Bohemians, Deep Heads, and History Makers: A Memoir
"They strive to give their lives to the values that are essential to them, the values that express their sense of meaning." [o]
In the Company of Rebels
By Chellis Glendinning
288 pages, 129 black & white illustrations
New Village Press, New York (May 2019)
How to Write a History Book
WHITNEY SMITH: In what we might call, loosely, the ‘counter culture’ of the North American politics since the 1960s, you’ve been a lot of places, done a lot of things, written nine books and, through all that, met and worked with some very galvanizing personalities. What was the organizing principle that helped you make the selection of who you wrote about in this book?
CHELLIS GLENDINNING: I'm hopelessly enchanted by Carl Jung's chart of the human psyche that emphasizes the focuses and developed strengths of our personalities, rather than other attempts to classify our inner structures like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that delineates dysfunctions, or the Enneagram that shows psychological strategies to avoid reality and, in particular, intimacy. Oh, they have their uses and their brilliance, that's for sure — but I'm drawn to Jung's four-pointed cross that names four archetypal qualities. He sees these traits—Mental, Emotional, Intuitive, and Sensate—and points out that for most people there is a strong suit that we tend to rely on the most, followed by an also strong secondary one. In that map I'm an Intuitive primarily, a Sensate secondarily. What I mean to say is that I don't tend to think things out in the logical way, say, a Mental does; ideas and knowings spring from a different source.
So, to answer your question, I wrote about the social movements I had been part of in a somewhat chronological order, and to choose who would represent that effort, I'd hear a voice speaking to me: “Well! I simply have to include Carl Anthony or Sunshine Appleby or whoever.” Throughout the process, I seemed to already know who would be in the book.
The hard part was that I could have gone on and on, not only with which individuals would be in the book, but also with which political movements would be represented. I struggled with the fact that I could have but did not present whole chapters about the ingenious New Mexico ecology-and-organic effort, the rich Chicano movement there, or the heroic international attempt to curb the amount of electromagnetic radiation contaminating and harming life on Earth.
Tom said, "No, you have to come; we will never see this again in our lifetime."
But, well, I got to more than forty individuals and figured that was enough for a reader to take in. I wasn't writing an encyclopedia, for Chrisssake! I was attempting to reveal the soul of a historical era through the lives, work, and choices of people who have contributed to what that era became. And, as elders often do, I wanted to praise the courage and creativity of the people who had given so much of themselves for collective betterment.
SMITH: Is there a way to describe what is contiguous in the character and accomplishments of these subjects?
GLENDINNING: I see them as what has become known as Creatives. These are the folks who approach their work using some rare and bold traits in this mechanized, inside-the-box, techno-mass civilization we are saddled with. Like unquenchable curiosity, love of beauty, mindfulness, willingness to take risks, belief that existence itself is a work of art, use of both intuition and intellect, and keenness to play.
I note as well that they are heroic in the sense that Ernest Becker meant in The Denial of Death: they strive to give their lives to the values that are essential to them, the values that express their sense of meaning.
And (I find this next tell-tale trait almost comical), they never retire!
SMITH: I’ve used this term ’counter culture’. Is it a useful and accurate description of the political world you’ve inhabited in your life?
GLENDINNING: Well, I'd say I have lived in what is described as the “counter culture,” yes, I suppose… To me the words “counter culture” bring up images of white people in hippie garb shopping at the health food store. I would prefer to say “the radical social, artistic, psychological, and political movements of our times.” My mother raised me in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and early '60s, and I've had the opportunity to work with Native peoples in the U.S. Southwest. For the last thirty-plus years of my life I lived in northern New Mexico's Latino/Chicano culture and in Bolivia, where I learned from both campesino and urban cultures. So for all its positive offerings and its negative pitfalls, the “counter culture” is a force that influenced me for sure, particularly in the field of holistic health practices, but it doesn't describe where I have been in the context of the totality of my life.
SMITH: With these portraits, was there any particular way you wanted to engage with the reader — a goal of what the reader’s take away might be?
GLENDINNING: I would hope that the reader, should she be a member of my generation, experience mirrors to her own life experience, have some good laughs and maybe some tears, and appreciate what we have accomplished even as it is being torn down by current trends. I would hope that the younger reader might learn some history, open his eyes to the realization that we can make history, and dare to become a hero in his own life.
SMITH: In the act of researching and writing these profiles, which included the act of remembering, was there a particular sensation that you experienced — in a sense you’re re-experiencing your relationship with them?
GLENDINNING: Indeed! I not only dipped into my memory, re-read their books and articles, and sought out biographies of them; I brought them into the creative process so that they could correct my errors, critique what I had written, and be happy with the result. In one case, I had had a terrible falling-out back in the late-1990s. But I could not imagine writing this book without including that person, he had such an impact on me and we had loved each other so much. So I wrote a letter that did not hash out or even mention what had happened. I simply started anew with respect and caring. He responded with respect and caring. How satisfying was that?!
SMITH: What was your biggest challenge in this book?
GLENDINNING: Making sure that the individual essays reflected not just what each person contributed to the world, but revealed the soul of the historic movement she or he was involved in.
Book cover design by Gayle Grin.
SMITH: In 2015, Tom Hayden, one of the rebels you write about, invited you to come with him to Bolivia to witness the inauguration of the first indigenous president Evo Morales after decades of military juntas and dictatorships. Can you tell us about that experience and where it has landed you now, as a resident of that country?
GLENDINNING: Well, I resisted going. But Tom said, “No, you have to come; we will never see this again in our lifetime.” I had a mere three weeks to pull myself together to travel, and I did it.
The people in Bolivia were euphoric, smiling and laughing and dancing. Everybody was talking politics. The concern for the collective was palpable, and what a relief that was in comparison to the hyper-focus in the U.S. on the individual and how each person is feeling. After the official inauguration in the historic Palace, Evo and his supporters walked through the streets to the San Francisco plaza where the people had fought the military in the past. Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano announced, “This marks the End of Fear,” and Evo said, “We are here to finish the work of Che Guevara.” I knew that everything was different in this country, but this! Such a statement was over-the-top. The idea that an elected official would say such a thing was outside my wildest dream.
I fell in love with the spirit of the people, and I knew that I had to have this in my life, but not like for a few months a year — for real, to live there and truly make Bolivia a part of me. I knew I was absolutely whacko to leave a life all set up for me in the north. I owned a house, I had a car, I lived in a traditional land-based community, I had a history — but when the soul comes knocking, a person takes major risks if she doesn't answer.
SMITH: You wrote this book while living in Bolivia. How did living there influence your writing about these people, or did it?
GLENDINNING: Memory is a powerful force that can engulf you, so I have to say “Not particularly” — except that I felt drawn to include a chapter on both New Mexican and Latin American friends involved in their own movements.
SMITH: Who were you not able to include in this book who you would have liked to, given the limitations of space in the book and your own writing.
GLENDINNING: Oh goodness, thanks for asking! In the Afterword I made an off-the-top wish list that includes Beth Hallett, Troy Duster, Anne Kent Rush, Sandy Boucher, Ofer Zur, Ralph Metzner, Chris Wells, Godfrey Reggio, Jeannette Armstrong, Donna House, John Mohawk, Lorenzo Valdez, Kay Matthews, Roberto Roibal, Arthur Monroe, Libby Kelley, Blake Levitt, Arthur Firstenberg, Olle Johansson, Stan Cox, Nancy Caro Hollander, Luis Bredow, Juan Claudio Lechín, Raul Peñaranda, Pedro Susz…
SMITH: Is there any way in which these portraits inform or explain your sense of what the concept of ‘wild culture’ is?
GLENDINNING: Ha! Good enough… The word “wild” has in some ways gone the way of “Luddite”; it has been skinned of its original meaning in order to fit in to “acceptability” in modern/postmodern civilization. “Wild” has come to mean eee-gads horrors! “savage,” it means “undomesticated”— as Freud pointed out, lo these many years ago, repressed and tamed being the qualities necessary for participation in techno-society.
But — as in any good radical effort — words are often reclaimed to reflect their earlier positive significance. To me, wildness is The Goal! It is Nature; it is the route back to integrity as creatures on this planet. The folks whose bios appear in In the Company of Rebels are indeed wild ones, and, by their thoughts and actions, courage and creativity, are the artists of remembrance of who we truly are.
Chellis Glendinning, on the lines.
Excerpt: Section IX — 'From Hiroshima to Chernobyl: The Anti-Nuclear Movement'
Sunshine Appleby: Disobedience in a Wet Suit
I ask myself: how did I come to find myself facing a machine gun pointed directly at me?
—Sunshine Appleby, letter to Chellis Glendinning, 2015
I am sure that many people don’t know what to do with Susan Upton, by her own choice known as Sunshine Appleby. Her parents certainly didn’t; they locked her away in the loony bin for three years where—and I speak with certainty—she wowed the doctors with her intelligence, alertness, and imagination. And I hope that they all know now that their whacky patient became one of them: a registered nurse and certified massage therapist.
I myself can’t be sure how I met Sunshine; she seemed always to be there. Maybe through our elder feminist-dyke friend, Sarah Davis, who lived in a painted Victorian in the Haight? Marc Kasky knew her from the Ecology Center. And then, there she was in the whirlwind of the anti-nuclear movement.
She was everywhere, and everywhere she stood out. Tall, peppery blonde-brown hair, slightly jutting front teeth—more concerned with doing the right thing than with caring about what people thought of her— she was usually dressed in a wrinkled shirt bought for twenty-five cents at Goodwill and tattered yoga pants. From her backpack arose little sacks of sunflower sprouts, hand-ground peanut butter slathered on thick slices of whole-wheat bread, and a glass jar of filtered water. I visited one of the slews of apartments she rented in San Francisco, a slightly below-ground affair, and learned that every single item that was brought into the kitchen met one of three fates: it was devoured; it was recycled into another use; or it was transmogrified into compost. The woman had a steel water filter and a Champion juicer, with nary a plastic bag in sight.
Yes, Sunshine was a live-lightly freak with a predilection for raw foods. Her footprint, decades before the Ecological Footprint was even a glisten in the eye of its inventor, resembled that of a tire-sandaled Guatemalan peasant more than of a saddle-shoed white woman born into an East Coast upper middle class family.
After you’ve been face-to-face with a nuclear submarine, little things like a man entering your apartment tend to fade.
But born into that family she was: the T. Graydon Uptons of Hartland Four Corners, Vermont and Washington, D.C. Through the years her father, T. Graydon, worked at the U.S. Treasury Department, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank. Her mother, Vassar-educated Ann Nash Upton, was a homemaker with four children. Early on, Susan had health problems that included panic attacks, ulcerative colitis, and insomnia, causing unbearable pain that without warning would bedevil her in any situation from shopping to riding the bus and would always cause her mother not concern, but embarrassment. Susan was also legally blind and wore thick glasses. Despite such impediments to her parents’ stereotypical expectations, the still ever-promising Susan was the apple of their eye—that is, until they discovered that this daughter of theirs was her own person.
1963 was Sunshine’s breakaway year. A recent high-school graduate, she crafted her own free-form summer: she went west, jumped a freight train from California to Colorado, and chased circles around her dream to be a poet like the Beatnik women who had, by a few short years, predated her. But when the maples and oaks swathed the hills of the eastern seaboard in cloaks of dazzling red and yellow, she returned to perform her familial duty, entering the exclusive women’s Bennington College.
All along she had thought of herself as a pacifist. But that first semester, after an incident in which she angrily pounded the roommate who had usurped her cot and pitched her clothes and books into the hallway, Sunshine locked herself in a bathroom stall for three days, “being unable to respond to anything but the question of how can I harbor two such radically different feelings at the same time: loving peace and having the ability to be a killer at the same time?” When the janitor unscrewed the hinges of the toilet door, Sunshine’s mother checked her into a mental institution.
Although she rarely talks about her subsequent dedication to non-violent civil disobedience, she described what followed this enforced dark night of the soul in a personal letter to me as “a journey inward.” Upon release, she took classes at George Washington University in D.C. where, by a fluke of fate, she found herself in the middle of an anti-war protest; witnessed heavily armed police atop horses beating people with batons: was tear-gassed by helicopters and went totally blind for six weeks, during which time she lost her rental, her job, and her academic scholarship. Not to be daunted by disagreeable fortune, she took off for Mexico, where she witnessed the injustice of poverty, studied with Liberation Theology priests as well as with Ivan Illich, and was in Mexico City in 1968 when the historic massacre of protestors in Tlatelolco Square took place.
Out of curiosity she attended a community meeting for people interested in non-violent, faith-based activism; here she met pacifists Elizabeth McAllister and Philip Berrigan, two people who became life-catalyzers. In 1980 she returned to the nation’s capital, this time certain of her purpose in the world. She moved into Jonah House where McAllister, Berrigan, and a bevy of nonviolent peace activists and priests lived. Here she began reading such subversive material as Dorothy Day, Peace Pilgrim, and Mahatma Gandhi, as well as everything she could get her hands on regarding nuclear weapons and U.S. participation in the arms race.
Years later, on the seventieth anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, August 9, 2015, she wrote me a letter about her dedication to civil disobedience, a lifelong practice in which she had, as of 2016, racked up a whopping ninety-two arrests: The main thing that enabled me to act as I did was the general field I was hanging out in and the enormous pressure of the times. . . Civil rights. Hundreds of ordinary citizens protesting the Vietnam War. Kent State when the U.S. government was shooting its own citizens. Millions marching in the streets protesting racial inequalities, the fervor of Martin Luther King. Living under martial law in D.C., where tanks rolled down the avenues, soldiers roamed the streets carrying machine guns, and no more than three people were allowed to gather publicly. . . . It was not one thing [that thrust me into activism], but rather the effect of the 100th snowflake when finally the branch bends.
Also by the 1980s, Sunshine had finished her education as an on-call nurse, and thus she was able to dip into and out of paid work, but her “portable profession”—traveling from Washington State to California to New Hampshire in order to protest—was her true calling. Early on she learned that the government does not give a hoot for its citizens; rather we are merely, in military terms, “collateral damage.” And, without a monstrous income, she was able to live simply, cheaply, and communally wherever she was—sharing with her fellow activists both the emotional burden of existence under the constant threat of extinction and visions of creative strategies for a world at peace.
I visited Sunshine one afternoon in yet another basement apartment in San Francisco—as if in an underground air-raid shelter, she always seemed to be nesting below ground—and I noticed that a window opening to an air well could not be locked, leaving it blatantly ajar. The neighborhood was a dangerous one.
“Aren’t you afraid?” I wondered. Her answer came like a sudden thunder crack on a sunny day.
“Listen. After you’ve been face-to-face with a nuclear submarine with nothing but a thin layer of rubber and a few feet of water between you and it,” she replied, “little things like a man entering your apartment tend to fade.”
Among her hundreds of acts of civil disobedience, most all of them directed at the U.S. military, perhaps the most dramatic was the aforementioned. It took place in 1982—in a wet suit. The adversary was a 560-foot-long (read: nearly the length of two football fields) Trident nuclear submarine that, after manufacture in Groton, Connecticut, was to be housed at the Navy base at Bangor, Washington. The vessel carried up to twenty-four intercontinental ballistic missiles, each of which had as many as eight independently targeted warheads, in all holding an explosive force of 300 kilotons of TNT—some twenty times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In other words, according to climate-change activist Matt Dundas in his 2008 article “The Rise of Non-Violent Civil Disobedience: The Peace Blockade, Part 2,” the port was slated to be “the service station of the world’s deadliest weapons.” The plan to oppose such had been hatched by theologian Jim Douglass while in jail from a different action, the idea being that small but fast-moving boats would deflect the ingress of this USS Ohio in a kind of water-based guerrilla resistance.
When the action was announced by the Ground Zero Center for Non-Violent Action, forty-six people signed on to participate, many admitting that they did so because they didn’t have a choice: they knew that they could die in this battle, but it was necessary.
Execution presented several hurdles. One was timing; no one knew exactly when the ship would arrive. This problem was miraculously solved by movement contacts at the Panama Canal who would report when the USS Ohio passed through, and from there the trip up the coast would take a few days. Another challenge had to do with skills. The action would require the kind of technical ability and discipline normally associated with an army. Very quickly, for the arrival seemed imminent, Greenpeace offered a three-day training in which basic water safety was taught, as well as how to lift and lower nine one-person rowboats out of two larger boats in less than three minutes. A last challenge concerned support. Here the movement’s success at building relationships with other sectors of society came to the fore. Simultaneous with the action, a 6,500-person rally protesting the stationing of the submarine took place on the S’Klallam Reservation, while twelve bishops and church executives from six denominations, along with their parishioners, held a prayer vigil on a boat in a nearby cove. Plus, the international press was standing by to film.
Between 2 and 3 a.m. on August 12, 1982, Ground Zero sentinels noted Coast Guard (CG) cutters moving about the bay like ants upset by a disturbance to their hill. The activists bolted awake, said their prayers, got into their wetsuits, and hurried down to the dock. Here the CG burst upon them brandishing M-16s, seizing boats, and hauling them away. In the scuffle a few boats got away and raced into the harbor.
Just then, like a monstrous water snake, the USS Ohio slithered into sight.
Dundas describes what happened next: “Video footage taken at the time shows protesters getting washed overboard by high-powered Coast Guard hoses,” he writes. “The boats that got away from the initial Coast Guard onslaught tore toward the ‘National Security Zone,’ a 1000-yard perimeter around the submarine, a boundary that once crossed meant risking [a] ten-year prison sentence and $10,000 fine.” Seventy-eight-year-old Ruth Youngdahl Nelson was riding in her son’s tiny motorized rubber dinghy and a Coast Guard craft was hot and heavy in pursuit. Just as a Guardsman was about to hose the team into the sound, Dundas recalls, Ms. Nelson shouted, “Young man, not in my America!” Stunned, the Guardsman lowered his hose, and the resisters escaped for another run at the humongous submarine—only to be surrounded, captured, and arrested.
“With almost every Ground Zero boat at a halt,” Dundas continues, “there was only one which succeeded in advancing all the way to the Ohio. A speedboat carrying Renee Krisco, Ed Turtle, and Sunshine Appleby circled the colossal beast while outrunning multiple Coast Guard boats and a helicopter. Surrounded by law enforcement, the boat got right up next to the Ohio.”
Sunshine Appleby and the USS Ohio. [o]
As Sunshine describes the encounter in a letter:
We three, in a tiny rubber boat with a gas engine the size of a lawnmower, were able to block the path of the Trident, circle it, and jump into the water. I swam toward it; our driver Renee, a nun, guided the boat away from the Trident; while Turtle, a teacher, jumped out and swam away in an attempt to confuse the suddenly appearing-upon-the-scene helicopter and a large CG boat. The military men were yelling at me with sexual allegations—the C word—telling me what they were going to do to me if I didn’t stop swimming toward the submarine. Meanwhile, I nearly blind and quite well-dressed in my wetsuit, red bathing cap, rubber booties, and rubber gloves—continued to dog-paddle towards the monstrous behemoth, black in colour and several football fields long. Inside my wetsuit I carried a loaf of bread to feed the soldiers bread, not bombs, and an arrest warrant signed by the attorney general because, under international treaties, the Trident is illegal: its load of some 200 nuclear weapons would not distinguish between noncombatants (read: women and children) and the armed soldiers resisting an attack.
I was on a mission.
However, with the helicopter coming closer to the water creating heavy waves and the boat of shouting soldiers getting louder, I turned onto my back, closed my eyes, and said “God help me.” At that moment the Trident disappeared, the helicopter, the Coast Guard boat, the waves, the screaming voices: I entered a place/non-place of silence and peace that passed all understanding. I had the experience of being rocked in the arms of the Divine Mother. I felt a love really indescribable.
About twenty minutes later I “awoke” to the voices of my boat mates calling me to help them reconnect the gas line the CG had cut with a long boat hook. I looked around me and saw nothing but a vague outline of my boat mates in the mist. I noticed something was different but could not put my finger on it, a sense of peace. We held the gas line together manually and put-putted back to shore.
What I realized is that when we feel from our gut that there is nothing left to lose, no matter the personal consequences, the danger of nuclear war overshadows all of one’s small concerns. I became free to act from my heart. As I was swimming towards the Trident, I felt only profound determination. I think the action was a wake-up call for the U.S. military. The people on the CG boat came from the small town of Bangor, where the Trident was to be stationed. The protestors organizing the blockade came from that same small town. The two groups knew each other; their children attended the same schools, they saw each other in the market, at church, at the movies. They knew we were unarmed and peaceful: thus the reluctance to fire upon us. A modest but for me life-changing benefit of the action: I was healed of my irritable bowel syndrome and have never had an attack since.
By 2010 Sunshine was aware of the inner tension presented by life within the superpower with the greatest cache of nuclear weapons and the most rationalizations for detonating them. Plus, now that computers connecting law enforcement agencies could reveal her ineffable arrest record wherever she went, she felt that further use of civil disobedience would be ill-advised. She decided to move to New Zealand, a place she regarded as saner, healthier, and more ecological. She also decided to leave behind her role as an employed health professional and “move from the stress of nursing to the joy of authentic healing work.” Although she did apply for and receive a New Zealand registered nurse license, she opened a massage therapy practice instead and relaunched her campaign for low-footprint, ecological living and the medicinal value of raw foods.
New Zealand did not turn out to be the eco paradise Sunshine had imagined; as she puts it, it was more like a “U.S.-in-training,” with its agricultural industry spraying tons of pesticides, genetic-engineering firms releasing altered organisms, coal mining and hydraulic fracking causing water pollution. Disappointed, she wrote to me, wondering if she should come to South America. At age seventy-one, though, after a life chock-full of jail cells and basement apartments, Sunshine decided to stop moving around; the nomadic protestor bought a small, sunlit house in Takaka/Golden Bay. There, amid straight-spine saguaro cacti and spreading silver fern, she continues with her massage work, promotion of healthy diet—plus legal protest against the use of pesticides. ≈ç
CHELLIS GLENDINNING is a psychologist, essayist, poet, yoga practitioner, an editor of this publication, and the author of nine books, of which the second most recent is Objetos (La Paz, Bolivia: Editorial 3600, 2018). She lives in Chuquisaca, Bolivia.
WHITNEY SMITH is the Publisher and Editor of The Journal of Wild Culture.