AADL Talks To: Gary Grimshaw

Gary Grimshaw is one of the most renowned and recognizable poster artists to come out of the 1960s. His most prolific period as a graphic artist was his time spent with John and Leni Sinclair in the mid-1960s and early 1970s, first in the Detroit-based Trans-Love Energies commune and then in Ann Arbor with the White Panther Party/Rainbow People's Party. In this interview we talk with the former White Panther Party Minister of Art about creating art for the Grande Ballroom and the White Panther Party, the night John Sinclair met both him and the MC5, and how he made his art then and now.

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AADL_Talks_To-Gary_Grimshaw.mp3 17.32 MB

AADL Talks To: Judge Damon Keith

In June, 1972, then-U.S. District Judge Damon J. Keith of Detroit foiled the Nixon Administration's plan to use the Ann Arbor CIA Conspiracy trial as a test case to acquire Supreme Court sanction for domestic surveillance. Keith's ruling - that the Justice Department's wiretapping was in violation of the 4th amendment - led to a unanimous Supreme Court decision making domestic surveillance illegal…during the same week as the Watergate break-in. In this interview, Judge Keith, now Senior Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, recalls his memories of the case and his famous Keith Decision. He also talks about how he handled similarly difficult cases, and the legacy of his work.

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AADL_Talks_To-Judge_Damon_Keith.mp3 21.91 MB

AADL Talks To: Pun Plamondon

Pun Plamondon was a directionless teen with left-wing leanings when he met John Sinclair, Leni Sinclair, and Gary Grimshaw in Detroit in the mid-1960s. He grew to become the co-founder of the White Panther Party/Rainbow People's Party as well as its Minister of Defense. In that role he found himself on the run as one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Criminals and the subject of a case before the United States Supreme Court. In this episode we talk to Pun about that journey, including the formation of the White Panther Party and Rainbow People’s Party, being there for some of the key events in 1960s Ann Arbor, and finding his Native American roots.

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AADL_Talks_To-Pun_Plamondon.mp3 57.26 MB

AADL Talks To: John Sinclair (March 22, 2010)

In this interview from March 22, 2010, poet, author, and activist John Sinclair reflects on music in Ann Arbor - from the MC5, the free concerts in the parks and the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz festival, to his specific memories of local clubs and musicians. He also talks about the influence of both the Beat generation and black music on his cultural and political awakening, the origins of the White Panther Party, and the importance of newspapers.

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AADL_Talks_To-John_Sinclair1.mp3 39.55 MB

AADL Talks To: Leni Sinclair

In this interview, photographer and activist Leni Sinclair recalls the origins of the Detroit Artists Workshop and first Trans-Love commune in Detroit, and their strategic retreat to Ann Arbor following the Detroit Riots. She also talks about the groups' politicization as the White Panther Party and reflects on life at their Hill St. commune, including what led to its breakup in the mid 1970s.

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AADL_Talks_To-Leni_Sinclair.mp3 27.56 MB

AADL Talks To: Bruce Conforth

Rob talks with University of Michigan Professor of American Culture, Bruce Conforth, about the cultural and historical significance of the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, in particular John Lennon's decision to appear at the Rally and the role Ann Arbor played in the 1960s.

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AADL_Talks_To-Bruce_Conforth.mp3 21.39 MB

The Hidden History of Ann Arbor, Michigan: A Small Town's Big Impact on the Sixties

By Alan Glenn

Most cities of a certain size and age will have at least some interesting tales to tell, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, is no exception. In fact, Ann Arbor sits on a story brimming with drama, excitement, and historical significance, one that is generally unknown but cries out to be heard—especially today, when it's perhaps more relevant than ever.

The story in question isn't from the nineteenth century, or even the early twentieth. There's no need to go back that far. Little more than a generation ago, Ann Arbor was regularly making national headlines—not as one of Money magazine's best places for the rich and single, but as a key center of radicalism during the turbulent 1960s that rivaled Berkeley, Madison, and Columbia. Ann Arbor's contributions to the sixties were crucial and greatly influenced the course of events during that momentous decade.

Curiously, however, these contributions go mostly unrecognized, even by scholars in the field, and the city's radical past remains largely unknown, except to the curious few, and those who were there.

Of course there is awareness of some of the bigger events from Ann Arbor in the sixties—such as John F. Kennedy's late-night speech on the steps of the Michigan Union which set in motion the chain of events that led to the Peace Corps. It's also generally accepted that Students for a Democratic Society, probably the most influential activist group of the period, got its start at the University of Michigan. And music fans the world over know that ex-Beatle John Lennon came to town to sing for the freedom of jailed cultural revolutionary John Sinclair.

But there's more to it than that. Much more.

The Start of Something Big

The history of Ann Arbor's radical era has roots going further back than the sixties, although it's hard to know exactly where it all began. In the late forties university students picketed local barber shops that refused to serve African-Americans. ("Operation Haircut," it was called.) In the fifties, following an appeal by Albert Wheeler, leader of the local chapter of the NAACP, the city established a Human Relations Commission to investigate growing complaints of racial discrimination in employment and housing. There was also a minor uproar following the dismissal of two university professors for refusing to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

But the activist spirit didn't really come alive until early 1960, when young black demonstrators began sitting in at lunch counters throughout the South. In Ann Arbor a coalition of university students and townspeople picketed the local Kresge's and Woolworth outlets as a show of solidarity with those involved in the southern struggle. The pickets soon expanded to include hometown businesses that discriminated against African-Americans. Such activities weren't well-received in many quarters—the picketers received no coverage in the Ann Arbor News, had little if any support in city government, and were regularly harassed by unsympathetic students, citizenry, and police. Nevertheless, the protests continued, every Saturday, for nearly nine months.

The pickets brought long-closeted social ills out into the open and stirred—or perhaps shamed—the city into taking action. But more important was the way the demonstrations brought together Ann Arbor's people of conscience. In the wake of the protests came the formation of a number of activist groups, including a vigorous chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, that took up the banner of civil rights on both a local and national scale. The collegiate side saw the creation of a political party—Voice—to promote progressive causes on campus, including greater student participation in the running of the university and the elimination of racial discrimination in fraternities and sororities.

Voice soon became the University of Michigan chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. The Ann Arbor branch of SDS was one of the country's largest and most active and had a powerful influence on the evolution of what would become perhaps the most important radical group of the sixties. The first president of SDS was U-M student Alan Haber, whose tireless organizational efforts almost single-handedly turned a loose confederation of young dissenters into a cohesive national group dedicated to the promotion of peace, freedom, and equality.

For the first half of the decade most of the SDS leadership was concentrated in Ann Arbor. Tom Hayden, Dick Flacks, Paul Potter, Rennie Davis, Todd Gitlin, and Carl Oglesby all lived and worked in town, usually while attending the university. Tom Hayden was working toward a graduate degree at U-M in 1962 when he drafted the document that became known as the Port Huron Statement (because it was ratified at an SDS convention in nearby Port Huron), a milestone expression of the nascent youth movement's percipience, determination, and optimism.

War Cry

Although in the first half of the sixties most of the focus was on civil rights, the Ann Arbor activist community also contained a strong component of anti-war sentiment. Believe it or not, in those days the University of Michigan had a school devoted to peace research. Led by Professor (and Quaker) Ken Boulding, it was organized around the university's Center for Conflict Resolution and had a profound influence on the early SDS leaders.

The wives of the anti-war faculty had their own group: Ann Arbor Women for Peace. These indomitable ladies organized demonstrations, rallies, and vigils, collected baby teeth to test for radiation, sent valentines to public figures who spoke out against war, distributed origami cranes for Hiroshima Day, were evicted from the local Veterans Day parade for carrying peace signs, and refused to be intimidated when questioned by HUAC.

Early 1965 saw a sudden, massive escalation of the fighting in Vietnam, and with it a huge surge in the national anti-war movement. In Ann Arbor a group of outraged U-M faculty decided to protest by holding a teaching strike. Almost immediately they found themselves the target of loud and vituperative attacks by press, public, and politicos, including the governor. The university also chimed in, threatening disciplinary action if the strike went forward. Some of the younger professors began to have second thoughts, and after a long, exhausting debate the strikers settled on a different approach—instead of teaching less, they would teach more, and hold an all-night "teach-in" on Vietnam.

The idea was an instant success. Those who had been quick to condemn the strike were just as quick to embrace the teach-in. The university did an about-face, pledging its full support, and judges and legislators stated their desire to attend. There wasn't much time to make arrangements, but Voice, Ann Arbor Women for Peace, Guild House, and many others pitched in, and by March 24 all was in readiness.

That night nearly 3,000 people—three times as many as expected—turned out to attend the dozens of lectures and discussions that lasted until sunrise. For most it was an eye-opening experience, for some an intellectual awakening. Students, professors, visiting dignitaries, and ordinary citizens freely debated as equals, concluding more often than not that the U.S. government wasn't telling the truth about what was happening in Southeast Asia.

In the following weeks dozens of campuses across the country held their own teach-ins on Vietnam, and soon other subjects as well. Born as a last-minute compromise in the modest Ann Arbor home of a young university professor, the teach-in spread like wildfire and quickly became the movement's de facto educational instrument, combining protest with learning and discussion in a way that reflects the ethos of the sixties at its best.

Creative Confluence

In the coming years Ann Arbor would witness literally thousands of protests against the war, against militarism, against discrimination, exploitation, and injustice of all kinds. But the sixties weren't just about politics. In those days the city was a confluence of creative energy that included the likes of Gilda Radner, Ken Burns, Lawrence Kasdan, Christine Lahti, Daniel Zwerdling, Cathy Guisewite, and many others. Music, film, art, theater—the purveyors of anything new and exciting found an appreciative audience in Tree Town.

The ONCE Group offered a yearly festival that was recognized around the world as a leading showcase for avant-garde music and performance art. ONCE gave rise to the Ann Arbor Film Festival, first held in 1963 when it was one of only a few such events in the country. The week-long exhibition quickly earned a national reputation and began attracting a wide range of notable talent, including Yoko Ono, Brian DePalma, and George Lucas, as well as Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, who made a personal appearance at the fourth festival in 1966. Back then the festival often featured envelope-pushing live entertainment—rock bands, experimental theater, even Pat the Hippie Stripper.

In the sixties Ann Arbor was also home to a vibrant regional music scene, much as Minneapolis was in the eighties, or Seattle in the nineties. Local concertgoers were treated to an amazing potpourri of styles—the heavy music of a rowdy young Bob Seger, the twanging steel guitars of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, the sweet soul of Deon Jackson. Those wanting to trip the psychedelic heights had the SRC, while the Prime Movers offered authentic Chicago blues, the MC5 kicked out the jams, and Iggy and the Stooges were just indescribably weird.

The leading local r&b group were the Rationals, four friends from Ann Arbor High whose garage-rock cover of Otis Redding's "Respect" climbed the charts in late 1966. Released on Ann Arbor's own A-Square label, the record was a big hit in Detroit and may well have inspired Aretha Franklin to release her more famous version a year later.

Complementing the abundance of homegrown talent were the big national acts who came through town—Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Dave Brubeck, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, the Who, Janis Joplin, the Byrds—to play legendary shows at legendary clubs like Canterbury House, the Ark, and the Fifth Dimension. Sometimes they'd even hang out for a while, soaking up the city's potent countercultural vibe.

Countercultural Mecca

In 1960 a researcher at the university's School of Public Health wrote to the Michigan Daily to complain about the small but dedicated contingent of "circus freaks" on campus, the "bearded, long-haired, sloppy, unsanitary-looking students, who appear to be a refugees from some beatnik cave." He wondered "just what kind of future citizens they will make if they are unwilling or too lazy to present a clean appearance at this early stage of their lives."

Little could the letter-writer have known of what was in store. A few years later the Daily's fashion supplement announced (with more than a little sarcasm) that "the rigid tradition that had girls wearing dresses and boys wearing pants has been broken." The "hippy" had made the Ann Arbor scene, clothed in faded army jacket, blue jeans, open sandals, wire-framed Ben Franklin glasses, and possibly sporting an earring. From that point on there was no turning back. Soon the city would be inundated by a wave of lava lamps, black lights, brown rice, and—most significantly—head shops.

In 1965 the AAPD made its first big dope bust, in which a number of local youths—one the daughter of a university professor—were arrested on suspicion of marijuana trafficking. The raid did little to stem the tide of drugs on campus, but did make the national news. In 1967 an editorial in the Daily calling for the legalization of pot caught the attention of the Washington Post. Ann Arbor was well on its way to earning a nation-wide reputation as a countercultural Mecca.

One of those attracted to the city's growing bohemian sector was Detroit's "head hippy" John Sinclair, who moved to Ann Arbor with his long-haired entourage in the spring of 1968. Sinclair's group quickly took charge of the local countercultural scene, living communally in two stately Victorian homes a few blocks from campus, openly defying drug laws, printing an alternative newspaper, and (much to the chagrin of nearby residents) reviving the free Sunday rock concerts in West Park.

As more hippies (or street people, as they were often called) flocked to the city, tensions naturally began to build between the new arrivals and the unenlightened majority. In response to increased police harassment Sinclair's group became more political, changing their name from Trans-Love Energies to the White Panther Party in homage to the ultra-militant Black Panther Party then making headlines in California.

The Ann Arbor group worked hard to emulate their black brethren, issuing revolutionary statements, distributing subversive literature, and taking target practice with the few guns they had collected. Hardly anyone took this posturing seriously—except, that is, for J. Edgar Hoover, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover directed the agents of COINTELPRO—the domestic counter-intelligence program he had established back in the fifties—to destroy the White Panthers.

They did their job well. In July of 1969 John Sinclair was sentenced to nine-and-a-half to ten years in prison for possessing two joints of marijuana. His departure for the state penitentiary forced the Panthers to abandon their "total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock and roll, dope, and fucking in the streets" and focus instead on getting their leader out of jail. Their vigorous and determined efforts culminated two years later in a huge rally at the University of Michigan's Crisler Arena. John Lennon, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, Jerry Rubin, Alan Ginsberg and others all converged on Ann Arbor for one magical night, to sing and speak for Sinclair's freedom—which, astoundingly, he was granted two days later.

The FBI were in attendance at the rally and noted Lennon's participation. For Hoover this was the last straw. He authorized a terror campaign against the outspoken ex-Beatle and schemed to have him deported. Lennon persevered and eventually won the right to stay in the U.S.—but Hoover's scare tactics worked. From that point on, until his untimely death in 1980, the one-time working class hero shied away from political activism.

Keep on Truckin'

The sixties were officially over at midnight on December 31, 1969. But that final tick of the clock didn't bring an end to the turmoil. In fact, the most turbulent year of the sixties was arguably 1970. In Ann Arbor that spring, the SDS "crazies" (those left in charge after the group's moderate faction broke away) were locking war-industry recruiters into their offices in West Engineering, smashing windows in the ROTC building, and skirmishing with police on snow-covered streets. The Ann Arbor Tenants Union, still busy with an extended rent strike against the city's intractable coterie of landlords, was hosting a national conference on tenants' rights that drew attendees from as far away as Berkeley and Boston. Environmentalists were holding a gigantic ecology teach-in—part of the inaugural Earth Day festivities—that attracted an incredible 50,000 people to the dozens of rallies, discussions, and workshops taking place on campus and around town.

But that wasn't all. The Black Action Movement was leading a massive strike involving thousands of students and faculty that nearly shut down the university and ultimately succeeded in forcing the administration to promise a significant increase in minority enrollment. The Ann Arbor Gay Liberation Front was holding its first meeting. Radicals were suing Sheriff Harvey for shaving them bald while in jail. Art-house movies were being busted for pornography. The draft board was vandalized. An expended bullet was found in the university president's house.

Imagine—all of this and more, on the cozy, tree-lined lanes of the All-American City of Ann Arbor—and all happening at the same time.

Similar disruptions were taking place in other cities around the country, and to many it must have seemed that the revolution was finally at hand. Then the shootings at Kent State in May brought the mass protest movement to a crashing halt. (Interestingly, if events had unfolded only a little differently, the simmering tensions of the BAM strike might well have exploded into violence and made "Michigan" the unfortunate marker that closed the sixties.)

But the dedicated core of dissenters remained undaunted. In Ann Arbor they moved into electoral politics, and after affiliating with the statewide Human Rights Party were unexpectedly swept into office on a wave of youthful enthusiasm following ratification of the 18-year-old vote. Ann Arbor was once again in the national spotlight as the two HRP city councilmen sponsored radical bills that, oddly enough, were every now and then made into law.

The (in)famous $5 fine for marijuana possession, passed barely a month after the HRP activists took office in 1972, gave Ann Arbor one of the most lenient pot laws in the land. A Republican councilman who voted against the bill complained that its enactment would make the city "the pot capital of the Midwest." He wasn't far wrong. At the time of the law's passage Ann Arbor was already the hub of a thriving marijuana import business that over the next few years would grow to immense proportions.

Most of the pot was transshipped elsewhere, but a good deal of it was smoked right in town. Almost everyone was doing it. At the second annual Hash Bash state representative Perry Bullard toked up for the news cameras—and earned himself a reprimand from U-M football coach Bo Schembechler. Liberal Washtenaw County Sheriff Fred Postill, fresh from his victory over incumbent Doug Harvey, declared that marijuana busts would be his department's lowest priority. It was as if the Age of Aquarius had truly come to life in Ann Arbor, with the city's freak flag rippling proudly in the strong leftward winds of change.

Return to Normalcy

As the seventies passed the halfway mark, however, the progressive breeze began to fail. The HRP collapsed, the hippies and radicals moved away, the university students went back to looking out for number one, and the protests dwindled. In truth, there didn't seem to be much to demonstrate against. The war was over, and important laws had been passed to protect the environment and the rights of women and minorities. For more than a few Ann Arborites the slowdown brought a deep sigh of relief.

In the eighties and nineties the city homogenized and gentrified and, like the rest of the nation, began moving back to the right. Radicalism was bad for business; the sixties became something to be swept under the rug in hopes that it would go away. Which is pretty much what happened.

But what many of those who love present-day Ann Arbor have forgotten—or never knew—is that the city is like it is because of what happened in the sixties, not in spite of it. Liberal and conservative alike benefit from Ann Arbor's reputation as a center of hip creativity. Yet that reputation is based to a great extent on the city's radical past: either from what took place during the sixties, or from institutions that originated in the sixties (like the film festival and the Ark), or from people who were drawn to the area during that time exactly because of what was going on.

Paul Saginaw, co-founder of the world-famous Zingerman's Delicatessen, is today one of Ann Arbor's brightest stars. What brought him to town? "The free love and cheap drugs," he says. That was nearly 40 years ago.

"Ann Arbor was where everything was happening," Saginaw explains. "It's where the excitement was." He was reading Ken Kesey and Ramparts magazine and Ann Arbor was like a Midwestern Haight-Ashbury plopped improbably into his own backyard. The affable restauranteur doesn't go into details, but admits with a chuckle, "I would never claim to somebody that I did not inhale."

Clearly Ann Arbor today would be a poorer place if not for the sixties. The amazing richness of that period of the city's history—of which this article barely scratches the surface—makes it more than worthy of recognition and study. But with so many voices competing to be heard these days, if a given subject isn't regularly brought up and discussed, it will soon be forgotten, and possibly lost forever.

It would be a tragedy if that were to happen with Ann Arbor in the sixties. Which is what makes this Web site, and projects like it (say, maybe, a documentary film, or something like that), so important.


Alan Glenn is presently working on a book and film about Ann Arbor in the sixties. Visit the film's Web site for more information.

Freeing John Sinclair Concert with Commander Cody Band and John Sinclair

December 10, 2011, marks the 40th anniversary of the John Sinclair Freedom Rally at Crisler Arena, held to protest the ten-year prison term given John Sinclair for the possession of two marijuana cigarettes (he was released soon after the Rally). On the evening before the anniversary, we'll celebrate the launch of our Freeing John Sinclair website (coming December 9!) with a FREE concert at The Ark featuring the Commander Cody Band (Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen played at the original Rally), with special guest John Sinclair & Beatnik Youth.

Admission is FREE, and first-come, first-served, so get there early!

Friday, December 9, 2011 | 8:00 pm (doors open at 7:30) | The Ark | Ann Arbor

Culture Jamming: A Long View Back - A Panel Discussion With John Sinclair, Leni Sinclair, Pun Plamondon, David Fenton, and Genie Parker

Saturday December 10, 2011: 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm - The Michigan Union - Pendleton Room - 530 S. State Street on the UM Campus

UM Professor Bruce Conforth moderates this panel discussion with John Sinclair, Leni Sinclair, Pun Plamondon, David Fenton and Genie Parker--all members of Ann Arbor's White Panther Party and Rainbow People's Party. All were central to many of the actions and ideals surrounding Ann Arbor's counterculture. The panelists will reflect on their "total assault on culture" during the late '60s and early '70s- what worked, what didn't, and what it means today.

"Culture Jamming: A Long View Back" is the final event of the Library's 'Freeing John Sinclair: The Day Legends Came to Town' series celebrating the launch of AADL's Freeing John Sinclair website (available Friday, December 9), marking the 40th anniversary of the John Sinclair Freedom Rally that took place in Ann Arbor on December 10, 1971.

Interim Report on the Background of Pun Plamondon and the Founding of the White Panther Party circa 1968

FROM: Pun Plamondon: Co-founder White Panther Party and Minister of Defense

TO: Whom It May Concern

DATE: November 29, International Day of Solidarity With The Palestinian People, 2011

Part I—BACKGROUND

NOTHING TAKES PLACE IN A VACUUM. To understand a thing it is necessary to understand the context in which a thing exists or happens. The founding and exploits of the White Panther Party (WPP) and the Rainbow People’s Party (RPP), took place in a long continuum of peoples struggling for self-determination and justice. This report intends to sketch the context of the times and the life of the co-founder, Pun Plamondon.

In 1790 Etienne Lamorandier, a French voyager, and the genesis of my European bloodline, was the first white guy to open a trading post in present day Newaygo, Michigan. He married an Ottawa woman, Falling Snow Woman, the progenitor of my Ottawa bloodline.

During the war of 1812 Etienne sided with the British and the Ottawa against the Americans. His trading post was burned out twice, he was held by the Americans in the stockade at Detroit for several months, and ultimately settled at Kilarney on the Canadian side of Georgian Bay. I came about my anti-Americanism honestly, genetically.

I was conceived in the Traverse City, Michigan State Hospital and was born there in April of 1945. My biological father was a half-blood Ottawa suffering from chronic alcoholism and my mother was a mixed-blood Ojibwa woman diagnosed with syphilis. Though my biological father served in the US Army in 1917, he was a virulent isolationist during World War I.

I was adopted by the Plamondon’s when I was 18 months old, having spent a year in foster care and six months in the State Hospital where the nurses cuddled and cooed over me and named me Baby Cota, after my mother. Attachment issues would follow me all my life.

The Plamondon’s were a dysfunctional family with a dominant mother and passive father. I never connected with my adopted mother. Even to this day I have not one pleasant memory of a Christmas, birthday, picnic or festive occasion. As I remember it I grew up in a world of “can’t” and “don’t”. “You can’t do that, it’s against the rules. Don’t do that, what would the neighbors think,” or “Don’t do that because I said so.” Unreasonable fools, all of them. I learned early on to avoid grown-ups and people in authority; their sole purpose is control.

I started second grade at St. Francis Catholic School. I remember it as hell on earth. Mean-spirited adults dressed like penguins or Darth Vader, dispensing tortuous punishment with the vengeance of God and the blessing of the Pope and parents. Although I did learn that generally the joy of committing an infraction was worth the pain of punishment. Without fear of punishment they had no control over me.

I was a troublesome and unmanageable preteen. By 14 I discovered alcohol and jumped enthusiastically into a pattern of doing what I wanted, when I wanted, with little regard for convention, authority or consequences. I was drinking, staying out all night with older kids, skipping school and the like. My parents couldn’t handle me. They took me to Juvenile Court. The Court classified me as “incorrigible,” and sent me to Catholic reform school.

By this time I was so alienated from home and school that reform school seemed like relief, a fresh start. It didn’t take long for me to realize that reform school was the same as being at home or St. Francis, just MORE and HARDER. More rules, harder punishment. But fun, too! Now I was with 150 cats much like me, a band of outcast kids against a cult of black robe zealots and Opus Dei perverts.

I left reform school when I was 16 and returned to St. Francis. I was good in sports but a terrible student. I hated Catholic school, always did. In the eleventh grade, unable to maintain grades that kept me eligible for sports and already on school probation, I skipped a week of school and was finally expelled. Finally.

From October of 1962, when I was expelled, until sometime in 1964 I was simply a mooching vagabond, sleeping where I fell and living off the fat of the land. Hitchhiking up and down the east coast and across the south. This was during the height of the civil rights movement. I witnessed raw vicious racism that offended my fundamental sense of justice; it just wasn’t fair. I didn’t consider myself an activist but I was a supporter of the black struggle for civil rights. I think seeing myself as an underdog, my solidarity was with other underdogs.

In 1964/65 I worked for the American Federation of Labor & The Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL/CIO). I was part of a team organizing migrant farm workers east of the Mississippi. Caesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers were uniting workers in Texas and California and the AFL/CIO wanted some of the action.

Before the union I was an arrogant and alienated teenager, pissed-off at the world for no known reason, generally drunk and meaner than hell. In Catholic school I was taught that poverty, race and class were God's way of helping people get to heaven. We in the lower classes must simply keep our heads down, our shoulders to the wheel, and be humble servants in the machinery of society. “If you are a garbage collector, be the best darn garbage collector you can be.” They said.

While working for the union, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was going through internal turmoil. SNCC was a bi-racial civil rights organization centered in the south. Made up of white and black students, SNCC was somewhat more confrontational that the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), Dr. King’s civil rights organization. At some point SNCC decided they should be an all-black organization and determine for themselves, without the influence of middle-class whites, the strategy and tactics to gain their liberation.

The white students left SNCC, some with broken hearts; others joined the fledgling Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), while others moved to the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and similar civil rights organizations. Two or three joined the union organizing team I was with. It was from the former SNCC organizers that I was exposed to political thinking and analysis for the first time. Poverty was not an act of God but a calculated system of exploitation and oppression carried out and maintained by 1% of the population, the ruling class.

This was new information to me; it changed my life. Another lie of the Catholic Church exposed. I was no longer pissed off at the world and everyone in it. Now I had something to direct my anger toward. Now I didn’t want to kick everyone’s ass, just the ass of the exploitive and parasitic ruling class and their puppets. However, at the same time I was becoming more politically aware, I was also drinking heavily and my boss could not ignore one outrageous drunken episode in Miami. So I was fired from the union.

From 1965 to 1967 I spent my time hitch hiking again, the east coast and across the south. I worked day labor out of Boston, Hartford, Richland, and Charleston, where I worked for a building demolition company. I picked fruit in Okeechobee and cleaned newly constructed condos in Tallahassee. I scraped barnacles off submarines in Newport News and worked for a land surveyor in Ocala, Florida, always drinking away my paycheck.

During this period black folks across the land were demanding their civil rights, the Vietnam War was raging, women were finding their voice, gays and lesbians were standing up, and millions of young people were no longer accepting the draft and the absolute authority of parents and institutions over their lives. A new culture and worldview was developing that stood in opposition to the dominant culture and political machine. In student ghettos and poor communities across the country distrust, alienation, and resistance was the order of the day.

In the summer of 1967 this resistance shook the earth and created a tsunami of armed rebellions in black ghettos across America. In Detroit, for several days, black liberation fighters drove the police and Michigan National Guard from a 144-block area of the city. The Detroit revolt strengthened beliefs I held about the War in Vietnam, i.e. the spirit of an oppressed people is stronger than the military technology of the oppressor. For all the technological might of the United States, the little rice-eating people of Vietnam, most of whom couldn’t read or write their own name, could resist and ultimately overcome the vast American war machine, The Human Being Lawnmower as the MC5 called it.

During the time of the rebellion I was living at the Detroit Artists Workshop/Trans-Love Energies commune (DAW/TLE) held together by John and Leni Sinclair, Gary Grimshaw, his partner Judy Janis, and various other outlaw visionaries. It was there I met Genie P, a 17-year-old runaway street urchin, and she moved in with me. I was 22.

The DAW, founded by Sinclair, had been functioning as an artist collective since the early ’60s. Mostly beatniks, The DAW was made up of filmmakers, poets, artists, musicians and savants of various descriptions. They owned two large storefronts with commune living quarters upstairs in a former dentist office. They had their own printing press and had a whole catalogue of poetry books, comic books, short stories and novels, all self published. They put out broadsides with poems, incantations and other magic. They put on their own jazz concerts in the storefronts and used facilities at Wayne State University for larger events. These people where dynamic. Then they took LSD-25.

LSD and The Summer of Love washed over the planet and everything changed. First the personnel; younger people began coming around DAW, some of the old guard slipped away. The activities stayed the same; producing and promoting concerts, publishing a newspaper, printing poetry books and reviews. But the beat had changed; now rock and roll electricity charged the air. The DAW became the genesis of the hippy inspired commune, TLE, made up of cultural anarchists of many disciplines.

Understand, this was all fairly far out stuff for a high school dropout from Traverse City. I had been a road dog for some time, I’d been around, but I didn’t know how things worked. Coming from a world of Can’t and Don’t into a world of Do It, was liberating beyond words. I thought you had to have permission from someone to put out a newspaper; not so, just do it. I thought you had to have a degree or special training to publish a poetry book; just do it. I thought you had to have an office and a secretary to bring in Sun Ra or the Contemporary Jazz Quintet from Chicago. Nah, just do it.

From this I realized that the struggle against stupidity in government and society could be fought with film, music, and poetry: the arts. Everything is politics; lifestyle, worldview, style of dress, food, language, it all has a political consequence. The arts are a way to agitate, educate, and motivate people to embrace a new lifestyle, worldview and culture that are sustainable.

Shortly after the assassination of Dr. King in April of ’68, Sinclair and others began making arrangements to move Trans Love Energies to Ann Arbor and the leafy environs of the University of Michigan. In Detroit the commune had been the target of continual police harassment. More recently right-wing neo-fascists had directed their fire bombings toward us. It was time to move to an environment that suited our clothes.

In June 1968, Genie P and I returned to Ann Arbor from a spiritual odyssey to the mountains of the west. We were only in Ann Arbor for a couple of days before Ann Arbor police, on a warrant from Traverse City, arrested me. I was held in the Grand Traverse County Jail in lieu of $20,000, on a charge of “Sale and/or Distribution of Marijuana,” It should be noted that at this time “Sale,” if convicted, carried a 20 years to life sentence. Simple possession carried a 10 to 20 year sentence. I made up my mind many years before that I was not bound by any laws or rules initiated in stupidity and enforced by morons. The price was steep, but history has shown that millions of others felt the same way.

Records show that between 1962 and October of 1968, when the White Panther Party was founded, I was arrested 13 times, six for public drunkenness, once for sale of reefer, twice for speeding/no operators license, once for malicious destruction of property, twice for assault and battery, and once for resisting arrest. All arrests, except sale of reefer, were alcohol-fueled.

Part II—FOUNDING THE WHITE PANTHER PARTY

I made bond in Traverse City on the sale case after 89 days in jail and returned to Ann Arbor. Now that I was facing 20 to life I felt some action was needed to subvert the government’s criminal intent of locking me up. Sinclair was facing a similar charge in Detroit that carried the same penalty. To keep Sinclair and myself out of prison I felt a political response was called for.

While in the Grand Traverse County Jail I read an interview with Huey P Newton, co-founder and Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party (BPP). Huey said that what was needed was a White Panther Party, made up of “mother country radicals”. The BPP posited an analysis that stated the United States was the “mother country” and the ghettos were colonies. The BPP was fighting for the liberation of the colonies. White folks, “mother county radicals,” should be fighting in the mother country, the belly of the beast. At the time I didn’t know I was Native American, I thought of myself as a dark complected white guy, a mother country radical.

Since my days as a union organizer I had been following the development of what was called “The New Left” and Black Liberation groups. We at Trans Love Energies did not see ourselves as political activists; rather, as cultural revolutionaries. To me the difference is significant. I tried to get involved with the politicos, but quite frankly I found them dull and narrow-minded, more interested in having the perfect position paper and being ideologically pure than in organizing and getting large numbers of people to move in the same direction.

Cultural activists, on the other hand, realized you could move people with art. You can infuse art with revolutionary content, a new world vision, radical ideas, even militancy, and get people to move as an organized mass.

Upon my release on bond from the GTCJ I realized there was a great mass of reefer-driven rock-n-roll outlaws who could be educated and mobilized. This mass of young and progressive people were already alienated from the dominant culture, had an antagonistic relationship to the power structure and were eager to bring change to this decrepit country.

I looked at the BPP. They took some of the toughest, individualistic and undisciplined street thugs and turned them into an organized, disciplined party with a revolutionary ideology deeply rooted in the black community. They clearly were the vanguard of the black liberation struggle.

The Nation of Islam was also noteworthy, aside from their bizarre religious beliefs, because they were actually building an alternative economic system, their own bakeries, drycleaner stores, publishing houses, radio stations and more. Again, they were organizing the lowest, most oppressed class.

Among the New Left, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) stood out for their sheer numbers filled with fervor and dedication. I went to a few meetings but was turned off by first-year political science majors trying to impress others with their mastery of Roberts Rules of Order and socialist lingo.

The student socialists, student commies, anarchists, Trotskyites, Maoists, and similar groups seemed only to be debating clubs to me.

The Yippies, on the other hand, brought a spontaneity and enthusiasm to the struggle that was right up our alley. Their use of the media to spread the Yippie word through pranks, theatre and mass action seemed made to order for cultural activists.

What was needed, I believed, was a radical political party that combined the discipline and militancy of the BPP; the economic development program of the Nation of Islam; and the theatrics and media manipulation of the YIPPIES! All guided by the principles of Marxism/Leninism as practiced in the Russian, Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions, using culture and art, spearheaded by rock n roll, to bring about a revolutionary change in America, This, I believed, would keep Sinclair and I out of prison.

I presented my idea of forming the WPP to Sinclair. He said let’s do it. We split a quart of beer, smoked some joints, and Sinclair wandered off and wrote the founding documents.

ADDENDUM

In late September 1968 unknown militants exploded a dynamite bomb at a clandestine CIA office in downtown Ann Arbor, followed by bombings at the North Campus Institute of Science and Technology (developers of “smart bombs” and other killing technology), and the Central Campus Reserved Officer Training Corp (ROTC).

A year later, in October of 1969, Sinclair was in Marquette State Prison doing 91/2 – 10 years on his marijuana conviction. I was working full time on his defense team trying to secure the right to his appeal bond. I heard on the radio that Sinclair, Jack Forrest, our Detroit Captain, and I were indicted for conspiracy and bombing of the CIA a year earlier. I immediately went underground and was placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. A year after that I was captured and held on the CIA bombing charge.

It was at this time that the issue of changing the name of the Party came up. The name change would not only involve changing our name, symbol and image, but also the direction and public perception of the Party.

With our top leadership in prison, facing major court cases and decades of time behind bars, it was felt by all that we needed to re-brand our organization and focus more on our community organizing and less on our militancy.

There were several party names put forward. We settled on Rainbow People’s Party because it better reflected the racial make-up of our organization, the cultural make-up of the world we wanted to live in, and was a less aggressive and more peaceful image which carried no unpleasant baggage with it.

It all fell apart in 1974.

Respectfully submitted,
Pun Plamondon, in the Ottawa ceded territories of Michigan

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