I was already on hormones and in transition when I participated in the Battle For People’s Park in 1969. I went full time between its wind down and Stonewall. For me People’s Park and the idea of “The Commons” have always played an important role in shaping me.
Sat 6 Jul 2019
On 4 May 1970, the Ohio national guard shot at hundreds of students protesting against the invasion of Cambodia, wounding eight and killing four. Kent State was seared into the national consciousness. The US government had authorized the killing of its own (white) children.
But what many might not know is that a year earlier in Berkeley, California, police opened fire with buck and bird shot on a large crowd of young protesters seeking to keep open People’s Park, an impromptu community garden on land UC Berkeley wanted to use. Fifty people were hit.
James Rector, a 25-year-old visitor from San Jose, was killed. Alan Blanchard was blinded. Donovan Rundle was shot point blank in the stomach and almost bled to death. After two dozen surgeries, he would live with chronic pain for the next 50 years.
“Bloody Thursday”, 15 May 1969, was the day the Vietnam war came home. The streets of Bohemian Berkeley, the New Left’s west coast HQ, became a bloody war zone. Martial law was declared, a curfew imposed and national guardsmen with unsheathed bayonets and live ammunition occupied the town. A military helicopter doused the campus with tear gas. Many members of the Alameda county sheriff’s department had just come home from Vietnam. Some later admitted that they treated antiwar students like Viet Cong.
This pivotal event in 60s history comes back to life in an excellent new oral history, The Battle for People’s Park, Berkeley 1969, by Tom Dalzell. The book recounts the chaotic 40 days and nights from 20 April to 30 May 1969 with detail that reads like a gut punch. A large-format book, lavishly printed with hundreds of never-before-published color photographs, it is a hybrid oral-visual history that reads like watching a documentary.
People’s Park evokes haunting memories of Kent State. Republican governors in California and Ohio were running re-election campaigns and rallying their base by demonizing the student movement. The chancellors of UC Berkeley and Kent State were out of town on the days of the shootings, contributing to disorder, handing law enforcement greater rein.
In his foreword to People’s Park, Todd Gitlin explains that California’s governor, Ronald Reagan, ran his 1966 campaign on making welfare “bums” go back to work and cleaning up “the mess in Berkeley”. By the time he was running for re-election he had all but granted the national guard and law enforcement officers permission to shoot to kill: “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with, no more appeasement.”
By Peter Fox
June 27, 2019
Mark Segal was 18 years old on the night of June 28th, 1969, when he entered the Stonewall Inn. On the night of the historic Stonewall riots Segal had been living in New York for just six weeks, but he had already become immersed in the elusive Greenwich Village gay night scene. Raised by the only Jewish family in south Philadelphia’s Wilson Park housing project, Segal was no stranger to being an outsider. He told his parents he was leaving Philly to go to school in New York. In truth, he’d left to find a gay community. Watching an episode of The David Susskind Show years earlier he’d learned that gay people existed in New York and he knew then that was where he belonged.
Segal would go on to organize some of the earliest American LGBT organizations, help plan the first Pride March in 1970, found the longest running LGBT weekly newspaper, the Philadelphia Gay News, and become one of the most important figures in the alternative gay press. But on that night at Stonewall he was still a teenager just exulting in the chance to drink and socialize with other LGBT people at a time when homosexuality was still treated as a psychological affliction by the medical establishment, immoral by most religions, and criminal under law. In 1969 homosexuality was a crime in every state except Illinois.
The Mafia-run Stonewall Inn located in New York’s famed Greenwich Village was a kind of sanctuary. It appealed to the less-privileged LGBT people who couldn’t fit in among the more white-collar and buttoned-up secret societies of gays that existed at the time. If you were a well-off gay white male you went to Julius’s—the oldest gay bar in New York. If you were poor, or more radical, your home was Stonewall. The inn was a gathering place for street kids, artists, and gay people of all different races and ethnic backgrounds. It was one of the hearts of New York’s vibrant, bohemian LGBT community and it would become the birthplace of America’s gay civil rights movement.
It started when New York City police raided the bar as they had many times before. The cops were looking to bust an illegally run, Mafia-owned establishment selling water-downed liquor without a license but also came to abuse the patrons, throwing around anti-gay slurs and using the vulnerable population as a chance to arrest as many people as possible and pad their records. They had done this many times before, including just four nights earlier at the Stonewall Inn.
Segal was carded by the police that night but with no money to offer for a bribe, he says that he was fortunate to be quickly released. The people arrested were primarily minors, trans women, and crossdressers, which was still illegal at the time. Segal watched from across the street, terrified as the raid unraveled into chaos.
Yet the terror was mixed with other emotions.
“There was an odd, celebratory feel to it,” he says. Within moments of taking in the scene, he thought to himself, “this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”
Most people ran away to avoid arrest, but those who remained were drag queens, hustlers, runaways, street kids—the people who had nothing to lose and were willing to fight back.
In 1969, American society was all about rebellion. “African Americans can fight for their rights, Latinos can fight for their rights, women can fight for their rights, what about us?” Segal saw the social uproar of the era and thought, “why not me? Why not my people?”
For Segal, the aftermath of the Stonewall riots was a “magical year.” He played a role in starting the Gay Liberation Front, an umbrella group that became one of the first major American LGBT organizations, and helped found the first transgender and gay youth organizations, serving as its president at the age of 19.
People like Epstein are why it would be a good thing if there were a few of Andrew Vachss “Burke and crew” or Barry Eisler’s “Livia Lone and crew” in the real world instead of just the pages of books.
Wed 10 Jul 2019
Jeffrey Epstein may well take a lot of powerful men down with him. A new indictment on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges against the hedge fund financier threatens to bring consequences to a suspected pedophile who has long avoided them. Epstein, a friend to the likes of Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew of Britain and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, was a paradigm of elite impunity and the moral rot of rich men. He exemplified the kind of corruption, self-interest, and disregard for the suffering of others that compels the communities to protect their own, and the systemic injustice allows even the most vile abusers to evade legal consequences when they have shoulder-clapping familiarity with those in power. Following revelatory reporting on Epstein’s case from the Miami Herald in November and amid a new sense of seriousness around sexual abuse generated by the #MeToo movement, it seems that Epstein, long suspected of abusing children in the near-open and facing no repercussions for it, may finally face justice.
At least, that’s what it looks like for now. But Epstein has been here before: he faced federal charges for nearly identical alleged behavior in 2008, when a teenage girl and her parents came forward to local police saying that Epstein had coerced her into giving him naked massages, and then paid her for it.
There is a lot of mystery surrounding Epstein, in particular around how he made all his money, but his habits as an abuser seem pretty clear. When investigators searched Epstein’s huge Manhattan home, in a raid timed to coincide with his arrest just after his private jet arrived in New Jersey from Paris, they found “hundreds, possibly thousands” of explicit images of underage girls, so it seems likely that Epstein was also involved in the production and distribution of child abuse images. Afterwards, he would pay the girls, and get them to recruit other children.
Other victims came forward and the case eventually went to the FBI. But Epstein was given a sweetheart plea deal; federal charges were dropped, and he only pleaded guilty to a state charge of soliciting prostitution, a bit of legal logic that seemed to equate the coerced, abused children with adult sex workers. Epstein was sentenced to 18 months in jail and was released five months early. During his stay, he was permitted to leave jail six days a week, to go to the office. He continued to run his hedge fund during his sentence. The man who arranged this extraordinarily lenient treatment for the financier was the then US attorney Alexander Acosta, now Donald Trump’s secretary of labor.
It seems clear that Epstein was protected by his many powerful connections, as many abusers are, and because they were wealthy, powerful and famous, their protection was extremely effective at shielding him from consequence. And like other rich people, Epstein used his wealth to evade the criminal justice system, purchasing the services of skilled defense attorneys and leveraging his status in order to procure the favor of prosecutors.
But Epstein, with his opulent life of multiple homes, private jets and lavish parties for the elite that were populated heavily by girls and very young women, also benefited from a culture that interprets male heterosexual pedophilia of his type as benign or even aspirational, a facet of the good life and a privilege of the ruling class. There is a vision of the life of a very rich man that Epstein pursued for himself and that those around him approved of him having, and this vision is grounded heavily in a kind of indulgent sensualism, one in which the very rich man is privileged to enjoy lavish trips, rich wine, fine food and beautiful views.
The sexual abuse of teenage girls and young women is part of this vision; the pleasure that they afford the rich man is considered largely interchangeable with that that he gets from a rare steak or a nice cigar. But Epstein’s victims were not mere party props; they were not cocktails or expensive clothes. They were little girls. “I had braces on,” Epstein victim Courtney Wild told ABC news after his arrest. When she says that he abused her, she was 14.
Epstein was protected by his money, and by his well-positioned friends, and by the corruption of those tasked with stopping him. He was protected by the broad cultural antipathy toward treating sexual abuse as real harm, the often hostile reaction to the premise that teenage girls should matter as much as adult men. But he was also protected by an idea of teenage girls as fair game for adult men to pursue and abuse, by a chuckling acceptance of May-December “romances” that begin mid-March. But he was also protected by a vision of the good life in which girls and women are objects of pleasure more than they are subjects with their own free will and their own demands on justice, dignity and freedom. It is a life that many men still covet for themselves.
By Daniel Villarreal
Sunday, July 7, 2019
Over the 4th of July holiday weekend you might’ve missed this piece of political news: This week, the U.S. House voted to defund Trump’s transgender military ban.
Politico.com reports, “During debate on a $1 trillion spending package, lawmakers voted 243-183 to adopt an amendment from Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) to block funding to implement the new policy, which Democrats slammed as discriminatory and arbitrary.”
And since there are only 235 Democrats in the U.S. House, that means that a handful of Republicans also voted against funding Trump’s trans troop ban.
Democratic Representative Anthony Brown of Maryland said, “The president and his administration wrongfully argue that it’s about military readiness and unit cohesion, but these arguments are the same ones that were made to keep the military racially segregated.”
However, as with most progressive votes in the U.S. House, the same vote isn’t likely to happen in the Republican-led U.S. Senate. In fact, at least one Republican representative, Ken Calvert of California, has said that Republicans shouldn’t support the House’s recent vote because it undermines troop readiness.
Trump originally announced his transgender troop ban in July 2017 via Twitter. Despite various federal circuit court-issued injunctions to stop its implementation, in January 2019 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to lift the injunctions and let the ban begin.
According to Politico.com, “The new policy, which took effect in April, requires troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria serve in their biological sex. It also bars people with a history of gender dysphoria from joining the military unless they’ve been medically stable in their biological sex for 36 months and haven’t transitioned.”
Trump originally said the military ban is a cost-saving measure, stating, “[The military] cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
But the military was only spending $2.4 million to $8.4 million annually on trans-related healthcare — nearly five to 20 times less than the $41.6 million it spends annually on the erectile dysfunction medication.