"Rock and Revolution" Exhibit Opening This Friday!

Friday, December 2, 2011: 7:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. -- Downtown Library Multi-Purpose Room

Join us this Friday evening for the opening of Rock and Revolution a Downtown Library exhibit featuring the works of celebrated poster artist Gary Grimshaw and photo journalists Leni Sinclair and David Fenton, plus documents on loan from the John and Leni Sinclair Papers at the Bentley Historical Library.

Michael Erlewine, founder of the All-Music Guide and ClassicPosters.com, will present a brief talk on Michigan Rock Concert Posters from the 1960s & 1970s. Light refreshments will be served. Leni Sinclair and Gary Grimshaw will be in attendance and some of their work will be available for purchase. We'll also have several drawings for free posters signed by Gary Grimshaw!

This exhibit and opening are part of the Library's Freeing John Sinclair series of events to mark the 40th anniversary of the John Sinclair Freedom Rally and our upcoming freeingjohnsinclair.org website (premiering December 9). The exhibit will be on display in the Library's Lower Level Multi-Purpose Room, the Lower Level Glass Cases and the Third Floor Display Area from December 2 - January 15.

Back in the Day: An Abbreviated Memoir of Ann Arbor 1968 - 1975

By John Sinclair

I missed most of the sixties in Ann Arbor. I attended Albion College in 1959-61, went back to Flint and graduated from the UM-Flint College in 1964, then moved to Detroit for graduate studies in American Literature at Wayne State University. I decided on Wayne instead of Ann Arbor because I was already committed to pursuing life as an urban bohemian and that was where the jazz was at, and the reefer smokers who congregated around the musicians, and the poets and the painters in the big city.

But Ann Arbor was a beacon of intelligence and art and resistance in those early days of the American Awakening. Bob Marshall’s Bookshop was the only place in Michigan where you could find City Lights Books by Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso. The Dramatic Arts Center was fostering art action and rampant creativity centered on the work of world-class residents like Robert Ashley, Gordon Mumma, and director Ann Wehrer.

George Manupelli was making films and pioneering the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Ann Arbor police shut down a screening of Flaming Creatures. Bob Dylan played a solo concert to a packed house at Pioneer High School. Guys like George Frayne, Bill Kirchen, Robert Scheff, Michael & Danny Erlewine, Jim “Iggy” Osterberg, Steve Mackay and Ron Miller were forming bands like Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, the Prime Movers, Seventh Seal and Carnal Kitchen.

Bob James was the resident UM jazz pianist with Robert Pozar on Flat-Jack drums. Ron Brooks was conducting great jam sessions every Sunday afternoon at a hall on the near west side. Pat Olesko was gestating her brilliant performance art in her apartment above the Blue Front on Packard. Eric Dolphy played a rare concert with the Bob James Trio for the DAC. There were poetry readings and concerts of folk music and a thriving local rock & roll scene with bands like the Rationals, the Bob Seger System and the Scot Richard Case playing at Mother’s and the 5-D for fledgling promoters Peter Andrews and Jeep Holland with his A-Square Record label.

While Detroit was burning during the Summer of Love in 1967, the emerging hippie colony in Ann Arbor began staging free concerts in West Park on Sunday afternoons for a few hundred kindred spirits. A guy like Michael McClatchey would get a permit from the city for $10 to use the bandshell and the municipal electricity, and the bands played for free.

A bunch of us would drive over from Detroit to groove in the park on Sundays, and at the end of the season we brought the Grateful Dead from their gig at the Grande Ballroom (on their first American tour) to play for the people of Ann Arbor. At one point they asked the crowd to throw them something they could stand on in their bare feet, and someone tossed up an American flag.

Nothing was made of it at the time, but this innocent utilitarian act—witnessed by city coppers who were “observing” the action from the rim of the amphitheatre—reverberated through the corridors of City Hall and resulted in the enactment of an ordinance during the winter that barred electrified music from the parks and public places of Ann Arbor.

It was exactly at this point that the Trans-Love Energies commune of Detroit which I headed pulled up its stakes in the neighborhood around Wayne State University and moved en masse to a big house at 1510 Hill Street, just off the corner of Washtenaw.

I can’t say exactly how many of us there were when we decamped from the Motor City in May 1968, but our ranks included the members of bands called the Up and the MC-5 and their road crews, the Pisces Eyes Light Show that illuminated the Grande Ballroom every weekend, the Sun underground newspaper (then appearing only in mimeograph form), the brilliant poster artist Gary Grimshaw and equally brilliant photographer Leni Sinclair, the poets David and John Sinclair, and the Trans-Love Productions management and production outfit that coordinated all these disparate activities.

After we had unpacked, set up our mimeograph and silk-screen printing operations, created an underground workspace in the basement and a rehearsal studio in the garage, and began to acclimate ourselves to our new surroundings, it was getting close to June—time for the free concerts in West Park to start for the summer. We were excited about being part of the fun this year and wanted to bring as much as we could to the party, starting with the MC-5.

Then known only to the denizens of the Grande Ballroom and selected dance halls and teen clubs around Detroit and in outstate cities like East Lansing and Benton Harbor, the MC-5 was just beginning to come together as a powerful musical force with a devastating stage show and a repertoire that combined modern classics by James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, John Lee Hooker and Screaming Jay Hawkins with stunning original numbers composed by lead singer Rob Tyner with guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred Smith, bassist Michael Davis and drummer Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson.

The MC-5’s regional popularity would explode in the summer of 1968, starting with their on-stage destruction of Cream at the Grande Ballroom and their triumphant appearance at the Saugatuck Pop Festival, and culminating in their defiant set in Chicago’s Lincoln Park during the Festival of Life outside the Democratic National Convention which inspired a rave notice from Norman Mailer. The band would be signed to a contract with Elektra Records in September immediately following an electrifying performance for a Draft Resistance benefit at the Union Ballroom that also resulted in Elektra’s inking of the unique Ann Arbor ensemble called the Psychedelic Stooges, who had opened for the 5.

But in the middle of May the MC-5 was enjoying its first Ann Arbor spring and working hard in the practice room every day to improve its output while playing regular gigs at the Grande and elsewhere on the weekends. The band members wanted to integrate themselves into the immediate community and looked forward to playing in the park to kick off the 1968 free concert season. So I sent Ron Levine from our road crew to City Hall to put down our $10 and reserve the West Park bandshell for a Sunday afternoon in early June.

We were getting ready to mimeograph off the first issue of the Ann Arbor Sun when Levine came back with the mind-boggling news that electric music had been nixed from the parks in the off-season. A cursory investigation and some questioning of city officials yielded no solution, so we went about staging our own bootleg show at the West Park picnic pavilion, renting a generator for $8 and buying a gallon of gas for 50¢ and setting up the MC-5 to play for whoever would brave the authorities to receive the gift of free music in the park on Sunday afternoon—permit be damned.

This renegade concert set off a long chain of repercussions that started with meetings and negotiations with police representative Lt. Eugene Staudemire, the reluctant granting of an experimental permitted concert in the bandshell by the MC-5 and the Tate Blues Band, the on-stage shredding of an American flag suit by Terry Tate and the naked conclusion of his set followed by Rob Tyner leading the crowd in chanting “Kick Out The James, Motherfucker,” followed by the revocation of any further West Park concerts, continuing negotiations concerning an acceptable venue for the Sunday gatherings, the staging of shows in the Fuller Flatlands and finally an established series of free concerts on the bank of the Huron River in the old Gallup Park on the outskirts of town.

Our protracted struggle for the right to play for free in the parks of Ann Arbor provided Trans-Love’s introduction to effective political action by the city’s hip community and added another dimension to our communal life that would manifest itself in the White Panthers (November 1968), the Rainbow People’s Party (Spring 1971), and eventually the Human Rights Party, which elected two radicals to the Ann Arbor City Council in the spring of 1972 and effected—among other good things—the enactment of the $5 fine for marijuana violations in the city.

Our underground newspaper, the Ann Arbor Sun, ultimately morphed into a bi-weekly underground tabloid that both reflected and helped shape our cultural and political agenda, covering the battles against local government and bringing news of similar activities and concerns of people like ourselves around the country and the world. But first we joined with an 18-year-old crusader called Ken Kelley to help his little gang produce the Ann Arbor Argus during its flamboyant run as the city’s underground paper.

Meanwhile the MC-5 had continued to build its popular base, signed with Elektra and recorded its first album “live” at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit on October 30-31, 1968. The next day the band, its comrades at Trans-Love Energies and assorted local associates announced the formation of a somewhat bizarre radical political entity called the White Panther Party.

Born out of our collective fervor to offer support by white youth to the severely besieged Black Panther Party and our burning desire to place the MC-5 in the emerging pop music marketplace as an oppositional force dedicated to a greater goal than simply amassing money and fame, the White Panthers blazed an erratic course on the national plane for just about six months before the band concluded that its revolutionary efforts were bound to be in vain and resigned from the Party and the movement itself in June of 1969.

This sad development followed on the heels of the Party’s emergence as an actual political force in the immediate community during the course of what became known as the South University Riots, a boisterous clash just off campus between a mob of hippie insurgents and the county police led by Sheriff Doug Harvey, where many felt the forces of law and order had been routed and the people in charge of the social order perhaps moved to give serious consideration to the concerns of the burgeoning alternative culture in Ann Arbor.

In the wake of the riots the Party issued a detailed White Panther Report on the disturbance and outlined a course of action that called for community control of our emergent culture and the development of alternative institutions designed to serve our peculiar needs. This document would go on to serve as a sort of blueprint for the way a lot of things developed in Ann Arbor in the early 1970s, and its publication and wide dissemination as a mimeographed tract marked a new high point for the WPP.

Not long after the South U Riots my own life in Ann Arbor took two heavy blows when I was discharged by the MC-5 as their manager as part of their severance from Trans-Love and the White Panther Party, and when a month later I was ordered to stand trial in Detroit Recorders Court on a marijuana charge that dated back to January 1967. I had challenged the constitutionality of the state’s draconian drug laws for two and a half years on a pre-trial basis while remaining free on bond, arguing that marijuana was not a narcotic and ten years in prison for possession of two joints constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

The courts ruled that a constitutional challenge could be heard only on appeal of a conviction under the present law, so I took a conviction in Recorders Court at the end of July 1969 and was promptly sentenced to 9-1/2 to 10 years in prison, even though my legal challenge was eventually successful in the Michigan Supreme Court, my conviction overturned and the law declared unconstitutional in March 1972.

But I was incarcerated without appeal bond as a maximum security prisoner in Marquette and then Jackson Prison from July 28, 1969 to December 13, 1971, when my appeal bond was finally granted and I returned to Ann Arbor after 29 endless months in exile. I missed everything that happened from Woodstock to the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, although I followed Ann Arbor, Detroit, national and international events as closely as I could manage from my prison cell.

I kept in close contact with the progress of the White Panther Party through regular visits from my wife Leni and brother David, both members of the party’s central committee, and by means of my daily correspondence with them and other members of the organization which amounted to about seven single-spaced typewritten pages each day of the week.

Since I had nothing else to do in the evenings except bang at my electric typewriter, I was able to insert myself into the workings of the organization and participate substantially in the shaping of the Party’s policy, strategy and tactics in the course of its efforts to gain my release and carry out the objectives of the Party in actual practice—in Ann Arbor and in the world at large.

While I was imprisoned the Party and its many allies in the community never let up in their strenuous efforts to spring me. I think you’d have to get the whole story from the comrades who made up the central committee and the rest of the Party, but from my perspective they were relentless in their pursuit of my freedom. Posters, banners, newspaper layouts, everywhere possible they shouted “Free John Now” and organized rallies, benefits, dances and all sorts of cultural events to raise money for my legal costs on appeal and enlist the music-loving masses in my cause.

This incredible and unprecedented campaign ended in success with the staging of the massive john Sinclair Freedom Rally on December 10, 1971 when 15,000 highly visible supporters gathered at Crisler Arena to join John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Stevie Wonder, Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale, Allen Ginsberg, Phil Ochs, Jerry Rubin, Bob Seger, Archie Shepp and a legion of additional musicians and speakers in demanding my release from prison.

That was Friday night. On Monday morning my lawyers informed me that I would be released on appeal bond by the end of the day, and at 8:30 pm I stepped out from behind the iron bars and into the arms of my family and friends. I went straight back to Ann Arbor and tried to pick up my life from the point where it had abruptly ended two and a half years before.

I returned to Ann Arbor as Chairman of the Rainbow People’s Party and did everything I could to maximize the positive Impact from the Freedom Rally and my immediate release from prison that still resounded throughout the city and the state of Michigan. I spent the next three years entirely engaged in the work of the RPP in its many disparate activities, working like a mule for two solid years in the service of my hopes, dreams and visions for Ann Arbor and the planet at large until I suffered a physical and mental breakdown early in 1974 and, quite frankly, started looking for a way out of the commitments I had made to myself and to the struggle.

But what a two years! When I went to prison at the end of July 1969, Woodstock was a month away and the Ann Arbor Blues Festival was on the immediate horizon. What we called the alternative culture was about the size of a microdot then: A huge gathering of hippies in Ann Arbor would amount to about 1,000 people at a free concert in the park on a Sunday afternoon in the summertime, or about 1% of the local student-and-townie population.

Fulltime hippies—young men and women who were neither students nor held a job, who smoked dope and dropped acid, dug and danced and conducted their lives to rock & roll, opposed the war and despised the consumer society with all their might—comprised an even smaller minority, sticking out like sore thumbs among the 35,000 UM students and operating culturally well to the left of even the most rabidly oppositional of the student anti-war and civil-rights activists.

Hippies were people who lived their beliefs and attempted always to put their ideas and visions into practice in their daily lives. With little or no visible means of support, we lived together in big houses where eight or 12 people had to scuffle up only one rent payment every month and pay one utility bill. One beat-up car would suffice for several drivers, and gas was less than 50¢ a gallon. We wore our raggedy Levis and T-shirts and cowboy boots until they fell apart, or tarted them up with garish fabrics and hand-drawn designs to turn them into stage clothes for gigs or just flamboyant street wear.

For the hippie bands and writers and poets and artists there was always the dream of recognition and compensation, but the reality was that record contracts, book deals and even paid journalism assignments were well beyond the reach of most of us. Bands played gigs in teen clubs and school gymnasiums for next to nothing—during their period of ascendancy in 1967-68, the MC-5 earned $125 a night at the Grande Ballroom—and poets and writers like myself mimeographed up our own books and wrote for underground newspapers without a shred of muneration.

But none of us were in it for the money—we lived to express ourselves and put our thoughts and feelings into action the best we could, and we devised our own forms of public amusement like free concerts and little dances and benefits for community causes because we wanted to help bring people together and share with them the results of our creative endeavors whether they had any money or not. One could always join in with the enterprise of the moment and barter work and individual services for the price of entry to just about any activity that attracted one’s interest.

From my own point of view, the most progressive forms of social organization were built on the communal model, achieving a sort of primitive communism—or what the Black Panther Party began to call “communalism”—in which people gave whatever they had to make their collective aims come true and got back every bit of the energy they had contributed to the effort in the coin of accomplishment and satisfaction.

It was this miniscule community of full-time hippies living in communes and de facto collectives in Ann Arbor during the second half of the 1960s that provided the structural underpinning for the counter-cultural movement that would blossom in the city over the next few years.

This movement exploded nationally and internationally, and particularly in campus communities like Ann Arbor, after the Woodstock Music & Art Fair of August 1969 revealed the existence of at least half a million music-crazed, dope-smoking, sexually-charged, long-haired human youths who posited a way of life and a whole world outlook that had evolved in contradistinction to the mainstream paradigm, and who were obviously having a natural ball in pursuit of their ideals.

Over the next two and a half years, while I remained confined in a series of prison cells in Michigan, millions of youths all over America and the entire western world adopted the Woodstockian template and took on the trappings and—to the best of their comprehension—the social outlook of the hippies. America’s college campuses began to resemble hirsute hippie enclaves where the new unisex youth uniform of jeans and T-shirts was replacing the khakis and skirts and sweaters of the immediate past.

The anti-war movement swelled to incorporate millions of students over the next five years until it forced the end of the War in Vietnam. Richard M. Nixon—or “that goddamn Nixon” as we knew him—undertook the construction of a permanent mechanism of repression directed against hippies and African Americans under the guise of the War On Drugs and Operation Cointelpro until he was tripped up by his own chicanery and forced out of office in 1974.

The counter-cultural movement boomed in vigorous and joyous opposition to the world of what Nixon called the Silent Majority. In Ann Arbor the transformation was stunning. I’d been following what was happening in the outside world as closely as I could from my unfortunate vantage point, and I’d carried on a voluminous correspondence with my comrades in the White Panther Party in our common commitment to trying to understand, analyze, and hopefully help direct what was happening among the youths we thought of as “our people.”

The long struggle for understanding within the central committee of the WPP during 1970-71 culminated in the summer of 1971 with the dissolution of the White Panthers as a semi-coherent national organization and our reconstitution as something called the Rainbow Peoples Party that committed itself to organizing in the local community around local issues.

Building on our struggles around free music in the parks, marijuana legalization, and the South University Riots, the RPP even began to participate in local government—David Sinclair was a charter member of the Cable Commission that shepherded cable television into modern life, and he and Genie Plamondon ran highly visible campaigns for City Council under the aegis of the Human Rights Party.

During this period the WPP had three key members in prison on various charges, where Pun Plamondon, Skip Taube and myself had the unique opportunity to think, study, plot and scheme with no practical distractions except trying to figure out how to get ourselves out of stir. We read the standard revolutionary texts of Marx and Lenin and Mao Tse-tung and tried to apply what we were reading to the situation in America and the future of what we called the “youth colony.”

Our idea was to exhaust all the possibilities of democratic struggle as had been proposed by V.I. Lenin, develop a “revolutionary base area” in Ann Arbor and Michigan that was inspired by Mao Tse-tung, and create an alternative social structure based on informed consensus, communal action, and the creation of alternative businesses and institutions that would make us capable of controlling our own communal destiny—and eventually to win the sympathy and participation of the entire community.

This was all well and good within the confines of one’s prison cell, but my sudden release from confinement propelled me into the actual street-level reality of a community where hippies and a generally sympathetic student body now made up almost half of the population and seemed eager for substantive social change right there and then.

The day after I came home from Jackson Prison the University of Michigan was presenting the first of two nights with the Grateful Dead in Hill Auditorium, produced by Peter Andrews—who had spearheaded the John Sinclair Freedom Rally from his post as Director of Major Events for the university—and heralded by a poster created by RPP artist and central committee member Gary Grimshaw.

Peter brought me to the concert and my mind was totally blown by the sights and sounds of this once-staid auditorium in the middle of the UM campus, just a couple of blocks away from the site of the South U disturbances of 1969, now packed with about 4,000 hippies smoking dope, dancing in the aisles, and grooving to the Dead, This was beyond my wildest dreams, and I couldn’t wait to leap into action in the middle of all this creative cultural ferment.

It’s probably impossible to convey the full sense of the world I entered into upon my return to Ann Arbor, but I came home to rejoin a communal household now comprising 30+ adults and three children in an elaborate compound including two huge houses and a carriage house just across Washtenaw Avenue from a posh section of town and situated in the middle of a fraternity row—the dental fraternity was next door, and the big campus message rock was painted over daily just across the street.

My wife Leni, a member of the RPP central committee, had kept me in close touch with the happenings there through regular visits and long correspondence, and my brother David, serving as Chief of Staff, managed the sprawling affairs of the Rainbow complex and kept me informed on every front. My daughter Sunny had been two years old when I was dragged off to prison, and my wife had been pregnant with our second child. Now Sunny was 4-1/2 and Celia Sanchez Mao Sinclair was two. The third child was Una Bach, two-year-old daughter of Up lead singer and RPP Minister of Culture Frank Bach and his estranged wife, Bonnie Bach.

The life and activities of the Rainbow Peoples Party were coordinated by a Central Committee composed of founding members of the White Panther Party—Pun Plamondon, Skip Taube, Frank Bach, Peggy Taube, Gary Grimshaw, Genie Plamondon, David Sinclair, Leni Sinclair, this writer—and people like David Fenton, who had come from New York City to join us.

Pause: If I’ve left anyone out, or misstated dates or other information, I’m writing this without reference to prior documentation, it was 40 years ago, and I’m sorry for any possible imprecision.

The CC coordinated the work of the other 20 or so party members, all of whom lived together at the RPP complex as participants in a communal economic system that directed all incoming funds from the Party’s various hustles into the hands of the Chief of Staff, who dispersed them as circumstances dictated in order to keep everything going.

The houses had first been rented and then purchased on a land contract with the $5.000 advance for my book Guitar Army serving as the downstroke while I was still in prison. The compound was then the property of the First Zenta Church of Ann Arbor, an non-profit ecclesiastical corporation chartered by the State of Michigan that we had established as the religious wing of the Party, upholding and preserving our holy sacraments—marijuana, hashish, peyote, mescaline, LSD and other psychedelic substances—and taking full advantage of the massive tax exemptions provided for churches of every sort.

Prudence dictated that the party members must live together in the Hill Street commune: The economics were manageable, with one house payment monthly instead of 20 or 30 individual rents; it was extremely difficult for hostile forces to infiltrate the organization because they would be inundated on a minute-to-minute basis with the outlaw culture of the communards; and it was then possible for the Chief of Staff to keep tabs on everyone and everything that was being done in the name of the RPP.

Party members each had (or shared) a room of their own. They were fed from the communal kitchen, from food supplies purchased in bulk as cheaply as possible and prepared by the residents on a carefully scheduled basis. There were several cars and vans attached to the compound that were shared and checked out as needed.

In fact, all of the outfit’s activities, internal and external, were organized by the central committee and scheduled on charts that specified who would be answering the telephone and greeting visitors (Officer of the Day), cooking, child-caring, cleaning, maintaining the physical premises, editing, writing, designing and laying out the newspaper, creating posters and flyers, working the printing and silk-screening equipment, on assignment to particular objectives in the community and with other alternative organizations, distributing newspapers, playing gigs, repairing instruments, amps and other band equipment, using for a specific task or repairing the communal vehicles—everything except getting high, fucking, and listening to music, which were spontaneous and continuous.

For about three dozen dope-crazed hippies the Rainbow People’s Party and its human tentacles made a significant impact on the Ann Arbor community of 100,000 citizens, of whom about 38,000 were students and 2,000 were full-time denizens of the alterative culture. The latter included the many bands and their families and crews who were then based in Ann Arbor and an inordinate number of marijuana growers, importers, procurers, wholesalers and street-level dealers who found the little city a relatively safe haven for smokers and their suppliers thanks to the ceaseless efforts—and considerable victories—of the RPP in the struggle to legalize marijuana.

One of the basic precepts of the RPP was the necessity of developing and working with what we called “united-front organizations” to accomplish our goals. The Tribal Council was the ultimate local manifestation of the united-front concept: an attempt to form a coordinating council for the alternative community based in what we understood of Native American culture, sort of a hippie version of the longhouse of the Senecas or the Odawas where individual and tribal concerns were addressed through open and often protracted discussion among equals until they could be resolved by consensus.

Tribal Council was proposed as a way to bring together, support and coordinate disparate emerging community organizations like the Free People’s Clinic, Drug Help, Ozone House (for runaways), the People’s Food Cooperative, the Children’s Community School, and a scattering of eco-businesses committed to the ideas and visions of the alternative culture.

Working groups called People’s Committees were formed under the aegis of the Tribal Council to handle various community initiatives. I can’t call all of them to mind but there was the People’s Communications Committee that developed live broadcasts of music from the parks and other local venues that were carried on WNRZ-FM, and the People’s Parks Committee (or whatever it was called) that produced the free concerts in the parks that featured four bands every Sunday afternoon for 12 weeks in the summertime.

One of our proudest achievements grew out of the parks program and resulted in the construction of a People’s Ballroom on West Washington Street. This was a facility designed and built within a former Cadillac dealership by the people who made the music and their associated technicians and other music-lovers who volunteered their work to transform the building into a dance hall with professional staging, sound and lights that would feature bands from the community and see that they were appropriately compensated.

Another pinnacle of accomplishment was the Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, a world-class musical presentation which took place on the grounds next to Huron High School that we had christened Otis Spann Memorial Field in tribute to Muddy Waters’ pianist and half-brother who had recently passed away. The 1972 AABJF featured Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, he Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sun Ra & His Arkestra, Freddie King, Luther Allison, Otis Rush and a host of other blues and jazz stars and relative unknowns who played over three days for an audience of 12,000.

The 1973 festival brought Charles Mingus, Leon Thomas, Ray Charles & the Raelettes, the Count Basie Orchestra, Jimmy Reed, Ornette Coleman, Yusef Lateef, John Lee Hooker, Roosevelt Sykes, Victoria Spivey, the Johnny Otis Show and many others to Ann Arbor and introduced them to crowds of up to 18.000 people. The entire festival was broadcast live in its entirety over a National Public Radio network of 96 stations—NPR’s first major festival transmission.

The Blues & Jazz Festivals were produced by another RPP offshoot, the Rainbow Multi-Media Corporation. RMMC was formed by David Sinclair and myself with our friend Peter Andrews, who had masterminded the Crisler Arena rally that got me out of prison. It was organized as a non-profit corporation to reflect our belief that our work should be done to the benefit of the community and not for profit to ourselves.

The Blues & Jazz Festival was a division of RMMC; other divisions included our artists management and concert production arm, Rainbow Productions; our professional sound system, Energy Sound; and the Rainbow Press, operating in the basement of the blues bar called the Blind Pig where the late Sam Smith and his co-workers made it possible for us to produce all our own printed material for all the Rainbow activities at minimal cost.

It occurs to me that this period can be studied in all its endless details in the pages of the Ann Arbor Sun, now completely digitized and available on-line through the auspices of the Ann Arbor District Library. The Sun had its roots in the paper we’d published as Trans-Love Energies and in the Ann Arbor Argus, Ken Kelley’s tabloid that had served as the White Panther party organ until Kelley decamped for San Francisco to start the national White Panther newspaper, SunDance.

The RPP felt it was essential that we publish our own tabloid newspaper to function as an official party organ in terms of advancing the “party line” in all matters and strive at the same time to serve the alternative community as a whole, with news, music and cultural coverage and commentary of interest to hippies, students and other citizens.

So we had a newspaper, a print shop, a sound and staging operation, a production company, several bands under our management, and a cadre of 30+ people who worked in these undertakings and also participated in the workings of the community organizations that made up the Tribal Council. We had a radio show on WNRZ-FM and then on the campus station, WCBN. We could put on our concerts and dances, broadcast them live, record our music and shop it to record companies in New York and Los Angeles. We were able to control the means of production necessary to our many activities and integrate our considerable resources into the community at large.

This worked for about three years, from the beginning of 1972 through the end of 1974, before a combination of unanticipated failures on our own part and a massive weather change nationally, from revolution to reaction after the deposition of Richard Nixon and the end of the War In Vietnam, brought the forward motion of the Ann Arbor alternative community to a sudden halt.

First the People’s Ballroom was burned down by a disgruntled kid with a grudge. Then, after a wildly successful second edition in September 1973, the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival was undermined and destroyed when a felonious crew chief who had been entrusted with the cash for the payroll of the many workers on the grounds of the festival absconded with the money—something like $20,000—and lost it all in a failed dope deal.

I don’t know who was aware of this extraordinary occurrence at the time, but neither my brother David nor myself nor else anyone in the RPP had any idea of what had happened or why the people working in the grounds crew for the duration of the festival (and, in many cases, for an even longer period) had refused to clean up the site after the event.

But reasonably enough, when no pay was forthcoming for their days of toil, the large crew of hippies who had been hired to work the site quit on the spot and the mess festered for some long days until a volunteer crew could be organized to restore the site to normalcy.

This ugly development turned a significant sector of the community against anything with Rainbow in it from that point on, and the most horrible part was that we had no idea what had caused the problem—and wouldn’t know what had happened for the next 20 years. Even worse, the City of Ann Arbor was enabled by this lapse in our contractual responsibility with respect to the Blues & Jazz Festival to deny us a permit for the 1974 event and drive the festival out of Ann Arbor —and subsequently out of business.

But worst of all was the destruction from within of the Human Rights Party at the height of its success as a radical electoral party that had won two seats on the Ann Arbor City Council and wielded political power in the local community in a whole new way. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans on the seven-member council could form a majority and thus were forced to deal with the two HRP councilpersons in order to pass any of their initiatives—even a fundamental city budget.

Outwardly strong but internally shaky, the HRP comprised an uneasy alliance of three roughly equal factions: the Rainbow people, organized into the electoral group by the RPP; the campus radicals, dominated by a group called the International Socialist Party; and a centrist group that called itself the Militant Middle, made up of former Democrats, unaffiliated campus leftists and what we called progressive community elements.

As the HRP proved itself in the city elections and began to play an active role in determining the direction of local government in Ann Arbor, the contradictions among the three factions sharpened and internal conflict ensued. Looking forward to the Washtenaw County elections where the sheriff’s office held by the hated Doug Harvey would be up for a vote, the RPP was dead set on fighting for and winning this key post and actually wresting control over the power of arrest from Harvey to place it in the hands of the people.

The RPP’s first concern had been to remove the power of arrest for marijuana offenses from the hands of the city police, and the HRP made it happen when the City Council was moved to pass an ordinance—known simply as “the $5 fine”—that would make marijuana law enforcement the lowest possible local police priority, bar the arrest of marijuana offenders and instead mandate the issuance of a ticket that would result in a maximum penalty of $5.00.

But for the RPP, control of the sheriff’s office was an even bigger issue. The sheriff directed a county-wide armed force that made life miserable for the people at the lower end of the socio-economic scale, particularly black people, hippies, and what they called “poor white people.” The sheriff enforced the laws and dispensed economic justice in the service of what we called the ruling class, and we thought this potent police agency could actually be turned against certain interests of the ruling class if the right sort of people were in charge.

The RPP had been recruited into the fledgling Human Rights Party early in 1972 by a close friend of Ken Kelley’s named Howard Kohn, a brilliant journalist with the Detroit Free Press and cover-story contributor to Rolling Stone who was among the organizers of the Ann Arbor branch of the HRP. The Michigan Human Rights Party was headed by the great former Democratic Party leader and ex-Lt. Governor Zoltan Ferenczy and represented a deeply serious commitment to creating a third-party alternative to the Democrats and Republicans from the left-wing side.

As the most progressive community in the state of Michigan, Ann Arbor was fertile ground for the HRP, and the Rainbow People’s Party was targeted as an important local ally. Howard Kohn came over to Hill Street to pitch the RPP Central Committee on the mutual benefits to be gained from an immediate alliance. The HRP would gain credibility with the burgeoning hippie community, its activities would be regularly publicized in the pages of the Ann Arbor Sun, it would back the RPP in mounting an effective voter registration campaign and turn its support into votes.

In return, the RPP would insure a voice for its constituency in the councils of the HRP and, if the HRP proved effective, in the mainstream political process: arguing its positions within the HRP, participating in the shaping of public policy, having an effect on the language, intent and implementation of local laws.

We were moved by Kohn’s reasoning and completely won over by his personal enthusiasm for getting rid of Doug Harvey by electing an HRP candidate to the sheriff’s office: Howard Kohn himself. Kohn had been covering the narcotics trial of several rogue 10th Precinct officers of the Detroit Police Department and peered deeply into the abyss of police corruption and selective repression of the citizenry. He seemed to understand how the police should properly function as a force in the community for justice and progress, and we wanted him as our sheriff.

So the RPP joined with the campus socialists and the independent activists
and an effective party organization was soon ready to contend for office in the April 1972 elections. The HRP ran a full slate—including RPP leader Genie Plamondon as a candidate for the unwinnable Third Ward—and captured two seats on the City Council in the persons of ISP members Nancy Wechsler and Jerry DeGriek. They effectively inserted the HRP program into the center of city government and began to effect change in the way things were done, including the passage of the $5 marijuana law.

But when the county elections began to loom on the immediate horizon, the HRP leadership wasn’t so sure that the party was ready to attempt to take on the powers and law-enforcement responsibilities of the sheriff’s office. For me, this represented the worst sort of wishy-washy Democratic-Party liberalism and campus debating-society radicalism, and I got so angry over what I considered a serious betrayal that I completely lost my sense of perspective and, once we were voted down on the question of campaigning seriously for sheriff, as Chairman of the RPP I led the Rainbow faction in walking out of the HRP en masse. This was one of the stupidest and ugliest things I’ve ever done in my life and I deeply regret it to this day.

But the damage was done. I had led our righteous constituency into an untenable position and basically destroyed our effectiveness as players in the local political arena. The city government was then able to deny our application for a permit to hold the 1974 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival on the festival grounds adjacent to Huron High School and, having committed to a slate of artists headed by the James Brown Revue and the Sun Ra Arkestra—my personal dream show of all time—we made the idiotic decision to accept the invitation of tiny St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario, to move the 1974 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival to Canada.

We suffered another crippling blow in the months leading up to the 1974 festival when a massive record production deal with RCA Records engineered by Peter Andrews and myself and our New York attorney, David Lubell, fell through on the day before it was to be signed when the president of RCA, Rocco Laginestra, was discharged from office for some sort of corrupt behavior and all of his pending deals placed on permanent hold.

The 1972 Festival had been recorded and a double-LP released by Atlantic Records. In 1973 Rainbow Multi-Media enjoyed the control of a 16-track mobile recording unit and decided to record and produce a series of albums from the Festival ourselves, confident that we could place them with a major record company.

This outcome proved immediately impossible, but the deal we were cooking up with RCA would have provided for the release of a set of albums from each year’s Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, all recorded and packaged under our own imprimatur, plus the maintenance of a roster of no less than three bands under our management, starting with the Rockets, Detroit, and the Ann Arbor band called Lightnin’. The advances from this agreement would finance the establishment of our own recording studio—indeed, our own record company—and provide an impressive cash flow into the Rainbow operation for the next five years.

So our Rainbow future, once so bright and rosy, was now turning to shit in front of our eyes. The killer blow came when the City of Ann Arbor ruled against RMM in July and we opted to stage the festival in Canada. RMM set itself upon the daunting task of convincing American music lovers to cross a fiercely-guarded international border with the insane hope of enjoying themselves en masse as they had in the liberated zone of Otis Spann Memorial Field in Ann Arbor, where the producers felt free to guarantee festival attendees “A Rainbow of Music … A Real Good Time.”

There would be a rainbow of music, as promised, but the Windsor gendarmes and their big brothers in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would do everything within their considerable power to keep people from having the “real good time” they were seeking at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival in Exile. Advance ticket sales were light, with people seeming to take a wait-and-see attitude toward the thorny issue of crossing the Canadian border, and their worst fears were realized when Canadian border authorities turned back legions of would-be festival-goers on any grounds they could dredge up.

At the festival site, a sparse crowd was harassed by local authorities, who flooded the backstage area and trooped down into the amphitheater itself to snatch up marijuana offenders and other undesirables. The musicians were getting nervous themselves as they looked out at the slim audience and visualized their paychecks floating off into the darkening gloom.

To make matters even worse, this writer—Creative Director of the Festival—was singled out and deported back to Detroit while trying to shepherd Sun Ra and his Arkestra through Canadian customs. The Arkestra went ahead, but I was turned back on the basis of a marijuana conviction ten years earlier and never got to witness first-hand the debacle that ensued in Windsor.

Earlier that summer I had been called to the Shelby Hotel in Detroit by my friend Lyman Woodard, the Hammond B-3 organ player who was leading the hottest working jazz band in Detroit. He alerted me to J.J.’s Lounge in the hotel’s lobby where he and his Organization were playing six nights a week, and to the existence of a large music room elsewhere in the hotel for which the owners were seeking a professional management and production company to turn it into a downtown live music hotspot.

Peter Andrews and I landed the contract for Rainbow Productions to establish and develop the club as the Rainbow Room and began to present blues and jazz stars like Howlin’ Wolf, Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers, Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, and Sunnyland Slim four nights a week, interspersed with Detroit and Ann Arbor bands like the Rockets. The Shelby management also provided use of the Skyline Suite on the top floor as our offices, and we were settling in for the very productive fall season set to follow the Blues & Jazz Festival when the shit hit the fan at the border.

Denied entry to Canada while the Sun Ra Arkestra went on to play their show at the festival, I went back to my room in the Shelby Hotel Friday afternoon and watched myself talk to a television news reporter who had covered the impromptu deportation proceedings. As I witnessed the farthest-out group of characters I had ever seen in America being allowed entry into Canada while I was turned back as “too far out,” I was struck hard with the realization that my public persona as dope fiend, ex-convict and virulent revolutionary agitator had now cut me off from participating in the most important event in my career as a music promoter.

This marked a major turning point in my life. Watching myself sputter at the reporter on-screen, I muttered out loud: “You’ve gone too far. It’s time to turn back now.” It was almost too late to recover: the Rainbow Multi-Media Corporation was collapsing into shambles, the Rainbow People’s Party had mostly lost its positive base in the local hippie community, the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival was destroyed, and in the final denouement our flagship band The Rockets, immediately upon completing our long drive back from a week-long gig in Atlanta, called a band meeting to announce that they were through.

I went into prolonged conference with my business lawyer, David Lubell, who directed me for the next several weeks in shutting down Rainbow Multi-Media and its associated operations: the artists’ management division with its several bands, the concert production arm specializing in blues, jazz and rock shows in all sorts of venues, the talent coordination wing that supervised the bookings for various clubs and concert halls, the 16-track mobile recording unit, the concert-size professional sound system, the Rainbow Press and the Rainbow Agency that provided printing, advertising and promotional support for all these activities and more.

Next came the dismantling of the Rainbow People’s Party, now only a shadow of its former robustness. RPP members had been everywhere in Rainbow Multi-Media: running the print shop like Sam Smith, managing the sound system like Craig Blazier, buying and selling ads like Anne Hoover and Kathy Kelly, art directing and making flyers and posters like Gary Grimshaw and Walden Simper, managing bands and supervising event productions like David Sinclair and myself. The RPP also published the Ann Arbor Sun, headed by Party members David Fenton and Linda Ross. Several more members led by Frank Bach made up the band called the Up and its road crew.

In a series of passionate and inordinately lengthy Party meetings I advanced a severe critique of the commitment and practice of the organization and the Party members themselves as exemplified in our work in the community and our loss of support among the people we called our own. Each member was challenged to engage in deep introspection and decide what they really wanted to do, because as Chairman I had absolutely no interest in continuing the charade our work had become.

Finally the Party’s affairs were settled and seven of us decided to move back to Detroit and join the new wave of progressive activism spearheaded by newly-elected Mayor Coleman A. Young, long an ally of the WPP and RPP in our struggles against the state. The Hill Street compound was turned over to the remaining residents. David Fenton and Barbara Weinberg assumed responsibility for publishing the Sun, equipment was sold off or returned, the Up was disbanded, and David Sinclair took upon himself the incredibly strenuous burden of squaring the commune’s debts over the next few years.

I retired from political activism and artist management to take up less grueling pursuits, working in Detroit as an alternative journalist and editor for a couple of years while establishing a small arts consulting business known as Strata Associates that was focused on providing program development, grant-writing and project management services to indigenous jazz artists and community arts organizations.

I had spent the past 10 years as a full-time cultural and political activist in the belief that the revolution was at hand and my comrades were up to the task of making it happen where we lived. But when the movement ousted Richard M. Nixon from his post in the White House and finally brought the War In Vietnam to a shuddering conclusion, all the forward motion of the mass movement for social change stopped as if on a dime and remained in a state of stasis for oh, about the next 30 years.

Me, I went on to embrace the life of a cultural organizer, arts producer, music journalist, columnist, community radio broadcaster and, starting again in 1982, a practicing poet and performer with my own band, the Blues Scholars. During the next 10 years I organized the Detroit Jazz Center, edited the arts magazine of the City of Detroit, directed the City Arts Gallery at the Detroit Council of the Arts, taught the History of Rock & Roll and Blues History in the Music Department at Wayne State University, and hosted a weekly R&B radio show on WDET-FM.

By 1991 my second wife, Penny, and I had steered our four daughters through the Detroit Public School system and promptly moved to New Orleans, where I enjoyed the best 12 years of my life before moving to Amsterdam in 2003 and undertaking the life of an itinerant bard and secular bodhisattva that I continue to enjoy today, in my 70th year.

It’s 40 years now since I was released from prison and I’m a long way from the commune on Hill Street to which I returned, and from the maniacal days of the White Panther Party and our championship of “rock & roll, dope & fucking in the streets” as a viable way of life in America. I wish I could tell you a lot more about those thrilling days of yesterday when Ann Arbor throbbed in the throes of cultural revolution and political struggle, because it was a period incredibly rich with detail and absolutely like no other. But I’m way over my allotted space and it’s time to say goodbye.

Further, affiant sayeth not.

—Detroit
October 30-November 2 >
London
November 7-16, 2011

© 2011 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.

The Evolution of a Commune

By Leni Sinclair

When I moved in with my future husband, John Sinclair, in 1964 in Detroit, he was already living in a commune, although we didn't call it that back then. He shared a townhouse on the John C. Lodge Service Drive in Detroit with 4 or 5 musicians from the Detroit Artists Workshop. I joined this little group of artists, but while John was serving 6 months in DeHoCo (Detroit House of Correction), the commune broke apart. After John was released, we moved to a one-room attic apartment on Plum Street, where we managed the Fifth Estate Bookstore. That was the only time that John and I lived alone together as a couple. That experiment lasted exactly three months. Soon we moved back to the WSU area and rented an old dentists office above the Committee to End the War in Vietnam and the Fifth Estate on the corner of Warren and the Lodge.

This dentists office had 4 or 5 small rooms stacked full of dental chairs and equipment. These rooms were soon cleared one by one as people came to join us and needed a place to stay. This became the nucleus of the Trans-Love Commune. It's not like we decided to establish a commune; it's just that we had a lot of plans and ambitions for the future, and moving in together instead of paying rent on 5 or 10 different apartments made economic sense and made it possible to carry out some of our plans. As our numbers increased, we moved to a building at the corner of Forest and Second, still in the WSU area. This building had been used previously as an industrial clinic and had about 10 small examination rooms so that everybody in the commune could have their own room. The front room became THE STORE where we sold hippie beads, buttons, bumper stickers, candles, underground newspapers, records, posters and more. Everybody was always working to produce things to sell in THE STORE and in our store at the Grande Ballroom.

After we moved out, the MC5 moved in together into our old dentists office. But back then the police didn't like hippies very much, and we were being harassed and under constant surveillance. When our Trans-Love building was fire-bombed one night, we made a hasty strategic retreat to the beautiful city of Ann Arbor, about an hour from Detroit. There we rented a huge mansion at 1510 Hill Street, which had enough rooms for all the MC5 people and all the Trans-Love people to live together.

But we already had a reputation. The day we moved, some of the more conservative Ann Arbor citizens staged a protest candlelight vigil, carrying signs that read: "Sin like in SINclair." Ouch! We also received a visit from the town's top vice cop, Lt. Eugene Staudemeier. He challenged John about why we moved to Ann Arbor, and John challenged him right back, saying in effect that this is a free country and we can move where ever we want, and if you don't mess with us, we won't mess with you. And so these two gentlemen made a gentleman's agreement, and established a truce between us and the police that held the whole time we lived in Ann Arbor. In fact, we established our own hippie police force, the Psychedelic Rangers, a group of volunteers in their bright yellow Psychedelic Rangers T-shirts, who kept peace and order during our free concerts and events, including the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festivals. And the Ann Arbor police respected the work of the Psychedelic Rangers and stayed away from our concerts. (Except of course for all the undercover officers posing as hippies.)

We were told that the house we rented had been the residence of the mayor of Ann Arbor around the turn of the century (the last century that is, around 1900). We found some trunks in the attic, and some of our Trans-Love sisters could be seen strutting down State Street or the Diag in their finest, most elegant, albeit moth-eaten, fashions of the 19th Century.

About a month after we moved to 1510 Hill Street, Dave Sinclair, my brother-in-law, and his band and entourage moved to 1520 Hill Street, the mansion next to ours. Trans-Love produced three rock bands: the MC5, which was managed by John Sinclair, the UP, managed by David Sinclair, and the Psychedelic Stooges, who were managed by Jimmy Silvers. The MC5/Trans-Love house was a constant beehive of activity and creativity and loud music, mostly avant garde jazz. The band sound-proofed the garage and practiced there for hours every day. The rest of us were always busy, designing stage clothes for the band, designing and distributing flyers, working on the light show, mimeographing press releases, organizing benefits, taking photos, and always creating things that we could sell at our store at the Grande. I myself did my share of sewing pants for the band. Wayne Kramer liked his pants real tight, and often, during his acrobatic stage moves, the seams would split and Wayne would have to play the rest of the set with his guitar covering his crotch until he could change into another pair of skin-tight pants.

After signing a recording contract, the MC5 moved to their own house in nearby Hamburg and severed their relationship with John Sinclair and the White Panther Party, which they and John had created in 1968. The Trans-Love/White Panther commune continued living at 1510 Hill Street, but when John was suddenly removed from us by the State of Michigan and sentenced to 9-1/2 to 10 years for the crime of possessing 2 marijuana cigarettes in July 1969, we were no longer able to pay the bills and the phone got cut off just when we needed it the most. And so David Sinclair opened his big heart and big house at 1520 Hill Street next door and let all of us move in, and we consolidated the two households.

From then on, for the next two and a half years, the work of the commune was almost single-mindedly devoted to freeing John "from the clutches of the man," as John Lennon put it. The UP became the new (White Panther) party band, who played countless benefits to help raise money for John's legal defense and help keep the lights on. But when Frank Bach, the lead singer, became a single father, his parental duties clashed with his economic duties. We knew that we needed Frank to work, and so, during a house meeting where we discussed matters affecting us all, we came up with a plan for collective child care. Each one of us would sign up for a two-hour shift of watching the children. I say children because this arrangement not only benefited Frank but also myself, since I had two children to take care of 24/7 by then. This new arrangement freed Frank and myself to devote more time and energy to the Free John Now! campaign. And the children benefited from having constant supervision by fun-loving young people, many of whom were not so far removed from childhood themselves. The parents of some of these young people didn't mind their children living with us, because they trusted that we would keep them safe from hard drugs and alcohol.

But why stop with collectivizing child care? Soon we made big wall charts with everybody's name and all the tasks that had to be done in two-hour increments. Besides baby duty, there was kitchen duty, office duty, cleaning duty, community organizing duty, and I forget what else. Everybody could decide what they wanted to do that day. But everybody had to sign up for something.

The number of people living at 1520 Hill Street was always fluctuating, as people moved away and new people came to join us. I remember coming home from a trip one day to find out that the whole Felch Street commune, 5 or 6 people, had all moved in with us. A sympathetic carpenter in the community had build us a very large beautiful dining room table, big enough to seat 28 people. We all ate together, enjoying 4 or 5 course gourmet macrobiotic dinners, most often cooked up by macrobiotic master chef, Frank Bach. We bought our brown rice in 100-pound bags from Eden Foods, and procured fruit and vegetables at the Eastern Market in Detroit. Soon we started taking orders from other community members, and thus was born the Ann Arbor People's Food-Coop, which is still flourishing in Ann Arbor more than 40 years later.

The work to free John Sinclair had to be carried out on many fronts. We organized demonstrations, benefits, petition drives, newspaper ads, and acts of guerrilla theatre, such as the time when a bunch of hippies gathered around a table piled high with a pound of marijuana one night, donned rubber gloves and rolled hundreds of joints (not an easy task). Then they put two joints each in an envelope addressed to each Michigan State Representative and each Michigan State Senator, with a note explaining that they are now in possession of two marijuana cigarettes and could be sentenced to 10 years in jail like John Sinclair. (Newspaper reports said that most of them turned their stash over to the State Police, but not all of them.)

With the help of a team of brilliant people's lawyers, and the support of people from all over the country, we eventually succeeded in winning over the Governor, the Michigan House and Senate, and the Michigan Supreme Court, and a new law was enacted that reduced the sentence for possession of marijuana from 10 years to a 1-year maximum, and the maximum sentence for sale and distribution (and that included giving a joint to a friend, if that "friend" turned out to be an undercover cop), from 20 years to life, to a 4-year maximum, thereby saving the State millions if not billions of dollars in prison, police, and court costs over the last 40 years. (Think about it and do the math, if you have the time.)

On December 10, 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono came to Ann Arbor to headline the historic John Sinclair Freedom Rally at Crisler Arena. And just three days later, on December 13, 1971, John walked out of Jackson Prison after having served two and a half years already. But he was not yet a free man, because in the fall of 1969, shortly after he was sent to Marquette Prison in the Upper Peninsula to start his 9-1/2 to 10-year sentence, John and two other White Panther leaders were indicted by the Federal Government for conspiracy to blow up a clandestine CIA recruiting office in Ann Arbor. A conviction on that charge could put him back in jail for another 15 to 25 years. And our little band of White Panther hippies on Hill Street, which was just beginning to organize the fight to free John Sinclair from his 10-year marijuana sentence, was suddenly faced with an even bigger Goliath in the form of the CIA, the FBI, the US Justice Department, and the whole Nixon administration.

Paranoia struck deep. We believed that our house was bugged, and that our phone was tapped. So we started holding our important meetings to plan our defence strategy under a tree in the park, thinking that we were safe from the uninvited ear. Only 20 years later did we learn that there was one among us, living with us at 1520 Hill Street, who regularly wrote reports about us to the FBI. To this day we don't know the identity of that informer. But just knowing that the government planted an informer among us certainly puts a big chill on the idea of ever wanting to live in a commune again.

With the help of some of the best lawyers in the country we won that case in the US Supreme Court, too. It's a long story that will have to wait to be told another day. Read the essay by Hugh "Buck" Davis. It became known as the "Keith Case" and can be researched on the internet. The unanimous decision of the Supreme Court in that case ensured that the 4th Amendment to the Constitution that protects citizens against warrantless wiretapping or searches remained the law of the land. This was a pivotal case for the future of American Democracy, because without the protections guaranteed by the 4th Amendment, the Constitution would not worth the paper it's printed on.

After losing this case, the Justice Department dropped the charges against the indicted White Panther Party leaders, and John was finally a free man. To all the people who lived and worked together in the 1510/1520 Hill Street commune, whether I can remember all your names or not, I want to say that you are every bit as important as John Sinclair and John Lennon. Without you it could not have been done. To you and to all of our supporters far and wide I want to say, "Thank you for helping free my husband and for helping keep our country free."

Leni Sinclair
Minister of Education
White Panther Party

A People's History of the CIA Bombing Conspiracy (the Keith Case); Or, How the White Panthers Saved the Movement

By Hugh "Buck" Davis

The Beginning: Bombings and Conspiracies

In early August, 1970, two thin white guys with Afros and purple t-shirts that said “White Panther Party” (WPP) came into the National Lawyers Guild office at 5705 Woodward in Detroit (a building which Sheila Murphy [Cockrel] had scammed from the Archdiocese for the anti-STRESS1 campaign). A few weeks earlier Lawrence (Pun) Plamondon, the first white revolutionary in modern times to make the FBI’s Top Ten, had been arrested in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) for allegedly throwing a beer can out of a van. He was being driven to a hiding place by Jack Forrest and another member of the WPP. They pled to harboring a fugitive.

Pun, Jack and John Sinclair2 (doing 9 ½ to 10 years for 2 joints) had been indicted earlier for the 1968 dynamite bombing of the CIA recruitment office in Ann Arbor. Pun, already facing numerous charges around the county, went underground at the news of the indictment and ultimately went to Algeria, where Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers (BPP) was also a fugitive. But there wasn’t any marijuana or alcohol (or hippie girls) in Algeria, so Pun did not last long. Because the FBI had infiltrated the WPP and their informant was sleeping with Pun’s wife, they were hot on his trail.

The guys who walked into the Guild office were David Sinclair, John’s younger brother and Chief of Staff of the WPP, and David Fenton, Minister of Propaganda. They announced that they were going to New York to get Bill Kunstler and Len Weinglass to represent John and Pun. Would I be willing to represent Forrest and act as local counsel on the bombing conspiracy? Never having handled a felony or been in federal court and still technically being employed by Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services until my fellowship ran out, I naturally said “Yes”. It did not seem like a big risk. Kunstler and Weinglass were the two most prominent lawyers in the country after the Chicago 73 Conspiracy trial. I assumed that they would not take the case. I was wrong. So it began.

Why me? The WPP already had Justin (Chuck) Ravitz, who had been representing Sinclair since the days of the Artists’ Coop in Detroit and was still appealing his last marijuana conviction and was attempting to get Sinclair out on bond. The backstory is that a couple of weeks before Pun and Jack were busted in the UP, Chuck and I were at a party hosted by lefty law professor Mark Stickgold of the WSU Free Legal Aid Clinic. I had volunteered to open the Guild office in January, 1970, but had been doing political misdemeanors (primarily Black Panthers charged with impeding pedestrian traffic with aggressive sales of their newspapers) for some time before that. After a few beers and a few tokes, Chuck and I were talking about our clients. He said “I’m really tired of the White Panthers.” I felt the same way about the Black Panthers4. We agreed to trade for the next year. That is how I ended up at the first pre-trial conference with Kunstler, Weinglass, Damon Keith and U.S. Attorney Ralph Guy.

Trial Court: The Decision

Judge Keith gave us only until October 9, 1970 to file our pre-trial motions because all three of the defendants were incarcerated. All of the ordinary motions would be prepared in Detroit, primarily by Ravitz and me. But the electronic surveillance motion was prepared in New York by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) (primarily by Bob Bender). My memory is that Ravitz and I filed 20 or 21 motions, including one to have the chief witness for the government, David Valler, to be required to submit to a psychiatric examination.

There had been 8 bombings in southeast Michigan in the fall of 1968 and Valler, who lived in a commune/abandoned house near Wayne State, was calling the editor of the Detroit News, implicitly confessing. The News ran a front page story with Valler’s picture and the headline “Is this the bomber?” Ultimately, according to Jack, Valler took 40 hits of acid and turned himself in. Valler not only confessed to all the bombings, but implicated John, Jack and Pun in the CIA blast. He got a sweetheart deal and a light sentence. The News made him its “youth” columnist in the Sunday Magazine, where he dutifully condemned the counter-culture and radical politics from prison for the next few years until the case was over. Then he was released. We had many people come forward who had known Valler and told us how crazy he was (painting pictures of Jesus with penises on his face, consuming an extraordinary amount of hallucinogenic and other drugs, etc). That caused us to make the psychiatric motion.

Neal Bush, another young Guild attorney who volunteered for the defense team, drafted a jury challenge in which we claimed that youth was a class and that the systematic exclusion of young people from the federal venire constituted discrimination (no one under 21 was allowed to serve).

The strain was especially intense for me because my wife was pregnant and due to deliver our daughter in early September. But Abigail did not come and on October 8, 1970, when Camilla went to the hospital to be induced. Ravitz and I worked on the motions all night on the 8th. Around 5 am on the 9th, the hospital called and I rushed there. Ravitz went home and changed for a Court of Appeals argument on another of John’s bond motions. We got back together and filed the motions later that day.

The Government responded and, to our surprise, admitted that there were electronic interceptions. The hearing on the motions was scheduled for early December, 1970. That morning, the weather was terrible and Metro Airport was closed. Kuntsler and Weinglass were not going to make it. We were going to have to argue. Neal turned to me, saying that he had never argued a motion before. I said that I had never handled a federal case. At the hearing, Judge Keith patiently and politely heard and denied all of our motions, except the one concerning the wiretaps. Since the Government had admitted their existence, he ordered them produced. There was another round of briefing regarding the timing and circumstances of the disclosure of the surveillance.
At the next hearing in January, 1971, Judge Keith ruled the intercepts illegal as warrantless political surveillance. Thus, the Government had to turn over the tapes and we had to have a “taint” hearing to see whether they would affect the trial. Keith was considering having the trial first and then having a hearing to determine if it had been prejudiced by evidence derived from the intercepts. The Government, objecting strongly to revealing their contents, assured Keith that Pun was not the target of the intercepts and that it would not affect the trial. Keith still insisted that the tapes would have to be disclosed.

At that point, U. S. Attorney Guy, apparently on orders from Washington, told Keith that the Government did not intend to disclose the wiretaps before or after trial. Keith looked at the defense and said “Mr. Kunstler, make your motion.” In the face of a dismissal, Guy asked for 48 hours to appeal to the Sixth Circuit by way of mandamus (a special motion to a higher court to compel a judge to do a particular act). They did and it was granted.

We never knew how the Nixon-Mitchell White House/Department of Justice (DOJ) decided to pick this case in which to take a stand. Similar motions had been filed in other cases and Warren Ferguson, a courageous federal judge in Los Angeles, had ruled warrantless political electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens illegal in a BPP case. But that was post-trial and the regular process of appeal was not going to be fast. Plus, he granted a stay of the disclosure order. The Government apparently wanted a rapid review and chose the case of this political band of counter-culturalists in Michigan. Perhaps they thought that the defense would be weaker than in one of the other big anti-war/BPP cases. Plus, they knew that the tapes were irrelevant to the charges.

The Sixth Circuit

The mandamus was against Keith’s disclosure order and made him a party to the case. That is how the case came to be known as U.S.v U.S. District Court (Keith) ex rel Sinclair. The Sixth Circuit ordered a short briefing schedule and oral argument on the day of the filing of the briefs. It was agreed that I would write the mandamus portion of the Defendants’ brief and the electronic surveillance section would be written in New York. Kunstler would fly to Cincinnati. I would drive down. We would put the halves together in the morning and then argue that afternoon. Keith did not participate.

I had no clue about mandamus and was working very long hours on all of the other political cases that were being handled by the Detroit Guild office. I needed access to a federal law library at odd hours. A Guild member was working for a federal judge and gave me a key to the chambers. I could come and go as I wanted. Security at the courthouse was different then.

Technically, I had a good argument that this was not a proper case for mandamus. If we could defeat it on technical grounds, the case against our clients would be dismissed. We had to try. But the impetus was with the Government. Everyone knew that the DOJ and the White House wanted this case as a ratification of their policies. Accepting the mandamus under a “special circumstances” rubric, the Court of Appeals decided the case on the merits.

The day before the scheduled argument in Cincinnati, I drove to Columbus to see friends from my VISTA5 volunteer days. But going down I-71 to Cincinnati, I hit a patch of black ice, went into the median and rolled four times. The Sampsonite briefcase that Mother gave me when I graduated from law school shattered and cut off the top half of my right ear. I was taken by ambulance to the local hospital.

Kunstler, always magnificent in crises, grabbed a car or a cab in Cincinnati and rushed to the hospital and the scene of the accident. The originals of my half of the brief were spread along the median in the snow. Kunstler collected them and took them to a cleaners in Cincinnati, where he had them dried and pressed. He went to court, argued and we won 2-1, former Detroit Police Commissioner Edwards writing for the majority, U.S. v. US Dist. Ct. (Keith) ex rel Sinclair, 444 F2d 651 (6th Cir 1971.)

Back at the Fayette County Memorial Hospital, the switchboard was lighting up as calls poured in from around the country. It did not take them long to figure that not only did I not look like any lawyer they had ever seen (long hair, funny clothes), but that I was connected with some radical political case. My doctor clearly did not want me there and kept suggesting that I be taken by ambulance to Columbus to have my ear reattached by a prominent plastic surgeon. I indicated that I understood that the sooner that something was sewed back, the more likely the attachment would be successful. He acknowledged that, but still urged me to go to Columbus. I asked him about the relative difference in skill between him and the doctor in Columbus. With a supercilious look, he said, “Probably the difference between you and the best lawyer in the country.” More out of anger than accuracy, I said, “Well, sew my goddamn ear back on then. I’m one of the best.” He did. It took. Before I left the hospital, he visited and said, “I hope you lose.”

The divisiveness of the question and the degree to which the Nixon administration was prepared to go to defend this warrantless political surveillance was presaged by the final words of Judge Weick in the dissent in the Sixth Circuit, id at 677:

It has been said that wiretapping is a dirty business. Professor Wigmore answered this argument: But so is likely to be so all apprehension of malefactors. Kicking a man in the stomach is “dirty business”, normally viewed. But if a gunman assails you and you know enough of the French art of savatage to kick him in the stomach and thus save your life, is that dirty business for you?’
The Sixth Circuit ruled on 4/21/71. The Supreme Court granted cert on 6/21/71.

On To The Supreme Court

After the victory in the Sixth Circuit, the fact that the Government would seek and the Supreme Court would grant certiorari was a foregone conclusion. Once the Court took the case, the forces began gathering. The legendary Arthur Kinoy, one of the co-founders with Kunstler of the CCR and law professor at Rutgers, would argue for the individual Defendants. The brief would be written at CCR, primarily by Bob Bender.

Now Judge Keith decided to directly participate and went to Bill Gossett, one of the name partners at Dykema Gossett (the largest law firm in Michigan.) He was a former president of the ABA. Gossett took the case pro bono and engaged Prof. Abraham Sofaer of Columbia Law School to write the brief for Keith.

1. The amici curiae lined up for Sinclair and Keith:
2. The National ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan;
3. The Black Panther Party, the National Lawyers Guild, the National Conference of Black Lawyers;
4. The UAW;
5. The American Friends Service Committee;

For the Government, none.

Everyone knew that this would be a watershed case, particularly with the streams of political dissent (youth, anti-war, civil rights, black liberation, feminist, environmental, LBGT) bursting forth in 1971. The Government, determined to maintain the COINTELPRO program against these movements, as its final submission likened the case to the occasions in U.S. history when federal troops had to be called out to quell domestic disturbances, producing a list. Predictably, they were all racial incidents or labor disputes.

Importantly for progressives, all of the big anti-war and Black Panther conspiracy trials around the country were put on hold because similar motions had been made in each of them, with the Government uniformly admitting to warrantless wiretaps of the defendants and their organizations. It made no sense for them to move forward in the face of the impending decision in Keith.
This was a welcome respite. It was now early in the 1972 presidential campaign. Remember Nixon’s slogan, “Peace with Honor!” implying that he had a secret plan to get out of Vietnam? We did not believe it, but we knew that the only way he would consider it to be a victory would be if he could dismantle all the progressive movements that had been building throughout the 60’s and 70’s.
The argument was held February 24, 1972. Because I had an appearance in the trial court, I was allowed to sit inside the bar, although I was not admitted to practice in the Supreme Court. In the meantime, the WPP had filled Chrysler Arena with the now legendary “Ten for Two” (so-named because John got 10 years for 2 joints) concert in Ann Arbor featuring John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Bob Seger, 5 of the Chicago 7 and many others, a ten hour extravaganza for $6. Three days later, the Michigan Supreme Court gave John bond on appeal as a precursor to declaring the Michigan marijuana law unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment, crowning an extraordinary and prolonged effort by Chuck Ravitz.6 As the only free defendant, Sinclair had to be allowed into the Supreme Court argument. He and Leni (Magdalene Sinclair, his wife) sat on two throne-like chairs at the back of the chamber in purple White Panthers shirts.

Erwin Griswold, my law school dean and Nixon’s Solicitor General, refused to argue the case for the Government, bringing in Robert Mardian, head of the Internal Security Division of the DOJ and the first guy to resign after Watergate. I later tried to talk to Griswold about it at a reception, but he refused. Rehnquist had recused himself because he had helped formulate the policy at the DOJ. The courtroom was packed and the stage was set.

Mardian was not an accomplished appellate advocate and the Justices pounced on him quickly. As a final ploy, Mardian produced a tape and begged the Justices to listen to it in camera so that they could hear exactly how dangerous these defendants were and why it was necessary for the Government to use such means. One of the Justices asked if the Government would agree to have the Defendants’ lawyers listen with them. Mardian replied that he would agree for Gossett to hear the tapes, but not Kinoy.

Thurgood Marshall, who had argued Brown v Board of Education with Kinoy, turned his chair around and never looked at the Government again during the argument. Gossett acquitted himself well. But Kinoy was brilliant, going up and down the bench reminding one Justice after another of statements they had made in previous cases which compelled them to rule warrantless electronic political surveillance illegal.

The Keith decision was released on Monday, June 19, 1972, U.S. v U.S. District Court (Keith), 407 US 297 (1972). The Watergate burglary occurred the night of June 16, 1972, the Friday before. Kinoy always theorized that Rehnquist had tipped someone that they were going to lose Keith on Monday. Thus, the “plumbers” were not putting wiretaps into the Democratic National Committee office, they were taking them out. No evidence has ever been adduced to disprove the theory, but none of the “plumbers” ever said so. Regardless, the combination of the decision and Watergate ultimately led to the end of the Nixon presidency and a comprehensive expansion of political rights.

Interestingly, the opinion was written by Lewis Powell, who had given speeches in favor of warrantless wiretapping while he had been President of the ABA. Bill Gossett’s representation of Keith could not have hurt in that regard. It was a unanimous 8-0 decision. But that was not the end of the case.

Quietly, all of the big conspiracy cases, including the Weatherman indictments in Detroit and elsewhere were dropped. The Government could not prove a single case without its illegally obtained evidence or else did not want to suffer further embarrassment and exposure of COINTELPRO, so they abandoned them. That is how the White Panthers and Judge Keith saved the movement from years of surveillance, COINTELPRO disruption and conspiracy charges.

During the pendency of the appeal, I had a conversation with Ralph Guy, still US Attorney. He indicated that if we won, he was afraid that it would just drive the practice further underground and make it more clandestine. How prophetic that was! Guy went on to be appointed to the District Court and then to the Sixth Circuit. He has been one of the judges appointed to sit on the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Court, which, after the reforms which came out of the exposure of the COINTELPRO program, was supposed to consider applications for intercepts and searches involving foreign threats to domestic security. We now know that under Bush II, even this extremely friendly bench was not considered to be sufficiently malleable for the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld security initiatives, even after the Patriot Act.

ON THE GROUND

The WPP rented a house in Detroit to act as defense headquarters and a place for Kunstler and Weinglass to stay when they came to town. On report, a good time was had by all. Given that the first three planks of the WPP platform were “Rock and roll, dope and f’ing in the street,” one can assume they did. The fourth plank in their platform, “Full unemployment!” was also achieved, primarily by dealing marijuana. But as an already neglectful young husband and father, I did not spend much time there.

One thing that Guy did not know was that shortly after Pun’s arrest in August of 1970, the FBI put a warrantless wiretap on WPP headquarters in Ann Arbor. The defense team did not find out about it until a FOIA request in 1977. Because the White Panther case was at the center of the left-legal universe for six months with Kunstler and Weinglass as lead counsel, an astonishing number of prominent media, celebrity (Jane Fonda, Allen Ginsberg) and leftist leaders called or came through Detroit and Ann Arbor during that time. I have a copy of the logs of that wiretap as a result of separate litigation, but it is still under seal and classified. With the help of Professor Robert Sedler at Wayne State Law School and some declassification experts in Washington, I am attempting to have them released. They are a fascinating oral history of the movement from August, 1970 to January, 1971.

As an indication of how seriously a threat the FBI took the WPP was the fact that the results of the intercept at their headquarters from August, 1970 through January 1970-71 were routinely transmitted to approximately 125 SACs (Special Agents in Charge) of FBI offices around the country. So when some hippies in Seattle (this actually happened) called Ann Arbor and asked how to get in touch with the WPP in Seattle, they were told, “You’re it.” The Seattle FBI dutifully opened a file.

POST-KEITH: SINCLAIR v NIXON and the 2nd Wiretap

Separate litigation referred to as Sinclair v. Nixon, was initiated by CCR in the DC District Court after the decision in the Keith case, claiming that the secret intercepts had violated Plamondon’s Fourth Amendment rights. Through a series of decisions, Nixon was granted presidential immunity and Mitchell qualified immunity. But after the discovery in 1977 of the second secret wiretap on the WPP headquarters from August 1970 through January 1971 through an FOIA request, the suit was amended to add that claim. Please remember that throughout the proceedings in the Keith case, the Government never disclosed the fact that they were at the very moment that Judge Keith was deciding the legality of warrantless domestic surveillance, the FBI was conducting surveillance in the very case which was pending before him. In response to a draft of this paper, Judge Guy emphatically said that he was unaware of the tap. It was conducted by the FBI office in Detroit and regularly reported to Director Hoover himself.

The existence of the second wiretap was never disclosed to the defense, Keith, the Sixth Circuit or the Supreme Court. Technically, the FBI could argue that since the Defendants were in prison, they were not the ones who were being targeted. But they frequently called the headquarters from their jail phones. Thus, it was ultimately a deception, orchestrated at least by Mitchell and Hoover. It was never disclosed under ordinary procedures. The tap was lifted the day after Keith ruled warrantless intercepts illegal.

After the second wiretap was discovered in 1977, the tapes revealed that I was intercepted. That implicated the Sixth Amendment (confidential relationship between clients and attorneys). Although the communications were with the Defense Committee, rather than with the Defendants themselves, they still revealed defense strategy.

Thus, the original case against Nixon in D.C. was transferred to Michigan on a forum non coveniens basis. I and one of the original WPP lawyers in Ann Arbor, Dennis Hayes, handled the case thereafter. There was another appeal (the third) to the Sixth Circuit on the issue of immunity for the individual FBI agents who had monitored the attorney calls. It was unsuccessful and the case came back for discovery. Geneva Halliday handled the case for the U.S. Attorney’s office. She was gracious, but persistent, throughout. The attorneys for the plaintiffs had few resources. The Party itself had long since dissolved7 and the individual plaintiffs had little or no money. Revolution is not a lucrative vocation.

Further, the FBI agents who were the individual defendants had either retired or been assigned all over the country. The question was whether the plaintiffs could show that they acted so egregiously that, despite the novelty of the situation, they were liable. Without the ability to pursue expensive discovery, there was no way to adduce such proof. Judge Joiner dismissed the case. It went back to the Sixth Circuit and was extinguished in 1989.

What was on the tapes? Who intercepted them? Were the Defendants guilty?

There remains the questions of what was on the original intercepts of Plamondon and what effect they would have had on the trial. The contents have never been disclosed. A popular theory is that, given the focus on the BPP, the intercepts were of Pun and Eldridge Cleaver calling BPP headquarters in Oakland from Algeria when they were both fugitives. Please remember that at this time not even Congress knew about the existence of the National Security Agency (NSA), exposed in William Bamford’s book “The Puzzle Palace.” One can understand why the Government would not reveal intercepts by a secret communications monitoring agency.

Would the information in the intercepts have tainted the trial itself? Almost certainly not. The late John Hausner, before he became a Wayne County Circuit judge, was the AUSA assigned to the actual prosecution of the case. Whatever he knew of the contents of the intercepts, he told me years later that they would not have tainted the trial. I believe it.

Hausner also claimed that he would certainly have obtained a conviction had we ever gone to trial. That is an uncert ain proposition. My view is that Sinclair would have been acquitted and was only thrown into the indictment because he was a nationally notorious figure, particularly after Robert Colombo, Sr. gave him 9½ to 10 years for two joints. Kunstler and Weinglass tried to subpoena John from prison to testify in the Chicago 7 trial, but were rebuffed by the good Judge Julius Hoffman.

The only apparent evidence against Sinclair were two FBI memos of interviews with Valler (the snitch) in the Wayne County Jail. They indicated that while John was in town for a concert with the MC5, Valler claimed to have met Sinclair in Peter Werbe’s office at the Fifth Estate, an anarchist newspaper. There, Valler claimed that he told John that he had a lot of dynamite and asked if he was interested. Even the FBI reports only claim that Sinclair said he would be interested in some dynamite, but did not want to blow anything up himself. On another occasion after the bombing, Valler claimed that he and Sinclair were in the same room and that John looked at him meaningfully and shook his head “Yes”. Without more, that is not the stuff of conspiracy convictions.
About Jack Forrest, nothing can be said. He has never publicly spoken. He was clearly an acquaintance of Valler’s during the time that the bombings took place in 1968. He was a YIPPIE8 organizer in 1968. But at the time of the bombing, he was still living in Detroit.

That leaves Pun Plamondon, the flamboyant Minister of Defense for the WPP. He was a wild man. By the time I finished with all of his cases in 1973, we had faced at least 18 felonies. Emblematic of Pun’s style is his comment in his autobiography Lost to the Ottawa (he discovered that he had been taken away from his unmarried Native American parents and given to a “white” family) that he was framed for a crime he does not deny committing, “I’m not saying I didn’t bomb the CIA building in Ann Arbor. But I damn sure didn’t tell that government snitch I did.”


Bibliography

Papers of Hugh M. Davis at the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Accession at No. 1881. Open to research at http://www.reuther.wayne.edu/node/6640

Pun Plamondon’s book Lost from the Ottawa: The Story of the Journey Back. Copyright 2004. ISBN number 1412022657.

John Sinclair, Guitar Army, Copyright 1972. Published by Douglas Book Corporation. Library of Congress No. 73-182698:

“Wiretapping and National Security: Nixon, The Mitchell Doctrine, and the White Panthers,” Doctoral Thesis by Jeff A. Hale (1995) UMI Dissertation Services No. 9609089

Rights on Trial: The Odessey of a People’s Lawyer by J. M. Lewis. Copyright 1993. Available on Amazon.com. The Biography of Arthur Kinoy

William M. Kunstler: The Most Hated Lawyer in America by David Langham. Amazon.com

Politics on Trial by William M. Kunstler. Amazon.com

My Life as a Radical Lawyer by William M. Kunstler. Amazon.com

“The Bush Administration’s Terrorist Surveillance Program and the Fourth Amendment’s Warrant Requirement: Lessons From Justice Powell and the Keith Case”, Vol. 41 #3, University of California Davis Law Review, February 2008 by Tracy Maclin.


1 Stop The Robberies Enjoy Safe Streets (STRESS) was a notorious unit set up by the Detroit Police after the 1967 rebellion. Its tactic was to have an officer appear to be drunk, drugged or otherwise vulnerable in high crime neighborhoods in order to induce robberies. It was extremely violent and killed 13 people. Sheila Murphy and Ken Cockrel led the Ad Hoc Coalition Against Police Brutality which spearheaded the anti-STRESS campaign. Ultimately, Coleman Young was elected Mayor of Detroit in 1973 on an anti-STRESS platform. He disbanded the unit. Murphy and Cockrel later married and both went on to the Detroit City Council.

2 John Sinclair was the leader of a group of progressive artists and musicians who formed the Artists Co-Op, Translove Energies and put on various counter-cultural events and concerts beginning in the mid-60’s. He was an open advocate of marijuana and was set up 3 times by the cops. As they became more militant, they became the White Panther Party in Detroit. Their band was the MC5 (for Motor City) - raucous and revolutionary, their famous line was “Kick out the jams, MFers”. The Party moved to Ann Arbor after the rebellion.

3 It was originally the Chicago 8, with BPP leader Bobby Seale included in the indictment. He was not on bond and was subjected to horrendous treatment and restraints in the courtroom. Protests ensued and he was severed from the case. Hence the Chicago 7.

4 Petty disputes, pointless confrontations, changing leadership and a high sense of entitlement to free legal services from white movement lawyers without concomitant respect were characteristic of the BPP in Detroit.

5 Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA - the domestic Peace Corps) encouraged progressive youth to live at least a year at a subsistence level in poor or deprived communities, organizing and providing assistance. Joining deferred the draft. Because I was only 24 when I graduated from law school, I had a year to go before I went into the secondary pool. Faced with joining the Army or going to jail, I joined VISTA. They had a policy of assigning you as far as possible from home and your usual support network. I got Detroit.

6 Ravitz, after a brilliant and sustained effort, finally won People v Sinclair and People v Laurentzen in the Michigan Supreme Court, invalidating Michigan’s antiquated marijuana laws as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment and finding that marijuana was not a narcotic. In Sinclair, a defendant could receive up to 10 years for possession of any amount of marijuana. John Sinclair had 9 grams. For sale or delivery of marijuana of any amount, there was a minimum mandatory 20 year sentence.

When Sinclair was decided, it was the last great jail-break in Michigan. Approximately 120 prisoners were freed. Their friends and girlfriends pulled up in front of Jackson prison in limousines with bottles of champagne and smoking dope. It took the Legislature a month to pass the new statute (substantially what we have today – 4 years for sale, a 90 day misdemeanor for use, 1 year misdemeanor for possession.) The first Hash Bash in Ann Arbor on April 1, 1972 was to protest the new law. It took the various municipalities around the state 2 to 3 years to pass ordinances which reflected the new state statute. Thus, for a month marijuana was legal in Michigan and for years thereafter, practically every small case got dismissed. That was the real reason John Sinclair was a hero. You could not go into a bar or restaurant for years afterward without somebody on the staff or among the clientele being among those who either directly benefited from Sinclair’s case or knew someone who did.

7 After the legal battles, the WPP became the Rainbow Peoples Party and began putting on the famous (but short-lived) Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival with their unique security apparatus, the Psychedelic Rangers. In 1975, they merged with other progressive groups to form the Human Rights Party, took over the Ann Arbor City Council and passed the $5 pot law. When the Republicans made a comeback, they raised the fine to $25.

8 The members of the Youth International Party, led by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin (two of the Chicago 7), were known as YIPPIES.


Originally written for the Detroit and Michigan National Lawyers Guild Annual Dinner, 2010.

"Freeing John Sinclair" website and events coming in December

On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, which took place in Ann Arbor on December 10, 1971, the Library will launch a website documenting the history of the White Panther Party and Rainbow People's Party in Ann Arbor circa 1968-1975. The site will include the full run of both parties' underground newspaper, the Ann Arbor Sun; a series of original essays; audio files from the Bentley Historical Library's John and Leni Sinclair Papers; and dozens of hours of interviews with people central to this period in Ann Arbor history. For all of this and more, check out freeingjohnsinclair.org on December 9!

To launch the site, the Library is sponsoring a series of events and an exhibit titled "Rock and Revolution", on display at the Downtown Library from December 2 - January 15.

Related events in December are:

December 2, 7:00 pm: "Rock and Revolution" exhibit opening with appearances by Gary Grimshaw, Leni Sinclair and an illustrated talk on Michigan rock poster art by Michael Erlewine. (Downtown Library)

December 9, 8:00 pm: a free concert with the Commander Cody Band and special guest John Sinclair & Beatnik Youth (The Ark, 316, S. Main St, Ann Arbor) (map)

December 10, 1:00 pm: "Culture Jamming: A Long View Back", a panel discussion featuring John Sinclair, Leni Sinclair, Pun Plamondon, David Fenton and Genie Parker. With host and moderator, U-M professor Bruce Conforth (Pendleton Room, Michigan Union, 530 S. State St, Ann Arbor) (map)

AADL Talks To: Brett Callwood

Detroit author and music critic, Brett Callwood, was at AADL recently for a public talk about his book MC5: Sonically Speaking: A Tale of Revolution and Rock 'n' Roll. Prior to this event, I had the chance to chat with Brett about the MC5--their legacy, their significance to other musicians, and the influence of former manager, John Sinclair. Brett also discusses his journey to becoming a music critic and the inspiration behind his writing, most notably his love affair with Detroit and its music.

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