August 15, 2017
As an anarchist, and a nearly lifelong member of the revolutionary left, I have had a tumultuous and dynamic relationship with pacifism. Before I dig into what I am about to say, let me relate two stories.
About a year ago, my five year old son was at summer camp when an older kid bullied one of his friends about his painted toenails. I’m not sure what the exact insult was, but it made my son’s friend cry. My son responded by punching the older kid in the face. It was an odd lecture that night, as both mom and I were proud of his resolute stance in the face of hatred, but knew that he was way to young too be congratulated for resulting to violence. We praised his strength in rising to defend his friend, but talked about all of the non-violent alternatives he could have chosen.
In the mid 90s, I spent a ton of time tramping and hitchhiking up and down the east coast and through the american south. One night, I was hanging out in a hobo camp near a rail yard, drinking beers with a crew of other travellers. I was a combat vet, and had a few dozen states behind my thumb, so I was both welcome and comfortable there. I know there were eight or nine of us, but the only ones I still recall were my friend Josh, who I originally met in Chattanooga, and whom I had found my way to the camp with, a grizzled angry rail punk named Smitty, and this idealistic young kid who was maybe 19, clean shaven only because he had yet to grow whiskers.
In the long meandering conversation we had that night, Smitty started showboating about all the asswhoopings he had metted out through his years. As any seasoned traveller does at times like that, I let him brag. There is no reason to call into question another man’s claims to be able to fight unless you yourself are looking for one. But this smooth-cheeked idealist of a kid proclaimed he was a pacifist, and tried to explain how violence never solved anything. Smitty let it slide at first, knocking the kid for his blind idealism in a patronizing, yet friendly way. As the drink flowed, the stories progressed, and smitty started in on another story about some fight in the distant past. The kid spoke up.
“Man, violence never solved anything, you should have just walked away.”
I had my doubts about Smitty and his claims of bested battles, but the speed at which he knocked that kid backwards off the stump he was sitting on, landing on his shoulders and punching him in the face let me know that he probably did have a bit of background.
“Solve this without violence!”, Smitty shouted, cuffing the kid in the side of the face. “Come on, ya little faggot, talk your way out of this!” he continued with another punch.
The kid, his arms pinned under Smitty’s knees, couldn’t even raise his hands to cover his face. It was the kind of brutalization that a big brother gives his younger sibling, a lesson hidden somewhere within, but really just an excuse to hit someone weaker than you.
All of us understood what was happening, and we told Smitty to give the kid a break and sit back down. But he continued to challenge the pinned boy, alternating between smacks and drunken old man punches. The kid started to cry.
“Smitty. Stop” I said, standing up.
“Fuck you” was the last thing Smitty said for a few moments.
I swung in hard under his jaw, clipping his head back before toe kicking him in the chest, as the kid scrambled backwards, wiping tears from his face.
“Yeah, fuck me, Smitty. You want to try and jump on my chest? You wanna try your bully-ass bullshit on a man instead of a boy? Lets see whats up, old man.”
Smitty’s face broke open in a wide grin. “See! You get it!” He laughed.
We were right. Pacifism IS a good way to live your life. Conflict in unavoidable, but violence is. But to claim pacifism when you are physically watching violence inflicted upon another person, and you have the power to stop it. . . that is the deepest abyss of cowardice.
In the last two years or so, I have been in maybe a dozen fights. Always in the middle. Talking reason, calming nerves, negotiating and de-escalating. I have two things going for me, the confidence granted by the fact that I have not lost a single fight in nearly three decades, and white privilege. I know that when police arrive, I can eloquently and calmly explain how I tried to calm down a situation and was forced to defend myself when reason failed.
In a violent world, sometimes the only way to peace is through judicious application of counter-violence. As we watch the rise of the American Nazi Party, I encourage all of you to seriously re-consider any non-violent tendencies you may espouse. This is a group that would happily kill any and all of your non-conforming friends. LGBT, people of color, women who say no. Their cheeto-headed “God Emperor of the United States” (Seriously they call Trump that, just Google the term “GEOTUS”) has empowered them that they think they are on the right side of history, it is our job to remind them they are wrong. If you can do it through discourse, I applaud you. If it takes punching Nazi’s, I’m with you.
I am fortunate to live in California, where the Nazis keep quiet at their hot dog stand jobs, travelling to places like Charlottesburg to take off their masks and scream their vile racist hatred. I am also thankful that a small number of locals I know have espoused their true colors, emboldened by the neo nazi uprising, and I don’t even have to leave town to try to non-violently show them the error of their ways.
But if it takes violence to stop the spread of intolerant, white nationalist rhetoric, I’m down with it.
Equality for all. Love conquers hate, but sometimes love needs boots on the ground to defend those we love.
Fight for what you love.
July 23, 2016
A good friend tonight updated their social media that due to a tropical storm, their bank was closed and they had no way to get money. They weren’t going to starve or die or boredom, but it was an inconvenience.
But seriously, how much cash should you put away for a disaster?
Exactly how much cash you should put away for a vacation?
Between and during all of my long walks, I would do ridiculous amounts of research on the area I’d be travelling. In my notebook, I would tuck any extra daily cash I had between the pages while writing my notes. (I did not carry this notebook around, obviously.) For the longer trips, I had a series of map books; the Delorme Gazeteers, for each area I would be travelling. Each page had about 3-5 days worth of hiking to cross at a realistic, long-distance pace. As I did my research, I would tuck the money needed for that page into the map. Eventually, I would mail the maps ahead to post offices, general delivery, and would have enough money to finance the next leg of the journey.
So, you want to have an emergency cache of cash or perhaps you want to plan a trip around the world. Here’s an easy way to do both. Read More
March 21, 2016
Leaving town, we stopped for an hour to hit the internet at the library. I posted quick updates on GNN and MySpace. Saw a copy of Steven Levy’s Hackers in the used book bin. Had an email from Bryan and saw that Ed had posted out postcard online. We then stopped on city green, and books on the green, discovering the town was founded in 1992. So much for old town. Bought postcards anyways.
Leaving town, we encountered a span bridge over a fairly busy road, with a plague indicating it had been built in 1905. We stopped for a brief rest and snack, enjoying the first truly gorgeous day of the trip. While leaning against the truss, a hispanic man in knee high rainboots stumbled towards us. Holding a three gallon water jug at chest height, he offered congenially, “Aqua?” as the effort of the task caused him to drunkenly stumble off the side of the tracks as he past us. Feeling introspective, I leaned over the edge of the bridge. Every third or fourth car honked and waved.
Welcome to wine country.
Leaving the bridge and heading north, we soon came to AquaMan’s presumed camp or hangout, a well placed tarp amid a mountain of half crushed beer cans.
We paused again at a picnic table on the outskirts of Healdburg to heat up some of our homemade dehydrated Chili. Breaking off to grab a couple of cold beverages, I returned to Ryan sitting next to our camp stove, the dehydrated chili resting/burning dry in the pot at high heat. We all get tired sometimes.
Entering Healdsburg we came across another amazing yet decaying truss bridge across the Russian River. In the sandbank below, two boys and a girl sat smoking cigarettes. We shouted briefly back and forth about the trip. Looking back, Ryan was stagger stepping across the bridge curing how she hated it, fearful of it’s immeninet collapse.
We stopped for coffee at a newsstand coffee shop in downtown, getting the familiar mixture of curious and disainful stares as we changed our socks and read the newspaper. Leaving, a near toothless woman asked us about our packs and upon hearing our route implored us to stay off the tracks as she still heard trains every night.
As we hit the tracks, we began seeing quite a bit of tagging from “Sur 13 El Vatos Locos” which encouraged us to get a bit more distance north before stopping for camp. We made camp about 100 yards south of the Simi winery, able to hide our tent between two small trees with the help of our camouflage ponchos. Knowing it was saturday night, we wanted to avoid attention from any drunk teens who might be out wandering the tracks.
March 20, 2016
The city line of Santa Rosa was palpable; The police line where a shooting had taken place cordoned off an entire corner near a union building. We treked west to the tracks through Coffey Park, a subdivision with creative street names like Espresso, Perk, Arabica and Mocha. Once we got to the tracks and began heading north, the character of our trek changed drastically. Read More
March 16, 2016
Yesterday, we woke up under our little tree and walked about a mile towards Petaluma before encountering the worst bridge crossing yet, an impassable two rails over a flooded basin of agricultural run off. Turned around and started across a muddy dairy pasture. As our boots became mud laden, we were approached by the owner in his truck.
“Sorry for being on your land, the bridge about a mile north is out, and we’re walking to Petaluma.”
“I saw you two last night, and wondered what you’d do when you got to that bridge.” Read More
March 16, 2016
First day on the rails. It was great. It’s finally a bit more like wilderness, getting to see jack rabbits, geese, ducks, swans and fellow hobos. I’m rockin’ it. I was worried before we started with the extra gear, but I can still move a big pack with ease. I wish we could cut food down a bit and run fast jaunts, like the air assault course (12 miles, 128 minutes) or even the 4 hour 12 mile we did in basic, but by the time we leave Emandal, we should be much more ready for faster days. Read More
March 14, 2016
Sheltered in the tent as I write this. The rain is torrential, if not biblical. Thankfully we are dry, having decided to pitch the tent 20 minutes before it started. I got moderately wet rigging the camouflage ponchos over our rain fly, but thankfully, I can dry my rain gear in the vestibule of the rainfly by draping it on our poles. Read More
March 13, 2016
Up with the sun and spent a few moments watching a half dozen fearless deer poke around while I looked out across the Golden Gate. Had 2 dried meal packets for breakfast. Shared “Hash Browns, Red and Greens.” (Crunchy. Gross) and “Chicken Salad with Almonds” which was pretty good, except the almonds reminded me of the crunchy hash browns at that point. We bought a two pound bag of grapes from a roadside stand and sat in the grass near where Tennessee Valley road runs into the 1. Reminded me of the banks of the Cumberland outside of Nashville. Read More
March 13, 2016
“Listen man, it’s been good catching up, but I need to go, I’m interviewing the county sheriff right now.”
Besides being the bad-ass who would ignore the county sheriff, mid-interview, to take a personal call, there is a lot to say about my friend Rob Burgess. He’s an award winning journalist, a memorable banjo player and a connoisseur of good books, movies, and music. Most recently, he became a podcast personality at The Rob Burgess Show, where he was insane enough to interview me for his first episode. Read More
March 12, 2016
Wet, but I’ve seen worse. Light drizzle and a good crew crossing the bridge. Gib and Correne left early citing a fear of heights. No news crews, but tons of helicopters flying over and under the bridge.
We have an amazing view of the golden gate from a picnic ground next to the campsite. Lucian gave us a small chairdog ball complete with a little sculpted butt. Definitely going to be taking some pictures of it on the walk. Ed brought phone cards, stamps and sandwiches when he arrived later this evening to hang out on day 1. Read More