By Malcom Lagauche
(Here’s a column I wrote five years ago discussing my involvement and disassociation with leftist groups in San Diego. On paper, they sound good. In practice, however, they are useless, at times even making the point for the political right better than the right could do themselves.)
In my last column, I took the “peace” movement in the U.S. to task. For some, this may be tantamount to heresy, but let me go back to the last decade and describe a few incidents that altered my views on the subject.
In 1991, I was the editor of a weekly newspaper in Alpine, California called the East County Weekly. The publication was not political as it mostly reported on county and local events. However, many good stories emerged during my editorship about corruption, deceit, attempts to stifle whistleblowers, etc.
Until this time, I had never been involved with political groups. That was about to change.
Shortly after the barbaric 1991 attack on Iraq, I discovered there was a chapter of the Peace and Freedom Party in San Diego County. The entity said it was a “socialist” party and its platform was excellent: universal healthcare, non-military intervention in foreign countries, a livable minimum wage, the legalization of marijuana, etc.
I joined the party and became a member of the governing board. Within a few meetings, I was confused. When the subject of Iraq came up at meetings, two Jewish members would excuse themselves and leave the room. Then, in 1992, Ron Daniels, a former campaign manager for Jesse Jackson, became the Peace and Freedom Party’s candidate for president.
Daniels visited San Diego and I arranged for him to speak to a group of Iraqi-Americans and state his views on Iraq. Little did I know he knew nothing about Iraq. Before his speech, I talked to him and realized his knowledge of Iraq was almost nil. Later on, I discovered that he once told the press that if he was elected president, he may order the assassination of Saddam Hussein.
Despite this fiasco, I and a few colleagues, decided to keep working with the party. We assumed we could change things for the better from within. Again, I was wrong.
For the next year or so, the party meetings were useless. Most members arrived an hour or so late and chatted about the “old days.”
In 1995, I helped a few African-Americans organize the first “Black Reparations Awareness Day” in San Diego. It was a success. About 80 people attended and heard astute speeches and statements. Since this time, there has been an annual Black Reparations Awareness Day event in San Diego.
Not one member of the Peace and Freedom Party attended the premier event. Then, a few weeks later, I received the organization’s newsletter. In it, the Peace and Freedom Party said it sponsored the Black Reparations event.
Finally, things came to an end. At a meeting, I proposed the dismissal of the group’s treasurer because he had not attended a meeting in over a year. I stated that if the party was going to be worthwhile, there were some things that had to be taken seriously. My motion passed, despite the grumbling of a few old-timers.
At the next meeting, I was shocked because the hall was full. I did not know 90% of those in attendance. We were told that a new item had been added to the agenda: a re-vote on the treasurer’s status. When the vote came, the few dozen new attendees looked at the chairperson in an attempt to see how to vote. The original vote was reversed and the treasurer was re-instated. There is an American statement for something like this: “They came out of the woodwork.” In this case, some looked like they came out of the grave.
I then realized that I had wasted about three years of my life working with a corrupt and useless entity. After the vote, I and a few comrades, without speaking to each other, got up and left the building. The exit was spontaneous.
Since those days, the Peace and Freedom Party has lost its automatic ballot status in California. The only members left today are some of the original members when the party was founded in 1967. They had chased away any new groups who wanted to make the party more dynamic and relevant.
Along the way, I met various other peace-oriented groups. They were identical to the Peace and Freedom Party in their actions.
I once attended a meeting at the house of a member of the Communist Party USA. The house was in a gated neighborhood and worth about a million dollars in today’s money. Inside were expensive pieces of art. Those in attendance mostly spoke of their stock market investments while sipping their cocktails.
Then there was a Cuban-American friendship group, an organization that opposed the U.S. embargo against Cuba. They would not attend any rallies held to oppose the Iraqi embargo because of “the way women were treated in Iraq.” They assured me that “all the women wear veils.” Also, it was not allowed to mention Fidel Castro’s name.
Other peace organizations were of the same ilk. I tried to get them involved with opposing the Iraqi embargo, but was told, “We won’t touch that.”
In 1993, I began to publish a newspaper called The Alternative. The periodical allowed a forum for those whose positions were not present in the mainstream media.
After a few issues, I approached the owner of the Better World Galleria in San Diego and asked her if I could hold a monthly press conference in her venue. She quickly consented and for the next couple of years, we held some very meaningful meetings at the art gallery.
We also contacted the mainstream press and most of our conferences were reported. Although our messages were different from those of their newspapers, we presented a product that interested them.
The picture with this article came from a press conference we held on the Cuba embargo. While I spoke, I mentioned that the U.S. criticized Cuba for sending troops to Angola and Grenada, but the U.S. never states how many countries house a U.S. military presence. I then held up a piece of paper with the names of 52 U.S. clients. It was the old-style computer paper that was in a roll. When I held the piece up and let it fall, those in attendance got a good laugh.
But, those were the good old days. In less than a decade from my appearance, the U.S. had a military presence in more than 140 countries.
The monthly news conferences were well-attended. But, absent were any members of the Peace and Freedom Party or from the local peace activist groups. Word came back to me that some groups told their members not to attend any conference put on by The Alternative or to read the newspaper. An overused word at the meetings of these groups is “fascism.” Despite their supposed hatred of fascism, the leadership of many groups practiced fascist methods.
In early 1997, the Better World Galleria changed hands. The open-minded owner was losing money because of her generous attitude about groups using her venue. We lost a valuable place to address the public. At the same time, I was becoming worn out with attempting to get messages to the public. Those who should have been our prime supporters were in fact our worst detractors. I was pissing against the wind.
In 2001, I received a call from a close Iraqi-American friend. He said there would be a demonstration against the Iraqi embargo in San Diego and he wanted to know when to pick me up to attend.
“Who’s running it?” I asked. When he told me, I said, “No. I’m not going.” He was very upset with me. “For years, I’ve gone to everything you’ve organized, whether it be about marijuana, racism, Iraq, religion. Everything. I’m upset that you won’t support me.”
I asked him if I had ever been wrong about any political matter and he said, “No.” I then told him to take my words into consideration.
A few days later, he called and said, “You were right.” I laughed and asked him what made him come to that conclusion. He said, “Just before the demonstration was to start, I pulled out my Iraqi flag. A few people came running over to me and said, ‘Put that thing away right now. We’ll have none of that here.’”
I had learned my lesson about the milquetoast peace groups earlier. My friend learned his on a Sunday in 2001.