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which we've covered fairly well. Yet equally valid and weighty were the external contradictions, those between the RPP and elements outside the rainbow community, but also with those institutions within our own community, who ostensibly are trying to create the same kind of world we are.
I think our biggest problem there was starting out from the naive point of view, that we all shared a common interest and all had an equal commitment to institute a socialist social order. But in the course of trying to do things, we learned in a very painful way that there really are a diversity of points of view and methodologies for obtaining common goals. And the other thing we learned is that this bore out our original analysis of a new social formation or grouping that we called rainbow people'. And that it illustrated the classic differences in class outlook that flow from being part of a particular social or economic class. In other words, instead of all the people who are activists in the "alternative community" in Ann Arbor coming from the same place, in reality some of them are coming from a class position as workers, some as intellectuals, students, teachers and so forth. Some are coming from a class viewpoint of petty bureaucrats on salary from the government, who have jobs to protect which override the interests of what they are doing many times. And you have people coming from the class that we feel we are a part of, which is that of communal workers, who are working to create people's institutions based on the principles of communalism.
This would come up in contradictions we'd have with what I cali the petty bureaucrat side, because our proposed method of resolving contradictions with the government would be struggle, and theirs would be amelioration, acquiescence. When it would get down to the nitty-gritty, some of the organizations would do almost anything to preserve their government grants.
Linda: The C4 groups - at that time Ozone House, Drug Help and the Free People's Clinic - were uptight, for example, about the SUN moving into the Community Center because it was so politically active and vocal. After the center burned down, they were upset that we criticized the Fire Department for its handling of the blaze, because they were afraid of losing their funding by antagonizing city hall. Yet later the firemen themselves admitted they were undertrained and under equipped.
John: We couldn't understand why they got so upset until we started looking at what the grants were going for. We'd be applying for money, and all be living in the most minimal way we could while working to gather resources to put into the programs. Then we'd see that the vast majority of the grants gained for the other programs were going to pay salaries for the administrators. Just like the OEO, the pork-chop trip that destroyed much of the political activity in the black community over the last ten years, by sucking it up. Giving individuals economic security in exchange for the security of the program. That was the way the government wanted it.
SUN: Was that the main problem you had? What other contradictions emerged on the external side
John: Well, what we ran into was the combining of a number of elements in opposition to the RPP, and many of them were coming together on no firmer ground than that opposition -- what you might cali an unprincipled alliance. This surfaced inside the HRP, as the "Militant Middle Caucus," which was an alliance to stop the RPP Community Unity slate in that city council primary and election from emerging victorious.
SUN: Why were they so concerned?
John: Their different interests dicta ted why they were so concerned. We also had severe political differences between what the HRP's stated goals and analysis became and what ours were. We said that there was this new race of young people who represented new promise for humanity, if you want to put it in the most succinct terms, and that in this community, this race of people was fairly large and widespread, and therefore warranted the closest strategic attention and could serve as the organized spearhead of an alternative social order. These people would become the basis, they were the most susceptible to these ideas, they were the most alienated from the viewpoint of Western civilization.
Linda: And the people in the HRP at that time basically felt ashamed of being part of that group of "white" people and wanted to relate primarily to the people who they thought were the vanguard, who were black people, workers, whatever, and to us it was --
John: We believe that black people are the vanguard for black people.
Linda: We believe that whatever you're part of, that's the community that you work in to.change. You're not in the missionary syndrome, to go serve some other community first. The Peace Corps syndrome -- we don't believe in that. You know the most about the people that you are a part of, and that's where you work if you want to change things. It's a basic principle.
John: We wouldn't be saying our people are better or be coming from a racist or chauvinistic view at all. They were simply the people most ready to respond to methodologies of change, who could be organized as a basis with which to then reach out to the black and other oppressed communities, and the working class of honkies and what have you. But for taking this position with the HRP people, who were hooking up with the "service" groups, the itPP was made out by them to be a small caucus within this large political] organization which was trying to take over and force everyone else to do it their way. But in reality, in our printed analysis and our actions, that wasn't what we were doing, but that was the way it was characterized.
Linda: Essentially the HRP wasn't that big of an organization, and it was controlled by a very small group of regulars.
John: And our stated purpose was to open it up to more people, to make it a more popular political body, to advance a mass line in political matters that large numbers of people could relate to. That was called "taking over." But actually we had joined into the HRP, we didn't start another electoral party, which we could have done at that time. We put thing we had behind the HRP in 1972, when it was much weaker than we were, it was a handful of campus radicals. What it is now, essentially. But it wasn't that for a while -- it was an exciting possibility that could have involved lots and lots of people and kept them involved.
Linda: Then after the taking-over charges were leveled, these same people -- many of whom are supported by their parents or by the university or government, and who have a fairly abstract view of things - they became the first ones to point the finger at us and say that the economic activity that we were involved in made us "capitalists."
John: The unholy alliance engaged in a concerted attempt to smear the RPP with charges of capitalism, power trips, collaboration with the enemy, betraying the revolution and so forth. "Trying to take over" was the most common charge, and that was what really made me begin to reevaluate our whole approach. See, what we were trying to do is part of a trip that started ten years ago for me, trying to accomplish these certain goals "by any means necessary" at any given time. And the contradictions externally coupled with the internal ones brought us to the point where it was impossible to go on the same way. There was something wrong. On the one hand, if externally we’re constantly going to be accused of trying to take over, that isn't what we're trying to do at all. We're trying to combine our resources with those of these other people to accomplish a goal. If we're going to be constantly accused of this stuff, we figured we'd just withdraw to the point where, we hope, some day people will come back and ask us to get involved again.
Linda: We don't want to have to fight to be allowed to participate.
John: There's no point. We don't want to waste our energy on these battles. It gets to be the same thing that was happening five years ago, when we got to the point where almost all of our activities were concerned with defending ourselves from the police. After a while we realized, I mean, to a certain extent what we were trying to do was to exposé the police and the repressive nature of our society, but after a certain point it gets ridiculous. That isn't ALL you're trying to do, that's just a small, tiny part of it. So now we don't spend all of our time hassling with the police, we try and stay out of their way, we don't flaunt it. We don't smack 'em in the face, or macho-istically challenge them with the far-outness of what we're doing. That's a very big contradiction we have with the gay community, for example, the activists. Because the tactics that they use to draw support for what they're trying to get across we learned five years ago don't accomplish the same ends. It's hard to watch people going through the same changes you once went through, and when you try to tell them, they turn around and accuse you of selling out.
The radicals loved it when I was in the penitentiary. That was really stomp down. Well, to me it was a tragic mistake. To me it was ridiculous to sit in prison for two and a half years when I could be out here on the street doing stuff - it was ridiculous. Sure it accomplished a major goal - it took the police out of our lives on a daily basis, took our ass out of the courts, the probation department. I would've much rather accomplished changing the marijuana laws without having to spend 2 1/2 years behind bars to do it. When you're in the penitentiary you're totally under their
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control, and your effectiveness as a political organizer is minimized drastically.
SUN: That's why they put you there.
John: But anyway, to make the point, instead of trying to take over, we withdrew from these, various activities until hopefully some people would realize that maybe we right about what we said. We aren't gonna keep trying to shove it down people's faces 'cause it isn't us that we're trying to satisfy. We're trying to satisfy the needs of the community. That might sound like horseshit or corny or presumptuous, but sincerely, that's where I'm coming from.
SUN: You withdrew to resolve the external contradictions, but what about the internal ones?
John: Well, I was getting all these reports. I would read the SUN. and believe that all the stuff was actually happening, because these were the people I was living and working with. Everyone would say that things were going well, they were winning people over, but it simply wasn't true; they were fooling themselves and me too. And I finally got to the point where I couldn't be fooled anymore because things became too blatant.
Linda: For example, I remember once when David Sinclair was running for City Council, and we took the SUN up to South U to sell it. We stood there and no one would buy the paper. No one was interested in the SUN, mainly because no one who worked on the SUN was interested enough in anybody else outside their immediate group of people and projects. It wasn't so much a newspaper as it was a report sheet, an elaborate bulletin on the state of the projects people associated with the SUN were working on.
John: That's when we decided to withdraw and get the organization together, because the organization had to be the . central component in organizing the community. That's why we concentrated so much on establishing the party, which could serve as a seedbed for the alternative institutions that we were talking about. It could support them and get them started out, and then the people who were involved would become experienced enough to take them over and administrate them themselves, outside the party. The SUN followed that plan, but I had to fight the staff for a long time trying to get them to move out into the community, involve more people and turn the paper over. Finally we just made our own demand and shut the paper down, you had to move out of the basement. The RPP isn't gonna be responsible for it anymore, because you people are giving the RPP and its ideas a bad name by doing it this way. So internally we started to question the people who were involved.
Linda: And at the same time try and do something about the state of our economic existence, which was precarious at best. We turned around and said, "OK, we can't do these things out here until we have our rent paid or the house payments up to date, and are providing for ourselves. And in the process of re-evaluating the economic situation, we realized that we couldn't have a situation involving 30 people with little if any income to support them. We realized that we could only support the people who were able to, not just those who wanted to, participate in the support of themselves and each other. So person by person, people either decided to leave or were asked to leave because they were not able to contribute in a way that was going to make the organization work.
John: So first of all, we made a cut of about half. In March of '73 we had 38 people living in our compound, eating tons of food in two shifts...and we cut to 18 people within a month or so. Then, instead of having people solely assigned to political work, we decided to assign everybody to economic work that brought in some kind of money. Because what we subsisted off of throughout '72 and '73 was contributions from sympathetic people and loans from friends. We had developed a tremendous financial burden trying to pay off all that activity that was far beyond our means -- see, we thought if we did it right the economic problems would solve themselves.
Linda: We thought a job would only take 6 months, when really it was a 10- or 20-year job.
John: Given this burden, we decided a year ago to concentrate on building Rainbow Multi-Media, because this is where our economic base would come from. The original idea of RMM was to create an alternative type of institution in the field of popular culture, which has always occupied a position of extreme strategic importance to us, principally because to what we cali rainbow people, as an economic category or class, the resources that we have beyond the labor of individuals are the music and other artifacts of culture that we create. That's a main economic resource, and the other is the weed business.
So again, following the idea of working in the most immediate area of your life, to take control of that which most concerns you, the first thing on the agenda is to have an organization like RMM, to work within the cultural arena, to keep the music and the artistic creations in the control of those people who are part of the same trip, instead of under the control of capitalists and imperialists. RMM and its activities have always been central -- before it there was a projection of the same type of organization called Rainbow Energies, and before that it was TransLove Energies, and before that the Artists' Workshop, based on the principle that artists and creative people should control their own activity, including their lives as a whole.
Also in the course of examining our problems, the other thing that we realized in our efforts trying to create this network of alternative institutions, was that not only did we need to have a stable economic base, but also all these activities had to have non-government funding, had to come up with money to be carried out, and also needed to have Communications machinery available in order to be successful. So you could publicize, advertise and expose more people to what you were doing, whether it be running in a political campaign, or the free concerts, or rent control - you need this type of machinery. And you need a means of supporting people so they can do political work, and be creative.
At any rate, getting back to resolving the internal contradictions, we decided to plug our people into Rainbow Multi-Media where they would have responsibilities that would have economic effects. And it became much easier to actually see the level of somebody's commitment that way -- RMM became a proving ground for the people who were left in our organization. And through that process we cut down from that point a year ago, when we had 18 people in our commune, to what it now is - 5 people only. Because we wanted to have a political organization that actually worked. What we had didn't. Then we resolved that it was not only ridiculous but also an extreme disservice to the people and to the idea -- which is to us such a beautiful one that we hope someday people grasp it and say, "Wow, what we need is a political organization like this. This is the beginning of a solution to our problems." But if you're actually giving them some ersatz facsimile and trying to pass if off as the real thing, then that precludes the possibility of the real thing happening.
Linda: But we should say that a lot of the people who were in the party we still work with on a daily basis and have much better relations with them now than we did when there were all these demands made of them.
SUN: What about the charge that RMM is really a hippy-capitalist rip-off trip?
John: Well, let's talk about RMM, and why we feel it's equally valid to concentrate in that area as it was to do what we did in '72 and '73. Because it's the creation of an alternative institution on a major scale. Hopefully it will both work in and of itself and also serve as a functioning model to inspire other people to work in that manner instead of the standard way you work in the music biz, which is to get all the money you can as fast as you can, whether you're a band, promoter, manager, record company, TV producer or what have you. That's the motto of the industry. RMM is an attempt to create an alternative way of doing business to the capitalistic way of doing business. In the early period, this will be manifested more internally than externally. Externally we have to engage in capitalist economic relations. To produce an event you have to pay the talent, the workers, you have to pay for advertising, and then charge a price that is commensurate with that. If you're trying to bring in a surplus of money from that to fund other worthwhile projects that don't make money, then externally, you are engaged in a profit relationship and a consumer relationship with the audience. Externally our goals are to inject a higher level of consciousness at this point into that particular musical arena while competing in the capitalist marketplace for money with other people who are promoting concerts, doing festivals, managing bands, running clubs, etc.
But internally we can concentrate on developing communalist methodologies which will not only enable us to compete externally, but can make us stronger than the other companies, because we believe that the communal method of production is a far superior method to the capitalist one. You take people whose relationships inside the organization are not those they would be having if it were a regular music business, capitalistic organization -- 1 mean, Gary Kell wouldn't work for the little he works for, Linda or myself or Darlene Pond or any of us would not work this way. The reason we can get into it is because we have control over what we're doing and are working to attain our goals. And the work we do at least contributes to raising the level of culture among our people who we love. If it doesn't do anything else, to me that's a significant achievement in and of itself. I happen to think it has strong, powerful political reverberations as well. I believe the higher a people's culture is, the more humanistic they're going to be, and the more humanistic they are, the higher their civilization as a whole is going to be. So to me, the whole question of a higher consciousness in art, music, graphic arts, etc. - is very important in terms of developing a political consciousness in people. Because you raise their expectations and their aspirations, raise their level of dignity and their feeling that they're part of a whole.
Internally, what we're trying to do to a certain extent -- we'll have more success in it as we continue, hopefully - is create a communalist productive unit that not only is not a capitalist organization or institution, but an out-front anti-capitalist business organization -- like the People's Republic of China is, for example, an out-front anti-capitalist business organization that tends to the business of 800,000,000 people every minute. And this is the part that is so frustrating about the other people who are supposed to be leftists calling the organization a "hip-capitalist" trip, because basically, a capitalist institution is one which is run for the principal purpose of making profits for the person who puts up the money -- the owners. That's the principal purpose of people who sell washing machines, records, rock & roll shows
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TV programs or what have you -- to make money for the people who own the company. Money which comes in above the operating expenses is split up among the owners, and they buy boats with it, or a car, or whatever they want. A socialist or communalist organization is one where the organization itself is at least not owned by any individuals, and at best, all the individuals involved in it. Rainbow Multi-Media is at neither externe. There are not any assets -- all there are liabilities, which are not shared by all - we don't stick the workers with the liabilities. But then the question always comes up -- "Well, what about when you start to make money? Isn't that going to corrupt you?" Well, the point is, the way it's set up, when money starts coming in over the operating expenses (which hasn't happened yet), it won't go to any individuals. Nobody owns any shares of it. What profits economically is the company itself. And since the goal of the company is to expand into every area of the communications business, until it can align itself with other similar companies to drive the capitalist ones out of business, any possible profits that come in go into expanding the directions that are marked out in the articles of incorporation. So it's not a capitalist organization by any means, although it engages in business in the capitalist world on capitalist terms. Otherwise you don't do any business; otherwise you sit around and talk about how awful it is, and hope some rich person gives you some money so you can do a trip for 6 months until the money 's gone.
SUN: We were talk ing to a new member of the HRP the other day who directs their petition drives. He was talking about the rent control defeat last year, and we said, well, what we gotta do is raise $40,000 just like the landlords to spread our side of the story. And he was sure that was just a dream that could never happen. It's as if they expect things to always stay at that level.
John: We don't. We want to do whatever's necessary to, first of all, establish rent control, and then second, different forms of housing. Eliminate the landlord class, essentially, from society. Not the landlords themselves -- they could do some useful work. But look, the basic thing is that we believe this is a better way to do things, and we 're trying to make it work in practice. It's not spectacular - it's a long, hard process. But we want to be in a position of strength instead of always doing things understaffed, undertrained, underfunded, and under equipped. In the face of a task where you can see that if you had the money that these other people have, you could blow them away, figuratively speaking, of course.
SUN: That's all a far cry from what the newspapers are saying about you.
John: Well, you see the Ann Arbor News and the Detroit Free Press and all that stuff sets up a whole false dialectic about "this is how they used to be and this is the way they are now" -- a sellout. Well, the way they always wrote about it was never the way it was. What I'm doing now is the closest possible thing we could be doing to what Trans-Love Energies was as far as being engaged in creative activity. We're involved with a band, The Rockets, that's going to be very popular. Back in the old days we worked with the Grande Ballroom, we did the posters, ran the headshop, staffed the light show, had our band, the MC5, play there every week - and it was bigger than this trip at the Shelby Hotel. And the Grande Ballroom charged money every week, and it paid the bands. It didn't ever pay them enough, and we hope to remedy that.
When we started the Artist's Workshop in 1964, we would have loved to have started it in the Shelby Hotel with their support. Nobody would support it, so we had to do it the other way. But you get into a trip where people glorify poverty and ineffectiveness and suffering and all that horrible trip. As one who took part in it, 1 mean you had to glorify it out of a sense of preserving your self-esteem. But it would be MUCH better, however, if people got money for doing what we did. It was always the premise that creative artists should be recognized, be popular, broadcast their music to millions. And that's what we're trying to do now - to bring to the fore through the Blues and Jazz Festival, the Rainbow Room, through formerly the Primo Showbar when we booked that -- trying to bring forth creative jazz musicians, feelingful, soulful blues musicians, R & B musicians and rock and roll bands and all other forms of bands in the local area. That's what we've done for years -- only now we are doing it better.
You have to take this stuff as a historical progression. And to me, the whole so-called "political phase” -- this is what we were trying to do, and because conditions in this country were much more repressive in certain respects than they are now, it was impossible to carry out creative activity without constantly running up against the police, city and county and state governments, and even the federal government. Because these forces frustrated our attempts, we grew to focus our attention on the police and government, and had to defend ourselves against them. And in defending ourselves we got caught up in a whole spiral of rabid, reactionary rhetoric, to use an Agnewian term. And the papers and the mass media loved that whole trip. It was all sensational, horseshit stuff that doesn't have any meaning at all and provides great copy which enables the newspapers -- which are, objectively speaking, the voice of monopoly capitalism -- to paint people with creative ideas as basically destructive. Enables them to take the average mass of people and turn them off to the revolutionaries. The way I look back at that period, we got caught in a dead-end, which we were goaded into and took the bait, going through a million negative changes behind it, alienating lots of people. Because we were trying to reach them through an antiquated, gibberish-ridden political rhetoric that was drained of whatever positive meaning it had by the negative actions of thousands of people functioning under the name of "the movement."
We feel it's too bad that there's so many people who have the nostalgia and positive feeling for all that essentially negative stuff. Because to stand up and shake your fist and holler and scream is not an act of strength, but of weakness, and I speak as one who engaged in it. But the point is to stop them from doing it, and prevent the destruction of creative efforts by these pigs. The stronger you get, the more secure you are. Just like here in Ann Arbor the people are strong enough so that we stopped the police from interfering in our personal lives as far as if we want to get high or not. That's a position of strength. It's weakness to be having rallies calling for the change of the weed laws. What's strong is to change them. If you can do it without going to jail and all that, so much the better.
As for the newspaper thing, it's more true what they say in the newspaper now than it was when I was the "king of the hippies" which they made up completely. We learned from that. We at least made the White Panther trip up ourselves. We figured we should be known a little bit more for what we were - not "king of the hippies," but let's be known for the fact that we support the Black Panther Party and are followers of Malcolm X. But even that was essentially a reaction -- that was not initially what we wanted to project at all. But they don't care. The woman who did this "hippy-capitalist" trip in the paper, Peter and Darlene and I spent an entire afternoon with her because ie told us she didn't want to do a schlock kind of story. The only counter we have to stories like that is that we're still gonna be around doing what we're doing, and sometime they are gonna be forced to recognize us. I mean, I liked it to the extent that I've been working in this community for ten years now, and finally they have the nerve to say that what Tm doing is "legitimate." That 's the culmination of a ten-year struggle to establish the legitimacy of our ideas and operations, so I'm glad they say we're legitimate. I think they're illegitimate! So that isn't so bad, but the worst part of it is when they say, "they sold out, they gave up, now they're doing it our way."
SUN: Which can disillusion the people you most want to work with.
John: And whom you want to convince you can do it the other way, and here these jerks are saying, "you can't - they aren 't doing it like that anymore." But these straight papers aren't really any worse than the so-called Michigan Free Press, or the HRP, or any of the people who make the same "capitalist" charges and don't really have any idea what we even do, have never made a real investigation. We've had no respect at all f rom them. Some of the people who are supposed to be our friends and comrades are the ones who started the hip capitalist stuff. The HRP started it to smear David Sinclair. The gay activists started it without having the foggiest idea of even who we are, what we do, how we live, or what we engage in. Yet they '11 stand on the street corner and run all kinds of shit about what we are.
SUN: The Rainbow People's Party became a scapegoat.
John: Yeah, but l got tired of it. Why be a scapegoat? This isn't what we're trying to do. We wanted to disband it a year ago but couldn't because of Pun and Craig's case. We were really contemplating it back then, with the HRP and the Gay activists and the C4 groups and DePue - this unholy alliance, with their allies at the Michigan Daily at the time -- the sum of their unity was, "If the RPP didn't exist, everything would be great." Well, we figured, let's pull the props out from under them...If we were on a power play and we disintegrated ourselves, that's fuckin' Zen, ain't it? "You're trying to take over! "What do you mean, we don't even exist!”
- Interview by Barbara Weinberg and David Fenton