Daniel Ellsberg is dying. He helped me find my way, i wrote this to him today
Dearest Daniel Ellsberg:
I was broken hearted to hear you were diagnosed with terminal cancer. I wanted to update you since our last conversation, which was almost 50 years ago. It was in the city of San Francisco, in 1986. The World Court had just ruled against the US for mining the harbor in Corinto, Nicaragua. The nuclear aircraft carrier USS Missouri was visiting the San Francisco harbor for the first time, with hopes of moving its home port there. You and i and about 30 other mostly local folks decided to risk arrest protesting this collection of events.
It was the first time i had ever been arrested and i was scared. The county jail was crowded and did not want to release us “political prisoners” with the general population, having had regular problems with this strategy in the past. So all the men in the Missouri Loves Company group were put in a single large cell, which is where we met.
We had not considered when we got arrested on a Saturday, that Monday was a holiday and we would have to wait until Tuesday together before we could see a judge and be released. I am sure you have long forgotten our meeting. I will remember it til i die. It changed my life.
One of the time-passing techniques the experienced law breakers used was everyone telling their life stories. I remember listening to yours. Listening to you talk about working in the Pentagon and looking out the window and seeing hundreds of thousands of protesters including all your kids. You said you realized you were “on the wrong side”.
I also went to fancy schools, before we met. I had also had a job as a defense contractor. But unlike you, i was not at all sure where my life was going to take me. There were lucrative opportunities for me in supporting the system, there were comfortable options available to me.
And in you i saw another path, it was clearly not an easy path, not a comfortable option. But what was clear to me from listening to you and the other experienced activists over that long weekend was that a pleasant and secure future was not the path of choice for me.
After we were released my life started to change. Soon I would leave my software engineering job, join an activist affinity group, hitchhike across the Pacific on sailboats and settle briefly in Hawaii. But when the Berlin wall came down, my dear friend called me up and said “We need to go to Eastern Europe, we need to talk with the revolutionaries, because soon they will write the history books, and when they do the truth will be lost forever.”
I left for Europe, and spent 7 years teaching new non-profit groups how not to get beat up by the police at protests. I raised money for non-violent political organizations protecting the environment. But by the time i left Europe in 1997, i had been promoted to the lead anti-nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe. I had been arrested scores of times in 30 countries on 3 continents.
I came back to the US and continued working opposing nuclear power plant construction and developing intentional communities.
It’s been a long, rich journey since we left the San Francisco county jail. I have no regrets for the path i took. But i wanted you to know, you were a key sign post that helped me find the way away from defense contracting and software engineering and instead working to help people fight unjust governments and dangerous projects. You are known mostly for your acts of defiance, you should know that just as important are the people who you inspired.
Thanks for the direction and i hope you enjoy your last days.
Paxus Calta in Prague