November 1979 ended with a feast, Everyone in our Berkeley, CA. homestead had earned some money the week before Thanksgiving. Some had taken temporary jobs, some had made a few dope deals and the rest had regular work. Life was good. Our rent was paid for December and a turkey from the food shelf sat in our refrigerator ready for the roasting to come. I was working out a deal with a grower friend to buy a quarter pound of some recently harvested Humboldt sinsemilla for the coming holidays and we had a keg of Mickey’s Big Mouth on order at the liquor store. The immediate future looked promising. Most of us had scored tickets for the week of Grateful Dead shows coming up at the end of December and those who hadn’t were working the angles to get one.
My prospective purchase meant that I had a sample of the marijuana to smoke. I made a ritual of the process and after devouring most of the turkey Thanksgiving day, my friends and I passed around a joint or two before dessert. Life wasn’t too bad even if the most we had to be thankful for was that we had a roof over our heads, a few dollars in our pockets and none of us were in prison or going to court soon. Was this a great country or what?
I began the month of November 1979 in Berkeley’s People’s Park. That piece of land had been occupied by a few dozen people ever since the Berkeley and University of California police were prevented from locking us all up a few weeks earlier. The occupation was in response to an attempt by the university to build a paid parking lot at one end of the park. Most folks in Berkeley were fairly certain this incursion was another attempt by the University to reclaim the piece of land it had lost in a bloody battle ten years earlier. Subsequent attempts by the University to do so have proven the veracity of this suspicion. Like so many similar occupations, the occupation of the park in the autumn of 1979 would eventually end. Nothing was decided, but a de facto truce became the new reality.
My job ended the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The reason I was given by the interior designer signing my paychecks was that she was taking her business in a different direction. She had recently joined up with a contractor who was ambitious and a bit arrogant. After helping him and his crew demolish the interiors of a couple worn-down tract houses in Oakland, he told me I didn’t work fast enough. I took note and was relieved when I was let go. I was working as fast as I was going to, no matter what he said. Having worked enough temporary jobs on the books over the past year and a half to qualify for a few months worth of unemployment checks, I went to the Labor Department office and applied.. I was looking forward to hanging out and cashing those checks each week. Before I parted ways with my former employer, we had a discussion about People’s Park. It was a continuation of an earlier conversation where she revealed that she believed private property was what gave people freedom. I felt like I was talking with John Locke in drag. My response was that might only be true if one had such a thing. Our final interaction didn’t change my opinion or hers. We parted on friendly terms, nonetheless.
A more important event had taken place in the weeks before Thanksgiving 1979. On November 13th, Ronald Reagan—the scourge of Berkeley— announced his campaign for the Republican nomination for president. His folksy bullshit of a speech set the tone for the decade to come, if not the decades to come. As the 1980s would prove, many people in the United States only too willingly believed his lies about a nation that never was while his administration and its sycophants robbed the nation blind. His propertied white male outlook on the way things were remains the unfounded foundation of the way the US government continues to be run. His attempts to blame taxes instead of Wall Street profits for the problems of working people continues to be the understanding most politicians operate on, even while they raise taxes on working people and cut them on the wealthiest. His opinions were shared by enough Democrats to ensure the continued rule of the right and white-skinned. This remains true today, with West Virginia’s Senator Manchin being exhibit A. Manchin has his snout so far up Wall Street’s ass their shit is in his eyes. Of course, many working people seem to share rich people’s opinion about taxes and believe that taxes are the reason they struggle to make ends meet. Reagan’s shell game mathematics are now the norm in politicians’ discourse. Thinking of that speech still causes bile to rise in my intestinal tract.
In previous election cycles, my friends and I had laughed at the possibility of a Reagan presidency. In fact, we probably did so then. Little did we know what machinations and deceit the right wing would devise to ensure Reagan’s victory and its continued domination of US politics more than forty years later. From the conflicts in the Middle East to the HIV-AIDS crisis; the Central America wars to the COVID-19 pandemic, way too many people ended up paying with their lives because of that domination. In fact, too many continue to pay. In November of 1980, Ronald Reagan was installed as Washington’s front man for the snake oil of neoliberal capitalism. Those who understood how perfect he would be in that role deserve both credit and life without parole. God damn each and every one of them.