Busted




Albert Vetere Lannon


 
© Copyright 2019 by Albert Vetere Lannon





Photo of people at the park protest.
 

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written.... Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
-- Oliver Sacks, “Gratitude”

Being home a lot these days coping with old age and multiple myeloma, I have time to think, and remember, and sometimes the energy to actually sit at the computer and write. Thoughts are often random and not associated with anything current, like the times I’ve been arrested. Except that I might be again....

Four times. Plus one or two almost. Despite drinking alcoholically for over 30 years, I was never arrested or even ticketed for drunk driving. Despite somewhat delinquent teen years I was never arrested for fighting, or shoplifting, or car theft. Actually I never stole a car, but occasionally “borrowed” use of one that was unlocked on the street to make out with girls.

-- 1 --

My busts were political or union-related, all in, what to me were good causes. Some were planned, some not. My first arrest came when the House Un-American Activities Committee came to San Francisco in May, 1960. University of California students were denied access to the hearing room. When they protested loudly – singing “God Bless America” -- on that Friday, May 13, police used fire hoses to knock them down a long flight of hard marble stairs. Sixty-four were arrested, some beaten.

San Francisco reacted to the news on TV, and on Saturday 5,000 people ringed City Hall in peaceful protest. I had recently moved from New York to San Francisco, and my first wife and I were staying temporarily with my parents in Eureka Valley; Mom and Dad had gone west in search of work when his two-year prison sentence was up and he was blacklisted in New York. Dad had been a Communist Party leader, one of 13 “second string reds” convicted under the Smith Act during the Red Scare years for “subversive activity,” a law soon held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. He was also at odds with the Party leadership and got no help there.

I was with an ex-seaman friend of Dad’s, Tom Masin. We passed in front of the City Hall entrance as police were beating with nightsticks what appeared to be a beatnik taking pictures. A bunch of us surged towards the steps, protesting loudly. An inspector pointed to Tom and I and said, “Get those two – they’re trouble.” And we were got. Mounted policemen moved their horses to pin us down and uniformed police dragged us to waiting a paddy wagon. Tom, a veteran of strikes and protests, put out his leg to keep from being literally thrown into the wagon and a cop bashed his shin with his baton.

The charges were “Disturbing the Peace,” “Inciting to Riot,” and “Resisting Arrest.” While the first two were arguable, I was too scared to resist anything! We were put in a cell with a statutory rapist, and a call home got Dad’s union’s lawyers on it and we were released after several hours. A total of four were arrested that May 14, bringing the total to 68. Eventually charges were dropped against all but one person, Bob Meisenbach, for alleged assault on a police officer. A nightstick had rolled in front of him and he picked it up and tossed it away. He was acquitted. In exchange for the charges being dropped, the rest of us had to agree not to sue the City or the Police Department.

That was my big welcome to left-leaning San Francisco and the newly emerging student movement. I was elected Vice-Chair of the post-HUAC Bay Area Student Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee (BASCAHUAC – whew!). But I was not a student; I was a high school dropout working in the direct mail industry. Indeed, the shop I worked at, The Smith Company, began doing mailings for Republican clubs announcing showings of HUAC’s propaganda film about the protests, “Operation Abolition.” With that information available, BASCAHUAC had truth squads at each and every showing.

I soon resigned from the student group and, with other young non-students, formed a workers’ adjunct, STEP, Stand Together for Education and Progress. We raised money for the Freedom Riders, volunteered to help staff union picket lines, and put out a newsletter at community college evening classes that may have been the one of first protests against escalating involvement in Vietnam.

Mom was proud of her son’s arrest. She herself had been busted when she was 16 for protesting the sale of US scrap metal to Japan -- metal that was returned to us at Pearl Harbor! Dad was a bit uncomfortable; he was out of the Party life, working in a union warehouse with the help of Longshore leader Harry Bridges, and had a quiet life for the first time in decades.

Later in 1960 someone put Kennedy campaign literature in a GOP mailing at The Smith Company. The boss’s response was to do a security check. I failed, and was told, “There’s no room for you to grow with the company.” The actual perp, a young and always-angry motorcyclist who ran the metering machine and took the mail to the post office, passed with flying red, white and blue colors. STEP petered out after a couple of years. Personality clashes took it down, without ideological underpinnings and predating SDS’s “participatory democracy.” The student movement grew, and HUAC was disbanded in 1969. Veterans of the 1960 protests proudly proclaim, “We started the Sixties!”

-- 2 –

In 1962 my co-worker at the direct mail firm Merchandising Methods, Steve Green, and I signed up with Dad’s union, Warehouse Union Local 6 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). The table workers were not interested so we attempted to carve out a three-person warehouse unit. The third worker chose to quit. Union Business Agent Keith Eickman was not sure the smaller unit would stand up legally, so we went on strike for union recognition. After a couple of months we gave up and went to work through the Local 6 Hiring Hall. I ended up at Russell Bolt and Manufacturing, a nuts and bolts warehouse, and worked there for three and a half-years, quitting and then making seniority at F.W. Woolworth’s Pacific Distribution Center in South San Francisco.

We were living then with our two children at Saint Francis Square, an integrated co-op apartment complex in the redeveloped Western Addition. The housing was the brainchild of ILWU Secretary-Treasurer Louis Goldblatt, and longshore pension money provided the seed investment. On the night of May 31, 1967, ILWU International Representative Leroy King came to our apartment to ask if I wanted to work for the union. I was an active shop steward and elected Executive Board member and I said yes. The job was to service and organize for a small office workers’ local connected to the warehouse union. The previous staff member, Richard Lynden, had passed away, and six contracts expired at midnight. It was on-the-job training with a vengeance! With the help of Local 6 Business Agent Joe Muzio I successfully avoided a strike at one company.

Then Jeff Kibre, the ILWU’s one-person Washington, DC, office, died, and I was assigned there in February, 1968, moving across the country with my family. My three major accomplishments in three-and-one-half years were to help found national Labor for Peace, to write a sentence of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and, just after the invasion of Cambodia, to shout “Peace now!” in President Richard Nixon’s face when he came to the Capitol and watch his suntanned smile just crumble! The Secret Service was totally surprised, but
never even hassled me, much less made an arrest.

Realizing that I either became like everyone else in Washington or got out, I was able to return to work in California for Local 6 servicing several plants and organizing in the Salinas area. When, in 1973, I ran up against a corrupt San Francisco business agent’s deal with an employer to exclude all but one worker from contract coverage, I resigned, returned to Woolworth, and ran for business agent against the deal-maker. I won, elected to four two-year terms.

Local 6, after being at war with the Teamsters during the Red Scare years, had an alliance and in June, 1976, 25,000 ILWU and Teamster warehouse workers went on strike. In the Bay Area reports came in that Golden Grain in the East Bay and Folgers Coffee in South San Francisco were operating with management and non-union personnel. The word went out to mobilize at those two locations. I went to Folgers.

Trucks were being loaded, forklifts were operating on the loading docks, and soon there were several hundred Local 6 members milling about outside. It was afternoon and not everyone was sober – despite union admonitions about strike behavior. People were angry, and it was clear to me that things were going to blow up. I decided that they should blow up in an organized fashion and not just explode. I approached workers I knew and recruited them to join me in putting a stop to Folgers activity, including several known members of my arch-enemy, the local’s left-wing caucus. There were police about, monitoring but not looking like they were going to do anything.

We stormed the loading docks, knocked supervisors out of forklifts, took the keys, and stopped the operation. Plant Manager John Rinell led a delegation to challenge us and they were sent scurrying back into their offices. Only one of my squad was actually caught inside, a Folgers steward who didn’t stop at the loading dock; the rest of us escaped unscathed.

The police reacted by calling up officers from every nearby jurisdiction and soon the place was swarming with cops, helicopters and police dogs. Local 6 President Curtis McClain arrived and said we should sit peacefully, and non-violently, in front of the scab trucks that were about to move out. I supported non-violence as a tactic – the other side usually outnumbered us – but did not adhere to the moral code of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. We sat down. The cops took us hard.

Three cops had me, carrying me with one on my legs and one on each arm. I said, “Let my feet down, I’ll walk.” They dropped my head instead. Twenty-odd unionists were arrested, but they never pinned the assault on any of us, although I was clearly a prime suspect. The news had arrived by radio at the jail and we were treated like heroes by other inmates, including being fed cheese sandwiches when the trustees had orders not to feed us. Union lawyers eventually worked out a deal and we never faced trial or jail time.

As part of my recovery from alcoholism I have made amends to folks I had harmed, and the time came when I located John Rinell and apologized. He graciously accepted. And Folgers was the last violent encounter I’ve ever had...I think. I had blackouts when I drank, and believe there was violence in some of them. I may have amends to make that I don’t even know about.

-- 3 –

When Keith Eickman retired as president of ILWU Local 6 at the end of 1981 I was elected in his place, and served three terms before alcoholism took my marriage and my career. For the four years before I hit my bottom and realized that I was powerless over alcohol, I was “dry,” not drinking by sheer force of will. I saw my life collapsing but was unable to do anything about it – it took all my energy just not to drink.

Towards the end of my run the local labor movement, in solidarity with anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, decided to stage a non-violent sit-in at the South Africa Airlines office in San Francisco. Of course I was up for that; the ILWU had a long history of opposing racism in all its forms wherever it manifested, including a 1984 longshore refusal to handle South African cargo.

The local labor movement was well-represented, non-violent but quite loud, and police took us gently by the arm and marched us to the paddy wagons. When they were filled they drove a few blocks away, checked IDs, and turned us loose. Hardly qualifies as being busted, but it’s on the record as such.


-- 3-1/2 –

We were on strike at a small East Bay warehouse during my presidency, and management was filling and shipping orders. I went to the picket line with the business agent and listened to the workers, who were getting demoralized. I suggested a non-violent sit-in, and they liked the idea. At least we’d be trying something different. The local police maintained a presence nearby, and I spoke to a sergeant and told him what we were planning, but that we didn’t want anyone getting hurt. We cut a deal: we would not link arms and resist arrest, and they would not beat us or get rough. But word got through to the bosses and they decided to settle, so, no sit-in and no arrests.

-- 4 –

When I lost my union career and got sober in 1988, I went to work through the Local 6 Hiring Hall and was dispatched to Hiram Walker Liquors. My higher power was testing me! There was another sober worker there and we helped each other daily. When Hiram Walker announced they would be closing the plant in a year, I decided it was time for a new career. I had done some guest teaching for Bay Area Labor Studies programs at community colleges and San Francisco State University, and decided to see if I could put together enough teaching to support myself.

I lined up classes at City College of San Francisco and SF State and proposed a new class to Laney College in Oakland, and they accepted it, but called me a week before the semester started: the Department Chair, half-time Labor Studies and half-time Business, had an emergency and would be out for a long time. Could I step in? With support from the Peralta Federation of Teachers I ended up with tenure at Laney half-time, plus filling in at SF State and CCSF. Since most of my classes were in the evenings, I got my high school GED and started going to SF State myself, ending up with three degrees: BA, Labor Studies, 1991; BA, Interdisciplinary Creative Arts, 1993; MA, History, 1997.

I retired in June, 2001, at age 63, when I had nailed down union-negotiated retiree health benefits – which, with Medicare, have literally saved my life with the 2017 diagnosis of multiple myeloma. I sneezed one day and broke two ribs! Myeloma is an incurable blood plasma cancer, but there are treatments and they are expensive. Leaving a second marriage, I moved to Tucson to pursue my interests in archaeology, to write, and to blossom as a performance poet at the Hazy Dayz Coffee Shop’s Wednesday night Exodus Open Mic. I dated, but nothing got serious.

It was on U.S. Forest Service archeology projects in the Eastern Sierras that I met Kaitlin Meadows, an RN doing hospice work. We were both married to other people and became good friends, sharing interests in social justice, poetry, archaeology, and more. When we were no longer married, she came to Tucson to visit and, leaving Hazy Dayz, without thinking I took her hand. The following spring we rented a place together and in 2006 we married. The judge who performed the ceremony told me, “The most important three words are not, ‘I love you;’ they are, ‘Yes, my dear.’”

Kaitlin had just come to Tucson in February, 2003, when it became clear that the United States was going to invade Iraq, despite the lack of evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. I had begun attending meetings hosted by the Quakers for those who wanted to protest the invasion when it came. And when the invasion began on March 20, 2003, dozens of us, including my poet friend Doctor E, met at the Tucson Federal Building. We were still arguing over where to sit down. I wanted the entrance to the building; most wanted to block Congress Street. I argued that impeding traffic would not win us any friends, but the police then decided to close the street and Congress Street it was.

I think we called it a “die-in,” with protesters lying down in the street. The arrests were peaceable and no one was harmed. When I called Kaitlin to tell her I was in jail, she was wondering what she’d gotten herself into, just arriving in town and having to bail me out. A judge eventually dismissed all the charges against us. Kaitlin and I settled into a happy life together, buying our double-wide in Picture Rocks after a year and calling it Wild Heart Ranch.

-- 4-1/2 –

Another almost: About a dozen years ago the powers-that-be decided they wanted a new interstate highway, part of a Canamex Highway. It was championed by the Pima County Administrator despite his employers, the Board of Supervisors, having a resolution on record (BOS 2007-343) opposing any new highway since the negative effects could not be adequately mitigated.

The Business Case for I-11 was mainly about attracting American companies from China to Mexico, where wages are now lower, about R&D in Nevada and Arizona with manufacture and assembly in Mexico, and about attracting container ships from West Coast ports to the expanding Mexican Port of Guaymas. The preferred route is through the Avra Valley, where our rural community of Picture Rocks is situated.

The air, water, noise and light pollution would negatively affect not just 25,000 residents of the valley, but tourist destinations like Saguaro National Park, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson Mountain Park, Ironwood Forest National Monument. Kitt Peak Observatory, and more. It would kill existing businesses along the present Interstate 10, and cost billions of dollars more than improving I-10. Tucson’s water storage ponds would be put at risk, and wildlife cut off and endangered. One of two wells from our own water co-op was in the direct path of the highway.

I would go to the Board of Supervisors’ meetings from time-to-time to speak out against it and ask them to rein in their employee, the county administrator. At one point I initiated an official complaint against him for failing to support county policy. He rejected the complaint himself, refusing any investigation or review by the Supervisors. I went to a Board meeting in February, 2018, spoke my piece for the three minutes allotted for Call to the Public speakers, demanded a response, and said I would wait at the podium for it. Board Chair Richard Elias called the Sherriff’s Deputy in charge of decorum to remove me, since I was not leaving voluntarily.

The Deputy came over and I negotiated quietly with him while the Supervisors looked on impatiently. In a very few minutes we had a deal. I would vacate the microphone and stand about two feet away from it to await a response, allowing others to speak. Christopher Cole, a Libertarian who regularly attended Board meetings, joined me and we stood there in silent, peaceful protest until a recess was called.

That issue is still in play, with others stepping up to carry on the fight, including the Tucson City Council and Mayor. The Board of Supervisors Chair and our district’s member offer half-hearted opposition to I-11, but continue their support of the county administrator, second-highest paid in the nation. All Democrat and Republican candidates for state offices came out in opposition at our local candidate’s forum, but were missing in action when the Arizona Dept. of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration public hearings came to Tucson and Picture Rocks.

In San Francisco, in 1963, when people realized that the Embarcadero Freeway to connect the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges would take out a chunk of Golden Gate Park, including the beloved Children’s Playground, along with pieces of the working class, pre-hippie, Haight-Ashbury, they sat down in front of the bulldozers and stopped it. What had been built is now torn down.

If I live long enough to see the bulldozers come, I hope I have one more arrest left in me.





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