What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been
At Slingshot’s 17th birthday party, the Slingshot Collective awarded the first annual Wingnut prize for Lifetime Achievement to our comrade B Soffer. B’s auto-biography appears below. Slingshot created the Wingnut prize because direct action radicals generally lack awards and recognition, and that is sad. While sometimes awards are part of systems of hierarchy, a complete lack of recognition for long-term activists robs us of changes to appreciate and learn from the contributions individuals can make during a lifetime of struggle, disruption and wackiness.
By Wingnut, we mean an individual who walks the thin line between insanity and a refusal to abide by silly social conventions, mixed with a radical political analysis and practice. Wingnuts are incapable of recognition within the “mainstream” radical movement because they’re too on the edge. Folks like Noam Chomsky and David Solnit make great contributions to the movement, but they get enough recognition from the more respectable parts of the movement and mainstream society. Wingnut activists are little known outside their immediate circle — on the national level, they are invisible. Except to Slingshot and other wingnuts that is. Wingnuts can be — and usually are — a bit annoying at times, but their heart is utterly in the right place — with the struggle for liberation.
So we salute B — a real wingnut. We’ll announce the 2nd annual award on Slingshot’s birthday March 9, 2006. Nominations will be accepted until then.
Autobiography of B
Conceived in Chicago, born in Jamaica, B’s been on the road ever since. B has never completed or graduated from any school including but not limited to college, high school, junior high, or grammar school although he has attended all of them. In the early sixties B volunteered in the New York office of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) the most radical of the national civil rights groups. At this time he was living in Greenwich Village and working in folk music clubs. In the mid-sixties he was arrested a couple of times for vagrancy in Arizona and was involved in a successful case the ACLU used in challenging that law which started “any non Indian who…”. B has been arrested over 120 times in the previous millennium (his last arrest was in April 1999 at the protests over the take-over of progressive radio station KPFA).
In the late sixties B was active in the antiwar and counter culture movement, primarily in NYC. B published an underground newspaper (mimeographed Street Sheet), ran a switchboard, worked with Abbie Hoffman et al. and was on the original steering committee of the Youth International Party (YIPPIE!). B spent most of 1968 organizing to get people to come to Chicago for the Democratic Convention where he miraculously avoided being arrested. However, while trying to recruit talent for the “Festival of Life” in Chicago, B was ejected from the Newport Folk festival and run out of town by the police for giving pornographic literature to a nun. B was also one of the 700+ folks who were arrested in the occupation of Columbia University (Math Building Commune).
The decade ended with the Indians back on Alcatraz and B as one of the original crew of the Hog Farm commune “Fast Bus”, The Incredible ASP. Later, after being part of “Wavy’s Navy”, B got off the bus and went to live in Vermont to work with Earth People’s Park a 600+ acre piece of land that was bought on the Canadian border with the only rule imposed from off the land being “Access to the land will be denied to nobody”. In Vermont, B’s Commune became involved with a network of collectives known as “Free Vermont”. As part of Free Vermont B was involved with founding the Burlington Free Clinic and practiced medicine there as a “paramedic”. During this time he was one of the founders of The Vermont Health Rights Committee a local chapter of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. B left Vermont to nip at the heels of the “Freedom Train” a national Bicentennial Sell-abration on wheels that visited all 48 contiguous states. After a couple of years on the road B landed in Southern California where his uncle had a computer business and the Hog Farm had an organic Grape Farm.
The Eighties began with B in Berkeley, living with the Hog Farm on Woolsey St. and working in Babylon, the Hog Farm’s Answering Service. It was a relatively quiet decade for B who did some electrical work and opened and ran Acme Solvents, a company in Oakland. Politically B was involved in some local issues in Berkeley such as Rent Control, People’s Park and the fight to save the Ashby Flea Market and B also did a small amount of local work on some national issues like the anti-apartheid movement. To help the Hog Farm pay off the land bought in Mendocino County, B has worked with the Grateful Dead “skeleton crew” in campgrounds, back stage in the Kids Room, as part of “Flash” (the dragon that danced at the Dead Chinese New Year’s shows) and in various other Hog Farm functions for the Grateful Dead as well as at Electric on the Eel and Hog Farm Pignics.
The Eighties ended with B involved in working to organize a Green Party and trying to put it on the ballot in California. After a few years work in which B personally registered over 3000 people (of 88,000 required) as Greens, in 1992 the Green Party of California received ballot status. B has been active with the Green Party ever since. B is one of the founding members of the John Muir Greens. B is a self proclaimed “State-ist” and is prepared to die for the State, but hopes that before that is needed we will be able to have at least a halfway decent one.
As B has been fading into his twilight years, content to rest on his laurels, he enjoys hanging out and giving people a hard time. Upon hearing that he had been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award, B wanted to be sure to give thanks to all the little people who made his receiving it possible, the elves, the dwarfs, the munchkins, the hobbits, the gnomes and dare it be said, the trolls. Yes, even the trolls…