(Note: Stew Albert, longtime Berkeley activist and Yippie organizer, ran for sheriff of Alameda County last summer. He nearly won.)
SUN-DANCE: Why did you decide to run for Sheriff?
Stew: I was on trial and I chose not to make a deal but to defend myself act as my own lawyer. And I was doing really well, and it was the break in the trial, and I was talking to the bailiff, and in California, all the bailiff's in the courtroom are connected with the Alameda County Sheriffs department. I was feeling very confident and together, and I could see that the bailiff was kind of scared, by what he saw me doing: long-haired freak acting in the courtroom and doing well.
So I got in a conversation with him and he told me that, the Sheriff was elected; I didn't know that up until that time. I thought the Sheriff was appointed. So I just told him, my gut reaction, "I'm going to run for Sheriff." And the guy's face turned white. I just instinctively knew it was a good idea because it freaked him so much.
So I gave him this whole rap about how I was going to run for Sheriff, and how if I were Sheriff I'd really keep these guys in line and let the prisoners run the jails and have the Sheriffs help us take over buildings at the University and so forth. And he really got freaked; so a few of my friends were around and they said, "Hey, are you just kidding, or are you going to do it?" And it just seemed so good, I said, "Yeah, I'm going to do it."
The idea got reinforced when I spent 65 days in the Alameda county jail. The Sheriff controls the jail, and the Sheriff is the warden of the jail. I discussed it with prisoners in there, mostly black people, and they thought it was a great idea. So I decided that it would be a great way for a Berkeley radical to hook up with the people in the jail who are the most oppressed by Sheriff because he's the warden. And to hook up with the student-prisoners alliance. Projecting that through my campaign for sheriff
SUN-DANCE : When you campaigned for Sheriff, when did you start it and what kind of things did you hit upon?
Stew: I guess the election was last June 6, and I guess I started it a couple of months before. When I went down to file to run, I was on the ballot, officially, but when I went down to file the Red Squads of Berkeley and Oakland were there to photograph me just filing. I saw as the main purpose of the campaign was to get the Berkeley radicals and freaks to relate to the prisoners. So we set up a campaign committee, and our basic activity was going out to Santa Rita on visiting day, which was Sunday, and leafletting the family and friends of the convicts, who had been lining up outside the jail waiting to be admitted to visit. And of course they're treated abominably, they're made to wait for hours, they hate the police and so forth, so they were very open, mostly black people, very open to the type of politics that we were projecting. And at one point we got these campaign buttons printed up with M-16s on them, and the slogan, "Smash Santa Rita, Stew Albert for Sheriff.
"And they put them on and they wore them inside the jail, and the deputy sheriffs in the jail really freaked out, started screaming at the people, take them off, but a lot of them refused to do it. Then the prisoners saw the campaign buttons, and they really dug it. Do I think the main activity was relating to the prisoners. We had a number of people in the jail who were very friendly to the campaign. I got a number of letters from prisoners, and they carried on various campaign activities in the jail. Like a full page campaign poster was printed in the Tribe and I got a report that 14 of them were smuggled into Santa Rita and were put up on the wall. Of course the prisoners loved it, and the guards freaked out and ripped it down.
Relating to this linking up of Berkeley with the jailhouse, it's a natural thing because so many Berkeley people wind up spending time in jail anyway. So it's our second home, we might as well make it a better one to live in.
SUN-DANCE: You did other campaigning, though, aside from the jail; like you were talking one time about going before labor union leaders?
Stew: Yeah, I had a very interesting experience. I went before the AFL-CIO political endorsing committee, and I gave them my rap and I asked them to endorse me for Sheriff. And I was really getting along very well with them. They don't like Madigan because of course the Sheriff's department are used for strike-breakers, they help the scabs. So I was doing fine, and then l casually said that I thought the working people should begin to arm themselves, because the system was cracking up, and that the working people were going to lose their right to strike, and I pointed, as an example, what happened with the federal mail delivery strike, where the army was moved in. to sort the mail.
I said the military would take over the factories at some point in the future with the system cracking up, and force the workers to work, so the only way the workers could defend themselves was by arming; and these guys, you know--labor bureaucrats, they freaked out. They were absolutely frightened, petrified, at the thought that the people that they were supposed to represent might begin to arm themselves. And they said so they started attacking the workers. And the AFL-CIO would end up endorsing Frank Madigan, the fascist candidate in Alameda County.
SUN-DANCE: What was your campaign platform, what would you do if you'd been elected?
Stew: Well, I always made clear to people that running for Sheriff wasn't like running for City Council. If you're revolutionary and you run for city council and you win, ok, they let you sit on the City Council, it's just not as powerful; But if you're Sheriff, you control the guns, and like Mao says, political power begins at the barrel of a gun. And the sheriff has a lot of guns: So make clear to people that if I were elected Sheriff, they would either find some way to say that the election didn't count, or, if they let me be sheriff, take all the real power of the sheriff away from me. And then say, OK Stew, You can lead the Rodeo, when it comes to town. But no real power. So I make that very clear.
However, I did try to make the point of what, if people had a real representative for Sheriff, what he would do. And what I would have done, or what I think any representative of the people as Sheriff should do, I spelled out a program. And first thing I would have done would be to remove all the guards from Santa Rita County Jail, and then let the prisoners give total self determination to the prisoners. If they wanted to turn Santa Rita into a people's farm, they could do that; if they wanted to leave, they could do that. But it would be total prisoners power. I would have disarmed the regular police forces. And favored the creation of a people's militia. And the people's militia would have been the true police power, in the county, you know, the people.
We would have begun growing food in the park, for the Panthers' breakfast for children program. We would have disbanded the University police force, and created a student's militia, for the University of California. We would have had the Sheriff's department not protect the landlords when it came time for evictions, but actually help the tenants stay there, by keeping the landlords away from the buildings. And we would have had a general program. I mean I basically think that the basic function of a sheriff's department is to help old people across the street, bring down kittens from trees when they climb up trees, and teach kids how to play stickball.
SUN-DANCE: What was your reaction to the incredible vote you did get?
Stew: Well, it was about 30 per cent of the vote. And I got 65,000 votes and some hundred, I don't remember. My reaction was I turned white and almost fainted. Because I didn't run with the expectation of a big vote. I ran to politically orient, to change the political consciousness at Berkeley so that they began to relate much more closely to the problems of Santa Rita, the prisoners at Santa Rita. And that was the main reason for running. I considered the main job of the campaign completed before election day. But naturally I was shocked, of course I was very happy. Because the big vote proved something that's very important That there is a sizeable number of straight, middle class, working class people in Alameda County who think that the police are getting out of hand. Define the vote as an anti-police vote. I don't call it a pro-Stew Albert vote.
SUN-DANCE: Who do you think voted for you?
Stew: Well, I know that the whole Berkeley student-freak community voted for me, overwhelmingly, and were very enthusiastic about the campaign. And then, I think, just regular folks around the county who think the police are getting out of line. A lot of blacks voted for me, I had a black vote, but not just that, but also white middle class people who are sick of the war and would vote for an anti-war candidate, and are also getting sick of the police, and voted for me as an anti-police candidate.
SUN-DANCE: If everybody under 18 had been allowed to vote, you probably would have been elected.
Stew: Oh I have no doubt, now the point that I made was that my big vote proved that, see like Eldridge always said that there are more people than pigs. And my big vote proved that in Alameda County, that's absolutely right. Because if you take my vote and then let's say high school students, junior high schools students could have voted, and if felons could have voted, and if all the people who didn't know about my campaign and would have voted for me but forgot to register would have voted, we would have won overwhelmingly. I would debate Frank Madigan in any high school in Alameda County, and I certainly know who would, win and who'd get run out of town.
SUN-DANCE: Well, it's been kind of an inspiration for other people, because there are at least two other freaks running for Sheriff, one in Lawrence Kansas.
Stew: Oh, it's a real tidal wave we've started. It's more than two. I first announced my intention to run for
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sheriff about a year ago, and there was a big story in the old Berkeley Barb. Of course now that we've created the Tribe, the Tribe was my main organ of propaganda during the campaign.
But I announced it about a year ago, and even then I started getting a lot of reaction from people, so, I know there's also someone running in Virginia, and a number of people in California and around the West. I think it's a great idea. It attacks the police. You know what it's like? It's like how do you think a religious catholic would feel if an avowed atheist announced he's going to run for Pope. The police tried to laugh it off at first, and they treated it as a big joke. But when they started seeing me coming out to the jail every weekend, and saw who I was relating to, they got a little uptight, and then of course the big vote I got freaked them out.
SUN-DANCE: How did the ruling class, the prosecuting attorney, how did they react to your success?
Stew: Well, I bumped into a D.A. who had sent me to jail and he said it was a real happy day for him when I went off to jail, but of course he didn't know I was running for sheriff. After the vote he said he wasn't so happy. And I bumped into a deputy sheriff who, when I was in jail, one time sent me to the hole and made me get two haircuts in one day, and he was actually freaked out, very nervous when he spoke to me. He almost said, "Yessir." It really got them up tight. The prisoners loved it. About two days after the vote was in, there was a riot in Santa Rita and fire was started in four barracks. They dug it. I mean we had people working on the inside and the prisoners really dug it.
SUN-DANCE: Well off of that, there's still a movement of freaks and just plain folks going out to Santa Rita every Sunday to see the prisoners, right?
Stew: Well, the committee that formed around the campaign is still continuing to operate. The decision that we made was to actually start to concentrate more on infiltration, on making contact with the prisoners through visiting them. You see, a number of prisoners wrote to me during the campaign, and when we got the mail and then we got on their visiting list, and campaigners have been visiting them. So we're working on a less open level, trying to actually build up a core of political organizing.
Also I'm involving myself against Santa Rita in terms of their medical facilities, which are about as non-existent as their rehabilitation program.
SUN-DANCE: You world encourage other people from other cities to run for Sheriff?
Stew: Definitely. Eventually we're going to win if we keep doing it. I think that as the generation of high school kids reaches the voting age, especially if the voting age is lowered, I believe that in a number of areas we can actually win. I think that will create a major crisis for the ruling class in any given area. For instance, in Berkeley especially, Berkeley isn't just any area, it's the home of a major student movement, a major freek movement and the Black Panther Party. And not only is the FBI interested in Alameda County, but so is the CIA, so if a revolutionary becomes sheriff, it threatens the whole functioning of their empire. The university of California is a major energy source of imperialism. They're part of a process that manufactures lies. The computers in the university of California program counter-insurgency programs all over the world. Experiments go on there biological warfare. Now the sheriff controls the police power that protects the university. If a revolutionary were sheriff, obviously those computers would be saved. We might use them to develop better and safer forms of LSD; but certainly not counter-insurgency programs. So what I'm saying is that it would present a major crisis, and that in some ways the ruling class would have to remove the freak sheriff. But then that would be good because it world show the people the true class nature of the state. That they could elect somebody to a powerful position, and he's removed by order of the king.
SUN-DANCE: You've been deep into out laws and sheriffs for a long time. Why don't you talk about some of the great outlaws...
Stew: We make a mistake sometimes in confusing gangsters and outlaws. I think its gangsters presiding over large corporate syndicates, and ...part of the capitalist system. But outlaws are dropouts. They drop out of the functioning of the system and they seek their survival by ripping off the system. People like Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, going back, people like Butch Cassidy, were actually beloved figures. During the 1930's banks were closing on the farmers, taking their land; many times the farmers fought back with shotguns. Well, naturally people like Pretty Boy Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger who robbing banks, never robbing the people, were heroes. They set an example. Now these guys were too busy ripping off banks to hire historians, to write true accounts, whereas J. Edgar Hoover has never had a shortage of prostitute historians, to write about his biography, so a lot of false history has been created. But outlaws are rebels against the system, and they always attack the enemies of the people; the banks, going back in the West, the railroads, and the people have always dug them and seen them as doing it for them. People like Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger, if they killed anyone, they killed pigs.
SUN-DANCE: How about that one time Pretty Boy Floyd got away up that hill, and all the people prepared a big feast for him?
Stew: Oh yeah, Pretty Boy Floyd robbed two banks in one day in Oklahoma and that was considered a bad luck thing to do, because the Dalton gang tried it back in the heavy Old West days, and got blown away. Well, Pretty Boy Floyd did it; he robbed two banks, got away with it, came back to the Oklahoma hills, and the people told him they would sit down and have a meal with them.
When the FBI went in there to try to find him, everyone said, "Oh we don't know him, we don't know where he's living." And they were hiding him out. The people were hiding him out because he hit the banks. And the people hated the banks. It was sort of like American soldiers looking for Viet Cong among Vietnamese peasants--they're not going to find them. And the FBI couldn't find Pretty Boy Floyd. So the 1 outlaws--they weren't revolutionaries, they knew who their enemies were: big business, the politicians, the police, and they fought them. They fought them heroically. But they didn't have a sense of how they could ultimately overthrow their enemy. That it wasn't just a continuous war, but that they could actually win, that they could overthrow their enemy. So they didn't have a sense of arming the people, a political philosophy to take to the people, to organize the people. In a sense they provided a kind of an exciting entertainment for their people that the people could dig and support. But not a revolutionary philosophy. So we gotta view them as heroic rebels, but not as revolutionaries.
SUN-DANCE: Are you going to run for Sheriff again in a couple years?
Stew: Well, l was thinking of moving to Ann Arbor and running against Sheriff Harvey, as a matter of fact, if he's still around.
SUN-DANCE: Oh, he'll be around.
Stew: But then I was thinking maybe Pun should do it. No, I think my days as an active politician are over, but I think that in future years all the anti-police forces in Alameda County have to be brought together, a candidate has to be found that they can all support, and you gotta run to win. And I'd be for that 100 per cent, but I don't think I'm that candidate.
Maybe in four years I won't be sheriff, I'll be an outlaw. Yeah, maybe I'll be the outlaw.
PHOTO -- DETROIT ANNIE