Memo from Spaceport Berkeley
Berkeley, mid-July in the year of Control. The military has things well in hand, at least on the surface. Today the Space Force is reaching moonward in a titanium hand, to plant Nixon's name in the vacant lot of my childhood dreams. The astronauts grin like satisfied patrolmen from the covers of national magazines. Their superiors reassure the poor: we can feed your hunger and our families of rockets too, if only there is unity. Here in Unity City the Park lies flat as lunar rubblescape, our green launching aborted; soon there will rise skyward the dorm rooms, cramped and sterile as control-cubicles, to train the flesh for the further triumphs of technological greed. On the street, wherever black or white mutter, the masks and clubs appear. Soon the air is unbreathable as vacuum. We go cough in our rooms and dream of the songs of Beginning.
We are under control, no doubt about it, ours as well as theirs. That is critical to remember. You are controlling your despair -- and also, in blind confusion, your strength, which you have seen and I believe in. It continues to act through those painful moments of touching and grace which have given us the image and some of the substance of the life we might lead together and have tried to begin. You could not have believed in it five years ago. Now it taunts you with hope, though its moment's symbol has vanished, like a plant cut off somewhere above the roots.
Two thousand touched and tended that Park. Ten thousand swarmed the streets in its innocent defense, learning to walk deliberately before the tear-gas and guns. Forty thousand came in carnival dress and dance, and the many faces of your love, to charm asphalt into grass. Look, let's take ourselves seriously and cut out all the cheap bullshit put-downs of our people, about how they vanish in fear and aren't for real. Everyone who drops a cap or touches flesh or goes out on the angry street has been marching to deal with his terror and rage and joy.
There are two thousand people in Berkeley now, a part of your self included, who simply and indelibly want to kill a cop, at least in the moments of seeing what is done to their sisters in the pleasures of nightstick perversion. There are all your friends, who have cried with a dozen vivid parades that they're longing to share and celebrate who they're becoming. You think the life-and-death spectrum of our gathered feelings just vanishes, maybe? That it isn't permanent growing substance? The mass of its energy hasn't diminished: river gone back under the surface, river seeking an outlet to spring forth in its singing forms, a way to destroy the constraint that closes off every open space larger than private to our growth. Not gone. Under bleak control.
How to move with it next: privately, publicly. That is everyone's question. Some first results of our experiments are becoming clear. Yes, people can learn the new cooperations of living together, to share and multiply their strength -- even in a way that leaves space for the private self, which some few have truly managed. No, we don't know how to make a new politics of power. Brothers came back ghost-faced from the SDS National Catastrophe in Chicago. It is paralyzingly clear that the narrow political edge of whatever you call our Movement is headed straight backwards into a familiar dead end of splintering death that absorbs our energy.
In 1963 SDS talk centered around "participatory democracy." Now no one remembers that romance, amid screams about an anti-imperialist front and the evident growing contradictions of the capitalist state. Certainly, the power of the State of racist ABM madness must be broken by struggle in all the classical political dimensions. But that's not enough -- and even for that our tools must be living fragments of our dream, in all its human dimensions. SDS dropped its preoccupation with the hope of a rich democracy before the struggle for it was well begun, slides back into old and sterile forms. PL wants us to be pure: don't smoke dope or screw before marriage. Or they take away your membership card. Tell me, whose Revolution is that?
Only the beautiful is worth believing in or fighting for or working within -- can we trust in or settle for less? -- and only what is whole even in its incompleteness can be this beauty. But Amerika splits everything apart: man from his production, the self from its being. Trains us all to the shame of niggers, splits us from our sisters in long classroom years during which we're conditioned to claw our brothers in competition for a smile. Do you wonder we have trouble learning from each other? Political activists, kids inro educational reform, freaks on the edge of cultural change: all hanging out in a circle of mutual scorn, refusing to learn or embody each other's tools in their own, denying a common flesh and the building of its dream. SDS now points clearly to what happens when we let our words grow narrow and live a language that does not include and build on all that we are.
That same stale death waits for any who try to move on with half their nourishment in an inadequate ship, no matter where they're sailing: they will land in a barren moon. And it waits for you personally, as you struggle with your everyday anger and love, constantly betrayed into setting them aside, denying them "just for a while" to get something done or to ease your confusion. The death that Amerika promises for any who would make her changes or free life within her now rumbles over the horizon, force gathers to make you claw your sister in factional terror, to drop your tools and new growth in the fear they will reveal you, or hinder your fight or your flight. Don't believe it, don't do it. You will need all you are even to survive in the rising wind whose violence now touches all your life's aspects.
We will need all we are and are becoming to survive or build. Somehow it must all be brought together, and nothing that does not promise and depend on this is worth working upon. This is all I know; it doesn't promise answers, but it's a strong criterion. We haven't yet begun to honor it. People are still afraid to stand by it in public when what we are building is ugly and incomplete, afraid to condemn our mistakes. Aesthetics gets last place on the political agenda or is scoffed out as romantic. (Whose politics is that?) It's hard to argue your naive belief without alternatives to offer.
But there are alternatives. In various ways our new generations have made beginnings of some genuine wholeness and substance. The Mid-Peninsula Free University, the Resistance, the Free City family in San Francisco -- all are forms that nourish the heart in some roundness and develop political force. You can no longer complain that there are no models, and these open the possibility of others. What is missing in general is seriousness and work, a full commitment to building what we can dream. People are still shitting around trying to get it done cheaply, or to force Them to do it for us. No use. Pay the price of your life, to learn to learn from your brothers and sisters.
It can be brought together. This belief torments many who have been through our phases and long for what is needed to move on. Watching the SDS debacle and the Park, the need gathers in us for the image of a new beginning, that embraces all our fragments. The Thirteen Points of the recent Berkeley Liberation Program are a thin and strident attempt: the people who will share that image with us have not yet come together. Or perhaps it must bloom simultaneously in a crowd of lives, in which case you are responsible and I wait for your decision.
Beyond this, I don't pretend to answers other than the beginnings I share with friends, especially about the Park. I admire the holes in the fence, and think the Park's grave should become the town garbage dump as long as it's occupied by pigs. People should drop by at night with bags of debris and chuck them over the fence, then split fast with license-plates masked.
For this city is ours in ways we haven't used. Timidly, people are starting to garden its soil: aside from the romance, that does in fact save money and strengthen community, as those who've tried know. Seven stores along Shattuck stand vacant and unrented; why don't we take them? Art and clothing cooperatives have formed, food ones are on the way -- are we too stupid to be able to choose to buy from our own people? Each battle sends the property rates down, some estimate 25% by the end of summer near campus. Landlords are growing anxious to sell, the university can't compete with its budget bound; even in the tight money squeeze that slows the posh apartment developers, our people who've grown to earning money with their souls intact can pool their bread to lease with options to buy. If the eighteen-year-old vote comes -- which is less certain as Amerika comes to fear her young, justly -- this city will be ours politically.
And even now there is space to build newly, if we can clear our heads of fear and the comforting denial of our strength, if we choose to learn from each other and plug our precious energies into our own Berkeley. Where else will you put them, wandering away? If Berkeley cannot be made a safe base for our life, then no city in Amerika can, and likely no town (as the vigilante raids now threaten). We have no choice but to learn to touch each other openly through our growing fear, and build from the beginning all the aspects of a community that can take over real power here. No less will even shelter us from the hard rain that is beginning to fall, as the Official Astronauts speed back with diamonds from a moon you'll never touch if they have their way.
16 July 1969