Election night, November 1976
We were standing around the TV when the evenings first election returns for Jerry Rusts 1976 Lane County, Oregon commissioner race came in. They showed him behind by 4000 votes. A deep sigh went through the crowd. This was no surprise to me, my perfect job would be to sit on the outskirts of any group and figure out all the things that can and probably would go wrong. I am too often correct, the child of an Irish Catholic family, I knew well the soothing music of melancholia. I might also say that we Irish Catholics have alcoholism rates off the chart, and in the Irish Republic itself, a rate of peacetime psychiatric commitment unequaled by any other ethnic group on the planet. If nothing else, this tired world view allowed me to just lie around reading trashy novels since social efforts often come to naught.
Completely in my element once again, I was licking my chops in happy anticipation of getting to chew into the campaign mamager Hal about all the things we, or most particularly he, had done wrong in this election campaign. As I was zeroing in on him like the dead hand of fate, from another room I heard shouts and cheers, the first results were ass backwards, Jerry was 4000 votes ahead. Ambushed by fate myself, I enjoyed one of the best parties of my life.
You can say that this transformed me and a lot of other people. I found out what enormous fun political work can be. Over the next years we saw Hoedads (cooperative)engage successfully in a number of other political efforts from which I gained a sense of "empowerment" and a place in society, I had never experienced as a chronically alienated leftist from the northeast.
I have carried this sense of place into my other work. It seems to set me apart from too many other left people I know who wallow in their politically marginalized cultural purity. This was especially true in my silly little NY college town, where too often the idea of a worthy political fight was holy wars over timely issues such as whether to sell unsweetened bakers chocolate at the food coop . It was as if they only thing they could really control was what they consumed, a self absorbed way to live. What also came across there was a certain prejudice against rural people and a snotty attitude toward the habits of the working class.
The piece by Jerry Rust about his dads life in eastern Oregon reminds me of what it was about Jerry and the founding Cougar Mountain tribe that now seems so important to me. They were sane, they had roots in this land and society, and in Oregon in particular. I never had that in the suburban East. They also had an ability to connect to a lot of other regular folks who I had not tried to talk with. If they were disorganized at times, they still had a healthy, driving exuberance. More sober heads like us on Red Star crew could help with the picky details.