Free Minds/Free People

Bernardine and I met up with our old pal Jeff Jones, jumped in the car and headed off to the Oregon Country Fair outside Eugene where we’d been asked to speak about the political moment we were living through—Occupy your Imagination; Free Minds/Free People. It was a Blues Brothers road trip—we were on a mission from God.
The Fair was an insurgency from the 60’s transformed and institutionalized in a mere half century. New Age meets the New Millennium as capitalism consumes the counter-culture. Where tie-dye and incense, pipes and rolling papers, long hair and funny hats, as well as bubbling pots of free brown rice and red beans and tofu/vegetable stew had been a few of the markers of the rebellion, all of it was now de rigueur and for sale in every corner. Where the battle with the cops and the health authorities over the right to crash in a tangle of unruly humanity overnight on the land had been pitched in the early years, the original hippies were now the gray heads who owned the land and issued the permits. A rainbow of wristbands demarcated where folks could wander, and the most prized were the gold ones—which the three of us were miraculously granted—allowing fair-goers access everywhere as well as the extraordinary privilege of staying after-hours when things really got going. One of my favorite moments was sitting with the old-timers one night after the Fair had been officially closed and the grounds swept of the riff-raff, listening to the stories of how folks snuck into the Fair and evaded the sweeps in the sweet long ago of their glorious youth—when they were the riff-raff.
The Fair stretched over acres, from field to forest and from river to green rolling hill, and every inch was occupied by lovely people doing wondrous things: puppeteers and magicians, singers and chanters, crafts people and cooks—everyone together making a joyful noise. A defining characteristic of the Fair was the ease with which babies and toddlers and children of all ages expressed a sense of comfort and fun.
There were dozens of booths where we could get Ken Kesey’s famous home-made ice cream or Dave’s Killer Bread or Juanita’s Dynamite Tortillas, and dozens more stages simultaneously hosting bands and presentations and speeches and sales pitches—we stopped at one to hear Swami Beyondananda do a beautiful stand-up riff on contemporary politics in the smooth but annoyingly superior voice reserved for yoga masters: “People say there is no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats,” he began. “But that can’t be so—the Republicans bend over backwards like this for Big Oil and Big Pharma and Big Finance…Observe…And the Democrats…bend over frontwards.”
It was a dazzling and magical place to be, old people evoking images of Fairs gone by, young people etching their own stories through experiencing the Fair anew, babies in backpacks and toddlers in tow pointing toward Fairs yet to come. I settled in with a joint in order to experience the Fair in full.
We were hanging out late with a bunch of old friends from SDS and Weather, including Robert, the older brother of our comrade CW who had split with us after the terrible townhouse explosion, gone underground on his own, never surrendered, and died anonymously and on the run. His closest friends and family quietly and properly memorialized CW, and then transported his ashes to Cuba and scattered them on the monument to Che Guevara, a fitting resting place for all time. Robert had told me long ago and several times that my depiction of CW in Fugitive Days, while understandable from my perspective and experience, was not his story or the whole story. Robert was a smart and generous person, and we’d talked about it and come to understand one another.
As we relaxed into the gathering dusk, high on the Fair, CW’s nephew came over before his rock n’ roll band took the stage. He’d heard our talk earlier and was happy to say hello now. We chatted awhile—smart and sweet guy—and as the band was finishing their set-up he said to me: “I understood what you wrote about my uncle, and I could certainly see your point, but I want you to know something: you only knew him for a moment and you could only capture him in a snapshot. He lived a long time after that and he was generous and kind, crazy and fun, thoughtful and open. He encouraged everyone to be smarter and better, and he remained true to your shared vision of a better world. People try to pin a label on him, but, hell, people try to nail you guys to a board all the time—just like you, he was more than you imagined.”
We embraced for a long moment and I felt a vital circle close. Then he turned and mounted the stage.

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