Category: Articles

Published and unpublished articles by members

Old Austin

Old Austin

Texas Country music video remembering Old Austin, Texas 1965-1995. Remembrances from the good old days in Austin, Texas including Night Hawk steaks, the Chief Drive-in, Aqua Fest, Butter Krust Bakery, Cactus Pryor, Scarbroughs and more.

Songwriter – Gregg Ronald Geil
Vocal – Carlos Machiste
Video – Mary Hopkins Geil
Guitars, mandolin, fiddle, bass and drums – Rick Van Eman
Recorded at Machiste Studio in Austin and t9c Studio in Houston
Engineered and Mastered by Rick Van Eman at t9c Studio in Houston

Assault Rifle

Opinion: Gun Ownership

The Second Amendment never gave U.S. citizens the right to own a gun. The claim is nothing more than a misunderstanding of the wording (or a deliberate lie) by extremists.

There are no rights given in the U.S. Constitution to allow private U.S. citizens the right to buy, own, or use a gun, for any reason, whatsoever. So, no, private gun ownership is not a constitutional right.

While those statements are true, it doesn’t keep individuals from purporting that the wording “means” that private U.S. citizens can own and carry guns. And, lobbyists have proven that they can have can buy an opinion from politicians, judges to state just about anything the lobbyists want them to say. But, until the Constitution is amended again, the wording remains:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The Constitution

To understand the way in which the Founding Fathers wrote the United States Constitutions, we must first understand that the Constitution is the supreme law of the U.S.A. and was written to delineate the national frame of the government and to be an explicit declaration of the powers of the United States Congress, as well as federal laws that all states had to abide by.

The Constitution first three articles entrench the doctrine of the separation of powers, whereby the federal government is divided into three branches: the legislative, consisting of the bicameral Congress; the executive, consisting of the President; and the judicial, consisting of the Supreme Court and other federal courts. Articles Four, Five and Six entrench concepts of federalism, describing the rights and responsibilities of state governments and of the states in relationship to the federal government. Article Seven establishes the procedure subsequently used by the thirteen States to ratify it.

The Constitution is interpreted, supplemented, and implemented by a large body of constitutional law. The Constitution of the United States is the first constitution of its kind, adopted by the people’s representatives for an expansive nation; and it has influenced the constitutions of other nations.

Since the Constitution came into force when approved in the first session of the Congress of the United States on March 4, 1789, it has been amended twenty-seven times. The wording of the Second Amendment as well as the 26 other amendments were not originally included in the Constitution, thus the reason for them to be considered Amendments.

The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. Proposed following the oftentimes bitter 1787–88 battle over ratification of the U.S. Constitution, and crafted to address the objections raised by Anti-Federalists, the Bill of Rights amendments add to the Constitution specific guarantees of personal freedoms and rights, clear limitations on the government’s power in judicial and other proceedings, and explicit declarations that all powers not specifically delegated to Congress by the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people. The concepts codified in these amendments are built upon those found in several earlier documents, including the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the English Bill of Rights 1689, along with earlier documents such as Magna Carta (1215).

On June 8, 1789, Representative James Madison introduced a series of thirty-nine amendments to the constitution in the House of Representatives. Among his recommendations Madison proposed opening up the Constitution and inserting specific rights limiting the power of Congress in Article One, Section 9. Seven of these limitations would become part of the ten ratified Bill of Rights amendments. Ultimately, on September 25, 1789, Congress approved twelve articles of amendment to the Constitution and submitted them to the states for ratification. Contrary to Madison’s original proposal that the articles be incorporated into the main body of the Constitution, they were proposed as supplemental additions (codicils) to it. Articles Three through Twelve were ratified as additions to the Constitution on December 15, 1791, and became Amendments One through Ten of the Constitution. Article Two became part of the Constitution on May 7, 1992, as the Twenty-seventh Amendment. Article One is technically still pending before the states.

Originally the Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government. The door for their application upon state governments was opened in the 1860s, following ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. Since the early 20th century both federal and state courts have used the Fourteenth Amendment to apply portions of the Bill of Rights to state and local governments. The process is known as incorporation.

There are several original engrossed copies of the Bill of Rights still in existence. One of these is on permanent public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Court Rulings

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on December 15, 1791, as part of the first ten amendments contained in the Bill of Rights. As is true of all writings there will be those who interpret the wording for their own use. In the case of rights and laws, there have always been attorneys who attempt to manipulate the wording to win their cases. And, in legal instances, this is why the U.S. has a Supreme Court, whose task it is to make sense of the wording on individual cases.

In United States v. Cruikshank (1876), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that,

The right to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence

and limited the applicability of the Second Amendment to the federal government. In United States v. Miller (1939), the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government and the states could limit any weapon types not having a

reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.

In the twenty-first century, the amendment has been subjected to renewed academic inquiry and judicial interest. In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision that held the amendment protects an individual right to possess and carry firearms. In McDonald v. Chicago (2010), the Court clarified its earlier decisions that limited the amendment’s impact to a restriction on the federal government, expressly holding that the Fourteenth Amendment applies the Second Amendment to state and local governments to the same extent that the Second Amendment applies to the federal government. In Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016), the Supreme Court reiterated its earlier rulings that

“the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding” and that its protection is not limited to “only those weapons useful in warfare”.

With these decisions in place, there should be no debate between various private organizations regarding gun control and gun rights of the private citizen.

What Did The Founding Fathers Mean In the Second Amendment?

There are several versions of the text of the Second Amendment, each with capitalization or punctuation differences. Differences exist between the drafted and ratified copies, the signed copies on display, and various published transcriptions. The importance (or lack thereof) of these differences has been the source of debate regarding the meaning and interpretation of the amendment, particularly regarding the importance of the prefatory clause.

One version was passed by the Congress, and a slightly different version was ratified. As passed by the Congress and preserved in the National Archives, with the rest of the original hand-written copy of the Bill of Rights prepared by scribe William Lambert, the amendment says:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The text was amendment as ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, then-Secretary of State and the final form reads:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Concerning the Militia

There is no other better way to understand what the founding fathers intended than by the writing of Alexander Hamilton in “Concerning the Militia” published on January 9, 1788, as the Federalist No. 29 of the Federalist Papers. Hamilton explained precisely what the Second Amendment intended. He went to great length to explain why they wanted the right of a “well-regulated militia” that was necessary to the free State, to “keep and bear arms” and to protect it from being infringed upon by the Congress of the Federal Government.

Hamilton stated that a “well-regulated militia” composed of the people will be more uniform and beneficial to the “public defense” of Americans. He argued that an excessively large militia can harm a nation’s work force, as not everyone can leave their profession to go through military exercises. Thus, a smaller, but still “well-regulated militia”, complimented by the “people at large” (reserves) who could be called into service as needed, is the answer. In the end, Hamilton concluded that the militia, as it is constituted directly of the people and managed by the states, is not a danger to liberty when called into use by other states to do things such as quell insurrections.

Of course, no gun extremist will ever mention Hamilton’s 1788 “Concerning the Militia” as it is a direct contradiction of what they want the public to believe. It thoroughly explains that the Second Amendment is an instrument of government and not for the rights of the private citizen to possess guns for hunting, collecting, carrying openly down the street, into a crowded restaurant or for that matter to protect yourself. There are state laws that may allow these uses but certainly not a federal government constitutional right.

The militia should be a properly constituted, ordered and drilled (“well-regulated”) military force, organized state by state, explained Hamilton. Each state militia should be a “select corps,” “well-trained” and able to perform all the “operations of an army.” The militia needed “uniformity in … organization and discipline,” wrote Hamilton, so that it could operate like a proper army “in camp and field,” and so that it could gain the “essential … degree of proficiency in military functions.” And although it was organized state by state, it needed to be under the explicit control of the national government. The “well-regulated militia” was under the command of the president. It was “the military arm” of the government. The “well-regulated militia” that the Founding Fathers spoke of is what we now know as the National Guard.

This “well-regulated militia” shouldn’t be made up of full-time professional soldiers, said the Founding Fathers. Such soldiers could be used against the people as King George had used his mercenary Redcoats. Instead, the American republic should make up its military force from part-time volunteers drawn from regular citizens. Such men would be less likely to turn on the population.

And the creation of this “well-regulated militia,” would help safeguard the freedom of the new republic because it would make the creation of a professional, mercenary army “unnecessary,” wrote Hamilton. “This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it,” he wrote.

The Founding Fathers wanted to make sure this militia could not be disarmed by the federal government. That a future “tyrant” couldn’t disarm the National Guard, and then use a mercenary army to impose martial law.

The Founding Fathers used the word “militia” to refer the republic’s new force rather than the word “army” because more than two centuries ago the word “army” called to mind the British army, foreign mercenaries, tyrants and kings.

Hamilton was explicit that the “militia” did not mean every ordinary man with a musket. Such amateurs would stand no chance in modern warfare against a “well regulated militia”, he wrote. And requiring every citizen to become “well regulated” would be “a real grievance to the people, and a serious public inconvenience and loss,” he wrote. Taking people away from their work in order to train them “would form an annual deduction from the productive labor of the country.”

The Constitution is an instrument of government. The Second Amendment is not about private gun ownership. The Constitution is about government.

Today we have a professional army, anyway. Military matters have become so complex that part-time soldiers could do it all well. So you could argue that makes the Second Amendment null and void, like the parts in the Constitution about slaves and Indians being counted as “three-fifths” of a person in the Census.

If you still want to defend the Second Amendment, it should apply only to those who undergo the rigorous training to attain “proficiency in military functions” and perform the operations of an army,” by volunteering for the National Guard, where they serve as ordered under the ultimate command of the president and be subject to military justice.

So if you’re running around waving your gun and hiding behind the Second Amendment thinking that it gives you the right to act in an extremist manner you’re not a “patriot.”

A patriot loves his homeland and is willing to defend it against others. A patriot is a loyal-to-the-death defender of his country’s traditions and values. If you don’t agree with the constitution of the United States you should expect to be vilified as unpatriotic, i.e., unworthy of being an American, and possibly traitorous.

Breaking-News

Austin Sun Newspaper Rises Again

The Austin Sun – June 10, 2016 – Engaging the community and encouraging participation among our members is central to the mission of The Austin Sun Community. Today, after seven years The Austin Sun Community has successfully helped bring together the creative synergy of those who worked at and contributed to Sun, and we are proud to announce the resurrection of the launch of the new Austin Sun Newspaper by past art director Dan Hubig.

Within the first issue of the Austin Sun Newspaper past and new readers will find submissions by Bill Bentley, Dan Hubig, James “Big Boy” Medlin and Michael Ventura, with the promise of more to come. While the newspaper is in its infancy, we have hopes that it will grow and prosper in the coming years.

Since 2009, when The Austin Sun Community rose, we have encouraged the over 275 individuals involved in the Sun to visited this site and register as members, post in the forums and contribute their works.

We encourage our community members to visit the new site and share your comments with the rest of the community here at The Austin Sun Forums. If you have not yet registered, it is free to do so and you will be able to post your comments in the forums.

You can get to the Newspaper by clicking on the new Newspaper link in the horizontal navigation panel for The Austin Sun Community, or by going directly to http://austinsun.us.

Contribute

Your contribution to The Austin Sun Community provides the opportunity for community members to contribute, leave comments and interact with each other and the authors.

The Austin Sun Community has a team of friendly and helpful editors standing by to help you with your submissions. We have also developed extensive Author Resources content to help make the process of writing and submitting an article easier.

The Austin Sun Community is always looking for more creative, bright, talented, and passionate community members who are interested in joining our team of committed volunteers. Please send an email to editor@theaustinsun.com if there is a role that you would be interested in helping with, or if you have an idea for a new topic or feature for The Austin Sun Community that you would like to help bring into existence!

Tell Your Story

Tell Your Story…

Each one of us has a remarkable story to tell. Your story, whether it be non-fiction, a novel, short story, fairy tale or more, writing it down and having it published will ensure that your story lives on.

We want to hear your story. There are no limitations, no minimum or maximum number of words, no editing, and don’t worry about being a great writer, just tell your story and we will publish it.

We publish essays, interviews, fiction, poetry and… well, whatever you submit. We tend to favor personal writing, but we’re also looking for provocative pieces on political and cultural issues. And we’re open to just about anything. Surprise us; we often don’t know what we’ll like until we read it.

Tell us about your journey after the Sun. Others will want to keep up with what you have been doing for the last 38+ years. Write about your travels, hobbies, work or a review of the best book you have read.

Tell us your stories about your personal remembrances of the Austin Sun – the paper, the people, the times, life in Austin, the articles, photos, music scene and more. We’d love to hear from everyone – writers, editors, photographers, artists, advertisers, typesetters, paste-up and layout staff and anyone else who contributed in any way to the Austin Sun.

Consider including any photos you may have, especially a current head shot of yourself for the article. Images should be at least 300 x 300 pixels and at 72 dpi, but don’t worry as we can size the photos for you if they are larger. Just send them along and we will take care of it for you.

Stories can be emailed to editor@austinsunreunion.com for publication. Authors retain all rights to their submissions. We’d love to hear from you.

As an added treat photographer J R Compton, who was thoughtful enough to record a visual history of the “Sunshine Days” has placed a number of photos online for our viewing. You can admire these photos on his site at J R Compton Sun Photos. Please to not copy any of J R’s photos or post them anywhere else. These are copyrighted images.

Others who would like to exhibit there photos on their own websites are encouraged to do so. We are happy to supply links on this site to your photos.

New-Features

New Features

The Cultivation of Creative Genius

That is what our Austin Sun past symbolizes for many of us today. It was the printed display of a life in a time that transformed a nation and a generation. It was the soil that made us what we are today. And the Austin Sun planted the seeds of thought and action that enable us to grow and bloom in the current.

This site is about you. The past and the present and the future of your creative energy melded into an exponential synergy of people, places, thoughts and actions.

Send us a snip from your current creative garden or a treasured thought from the past generation. Share how the life and times of the Austin Sun provided the warmth of energy that fans the flames of your current creative endeavors. Site changes should reflect and showcase your opinions and your creative transformations.

We are listening and making changes. Put the ones that you would like to see in any font and form that you prefer but please let us know your mind!

This is the unique boutique of our own cultural café!

We won’t batter or badger you with the advertising that pervades the malls of the huge social networking behemoths.

This is your playground. We’ve added new forums and features for your enjoyment. Let us know if you would like them sculpted into new forms for the future:

FORUMS:

We have installed new forum features where members can communicate with the group:

Introductions: Tell us about the new you that evolved from the Austin Sun era past. This is a great place to post tidbits to get in touch with old friends and also to make new ones!

What Happened to?: Have you lost touch with someone from the old days? Or maybe you are living incognito in the suburbs or on some island off the grid. Post your queries, sightings, and sharings here and let’s make the world a friendlier community.

Events: Host an event or help someone spread the word! E-mail lists are great, but the world is full of forgotten Email messages and like the seating area of your favorite café friends old and new are known to lurk on this site.

NEW FEATURES

Touch: Use this to contact the administrators to make comments and to request new features.

Profile: Post your Public Profile and read those of others! You will find your snippits posted at your Profile shared with others under the Activity tab. This is similar to the public message boards posted on many social networking sites, but without the advertisement harassment.

Acct: Update your Profile here with information. Include a photo since we are a graphics rich community and share contact information and preferences. You can even change your password if you’d like.

People: Listed are the people that you have made a special effort to befriend on this site. Expand your list of friends by clicking on the photo or the name found on the post of another person on the site and sending a request for their friendship.

Friends: Friend Requests are found here. The Friend Requests are created by a click on a name or a photo, which takes the interested person to your profile and the link that allows them to request your friendship.

Activity: See what other folks on the site have been doing! This is the place where postings on your Profile tab will publicly appear.

Inbox: Private Messages sent from those that you have befriended will appear here.

Constant improvements as per your requests will be sculpting this site, so visit often and be a vocal part of building a better community.

Bill Hood & Deborah Stall-Nelson

Gunnar-Hansen

Gunnar Hansen

Gunnar Milton Hansen (March 4, 1947 – November 7, 2015) was an Icelandic-born American actor and author best known for playing the mentally impaired cannibal and central role of Leatherface in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), which also starred Ed Guinn as the Cattle Truck Driver.

Gunnar was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, and moved to the United States when he was five years old. He lived in Maine until age eleven, when his family moved to Austin, Texas, where he attended both Austin High School and the University of Texas at Austin. He majored in English and mathematics as an undergraduate and then went to graduate school in Scandinavian Studies and English.

His first job out of high school was as a computer operator before he began theater work during college. He was also a football player during high school and for a while a bar bouncer. In 1973, just after finishing graduate school, Gunnar heard that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was being filmed in Austin and decided to try out. Tobe Hooper chose Gunnar to play the part of Leatherface, the masked killer in the movie, because of his size. However, because of Gunnar’s good looks they had to black out teeth to make him appear scary. Gunnar visited and studied children with special needs to determine the mannerisms for Leatherface. Gunnar’s character in the movie was one of the most iconic evil figures in the history of cinema.

After the success of the movie, Gunnar co-starred in Demon Lover, but after the experience he decided not to continue acting, instead pursuing a writing career. Gunnar edited a self-published poetry magazine, “Lucille” for years. In 1975, after one extra year of graduate school, Gunnar moved back to Maine and started writing. During this time he rejected a part he was offered in the cult horror film The Hills Have Eyes.

After writing (and occasionally editing) for magazines and writing books, Hansen returned to acting in 1988, appearing in the horror spoof Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, and appeared in 20 films since. He considered his later acting as a side project and continued to write books. He also wrote film scripts and wrote and directed documentary films.

Gunnar was also an author; his nonfiction travel memoir, Islands at the Edge of Time, A journey to America’s Barrier Islands, was published in 1993. In 2013 he wrote the nonfiction book Chain Saw Confidential, which focuses on the making and reception for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In addition, he taught college as an adjunct instructor.

At the time of his death, Hansen was at work on a film called “Death House.” Hansen was a writer and producer of the film, which is about how a secret government facility becomes ground zero for the most horrific prison break in the history of mankind. The film is scheduled to come out in late 2016

Gunnar died at his home in Northeast Harbor, Maine from pancreatic cancer on November 7, 2015 at the age of 68. Surviving Hansen is his partner of 13 years, Betty Tower.

Gunnar Hansen Filmography
As self

Terror in the Aisles (1984) – archival footage
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family Portrait (1988)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth (2000)
Leatherface Speaks: An Informal Interview with Gunnar Hansen (2001)
Behind the Attic Door: The Making of “Rachel’s Attic” (2002)
UnConventional (2004)
Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw (2006)

Ken-Hoge

Ken Hoge

Ken Hoge began working as a music journalist while attending The University of Texas at Austin, where he studied under Gary Winogrand and J. B. Colson, obtaining a degree in Radio, Television and Film in 1977.

Hoge began his professional photography career as a music journalist during his years as a student at the University of Texas at Austin. As a freelance and staff photographer for the Austin Sun he covered the Austin music scene in the late 70’s and early 80’s. At that time Austin was just beginning to enjoy an international reputation as a cultural “Third Coast”. A phenomenal mix of musical styles was co-existing in Austin: country, progressive country, folk, world, blues, jazz, punk, new wave, progressive rock, rock and roll, rockabilly, humor/parody, etc., etc. Hoge captured on film hundreds of performances featuring these varied styles at venues like the famous Armadillo World Headquarters, Soap Creek Saloon, Raul’s, Antone’s Blues Club and more.

His subjects range from blues artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B. King to county icons like Willie Nelson and Charlie Daniels; from punk pioneers like the Ramones, Patty Smith and the Sex Pistols to rockers as diverse as Neil Young and Frank Zappa. He photographed many Texas music stars such as Townes Van Zandt, Joe Ely, Doug Sahm, Johnny Winter, Alvin Crow, Asleep at the Wheel, Marsha Ball, Butch Hancock, Kinky Friedman and many others.

In the 1981s, Hoge switched gears and began working as a medical photographer, documenting research into artificial hearts and heart transplantation. His photographs have been published in many magazines, newspapers, books, albums and documentary films. He currently lives in Houston, Texas where he enjoys living in the Houston Heights neighborhood and working in multimedia communications.

Selected publications:

Books:

  • Stevie Ray Vaughan, Caught in the Crossfire by Joe Nick Patoski and Bill Crawford, 1993
  • Stevie Ray, Soul to Soul by Keri Leigh, 1993
  • Never the Same Again by Jesse Sublett, 2004
  • All Over the Map, True Heroes of Texas Music by Michael Corcoran, 2005
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan, Day by Day, Night by Night by Craig Hopkins, 2008
  • The Austin Chronicle Music Anthology by Austin Powell, Doug Freeman (2011, U of Texas Press)
  • Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generations by David Ensminger (2011, University of Mississippi Press)

Recordings:

  • Trust Us by Uranium Savages, 1979
  • Washarama by The Judy’s, 1981
  • Danger Boy by Jeff Walton, 1983
  • Live at the Palladium 1979 by The Huns, 1995
  • Girls Go Wild (reissue) by The Fabulous Thunderbirds, 2001
  • Blues at Sunrise by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble (Cover photo) Sony Records, 2000
  • SRV Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble CD/DVD Box Set (Booklet) Sony Records, 2000

Documentaries:

  • VH1 Legends: Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1997
  • Antone’s, Home of the Blues, 2005
  • For the Sake of the Song (the Anderson Fair Story), 2010

Exhibitions:

  • Rehearsals For The Apocalypse: The Austin Sun Years 1974- 1978, South Austin Popular Culture Center, 2010
  • We’re So Pretty: 35 Anniversary of Sex Pistols’ January 1978 San Antonio Show, South Texas Popular Culture Center, 2013
  • This Is the Life: Austin Music Scene of the Late 1970s – Early 1980s, Art Car Museum, Fotofest 2014
  • Ken Hoge: Man on a Mission, South Austin Popular Culture Center, 2014

Contact info: www.kenhoge.com

Austin-Sun-Years-Poster

Austin Sun Retrospective

The Sun Retrospective is coming along. Leea Mechling, Executive Director of the South Austin Popular Culture Center, has confirmed that there is an exhibit entitled “The Austin Sun Retrospective” in the works for September 11 through October 23, 2010.

We are receiving emails from a good many people that intend to exhibit their memorabilia. To reaffirm, the items you lend to the museum will be returned to you immediately after the exhibit ends on October 23. If you are in town, you can pick them up or if the items need to be mailed back to you, the SAPCC will appropriately package and will pay for return insurance and postage.

The Center is seeking items for the exhibit, so if you have anything to share give them a call. They are looking for pretty much anything that is relevant to the Austin Sun; photos, artifacts, drawings, art, original manuscripts, or other items. Ray Reece wrote from his home in Italy to assure that he will be sending along some articles from the era. If you have any photos, objects, articles, or anything you’d like to share, please consider contributing to the cause. All items will be returned.

They are  interested in scans and images you would like to share, which should be 300 dpi, size at least 8-inches x 10-inches (or proportionally appropriate) and up to 18” x 24” and in the format of either jpeg, tiff or pdf files.

Large files can be compressed in a zip folder and sent that way. Images may also be burned to a CD and sent via the mail or dropped off at the Center.

Send images electronically to: samopcdirector@gmail.com

Or send physical items to:

South Austin Museum of Popular Culture Center
Attn: Leea Mechling, Executive Director
1516-B South Lamar Blvd
Austin, Texas 78704
Telephone: 512.440.8318

For more information, please contact the Center’s Executive Director, Leea Mechling at [url]mailto://samopcdirector@gmail.com[/url] or leave a phone message at 512.440.8318

Almost-No-Apologies

Almost No Apologies

Perfect, I thought, when I first heard the title of this book – No Apologies: Texas Radicals Celebrate the ’60s. A brave title, cheeky and defiant, just the way we activists of the period like to remember what we did in those years. We are saying in No Apologies that we are proud of the roles we played in the global turbulence of the ’60s and ’70s. We are proud that we roared “Hell no!” to U.S. imperialism in Vietnam. Proud that we battled the cops on picket lines and persuaded young men to refuse the draft. Proud that we marched as allies of blacks and Hispanics, of women and gays and exploited workers in their pursuit of equity and justice. Proud that we fought the madness of nuclear weapons and power plants, of mowed-down forests and poisoned seas and kindred assaults on planet Earth.

We believe, with other American radicals of the time, that we prevailed in the epochal struggles we joined in Texas – particularly in Austin, where most of us lived. We helped accomplish the civil rights victories of the middle ’60s. We helped shut down, in 1973, the Frankenstein war in Vietnam. We raised the awareness of a somnolent public regarding threats to the biosphere. We confronted, in short, the historic challenges to our generation, and we won.

Or did we?

I was a partisan in most of those wars, and I have discovered that I owe an apology after all. I have some regrets. Not with regard to the wars I fought, but rather to one I didn’t fight – or fought too late – because of my obsession with the larger wars. A child of Austin in the ’60s and ’70s, I fought too late for Austin herself, the city of the violet crown, and she was effectively destroyed. The crown, as I saw it, was ravaged beyond redemption, and with it the garden of my sweetest dreams.

Thus my essay for No Apologies takes the form of a cautionary tale, a song of grief and paradox, as well as an account of my adventures in the great rebellions of the ’60s and ’70s. It is the story of a rebel blindsided on his local turf by the very forces of greed and oppression that he was helping to vanquish elsewhere. It is also the story of a city of fools – bourgeois, self-absorbed, American fools – who betrayed their birthright and bartered their realm for a few lousy coins and a night at the corporate imperialists’ ball.

When I arrived in Austin in the summer of 1966, I wasn’t really a radical yet, indeed was scarcely even a liberal. Just six years before, as a freshman at TCU in Fort Worth, my hometown, I had supported Richard Nixon against John F. Kennedy for president. I was both a fraternity boy and a spit-shined cadet in the Army ROTC. Not until the end of my junior year had I started to awaken to social injustice and political oppression in the United States. I ran for president of the student body on a civil rights ticket in 1962, shocking my fraternity brothers, who relieved me of my office of chapter vice-president. I shocked them further in my senior year – along with my parents – by walking on picket lines at segregated restaurants and movie theaters in Fort Worth.

At best, by the time of President Kennedy’s murder in November 1963, I was a neophyte, late-blooming liberal, mainly on the issue of racial equality. I was seeking to refine my new values as a graduate student in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. I had moved leftward, but not so far as to make me question the rapidly escalating U.S. military build-up in Vietnam. On the contrary, in 1965, when I graduated from Chicago with a master’s degree in English, I was prepared to go to Vietnam, which is where I was headed as an army lieutenant. I had been commissioned in 1963, but had taken a deferment from active duty in order to pursue my graduate studies. I had also married the Sweetheart of Sigma Chi at TCU. The marriage had foundered while we lived in Chicago, and it was my desire to end the suffering that prompted my willingness to fight in Vietnam – a desperate gambit, mercifully failed. I flunked the army physical for combat pilots, due to a hearing problem that later cleared up, and so was consigned to the Retired Reserve in Fort Worth. I petitioned for divorce and returned to Chicago to teach composition in a ghetto Junior college (where, coincidentally and briefly, I first encountered the Black Panther Party). Then, in the summer of 1966, freshly divorced and full of ideas for novels and short stories, I moved to Austin to share a house with a friend from Chicago and a future wife who had left her job as an airline hostess to teach in an Austin high school.

Not only, therefore, was I not yet a radical when I first came to Austin – certainly not a radical activist – I had decided to forego politics of any kind. I wanted a break from angst and discord. I sought a retreat from the urban hustle and vitriol, the bourgeois selfishness and alienation of cities like Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth. I wanted to write and study the arts and philosophy. I wanted peace, and I wanted love, and Austin offered a profusion of both in 1966.

It was simply the most alluring place I had ever seen. My friend from Chicago, himself a philosopher, told me the Austin climate and terrain reminded him of sites on the Aegean coast, where the ancient gods of Greece had dwelled. I determined on my own account, in the poet’s way, that Austin was a woman – sensuous and soft and beautiful – and I fell profoundly in love with her. I swam her pure waters at Barton Springs and loafed at Lake Travis on fabulous shelves of limestone, absorbing the sun and breathing perfumes of juniper, jasmine, and honeysuckle. The only crowds were those of birds, who chirped and gurgled with the same exuberance I was feeling. I shared that exuberance with the people I met. We gathered at Scholz’s, the historic beer garden, and filled the sultry summer air with passionate debates and loud celebrations of our ideas for further advances in civilization. We danced at parties spontaneously conceived and swam at midnight in Barton Springs, the lock on the gate be damned. We were a mob of excited pilgrims who had found each other, unexpectedly, in a town we regarded as an accidental mecca.

The reference to mecca is a crucial one. I learned from friends that the Austin area, particularly its springs and hills to the West, had been revered as sacred ground by Indian tribes who had worshiped there as early as 10,000 B.C. And one winter morning I saw it myself. I made the long trek up the broad stone steps of Mount Bonnell and gazed in awe at the hills that stretched to the western horizon. I was with friends, including my lover. We stared disbelieving at the panorama of dark green forest that embraced the hills, the solemn peaks above limestone cliffs on either side of the Colorado River. It was primal forest in the city limits, completely unspoiled by human hand. And we saw in the light of the morning sun the aura that the writer O. Henry had seen, that the Lipan Apache and Tonkawa natives had seen: a violet crown upon the slopes, a purple radiance shimmering there in the pollen-heavy branches of the juniper trees. We were struck silent, as though in a cathedral suddenly filled with the presence of God. Maybe it’s true, I speculated. Maybe this place is guarded by spirits that won’t permit its destruction by man. Maybe the people who own this land have a pact with God to keep it sacred for eternity.

I suppose I could argue, looking back, that Austin and I were stripped of our innocence at exactly the same time: August 9, 1966, at 11 in the morning. I was writing in my treetop study, perhaps ten blocks from the University of Texas, when I heard a distant popping sound, again and again, like ladyfingers exploding in the Street. I tried to ignore it, until the phone rang and a friend informed me that a maniac was shooting people from the UT Tower. I jumped on my bike and pedaled to the scene of what would prove to be a massacre – sixteen dead, including the sniper, a deranged ex-Marine and Eagle Scout named Charles Whitman. By the time I arrived, the streets and walks around the Tower had cleared of people, except for a body stranded on a mall of the UT campus and men behind vehicles with high-powered rifles in their hands. There may have been a hundred such men. They had been “deputized” by the Austin police, and they were firing volley after volley at the unseen sniper with weapons they had purchased for hunting game. They were clearly enjoying themselves.

The Whitman massacre in Austin, Texas, was only the second random mass murder in U.S. history. It followed the killing of nine Chicago nurses by Richard Speck in 1965. And by itself, the awful eruption of violence I had seen was not the catalyst in my looming turn to radical politics. It wasn’t the spur to my decision to fight a protracted if chronic war against the dark side of the American Dream, particularly the darkness that had settled by then upon Southeast Asia, where two million people would eventually die. Rather the massacre I had witnessed served to shatter the assumptions I had made regarding the sanctity of the poet’s life. It alerted me to something so unspeakably wrong with my society that I could never relax again in the role of sheltered, self-centered artist cum dilettante. I can only wish, in retrospect, that I had been keen enough of mind to direct my sense of social malaise as much toward the imminent rape of Austin as I did toward the rape of Vietnam.

At the end of August, my friend from Chicago moved back to that city to resume his work as a doctoral student at the university. His name was Jim Bennett, and his departure may have hastened my subsequent launch into politics. He had been a mentor in my development as an intellectual, as a poet and seeker of the life of the mind. It was Jim who had drawn me to Austin, along with Genie, my future wife, and we had engaged throughout the summer in ‘frequent dialogues – some of them lasting ten and twelve hours – on subjects ranging from Plato and Kant and Wittgenstein to modernist art and architecture. Jim was not attracted to politics. He thought it vulgar and self-demeaning, especially when chanting mobs filled the streets, as they did so often in the U.S. movement against the war in Vietnam. Had he not left Austin that simmering summer, it is conceivable that my enlistment against the war would have been delayed and perhaps averted altogether. When I did make my turn to activism, particularly during a hotheaded period I spent in New York, my friendship with Jim was strained to the point of complete alienation. (We later reconciled, older and wiser.)

Through the fall and winter of 1966, I continued to write my stories and explore the city that had stolen my heart. I was still oblivious, by and large, to the growing clamor of opposition to the war in Vietnam. By the early summer of 1967  – the “Summer of Love” and “Sergeant Pepper” – I had enrolled for the fall semester in the UT English Department, planning to work on a Ph.D. I had also made friends with two Austin characters, in particular, who were going to have an enormous influence on my evolution as a political being. One was Mark Parsons, a gentle giant from far West Texas who introduced me to Bob Dylan’s music, the magic of cannabis, and a passionate reverence for living things – especially nonhuman living things – that I had never encountered before. The second character was Ran Moran, a native Texan who had lived for years in New York City and there had become a fervently committed Marxist revolutionary, a fellow traveler with the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party.

It was Ran’s influence that moved me first. He was in Austin for just a few months to abet the efforts of the SWP in an organizing drive against the Vietnam War, and he caught me, frankly, in his eloquent net. I found myself sitting beneath the live oaks at Scholz’s beer garden, listening to Ran discuss the prospects for world revolution against the tyranny of the capitalist state. He cited the teachings not only of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, but also of Mao Tse-Tung and Ho Chi Minh, Benito Juarez, Che Guevara, and Malcolm X. He drew a graphic parallel between the exploitation of U.S. workers by the ruling class – especially workers who were black and Hispanic – and the exploitation of Third World nations like Mexico, Bolivia, and Vietnam. He portrayed American fighting men as corporate pawns in a war for new markets in Southeast Asia. Since half of those soldiers were black and Hispanic, the capitalist rulers in effect were using the domestic victims of a racist America to slaughter and subjugate millions of foreign nonwhite victims. Meanwhile, the rulers themselves and their privileged sons relaxed in the comfort of corporate boardrooms and country estates.

Ran’s analysis touched me deeply. It gave me a coherent, systematic framework in which to place my own indignation at racial oppression in the United States. It added the element of class oppression, thus to make me a budding Marxist. And finally, inex­orably, his arguments drove my anger to the point where I was ready to join the revolution.

Or thought I was. My friend Moran awoke me one morning with a predawn phone call, breathlessly urgent, to insist that I join a hurried demonstration at Central Texas College in Killeen. This was a campus that had just been established across the highway from Fort Hood, a major army-training base. Ran and his comrades had somehow discovered that Lyndon Johnson, the president, was due to address the student body at 10 a.m. He informed me that I had to come, in my car, since he and the others needed a ride. And quick, he said – the campus was 70 miles north. “Shit,” I groused to my lady friend. This would mean losing a morning of pay at the book wholesaler where I worked part-time. It could mean something worse, I feared, but Genie suggested I do it anyway. So I did. And I was correct in my intuition of pending disaster.

Six of us raced in my old blue Falcon up 1-35 to Killeen. We reached the campus at about 9:30 and there observed, from the safety of the car, at least 10,000 uniformed soldiers milling around in anticipation of the president’s speech. Obviously, the brass at Fort Hood had mobilized the troops and sent them over to welcome Mr. Johnson to Central Texas. I had not expected this. Neither had Ran and the other cadres, all of whom, save the accountant, were frumpy intellectuals with facial hair. I questioned the wisdom of pressing on. Ran just smiled, his brown eyes fierce through rimless glasses, and climbed from the car with a hand-painted sign: “U.S. Troops Out of Vietnam!” The others followed, each with a message certain to inflame. I was given my own crude sign, and I had little choice, it seemed to me, except to march forth to my first demonstration against the war.

It lasted as long as it took our party to reach the perimeter of the crowd. The first of the soldiers to spot us corning let out a whoop of immense displeasure. This attracted an instant mob of other soldiers, half of them black and Hispanic, of course, who set upon us with curses and fists. I was struck on the side of the face, my glasses dislodged, my sign ripped away and torn to shreds. I retreated at once, having lost sight of my comrades, and staggered to the car on legs that threatened to buckle with terror – a nasty feeling that I would experience many times in the years to come. I gasped and trembled as I waited in the car, thanking God I wasn’t dead.

Soon I was joined by two of the other demonstrators. One was bleeding at the corner of his mouth, the second nursing a swollen cheek. They told me the others had been arrested. Then we noticed a pack of soldiers headed noisily and very rapidly in our direction. We rolled up the windows in the August heat, and I prayed for deliverance as I hit the ignition. The Falcon often failed to start. But today she sang, and we broke away to the open road as one of the soldiers bounced a rock off the trunk of the car. We were back in Austin by noon, with Ran and the others back by four – I don’t recall how or in what condition, except that no one was permanently maimed.

Thus had I been christened by GI fists into the maelstrom of the antiwar movement: I was a radical, though I had no card, and though it would be another two months before I challenged authority again. Not long after the aborted demonstration, in fact, Ran went back to New York City – suggesting I come to visit him there – while I accompanied my friend Mark Parsons on a five-day foray into the rugged Devil’s River country, 300 miles west of Austin. Mark was employed as an archaeologist by the Texas Memorial Museum. He had invited me to come have a look at an ancient Indian pictograph site, and I had agreed, thinking I could use a vacation prior to the start of my doctoral program at the university. The trip was to prove as formative an experience, in its quiet way, as the hours I had spent in Marxist tutelage with Ran Moran.

During our drive through the stunning wilds of the Texas Trans-Pecos, and then as we pored over Indian paintings on the walls of caves and rock shelters, Mark explained a cosmology to me – a view of the world in its universe – that he had derived in part from his studies of primitive Texas Indian cultures. It was based primarily on the notion that Earth and her systems of natural life are unified and sacrosanct. Her sky and seasons, her soil and water, plants and trees, her fish, her insects, birds and animals all are united in a provident whole. It is this whole, an organic totality of interlocked parts that constitutes existence itself – the ground of being and consciousness. The whole of Earth is therefore inviolable. No one part can be torn from the whole and deemed more perfect than another part. The humblest beetle on a blade of grass is no less valuable than the human being who crushes that beetle.

There are laws, moreover, that govern this arrangement – natural laws that must be obeyed on penalty of death, including the death of the planetary whole. The ancient Texas Indian cultures understood and obeyed these laws. For thousands of years, they lived in a state of unity and peace with the natural world. Indeed, they worshiped as gods the natural systems that sustained their lives – the sun and the rain, the moon and wind, the corn and bison and boulders of flint. They took from the earth no more than they needed for simple subsistence, and when they took, they prayed in thanksgiving and hope for renewal of what had been lost.

As Mark explained these things to me, it became clear that he believed them as profoundly as the ancient Indians had. He shared a spiritual bond with the Indians that was almost alarming in its intensity. He was angry and sick with grief at what the Europeans had done to them, at the brute extermination of tribe after tribe of deeply reverent Indian souls. He viewed the rise of the modern techno-industrial state – with its sprawling cities and automobiles, its nuclear weapons and chemical plants – as a gross compounding of the massive crime against the Indians themselves. He viewed this pillage as a reckless violation of the laws of nature and therefore of God, a violation born of hubris, of men so consumed with crude self-interest and egotism that they are willing to torture the planet to achieve their ends. Mark confessed more than once to me his somber conviction that the human race was doomed to perish for its modern crimes. “The sooner the better,” I heard him say.

On the final night of our sojourn there, we left the wood-fired warmth of our cabin and walked to the rim of the Devil’s River canyon. We had no moonlight, as I recall, but the sky was clear and the stars so bright that we could see to the canyon floor, perhaps a thousand feet below. There was the shimmering thread of silver, the river itself that had carved this gorge from mountains of stone. How long had it taken? Five million years? Ten million? I turned to Mark to ask him about it, but he was staring across the canyon at something private and far away. I had to look up to study his face, for he was six and a half feet tall. He seemed even taller to me that night. His face could well have been sculpted of granite, except for his hair and shaggy black beard. They trembled and shook in the blustery wind that howled through the walls of the ancient ravine.

It would take years, unfortunately, for me to connect what I had learned at the Devil’s River with what I had felt on Mount Bonnell, when I first witnessed the violet crown. I had been changed by both experiences. I had been radicalized by them no less than by the teachings of Ran Moran. But once I returned to Austin that fall, I was so swept up in the quickening tide of the anti-war movement, on top of my work at the university, that I wasn’t able to assimilate the meaning of what I had learned at the canyon with Mark. I failed, therefore, to apply that lesson to the task of fighting the approaching devastation of my own community. I failed to notice the approaching devastation. It never occurred to me, amidst my growing political vigilance, to investigate the structure of political power in Austin itself or to ask any questions regarding the future of the Hill Country – a lapse I find appalling in retrospect.

For the first few weeks of the fall semester of 1967, I tried to be a dutiful graduate student. I immersed myself in the courses I was taking, passed my doctoral qualifying exam, and started teaching a pair of courses in freshman composition and literature. But the worm of politics, in the form of the antiwar movement, had burrowed too deeply into my brain by then. Each day’s news of the U.S. carnage in Vietnam rekindled my anger and resolve to act, to confront the monster head-on. I frequented lectures and began to read widely on war-related subjects. I started meeting with antiwar activists, particularly a group of university students who were having trouble recruiting faculty members to serve as “advisers” to their organization. Since I was technically a faculty member, I was able to help the students obtain the sanction of the university. And with the students I expressed my contempt for the mumbling hordes of UT faculty – about 6,000, as I recall – who cowered from action or even words against the war. At the time, I didn’t know how very intense my contempt would get.

As the weeks progressed, my classroom lectures in comp and lit began to sound like lessons in radical political economy. I shared with my students what I was learning from the books I was reading and discussions I was having with other activists against the war. I reviewed the history of U.S. imperialism, not excluding the theft of Texas from Mexico. I reviewed the history of the Vietnam conflict, pointing out that Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, as president of the United States, had betrayed a promise the U.S. had made to Ho Chi Minh in 1954, thus effectively starting the war. I blasted the American ruling class for pressing the war through its bought politicians and monopoly control of the popular media. I challenged the males among my students to go to Canada or even to jail, rather than be drafted to murder peasants in Vietnam. All of this to paltry effect. Most of my students were the goofy and privileged, sun-tanned progeny of Texas ranchers and drugstore tycoons. They were unmoved, or rather were annoyed by my fulminations against the war. One of them, a sorority pledge who clasped her books like armor plate against her bosom, confided to me after class one day her genuine fear that I was going to be assassinated.

Still, with 40,000 students at the university, plus thousands of liberals elsewhere in town, there were enough free thinkers about to swell attendance at rallies and meetings as the fall wore on. Among those rallies was one at which I nervously assumed the leadership role – my first experience as a rabble-rouser in mass confrontation with the ruling elite. It happened in late October, I think. The occasion was a visit to the UT campus by Army General H. K. Johnson, who may have been the Pentagon chief of staff. He wore four stars, in any case, and he had presided over quite enough killing in Vietnam to be a legitimate target of protest.

General Johnson was scheduled to speak at 8 p.m. in the Union Ballroom, part of the old Student Union Building. For two or three days before the speech, a group of cadres including myself had distributed thousands of inflammatory leaflets, urging people to assemble on the mall outside the Union at 7. Cleverly, we thought, we had kept secret our actual intentions regarding disturbance of the general’s peace. We had said only that those at the rally would have a chance to spring a surprise, like the Vietcong were doing so often to U.S. commanders in Vietnam.

A thousand people showed up on the mall, drawn in part by the folksy music of a popular local balladeer. I was the orator, the people’s general, standing atop the Union steps with no loudspeaker save my own mortal lungs. I exercised them for half an hour. I felt, as I spoke, a curious mixture of triumph and terror, haranguing a crowd three times the size that I had expected. I preached and reasoned and dealt with hecklers. I grew so hoarse I feared my voice would fail completely. But the crowd was magnificent, a thousand people chanting in unison: “HKJ! HKJ! How many kids have you killed today?”

Then, at 7:30 exactly, having divulged our secret plan, I led a contingent of about 300, occupying the front nine rows with our militia of ragtag rebel volunteers. We waited in silence as the room filled up with people very different from us – lots of suits and Rolex watches and bouffant hair. We were a picture of planned decorum. We spoke not a word, nor popped our gum, nor groaned nor giggled nor displayed any signs. When the general arrived and took the lectern in his uniform, his chest aglitter with medals and stars, we sat stone silent in the first nine rows while those behind us clapped and cheered, the louder, it seemed, as they became aware of our silence. The general was vexed to be so far from his admirers, but he smiled nonetheless as he started his speech. We let him posture for about five minutes, watching him warm to his defense of imperialist evil in Vietnam. Finally, when he got to the part about America’s honor –  “We must honor our commitment to freedom in Southeast Asia,” he said – I stood from my seat in the first row and headed right toward the center aisle. That was the signal to the rebel troops, who rose as one in perfect silence and filed out the doors at the back of the room. We were booed and hissed, of course, but the taunts we received weren’t nearly so loud as the statement we made with our empty chairs. And the general knew it. He had to look at those empty chairs for the rest of his speech – perhaps indeed for the rest of his life.

This was a potent experience for me, as it was, I suspect, for many of the other cadres that night. The victory we had scored was a modest one, but it was enough to deepen my thirst for further action against the war. It also deepened a sense of ambivalence I was feeling toward my doctoral studies. I grew impatient with the courses I was taking, particularly a graduate linguistics course conducted by a man who made no secret of his disdain for the “thugs and morons” in the antiwar movement. One day in November, I was sitting in this man’s class while a large demonstration against the war was being held on the mall outside. The professor had informed us two days earlier that anyone absent from class that day would have to repent with an extra paper – a fascist maneuver to keep us from attending the demonstration. I looked at the army of angry rebels out on the mall, which included many of my Austin friends. I looked at their signs, their flags held high, and strained to hear their spirited chants against the latest U.S. atrocity in Vietnam. Then I Iooked at the man who stood in front of the class. He was a pompous senior professor, all full of himself in his hound’s tooth sport coat, lifting his voice in solemn conviction regarding a point of Chaucerian syntax. And I realized that the man was sick. He was ignoring a world calamity – a raging cancer of brutality and death that threatened America no less than Vietnam – in order to split syntactic hairs with regard to the work of a sixteenth century English poet. He was displaying a form of psychosis, a depth of alienation from social reality that struck me as lethal even to himself and his scholarly colleagues. I decided, therefore, that I would bid the professor adieu at the end of the term, along with the entirety of his profession. Why should I risk my own mental health for the sake of a third-rate pedigree?

At about the time I made my decision, a radical friend turned me on to a paper called The National Guardian. It was published in New York City and billed itself as an “Independent Radical Newsweekly.” I was thumbing through it one day and noticed that the paper was seeking what it called an “editorial worker” – someone to join the “New York collective” for a weekly wage of forty dollars. A lamp of excitement snapped on in my brain. I’d always wanted to experience New York, and this could take me to the heart of the action against the war. I phoned the paper, got a positive response, and then discussed it with my lady friend. She urged me to go, despite the uncertainties that such move would bring to our relationship. A subsequent call to Ran Moran assured me a place to crash in Manhattan.

So, on the first of February 1968, I boarded a plane for New York City, where I would spend the next five years. During that time, the heathens would gather and sharpen their blades for the desecration of the violet crown – for the wanton slashing of Austin’s beautiful face and breast – and I wouldn’t know a thing about it. I stupidly assumed that she would be waiting for my return, as innocent, mythic, and sacred as ever.

New York was my radical graduate school. It was also the site, with Washington, D.C., of the fiercest battles I was to experience in the antiwar movement. I commenced my studies in a creaky old building on East Fourth Street that housed the insolent National Guardian, its name to be shortened soon to The Guardian. There, as a radical scribe and hungry new cadre from the provinces, I met and comported with many of the leaders of the national crusade against U.S. imperialism, including Mark Rudd and Bernadine Dohrn, of SDS, who would later establish the Weather Underground. I met Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, who founded the Yippies. I met Bobby Seale, of the Black Panther Party, and Stokely Carmichael, the articulate Black Nationalist, and Marge Piercy, a feminist poet and pioneer leader of the women’s movement, which arose in New York. I met these people in an atmosphere of turbulence and confrontation that filled the whole of 1968 with what I thought was the promise of revolution. The Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the student uprising at Columbia University, the founding of Hoffman’s Youth International Party, the worker-student revolt in France, the bloody Days of Rage at the Democratic Party convention in Chicago – all seemed harbingers of the imminent collapse of a violently oppressive corporate state.

It couldn’t happen soon enough to suit Sam Melville, the most gravely intense of the radicals I met in New York City. Sam was a middle-aged civil engineer who had quit his job, a lucrative one, to work as a menial in the Guardian collective. He was tall and balding and quiet, a puzzle, really, to most of the other staffers at the paper. I was one of the two or three who got to know him. And he told me one day in early April, following the murder of Martin Luther King in Memphis, that King’s assassination had brought him more pain than he could endure. He asked me, in effect, to get as serious about fighting “the Nazis” as he was. He asked me to help him bomb some buildings and other property claimed by the U.S. ruling class. I declined, suggesting he think very hard about that. He said he had. He said he was tired of all the talk and wasted newsprint over at The Guardian. He and his girlfriend dropped out of sight, and soon there were bombs exploding at night in the fanciest buildings on Wall Street. A year or so later, Sam was arrested and cent to Attica, the penitentiary in upstate New York where the inmates rebelled in 1971. Sam was a leader of that rebellion, the only Anglo among 49 prisoners killed by the cops when they stormed the prison for Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

By the fall of 1968, I had moved from Manhattan to the Bronx and taken a job as an English teacher at Lehman College – a cover, by design, for political work. I had also married my Austin lady friend, Genie, who in turn had secured a job at The Guardian. For the next two years, I committed myself to fighting the war in Vietnam without looking back or pausing for breath. I helped form a group of students and teachers at Lehman College that became a kind of Bronx flying wedge. We went as a team to demonstrations all over New York, including one at Union Square in Manhattan that erupted in battle with a phalanx of cops and left a number of cadres wounded. We also traveled to Washington, D.C., where a militant faction of demonstrators tried to crash the doors of the Justice Department. I remember bright orange flames against clouds of tear gas, but nothing was dismantled, and the revolution didn’t come that night.

Indeed, we bolted far closer to authentic revolution when we seized Lehman College and shut it down in the spring of 1969 – a six-week strike that was triggered by the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. We actually controlled and administered the campus, offering classes in liberation politics, publishing a newspaper, and even running a simple cafeteria. Our strike attracted media attention, which brought us the support of radical students from other colleges around New York. At one of our rallies, I listened to a speech by a firebrand named Daryl Janes, a Brooklyn College student whom I would encounter again in Texas, his native state. The strike itself was a union classic, a grueling marathon of midnight strategy meetings, tense negotiations, paranoia and grit. Those of us on the strike committee developed a spirit of solidarity that bound us closer than most blood brothers and sisters are bound. It felt ennobling. It was proof of the richness of our cause, of the venerable struggle for socialist fraternity that we had studied and pursued together. Finally, too, we won the strike. The Lehman administrators granted our demands, which included a letter from the college president to the White House, imploring the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Southeast Asia. Not a student was punished, not a teacher fired. We had won, and I had reached the peak of my career as a soldier in the war against the war in Vietnam – though the Bronx flying wedge would continue fighting lesser actions for another two years.

When I returned to Austin in the fall of 1973, the war was over, Nixon was gagging on Watergate, and I was planning to resume my life as an Austin poet and pilgrim at mecca. Genie and I had separated two years earlier, due in part to the liberties and pressures engendered by the women’s liberation movement. I was traveling with a former student activist from Lehman College who had grown enamored of Austin herself. She had been there twice before, and she had fallen as I had fallen for the green-breasted city of the violet crown, the Texas oasis of spring-fed rivers and earnest, friendly, intelligent people. We were delighted, when we arrived, to find the place teeming with busy veterans of the Austin struggle against the war, whom we embraced as compatriots. They were planting organic gardens, building neighborhood food co-ops, and dancing to a fused rock-country music at a socialist joint where bikers hung out. Meanwhile, the sacred hills to the west of town appeared intact, resplendent above the Colorado River, and I believed that I had returned to God’s backyard. I thought that I could relax for a while from the rigors and bloodletting of politics. I had paid some pretty stiff dues, and I wanted a furlough, Austin style.

But it wasn’t to be. Within a few days of my arrival, old Austin friends and political cadres had dragged me into a battle for the soul of the city. It was a crisis, pure and simple, though I wouldn’t fathom its full implications for years to come, after the city had been brought to ruin. The immediate challenge was a bond referendum to determine whether Austin would become a partner in the massive South Texas Nuclear Project a techno-disaster that was being promoted by Houston Lighting and Power Company. The election was set for November 17, just six weeks after my return, and I was recruited to join a campaign against the Nuke that had been under way for several months. Among the leaders of that campaign were Michael Eakin, the radical editor of the UT Daily Texan, whose name I recognized from reports I had read of Austin actions against the war in Vietnam, and Ed Wendler, Sr., a hell-raising lawyer who was later to become, inexplicably, a real estate lobbyist. Other leaders included activists Joe Riddell, Hunter Ellinger and Sinclair Black, an architect with a rare concern for the health of the local environment.

Since I had been absent the entire period in which this crisis had built in Austin, I had to scramble to piece together an understanding of what was   going on. I gathered the pieces from Michael Eakin’s Texan editorials and talks with friends over beer at Scholz’s. The picture I developed was ugly and macabre, involving betrayals of Austin’s future by two groups of people who should have fought harder than anyone else to preserve the city of the violet crown. One of those groups comprised the scions of some of Austin’s most prominent families, while the other was a band of Austin liberals who had chosen betrayal in exchange for money and political gain.

The family scions were heirs and in-laws of Austin gentry who had built the city and directed its affairs for five generations. The scions were rich, but not rich enough. They were chafing at the limits on their wealth imposed by a city they had come to regard as a boring, embarrassing college town – pretty, perhaps, but overlooked by the booming forces of commercial growth that were pumping billions into such cities as Dallas, Atlanta, and Houston. Thus had the scions effectively decided, in league with bankers and real estate men, to offer their city for rape and plunder in the 1970s. They had decided that the Hill Country land their families had owned and proudly maintained since the 1850s, keeping it much as the Indians had kept it for thousands of years before them, was now fair game for any aggressive real estate marauder with a few million dollars in cash on hand.

The mayor at the time was one of their own, a West Austin millionaire named Roy Butler. He had connived with other Austin business leaders, including Chamber of Commerce brass, to make the city a junior partner in the nuclear project. City Manager Dan Davidson, a kind of Rasputin in the mayoral court assisted in their connivance. Together these men had crudely deduced that Austin would need an enormous reserve of electric power in order to attract the desired level of industrial growth. They sought, in particular, to expand on the base that had been established by the Austin branches of Texas Instruments and IBM. They lusted for more of the obscene wealth that such corporations had siphoned recently from U.S. “defense” spending in Vietnam – one trillion dollars in six bloody years. They wanted the corporate imperialists in town, and they viewed Austin’s share of the nuclear plant as their paramount lure, followed closely by the beauty of the land that they were preparing to decimate.

Even with the money they had available, Mayor Butler and the Chamber of Commerce couldn’t have won the November referendum without the support of turncoat liberals. These were people who had vigorously opposed the war in Vietnam. They called themselves environmentalists. Other liberals respected them, which explains, of course, why they were so vital to the mayor’s cause. He had lost a nuclear referendum a year earlier, and he needed a margin this time around that could be provided only by defectors from the opposition. Two of those defectors were especially vital. One was Jeff Friedman, a sassy young member of the city council who wanted so badly to run for mayor in 1975 that he agreed to a vow of silence on the nuclear issue in return for a promise of Butler’s support for his own mayoral campaign. The second defector of consequence was Peck Young, a shrewd political strategist and former opponent of the nuclear plant who shocked his friends in the liberal camp by signing on with the pro-nuke side in 1973 – evidently for a lot of money.

The ensuing battle was nearly as fierce as the battles that had raged against the war in Vietnam. Michael Eakin set the tone with passionate essays in the Daily Texan, pointing out that the nuclear plant would corrupt Austin’s soul and degrade her body with ticky-tacky subdivisions, toxic semi-conductor plants and yokes of asphalt, not to mention the specter of radiation poisoning. Austin will die, he warned, as he blasted Jeff Friedman and the other liberals who had broken faith on the nuclear issue. Meanwhile, a frantic army of volunteers worked around the clock to distribute literature, raise campaign funds, and dispatch speakers against the Nuke. Every musician in town, it seemed, was strumming and singing at anti-nuke rallies.

But the other side was busy, too. It could afford a ceaseless barrage of TV spots, threatening voters with blacked-out homes and unemployment, indeed with economic Armageddon, if Austin failed to hitch its wagon to the nuclear star. These lies were repeated again and again in the Austin American-Statesman, the only daily paper in town, and its publisher one of the booster elite. As Election Day neared, Peck Young was stationed in the critical West Austin precincts; there to make sure that every possible pro-nuke voter went to the polls. And they did. Mayor Butler won the election by 733 votes out of 39,000 cast – a margin ascribed by Michael Eakin almost entirely to the roles that were played by Friedman and Young.

Eight years later, in 1981, the voters of Austin reversed themselves. They had grown weary of cost overruns and construction delays that had driven the cost of the nuclear plant from one billion to five billion dollars and counting. They voted overwhelmingly in favor of Austin’s withdrawal from the plant. But it was too late. It was far too late in more ways than one. Not only could the city not find a “buyer” for its share of the plant, the city itself had been swept up in precisely the boom that Mayor Butler and the Chamber of Commerce had worked so hard to stimulate. They had succeeded beyond their dreams and beyond the nightmares of Michael Eakin and pilgrims like me.

Starting in earnest in 1977, the boom was roaring by 1981. It had been fueled by just the things the boosters had advertised: plentiful electric power, cheap labor, inexpensive real estate, sunny climate and picturesque hills and lakes to the west. In addition, the city had cultivated a national mystique as the high-tech hot spot of the 1980s. Corporate money poured into Austin, chased by swarms of Rust Belt refugees looking for work. They came at the rate of 2,000 and 3,000 per month at the peak of the boom, loosing a torrent of residential and commercial construction that would double the size of the built environment by 1986, when the boom leveled off. Land speculators rode in for the kill from Dallas and Little Rock, Houston, Toronto, Los Angeles and Tokyo, scoring millions overnight. They bought and divided, flipped and subdivided the Austin treasure of hills and springs that Mayor Butler and the West Austin scions had posted for sale. The scions grew richer, as they had planned, drawing the curtains in their limousines, while Austin was raped by the real estate Huns, her violet crown snatched off and crushed beneath the treads of the Caterpillars.

Michael Eakin was murdered in Houston in 1979. He died mysteriously, and some of his friends believe he was killed in order to stop a probe he was leading, as a journalist, of corporate subterfuge in the U.S. energy industry. I was a pallbearer at Michael’s funeral. I wept with his family and the scores of pilgrims who had come to love him, both for his sweet, gregarious temper and for his militant rebel’s heart – his role as a leader in wars for the good, especially for Austin, his adopted city. As the years have passed, as Austin has declined, decayed and sprawled toward the faceless metroplexity of Dallas and Houston, I have thought many times of Michael, haunted, in a way, by the strange coincidence that he should have died at virtually the moment his city died. And not long ago, to prepare myself for writing this essay, I trudged alone up the broad stone steps of Mount Bonnell to have another look at the carnage that is left of Michael’s town.

Off to the west, where once the hills were wrapped in a mantle of rich dark green, I saw the scars and cropping of rock inflicted by hundreds of dozer blades. I saw the stiff roads like mesh on the hills, the garish homes of the nouveau riche, the startling silver office boxes heaped on the slopes incongruously, as though left behind by fleeing intruders. I looked at the river far below, where dozens of speed- boats tore up and down, roiling the waters that once were as calm as the eye of God. These were the toys of Austin’s affluent, ubiquitous fun seekers. These were the yuppies that lived in the houses and shopped at the malls the Huns had blasted into the hills. These were the people whose expensive tastes and craving for rank had driven the siege of the Austin sanctuary, smashing the trees and defiling the springs, usurping bird and animal groups that had dwelled in the brush for tens and tens of thousands of years. I thought of the Indians who had worshipped here, who had lived so lightly and so respectfully upon the land as to leave not a trace of visible damage after ten millennia. I thought of Mark Parsons that starry night on the rim of the Devil’s River Canyon. I recalled his words about the modern crimes of man against nature and so against God. I stared at the yuppies in their boats again.

Then I turned and looked to the east of Mount Bonnell, toward central Austin, with its sleek new corporate office towers. They concealed the pink granite dome of the state’s majestic, 19th-century capitol. They also concealed what little remained of the pilgrim culture that had been demolished with the demolition of the violet crown. I thought of the pubs and funky cafés, the concert hall arisen from a bunker, the inexpensive rental houses shaded by live oaks, elms and pecans, the cats in the yards and the food co-ops, the street bazaars of homemade crafts, the innocent hum of excited conversation among the pilgrims – all displaced and muted now by the grabbing and yapping of the corporate dandies who had conquered Austin.

I thought of Michael Eakin again. I heard in my mind his eloquent warnings regarding corruption of the city’s soul. I thought with pain about a recent offensive by the corporate elite that was aimed quite literally at Austin’s soul. I thought about the battle that was under way for Barton Springs, the huge and splendid, stone-lined pool of gushing pure water in Zilker Park, not two miles from downtown Austin, where the pilgrims and I had stolen our wild star midnight swims. This assault by the corporate dandies promised to be the coup de grace of their invasion of the Hill Country. They were engaged in a furious campaign to foil an ordinance that would shield Barton Springs and the aquifer that feeds it – a limestone reservoir stretching underground to San Antonio – from the lethal effects of the thousands of homes and countless acres of roads, parking lots, stores, and golf courses planned for construction atop the aquifer. This war, too, the corporate elite was finally winning, against a courageous but overpowered remnant of the pilgrim culture. Already, in the summer of 1991, Barton Springs had been forcibly closed nearly 40 days because of pollution from prior development upon its watershed. The Springs, the terrestrial soul of Austin, had been corrupted – its destruction foretold – just as Michael Eakin had feared.

And so on my perch atop Mount Bonnell, with the ruins of Austin spread all around, I pondered an irony that stirred in my thoughts along with grief over what had been lost. The irony hinged on common parlance, on such clichés as “radical extremist” and “revolution,” as opposed to “conservative” and “rule of law.” People like Michael Eakin and me – indeed like most of the left-wing activists I have known – are frequently labeled radical extremists, seeking to affect a revolution. We are so labeled by people who subscribe to conservative values practiced under the rule of law. And I had to laugh as I looked once more at the wreckage of hills and springs to the west, as I thought of the wreckage of a tiny nation called Vietnam, as I mourned the corruption and strangulation of the pilgrim culture in a town called Austin, where I had learned love and respect for life. Who, I wondered, are the radical extremists and who the conservatives in America today? Who had murdered two million peasants in Vietnam, trying to impose a revolution based on the values of a profit-maddened corporate society 10,000 miles away? Who had imposed the same revolution on the pilgrims of Austin in the last 20 years? Who had trampled on the rule of law handed down by God in order to destroy the violet crown?

It wasn’t Michael Eakin and me.

Nonetheless, as I said at the outset, I owe an apology for the way I behaved in the ’60s and ’70s especially during that five-year period in which I was gone from Austin to New York. I made a mistake that arose precisely, and perversely, from my enculturation as a child of America in the second half of the 20th century. I played directly into the hands of a corporate class that rules America partly by weakening its people’s bonds and sense of devotion to local turf – in my case Austin in 1968. Like other Americans since World War II, I was reared to believe above all in the Holy Trinity of cars, highways, and beckoning frontiers. I was taught that freedom in America is the freedom to leave for another town, another job, and another scene whenever I wished. I was not taught, conversely, to understand freedom in a more compelling sense of the term. I was not taught to understand freedom as the power to protect and determine the future of the place where I was, to value that place in every detail making it special, making it home – the ground of my being and that of my neighbors and ancestors. I was not taught to guard my home from the depredations of external forces, like land speculators and invading corporations. And that, of course, is exactly the way the invaders want it. They come to stay, to secure a colony for the corporation, sucking out profits at any cost to the local turf and social order, while the locals themselves abandon their turf in pursuit of visions of something better somewhere else. This psychology of self over place is so important to the corporate elite that it has evolved an entire culture based on the myth of personal freedom and mobility.

I proved my own allegiance to that myth when I left Austin for New York City in 1968. I fired not a shot against the Vietnam War on the streets of New York that I couldn’t have fired on the streets of Austin. I moved to New York on a personal whim, a self-serving itch to be someplace where the action was hotter, the other radicals more sophisticated and perhaps more given to dramatic risk and confrontation. And while I was gone, the stage was set for the conquest of Austin by the same corporations and benighted mentality of profit over people, land, and love that were laying waste to Vietnam.

I’m not saying that I could have stopped or even slowed the butchery of Austin by the corporate elite. I’m not saying that I could have stopped the desecration of the violet crown. I’m just saying that I wasn’t here to try. And I’m sorry. I will regret it to the end of my days.

“Almost No Apologies – The Desecration of the Violet Crown” – This essay was originally printed in 1991 as a chapter in the book “No Apologies: Texas Radicals Celebrate the ’60s,” published by Eakin Press. The editor of the volume, the late Daryl Janes, had asked his contributors to write brief memoirs explaining how they came to be radicalized in the 1960’s. Reece scrupulously adhered to the editor’s charge, only to discover, when the book was released, that Reece was virtually the only contributor who had.

Ray Reece was born in Colorado and raised in Texas. He has worked as a cowboy, a factory hand, a college teacher, a journalist and a full-time activist in the U.S. civil rights, anti-war and deep ecology movements. Currently a columnist for The Budapest Sun, he is the author of four books, two works of fiction “Fabian’s Dream” and “Crossfire“, a non-fiction work, “The Sun Betrayed: A Report on the Corporate Seizure of U.S. Solar Energy Development”, and his latest book, “Abigail in Gangland.” Pursuant to his effort to promote his books and generate resistance to the corporate oligarchs destroying the planet, he divides his time between Italy, Hungary and the United States. Visit the author’s website at http://rayreece.net.

Stories from the Past

Stories from the Past

Your life isn’t an isolated period of time: it’s part of a continuum that reaches deep into the past and extends far into the future. You should record those stories, so they can be passed along to future generations.

The best way to do that? Simply tell your stories. There are many ways to do that. We are happy to publish your stories about Austin in the seventies here on The Austin Sun.

It is not necessary to type your story. We can also publish video and audio stories if you are more comfortable with the media. With either video and audio you capture the natural flow and rhythm of your voice. It has become the preferred method for many to create a conversational style that will keep readers captivated.