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Ann Arbor 200

AADL Talks To: Skip Taube, Former Member of the SDS, White Panther Party, and Community Organizer

When: April 29, 2024

Skip Taube
Skip Taube

In this episode, AADL Talks To Milton 'Skip' Taube. Skip came to Ann Arbor in 1965 and quickly became involved in radical politics as a student at the University of Michigan. He was involved with the SDS and the White Panther Party, doing both community organizing and participating in “adventurism”. Skip recalls the people and events from his time in Ann Arbor and discusses the political and cultural forces that influenced the course of his life.

Transcript

  • [00:00:08] ANDREW MACLAREN: Hi, this is Andrew.
  • [00:00:10] AMY CANTU: And this is Amy.
  • [00:00:12] ANDREW MACLAREN: In this episode, AADL talks to Skip Taube. Skip came to Ann Arbor in 1965 and quickly became involved in radical politics as a student at the University of Michigan. He was involved with the SDS and the White Panther Party, doing both community organizing and participating in adventurism. Skip recalls the people and events from his time in Ann Arbor and discusses the political and cultural forces that influence the course of his life. Thanks for being here today, Skip. Could you tell us a little bit about your family and where you grew up?
  • [00:00:45] SKIP TAUBE: I grew up in East Detroit, Michigan. It's a suburb that no longer exists. I think I went to kindergarten in St. Clair Shores after my dad got out of the Army. There was a new subdivision for the GIs. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and in about sixth grade, we moved to Torrance, California. My dad got a job opportunity out there and that was junior high school and part of high school, and that was a real different cultural experience. It was multicultural compared to the suburbs in Detroit. I got into a lot of jazz and I was in a marching band, then we moved back to Michigan when my dad lost his job and had to start over. I finished high school in Madison Heights, Lamphere High School, and graduated and got a Regents scholarship, I think it was to the University of Michigan for my math abilities. Then I moved to Ann Arbor in 1965 after graduating high school.
  • [00:01:58] AMY CANTU: What did you plan to study at U of M?
  • [00:02:01] SKIP TAUBE: I really wasn't sure, though, I did sign up for Russian, thinking, it's probably good to know foreign languages. I failed Russian two semesters in a row. That didn't work. But I don't know. It was like a liberal arts. I think the expectation was that I'd love math and continue in math. But as soon as I got to calculus and statistics, I lost all interest. It was so abstract. I couldn't even relate to it. But at the same time, that was the year of the very first teach-in against the war in Vietnam, the fall of '65, I think it was, and the beginning of the free university at the University of Michigan, which spun off of the teaching. I just dropped out of the classes in the university, but I stayed in Ann Arbor, got involved with SDS and the Children's Community School, and so on.
  • [00:02:57] ANDREW MACLAREN: You jumped into politics right away. Was it the Vietnam War that pulled you into politics, or Civil Rights? What were the things that appealed to you about the leftist movements?
  • [00:03:07] SKIP TAUBE: Well, it was the anti-war movement. When I was in high school, I remember a group of Vietnamese Buddhists, I think they were, traveling around America and they were talking in pretty emotional terms about the war in their country. It really impressed me to hear the Vietnamese talking about the war that we were watching on TV every night, and then I wrote a letter to the Head of the Draft Board, General Hershey, and lo and behold, he wrote a huge letter back to me. I have to dig that up. It's an archive of the cultural wars and the ideological wars in the mid-'60s. It's amazing. But yeah, when I got to the university, I was already against the war in Vietnam and ready to protest in any way possible. SDS was a happening organization at the university at that point. A lot of people, a lot of meetings, a lot of demonstrations. I can remember the one thing that really turned a lot of people against the war was a little pamphlet by Robert Scheer, little black... published volume .... It was about the history of the war in Vietnam and it was like reading the truth for the first time. That really mobilized a lot of people. But yeah, when I got to the university, there was a teach-in, and then right away, there was a sit-in at the Draft Board. I signed up for that along with I don't know, 30 other people. We walked up to the Draft Board and just sat down and shut it down until the sheriff showed up to drag us off. That's probably one of the first things on my arrest record, I imagine. That was good. But I met a lot of very crucial people in that process. One of the main people that really came forth and helped everybody was Professor Dick Mann in the Sociology Department. He sponsored an organization called Project Community, which I later worked for at the University, where students could get academic credit working in the community at preschools with prisoners. They had different projects. I was in charge of the pre-school project, but Dick Mann was the only professor who sat in at the draft board with the students. And the judge, when it came time to sentence everybody, said you get 10 days, you get five days. You Professor Mann, you should know better. You're a bad example. You get the maximum, you get 20 days. Now we're getting down. Now we see why the professors tow the line. They get singled out. The same thing's happening today around the Palestine Gaza War. The other person that I remember that came back in my life later on, 50 years later is Will Smith. He was a star halfback at the University of Michigan in the late '50s. He came up from Alabama with a Black friend of his and joined the team, and he was one of the first Black players at the University of Michigan, and he was a real star. A few years later, the university hired him in the Student Affairs office. One of his very first jobs was to come out to the Diag when we were having a little protest against the war. This was probably 1965, again, 1966, the amount of people that were against the war was a very small minority compared to the whole university. But we were in everybody's face whenever possible, and we'd have to take our little signs and we'd sit down at the quad and have just engaging conversation. But the jocks would show up and bully us, and intimidate us. The university figured, well, they better step in before something happened, and they sent Will Smith, who was a huge dude, being a linebacker, to protect the students from the jocks, and they respected him because he was a star jock at the University of Michigan, and he had authority. A couple of years later, Will and his wife, Marge, also were parents at a home for juvenile delinquent boys run by Dr. Jules Schrager just outside of Ann Arbor. Will hired Bill Ayres and myself to be counselors there. We did that for a little while. Then lo and behold, 50 years later, I've moved to Mendocino, and lived here for quite a while. Will Smith and his wife, Marge and their family, moved to Mendocino, also. We kept in touch a little bit whenever Bill would come to town for a book signing, we'd get together. But then a couple of years ago, Marge started going downhill with Dementia, and Will started getting a lot weaker and I signed up to take care of them through a program called In-Home Support Services that the county pays people to take care of people at home. Here, they protected me and gave me a job 50 years ago, and I had the honor to help take care of them at the end of their lives. It's just a small world. The connections that come from those charged actions. That reminds me of another thing that we got no protection from the police. We used to support Cesar Chavez boycott. The grapes and the boycott gallo wine. We'd go and picket in front of the liquor store, just a peaceful picket with educational signs. Again, the jocks and the Rozi types, they would go in and buy jugs of gallo wine just so they could pour it on our heads and fuck with us a little bit. That was all early on. It was like, you felt like you were a minority on the right side, and everybody else was fucking crazy for beating on you. But I tell you, within three years, because of the body bags coming home from Vietnam and because of the draft, starting to eat into people that were formerly deferred status, and they're now getting drafted. The official halftime show at the football game for the University of Michigan, for the homecoming, was an anti-war release of black balloons, and everybody wore black armbands. Here within five years, this jock mentality totally got shocked into a reversal just because they started to die. It vindicated a lot of our efforts But the university was so complicit in so much of this, it's hard to get a handle on it. I think you can see things escalated rapidly in 1968 before and after the Democratic Convention. I think the whole country had a psychotic break. I remember reading that the FBI said that there were 500 bombings a month in that period and a few of them took place in Ann Arbor and Detroit. It was a crazy time.
  • [00:10:48] AMY CANTU: Skip, you were in the SDS. Can you talk a little bit about what you did in the SDS, and then the transition in '68 to '69 when things got so much worse, and you felt that the SDS wasn't enough? There was the break with the far left and the militant -- the Weather Underground. Can you talk a little bit about your involvement in that transition?
  • [00:11:14] SKIP TAUBE: Well, I lived with Bill Ayres and we worked together, so I have some insights into a lot of it, but the politics of it are hard for me to trace day to day because it was such a transitional time. I can't even remember the places that I lived. We moved around but we eventually we found an old house in Ann Arbor. No longer exists. It was probably one of the some slave shack or something a long time ago but it was over on the other side of town in the Black neighborhood, and Bill and I and Diana Oughton lived there. It was during that time that people were going in different directions. I was more inclined to stay in Ann Arbor and continue working on what we called community organizing. We were developing co-ops, we needed a school, we needed a ballroom, we needed a clinic. All those things were in the works and it was hard to carry on because the war in Vietnam just ate into everybody's energy and took priority. We'd go to demonstrations at a drop of a hat. But no matter what happened, things continued to get worse with the war. The people on Hill Street in the commune dug a huge crater in their front yard to symbolize resistance to it. We went to a demonstration in Toledo. We heard that the National Guard was going to have, this was for, I think, Memorial Day, a picnic event for families. They had created a mock Viet Cong village, and they were going to attack it and take it over and show how America fights the war as a picnic entertainment on Memorial Day in Toledo. We thought that was pretty gross, so we just went down and we were the Viet Cong, and we disrupted their whole plan because they couldn't do what they wanted to do. They arrested us all, and then they told us afterward that the whole place was literally mined. They had bombs set to go off so they could make it look realistic. We didn't know that we were at great risk, but we did it anyway. But it was... those were the kind of cultural divides. They were trying to turn the war into entertainment and we were just aghast. But in terms of the politics of it, we prepared for a riot in Chicago in 1968. We went there, we rioted, we got beat on the head, we got arrested. I don't regret a moment of that. It'll probably happen all over again this year in Chicago of all places. But after that Bill and his friends, they were more involved in national SDS, and they wanted... their politics weren't that different from mine, but their focus was different from mine. I think Pun asked me to move into Hill Street, and I did that, and that was great because we had our own printing press, we had our own staff of very talented people, artists, musicians, writers, drug dealers to bring in money, whatever it took. That engaged me totally. I didn't have time to go to Washington for demonstrations, really. I was busy at home. The police repression, it didn't stop. There were riots in the street. They brought the National Guard into Ann Arbor and lined them up. I walked down the line and I talked to these young national guardsmen and I said, "Why are you guys here? There's just people having a party out here." A lot of them said, "We don't mind the rock and roll. We like the rock and roll. Hey, we don't mind the drugs." But the fucking in the streets really offended them to the point that they would stand on the street with their bayonets shoulder to shoulder to prevent any sex in public because some couple... a drunk couple had sex in the street during the party, but that resulted in days and days of rioting over the top response from the police. Finally, the mayor asked me if I would help and he gave me the bullhorn. I couldn't believe it and I said, "Let's go home, people," and they did. It was a crazy time.
  • [00:15:49] ANDREW MACLAREN: Why were you the person that they felt like, "Skip will be able to get through to them and put a stop to this?"
  • [00:15:57] SKIP TAUBE: I was a spokesman. I was always out there. I dealt with the city all the time. We had free concerts in the park, we had to deal with the city all the time, we got busted for handing out our underground newspapers. I can remember one time I got arrested, and the charge was distributing obscene literature to minors. I laughed at the time, but I think, God, that shit follows me around forever, somebody would look at that and think I'm a pervert. That was all about an underground comic that appeared -- a really fine piece of art, I think it was by [Chichioca ?], I'm not sure. It had two figures standing face to face. One was a cop, one was a hippie. The cop was dressed in full riot gear with every militaristic accoutrement you could think of and the hippie was dressed pretty much in nothing was a hard on. The question became, what's obscene? That was can be the whole point of the art and the cartoon is, what's really obscene? The body that we were born with or the uniform that the pigs put on and they arrested me for handing this cartoon out and I showed up at City Hall because the parents were irate that this Commie literature was being passed out in high school yet the high school sponsored the dance, the MC5 was the band. We brought our propaganda with the music wherever we went. This lady stood up, "What can I do to protect my child from this filth?" I said, "Well, you might begin by checking out what obscene really means and then if that doesn't work, you're just going to have to rip out his eyes." That those kind of commentary got me attention. I want to apologize to that poor mother but really, she missed the whole fucking point.
  • [00:17:53] AMY CANTU: Bill Ayres described you as a connection between the White Panther Party and the SDS and later the Weatherman. It sounds like you really were a spokesman and that people listened to you. Can you talk about where you fit in between those two...?
  • [00:18:10] SKIP TAUBE: I was so active in the SDS for years, I developed tons of contacts within the university and in the community, all people that I knew and that was valuable to the White Panthers because they had just moved into town, and they needed to have somebody that knew the roles. They asked me if I would move in and help them and I was more than happy to do that. We'd already been working together on the street. That put me in a position where I could be a connection between the political left wing and this cultural left wing and that worked for me because everybody needed the school for their children, regardless of what wing they had and that was my main task was to figure out how to create a school and we got thwarted by the Fire Marshal. In 1968, we had to move the children's community school, I think it was in the basement of the Quaker Church or something, Presbyterian Church. We had to find another building. Wherever I looked the Fire Marshal just said "No way, we'll never let you get a permit for a school anywhere." That was just before the Democratic Convention in 1968. We knew that there was no future for the school and I think that's probably -- it had to be a factor in Bill's consideration, as well as Diana's because they were the mainstays of the school. If the school had been able to continue, they very well may have stayed in Ann Arbor and worked on that front. It's hard to say, but it didn't, and we all went our different ways. We stay in touch as much as possible. That was hard to do underground, but we still stayed in touch a little bit.
  • [00:20:01] ANDREW MACLAREN: Were there arguments amongst the folks that you were with, where some people were going the direction you were going in community organizing, and other people were saying, "No, we have to take action, whether that action is violent or nonviolent," that there were these two different streams. Were there arguments where people were trying to convince each other to go one way or another? Or did everyone just naturally gravitate in the direction they wanted to go and it was understood that they all needed to work in conjunction?
  • [00:20:30] SKIP TAUBE: I think the latter. People went in the direction they needed to go. The arguments interestingly enough were mostly within the people that went underground because they were faced with some existential questions. What should we do? What shouldn't we do? We dealt with the same issues. We call it adventurism. We engaged in a lot of adventurism, as Chairman Mao might say, stuff that really didn't further our agenda, but was just a reaction basically to the war and to the repression. But again, the University was an easy target because it was so complicit. I remember when the CIA office was bombed. Interestingly enough, if you go back and read the letters and the opinions in the University's newspaper, whether it was the Daily, people were more outraged that the CIA had an office in Ann Arbor than they were that it was bombed. That was the sentiment. The University should not be complicit, and the CIA was hugely complicit in a lot of war crimes in Vietnam. What the fuck do they have a recruiting campus office on campus for? That opened up a whole new can of worms. Then the University was complicit in the tracking and execution of Che Guevara. They had in their advanced science labs over on the other side of Campus, they had a contract with the Air Force. At that time, the newest technology was infrared photography from high altitudes to track heat signatures. They use this photography, which was developed at the University of Michigan. They'd take this film to the university, and they'd track the heat signatures from Che Guevara's campsites as he traveled through the jungles of Bolivia so they could see this is where he is, this is where he's going. Let's wait for him, and they did. That was the end of Che Guevara. The University of Michigan has got its fingers in a lot of evil that doesn't even get reported until the shit hits the fan literally. The ROTC building got burned.
  • [00:23:05] ANDREW MACLAREN: What was your level of involvement in any of this adventurism or your level of awareness? Did you know that some of these things were going to happen before they happened?
  • [00:23:17] SKIP TAUBE: Our job was to take the communiques that were delivered and publicize why these things took place. We had a newspaper. We had access to radio. We had our own printing presses. When people would do things, they'd send out communiques. The mainstream media, they don't print that stuff for the most part. It just comes and goes as a flyer or as a leaflet or as a little article in an underground newspaper, and history gets erased just because it's so miniscule to begin with. But I think the University got the message. They know why these things happened.
  • [00:24:03] AMY CANTU: You were also involved in the Human Rights Party, is that right? And you were a candidate?
  • [00:24:08] SKIP TAUBE: For a while, we all got involved really tremendously in the Human Rights Party. Yeah, at one point, we wanted to have a candidate in every district. I remember David Sinclair ran in one. I don't know. Did I run? Maybe, no. I can't remember. But they were a challenging group to work with because they were pretty much not infiltrated, but manipulated by the who are they the Trotsky-ites, the Young Socialist Alliances, I don't know. They got some strange ideology. They think they know the best paths, but they were the kind of people that were critical of Ho Chi Minh because of the way he fought the war. I thought, well, what a bunch of arrogant sons of bitches? But those are the people that were in the Human Rights Party, so we had to align ourselves with them, and it worked, a lot of changes happened, and the money started to flow into the community. I got a grant so that we could buy some property and get a school going. I worked for the University of Michigan so I could put students at work in these schools. Things started to coalesce. But we had to get John out of prison. That took a while.
  • [00:25:17] AMY CANTU: What did you do for the University? What was your job?
  • [00:25:21] SKIP TAUBE: I was a childcare project director for Project Community. It was run by Maria Tenorio. I think she's a professor up in Portland, probably retired now. But again, I would get -- I don't know -- anywhere from 30-40 students in the sociology department who signed up to work in preschools in Ann Arbor, and they'd get credit for this. My job was to educate them, so we'd have regular seminars and I'd bring in speakers and then to assign them and monitor them and evaluate it. It was great because all the preschools benefited tremendously. The students loved it. It was so popular. I went to the architecture school, and I said, Why don't you guys do the same thing? Find me a professor that will assign some of your architectural students to build playgrounds, and sure enough, they did. I said, We don't have any money. You guys, part of your job is, you got to go scrounge these materials. You got to use your connections as elite students and get whatever you need to build this because there's no money for it, and they did. To me, that was the University at its best. It was like... That came out of the free university, those concepts. Community service is academic credit.
  • [00:26:48] ANDREW MACLAREN: How did the folks in the White Panther party and Rainbow of People's Party decide what sets of things to pursue, whether it would be the People's Clinic or the Food Co-op or the People's Ballroom? How were decisions made about what was the next thing the community needed?
  • [00:27:05] SKIP TAUBE: Well, that's a good question. We had regular meetings with dozens of people that... You know, we live together, and we talk about stuff, mundane stuff about how to keep the household going, plus what do we need? It's always the same things. We needed a Ballroom, we needed a Clinic, we needed a school, and now we aligned ourselves with people that could help create those things. Michael Castleman was very active back then, I'm sure he helped with the clinic. I already had some experience with the schools, so I took on the school thing. It's just basically, we have to recruit people or partner with people who had the skills and the connections that we needed. It wasn't just us doing it. We were just pushing it. We're organized enough. We had lawyers. If we needed to form a nonprofit, we could form a nonprofit. If we needed to get a grant, we could get a grant. It's like we knew how to take care of business. We were not just a bunch of lazy hippies, I can tell you that. My favorite quote from Pun, he says, "If you really love me, you'll get down in the mud and help me change this tire." The hippies always say, We love you brother. We love you brother. Well, get down in the mud and help me here. I was willing to get muddy.
  • [00:28:25] AMY CANTU: Can you talk a little bit more about Pun? I know that you were sentenced for harboring him when he was a fugitive. Yeah, can you talk a little bit about that? About Pun himself and your friendship with him?
  • [00:28:39] SKIP TAUBE: Well, I love characters, and Pun was the ultimate character. I mean, he had his flaws because of alcohol, but he eventually overcame all that. He was the kind of person who put his shoulder to the grindstone, and if it needed to be taken care of, he'd take care of it. He was a really hard worker and a hard partier. We got along great. We did a lot of stuff that we shouldn't have done. We did a lot of stuff we should have done. I'm sure I don't know. When he went underground, it was just like a surprise. He heard about it on the radio and just disappeared. They announced his indictment before they arrested him, which was stupid on their part. But anyway, he disappeared. He was gone for a while. He traveled all over the world, we'd get communiques and stuff. Then one day, I think he showed up at one of the concerts that the band had somewhere in Ohio, I think -- I'm not even sure -- and said, "God, I got to come home. I don't like this." He was desperate, literally desperate. I don't know, arrangements were made. Somehow I ended up being one of the drivers that would drive him to some safe house that somebody had up in the upper peninsula where he could hibernate and just cool it. We never made it that far. We got halfway. But that's a whole other crazy story, too, yeah. But he was extremely militant and, kinda like me in a way, we didn't worry too much about the consequences. We were moved by our passion and we did what we had to do and paying the price wasn't really a part of the equation, which means that you do stuff that could get you in big trouble. I mean, I can remember -- Jack Forrest was the other person who was with us in that car when we got busted -- I asked Jack years later. I said, "Jack, do you remember that trip that we took with Pun?" He told me stuff that we did along the way that I had no recollection of. I had just erased from my memory totally. I said, "God, we were that crazy? We did that? Oh, I can't believe it." Just stupid. Then we did something really stupid and it caught up with us. But still it's like there was always a second chance. Even when we stopped, we stopped to take a piss on the side of the highway. When we got in the car, Pun shoved some beer cans out of the side door onto the road. Littered, he littered. Low and behold, at that very moment, there was a couple old guys in a gas station about a quarter mile down the side road that just happened to be looking our way, and I saw these cans come out of the van. Then lo and behold, a highway patrolman pulls into the gas station, and I say, oh, shit, now we're in trouble. This highway patrolman, sure enough, he comes right up to us, pulls up and says, let me see your ID. I show him my ID, and I apologize and I say, we will clean up this mess right now, and he cuts us loose. I couldn't believe it. Pun is next to be saying, "Should I shoot him, Skip?" I said, "No, don't shoot him, Pun."
  • [00:32:17] SKIP TAUBE: I can only say that because dear Pun is gone now. He doesn't live with that. But I think what happened is when he made his report to Lansing, a little red flag popped up. Oh, Skip Taube. Oh, Jack Forrest. Oh, a van. Oh, a third person with a fake name. Oh, that's probably the people we're looking for so they put out an all-points bulletin and by the time we got over the bridge, what's that first city right there over the bridge? I was sleeping in the back of the van. Jack was driving. The van stops and I look out the window and I see there's a cop. He's got a gun to Jack's head. Hands out of the van. Then the back door of the van opens and a trooper with a rifle pointing at me says, "Get out of that van." I look at him and I say, "Hey, you don't want to shoot me because I'm sitting on two cases of dynamite." That fucker, they all just backed up really fast [LAUGHTER] and that was the end of that game. But even then, we got a second chance. That first cop released us. If we would have had any sense, we would have just disappeared in a hole somewhere, but we didn't have any common sense. Like I say, the whole country had gone through a psychotic break. We were living in a fantasy, I think, of resistance.
  • [00:33:52] ANDREW MACLAREN: But what fantasy of resistance? What does that mean?
  • [00:33:55] SKIP TAUBE: That our actions would put a stop to the war. We were just going to continue to escalate until the fucking war stopped. You know, it's a fantasy until it either comes true or it doesn't, and what happened? We chanted for years. "Ho Chi Minh. The NLF is going to win!" And guess what? They won. When the United States, I think it was 1971, at Christmas time they decided to bomb Illinois into submission. The Vietnamese called it extermination bombing. They were building up. They said, if you don't give in, we're going to blow up the dikes and flood the fucking country, and the Vietnamese stayed in their bunkers and took it for 12 days. The international community was literally up in arms to stop this bombing, and on the 12th day, Nixon stopped the bombing. Years later, I read the obituary of General Giap who defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu, who now led the North Vietnamese Army for decades. He says after 12 days of extermination bombings, they were literally going to walk out and surrender, waive the white flag and give up because they were being exterminated. Miraculously, the bombings stopped before they did that. They went to the Paris, signed the Paris Accords, and the war was over. It was a fantasy, but in the end, the people spoke. I remember Daniel Ellsberg, he came to Mendocino about three years ago, and he talked about the war and the protest. He said, one of the last protests against the war was a mass mobilization where people were encouraged not to come to Washington but to stay in their communities and demonstrate where they lived and show the world the resistance to the war. Nixon was so concerned about public opinion and he wanted to know what is the level of opposition that Ellsberg, who had privy to this. Nixon ordered the U2 spy-craft to fly over the United States and systematically surveil every demonstration in the whole country and tabulated... and Ellsberg says the number was way above 2 million, and that is what stayed Nixon's hand. So yeah, the people do have an effect. We don't ever even know the effect that we've had except for the occasional people like Daniel Ellsberg who reveal the truth. But yes, it was a fantasy at the time but it became a reality. I don't know, I think that's what I meant by that. I don't know. I'm pretty glib. I just say whatever comes into my mind and then I have to just figure it out.
  • [00:37:04] AMY CANTU: That's really interesting that you say on one hand, there's this psychotic break and things are getting crazier and crazier, and on the other hand, you're trying so hard to pull community together. I understand you even -- the Street Party's Alliance held a press conference trying to convince the town that they weren't scary and that they were legitimately trying to create community. That must have been pretty difficult to be right in the middle of both of those extremes.
  • [00:37:35] SKIP TAUBE: Well, yes but it's just life. At the time you're having sex, you're having parties, you're smoking pot. It's just - it's the norm. It was the norm for me, I have a different norm I guess than a lot of people. [LAUGHTER] But it's key people make things happen. When I first moved into Ann Arbor before I got arrested, a graduate student from the Netherlands, Adriana Kamphuis, she was studying communal education and visiting communes around the country including Ann Arbor. We met briefly, really hit it off well and I said to her, "We really need a school here." We got a school, we got to have a teacher. Two years later, she came back, we got married, and she helped start the school. It's those things just... they happen, and I go with them.
  • [00:38:33] ANDREW MACLAREN: Could you talk about some of the other folks in the Hill Street houses, both them personally and what their roles were, Leni Sinclair, for instance?
  • [00:38:42] SKIP TAUBE: Well, Leni, she's the mom. She's the one who needed a school. It wasn't the kids that needed the school, it was the mothers that needed the school and she was an incredible photographer, documentarian, and she had her own politics. She had been through the East German police state and she knew about oppression and surveillance so she was no snowflake. She was tough. We got along really well for the most part, though I think she resented me for being a bit adventuristic. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:39:21] SKIP TAUBE: But in the end, this stuff all panned out because the CIA bombing triggered a series of events that led to Nixon resigning. The biggest irony of it all for me is that, when he was Nixon's chief prosecutor, Rehnquist later became the Supreme Court Chief Justice. Rehnquist is the person who created the "legal justification" for warrantless surveillance that Nixon said, "Yeah, I can surveil anybody I want in the name of national security." Well, Rehnquist, when that case finally came to trial, and the Supreme Court had to decide if Judge Damon Keith could release these tapes or not. Every justice voted against the government, and Chief Justice Rehnquist had to recuse himself from the whole case. Here you have every one of his peers telling him that his legal theories were total bullshit unconstitutional crap. He has the balls to ask them to not release the decision until after the weekend as a courtesy to him. He gets right on the phone, probably calls John Mitchell and says, "All those wiretaps you have all over the country? On Monday, they're going to be illegal. You better get them out of there." Saturday, they got busted taking the tapes out of the Watergate towers at the Democratic office. That's all triggered by some relatively insignificant bombing in Ann Arbor years prior. It's like you hear about the butterfly effect. The butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil and there's a tornado in Idaho or some shit. Well, politically, that's what happened. The butterfly fluttered and the president went down. Leni may have some resentment towards me about the adventurism involved in glorifying this action, but in the end, it really served the country well including her husband and all the people at the Weather Underground and dozens and dozens and dozens of people who had their cases dropped because of illegal surveillance. People like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, they're heroes.
  • [00:42:15] AMY CANTU: What about Genie Plamonden?
  • [00:42:18] SKIP TAUBE: Genie was the organization. Without Genie, there would be no White Panther Party. It would all been talk and talk and a lot of smoke. Genie corresponded with everybody who wanted to be a White Panther. Anywhere in the country, she helped create chapters. Anywhere people wanted to do, she created the feeling that there was this national organization when, in fact, there was just people of like mind using a like symbol, and we coordinated that, and she was the one who really took care of that business, and she was rock solid. I don't know what you can say. She was a really fine human being. She did a great job. She had tremendous loyalty. She put up with puns bullshit for years, so she had to be a powerful person. There were very powerful women in that organization. Always, when I first came there, it was the women that you had to deal with. They were the receptionist, Audrey at first. There were two or three primary receptionists that worked for John, and they were the filter. You had to get through these women to get involved, so they had real intuitive sense. I saw that in action in other places. I visited The Farm in Tennessee one time. To get into the farm, you had to literally go through the gate in a little gate house, and there'd be a little quick interview with women primarily about whether you were going to stay there or not.
  • [00:44:00] AMY CANTU: What about David Sinclair?
  • [00:44:02] SKIP TAUBE: David, he's another tireless worker. He worked himself to death. The dude was solely dedicated to being Integrity. We had a deal with I don't know, the landlord, the real estate agent, somebody. It took a lot of money to have those two houses and to keep them. David ensured that the money was always there by hook or by crook. That got us into some trouble, but we kept the houses. Even after everybody left Ann Arbor and we left those houses, there was still a financial obligation. David personally took that with him into the world, worked his ass off for years to help pay it off, so the dude was beyond reproach. But he was also...he had to protect the organization. I can remember one time I had a girlfriend who I had known for a long time. This was when I was on parole, so I had to be a little bit careful and I was monitored. I had a good parole agent, so that was all right. But David told me, "Skip, you're spending too much time away from the commune with your new girlfriend. You got to figure out something else." He actually intervened in my personal life, to say, hey, get your priorities straight. Which... it didn't offend me, but it really shocked me. Wow, here's a man who really cares a lot about me and about the organization. And that he felt that he could say that. He was a strong person. He taught me to read poetry. That was nice.
  • [00:45:41] ANDREW MACLAREN: About Gary Grimshaw?
  • [00:45:43] SKIP TAUBE: Gary, boy, what a talent. The dude had his nose to the drawing board. He didn't say a lot. He was busy working all the time. We kept that guy busy. He made posters. We need graphics, he'd do it. He was a quiet, really studious guy. He'd go to meetings, I think, but I don't remember him saying much. He really focused on his art 100%. He was so creative. He could create things with a minimal technology that we had at that time. Then we say, well, let's improve our technology. Then we got an electric Gestetner mimeograph machine with multiple colors. Then we got an electric stencil maker for that machine, which means that we could print anything graphically, print-wise, instantly and get it on the street within an hour. That we did all the time. Gary, he'd always provide us some cool graphic to go with it.
  • [00:46:53] ANDREW MACLAREN: Was it coincidence that all these incredibly hard workers found one another or was there something about the environment of that commune that led people to want to work nonstop?
  • [00:47:07] SKIP TAUBE: I think what it is, it's something that John Sinclair models. John is a tireless champion and he attracts people for that reason. He's charismatic, he's talented, he's hard-working. He's the kind of person who wants to give other people the same opportunities to express themselves and develop their talents. He's like the job center. If you want a job where you're a part of the team, this is the place to be. If you're a writer, this is the place to be. If you're a photographer, this is the place to be. If whatever it is, you can do it here. You can do -- because there's so much that needs to be done, so it attracted that kind of people. I heard a similar story the other day from a lady I worked with here in Mendocino. She came to Mendicino 30, 40 years ago. It was a rundown little town, the mill had closed. But an artist had moved up here with the idea of creating an art center, which he eventually did and became world famous. But at the time, it was just a guy with a few artists. This lady drives into Mendicino. She walks up to this group of artists and asks this guy, is this Mendocino? He says to her, "Yes, it is. Would you like a job?" She did. She never left town, she stayed here. She got a job. That guy was Bill Zaka. He founded the Mendicino Art Center, and that was his approach. He was a hard worker, a hands-on guy. As soon as you showed up, he had something for you to do. John Sinclair was the same person. Talented, open to helping people manifest their own abilities.
  • [00:49:00] ANDREW MACLAREN: Was that difficult to keep going or did the environment change at all when John was sent to prison?
  • [00:49:06] SKIP TAUBE: Well, I think things got a little off-kilter because that's when the adventurism takes over. People are pissed off, and the war is escalating. It's what do you call it -- a perfect storm developing. John, he wrote prolifically, so we probably spent half of our time just reading letters from John. Would keep us out of a little bit of trouble if we're busy reading letters. A lot of reflection about what are we up to? What should we do? That old question, what are the priorities here? What do we focus on? Maybe a lot more focus as a result of the Free John Sinclair concert, producing events, getting back into the music business. But doing the free concerts was a big business. But there was no money involved, but every Sunday, there was free music for years. The bands never got paid. Nobody ever got paid.
  • [00:50:10] AMY CANTU: So at some point, you left Ann Arbor. And, why?
  • [00:50:15] SKIP TAUBE: I had gotten married to Adriana, who's the teacher who started the school, and the school was on good footing, and she really wanted to go to California. She said, "Let's go to California and find a commune to raise the kids." And so we did. Nothing like love to get you out of your old art.
  • [00:50:34] AMY CANTU: What year was that?
  • [00:50:35] SKIP TAUBE: 1974.
  • [00:50:38] SKIP TAUBE: We drove across Canada and then visited communes in the Northwest and ended up in Albion, which is near Mendocino in California and then bounced around a little bit and then bought some property up north of Mendocino, and I've been here ever since, pretty much. I did spend five years in Hawaii, but here I am again.
  • [00:51:02] ANDREW MACLAREN: Were you worried about leaving Ann Arbor? You'd built such a community, you had so many connections here, your fingers were in so many different pies like, was it nerve-racking to think, we, we're going to uproot and start all over again?
  • [00:51:18] SKIP TAUBE: I don't recall... I recall that it was exciting to be... I built a camper on the back of my truck, that was exciting, I got help to do that, made my dad proud and the trip across the country was fantastic, I think I was ready to get out of Dodge and a lot of the people that I had worked with and had connections with, they were also leaving Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor was going through a pretty major transition and I remember going back there, I don't know, 10-15 years ago. I didn't even recognize the place, it's so huge, but leaving was a good thing. I ain't never goin' back to Michigan, it's too fucking cold there.
  • [00:52:04] ANDREW MACLAREN: What have you been doing in these intervening decades then? What have you been doing out in Mendocino?
  • [00:52:09] SKIP TAUBE: I turned into an ad salesperson of all things and at one point, I said to myself, how a fuck did I ever get into being an ad salesperson? It's like the last thing I can imagine and then I thought back to Ann Arbor. We used to have our newspaper, I used to go to the head shops and get them to advertise though I never really thought about it as selling advertising, it was about getting support for the paper and NASA, so I developed this relationship with business people that, served our interest and then when I got here, one of the first persons that I met had done ad-sales for the Mendocino Art Center for their magazine and she asked me if I would help her and then it evolved and other magazines needed help, specialty publications, programs for events and then 1998 came, and all of a sudden, there was this thing called the Internet and a thing called links. The lady who owned mendocino.com called me up and said, "Would you like to sell advertising for mendocino.com?" I said, well, what does that mean? She says, Well, people pay for a link, I said, what the fuck's a link? Nobody even knew what a link was and I said, "Yeah, I'll give it a try." We came up with a price on $1,000 for a year on the perfect website medecino.com, gets a lot of traffic and I had to convince people that this was a real thing, it wasn't imaginary, like the Internet is in the ether, it's a real -- people actually go there -- and then they'd say to me, "Well, shouldn't you be paying me to put my stuff on your website?" People had absolutely zero concept of how Internet economy works. So I educated myself and everybody else and learned how to read analytic statistics so I can show that, Hey, in print advertising, they say half of your ad dollar is wasted, but nobody knows which half. Well, in Internet advertising you know exactly what you're getting for your buck if you follow the number. So I did that for I don't know, 15 years, and then I had a falling out with the person who owned it and retired but then 3-4 years ago, my neighbor, asked me if I'd help take care of an old friend who needed some help. I started doing that and then he told me, "Hey, Skip, you can get paid to do this," I said, sign me up. He signed me up and I became an in-home support services caretaker. So I help... Right now, I'm helping a lady, she fell down and broke three ribs about a month ago. She needs some help for a few months just doing stuff, taking care of her, and it's nice because I get to work with people that I already know like Will and Marge Smith from Ann Arbor, people that I have maybe a passing relationship with here in Mendocino. All of a sudden, I get to have a much deeper relationship as I help them navigate the end of their life. That keeps me kinda busy. Actually, I work more now than I did when I was working.
  • [00:55:33] AMY CANTU: You've done a lot, you've been involved with radical politics, community organizing. You've been involved with advertising and all of this. What are you most proud of over the course of your life?
  • [00:55:47] SKIP TAUBE: That's a good one, I never thought about that. Starting the school that lasted for quite a while in Ann Arbor. That was very satisfying. But you know, that was a team effort. But I helped create that. Working on some of the print projects. And for a while, I worked on doing interviews, like you're doing, for Mendocino TV. Mostly around... Every time there was a political election, I'd interview the candidates. I like doing that. But I'm getting too old to do a lot more of that. Plus I get too hot under the collar sometimes. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:56:33] AMY CANTU: Thank you so much.
  • [00:56:35] ANDREW MACLAREN: Thanks very much for this. This was great.
  • [00:56:37] SKIP TAUBE: You're welcome, I'm so glad you're doing this. I started reading some of the transcripts for these interviews. This is a good bedtime reading, it put me right to sleep. [LAUGHTER] A lot of my days, I start off my day really early. I go outside, it's wake and bake, I roll up a joint, I sit out in my shed in the open air, and I just think about the past, mostly, and reminisce. So this has been a good exercise thinking about this stuff and getting it down, getting it out there. I did an interview with my own brother a few years back, and it just changed our whole relationship. He'd served in the Navy in Vietnam and gotten kicked out for smoking pot and he never talked about it to anybody, really, he just stuffed it and I was the first person. I said, "Hey, while you're visiting me, let me turn on the thing and let me interview you" and I did. He revealed stuff that he'd never spoken about, it changed the whole family dynamic. It opened him up in a whole new way. So the power of interviews, and listening to people who don't get listened to, is really... I appreciate your effort.
  • [00:57:57] AMY CANTU: AADL Talks To is a production of the Ann Arbor District Library.