John Sinclair: Poet and Activist

John Sinclair: Poet and Activist
Posted by CN Staff on July 26, 2006 at 22:19:28 PT
Los Angeles City Beat 
Source: Los Angeles City Beat 
USA -- American culture has closed up around John Sinclair. There’s just not enough freedom in it any more – not enough free time, not enough outrage, not enough difference between one place and the next, not enough high culture or genuine bohemia, not enough Sun Ra or Dylan. Anyone who didn’t live through his era – or, more particularly, through his life – might not know what he’s talking about.
Poet, founder of a 1960s arts collective called the Detroit Artists Workshop, and manager of the proto-punk rock band MC5, Sinclair co-founded the White Panther Party in 1968 after one of his heroes, Black Panther Party leader Huey Newton, said in an interview that the best thing white people could do to support their struggle was to start such a thing. So he did. And paid the price, serving a couple years of a nine-and--a-half- to ten-year prison term for marijuana distribution after police started swarming the group.He was released after John Lennon and others put on a concert in his defense, but that probably wouldn’t happen today. The White Panther Party credo of “rock ’n’ roll, dope, and fucking in the streets” is completely impossible in a world where only millionaires are considered real artists and Americans happily embrace domestic wiretapping and corporate spook culture. Well, hell, it was impossible back then, too. But the difference is: Sinclair and a million other beautiful dreamers believed it. – Dean KuipersCityBeat: Why did you move to Amsterdam in 2003?John Sinclair: I just can’t stand it here anymore. And plus, the positive part: I love it there. It’s a kind of place where I want to live in my old age. No one’s armed. They have a social structure where they take care of people who don’t have any place to live, if you don’t have any money. If you get sick, you can get healed. And then, they don’t care if you get high. If you’ve got six euros, you can get a gram of the best fuckin’ weed you ever smoked in your life. What changed here? It’s not just the war on drugs, right?No, but it’s just the downward trend that that represents. The venality, the hypocrisy. Everybody knows the war on drugs is a shuck. But still and all, they’re all profiting from it. Musicians and those in the record business; they know it’s all horseshit, but they’re all groveling to keep milking it. And that this guy Bush could take the election, and then they believe anything he says, and nobody says nothing about it, so he’s got us in perpetual war. Finally, I concluded: there’s nothing for me. I’m 64 years old. I lived in New Orleans for 12 years, and I got evicted. I thought: Jesus Christ, this is humiliating! And I thought: If I’m going to starve, I could starve in Amsterdam just as easily. But America used to hold magic for you.I loved it here. I never even went to Europe until 1998. This used to be a great country, man! Until Ronald Reagan and the CIA. It’s turned into CIA country. It’s a country run by fuckin’ narrow-minded little guys who all want to get millions of dollars. It’s all business. Corporations. And they have no noblesse oblige. They have no taste. They have no humanity. America is becoming a reflection of their shitty reality.When you helped create the Detroit Artists Workshop, was it a political movement? We weren’t political at first. We hated politics. I mean, political organizing – getting people to go to meetings and putting together programs – when I got out of prison, I did that. Before that, it was just ideas, and organizing cultural activities. We didn’t have no meetings. We had dances! [long laugh] Because what was there to talk about? We all felt the same. Everybody hated the war. Nobody went in the army. Everybody hated the drug laws and smoked pot and got high. Nobody wanted to oppress black people. Why start the White Panther Party?We were already there and we [the MC5] had a record contract. We’d just recorded our first album. And then we thought: We don’t want to go out there and just be another band. We want them to know what we feel and think, so we’re going to start this White Panther Party. We’ll make an impact then! Not such a great idea, in retrospect. Why not?Well, because we took it in the ass! For sticking our head above the ground. But we had tremendous feeling for the Black Panther Party. Because they were getting fucked. They were getting gunned down, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and all their leadership was in prison. They were the James Browns of real life to us. We wanted to say: We’re rock ’n’ roll with the Black Panthers! Come with us! Nice people! Not like they say! Ha!It was an anarchist movement, basically, but you did start a program of building institutionsYeah. When I came out of prison, I was more of a Maoist. From ’72 to ’75, in Ann Arbor, we were engaged in institution-building. We created what we called the Tribal Council, and we organized all the longhairs and the anarchists and all that. Nobody knows about this. The White Panther Party was really based on the Yippies. And we really wanted to merge with the Yippies. But even so, we gave speeches and organized events, we had rock ’n’ roll bands, light shows, a newspaper, houses. We had housing. We had six houses in Detroit in 1965, plus the Artists’ Workshop. We saw that we could provide places for people to be like we wanted to be.Did you coordinate with folks like SDS?We hated SDS. I mean, not hated them, we admired them for their nerve, but they weren’t anything like us. They didn’t even listen to the Beatles. They listened to folk music. They didn’t even get high. And then they took all these things out of our book and never gave us credit for ’em, and just as well, because they fucked it all up. Communal fucking. Taking drugs. They all did it in this kinda ego-driven context that they were all in. I mean, there in Ann Arbor, with Bill Ayers and Tom Hayden and them? They never came to the free concerts. They never came to the MC5 dances or anything. We were having a ball. We flourished. Why do you think the war on drugs is our archetypal battle right now?The template of the war on wrugs is what rules our society – certainly it rules our foreign policy. What is Iraq but a drug bust template? You go in, you kick the door down, you grab the people, you throw ’em in jail, you take all their shit. They resist, you drop bombs on ’em, you have helicopters everywhere. This thing has worked so well for ’em against us, the pot-smokers. The only progressive thing happening right now is the medical marijuana movement.You said the other day that the war on drugs has already been won.Why not? The squares won the war on drugs. Okay, you won. You don’t need to spend any more of the taxpayers’ money on this. You’ve pulverized us. You’re number one! We’re pitiful, we’re drug users, maybe, but we ain’t any threat to you anymore. You’ve killed us. Withdraw the troops. Send out some humanitarian aid. Restore our crops! Send in Halliburton! Bring the troops home. Turn ’em loose on the terrorists.How does your poetry work in a political context?When Allen Ginsberg died, I realized that he played this incredible role of talking about shit from the context of poetry, but he talked about real shit. What matters to me is art and music. Because to me, and this is the biggest ugliness of today, on top of all this other, is that there’s no art. Black Americans don’t know who Miles Davis was, or Muddy Waters, or Louis Armstrong. But when Ginsberg died, I wrote a couple pieces that deal with some social issues. God help me, what if they ever put me on TV doing this? I’ll be assassinated. Maybe that’s too extreme. They don’t have to assassinate you now. You’re out, anyway. Anybody like us – intellectuals, music lovers, flesh lovers – real people! – they’re after us. Note: John Sinclair: The poet, activist, and counterculture impresario on weed, Black Panthers, and the death throes of America the Beautiful.Source: Los Angeles City Beat (CA)Author: John SinclairPublished: July 27, 2006Copyright: 2006 Southland PublishingContact: editor lacitybeat.comWebsite: Justice Archives
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Comment #12 posted by ekim on July 27, 2006 at 18:00:43 PT
hey i wish this was on the internet now--
Jul 27 06 Law Enforcement Indicts the Drug War! 06:00 PM Jack Cole Los Angeles California USA 
 LEAP Executive Director Jack Cole and Speaker Judge Jim Gray meet with civic leaders and the everyday citizen when they participate in a round table highlighting the absolute failure of the current drug prohibition policies and put forth new ideas and policies that have been proven to be successful. This is a DPA/CSDP sponsored program for the LEAP DVD.
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Comment #11 posted by FoM on July 27, 2006 at 10:39:21 PT
What depressing lyrics. I believe it's better to have love and lost then never to have loved at all. Pain is part of life and no one gets by without it.
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Comment #10 posted by FoM on July 27, 2006 at 10:28:23 PT
 Poster of John Sinclair Freedom Rally
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Comment #9 posted by afterburner on July 27, 2006 at 10:28:13 PT
FoM #7 & whig #8
When I was in the classroom, I found that many young people wanted a family, a good job, a house and a car. I think many of them are afraid to dream higher (A popular song among today's youth: Kelly Clarkson - Because Of You Lyrics "I never stray too far from the sidewalk") and/or they have been deprogrammed by SSRI antidepressants.
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Comment #8 posted by whig on July 27, 2006 at 10:17:01 PT
Prozac nation
There's a great deal to this. Prozac and other SSRI antidepressants are regularly prescribed nowadays to "social malcontents" and the principle effect of these drugs is to make the user --- not care anymore.
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Comment #7 posted by FoM on July 27, 2006 at 09:56:45 PT
What are the dreams of young adults now? We had dreams and hopes for a better tomorrow. We wanted a kinder, happier, and more caring world. We personally wanted to have our own home and that has remained our focus all of these years. A patch of ground type people my husband and I are. What do young adults want for their future?
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Comment #6 posted by afterburner on July 27, 2006 at 09:39:29 PT
SoberStoner & Wayne, Right On 
"We need the fire that people had in the 60s. But everyone just throws their ipods on and ignores the world. We cant get angry, we dont even know what's happening. Oh sure, some of us know, but how do we break the apathy that grips this country like a vise?" SoberStoner I've been thinking lots about why there is so little fire in the American spirit these days and I've come to the conclusion that the WoD has everything to do with it. We have become "Prozac Nation," numbed to the core, oblivious to suffering of our sisters and brothers, caught up in the money-grubbing selfish fear of lack that drives the PTBs. The social safety net has been shredded, which drives most folk to the lowest level of consciousness, base "survival." And you know the media and their corporate backers want it just that way with all their "reality" programs that celebrate the law of the jungle, belittle and prostitute individuals, and encourage schadenfreude in the voyeuristic audience.
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Comment #5 posted by afterburner on July 27, 2006 at 08:21:00 PT
SoberStoner #1
I haven't read the poetry either, but I did read Guitar Army by John Sinclair back in the 1970's (before living near Ann Arbor for awhile). It was a philosophical hard-edge Love Street vision of a revitalized America by "sex, drugs [herb], and rock 'n' roll." Very colorful (both in ideas and book illustrations) optimistic and vital. It deals with MC5 (the band) and the White Panther Party (party) and their vision of community support. John used the phrase "electronic aborigines" to describe the youth leading the way to this new culture. Tom and Rollie were latter-day examples of the kind of vision and the kind of governmental repression that fought it.Years later, I listened to John Sinclair's Jazz Show from New Orleans on the 'net. John is disillusioned and bitter about what has happened to America. Walk in peace, John. We still remember you and what you tried to do for our community. Chill in Amsterdam and get your groove back.The spirit of MC5 is still well and alive on the Net:
MC5 Gateway - Sources and Links Army by John Sinclair (book on ebay, time-limited)
Guitar Army by John Sinclair (book cover image)
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Comment #4 posted by FoM on July 27, 2006 at 06:47:37 PT
I agree with you. There is no where to hide. Don't they have a large Muslim population in Amsterdam? They do in England. If this turns into a war of religions nothing will stop it.
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Comment #3 posted by mayan on July 27, 2006 at 05:31:49 PT
Nowhere To Hide
I dig Sinclair but he is mistaken if he believes he is safe in Holland. If/when the big war starts there will be nowhere to hide. The entire world will be sucked in whether they want to be or not. At least here in the belly of the beast we still have a chance to prevent it. Sober Stoner and Wayne, the ignorant and apathetic may soon reap the harvest of their shortcomings. Unfortunately, those who fight for truth and freedom will be in the same boat. We will all have to face the music.THE WAY OUT IS THE WAY IN...What makes Kevin Barrett tick? UW lecturer just doesn't believe the government: David Ray Griffin and Kevin Barrett Respond to Recent NYTimes OpEd: of Missourians Stand at Vanguard of 9/11 Truth Movement: 9/11 Anniversary is just around the corner: Air Force Col: They lied to us about the war and about 9/11 itself: Indicting Evidence Of The 9/11 Coverup: Truth Music: WAS AN INSIDE JOB - OUR NATION IS IN PERIL:
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Comment #2 posted by Wayne on July 27, 2006 at 04:43:06 PT
me neither
I've heard his name before, but I never read or heard any of his work. But here, he is absolutely dead on. There is no art today like there was back then. People don't have courage to protest and fight injustice anymore. Art and music is no longer inspired. You can see that in all the teeny-boppers today doing remakes of all the '60s and '70s songs, because those are songs that actually meant something, and people don't know how to think up anything of their own anymore. We've become a society of robots -- gas-guzzling, junk-food-eating, rubber-stamping, money-grubbing robots. But it's not entirely our fault...we've been conditioned that way. It's started in the days of LBJ and Nixon, and the WoD had a LOT to do with it. Like that one line in 'Traffic', how else could we declare war on our own families? We were duped, we were 'combat-trained' by our own government. Drugs were never a problem before the 1980s, and they are now, in a sense, because they have convinced us to send our own loved ones off to rot in jail. We've been living in fear ever since, and the government is loving every minute of it!Wake up, people! How many times do we have to shout it out? Start using the brains that God gave you, and STOP TRUSTING YOUR GOVERNMENT!! Speak up for yourself, before you can't speak up at all anymore!
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Comment #1 posted by SoberStoner on July 27, 2006 at 00:56:44 PT
I must admit, I've never read his stuff
However, i might just have to pick some up now. Anyone have a favorite they'd like to recommend?The sad part is, reading this makes me realize how badly I want to move out of the country myself. I keep saying that someday I want to go over to Vancouver and never come back. I really hope I can soon. Visiting in April was a real eye-opening experience that showed me just how much this country had fallen from it's ideal of 'land of the free' and now I constantly think about moving. The medical movement is finally getting some good press, but medicine for profit will never allow a plant anyone could grow to be considered better than 90$ a pop pills. It just wouldn't be good for business, you know? We need the fire that people had in the 60s. But everyone just throws their ipods on and ignores the world. We cant get angry, we dont even know what's happening. Oh sure, some of us know, but how do we break the apathy that grips this country like a vise?
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