and met my wife. We've been married now almost 25 years.
- [01:32:10.28] But that inspired me to want to get sober because I had certainly drank all the fun out of it. And I was a maintenance alcoholic, but I wasn't very good at maintaining. And my love at the time, my present wife, just was not about to cotton to any foolishness. When I met her, she had worked 14 years as a director of a methadone clinic in inner-city Chicago. So I'm not going to tell her anything she hasn't heard before 100 times better.
- [01:32:46.69] So she was just unrelenting as if, you want to be with me, you got to cut her loose. And so I went through a tremendous struggle of trying to get sober. And in the course of that, I met some Ottawa people, and in particular, one Ottawa man, Louis [INAUDIBLE]. And he's passed on since then. But he was a big Elder in the Ottawa, the same as my tribe.
- [01:33:10.67] Now, I guess if I'm going to talk about that, I should explain that I was adopted as a kid. And by the time I was 10, I knew I was Indian, but I didn't know any tribe. I was told by my adopted parents.
- [01:33:23.35] And it just wasn't a factor in my life. I didn't pay any attention to what they said, that I was Native American. And going to Catholic school up in Traverse City, there was only like three Native Americans in the whole school. And they were all poor and somewhat grubby. And so it wasn't like something I would aspire to be.
- [01:33:43.85] I didn't know who my biological parents are. And then I'll refer back to this 30 pound pot deal that we got hooked up in, in Cadillac. This was after I had been on the FBI's 10 most wanted list.
- [01:33:56.04] Well, we were charged with six felonies. We were acquitted of five felonies. And we were convicted of one. And that is, extortion by threat of accusation. In other words, this guy who owed us $3,000, we told him that if he didn't pay us the money, we were going to print his picture in our newspaper as a ripoff artist. And so he'd better pay or be discredited.
- [01:34:19.75] Well, that's extortion by threat of accusation. Even though it might be a legal debt, you can't use this threat of exposure. And so they convicted us. So we were going to sentence, me and the Cheezburger and Buck Davis.
- [01:34:35.68] I liked writing about them. My wife read what I wrote about that day of getting sentenced. Doing nitrous oxide the whole night before, sucking down beers, stopping on the way out of town to get a 12-pack of Beck's, and racing at 100 miles an hour all the way to Cadillac because we were late, and smoking reefers on the way, and whatnot.
- [01:34:59.81] Well, when we get standing before the judge, you know, you're looking up at the judge. And he's got this sheath of papers in front of him. And he says to Buck, he says, have you seen this pre-sentence report? And Buck said, no. And so he said, well, I'm going to postpone sentencing for an hour so you can read this.
- [01:35:20.38] So we read it, and what it was, was an FBI report, a psychological report from the FBI from what they call their behavioral science division-- or today we call them profilers-- about this guy, Pun Plamondon. And there, the FBI did the research to whereby I found out that my biological father's name was [? Louis Akin, ?] my biological mother's name was [? Louise Cota, ?] and that they were both patients in the Traverse City State Hospital, my father suffering from chronic alcoholism, my mother suffering from syphilis, and there I go.
- [01:35:56.35] Well, wow, this was a mind blower. Except that it wasn't a mind blower because we had an hour. And the whole idea of looking at this pre-sentence report is I'm trying to find the one sentence that's going to send me to prison for 65 years, so that I can challenge it. So Buck slid the papers, did you see this? And he had it bracketed, and I said, wow, that's interesting, man, and flung it back, and goes through looking for that one line that I got to defend against.
- [01:36:26.77] Well, 10 years later, or 15 years later when I'm trying to get sober, and I'm crying, and I'm remorseful, like an alcoholic is, feeling guilty and remorse and sad, and all this stuff. I say, you know, I've got some papers from the FBI someplace that says I'm Indian. And my wife, being smart, and also being a counselor, she says, why don't you get those out? So I get them out, and there it is in the FBI report. Father's name, [? Louis Akin, ?] an Army veteran, and graduated from the eighth grade. And mother, a long distance telephone operator from Canada, Ojibwe. There it is. And I still didn't do anything with it.
- [01:37:12.34] So unbeknownst to me, my wife called one of the Ottawa tribes. And she spoke to this guy named [? Bill Monberto, ?] which I come to find out later is one of my cousins-- a distant cousin-- but he's related to me. And he said, oh yeah, we get that all the time, alcoholics trying to reconnect with their tribe to try to get some spirituality and that. Have him call me. So that started it all.
- [01:37:36.27] Louis really started it all. There was a woman who lived at the Felch Street house, the Weathermen house. And she was a new mother, had the babe in arms. And when the Weathermen decided to go underground, when they had their vote and their flint-- war council, they called it-- and they decided to go underground, they voted her out because she had this infant. And so she was excluded.
- [01:38:04.19] So 15 years, she-- the woman with the infant-- is writing for the Detroit News, and she calls me and says, I'm doing an article on Famous Radicals: Where are They Now? And I want you to be a subject, and Bill Ayers is going to be the other subject. So this woman-- writer for the Detroit News-- invites me to Lake Leelanau for this interview. And she lives with her husband and daughter, who was the infant 15 years ago on Felch Street.
- [01:38:38.41] And so she does an interview with me. She does an eight hour interview. But as I say in the book, that eight hour interview crystallized in my mind the book because, well, this is the story. OK, this is the story. And when we were all done, we're in the kitchen, we're putting cups on the counter and cleaning up, like you would after spending eight hours at the kitchen table. And she says, she looks out, oh, my husband's home.
- [01:39:06.81] And so Louis comes in. And geez, he's this big son of a bitch. He's like 6'6" and big, and a chest like a 55 gallon barrel. He's just a big dude. And he's older than I am. He's like 65, at this time I was 35. So he's old, and this was her husband. She's my age, she's 35. And so, naturally-- like any man would say-- damn, he's doing all right for himself. How's he do that?
- [01:39:42.32] And she introduced me, this is Louis. And so I say, well, you're Indian. And he said, I know. And we just chit-chatted, the way you might. And then he left the room, and he came back 10 minutes later and he had this bundle in his arm. And it's all wrapped up in a blanket, the Pendleton blanket. And I know now that it's called a pipe bundle. But I didn't know that then. So he says, I'm going to smoke this pipe, would you like to join me? And I'm still thinking like a hippie. Oh, boy, an authentic Indian peace pipe ceremony, whoopie. But of course I said yes.
- [01:40:20.47] And so we went into his living room and he opened his bundle up, and he got his pipe. And he starts like them pipe carriers do, they start talking about their pipe, and why the female part of the pipe is the bowl made out of the stone, and the male part of the pipe is the stem made out of wood and when they come together, they're a sacred object. And they load that pipe. And they spin it every once in a while. And he'd point it at a direction, then he'd put some more tobacco in it, and he'd spin it.
- [01:40:51.86] And he'd be praying while he was doing this. And he'd say, I want to invite all the elders who live in the Eastern direction to come over here and see what we're doing, and see that we're doing this thing good, and it's respectful. And he kept doing that.
- [01:41:05.96] And at one point, he spun that pipe around and he pointed it out the window. And he said, all our tall brothers stand around us and don't move. And I had an actual physical reaction. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and my arms.
- [01:41:20.38] And the oddest thing is that we were sitting on the floor. So I was looking at the floor, and I could see that I was perpendicular to the floor. But it felt like I was leaning. I felt like I was way off balance. And it was just odd. And I knew when he said that and pointed outside that window that he was talking about the trees-- even though he didn't say trees-- the tall brothers who don't move.
- [01:41:47.57] And then we'd smoke the pipe and just pass it, and then lean back on our elbows and visit, like you would. And at one point, I had seen in the back of his refrigerator three or four beers. And I was still really struggling with my alcoholism.
- [01:42:05.18] And I said something about the beers in his refrigerator. And he says, God, are those still there? And I said, yeah, I saw them. He says, I forgot they were even there. And I says, well, can you drink? And he says, oh, I have a beer or so, but it's not really what I'm about. He says, we had those there because we were making shrimp, beer battered shrimp, or something.
- [01:42:27.72] So I tell him my story about how I can't get sober. I was the kind of alcoholic who would be sober for two weeks and then fall off the wagon. And the falling off the wagon is worse each time. I mean, I wrecked my car, totaled that out. I took my wife's car, I totaled that out. I took my wife's 18 speed bicycle, I totaled that out. I mean, I was going down the tubes.
- [01:42:57.50] And I was going to AA meetings. And everyone in the AA meetings kept saying, man, you got to get some spirituality in your life. Well, being an old Marxist and alienated from the dominant culture, and I had long ago given up on anything that had to do with religion, not spirituality, but with religion.
- [01:43:18.14] And of course, everyone in the AA meetings, well, they were are Christians. So everything was in their framework of the higher power, and all that sort of stuff. So I told Louis, I said, I just can't get it, man, this higher power business. And blah, blah [MUMBLING] And I'm going to just die an alcoholic. And Louis said, oh, higher power, yeah well, they must be talking about the great mystery.
- [01:43:45.80] And boy, as soon as he said great mystery, it was the proverbial light bulb. And I can remember almost being pissed off. I've been through all this grief, and all I've got to believe in is that there's a great mystery? Yeah, well-- That's what Gitche Manitou means. A lot of times it's translated as Gitche is great or big, spirit, a Manitou is spirit. But it could also mean big or great mystery. It can be big or great ghost. It has to do with that ephemeral part of being a spirit.
- [01:44:23.47] So I latched on to that. And said, OK, that's all I believe in. There's a great mystery in this world and I don't know anything about it, that's what makes it a mystery. You see, my problem with organized religion is that they're trying to solve the mystery, and they don't have a fucking clue either, is my opinion.
- [01:44:43.44] So that was something like 24 years ago. And I just quit drinking. They say in AA that the obsession to drink will be lifted from you when you have this spiritual-- They encourage the spiritual awakening, and it's true. Like I often say, I don't believe in miracles, but one happened to me. And I don't believe in magic, but magic happened to me.
- [01:45:06.84] Because I was the type of alcoholic who could do my two weeks, let's say, and then I'd get this notion. I always picture it as the devil. The devil's on this side and the angel's on this side. And the devil would say something like, man, you just got paid $300. Man, Richard Nixon could drink, why the hell can't you drink? Man, you deserve it, you're sober two weeks now.
- [01:45:38.61] And it would take the first one, and then I'd just be off. Part of my mind is saying, oh, I just fucked up two weeks of sobriety. And it's so hard to get two weeks of sobriety, and now look what I've done. I might as well let her rip, and let the chips fall where they may. That's how I wrecked all them cars, and the 10 speed bicycle, and all that other stuff.
- [01:46:00.01] So it really was lifted from me. To this very day, I don't have an angel over here encouraging me to drink. The problem is, it's not that the devil wants me to drink. But I had no angel over here saying, man, remember what happened the last time? Remember the consequences? Remember Pat? Remember her coming to get you out of jail? I didn't have any of that, so I would always fail.
- [01:46:28.56] And then one day after talking to Louis and starting to believe in this is my higher power, this great mystery. Damn if it wasn't just relieved, because I could never do it, that struggle between good and evil, I'm not good at that. I always go with evil, because it's easier. It's a lot easier.
- [01:46:48.94] AMY: So do you feel more spiritual now, much more so than you were before?
- [01:46:54.66] PUN PLAMONDON: Oh, yeah. I am spiritual.
- [01:46:56.56] AMY: Is there a difference between believing in a higher power, and believing in, say, the power of the people? Which is what your previous sort of--
- [01:47:05.61] PUN PLAMONDON: I think you can believe in both. They're not opposed to each other. I mean, atheistic Marxists might have an issue with that. But I don't have an issue with being an atheist or not an atheist, or agnostic, not. Part of the situation was-- I believe-- that when I didn't have any spirituality, I was angry at everybody else's because it didn't make any sense.
- [01:47:33.01] Now that I've got my form of spirituality, I want to respect yours because I want you to respect mine. I don't expect you'll ever believe it. Please don't believe my spirituality, it'll drive you crazy. It's not to be trusted.
- [01:47:46.70] But I feel the same way about yours. I mean, I don't want to know anything about yours. I mean, as a friend sitting around, we could talk about this. But in terms of trying to propagate one another's ideas, I'm not interested in that.
- [01:48:01.98] ANDREW: What was the effect of writing your book? Of having to sit down and tell the story of your life from beginning to the present day? What effect did that have on you?
- [01:48:12.58] PUN PLAMONDON: Well, not the effect my wife wished it had. She wanted a very cataclysmic, eye opening, turn the corner, be a different person sort of story. I mean, she loves me for who I am, don't get me wrong. But she told me once, I wish you'd have been more enlightened after writing your book.
- [01:48:40.98] But I came to a moment of truth in the book, not about myself so much, but about writing. And I told the story about my mother, and how she was oftentimes less than kind. Today, we would call it child abuse. At that time, it was how all of my friend's mothers treated their kids. Everyone was slapping their kids around all the time. And Catholic school, I mean, that's what it was about, punishment.
- [01:49:12.72] So I didn't feel abused. But we know now by the standards of today that twisting a kid's ear off, or pinching a kid, and doing it repeatedly and having it be one of the primary means of discipline, that's wrong.
- [01:49:28.35] So I told this stuff about my mother. And then I got to the part later in the book where I came to the part of the story where I had to talk about the sexual assault that I'd committed against my friend's wife. And most of my female friends are feminists. The woman who was the first reader is a blazing feminist. In fact, I started using one of her quotes because one of her quotes is, she underlined a line and she said, this makes my skin crawl. And I want that as a blurb on the back of my book. I mean, that's what a writer's looking for, a visceral reaction. Oh, I think that's the greatest compliment.
- [01:50:15.03] So I was kind of going through some like, Jesus man, what about these women who I respect, and I want their respect because they're dynamic, young people. And then I'd say, well, I was hard on my mom. When I got to the part about the Cadillac 30 pound pot deal, there's a story in there about the judge, and I met his mistress. And my wife, she worked for the court at the time. And she says, oh, you can't put that in there. The judge, I mean, Jesus Christ, he's a judge.
- [01:50:47.86] And I said, well, I put my mom in there. How does this guy get to slide? So I put the truth about the judge-- I didn't use his name-- but I put the truth about the judge screwing his mistress in the courtroom, making her wear the robes. I mean, goddamn, he ain't no better than I am. I'm just as twisted as that.
- [01:51:12.19] So when I came to the part about the sexual assault, I just told it honestly as I remember it. Now, I was in the middle of a blackout, so I remember part of it. I remember getting hit on the head with a dust mop. Then I have a blackout. Then I remember being outside and seeing all the gravel in the driveway.
- [01:51:34.52] So I learned from that that you can just put the shit out there. I was sick then, I'm not so sick now. I'm a different person, I'm better. I went to my 45th class reunion. And I saw there a kid that I used to tease mercilessly. I was never a physical bully. But I'd make people cry.
- [01:51:56.47] And I saw him, and I asked him to sit down with me. And I told him that I was sorry. I said, I made your life miserable. He said, I know, I remember. And I told him I was sorry, that I was a kid who was really mixed up, and screwed up, and making fun of you made me feel better.
- [01:52:15.81] [LAUGHING]
- [01:52:17.97] PUN PLAMONDON: But anyway, what else can you do? I did these things. And I wouldn't do them now. And I'm full of shame about them. If the book's of any value, it's got to be honest. It's got to have something to say.
- [01:52:32.82] I was at a book signing up in Grand Rapids. And after I did my little reading and people were buying some books and I'm signing them. And this little old lady came up. And she was with her daughter, probably 35-year-old daughter.
- [01:52:49.51] She waited until everyone was gone, and this old woman with her daughter beside her, standing in front of me. And the old woman in this little bitty voice said, when I was nine years old, I had a pelvic exam. I don't know why-- or I didn't know why-- she says, I know now. She said, I've never told my husband. But after reading your book, I'm going to tell my husband.
- [01:53:18.81] This is an old lady, I mean, talking 75, 80 years old. And she starts crying. And I'm just like, oh, God, take me out of this. I don't know how to handle it. When just my peers cry, I don't know how to handle it. But this old grandma, and I just left there, I don't know how to take this. I had no intention when writing the book to have some sort of effect on people.
- [01:53:48.10] And this is so far in left field, I wouldn't have thought about this for a million years. But she said, your honesty in the book makes me want to tell my husband this. She'd been married like 50 years. Jesus Christ, that's more than you can bargain for, man. And if you took it on as a responsibility, I don't think it would work. Like, well, I'm going to make people feel good about being honest. Maybe you could do that in a novel, but not in this book.
- [01:54:19.88] So anyway, that blew me away, that kind of stuff. And if you ever write something and have people like my first reader, this made my skin crawl. That's just amazing that I actually wrote something that made someone puke. Or maybe let him have it.
- [01:54:36.37] ANDREW: Oh, God, when you were getting held down and getting cut on, I'm wincing. I could barely continue. It's just terrifying.
- [01:54:46.05] PUN PLAMONDON: Well, I felt good about writing that. I wish there was another word for slice because it's one letter too long. Because the sound is more like, sss sss sss. But slice is all I had to work with. Well, if I have a gift, it's storytelling.
- [01:55:04.22] ANDREW: Do you see it as a different art to tell stories from Native American mythology, as being different from telling autobiographical stories? Or do you think it's a very different thing, it's a very different art?
- [01:55:18.30] PUN PLAMONDON: No, the art isn't any different. A good story is like good music. It's music, whether it's rock and roll or if it's a symphony. Well, I treat the Native American stories with a lot more respect than I treat my story. I don't swear in Native American stories. Many, if not all, at one time, if not now, are sacred and so I just treat them better.
- [01:55:52.41] ANDREW: Does that take effort to treat them better? Or do you just--
- [01:55:55.47] PUN PLAMONDON: No.
- [01:55:56.09] ANDREW: You don't have to think, I got to make sure to keep this clean? It's just you have that respect within you, and therefore it comes out--
- [01:56:01.78] PUN PLAMONDON: No, because I'm in the culture then. That's when I'm in the culture, when I'm telling Native stories. Now, I'm a Native American. When I'm here in Ann Arbor talking about the '60s, I'm Pun Plamondon, the unrepentant radical.
- [01:56:15.09] ANDREW: And those are two separate things for you?
- [01:56:18.63] PUN PLAMONDON: I got a website under Pun Plamondon, the unrepentant radical, and Larry Plamondon, the Ottawa story man.
- [01:56:28.37] AMY: When you look back on the late '60s, early '70s, what's one thing that you would do differently, and what are you most proud of that Pun Plamondon, that person at that time? What are you most proud of?
- [01:56:41.58] PUN PLAMONDON: Well, one of the things is that I associated with all these geniuses. And collectively, we had quite an impact on something. We changed the Michigan marijuana laws. And the day that law was changed, 168 people got out of prison.
- [01:57:02.68] AMY: That's a lot.
- [01:57:03.51] PUN PLAMONDON: That's something. I mean, these people got their freedom from that hellhole of Jackson Prison. They got to walk out the fucking door. Sinclair paid the biggest price, but everybody, Leni, David, myself to some extent before I went underground, my former wife, Genie P. All of them, they gave their heart and soul for that. And the whole state benefited in a certain way.
- [01:57:31.10] And we were active in Ann Arbor electoral politics, when we formed a coalition with the Human Rights Party, elected two socialists to City Council. But it's just like the students, they just when the shit gets tough, they want to pull out, because they can, because they're rich. In the next election it came down to we wanted to run somebody for sheriff.
- [01:57:56.02] Being Marxist-Leninists and Mao Tse-tung followers, we believe in the adage that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. And if you've got the City Council, or you're people on City Council, and you've got the Sheriff's Department, the sheriff is a lead law enforcement officer in the whole county. He's above the state police, he's above local Ann Arbor police. If you've got that, you've got some real political power.
- [01:58:24.46] And they said, well, what if we have to evict somebody? That's why they didn't want to run, because they'd have to arrest people. Of course, if you're the sheriff, you've got to arrest people. But if you've got to evict somebody, you can help arrange for a shelter for people getting evicted at a moment's notice. I mean, you got tools now. And they didn't want to do it. And then we got screwed up, advocating for the wrong guy.
- [01:58:53.95] But anyway, so I'm proud of those things. And that there's an Ann Arbor food co-op, I'm proud of that. I had nothing, only a minuscule, I drove a truck a couple of times back and forth. But I associated with people who did. And I made it possible for them to do it, just like they made possible for me to organize every Sunday the free concerts in the park where we'd have 15,000 people sometimes.
- [01:59:21.81] And we had a big political fight to get the music in the park. Dumb ass Republican City Council, no amplified music in the park. Well, MC5 got arrested at West Park, the Grateful Dead played at West Park, all from us. And as it went on a couple years, I took on-- for our organization-- the main role. I worked with the local progressive Democrats and some other people. Finally, we even got a woman who, through a grant, got to be a full time, or a part time, city employee so that she could coordinate this. I mean that's dynamic shit.
- [02:00:03.71] When I was incarcerated in the Wayne County Jail waiting to go on trial for the CIA bombing, I joined a suit to sue the Wayne County Jail for inhumane conditions. I was one of six prisoners. But together, we joined and we brought suit against the Wayne County Jail and had some significant changes. They had 1,500 prisoners in a jail that was meant to hold 600.
- [02:00:29.65] And I actually smuggled into the courtroom on the day of the hearing this sandwich that they fed us. We were in a holding tank outside the courtroom, and there's 15 guys in there, and they throw in a cardboard box that's got a bunch of white bread with like bologna on it, a slice of bologna. And there's no wrapping, there's just 15 sandwiches. And it just stinks, it's just putrid.
- [02:00:58.27] I smuggled this in and they put me on the stand, and just funny little shit like that. I'd tell the judge, and he says, what are you holding, Mr. Plamondon? And I said, it's an alleged sandwich, Your Honor.
- [02:01:10.83] [LAUGHING]
- [02:01:15.05] PUN PLAMONDON: He says, well, I can smell it from over here. So we got some changes done by that. Well, here in Ann Arbor, Roster who's passed on now, but he defended me in the local court for peeing in the alley one night. And it wasn't about law and order, keeping order, it was about harassing White Panthers.
- [02:01:41.47] And the famous part of that case was, he had the arresting officer on the stand, because we pled not guilty. Ordinarily, people would cop a plea, and pay your little $35 fine. And I just said, piss on it, I ain't doing it, man. We're going to trial because this stuff's got to stop.
- [02:02:01.32] It was the night of the National Media Conference, held out on Plymouth Road at Hog Tate's farm. I wrote about that in my book. So Koster gets the arresting officer on the stand, and he says, how did you know Mr. Plamondon was urinating in the alley? And the cop says, well, I could smell it. How many hours have you taken in the urine smelling class at the academy to qualify? Is there a certificate? Do you have a urine smelling certificate? [GRUMBLING NOISE]
- [02:02:32.59] And the judge is starting to giggle, the little lady at the machine, you know, court recorder, she's giggling a little bit. And then Koster says, officer are you circumcised? And the cop's looking at the judge like, do something. And the lady's smirking. I have to answer the question. Well, yes I. am. So you know what a circumcised penis looks like? Yes, I do. Is Mr. Plamondon circumcised? Well, I don't know, I didn't see it. Well, you said it was indecent. You know, he's just going.
- [02:03:06.46] In the meantime, I know it's good when I get embarrassed. Because I'm slouching, I can say, oh, I know he's going to ask me to pull my wiener out so he can tie a tag on it, people's exhibit A.
- [02:03:21.42] So I mean, it's kind of like the Dylan song, "when you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose." I don't have any reputation. By this time, I'd been arrested 15, 20 times in Traverse City. I mean, I'd been in and out of jail, and it wasn't an issue. I'd been in reform school at 15.
- [02:03:38.85] So I fought these things and that probably didn't turn the tide of the revolution. But it's an idea that you don't have to go along with these assholes. You can just say no, you're stupid. And so that's what I tried to do. And then of course, the Supreme Court case stands on its own.
- [02:04:00.11] Again, I don't take any real personal pride in it, other than I was the dude paying the dues in the penitentiary. But as far as me having to do any heavy lifting or anything, I didn't. But nevertheless, I'm in the history book, and you ain't. If it gets to that.
- [02:04:21.01] AMY: And for being the first hippie on the FBI's 10 most wanted, are you proud of that?
- [02:04:25.57] PUN PLAMONDON: I am, I am. But if you look at the list, there were 13 on it. Bernadine Dohrn was on it, H. Rap Brown, the list was actually 13 for that year, 1969.
- [02:04:37.81] AMY: It was a big year.
- [02:04:39.11] PUN PLAMONDON: Yeah, a big year.
- [02:04:40.08] [LAUGHING]
- [02:04:43.01] [MUSIC PLAYING]
- [02:04:48.38] AMY: To learn more about Pun Plamondon, go to freeingjohnsinclair.org.
- [02:04:56.39] ANDREW: "AADL Talks to Pun Plamondon" has been a production of the Ann Arbor District Library.
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
White Panther Party
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'Summer of Love'
Detroit Artists Workshop
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People's Food Co-op
Eastern Market (Detroit)
General Motors Corp
The University of Michigan
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1520 Hill St