Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ammon Hennacy or Force is the Weapon of the Weak

By Utah Phillips

I learned in Korea that I would never again, in my life, abdicate to somebody else, my right, and my ability to decide who the enemy is.

Got back from Korea; I was so mad at what I'd seen and done I wasn't sure I could ever live in the country again. I got on the freight trains up in Everett, north of Seattle, and kind of cruised the country for two years, makin' up songs, but I was drunk most of the time and forgot most of those.

I'd heard that there was a house in Salt Lake City by the roper yards ... where there was a clothing barrel and free food. So I got off the train there. I was headed for Salt Lake anyway.

I found that house right where they said it was, but most of all I found this, this wiry old man, sixty-nine years old. Tougher'n nails, heart of gold, fella by the name of Ammon Hennacy. Anybody know that name? Ammon Hennacy? One of Dorothy Day's people, the Catholic workers, during the Thirties they started houses of hospitality all over the country; there're about eighty of 'em now.

Ammon Hennacy was one of those; he'd come west to start this house I'd found called The Joe Hill House of Hospitality. Ammon Hennacy was a Catholic anarchist, pacifist, draft-dodger of two World Wars, tax refuser, vegetarian, one-man revolution in America - I think that about covers it.

First thing he said, after he got to know me, he said: "You know you love the country. You love it. You come in and out of town on those trains singin' songs about different places and beautiful people. You know you love the country; you just can't stand the government. Get it straight." He quoted Mark Twain to me: "Loyalty to the country always; loyalty to the government when it deserves it." Get it straight -It was an essential distinction I had been neglecting.

And then he had to reach out and grapple with the violence, but he did that with all the people around him. These second World War vets, you know, on medical disabilities and all drunked up; the house was filled with violence, which Ammon, as a pacifist, dealt with - every moment, every day of his life. He said, "You got to be a pacifist." I said, "Why?" He said, "It'll save your life." And my behavior was very violent then.

I said, "What is it?" And he said, "Well I can't give you a book by Gandhi - you wouldn't understand it. I can't give you a list of rules that if you sign it you're a pacifist." He said, "You look at it like booze. You know, alcoholism will kill somebody, until they finally get the courage to sit in a circle of people like that and put their hand up in the air and say, 'Hi, my name's Utah, I'm an alcoholic.' And then you can begin to deal with the behavior, you see, and have the people define it for you whose lives you've destroyed."

He said, "It's the same with violence. You know, an alcoholic, they can be dry for twenty years; they're never gonna sit in that circle and put their hand up and say, 'Well, I'm not alcoholic anymore' - no, they're still gonna put their hand up and say, 'Hi, my name's Utah, I'm an alcoholic.' It's the same with violence. You gotta be able to put your hand in the air and acknowledge your capacity for violence, and then deal with the behavior, and have the people whose lives you messed with define that behavior for you, you see. And it's not gonna go away - you're gonna be dealing with it every moment in every situation for the rest of your life."

I said, "Okay, I'll try that," and Ammon said "It's not enough!"

I said: "Oh."

He said, "You were born a white man in mid-twentieth century industrial America. You came into the world armed to the teeth with an arsenal of weapons. The weapons of privilege, racial privilege, sexual privilege, economic privilege. You wanna be a pacifist, it's not just giving up guns and knives and clubs and fists and angry words, but giving up the weapons of privilege, and going into the world completely disarmed. Try that."

That old man has been gone now twenty years, and I'm still at it. But I figure if there's a worthwhile struggle in my own life, that, that's probably the one. Think about it.

I'd always wanted to write a song for that old man. He never wanted one about him - he's that way - but something mulched up out of his thought, his anarchist thought. Anarchist in the best sense of the word.

Oh so many times he stood up in front of Federal District Judge Ritter, that old fart, and he'd be picked up for picketing illegally, and he'd never plead innocent or guilty - he'd plead anarchy.

And Ritter'd say, "What's an anarchist, Hennacy?" and Ammon would say, "Why an anarchist is anybody who doesn't need a cop to tell him what to do." Kind of a fundamentalist anarchist, huh?

And Ritter'd say, "But Ammon, you broke the law, what about that?" and Ammon'd say, "Oh, Judge, your damn laws -the good people don't need 'em and the bad people don't obey 'em so what use are they?"

Well I lived there for eight years, and I watched him, really watched him, and I discovered watching him that anarchy is not a noun, but an adjective. It describes the tension between moral autonomy and political authority, especially in the area of combinations, whether they're going to be voluntary or coercive. The most destructive, coercive combinations are arrived at through force.

Like Ammon said, "Force is the weapon of the weak."

Link to Original Transcripts

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Change Starts With Me

"I have just left your fighting sons in Korea. They have meet all tests there,
and I can report to you without reservation, they are splendid in every way."
-General Douglas MacArthur

By Utah Phillips

We never traveled together at all, you know, since the kids been little they've
always known that I vanished from their lives periodically. And they uh- never
really had any idea of what it is that I do. - What do I do? If I don't know
why should they?

Yeah, Brandon, the fourteen-year-old, he got to travel with me, during the
summer. But we got a chance to talk to each other as adults, you know, as -
well - as adults, instead of just father and son.

We left Boston - we were headed up to the Left Bank Cafe in Blue Hill, Maine - and Brandon, just above Marble Head, turned to me and he said, "How did you get to be like that?"

It's a fair question.

I knew what he meant, but he didn't have all the language to say exactly what
he meant - what he meant to say was: "Why is it that you are fundamentally
alienated from the entire institutional structure of society?"

And I said, "Well, I've never been asked that, you know. Now don't listen to
the radio and don't talk to me for half an hour while I think about it." So we
drove and talked - we were on Highway 1 because it was pretty and close to the
water. Got up toward the Maine border and there was a picnic area, off to the
side some picnic tables. It was a bright, clear day. So I pulled into their
parking lot; we sat down at the picnic tables, and I said, "Now, sit down, I
want to tell you a story, cause I've thought about it."

So I sat down and said, "You know, I was over in Korea." And he said, "Yeah,
I've always wondered about that, did you shoot anybody?" And I said, as
honestly as I could, "I don't know. But that's not the story," I said, this is
what I was telling him:

I was up at Kumori Gap there by the Imjin River. There were about seventy-five thousand Chinese soldiers on the other side and they all wanted me out of there, with every righteous reason that you could think of. I had long since figured out that I was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time for the most specious of reasons.

But there I was - my clothing was rotting on my body, every exotic mold in the
world was attacking my clothing and my person, my boots had big holes in them from the rot. I wanted to swim in the Imjin River, and get that feeling of death, that feeling of rot off of me. The Chinese soldiers were on the other side; they were swimming, they were having a wonderful time. But there was a rule, a regulation against swimming in the Imjin River. I thought that was foolish, but then a young Korean fellow - cartworked for us as a carpenter - by the name of Young Shik Han. All of his family had been killed off in the war.

Well, he said to me in what English he had, "You know, when we get married
here, the young married couple moves in with the elders, they move in with the grandparents. But there's nothing growing, everything's been destroyed. There's no food. So [when] the first baby's born, the oldest, the old man, goes out with a jug of water and a blanket and sits on the bank of the Imjin River and waits to die. He sits there until he dies, and then will roll down the bank and into the river, and his body will be carried out to the sea. And we don't want you to swim in the Imjin River because our elders are floating out to sea."

That's when it began to crumble for me, you know. That's when I, well, I ran
away, and not just from that, I ran away from the blueprint for self-
destruction I had been handed as a man, for violence in excess. For sexual
excess, for racial excess. We had a commanding officer, who said of the G.I.
babies fathered by G.I.'s and Korean mothers that the Korean government
wouldn't care for so they were in these orphanages, and he said: "Well, as sad
as that is, someday this'll really help the Korean people cause it'll raise the
intelligence level." That's what we were dealing with, you know.

So I ran away. I ran down to Seoul City, down toward Askom. Not to the Army. I ran away to a place called the Korea House. It was a Korean civilians' [group] reaching out to G.I.'s to give them some better vision of who they were than what we were getting up at the divisions. And they hid me for three weeks. Late one night - I didn't have any- they didn't have any clothes that would fit me - late one night, it was a stormy, stormy night, the rain falling in sheets, I could go out, cause they figured no one would see me. We walked through the mud and the rain - Seoul City was devastated. And they took me to a concert at the Aiwa Women's University. Large auditorium with shell holes in the ceiling and the rain pouring through the holes, and clyde lights on the stage hooked up to car batteries. This wasn't the USO, this was the Korean Students' Association.

The person that they invited to sing - I was the only white person there - the
person that they invited to sing was Marian Anderson, great black operatic
soprano who had been on tour in Japan, you see. There she was, singing "Oh
Freedom" and "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen." And I watched her through the rain coming through the ceiling and thought back to Salt Lake [City].

My father, Sid, who ran the Capitol Theatre - it was a movie house but it had
been an old vaudeville house and he wanted to bring back live performances back to the Capitol - in 1948 he invited Marian Anderson to come and sing there. I remembered we went to the, to the train station to pick her up and took her to the biggest hotel in town, The Hotel Utah, but they wouldn't let her stay there, because she was black.

And I remembered my father's humiliation and her humiliation, as I saw her
singing in there, through the rain. And I realized right then, I said,
"Brandon, right then I knew that it was all wrong, and it all had to change.
And that that change had to start with me."

Thanks to:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

None of us Are Free

"You better listen my brother
cause if you do, you can hear
there are voices still calling across the years-

and they're cryin' cross the ocean
and they are cryin' cross the land
and they will, 'till we all come to understand

none of us are free, none of us are free
none of us are free, if one of us is chained-
none of us are free

when there are people in darkness, and babies can't see the light
and if we don't say it's wrong - then that says it's right
said we got to feel for each other, let our brothers know we care
got to get the message, send it out all loud and clear

none of us are free, none of us are free
none of us are free, if one of us is chained-
none of us are free

it's a simple truth, we all need to see
none of us are free, if one of us is chained-
none of us are free

well i swear to you salvation, isn't to hard to find
none of us can find it on our own
we got to join together, in spirit, heart and mind
so ever soul who's suffering, knows their not alone...

If you just look around you, your gonna see what i say
cause the world is getting smaller each passing day
now it's time to start making changes, and it's time fo us all to realize
the truth is shining bright before our eyes

it's a simple truth, we all need to see
none of us are free, if one of us is chained-
none of us are free"

Written by: Barry Mann, Brenda Russell, and Cynthia Weil

Preformed by: Ray Charles

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Amongst White Clouds

Documentary about Buddhist hermit traditions in the Chinese Mountains.