Anyone who follows the newspapers in Ann Arbor, particularly New Morning, the Michigan Daily or even the Ann Arbor News, perceives a confusing picture of John Sinclair and the organizations he helped found, the Rainbow People 's Party and Rainbow Multi-Media.
John is called "sexist, " "anti-gay, " "racist " and a "white cultural nationalist " bv New Morning in George DePue 's review of GUITAR ARMY and called "Ann Arbor 's paunchy hippie poet laureate " in a gleeful Michigan Daily report of the burning of that same book by government paid Drug Help workers.
But isn't John Sinclair the person who spent 2 1/2 years in jail to prove the state's marijuana laws unconstitutional? And isn't he one of the main organizers of the free concerts and the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival?
In a recent visit to Ann Arbor, Ken Kellev, erstwhile editor of the Ann Arbor Argus, former Minister of Information of the White Panther Party (RPP's immediate predecesser) and co-founder of SunDance magazine, undertook Parts II & III of a three part interview with John to discover what lay at the base of these charges.
KK: George DePue of the so-called "American Revolutionary Media" recently attacked you and the RPP for cultural nationalism, racism, sexism and other things. What is your response to that?
JS: I would say, first off, that in receiving a criticism like that, or any criticism, you have to consider two things. You have to consider the content of the criticism itself and you have to consider where the criticism comes from - does it come from a basis of unity, or does it come from a basis of enmity - or does it come off the wall? And you have to consider both those things.
So, first, my initial response is going to be that of course it's absurd. But that isn't enough of a response for people who don't know anything about this, or know a minimal amount about it, and have just been introduced to the question by this person, this worm, DePue. That isn't a good enough answer, and I really would like to talk about it for the benefit of those who don't know anything about it.
As far as DePue is concerned, he isn't sincere in making that criticism - he isn't even making a criticism in the first place, he's making an attack - he's organizing propaganda to influence people's minds in a negative way, and hence their practice towards the RPP, and toward the mass programs and community organizing that we're involved in, and that's what's really harmful. As far as l'm concerned, people can hate the RPP if they want to, we aren't running a popularity contest, we're trying to begin to organize the community so that it will have control over its own destiny. That's what we're concerned about, and you know, what he says about the RPP, I mean the reason he attacks it is to discourage people from participating in programs in which we are involved.
KK: Which would all fall under the category of "white cultural nationalism" - all these programs?
JS: Again, that's simply absurd, and it's a vicious, slanderous lie that is being perpetrated by someone who knows that what he's saying isn't true in reality. In other words. it's the most vicious kind of character assassination, it's irresponsible and ractionary propaganda, which is part of their campaign to oppose what they call "the Rainbow," which they relate directly to us, but which goes beyond that, and what they are really opposed to is the organization of the rainbow community, and what we call rainbow people, which they hate, you know, for some reason. Evidently their parents are rich, and they have a lot of self-hatred, and guilt and stuff like that about having been born to white parents, and evidently they haven't repudiated their whiteness or their Euro-American-ness, as millions of people have done or are struggling to do. Evidently they embrace being white, and they get what they call in the penitentiary "negative strokes" by castigating themselves and their whiteness.
It goes to the very basis of our political analysis and our political position, because the basis of what we're talking about is that the phenomenon of rainbow people, and the rainbow culture, represents a conscious rejection of whiteness, and not just a negative rejection, but a positive, constructive rejection and a turning toward people of color throughout the world for leadership, culturally and eventually in other ways. But first culturally, because culture is important - culture is what people live.
So, if people have been living their lives, like I have ever since I was a little kid (I'll be 32 next month, you know), living lives with heroes that are black people, ever since I was 11 or so and first heard black music, my idols and heroes have been black people. And this is the case for millions and millions of what we call rainbow people.
KK : Fifteen thousand people who came to the Blues & Jazz Festival alone . . .
JS: Yeah, at least, and all the thousands of others who heard the music over the radio. But, I mean you're talking about a culture of people who regard black artists like B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles, and on and on and on - people like that are regarded as heroes - Jimmy Reed, you know, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder - they are regarded as heroes by people who are supposed to have as their heroes Richard Nixon, and probably George DePue, and other white people, you know.
So that goes right to the basis of what we're talking about when we discuss the rainbow phenomenon. That's why it kills me to go into the content of what DePue was talking about, when he says that we're "racist" or "white cultural nationalists." We are, we have been and will always be, and became famous for, being implacably opposed to white cultural nationalism - white in the sense of Euro-American, or in any sense that means anything historically - and we have been, in other words the RPP, are people who have been out in front in rejecting whiteness, in embracing blackness, embracing eastern cultures, embracing Chinese and Indian culture, embracing native american culture - but primarily black.
Rainbow culture, the primary things in it come from black culture - the music comes from black music, weed was introduced to us by black people and brown people, long hair was inspired by the aboriginal people on this planet, that white people call Indians, they ain't Indians, you know, they are the aborigines of this particular part of the planet, and on and on and on, you know. And we, particularly, have always been - I mean the White Panther Party was titled that way in trying to follow the leadership, not really grasping the contradiction of using the term white, but trying to follow the leadership and the thoughts of people like Malcolm X, and Huey P. Newton, who said, white people should organize in their own communities, organize their own people to combat racism and to work with black people to build a socialist world. And we thought that they were absolutely right, and that the principle that black people should organize black people to determine their own destiny was absolutely the only way to talk about that.
And, at the same time, recognizing that we were becoming a people that you could identify, that it wasn't any more just a of people rejecting whiteness or rejecting what Gary Snyder says in that brilliant poem, "trying to kill the Christian in me." I mean it was becoming apparent that there were thousands and then millions of people, you could visibly see it, and you could hear it in their voices, you could see it when they walked down the street, you could hear it in their music.
The whole thing of the emergence of rainbow people was that it was a rejection of whiteness, in the historica! sense that whiteness means something more than what color are you, you know? "White" means a cultural complex rather than a color. There are black people who are whiter than some white people, quote unquote, so it isn't about color, it's about a culture.
We consider ourselves revolutionary nationalists, not only in the sense that our people should be liberated from the control of the capitalists and imperialists, but also revolutionary nationalists in the sense that what we propose is a revolutionary nation, which is a rainbow nation, which is made up of and controlled by people of all colors living and working and constructing a world, a socialist, communalist world, together, in peace and harmony. Now, you can call that whatever you want to, DePue can call it whatever he wants to, but we call it the nation to end all nations, the last form of the state before humanity progresses into a stateless, classless society.
KK: It's interesting that he would charge you with racism.
JS: Yeah, really, he attacked a few thousand black people in this state by saying that. Not to say that some of my best friends are black, or some corny shit like that, but you know, it's been true for years, notoriously true. I was run out of Marquette Prison, the greatest honor of my life, I was run out of Marquette, which is the Attica of Michigan, and I've never seen anything in DePue's propaganda about Marquette Prison, although there would be three pages about what an evil, vile institution the RPP is, or rainbow people, you know, but at Marquette I was run out for participating in an organizing campaign with black prisoners, all of the rest of the people involved were black except for myself, and we were organizing a movement, continued on page 12,
"The phenomenon of rainbow represents a conscious and constructive rejection of whiteness and a turning toward people of color throughout the world for leadership. Since I was 11 years old my heroes have been black!"
"Organizationally and personally our position on the right of gay people to be free to practice their culture has always been supportive. Particulary in the last few years since we began struggling against the sexism in ourselves."
which had as one of its most immediate goals the establishment of a black studies program in the prison academic school, and specifically a black history course.
We organized and circulated a petition calling for this, circulated it on the yard, and had mass meetings and all of that, and then a strike was called when the administration refused even to consider the petition which 60 prisoners had signed, saying that they would participate in such a class if it were offered. So ten other brothers and myself were snatched out of our cells in the middle of the night, in a "pre-dawn raid," and locked in quarantine together and then most of us were sent on to Jackson.
All of them were later released into the general prison population again, but I was never released from quarantine, I never got in the yard again, for fifteen months. Five of those months I did inside the Wayne County Jail, where I participated in organizing hunger strikes with black inmates and where Pun Plamondon joined with James Johnson and some women prisoners to initiate the Wayne County Jail suit, which brought about some massive changes in the Wayne County Jail. Pun Plamondon, also a racist, white cultural nationalist member of the hideous RPP cult.
Then, after I was in segregation in Jackson, and after a group of black prisoners circulated petitions on the yard calling for my release from any form of segregation - which totally freaked out the prison administration, which uses racism as a conscious tool to keep prisoners divided, and this blew their minds - so shortly after that I was moved from triple-O segregation, which is just 23-hour a day lock-up, to the hole itself, where I did 37 days. The charge was typing Black Panther Party literature on my typewriter tor some black brothers who were organizing in the prison.
So I was sent to the hole for that, and behind that I brought suit against the penitentiary and was eventually then transferred to the Wayne County Jail, and when I came back to Jackson I was put in a "less onerous" form of segregation with 23 other prisoners, and that's where I spent the rest of my time. And again, without trying to sound corny or anything, I was regarded inside the Michigan Prison system as the biggest threat that they had ever had to their security and stability, precisely because I was the person in there who could relate equally well to black prisoners and to white prisoners. That was, again, because of the rainbow ideology that I was able to do that, and that was because, again, that's what we're talking about. So, it's heavy, you know.
KK: Another thing about this charge of white cultural nationalism from DePue . . .
JS: We have a whole dossier on DePue, you know. I don't mean to interrupt or anything, but our organization has been suspicious of him ever since he came to Ann Arbor about five years ago, we've suspected him of being an agent provocateur of some sort.
KK: He came here under rather strange circumstances, too, didn't he?
JS: As I recall, he was in Detroit as part of a Newsreel collective that had come from New York City to Detroit to make a film called "Finally Got the News," a film which focused on the League of Black Revolutionary Workers and the organizing they were doing in the factories at that time. DePue was part of this collective, and he ended up getting run out of Detroit by Newsreel, by the black workers and organizers, and by the women in the group, who labeled him a male chauvinist pig of the worst order.
They literally ran him out of Detroit and they wanted us to watch out for him because he was irresponsible and extremely divisive. He came up here, and then he adopted the name "ARM," American Revolutionary Media, which was a name that was put forth at the underground media conference called by the White Panther Party in July of 1969 put forth by a national network involving newspapers, radio stations, film-makers, video people, everyone involved in media in an alternative, anti-capitalist way - we laid that out as an idea, and we never got to move on it because I was locked up in the penitentiary two or three weeks later. I say from there that DePue had taken this name, which we had applied to a national project, and applied it to his little household, of him and his harem or whatever he had, and his dupes, these rich kids who provide him with his financing.
His beef with us seems to have come about the time that we stopped letting him use our mimeograph machine and our gestofax for free, which they used to print the flyers for their movies. That's their main area of activity, putting on movies, and Hollywood movies for the most part.
KK: That's what's so ironic about them and the type of films that ARM considers "revolutionary," and the kinds of films they were showing when they made that statement. We see in their ads, for example, that "Gimme Shelter" was playing, and "Cleopatra," some W.C. Fields, and then their latest schedules have films like "The Misfits" and "Bus Stop," "Easy Rider," about which they say in their literature, "Easy Rider sums up the mood of the 60's uncertainty, a 'hot' recent release."
JS: Yeah, well, DePue's movie program represents the worst kind of exploitation of our people, the kind of exploitation that we've always stood against. We're against people from outside our culture, who are opposed to it, coming in and packaging it and selling it back to the people who invented it and created it out of their native genius. That's the worst kind of cynicism. They say they detest our "white bourgeois culture" and the people who live it, but here they are ripping people off and showing flicks like "Easy Rider" just to get the money from it, even though they say they're opposed to it.
KK: Maybe DePue believes in hippies getting shot by red necks, that's how you deal with white cultural nationalism, perhaps.
JS: Maybe so, I don't know what he believes, I just see that here is a "revolutionary" movie series that has a Marilyn Monroe weekend. I've never been able to see anything revolutionary about Marilyn Monroe, she is one of the primary reasons I turned away from white society in the first place, twelve or thirteen years ago, because of the kind of stupidity and the degrading, sexist images that movies like that depict. I mean Marilyn Monroe is the epitome, the perfect symbol, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, the spoiled white pampered woman, rolling in the bucks and living the decadent life-style and taking sleeping pills.
KK: How can you speak so knowledgably about sexism, John, when you're also a sexist pig?
JS: Well, anybody can say anything they want, you know, that's the interesting thing about words, that's the interesting thing about Western civilization, is that anybody can say anything. Unfortunately for people whose words are so together, there is also the test on words that people put out, which is called reality, that is to say, what people actually do, their practice. Sometimes words describe what people do, and sometimes they don't, it all depends on where the words are coming from. Again, I haven't ever been criticized by any of these people for being sexist or racist, personally. I mean DePue hasn't even talked to me in over a year. These type of people are not criticizing, because criticism is when somebody comes up to you and expresses, first unity with you as a fellow element of the people, as opposed to an element of the ruling class, or capitalists, and they come up to you as another person in the camp of the people and says, hey, I've been observing the way you've been doing things, and I think that you're oppressive to women, or oppressive to gay people. Nobody has ever come up and give me that criticism to my face.
What we're seeing now are simply attacks that are made as a part of a policy of trying to "smash the Rainbow" and, as some people have said, to run us out of town, which some Gay Liberation Front spokespeople have stated as their purpose. Now, it's hard to tell exactly what they mean by their attacks. They haven't investigated what they are saying, they haven't brought their criticisms forward in a comradely fashion, and we don't even know what they're talking about.
Organizationally, and personally, our position on the right of gay people to be free to practice their culture has always been supportive. Particularly in the last few years, since we began consciously, actively and systematically struggling against sexism in ourselves, and since we began to recognize through the beautiful work of the women's movement in particular in bringing people's attention to these matters, that sexist behavior is really bogus. And we recognized that, and the sisters in our organization took the lead in pressing these questions and bringing all of us to confront the question of sexism in our behavior, especially the men.
I was in the penitentiary at that time, and I was able to undertake a fairly systematic study of the question, by reading historical works, current literature, women's anthologies - Sisterhood Is Powerful was a very important one - Dialectics of Sex by Shulasmith Firestone was especially provocative, her book raised some really fine points, like the biological oppression of women, you dig? Anyway, we not only began dealing with it in the psychological sense of how do you act and how do you carry on with other people, but also in the institutional sense of beginning to struggle against the nuclear family, and the whole baggage of oppression it carries with it.
On the other hand, we have never restricted women in our organization since we started nine years ago. The women were always free to particípate in all the creative and organizational and administrative activities. The difference was that in the past they were also burdened with the responsibility for all the cooking, cleaning, child care and all that, you see, so we really only had half of the problem, where a lot of people were not letting sisters do anything but work in the kitchen and the crib.
We began to collectivize, and integrate men into the cooking, cleaning, childcare, and all those reproductive functions, and we all tend to feel that that is one of the most important things that we've done. Not only to socialize childcare, so that the children are brought up with everyone they live with sharing in taking care of them, but also we established the principle that both males and females should do this equally, and furthermore that men had been denied a trip that was essentially rewarding, you know, by being culturally conditioned not to take part in the childcare and reproductive process by which any individual or group makes itself able to take care of its work.
These are things that we've been committed to, and these are things that you can see in practice, when you see DePue in public with his "Wife", these are some things they could learn from us, if they weren't so busy opposing us. Coming from that person, the charge of sexism is especially galling.
But it's painful to have the same criticisms coming from women's groups and gay groups, whose activities we support almost without reservation. And I say almost because occasionally there's something or another tactically that we may not support. But as far as their right to practice whatever they want to practice, as long as it doesn't hurt other people, we're totally in support of that. That's why, as I say, it's painful. And what it arises from is individuals opportunistically seizing upon first, the fact that most people don't know us personally and haven't had a chance to see what kind of life we live, and these individuals, for whatever their reasons, whether they're government agents or jealous or ego freaks, seize upon slander like that and use it to organize public opinion against us. We regard them as our enemies, I mean I have to say that right out, and we're gonna begin a program of combatting people who have defined themselves through their practice towards us as being our enemies, trying to stop us rather than trying to stop James Stevenson, Richard Nixon, or any of the pigs.
KK: Isn't it strange that people like Harry Kevorkian see you and the RPP as their main enemy, against whom they direct all this hatred?
JS: Well, it's strange unless Kevorkian is an agent provocateur, which I also suspect. I don't throw that out lightly, I mean I know the way the government operates, I've studied it first hand, l've been subjected to the government's tactics, I've done three years in prison out of the past seven.
We've been subjected to the most intensive scrutiny and the most vicious persecution by John Mitchell and Richard Kleindiest and all that gang, and we're familiar with the way they operate. And they're familiar with us, because when I was the penitentiary, I corresponded daily with the RPP, and they, the state and the government, copied everything I wrote or received. They know that we are implacably opposed to them, and that we intend eventually to crush them. We're trying to organize people to do away with their economic system and their political power and their culture, and they know we are implacably opposed to them. We know that they want to stop us and that they have their eyes trained on Ann Arbor, because Ann Arbor is a vanguard community in the context of the U.S. of A., because people are just beginning to organize themselves around principles of resistance to capitalism and the creation of alternatives which can help the people achieve their collective liberation from imperialism.
There are people whom I suspect firmly of being government agents. We believe there are agents in the Human Rights Party and in the gay organizations, and if you look at the history of the way agents operate, they always infiltrate progressive organizations like these, l thought it was extremely interesting that Harry Kevorkian moved into the position of Treasurer of the HRP after organizing effectively to help drive the Republicans into city hall; that's when I began seriously wondering about him. And the organized opposition of Harry Kevorkian to us surfaced only after David Sinclair emerged as a candidate in the Second Ward for city council; we never heard of him prior to that.
The fact is that we've had people who are gay in our organization all along, frankly to us it isn't any big thing and never has been, and if you go back to five or six years ago when we had a sexist streak running through our writings. which was unconscious and which we have since repudiated, but I mean even then, what we meant by statements like "fucking in the streets" was just wide open, polymorphous sexuality, anything goes, if you can fuck in the streets you can do anything, and that was the intention. We weren't talking about men going out with erect penises and raping women in the streets or the bushes or anything like that, that wasn't what it was about.
Since then we have been engaged in a comprehensive struggle both as individuals and organizationally, against sexism and against role stereotyping. We've been trying to open up sexually, and to rid ourselves of the cultural poison and perversion that was put into us by capitalist society, and we've never been anything but supportive of the gay liberation movement.
One of the main causes of contention with this small, vociferous, and obnoxious, in our opinion, segment of the gay community is that we couldn't agree with them that the gay liberation struggle is the central component of the international struggle against imperialism, capitalism and racism, although it certainly is not without importance. We just don't see that if all the men in the world held hands or sucked other men's cocks or fucked other men in the ass, that that would end oppression, and the rule of the Fords and the Rockefellers. Even if the Fords were fucking each other in the ass, they might get off better, but it ain't gonna stop them from exploiting working people and black people and other minority peoples all over the world.
Another point of contention is that we can't see what's so progressive about relating exclusively to one sex, or only one's own sex. We don't see that as progressive, we don't see how anybody except polysexuals can really stand forth and say they are the vanguard, I mean, people that can relate to anybody, without regard for their sex, are most free of sexism. That's what sexism is, basing your interactions and categorizing and typifying people by their genital components, rather than by any other aspects of their being.
What we're talking about. whether you call it the rainbow ideology or whatever, is that all people, men, women. young. old, black, brown, red, all people start out being equally important and equally valid individuals on the planet. And they don't have relative value along the scale of human worth because of sex, race or any of that horseshit, you know? The diversifications are just some of the things that make humanity beautiful, and that's how it should be, and that's been our position for years and years.
I think it's an anti-sexist position and I'm sure it's an anti-sexist position, in fact, to approach people as a totality of all the things that they are. I mean if a person is black and has a dick and comes from Mobile, Alabama, that's beautiful, that doesn't make any difference at all. What's important is does that person oppress people, control large productive facilities and oppress workers for personal gain, does the person commit him or herself to the people's struggle - those are the things that place a person on a grade of worth in a social context, not if they are a man or a woman. Functionally, a person's sex makes no difference.
I think that the rainbow culture has spawned a lot more freedom, sexually, than has ever existed before. Even though there's still heavy oppression of gay people among rainbow brothers and sisters who are still effectively permeated with the filth of white civilization, on the whole I don't think anybody can say that there isn't a greater openness and a greater striving, that you can see, toward eliminating sexual distinctions, which is a step toward accepting any kind of relations with anybody. I don't think anybody can deny, if you just look out on the street at freeks, it's like the honkies used to say, you can't tell the boys from the girls. That's beautiful.
Another thing about this criticism that I want to direct myself tu - and, again, it isn't criticism, because criticism comes from a basis of unity and works toward unity, that's what criticism is - but, the other thing was that, again this same element led by Harry Kevorkian has charged that we are oppressive to gays because we don't "approve" of gay men, or straight men, gay women or straight women, dressing up like honkie floozies, in the image of the most oppressed and degraded women in our history. Emulating movie stars and other rancid manifestations of Euro-American culture. We don't see this as being progressive, we see it as being reactionary.
When you see great masses of people moving away from artificial, non-functional fashion decrees, we don't see it as being particularly progressive for any people, gay men or "straight" women, to wear corsets, lipsticks, cosmetics, and all that stuff which implies that the way people naturally look isn't good enough. That's what we turned away from. Which isn't to talk against people painting themselves in a decorative way or wearing sparkles or anything to make themselves beautiful.
Beautiful is one thing, you know, but Hollywood 1946 or '56 or '66 or '73 isn't beautiful, it's perverted - not in a sexual sense but in a human sense. What that projects is that people should paint themselves up to look like some model they saw in a magazine or a movie, and that people will be happy if they buy and wear a certain lipstick or brassiere or shoe, the whole consumer trip, you know. So that's another reason the Kevorkian element attacks us, because we don't accept that type of behavior as progressive.
The only other problem we have, is that we find the tactics these people use to be tactics that we employed ourselves in the past and then repudiated as not useful. Confrontation with other elements of the people is not useful to us. We confront the ruling class, the small minority that actually controls, and we believe in struggling against them. But struggling among the people is a matter of education, it isn't a matter of confrontation and freaking people out and making them mad and stuff like that. That's counterproductive in our opinion. The masses of people are all in the same boat, because they 're all oppressed, by the few in the ruling class, and it is those few who are the enemy, without question.
KK: The main problem I have with what you are saying is that there is value in some kinds of demonstration; for example, the simple sight of men holding other men or gay people turning out for a parade, can be a liberating experience.
JS: Well, that sort of stuff is great. It's like smoking a joint. But it's the difference between running up to straight people like we used to do and flaunting a joint in their face and pushing them away telling them that "You're a creep if you don't smoke joints." That's the sort of thing that we're opposed to. If you're practicing your culture and it's healthy in the sense of holding hands or kissing or something like that is certainly healthy, and someone gets freaked out, then that's too bad. If they don't understand then you'll hope they will understand sometime in the future. But there is a difference between having a parade or having a demonstration for something and just randomly freaking out individual honkys. We use to do it all the time, that's why we're so familiar with it.
KK: I just wanted to make the distinction about what the confrontation was.
JS: You're absolutely right. It's like saying that smoking a joint is a confrontation. Well, the papers try to say that. The papers tried to make up a confrontation last week between the police and the people who smoked joints. That's only a confrontation in the minds of police. It isn't objectively a confrontation because the people are ust smoking joints. Just like the people you were talking about were just holding hands. That's not a provocative act.
KK: Certainly fucking in the streets might be considered a provocation.
JS: Absolutely, and that's why we don't talk about that anymore. Although we're working towards a situation where that can happen.
KK: That's an example of your own confrontation-style politics . . .
JS: Which was wrong. Which ended up with a bunch of us in the penitentiary where we didn't do anything for the people but drain their money and their energy trying to get out. It was good that it did happen, it was historically perfect, but you learn from your mistakes, and you try to discourage other people from making them all over again.
KK: Well, as long as the other two-thirds of the statement are still correct, i.e. rock and roll, dope . . .
JS: Well, I'm kind of cautious about dope because "dope" means something different now than it did then.
KK: What does "dope" mean now?
JS. In those days, '67 and '68, people like ourselves didn't use heroin or sleeping pills. and just a few people used speed, at least in an abusive way. So when you talked about dope, you talked about weed, and LSD to a lesser extent. It had nothing to do with heroin or downers because the pigs hadn't reached us with that stuff yet.
lt's part of our analysis that those things are used consciously by the white Euro-american culture, racist, genocidal culture, which will obliterate whole peoples with bombs, so you know how far they will go if they are against you. We believe these narcotics and sleeping pills are used as weapons against the people to keep them from waking up, opening their eyes, digging what's going on, and getting together with other people and organizing against those pigs.
KK: lts really a shame that largely as a result of the Human Rights Party's failure to mount an effective campaign in the spring elections that the five dollar marijuana ordinance - which was the most progressive weed law in the country - was recently rescinded by the Republican dominated city council.
JS: Sure it's a shame, and it's funny to think, if I may be candid, that these people are running around with their little marijuana petition after attacking us in the primary for presuming to represent people who smoked marijuana and to say that people who smoked marijuana are equally valid in their existence as the rest of the people in this country.
KK: They attacked you several times in the primary?
JS: Yes, and DePue will attack us, and all of them will attack us on those grounds. That's the main thing we catch the flack on, for saying that there is such a thing as rainbow people in the first place. It's like when Malcolm X and other "Negroes" jumped up and started talking about black people, the honkies didn't want to hear about it. And with us they either want to say that we're just the same as our parents, which is patently untrue, or they want to say that we're just part of the mainstream, just another little stream that's flowing into the great melting pot, or they want to say that we're just hippies and nogoods.
None of those things represent an analysis that can advance anybody anywhere. Where do you go from an analysis like that?
KK: What about the marijuana petition?
JS: Here are people who consciously organized to carry out a course of action in the spring elections this year which would elect a Republican majority. We did everything we could do to try to tell them what would happen, and when we saw that they were insincere and that most of them were either ego-freaks or power-mad little creeps like Frank Shoichet, we tried to convince the people beyond them through newspaper articles or talking in public against this course of action, telling the people what it was going to do. And people like Nancy Wechsler would say that there really isn't any difference between Republicans and Democrats. Only the Democrats are worse because they fool the people into thinking that they're liberal, or some shit like that.
KK: Did it surprise you that they sabotaged David Sinclair's campaign?
JS: Yes, it did surprise me. That's probably part of my problem, it all surprised me, all the contradictions, struggles and conflicts that we've had with all these people in our community have surprised us. Of course everyone knows that we're on a super power trip and that we're just trying to take over everything, even though objectively we've cut our membership by more than half in the last six months. If we were trying to take over everything, we'd be trying to sign up everyone we could get!
KK: The party now has eleven members?
JS: Eleven members, right. (Laughter.)
KK: Hardly an invading army.
JS: I mean it's this big mystical thing, right? Eleven people - six women, five men.
KK: But you all have powers of levitation.
JS: Oh yeah. If you listen to some people, we do everything bad that happens in town. But what I meant to say was that we were unpleasantly surprised at each juncture by the kind of things that went down.
KK: Especially in light of the fact that the HRP early in their existence approached you for help in trying to win a 1972 election victory.
JS: Everybody approaches us. Everybody wants to use our organization, our abilities and the resources that we've struggled to accumulate over the past ten years, and all the skills that we've developed in trying to get people out of penitentiaries, changing the marijuana laws, battling racism. They all want to use them as long as they can use them in an unprincipled way and without having to make a committment to any principles that we are committed to, and as long as they can use these things to their advantage.
We always try to start out from a position of unity, and we always try to work with people - as many people as we can. We try to make our resources available to them, and we continually get ripped off. And then they get mad because they know that we contributed to where they eventually got to, and if they could just eliminate us then they would not constantly be reminded that they have violated every principle in the book in regard to us. If we just weren't here, a lot of people in this town who are politically active and hate us and constantly vilify us and spread this vicious propaganda all the time about us, they would be very much at ease, because our very existence and our very presence, and our longevity and our stability is a constant irritation to them.
The reason we have been so surprised when these things would go down is because we've been around for a long time, and we've gone through incredible suffering. And I don't say that to be glib, I suffered my ass off in the penitentiary, and it's weird to have your sincerity constantly challenged, and your committment challenged. I've been doing this for ten years. Some of our most vicious attackers were working for time magazine ten years ago, or were members of the Young Americans for Freedom, which is really the Young Americans for Fascism.
Anybody can say anything and it immediately becomes as valid as anything else that was ever said, because it's all just words. So anybody can jump up and make any kind of statement, but it's a struggle to then try and relate that statement, especially when it's made irresponsibly, to the whole historical context. Especially when you have people attacking you who know that historical context and consciously try to distort it, and consciously lie about it. DePue can write an article which he knows is lies, but he does it because his policy is to attack us.
If anything, we're part of the people. We're not trying to oppress people or put people in jails, we're trying to do things which are positive and constructive, and which will contribute to the people's struggle. I don't have to justify my commitment, I don't have to have my sincerity tested. They didn't have to call me up in the joint to ask me if I was still into it, and they in fact don't call me up today to ask me anything either - they just make attacks in public without ever even trying to discuss things with us, and they only succeed in causing a lot of hostility and confusion. That's why, in the past, we haven't responded to some of those attacks, especially the most irresponsible ones like DePue's.
KK It would be interesting to see how they could criticize the fact that on the legal front the RPP and its predecessors have brought forth the historie U.S. vs U.S. District Court decision in your CIA case, the decision which decisively rejected the concept of national security wiretaps, or the overturning of your marijuana conviction, which released 128 prisoners and thousands of parolees and probationers.
JS: I will say to anybody who has observed what we've done over the last few years, we were the first people in this state to speak up against these laws. We struggled hard to change those laws involving thousands of freaks in the process, and we changed them. It took us six years, and we fought for that and we're proud of it.
KK: One of the other major charges against you, the RPP, and particularly Rainbow Multi-Media, is that you're just a "hip capitalist" who is making tons of money exploiting the people's culture and "ripping people off".
JS: Yeah, well, that's not only the most ridiculous charge of all, but also the most harmful really, because it's precisely in the area of economic activity that we are concerned with and committed to developing new productive forms which are not capitalistic and which in fact provide people with a concrete way to combat capitalism within the overall context of capitalist society.
You see, capitalism is very simply - and I've said this so many times already in this paper that it gets increasingly trite to keep going through it - capitalism is simply the accumulation of capital, of profits, by an individual or a group of individuals for their own personal benefit, to do with as they wish. Capitalism organizes people to make a profit for the "owners" while participating in their own oppression by making it possible for the capitalists to keep ripping everybody off for their own selfish benefit.
Under capitalism the productive means of a given society are monopolized by a relative few people and used to control the people while giving the capitalists the fruits of the people's energy and labor. The people who work have no say in how the productive relations of society will be organized, nor do they have anything to say about how the fruits of their labor will be distributed and used.
What we're talking about, on the other hand, and more important, what we're doing, is beginning to organize ourselves, and all the people eventually, to begin to actually seize control of all the institutions of capitalist society and the entire economic, political, and cultural life of this country. Again, that isn't our personal power trip but what we're working toward as elements of the people. That's what we want for the people that is, those masses of persons who now have little or no control over their own lives or over their productive life in society - we'd like to see the people, and we intend to see the people, and as part of the people we intend to participate in this process of taking control of the country. Not just the workers in the narrow sense but all those people, the non ruling class, everybody who doesn't get a free ride.
So this is the context you have to deal with. And, unlike the campus-oriented "radicals," most of whom are getting some kind of free ride, the masses of people usually are pretty aware of the difference between capitalism and what we're doing cause they live in the real world, they aren't going to school or on government salaries and so on. They're pretty much aware of the realities of life in America, average people are, you know, they get busted, they have to work for a living, they have to go through many changes every day just trying to survive.
But there are a lot of people, because they've been completely mystified about economics all their lives and are kept from any kind of functional knowledge of economics, who look on any kind of activity that involves money as being some sort of "capitalistic" activity, and they're opposed to it - which is certainly good, being opposed to capitalism, but what isn't good is confusing capitalism with its opposite, which is communalism, or just being opposed to any kind of organized economic trip despite the way it's organized in reality. That's the way we were in the beginning, you know. We've had to learn all this the hard way, the hardest way possible, more than being broke, I mean we started out, Leni and myself started out bootlegging a mimeograph machine at Wayne State University and stealing their paper and ink and stencils and typewriters and everything else we could use when we were in Detroit and organizing the Artists' Workshop, back in 1964. We had never typed a stencil before or run a mimeograph machine, we didn't know about any of this stuff, we just wanted to do something creative that would benefit people and would give us control over the music and the artwork and the other things that we were creating - and eventually over our whole lives, because we knew even then that our whole lives were bound up with our artwork.
I was a poet, my primary thing was to be a poet, and the more poetry I wrote the more I turned into becoming an organizer, because I was sitting around writing poems about the way things should be and about everything that was wrong, but the poems were doing nothing. What was necessary was to start trying to live what was in the poems, trying to make what you were writing about become real in reality and not just on a piece of paper where you could read it and everybody would applaud and say, "Wow, right on, it's the way things should be, that's really far out, groovy man," etc. etc.
But it was about a lot more than that, it was about engaging yourself with the things that were wrong and trying to transform them into being right. Engaging yourself in the inhuman productive process that exists in this society and trying to humanize it, and trying to transform it into a humane productive system, which would be communalism.
It's like people forget that they're living in America and that everything that takes place in America takes place within the context of a vicious imperialistic, capitalistic economic system, which distorts and twists and perverts the lives of everyone in this society - the oppressors as much as the oppressed. So you have a society which is totally twisted and deranged because of this relation, but that's the primary aspect of life for any of us in this country.
So many people act like they were in heaven somewhere and then they came here to Ann Arbor and ran into the evil "Rainbow" and "The Rainbow" is just impossible to deal with, it is totally unreasonable and all that. But, when you look closely at something like the Blues & Jazz Festival, which is our major organized event each year, you see that it really is an alternative to the kinds of large musical events, particularly festivals, that have taken place in this country. I don't know what they do on the moon, or Mars, or heaven or any of those other places where people seem to be from, but here in America, you don't have events like that, and you particularly don't have festivals like that. You do not have festivals where the people who produce the festival pay any attention to the needs of the people who are there or try to provide for their needs, of if they do, try and do it for free, or do it in the most reduced cost way that can be done.
You don't have festivals where the producers consciously, I mean festivals of this stature, of this magnitude, where the producers consciously try to fïnd those artists who have not received proper exposure and combine them with artists who have received some exposure, but not anywhere near the exposure of the mass popular musicians. You can talk about Ray Charles, who was the biggest known performer on the bill this year, he's working for $10,000, and that's a lot of money, but in America, in the pop music industry, Rod Stewart came in to Ann Arbor and took $42,000 out for one night, James Taylor came in and took out 90% of the gate at Crisler Arena. That's the general thing.
So, I mean, you don't have festivals that are organized in the first place by non-profit organizations who not only use this means - this creative means, this self-determined, self-reliant means of funding their activities - but who . also offer a percentage, and a fairly large, 30%, percentage of the possible net proceeds to other community organizations to help them fund themselves so that their sole source of support, their sole salvation, isn't applying to the government for grants and being forced into the kind of behavior like Drug Help engages in which is kowtowing to the city and federal government, in return for not getting their grants cut off.
We don't think that's a healthy way for people to develop, to be dependent on the government, although we would be eager to get money from the government as long as we could use it the way that we see fit, and not have to kowtow to these people and go through compromises of what we 're trying to do.
Our point is that we've got things to do, people have got things to accomplish, and it takes funding. If people are going to work in any kind of organized, consistent, stable way with any longevity, then they have to be able to eat every day, they have to have a place to live, and have the transportation that they need to get around, and the expense money they need to do whatever they need to do to carry out their work. You have to have those things, unless you've got an organization of rich people, which we frankly don't have.
So, all of those things have to do with the nature of the festival, and the nature of its uniqueness. And beyond that even, there are not but a handful of socially conscious and socially committed organizations, non-profit community-active progressive organizations which deal with the question of independent funding, or which deal with the question of funding in any way except begging someone for it or selling part of your integrity to the government . . . And we propose this kind of activity as a model for other organizations that are trying to carry on independent, progressive community organizing activities or other kinds of political activities. Because what we're trying to do, again, is to create ways that people can build an economic base in order to support community organzing projects and service programs without having to depend on the government, without having to beg the University, or somebody's daddy, or someone like that for it.
And we're trying, very seriously, in the most serious way we know, to deal with these economic questions and to create within the context of this vicious, capitalistic society, an alternative that people now who have a feeling against capitalism can participate in. We feel very, very strongly that the activities, the economic and organizational activities, like Rainbow Multi-Media that we're involved in are extremely important. They're something that people can learn from, and they're something that we're trying to make available to any people who are trying to do something in an organized way to combat capitalism in its various permutations. The principles of self-determination and self-reliance are important to everyone. And it gets a little tedious to keep getting the kind of elitist trip, the just vile Marie Antionette kind of trip that someone like DePue would run, that "Well, we can inherit $100,000 worth of stock from the Detroit News, that's what everybody else should do." That's impossible. Very few people are ever going to be that rich in this society. And very few people, and especially people who have the political committment that we have, ex-convicts and outlaws, constantly being harrassed by police, just don't have access to those kind of sugar daddies. And it isn't helpful in any way to say "this is the way it should be funded." That's really despicable.
SUN: It's also interesting in terms DePue and of the concerts that he tried to put on last year, which didn't quite come through and which almost made Ann Arbor a bad spot on the map as far as getting artists to play here is concerned.
JS: Oh yeah. That's kind of a different thing, but, throughout the attacks that come from them about the kind of events that we do, it kind of goes by the wayside the fact that they tried, the so-called "American Revolutionary Media" tried through Friends of Newsreel. or, continued on page 15, continued from page 14, whatever particular front name they used at the time, to use this kind of activity to fund their little film group, and their little Conspiracy coffeehouse program.
They were going to put on a series of concerts as fundraisers, but before they had any contracts signed, they started putting out advertisements and selling tickets. They charged exorbitant rates in the first place, much higher than UAC-Daystar rates. They had a good program lined up - they proposed to bring in Charles Mingus, they proposed to bring in the Mahavishnu Orchestra, they proposed to bring in some R & B acts, but they never brought one of them off. In fact, the people who brought in Charles Mingus were Rainbow Multi-Media.The people who brought in the Mahavishnu Orchestra were UAC Daystar.
As soon as "ARM" got the money about $100,000 worth of stock from the Detroit News which one of their rich kids inherited, they dropped the whole plan of doing concerts. They weren't trying to do concerts because they wanted to make these cultural presentations. They were trying to exploit people.
SUN: They put out advertisements before they were confirmed?
JS: Oh yeah, they advertised all over town.
SUN: That 's a little unscrupulous?
JS: It was completely unscrupulous.
SUN: What did it do to Ann Arbor's reputation of being a good place to do concerts?
JS: It interfered considerably with people's efforts - with our efforts, very specifically, to bring these same artists to town, or other artists handled by the same booking agents. Because they would say, "Ann Arbor, isn't that where those fools are out there trying to sell their tickets before they have the artists booked? Isn't that where a whole series got cancelled out?"
The thing that got me was, they weren't thinking about putting those concerts on. Right after the third one failed, right after that they inherited all this money. Now, with this money, they'd really be able to put on concerts. If we had $100,000 come to us out of heaven, or out of somebody's rich daddy, we would really be able to put on some cultural events. We wouldn't have to worry about the economics of putting on a festival. We'd bring in all the obscure, black artists who through racism have been excluded from making a presentation in the mainstream of music. We could do all of thal stuff. We could for sure bring Charles Mingus in, which we managed to do anyway. But that isn't what they did. If people had to depend on them for their music, they'd be in sorry shape.
See. what people need to know is how to start with nothing more than the energy and the desire to change things, and create the ability to accomplish some of your goals in real life and to begin to bring about those changes that you want to bring about, to start the process of change happening. That's what people need.
People need to know how to organize themselves and how to move, to create, construct, build things that will I be beneficial to the people, and an alternative to capitalist society and its vile institutions. A lot of people, I believe really what to do something constructive, but they don't know how. And there really aren't any models. We had to create this model ourselves. Nobody showed us how to do it, nobody ever funded us except the people, we came off the streets and just began to make our dreams into realities by working our asses off, making mistakes, getting busted, going through a million changes trying to figure all this shit out for ourselves. continued on page 16, continued from page 15,
We had to create it out of nothing, really. We didn't know anything. We didn't know nothing about economics. I took economics in college in 1960 and flunked it. We didn't know a goddamn thing about anything practical. We just learned because we were desperate to do something about the twisted, garbage-ass, jive motherfucking society that we lived in. We hated it. And we didn't want to have anything to do with it, but we wanted to be creative and turn olher people on to what we were doing creatively, poetry, music, and the other things we were involved in. And the ideas contained therein.
Because that music came from an idea on the part of the musicians that white, Euro-American society was vile, and rotten, and inhuman, and not fit to survive. That's where the music was coming from, that's where the poems were coming from, not just "art for art's sake" shit.
We were talking about the world and we were trying to deal with it . . And we began dealing with it. And the more we got into it, the more we got into the economic questions and the economic matters, and the ways of dealing with economics. And we found that if we wanted to create we had to be able to house ourselves. That's how we developed communes, not as a "hip" idea, but because we didn't have any money, and it was cheaper to live together since we already worked together. We didn't have parents to send us money. We were forced to deal with it.
And we learned a lot in ten years. Ten years is a long time in this day and age. We've been doing it all that time, and we've been learning, we've been increasing our scope. We keep trying to move on. We're trying all along to create some kind of forms for people to particípate in some kind of political activity, some kind of constructive community activity at least.