In the Sixties I became politically engaged, not as an activist, rather a hoarder of opinions with a few friends who objected to the perpetual war our government was creating. I was fired up with opinions I thought had foundation and meaning. Went to the 1968 march on the Pentagon over the Vietnam war. It was a big crowd, a couple hundred thousand, spirited speakers like Norman Mailer, Dr Spock among others. Peter, Paul and Mary sang Blowin In The Wind. It was a time of much anti-war pop songs by Bob Dylan and everybody else. Dylan, of course, was not there. The Fugs were there playing on a portable stage in the Pentagon parking lot their anti-war anthem, Kill For Peace. I loved hearing them do that song. I felt like I had arrived at an important place. The energy of the event felt important. I returned home believing I had done something worth while. Next day I looked at the Washington Post, New York Times, AP, and all reported the same story, none of which happened. Everything written was false. It puzzled me that the press got it so wrong when they were all there in the privileged area in front of the stage. How could they miss it? Time, Newsweek and US World all told the same story as the newspapers reported, none of which happened. It was frustrating because I had been there, had seen what it was and could see not one word in the national news was true. I felt quite strange. Here were six "legitimate" witnesses, witnesses that would stand in court. I knew they were all lying, but what could I say? I felt without recourse. I saw very clearly the different organs of corporate press were in league with each other. A few days later the Village Voice came in the mail, which I'm glad I subscribed to then. Nat Hentoff wrote the article in the Voice as one who had been there. He reported that LBJ held a press conference before the event where he told the reporters what to report. Obedient corporate yes-men they reported as told, except Hentoff who reported the press conference as well.
That day I wrote off the corporate press as a source for information. I'm recalling Gore Vidal's reasoning for why he said we have no history. History is written from diaries, letters, journals and memoirs, all of which are self serving, and newspaper articles, which we all know are not true. Hence, we have no history. Reading the corporate press accounts I was thinking school kids doing research papers in the future will cite these articles and draw their conclusions based on a presidential lie that became fact in the press. The part that ate at me the most was that all but one reported the lie under their own names as witnesses who had been there. Norman Mailer happened to be at the press conference too, and he reported the press conference in his book, The Armies Of The Night. Mailer's account accorded with Hentoff's. That same day I lost my virginity to the corporate press, I gained a respect for Nat Hentoff that is with me to this day. One reporter told it as it happened. I see that Rupert Murdoch now owns Village Voice, so it has no more credibility. In its time the Voice was one of the rare credible papers in the country. It was also the day I looked my own absence of any kind of power as citizen in the eye and dropped political engagement from my mind, from my life. Not many years ago some people here were getting together to demonstrate about the proposed location of a prison in the next county. I was asked to join. I said the only things I have ever seen come of demonstrations was people getting beat up by cops and the hassle of arrest. Like the Rolling Stones song, "I think I'll go down to the demonstration and get my fair share of abuse." I made it clear I have no confidence in demonstrations and could not participate. They were successful. I congratulated them, feeling they deserved it, and apologized for my vote of no confidence. I had resolved myself to zero political involvement and held to it.
I had learned that I have no voice as a citizen. I learned, too, I have no recourse. I don't see any point in going up against the Death Star for any reason. People with power hold it jealously. I don't want their power. They are going to do what they do and I am going to take it. However, I do have a key in my pocket. I learned seven or eight years ago that Coca Cola Corp was hiring death squads in Columbia to kill union activists and their families. What can I do about it? I quit buying Coke. I can't stop them from doing what they do, but I don't have to do my part to support it. Even if they only get a dollar a year from me, that's more than I'm willing to give. They can't force me to drink Coca-Cola. When I have a soft drink, it's DrPepper. It's probably owned by Coca-Cola Corp. I don't like what Walmart does to communities, to American economy, Asian sweatshops, especially how it treats its employees. I don't go to Walmart except in emergency that so seldom happens I've not been inside one in awhile. My money is my energy and I don't like giving my energy to a corporation that I don't like all the way around. The boycott of one. I like the maxim, never buy anything advertised on tv. I grew up in a church culture where the attitude was if you don't approve of something you have responsibility to browbeat people who are doing whatever it is. It was an unspoken belief that when the preacher's wife disapproves, you better cut it out. It ripples out from churches into the society that we're automatically expected to yield to disapproval. I bought it, of course, at the time, and later learned my way out of that mind. Political correctness is a new form of ruling by disapproval. Adhere to this list of rules and you're cool. If you don't you're not cool. I don't talk back to that thinking, because the people doing it are only disappointing me with their own limitations. But my attitude toward it is I am not cool, have never been cool and cool is not an ambition. Huffing disapproval is not cool either.
The boycott of one is my own personal form of civil disobedience. I learned before high school that I would never work for a corporation. I have only worked for individuals with small businesses. In the ten years I painted houses, I worked for the house owner who hired me. My attitude with every one was that if we are not friends when job is done, I've failed. I never dripped paint on screens, no drips on decks or rocks or ferns or anything. And cleaned up after myself. I got paid satisfactorily well and had good associations with the people I worked for. I worked alone, because I did not want anybody else doing the work in my name. I never used a roller or spray. Brush only. Walls, everything, except ceiling, though I have painted ceilings by brush. I hated a roller. They splattered and left an ugly texture in the paint. I preferred the texture of a brush, the flow. It was a time in the life when I liked using tools with the least number of parts. An axe was great. Handle and blade. After a few years on the farm fixing broken machinery, the only tools I carried into the field with the tractor was an adjustable wrench and a big screwdriver. Whatever went wrong, I could either fix it with these tools or get it back to the barn where I kept the tools. It was a sign of how much I'd learned in a few years, a kind of report card the first time I went out without the toolbox, just two tools. I never took to power tools. I liked learning to put fence posts in the ground so they'll never wiggle, and stretch the barbed wire so it would stay tight for several years. There are tricks to these skills that need to be learned. I wanted to learn the old ways of farming, liking that my learning was not to make a living at, but to understand by experience. I learned to make a split-rail fence from cutting down the tree, splitting it into rails with an axe, a sledgehammer and two wedges, to putting up the fence. I loved learning something that was totally of the past. It was my link to old-time mountain culture I had the good fortune to see the tail end of and learn farming skills directly from someone of that time. I love it that my knowledge is useless. The interest was not motivated by wanting to be in the past, but for my own historical, cultural curiosity toward appreciating more fully the mountain people.
vladimir tatlin himself