Lear's Last Lines
A few weeks after the election I met an old acquaintance
at a Napa Supermarket. He had been a political heckler of mine
over the years. He said condescendingly, "Well, John, how are
you? This (the lost election) is going to be good for you.
You'll be one of the people again. Glad to have you back in
Napa." I said yeah sure thanks and squeezed out a smile. He
was speaking his mind in a friendly sounding way, but I
imagined what he might have liked to say was, "well you damn
bigshot, you finally got too big for your britches and we
pulled you down off your pedestal and now we've got you where
we want you."
It was partly people like this that kept me from coming
back to practice law in Napa. I didn't feel like being too
visible (I felt self-conscious--I was the defeated politician,
the loser--I didn't want people to feel sorry for me or
pretend to). Also, I didn't want to have to spend all my
time catering to people to help rebuild a profitable law
practice; I wanted a job with some financial security and I
was prepared to work but I didn't want anything remotely like
another treadmill job where I'd be out weekends and evenings.
November and December of 1978 were a little dismal. Sure,
I was unhappy--somebody took a toy away from me--maybe the toy
was 17 employees and five offices with my name on the door.
When I was booted out I had three committee chairmanships (one
'standing' and two 'select'), I had important things barely
started, I had friends, I had a kind of family in Sacramento.
December was a particularly unsettling month. My term ended
on the 1st monday of that month and although I was technically
still a member of my law firm I really didn't have a job--for
the first time since Janet and I were married. I hadn't heard
anything definite from the governor's office RE possible
appointments. Good friends invited us to visit them at their
Guatemala retreat to get away from it all. But I couldn't do
it. We weren't broke or in debt but we didn't have any cash
reserves. Our only asset was our house (about 75% paid for).
We were living on what I currently earned and getting
gainful employment was my first priority.
On New Year's Day Janet and I were up the California
coast in Mendocino City. About 3 PM the governor's office
tracked me down and Jerry Brown himself got on the phone to
tell me he'd just signed papers appointing me as a member of
the Worker's Compensation Appeals Board. It is a 7 person
board five of whom must be lawyers. Although not as prestigous
as an appellate court judge (they hold office for life), this
job involved appellate jurisdiction over workers' compensation
cases and paid the same salary as a Superior Court judge. I
asked him when the appointment became effective and he said as
far as he was concerned, right now. I went down to San
Francisco and took the oath on the 2nd and my pay started
immediatly. I spend the next five years working 40 hours a
week instead of 80, but getting paid more than twice the
salary I'd gotten as a Senator. I still had an office and I
still worked for the government, but what I did involved one
narrow field of the law instead of the whole--also in a
judicial job you wait for specific cases to come to you; you
don't go out and tackle any legal/socioeconomic problem you
think needs it.
The Workers' Comp. Board was a good and important job but
for me it was not exciting. The second week on the Comp board
one of the staff lawyers, a young man maybe a couple of years
older than Jill, asked me if I wanted to be called "Senator
Dunlap". I told him no, call me John. I'm sure this is what he
expected but he was playing it safe. I had thought about this
before his question, and although the permanent title of
Senator wasn't unappealing I rejected it as that of a has
been...sort of like with the title "Colonel" for Lionel Barrymore
(nice old guy) in a Shirley Temple movie; the allusion to past
heroics gave him at best a pathetic dignity. I said to the
younger man: "Some people who've been Senators keep the title
the rest of their lives and that might sound or feel good, but
I'm not a Senator anymore; that title belongs to the guy that
currently holds the office." I thought a second and added,
"Besides, I don't want to dwell on the past--I'd rather think
the most important part of my life is still ahead of me." In a
sense, however, it's undeniable that the most
'important' part of anyone's life is always still ahead
of them. It's the only part over which we retain any control.
Unless you've given up and are living totally in a dream
world of the past (and with some people this is at least a
tendency), the future is always more important to you.
A friend who helped me in my unsuccessful bid for the
State Senate in 1960 jokingly said, "Once you've been in
politics there's nothing left but hardcore narcotics."... to
get your kicks, he meant. I agree, my political story was
mostly terminated by defeat in 1978. Since then I haven't
taken up hardcore narcotics, but I haven't had the same kicks
Though, as 1978 ended, I was suffering from a terminal
illness known as lame duck disease and was not particularly
happy, I was busy. I had had a lot to do, with closing up all
of my offices, answering commiserative mail, getting myself a
job, and helping staff members get new positions for
themselves. I didn't really start to miss the kicks of
politics until late January or February, but December had
been a rough time partly because of the uncertainty of it.
Despite the holiday season I didn't have terrific fun and
sometimes I thought I should console myself by having a few
stiff drinks, but I'd quit drinking, so even that was out.
Almost 3 years before, Janet and I had stopped for a
month to try to lose some weight. Though I didn't admit it
then, I'm sure I had a secret ambition to make it perm-
anent (which I ended up doing--I'll let you know if it
changes.). As I said, a couple of times in this post defeat
period I had the idea I might start drinking again, but
thought, No, that'd be too typical--like the reformed
alcoholic who loses his job and becomes a stewbum. So, if I
had any such thoughts I put them aside--maybe I'd start again
someday but, 'I'll save it for when I'm up'.
My drunk driving arrest had been a shock and had called
my attention to the fact that I didn't really have drinking
under control. I didn't ordinarily drink enough to embarrass
myself, but after the high had passed I had a tendency to
become either sleepy or quarrelsome. Worse things were
happening to some of my colleagues who were drinkers. One died
of a heart attack and another of what I'd call premature old
age--booze was the underlying cause.
Not drinking, I was certainly healthier but I didn't have
as much fun and probably sometimes took myself too seriously.
My staff said I needed to let up and relax more--they were
right but it wasn't easy just drinking coffee.
Part of my reason for quitting drinking had been
political, particularly after the drunk driving conviction. I
liked coming off as "Sir Percival, Pure and Penitent." Now,
off the pedestal, I didn't have to stay Mr. Clean for the
public anymore, but I still had my own pride to consider.
After about a year and a half on the Workers' Comp Board
I had a chance to be appointed to the Superior Court in Napa,
replacing a judge who'd quit before the end of his term. To
keep the position, though, I'd have to run for election in 8
months, which meant I'd have to start campaigning immediatly.
The idea of asking for votes so soon again (and not even for a
job I thought I'd really enjoy that much) was something I
didn't relish. In fact it would have been downright
masochistic. So I turned the judgeship down.
In 1984 my term on the Workers' Comp Board came to an
end. I didn't even apply for reappointment because I knew the
new Republican Governor wouldn't choose me. I would not have
chosen to place him in an important decision-making position.
I could've jumped back up on the treadmill as a lawyer and
also gotten full retirement pay, but Janet and I chose instead
to have more time, and less money, and we went into a kind of
retirement-retreat by moving to an old house we owned in
Mendocino City. Moving was an adventure, and rebuilding and
redecorating the house (which was right in the center of the
well-known coastal arts community) was an activity which
helped me avoid looking on myself as retired. At this point I
was only 61 years old and felt too young (for one like me
partially caught in the "You Are What You Do" Gear of Life) to
be doing nothing, retired, inert.
Going to Mendocino in part was a way of avoiding the
"This is It" of Defeat, which can best be described by remem-
bering a cartoon: Two oriental monks are sitting on the steps
of a temple, cross-legged, clad in loincloths. The younger has
just asked the older one a question. The older one replies,
"What do you mean, 'what's next?'? This is It." I was also
avoiding returning to my 'natural habitat' ("Here you are,
back where you belong, John, Ha ha ha!!"), where I might have
to face the fact I was defeated and there wasn't any 'more'.
When I did come back to Napa, again, this time retired, I
still ran into people who said "What're you doing now, John?
Practicing Law again?" Sometimes I'd say, "No, I'm just
goofing off," which wasn't entirely true, but did describe my
status in a few words. After a while I got so I could use the
word "retired" (though retired is "It" and not too good an
"It" for somebody who's used to being able to say "I'm doing
this, this, and this." In time I taught myself to say, "I'm
retired, period. I'm no longer seeking either wealth or
glory." (This paragraph was written originaly over 16 years
ago, and the word "retired" scares me less and less).
At the time of this writing I've been back in Napa (where
my political heckler was "glad to have me") over 20 years
since I was part of the great whirling world of the Capitol
Carousel. My treadmill/pony has jumped from that track. I no
longer spend all my time trying to change or educate the
world. Partly, I really believe that I've earned a rest and
it's someone else's turn. But in many ways I'm the same person
I was before defeat, and my lack of involvement in politics
occasionally still makes me feel a little guilty. Of course,
writing a book is being involved still in a way. In writing
about it all, I've been forced to think tougher than I might
ordinarily--to admit, for instance, that some of the time
(though less and less over time), I've been depressed by
inactivity--by being out of the whirl of life at the State
Capitol. That's the big decision-making arena. My decisions
comparatively are much smaller now--do I watch TV with Janet,
do I make a pot of coffee, do I build a fire, do I toast a
English muffin, do I work on this book. Leading my life
involves a maze of small decisions which are not
inconsequential, but which don't add up to more than killing
time if you don't make them. It's totally up to me what I do;
there's no treadmill in motion as I put my feet on the floor
out of bed.
When I was on the legislative treadmill going 80 hours a
week, I should have backed away from this kind of single-
minded, almost exclusive involvement. It stole from my
commitment to other values. I worked too hard, felt sorry for
myself, and experienced some burnout.
Now, I feel the need to engage my gears selectively with
what's going on around me--selective involvement instead of
the treadmill I used to ride (or be driven by). It's a phase
more of thinking than doing, I guess. My active political life
ended in 1978. I didn't quite recognize or admit that it was
over for seven or eight years and come around to putting a
punctuation mark there, as far as my head goes--it takes quite
a while to appreciate the total concept of a major change--so
you sit for years before you put a period--exclamation mark?--
at the end of a phase of life.
Having told the essential chronological tale, the
'Sacramento Story', I come to the denoument, the 'unwinding'.
When I was trying to figure out how to organize this last
section I at first thought I'd indulge in the fiction that
somehow a group of do-gooder legislators in the California
Assembly had called on me for advice from the vantage point of
one no longer on the treadmill. I mentioned this idea to David
and he said something like, 'go ahead and do it but find a way
to say it that's believable--people won't read your
pontification.' We also had the thought that to continue
writing was like adding an extra act to Othello or like Lear
returning to life (in Napa) and finding that he still has
lines to deliver. So, although there are things I want to say,
I'm not going to go into them--much.
I know that livewire private citizens cooperating through
government can make a difference. I used to preach this. I
must've said a thousand times, "your letters do make a
difference . I read my mail. I count on your participation." I
believed what I said when I said it from 'aloft' and I still
believe it, but as a private citizen I have trouble practicing
what I preached as a legislator, so I understand that words of
encouragement alone may not make the political system more
enticing or hopeful to all.
Just because I as a legislator was rejected by the voters
in 1978 doesn't mean my ideals and hopes for government were
rejected then, and even if then, certainly not for all time.
John Vasconcellos, who I saw at a political dinner (a 75th
birthday party for a retired Senator from Napa, actually) here
in Napa not long ago, is, for instance, continuing to fight
for progressive legislation in Sacramento. He has been at it
for 37 years. John Burton is Speaker Pro Tem of the Senate.
With intermittent time off he's been at it for 39 years.
From my current vantage point "off the treadmill" I see
some things better than I did before. For one thing, it's
easier to recognize some of the weaknesses in the Democratic
Party. There's far more room for innovation among Democrats;
this is one reason I chose to become one. But I see now that
the Democratic Party is riddled by special interests: campaign
contributions from banks, insurance, and oil, for example--the
Republican Party, on the other hand, is rooted in, not just
polluted by, these special interests. This riddling of
Democrats and rooting of Republicans may be one reason many
people believe Government is not for them.
My experience is that most innovative programs are well-
concieved and do a good job--but I see now that liberals
occasionally make mistakes--all new ideas don't work. When we
try something new we should be more willing to monitor it, and
if it doesn't work, have the sense to admit it, modify the
experiment and sack it--clear the decks for something else.
Recognizing that experiments sometimes don't work exhibits the
success of the process of government, not the failure.
I've tried a lot of different ways to wrap this up, and
nothing really covers the whole ball of wax, probably because
it isn't one logically conceived lesson in a poly sci course.
While desperately seeking "The Word" I'm inclined to risk
categorical statements, and I will share with you some of my
1. Thou shalt look to no other being to solve thy
2. Thou shalt cooperate, and avoid the pitfalls of
3. Thou shalt see the big picture but not let it get you
4. Thou shalt know that extremes of wealth and poverty
separate and polarize people, but that there's more to a
decent society than dividing up the goodies fairly.
5. Thou shalt eschew the philosophy of 'Ain't It Awful' and
substitute for it the knowledge that things can work. For
example, government does offer some protection for natural
resources, some intelligent consolidation and promotion of
scientific ideas (and does promote scientific advances for
other than business-oriented purposes), and does show some
sophistication in dealing with sociological problems and
insert picture or xerox of a law or article
to fill this space
The alternative to government is right by might, or a
reversion of all decision-making to individual whim: i.e.,
there is no alternative. Human nature as seen in our world
society is mixed and problematic...both beautiful and
inspired, and dark and terrifying. "Government" brings with it
the possibility of promoting the best, and protection from
chaos. But with the wrong people in control it can also
promote the worst, so there's a risk.
To plan a future different from what we've got, we need a
picture of what we want--a design which is new and different,
but not so different as to be patently unattainable. "World
Government" seems desirable, as does wage levelling in some
form. But we're not talking about starting over with a clean
slate and building up from the foundations--you have to find a
way to tinker with the existing structure with all its
complexities and try to be temporarily satisfied with
acomplishing a series of changes which in themselves may seem
all too moderate, but which as time goes on, add up to a
changed world. We need specific new programs, we need open
minds reacting to changing circumstances--we can't get along
on even my categorical imperatives.
Devising innovative programs takes a lot of energy.
There's no room for apathy--or the 'Ain't it Awful' game Don
Searle and I still were playing, while commuting to San
Francisco (me to the Workers' Comp Job, Don to his Standard
Oil position) in the early 80's--the 'awful' was having to go
to work over and over early in the morning in horrendous
traffic conditions. You can say ''Ain't it Awful' about any
problem, about Ike as Don and I used to back in 1958 at the
time of our kitchen debates, when Janet finally said, "Get off
the dime and Do Something", about traffic...about the A-Bomb
or about the weather (though when one shines you're glad and
when the other does you're dead). The bomb threat (still very
real, though not so much because of the possibility of war, as
perhaps, of computer error) is about as awful as anything can
Most people don't have the concept of atomic war or
nuclear devastation in an integrated position in their heads--
it's stored in a trunk in the attic, it's not in the kitchen,
family room, or workshop where we make our daily decisions.
But we could do something, tomorrow--go to a World Beyond War
meeting, a nuclear freeze meeting, go to Livermore and get
arrested, spend the next 9 months walking from L.A. to
Washington D.C....at the very least, we can talk about all
this to people around ourselves. Don't wait for the right
leader with the finest sounding slogans to come along. (Thou
shalt look to no one else...) The existence of such barely
conceivable destructive resources may seem to pose an
insurmountable problem, but human affairs are controlled by
humans, and though your power may seem slight, anything can be
changed given time and enough interest. My list of proposed
acts aren't Master Plans to bring peace and prosperity to the
world--but they are the kinds of actions which, when
multiplied by millions, can change world opinion, and, subsequently,
the course of events.
Liberal innovators soberly echo that politicians should
not play God. In advocating a particular legislative proposal
(liberal or otherwise) there's a tendency sometimes to play it
up so strongly that although you don't come right out and say
it'll solve all the world's problems, this statement becomes
implicit in your rhetoric. When I was in office I didn't go
around making big promises (but I "put my best foot forward";
I tried to come off as on the side of the angels, and did some
sloganeering. Generally I said my proposals would help, but
sometimes in the heat of debate, trying to sell the press, or
my colleagues or the public, I played into the "Dr. Fix of Politics"
The worst aspect of over-promising is that it results in public
disillusionment when your solutions fall short of their mark
and withdisillusion comes an unwillingness to keep trying).
When Janet's and my kids were little they sometimes had
wonderful toys which were our pride and their joy. I partic-
ularly remember Bobo the Clown, a plastic, air-filled balloon
over three feet tall. There was a sand-filled compartment in
the round bottom. This gave him weight so when you hit him he
toppled over but always rose upright again. He was elegant,
with a large protruding red nose, like many clowns. A leak
developed in the crease at the base of his nose. I'd been able
to fix other leaks with the plastic patch kit but not this
one. I'll never forget David's entreaty, "Daddy, won't you
please fix Bobo?" He was sad to have lost a companion and I
was frustrated to be unable to deliver. My image was
tarnished. I also thought I should be able to fix Bobo. I
don't remember if I ever outright admitted I couldn't.
The great strides in science and technology since World
War II have led to a belief that science can take care of
anything. The jet airplane, wonder drugs, television,
computers and the internet, and the promise of 'atomic energy
so cheap it won't be worth metering'*, have all fed into the
belief that doctors can (or will soon be able to) fix just
like Daddy, and the essence of this 'Dr. Fix' attitude may
have been transposed into politics. People, only begining to
mistrust the technological fix and the medical miracle, may
still believe in the political fix. One side or the other MUST
have the solution. One panel of experts or another will handle it.
The holistic health concept recognizes that though doc-
tors are important, each person is essentially responsible for
his/her own health management. But it's easier to believe
in Doctors--in solutions from the outside. And so, politicians
*This prediction was made in the 1950's by Lewis Strauss,
Eisenhower's chairman of the Atomic Energy Comission.
sometimes find it easy to offer the fix regardless of form. It
may appear as scientific, Star Wars, economics, tax reform; or
romantic, The Summit. It's always a great attention getter.
As an 'author/philosopher' I don't want to make the
mistake (playing "Dr. Fix") I tried to avoid as an action-
oriented politician. I've wondered if in the telling of this
story I've made myself out to be more of a courageous person
"willing to do things damn the consequences" than I really
was. If I have, perhaps I should adjust the impression now.
Although I was about the 4th state legislator in
California to attack the Vietnam War I waited until I was re-
elected in 1968 to come forth strongly on this issue. I
dropped some other worthy causes either because I had too much
to do or lost confidence, or from fear of political
consequences (fear that I might suffer personal political hurt
to the standpoint of not being re-elected sometime)--in other
words, I didn't ride every white horse to the brink.
In my characterization of myself in these pages I
certainly haven't set myself up as anything but a good guy,
and I've as much as said that if everybody did things the same
way I did, we'd be better off--my ego's strong enough to still
believe that this is true, but the real process or prospect of
change requires both 'leadership' and the breaking of public
political stereotypes like "Dr. Fix".
Even my 'tell-all' stance, now, should be thought Suspect, as it
may seem to suggest: Here's the Truly Honest Man, he admits he
took fringe benefits that he shouldn't have, he tells of his
numerous faux pas...he reveals all. He shows us "everything", but
he probably does it partly just to be admired for telling the
truth. The politician'll peel the onion only far enough to
remove the rough skin and make it look smooth and shiny--with
an author, the onion gets peeled a little farther--.
Looking back over my manuscript I've also wondered if
I've gone too far with "Reality" as opposed to propriety--
Robert Frost said he liked his potatoes scrubbed, and that's
how he described nature in his poems. There are those who
might say I should've taken a shower before I wrote this book,
or they might be more explicit and say I should have my mouth
washed out with soap. I've said a few things that might make
me look crude or hostile. I've spoken of the unsavory aroma of
the President of the United States, and indulged myself in
scatalogical language and humor. I've often used battle terms
in describing political controversies or campaigns, and made
reference to the fact that for a while in 1967 we kept a
picture of Ronald Reagan on out dartboard. I spoke about
"whipping the old bastard's ass*" in my first election,
apparently having great fun with notions of physical violence.
I have, partly, left such things in the book because they
happened and that's exactly how we acted some of the time. I
know I could wipe them out with a few strokes of the pen, but
that wouldn't be changing me. I did think this way to some
extent, but ordinarily I recognized that this amounted to a
survival of youthful 'He-Man' conditioning.
*As a kid I played cowboys and indians, cops and robbers,
and played to win, and winning was killing the other guys. In
the legislature or on the campaign trail a certain style of
emphasis likewise implies that you don't just want your ideas
to win out over (whoever's)--you want to kill them. That
implication is at the core of the adversary system in
politics. Obviously we were still playing cowboys and indians
up in Sacramento.
Most people have some ability to look beyond the black
and white Right Side/Wrong Side landscape of the adversary
system--but the basic political process discourages crossing
the partisan line and trying to collaborate. So you hide out
in your treefort with your own little clan and count the heads
of your enemies, and call them names and drop rocks on them
when you think you can get away with it safely, and hope
they're too stunned to retaliate.
Most of my political story has involved what I did on my
own initiative, but throughout, I had many companions--at
first the Napa Democratic Club and later, the Brain Trust
Staff (Harrington, Gage, and others) and colleagues like Alan
Sieroty and John Vasconcellos. There was some community
(common--unity?) feeling in the legislature, like the
leaderless Truth Squad righting Reagan's wrongs back in 1967)
but nothing like the "All For One and One For All" idealized
version of community I like to think about ("The things we do
together" are the most important). And legislators tended to
play the Leader game (like Alan Sieroty letting me take credit
sometimes and be the Big Man--that is, in this case he played
the leader game for my gain). I have experienced real
"community" a few times, though.
Janet and I helped found an entirely voluntary
cooperative group for a few years. It consisted of six couples
living within five miles of each other in the Coombsville area
5 miles outside Napa. We were long-time close personal friends
and called ourselves the 'Coombsville Compact'. We planned to
build homes on commonly owned land and live, care for each
other, and die together. We'd each have our own small house
nestled around common facilities such as swimming pool, tennis
court, workshop, and dining/recreation area. The women in the
Compact were closer than the men. They were all housewives and
had children attending the same schools. They used to get
together once each week for what they called project day--
working together at the homes of one another for a morning or
afternoon.* This was how the Compact got started (circa 196??)
The Fitches, one of the families in the Compact, had a
chicken farm. Jim did 98 percent of his own work and often had
tough sledding. Once he bought two unassembled aluminum feed
bins to increase his grain storage capacity and convenience.
The bind was that Jim had had these money and time saving
devices for months but didn't have time to put them together.
One of the wives suggested that the husbands in the Compact
could put the bins together some Saturday. We all agreed and
met the next Saturday and went to work intending to get the
job done then and there, but it was a much bigger effort than
any of us realized. Finally, five weeks later, with the rain
going from moderate to hard and with daylight departing, three
of us (having bolstered our will to complete the job with a
half gallon of hearty burgundy) shoved the last metal plates
into position and screwed them down, cast down our tools and
literally raised our arms to the sky in exultation. The wine
we had consumed left us in no mood to stop drinking and we
vowed to continue. Our wives were amenable, and that night on
the spur of the moment, all six couples congregated at Janet's
and my house for a fine big potluck and bring your own bottle
party. We now fondly remember it as "Fitch's Last Erection
Party." We called it that because at Stanford University
there's a tower a little like the UC Berkeley Campanile, known
*This was in the 1960's. Project day 1999 was essentially the
same, though here in 2003...
as Hoover Tower, and referred to by some irreverent Stanford
youths as "Hoover's Last Erection".
We had a great group, totally without an acknowledged
leader. Though we led different lives, we shared a dream of a
future community. We also did make a community garden, and go
on a few vacation travel trips together, which were great fun.
We got together many times and we'd each write what we
thought we wanted to accomplish, then we'd read what we'd
written out loud. We also had work days at other houses (spent
a day painting the inside of the Craft's house). Once we
decided we were, to an extent, "All For One And One For All",
we came up with more common causes.
The things the Coombsville Compact shared to begin with
made the greater sharing more possible. We were all of similar
age, 15 years separating youngest and oldest. We were
similarly educated, or had similar values of education. Though
we were of different degress of wealth, none of us were very
poor or very rich. We were all Caucasians, and spoke the same
At one point a couple of us were ready to build but the
others weren't.We were also in different economic stations in
life. Some were still worried about financing children in
college, and one couple was ready to retire to the point of
selling their home and buying a boat. Some of us were too
closely attached to our own land and weren't quite ready to
give it up and go somewhere else. We had a group savings
account of $1,000, which was a start for something.(?) But for
all of these reasons we couldn't take the next step forward.
When we were all together in the spirit of it we really
thought we would, but when we went home into our separate
cocoons we had some second thoughts about it.
It would be naive to suggest that the vision of the
Compact provides a practical example for the world. Despite
our mutuality, we didn't accomplish what we set out to, but we
did have a strong spirit going for a while.
It's good to think what that spirit might accomplish if
harnessed to Russia and the United States (Iran and Iraq,
Protestant England and the IRA), for a short while--maybe a
successful Summit with an agreement to each reduce arms
expenses five percent each year, and put the money into
mutually designed projects: Like a bridge across the Bearing
Sea, or food for Africans, or Space Exploration, or a world-
wide crusade against environmental degradation.
Thinking about the Coombsville Compact sometmes
encourages me. By trying to cooperate, people not only make
better political institutions, they also change themselves--
and I think they change the human race in the long run.
I've dealt mostly in this book with individual political
successes and strivings--but coming to the end I seem to be
dwelling on peak experiences of a different kind. There's no
real place for them in the history of California, but they
rate pretty high in my personal history. They all seem to have
to do with groups of people, and with joining something
'bigger than yourself'. It doesn't happen often enough but
when it does it's the kind of experience that tops a couple of
drinks (or even winning an election?). You don't know exactly
how to go out and make it happen, or you would. We could call
it 'communality' or just admit we don't know exactly how it
works and call it an 'elixer' (which brings out our highest
Evolution has been going on for hundreds of thousands--
make that millions. . .of years--the intellectual, emotional,
and physical evolution of mankind. League of Nations, United
Nations, and even Government of the People, are relative
recently evolved concepts. There's no reason to believe
evolution has stopped, or is limited to our physical
capabilities. If it's taken us eons to learn to stand erect,
it may take a long time to learn to walk 'hand in hand'
(speech-making practice but still sincere).
A few experiences in the military produced a similar
feeling of unity--the unity came to some extent from
resistance to common abusive authority and the product of the
cooperative enterprise wasn't exactly a new and improved
world, but still, it's a strong memory to me.
When I was stationed at Lowry Field near Denver,
Colorado, going to Aircraft Armament School during World War
II, I remember having to spend one Saturday morning 'GIing'
the barracks, literally scrubbing down the walls, floors, and
ceilings. It was mostly a stupid exercise in cleanliness
overkill but somehow we, about 40 of us, were in it together
and it got to be fun after a while. Someone had a radio blast-
ing out such songs of the time as "Oh What A Beautiful
Morning", and we sang along. We all worked hard and we did a
good job. We weren't exactly working with our minds and
spirits to produce an improved common destiny--just scrubbing
common dirt--but what we were sharing mattered.
David comments that this experience must be what I was
referring to in the swansong of my 1978 campaign when I talked
about 'the things we do together'. It wasn't Boy Scouts
singing songs at a campfire and it's not the world coming
together in the form of four hungry men at one round table;
it's 40 GI's in a latrine. It didn't matter too much, at the
time, what we were doing. Despite the coercive thrust of the
military which got us started (and the partial pointlessness
of the task), all of us got a charge out of working together.
We were cleaning toilet bowls but we liked it.