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Act One. Religious Faction.
It is an old, old story. A group of friends gets together, decides to start a business, put on a show, or begin their own church, or take a political stand, together, as a group. Hearts are full. Everyone's close. But over time, there's some small thing that comes up, some dispute. And the dispute starts small and takes on more importance, and more until it becomes the most important thing that any of them think about. Until it becomes the main thing that they all think about. And until it destroys the group.
Well, it is This American Life from WBEZ Chicago. I'm Ira Glass. The premise of our program is that each week we document everyday stories of these United States, using all the tools of radio storytelling-- documentaries, monologues, overheard conversations, found tapes, occasional radio dramas, anything we can think of. And today we bring you three stories of friends coming together to do some kind of project or work together, friends who end up as enemies.
Act One is about a religious group, Act Two about a political group, and Act Three about a racial group. Stay with us.
Act Two. Political Faction.
Act One, Saints of the Last Days.
Our first story today takes place in Utah, home of the Mormon church, which, out there, they sometimes called the LDS church. LDS for Latter Day Saints.
Joseph Smith and Brigham Young received visions when they founded the church and established it there. And to this day, it is not uncommon for Mormons to see visions and to set up their own variations on the main LDS church.
Scott Carrier has the story of one such splinter church, how friends began it and how the friends over time, split apart.
This is a story about a group of radical Mormon polygamists who live in central Utah in a little town called Manti. I call them radical because they've all been excommunicated by the church authorities, not for practicing polygamy, not because they were sinners. They were excommunicated because they said over and over again that the church authorities were working for Satan.
I'll begin this story by introducing Jim Harmston, a middle-aged man of common qualities, a man who used to sell real estate up in Davis County. He was a Mormon, a good Mormon, a member of the high council. He had a house on the hill and a new Continental every six months.
But then, in 1990, he started to believe that the church had become wicked in the eyes of the Lord, and he started praying in the true order, and seeing angels, and receiving divine messages from across the veil who told him first that he should quit his job and move with his family to Manti, which he did. Next, to become a polygamist, which he did. And then, to become the prophet and president of his own new church, the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days, which he also did.
He did, in effect, have very nearly the same experience that Joseph Smith had 160 years before.
I had an experience where four dispensation heads came across the veil and laid their hands on my head-- Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses-- restoring again the apostleship. And this happened on a Sunday. They were magnificent resurrected beings clothed in white garment, white clothing, to their robes hung to their ankles. They had white hair and beards. They were magnificent, and I was overwhelmed with the Holy Ghost. And it's been interesting to observe. People give up their careers and their professions, their businesses, and begin to gather here in Manti.
On Sunday afternoon, Harmston's church has a testimonial meeting. 150 men, women, and children on folding chairs in a newly constructed meeting hall. Testimony meeting is a Mormon tradition where members stand and bear their testimony in the truth and validity of the church and its doctrines. But many of the people here have recently been excommunicated, and so their testimony is that the Mormon church has become corrupt. Indeed, that this congregation now is the only true and living church on the planet.
You know, I've been searching for a witness of this work and of this church. And just tonight I got my witness. And it's burning within my soul at how important this work is and how true it is. I know it is. And it's hard to believe that just a year ago I was in high school. I was in plays. I was a typical teenager. And now I'm in a plural marriage and struggling. I'm not going to lie to you.
Welcome to the club.
But I know without a shadow of doubt that this is the Lord's work, that I have finally found it. And I love you guys, and I'm thankful for your prayers and for all that you have to offer me. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Members of Harmston's church practice the principle of plural marriage because they believe polygamy was one of the fundamental teachings of Joseph Smith. This is why polygamists often refer to themselves as fundamentalists.
They also believe in practicing the law of consecration, wherein all goods and services are held in common, a communism, and that there will be a gathering of God's chosen people into a nation, a Zion nation. This gathering is to be in a safe spot, an area protected during the Millennium and the Armageddon. It's all there in the Book of Revelations, and it's all happening now. Hundreds, some say thousands, of fundamentalists from around the West have moved to Manti over the past three years, all believing that this is the place for the gathering.
Steve McKinley has lived in Manti for 15 years.
This is a very special place. There have been very sacred things happen here. And I moved here to Manti 15 years ago because the Lord told us to move here. I've seen a lot of people come and go from this valley for spiritual reasons that are totally different. They didn't even know who Jim Harmston is. And they come, and they go.
Steve McKinley and Jim Harmston used to be friends, but now they're more like enemies. They met when Harmston moved to Manti in 1990, and so McKinley has seen the development of Harmston's church from its beginning. It began as nothing more than a group of men from the Manti area who came together once a week and sat in a circle in an upstairs bedroom.
There were 17 men who came together because they were concerned about things that were being taught and accepted by people as doctrine. And we were concerned, and we came together. And we prayed, and we asked, Heavenly Father, will you teach us? Will you tell us what is your doctrine and what is not? And will you protect us as individuals against things that we might do that would destroy ourselves?
The other thing, if Randy needs a lump of coal to keep his family warm and Steve's got two, then Steve says, Randy, here, have one of my lumps of coal. And let's take care of each other. Let's help each other, because we love each other, and we're concerned.
So there were two reasons that we came together-- to pray together and to help each other with our temporal needs.
They also did a lot of talking about the evils of the new world order, perhaps the need to stockpile weapons, the necessity of taking the kids out of the public schools, various conspiracies, secret combinations, and so on. The men held the meetings in each other's homes. And on special occasions, they'd set up a tepee on top of a mountain.
In the tepee, they'd sit in a circle and bear their testimony and pray in the true order, which is a secret Mormon ritual that's supposed to be performed only in a temple.
Mormons believe that by praying in the true order, the veil that separates heaven and earth can be parted, enabling angels and messengers of the Lord to cross over into this temporal plane. Which is exactly what the men say started to happen in the tepee.
They say their prayers called down lightning and thunderstorms from heaven. They say that this is where God first told the group to organize themselves along Iroquois guidelines, wherein all decisions were to be made by unanimous revelation. Not just unanimous consent, unanimous revelation, where everyone would pray and have a vision, the same vision, at the same time.
Then they all received a vision that they should give each other titles like war chief and peace chief and medicine chief and historian so that every man would be a chief with certain responsibilities, but that no man would be the ultimate chief with control over all the others.
I recall the testimony meeting. And Jim Harmston stood up and he said, if any man here were to stand and declare himself a leader amongst these men, there would be 10 men who would stand up and shoot him in the knee caps, because none of us independently are the leader. We are a group of individuals who have come together, and nobody has authority over anybody else. That's how it started. That's how God called us together.
The men started calling themselves the high council and then realized by unanimous revelation that they were actually new apostles of the Lord and that they should begin an entirely new church, the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days and that they should start confirming each other as members.
And so I asked Jim if he would confirm me. And as I sat in the chair facing the wall-- not the window, but the wall in Bart's living room--
Facing east. I had my head bowed, and my eyes were closed. And when I opened my eyes and was wondering why he was pausing. And then I closed my eyes again and I saw three men walk through the wall.
It was Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball who came through the veil. And they placed their hands upon my head and revealed many things concerning my life and my [UNINTELLIGIBLE] to certain things upon this earth that I should do. And I could see the vision as he spoke. I could see it, and Jim described what he saw, what we both saw in vision. And Jim was so overwhelmed, he closed the vision. Because he was so overwhelmed he could not continue the vision, Jim ended it. But it continued for me. And I saw many things that Jim did not speak.
The first major conflict within the new church came early on. One of the high council apostles, Randy Dalton, the historian, came to a meeting and presented a teaching on polygamy he called "Hearts and Flowers."
I have a firm testimony that we are to become perfect. The Lord has commanded us, be, therefore, perfect, even as I or my father in heaven are perfect. Well, what does that mean? In the Greek and in the Hebrew, the word that is used that we translate as perfect really means to be whole or complete. I do not believe that it is possible for us to become whole or complete through intimate relationship with only one other person.
Now, the fact of the matter is that men just do not form emotionally intimate relationships with other men. It's really kind of foreign to our being. And yet, look at women. They have these incredibly emotionally intimate relationships. They know everything about each other. The empathy is incredibly. They feel what the other is feeling. And there is, in fact, one of the problems that is fundamental to most marriages, is that a woman craves a kind of nurturing in her relationship, in her marriage, that men are rarely capacitated to give. We're just not the nurturing types. And yet, a woman needs that. And as men, we just tend not to be able to give it.
And yet, a sister wife can give so much of that emotional support that as men, we're just not very good at doing. And it can work very beautifully if you can get over issues like jealousy and things like that that get in the way. So I was talking about these kinds of things.
We thought he was talking about homosexuality, and we were going to go out there and rip his head off. We were upset because we didn't understand. We thought, is he talking about homosexuality? If he is, we're going to set this boy straight. We're going to explain some things to him. And Randy says, wait a minute, guys. That isn't what I said. You see, let me tell you.
And so we talked about it for a long time. And that's not what Randy was talking about. But we misunderstood it, and so did a lot of others. A lot of others thought that's what he was talking about. That was not it.
It was a teaching that grew into an argument, that grew into a conflict that couldn't be resolved. The question wasn't whether polygamy was OK. Everyone agreed that it was. The question was about sex, whether a polygamist man could have more than one of his wives in bed at a time.
For two weeks, the group met and prayed in the true order. Some said it was an abomination. Others weren't so sure.
I told you earlier that many of us experimented with different things. The true order prayer, we experimented with a lot of things. I think that Joseph Smith was the greatest example of an experimenter. He experimented with a lot of things. He had seer stones and peep stones and witching rods to witch wells and water and all kinds of things. He experimented. He tested. There were many of us who tried and tested this so-called understanding of our sexuality with our wives. Many of us on both sides.
Members of Jim's church, members of the quorum of the 12 apostles, members of the first presidency of Jim's church who participated and experimented with having sex with more than one wife in the bed at a time. They experimented with it, and they're OK. They're members of Jim's church.
Three weeks after Randy Dalton gave the "Hearts and Flowers" teaching, there was still considerable tension within the council. And at the next meeting, it split apart.
Instead of the council talking it out and coming to unanimous revelation, Jim Harmston stood up and said he had received revelation for everyone that three in a bed was an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. And while he was at it, he said he also received revelation that he alone was now in charge of the church.
He stands, and he says, I have received revelation for these people. Thus sayeth the Lord. And I want to emphasize that. He said, thus sayeth the Lord.
Then Harmston and four other men stood and walked out of the meeting, leaving the others as outcasts, ostracized from the True and Living Church just as they had been ostracized from the Mormon church before.
At that moment, Jim Harmston placed himself in a position above the others. At that moment, Jim Harmston took control of the church.
The sex thing was a smokescreen. It was a smokescreen to cover up Jim's ambition to take over the council and the nation and everything else. And what more better tool could he use than something that was disgusting to most people.
If he could say, well, these guys are perverts. They're having orgies. They got everybody in bed, and they're a sex-crazed people. Well, if anybody believes that plural marriage is about sex, they got another thing coming. It has nothing to do with sex. It's about a relationship between people.
And God. It has nothing to do, very little to do with sex. Believe me, I know.
But you know, Nietzsche made a very interesting comment. He said, "Battle not with monsters, lest you become a monster. And when you gaze into the abyss, the abyss is within you." And I think that's what happened is that Jim Harmston has spent so much time fighting against the LDS church that he's become a general authority. It may well be that every abuse he has accused the LDS church of may yet be found in his own circle.
This split in the True and Living Church happened three years ago, and since then, Harmston has baptized hundreds of new members, whereas McKinley and Dalton and the others who were ostracized have pretty much just kept meeting with each other, four or five families getting together, sometimes on Sunday afternoons.
It was at one of these Sunday meetings that I interviewed McKinley and Dalton. And the scene in the house was very different from what it was like at the Harmston's. McKinley and Dalton and the others joked around and laughed a lot. Their wives talked loudly in the kitchen, and all ages of children were running around inside and out.
Occasionally, one of the wives would come into the living room where we were talking, and it was difficult to tell which man was her husband, they all got along so well. But at Harmston's house, his two wives were upset and not talking to each other. The first wife told me she'd gone after Jim that morning with a frying pan. The second wife hid in the back room. And there were no kids. Everything was quiet and serious. It was like going from interviewing a group of hippies to interviewing Richard Nixon.
Harmston sat at his desk in his study, looking out the window at the Manti Temple just a couple of blocks away, a temple built by the Mormon church over 80 years ago, a temple he still considers to be sacred and holy. But it's a temple he's no longer allowed to enter.
He was kicked out of the Mormon church. He kicked out his friends from his own church. His closest allies now are the angels and spirits who promise him that he alone holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Well, I'm either completely nuts or right on target, one or the other. And there isn't anything in between. They have to judge for themselves.
Saints of the Last Days was produced and reported by Scott Carrier with help from [? Caroline Campbell ?], Alex Caldiero, and myself.
[MUSIC - "CAIN AND ABEL"BY LOUIS ARMSTRONG]
Act Three. Racial Faction.
It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Act Two, Political Faction.
Well, if you read the first books of the Bible, as the story of the Israelites coming together as a people, it doesn't take long. It does not take long before some Israelites are casting others out as undesirable. Just two generations after God makes the deal with Abraham to create a great nation, Joseph's brothers decide they're in and Joseph's out. Soon he's sold into slavery. Not long after, in biblical terms anyway, when the Israelites are in the desert fleeing Egypt, factions are doubting Moses' ability to lead them. They make the golden calf. There's another faction in the Book of Numbers. It happens a lot.
Well, this next story takes place mostly in the mid 1970s, entirely among great believers, political believers in this case. And they're believers who had great ideals as well. And the ideals were not only about political matters, international and national affairs. They were very idealistic about how to treat each other. They made all decisions by consensus. They told the truth to each other. They believed that there was great value in being able to hear the truth and speak the truth to each other about how things were going, and they still split apart, painfully.
Beau O'Reilly tells this story. He's a prolific local playwright, musician, performer. And we welcome him.
I broke my own rules today. I slipped into the Water Tower Mall. And when I saw Betty Byzantine, I knew it was her right away, even though her whole physical aspect had changed quite a bit in the seven or eight years since I had last seen her.
Her body in the old days was lumpy and full of itself. But it had gone all sculpted and molded, a '90s weight world training woman's center body now. Her hair, which had been a mossy color of brown was now hennaed red, and it was the red hennaed highlights that made her stand out on that escalator.
She looked good, better than I looked. At least better than I felt that day. And I thought, well, better to leave old Betty Byzantine alone. We didn't part on the best of terms.
And I thought she hadn't recognized me, but as the escalator reached the eighth floor and she got off, she turned and deliberately pointed one long finger, cold. Just that one finger and Betty Byzantine was gone.
Now, the terrible thing about Betty Byzantine was that there was really nothing terrible about her. She was more plain, I guess. That's a nice way to say it. She had tended to fade into the background and become one of the small facts of the day. There was nothing that really stood out about Betty Byzantine when I knew her.
And I have examined my behavior towards Betty Byzantine occasionally over these last 15 years. Although I found myself wanting and insensitive towards her, even in my efforts to tell her story, I've never felt compelled to do anything to make it all right between us. I've never felt the latent Catholic urge to confess it all and to throw myself at her feet, beg forgiveness for my coldness in the past. This is another one of my rules I'm breaking. I tend to be very amends oriented.
The first time I saw Betty Byzantine was in the kitchen of The Palace, our collectively run vegetarian restaurant and coffee house. And Betty Byzantine was covered in this finely ground whole wheat flour. She was desperately trying to force it into a pie crust shape.
First pie crusts are unbearably a failure, and Betty's would prove no exception. She was working under the watchful eyes of Small Craig, who was in charge of all of our desserts and our volunteers. Pies and cakes and tarts, they were a lot of work, and Small Craig was always on the lookout for that rarest of individuals, the hardworking volunteer.
Small Craig was the most amicable of the hippies that I knew. And yet, at the same time, he was a man of efficient and disciplined work habits. I could give Small Craig any job and consider it done. And we, the hippie family of The Palace collective, leaned on him.
Betty Byzantine was a sniffler. She was sniffling now. And that sniffling would never stop the whole seven years I knew her. Betty Byzantine had allergies, the year-round variety. Allergies to dogs, milk, copper, dust, snow. And it was those allergies that brought her to our palace in the first place. We were, in 1974, an island of health in a world collapsing under fast foods. It was the allergies that brought her to The Palace where we hippies, 10 or 12 of us, lived and worked together.
It was the allergies that brought her there, but it was Small Craig's eyes that kept her there, I think. She had eyes for Small Craig. And long after her hands had proven too clumsy for pie crusts, we were all still eating Betty Byzantine's pies. Forced to by Small Craig who believed such diligence must be rewarded by the rest of us. Our pie palates might suffer, Small Craig argued, but Betty Byzantine's satisfaction at seeing all of us chew on her ashen-tasting pies was well worth it.
And two years later, after the collapse of The Palace under a mass of debt on debt, bad decisions leading to no decisions, we moved in smaller groups of three or four, hunting the great Midwest, the small college towns, for the last outposts of the hippie nation, which had spread and spewed itself like so much volcanic ash at the end of the Vietnam War and now flickered with a doubtful light. And the increasing draft of the '70s, that post-Nixon shame era, flickered with a still wild and a restless energy.
Madison, Wisconsin, was one of those places. It was comfortably feminist, cooperative, organic. And Small Craig landed there, and I did too. And Betty Byzantine followed like a magnet in a ball bearing factory, showing up the same day Small Craig did. She just happened to be looking for an apartment in the same neighborhood. She just happened to need a roommate. Betty and Craig became roommates.
Me, I had already started looking for the next big issue. The war had done a lot for the left. It had forced us into action. But what was next, nuclear weapons or that quiet nastier cousin, nuclear power?
Nuclear power had slowly replaced the faded war in our conversations, and it was all over our personal view screen that summer. There were activists' "let's do something about the power plants" edges to every political conversation I was having. And I quickly became impassioned and determined to take an activist stand. There were others around me feeling the same thing. So soon we had a new alternative family, the nuclear radioactivists we called ourselves.
And I invited Small Craig along, and here came Betty Byzantine uninvited, but not unexpected. We picked a nuclear power plant that was doing terrible things in an increasingly obvious way. It was in a section of Illinois that was closest to our Madison home, so a justifiable move on our part. A stand could be made there. And after a series of late night rave-ups about it all and nonviolence training workshops, we went, and we made one. And this was us.
Mordecai, the crazed chemistry grad student who wanted to be a dancer, a filmmaker, or Allen Ginsberg but who carried this huge weight of serious chemistry all over his body and his shoulders. But he was the most naturally anarchistic one of all of us. He drove recklessly. He smoked too much. He dated all the women we knew.
And there was Maggie, who we said would smile and hand you a hand grenade like it was a lovely piece of fruit. She would later become a New Yorker, a macrobiotic lesbian witch painter who crammed her canvases with live fish and dead fish bones. But back then she was clear as a bell, a real hippie girl.
And there was Teddy, who had this laugh like Bugs Bunny. Teddy was everybody's best friend and confidant. Teddy had a major flaw when it came to activism though. When it came time to be arrested, Teddy was out the door.
There was Michelle. Michelle was a stalwart, a Quaker. She was well trained in nonviolence and consensus decision making. And she was the most radically left of all of us, first to be arrested and last to back down.
There's Kirk. Kirk was beautiful, and he rode a 10-speed bicycle up and down the hills of Madison without ever touching the handle bars, reading Joseph Conrad or William Faulkner. Handsome Kirk was Stalwart Michelle's lover until Small Craig's eyes moved him into Michelle's heart. That change left Kirk quivering with emotion and Betty Byzantine just quivering. That was the core of my radioactivist family, and I was often our unofficial spokesperson. I was 27, usually barefoot, and my hair was down to my hips. Came from a poverty background with little education. I was weak on the facts, but fierce with emotion and so earnest in those days. Earnest with the cops, earnest with the plant workers, earnest with the judge.
That was the group of us that went into battle armed with good intentions and a not long for the real world glow of love for each other. And we blockaded that nuclear power plant.
Beau O'Reilly's story continues in a minute when our program continues.
It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week here on this program we chose a theme. We invite a variety of writers and performance to take a whack at the theme. And today, all of our stories are about friends who get together to try to do some thing and who end up enemies. We return now to Beau O'Reilly's story about his radioactivist friends. As you will recall, they have blockaded a nuclear power plant with results they more or less expected.
The initial jailing lasted three or four days, and it was quite frightening for Betty Byzantine. She was with Maggie and Michelle, and both of them remained cool throughout. But that couldn't have helped her. Her fear was now sprinkled with that hot sauce of shame when she judged herself in comparison to them. There were the sounds of beating in adjacent cells and women weeping, and the cell was giddy with disinfectant. It was very frightening for Betty.
That was probably the first crack in the bond between Betty Byzantine and the rest of us. Because the rest of us delighted in having some of the real dirt of the system under our fingernails. That dirt was everywhere in the county jail. And that same dirt, it made Betty Byzantine shake. And as she was already quivering from the recent coupling of Small Craig and Stalwart Michelle, this trembling had become her way of being.
By the time we got to the trial, we were in hippie heaven. And we did wild things there. We read Dr. Seuss books to the jury, and we actually won the judge over and were acquitted. But Betty Byzantine wept on the stand. She snuffled, and she sneezed and spoke in badly formed half sentences, forgetting the judge name.
The rest of us, we radioactivists rejoiced in our victory. And we came home from the trial prancing and proud and puffed up like David after he delivers that stone onto the head of Goliath. We had an instant reputation amongst the activists for our intensity and our recklessness. And we had two or three, four more actions over the next two years, sticking to the principles of our nonviolence and growing closer and closer to each other.
Probably I never loved anyone as cleanly and without qualm as I loved those radioactivists. All except Betty Byzantine. She loved only Small Craig, and she clung to him like a burr to a blanket, standing off to one side and offering her opinions when asked. And helped when needed, but never initiating anything. Always just there. Her eyes were hooded and secretive as she watched Small Craig and Stalwart Michelle boastful in their pink love haze. They of course were oblivious to Betty Byzantine's painful observation role.
But I wasn't oblivious to it. I could have acted on it. I would have too, except this coldness I felt for her. I was aware of her tension and her fear, and I could have helped her. I could have helped her vent her emotions. I could have suggested kindly that she take a sabbatical. And with any of the others in the group, I would've done that. I saw Betty Byzantine's hurt, but I didn't follow my own rules and reach out to her.
We were in our most active period, driving every weekend to trials, actions, conferences, speaking up and speaking out, often driving hundreds of miles a day and sleeping in a pile on someone's floor or couch. It was fun, but it necessitated very close quarters. And Michelle and Craig's affair intensified and deepened. And they pooled their monies together, and they bought a double sleeping bag so as to have some pretense of privacy when we all collapsed at the end of the day.
And Betty Byzantine watched like a hawk in those minutes before we all bedded down, and she grabbed whatever strip of floor or carpet that remained next to the sprawling double Michelle-Craig sleeping bag body, no matter how humble or pathetic it might seem. And in the dark, she would sniffle herself awake, her nostrils hungry after the lovers' pheromones, her ears struck wide by the sounds of skin against skin.
In the meantime, nuclear power plants still belched and threatened all mankind. And the anti-nuclear movement grew larger and clumsier and more strident. We began to argue with increasing force about what steps to take next.
We were small and able to act cleanly and without compromise, and that seemed great compared to the bloating anti-nuclear organizations that were growing like mushrooms around us. We needed to be what? More forceful, more aggressive, more knowledgeable? More compassionate? More Marxist? More what?
And finally, one night after a long demonstration where we'd been very much in the forefront and there was lots of press and lots of passion, I was sitting up late with Small Craig and Mordecai and Teddy having one in an endless series of dynamic discussions, how the grouped worked and how the group didn't work. And we all agreed that the group needed a renewal of focus. And what was keeping us from getting that new focus? After all, we were all deeply committed to each other. We loved each other. Distraction. And what was the distraction? There was a short list of possibilities. Political rhetoric, day jobs, marijuana, love affairs outside the group, love affairs within the group, Betty Byzantine.
Betty Byzantine, like a huge crack in your favorite coffee cup. Once it's there you can't ignore it. I don't want to be in a group with Betty Byzantine, one of us said. But what a shudder of relief we all felt when we heard it. None of us wanted to be in a group with Betty Byzantine, and we would simply tell her that.
And meeting after meeting went by, with the four of us telling Betty Byzantine. Now in retrospect, this seems outrageous, I guess, that we would spend months stuck on this one thing and unable to get through it. But in those days, that was how we did things, our group process, how we talked. That was our strength. That was the subject of endless fascination to us. It was what really interested us-- group consensus. And group consensus insisted on Betty Byzantine acknowledging our rejection and agreeing, consenting. And she would not.
I mean, Betty Byzantine would state flatly that she had no intention of leaving this group. Maggie and Michelle at first listened. They played it neutral, trying to be helpful to both sides of the disagreement. But slowly, this began to shift.
Betty Byzantine did not wish to leave the group, and she should not be forced to leave, they argued. Our process was more crucial. It was more actively nonviolent. How we got to our decision, that was the important thing. That was much more important than the decision. Maggie and Michelle called for a decision, an agreement in our argument that would include Betty Byzantine.
But Betty Byzantine grew flatter meeting after meeting. And the men, they grew hotter and harsher.
Betty Byzantine needed extra help. She needed extra attention. She was not strong enough. These were our surface reasons for not wanting to work with her. But these declarations of candor, this need to tell the truth under fire, it took on a life of its own. And all four of us felt compelled to just tell all and hold nothing back.
Betty Byzantine was not charismatic. That was a problem. Betty Byzantine was not essential. She was not cool enough. She was not attractive. Betty Byzantine was a drag. And Betty Byzantine hunched her shoulders and she quivered and she stuck to her guns. She took it. But she would not leave this anti-nuclear family.
And then finally, one night, I'd had it, and I just said it coldly and flatly. You know, you have to leave the group for the sake of the group. And if you don't, the group will cease to exist. And I will not agree to continue on like this.
And Betty Byzantine said, no, she would not leave. And in that moment, the group ended. And the look on Betty's face, and the other women, and maybe on all of our faces, was a look of horror that it had gotten so hard and harsh between us all.
And the door slammed. It just slammed shut that night. And we'd failed to reach an agreement, and there would be no unanimous revelation. We ended as an activist group, and most of our friendships just sort of blew away. Maggie and Michelle left the community. Betty Byzantine surprised us all then by deepening her activism, becoming a major organizer in the women's movement. And ironically, the rest of us just drifted from activism. Betty Byzantine really showed us all.
So today when I saw her at the mall and she gave me that long, cold finger, I could see that she had progressed. She was no longer hunched and quivering. Betty Byzantine seemed to be doing just fine.
[MUSIC- "WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED" BY PETE SEEGER]
Act Three, Racial Factions.
People do things in a group that they would never do one-on-one. For yet another example of that, we turn now to Glenn Loury.
Glenn Loury's on the list, whenever anybody makes a list these days, of the preeminent black intellectuals in this country. Formerly a professor at Harvard, now at Boston University. His writing appears in a variety of scholarly and popular publications, including the Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, and many, many conservative journals of opinion.
In the prologue to his book, One by One from the Inside Out, a book of essays on race and responsibility, as it says on the cover, Loury tells the story of an incident that happened to him in the 1960s on the south side of Chicago where he grew up.
He was at a black political rally, the exact nature of which he writes he does not remember. His best friend, Woody Jordan, brought him.
Woody is a guy who looks like a white guy to anybody who didn't know him and who'd be walking by on the street. They would assume that he was white. Anyway, we're at this rally, and Woody wants to say something. And the leaders, these guys in dashikis, the Black Power captains, sort of turn on him sharply, and they sort of say, what are you doing here? How can you have something to say at our rally? That's part of our problem. White people are always peeping our hole card was the phrase that was used, I remember very clearly. But we never can go downtown and find out what the white man is thinking about. And then finally the guy says, who can vouch for this man? And to my everlasting shame, the fact of the matter is, I failed to speak up for my lifelong friend. I failed to vouch for him and to tell them that this guy was OK.
I was intimidated by these guys and perhaps insecure in my own authenticity as a black person. And I abandoned my friend in order to not offend the sensibilities of people who were essentially strangers.
Can I ask you, at one point in the essay you write, "I would always be black in white America, yet my standing among other blacks could be made conditional upon my fidelity to the prevailing party line of the moment." I wonder, do you see part of this as the nature just of any group, any religious, or political, or social group, that as soon as it begins to define itself as a group, inevitably it begins to define who is in and who is out? Who is really in and who is really out?
Well, yes, I suppose that's so. Although, as I say, I would always be black in white America. That is, there's a sense in which for African Americans, to a certain degree, those boundaries are given in the situation. And we then add to them by, as I say, constructing these tests of what it means to be genuinely or really black. Black people are not supposed to be interested in classical music. They're not supposed to be interested in the German language. We're not supposed to like Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and so on.
Glenn Loury says in his essay that after that rally, he and Woody never discussed the incident. And while they continued to be friends for a while, things were never the same between them.
When I called Woody Jordan to get his side of the story, he had not spoken to Glenn Loury in years. He didn't know that his former best friend had written any books, much less any that mentioned him.
Jordan still lives in Chicago, is an attorney in the Public Defender's Office on the murder task force. He has a caseload of 25 adults and juveniles, all of them accused of homicide. The largest thing on the wall behind his desk at work is a poster, put out by the Black Panthers. "Eldridge Cleaver for President," it says, with the word "revolution" twice in huge block letters. And though his old friend Glenn Loury doesn't remember what rally it was a quarter century ago, Woody Jordan remembers. He says it was a Black Panther rally immediately after police killed panther leader Fred Hampton in his bed in the middle of the night in Chicago.
The evidence showed that there were 72 rounds fired from outside of the apartment. Man, this gets me mad just talking about it. There were 72 rounds fired into the apartment. And maybe, maybe, one round fired out.
But while he remembers the politics of the rally and the details of the murder, he had completely forgotten the incident that Glenn Loury describes in his essay. He said this kind of challenge about his blackness happened to him all the time when he was a kid. On the street, at parties, at school, from cops. And he was surprised that his friend found any reason to write about the rally at all.
It didn't bother me any more than to the end of the day. You know, I never said anything about it because it wasn't any big thing. Obviously, it was a big thing for him. And if it was, he should have said something by now, doggone it. But by then, my emotional callouses were quite thick. That particular incident, I had honestly forgotten about it because it had happened so often before. It didn't stick in my mind that much.
Let me ask you what you make of this sentence from Glenn Loury's writing. He says, "Upon reflection, my refusal to stand up to Woody exposed the tenuous quality of my own personal sense of racial authenticity. The fact is I willingly betrayed someone I had known for a decade, a person whom I loved and who loved me, in order to avoid the risk of being rejected by strangers.
I had feared that to proclaim before the black radicals in the audience that this white boy at my side was in fact our brother would have compromised my own chance of being received among them as a genuine colleague."
Let me ask you, what do you think of that? What's your reaction?
I can take it two ways. I can take it one, as just being-- I mean, you got to remember. He's talking about a time when he was still a freaking kid. OK, that's one way of looking at it. The other way of looking at it is, let us assume that this is an adolescent who was, in fact, in possession of all of the faculties of an adult male, of a grown man. Maybe what was going through his mind is, what's more important, one individual or my people? Unity or one individual? And how do you answer that? How do you answer that?
I think that in the final analysis when you're talking about a situation where you feel that your people's survival is actually threatened, then your people are more important than one individual.
But if you follow that argument to its logical conclusion, then you're saying that he would have been right to turn his back on you in that crowd if the situation were dire enough.
I'm not so sure it wasn't. I'm not so sure it wasn't.
But he would be right at your expense and at the expense of your friendship.
What's more important, your people or one individual? I'm just one person. I'm not that important. Maybe what he did was the right thing. Maybe what he did was right. The issue is unity, not friendship at that point.
Oh, that's fascinating. He certainly has got the spirit of the moment just right because the issue was unity. And I wish it were true. I wish it were the case that my motives had been that pure, that I had said, ah, the right thing to do here at some level is to defend Woody, but that would disrupt the unity of this meeting. But you see, that wasn't my thinking. I mean, I was not a politician. I was an 18-year-old kid. I was somebody who was overwhelmed by the more immediate and visceral feelings of acceptance and embarrassment and insecurity. The only unity that I was interested in was the unanimity of that group in thinking that I was a good guy. You know what I'm saying? Not black people forever and we got to stick together to fight the man. It was just merely, please don't look askance at Glenn.
One of the odd things about this story is that it's Woody who takes you to the rally, and then it's him who ends up having to leave in shame.
Yeah, and Woody is the guy who's working as a public defender defending black and Hispanic, I'm sure almost entirely, people accused of murder. And I'm the guy who people call a black neoconservative whose daughter, ironically, is an assistant district attorney in Chicago at this very moment.
Really? So your daughter could be prosecuting cases that he's defending?
She prosecutes juvenile felons, some of whom are up for murder. I don't know if his practice includes the public defender of juvenile defendants. But in theory, yes.
I think you guys should sell the movie rights to this to somebody. I don't know exactly who. There's some made-for-TV movie in here somewhere. I don't know what.
You know, yeah, that's an idea. But it abounds in ironies, that's for sure.
I should tell you that in his office he sits-- the largest thing in his office right behind him when you come in and see him is, there's an Eldridge Cleaver poster.
Get out of here.
No, for real.
That's unbelievable. ,
Unbelievable in what way?
Well, you know, the last time I read Soul on Ice it almost made me want to throw up. I mean, Eldridge Cleaver of 1968, yeah. Eldridge Cleaver looked at now with 28 years hindsight, my god.
What's on the walls of your office right now?
Photographs of me in the company of Ronald Reagan on one occasion and Margaret Thatcher on another, among many other things. But let me just duly note that those things are there.
JUDY BLUE EYES" BY CROSBY, STILLS, AND NASH]
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