I was a high school
dropout, sophomore year. Pretty much had a nervous breakdown. My whole
life was a war zone. I haven’t gone through anything on this scene
that could match living there. I had to fight all the way through. I
had family problems, but I also had major problems with the community.
I did not fit in there from the get. The cops, the skinheads, the crackheads
down here can’t hold a candle to those rednecks up there when
it comes to brutality. You couldn’t be a radical in high school
because there was nobody to be radical with. I woke up in puddles of
blood and piss so many times that, like I say, what goes on down here—I
don’t get impressed with riots. From grammar school, junior high,
high school, I was beaten unconscious so many times it’s amazing
that I know the difference.
At one point we created a crew. It was a pretty awesome, pretty wild
thing. We were well on our way to running that bloody high school. But
then there was a falling out, and that’s when things got really
hairy. I was used to fighting the rednecks. I’d had to get in
fistfights with them since second and third grade, but when I had a
blowout with that crew—I mean those guys were dangerous.
At the time, my relationship with my parents was definitely not good.
They were as down on me as the people that were stomping me on the foot
every day. So my home life was one disaster and my school life was another
one. I was a hunted animal. I was worried about surviving, not passing,
and I wasn’t making it. I tried not to have anything that I cared
Kent, Cornwall, Warren, Washington—there’s tons of tiny
little towns around Litchfield County—Goshen, Morris, Bethlehem.
I’ve lived in almost all of them at one time or another. The rural
area up in the northwest corner of Connecticut is where the big New
York State woods kind of rips across the border.
I had a keen scientific interest, which naturally led me to be a materialist,
which naturally led me to be an atheist. I was an atheist by age eight.
I’d say that was the first step outside—as an atheist, as
a bisexual, later on as a user of recreational drugs. I became a political
radical much later.
I was always a person with strong opinions and an alienated side, but
more of a counterculturalist than really political. Then I happened
to be out in San Francisco during the White Night riot of ’79.
That was the first thing like it I’d ever seen. I came back east
shortly after that and didn’t really get involved until they organized
for the Surround the Pentagon action in 1981 in D.C. I did that DC action,
came back, picked up a bunch of leaflets, started looking at them, seeing
what else was going on. Finally I got to a point where I’d go
to a city because there’s an action and grab every leaflet I could.
If that town was boring, I’d go somewhere else. As the country
has gone further and further to the right, the traditional strongholds
start getting floods of refugees—New York, San Francisco, and
Berkeley. It’s happened over and over and over. Things get too
hard on the East Coast, go west. Five years, six years later, it’s
too hard on the West Coast, come back east. Except right now both coasts
suck. I don’t know what you do.
I was involved with the Lower East Side scene first with the Yippies—Youth
International Party. I was staying at 9 Bleecker faction. The squatters’
movement had kicked off in the early- to mid-eighties and it seemed
like the way to go. Actually, squatting is something the Yippies called
for even back in ’68. In the chapter on housing, it says that
urban centers are full of empty abandoned buildings—take them
over, fortify them, call them home. Why feed the greedy landlords? Nobody
really took it as far as we did back then because rents were still relatively
cheap. But suddenly that chapter of the book made more and more sense.
A bunch of us from 9 Yip came down here and got involved in the squatting
scene quite early.
I’d squatted other places before I came to New York City, squatted
a couple of abandoned houses in the country, squatted an abandoned radar
base. I’d just been doing a bunch of local traveling around, moving
back and forth, in and out of the city. Technically, I was staying with
friends, but it was kind of a cramped arrangement. But when the whole
tent city came together, I made the move into Tompkins Square Park and
spent the spring, summer, and fall there. I think it must have been
1989. I literally moved in. I was one of two people who actually gave
spaces up to move into tent city.
We were winning things right and left, both in the streets and in the
courts, for a good three years. We were the only park in the city without
a curfew, because we fought. We went from the announcement on the radio
the day before the riot that there would be a curfew in all city parks,
to the day after the riot with the mayor on the radio saying that there
would be a curfew in all city parks except Tompkins Square. And that’s
what held for three years. We proved that just straight up in your face
Then we won the fire-barrel battle, which was long and hard-pressed
that first winter. They started it as a way of harassment, busting homeless
people for burning fires in barrels to stay warm. We took something
like thirty-eight arrests that winter defending fire barrels. We had
fire hoses turned on us in hard winter, fought it to the point where—partly
because of the excellent lawyer work of Stanley Cohen—we actually
wound up with permission for six fire barrels. Because the city had
to admit that if people were allowed to stay there, they had a certain
responsibility to see that they didn’t freeze to death. Of course,
by that time, one of us had frozen to death because the police had come
in and put an old man’s fire barrel out, and the old man died
on a park bench. He was quite a nice guy, one of the many we’ve
lost since I’ve been involved here. I try to concentrate on the
fun of this thing, but it ain’t all fun. I’ve lost a lot
The loss of the park was one of three blows that seriously damaged the
Lower East Side. The three big setbacks were the loss of 3BC squat,
the sabotage of our books at the bookstore, and then the park. That
was our final breaker.
I only had one arrest before I came to New York, a disorderly conduct
in a bar one night, back in my late teens. Since then, my record says
arrested eight times, three on my present record, but I actually calculate
it’s more like forty-one times. The worst thing that I was ever
charged with was assaulting officers with weapons in ’91, ’92.
Those charges didn’t stick. They were totally baseless. The possession-of-dynamite
charge came out of the encounter when Tompkins Square Park first reopened.
I wasn’t even in town for the big riot of ’88. I had just
come out of jail in New Orleans, where Pat Robertson had had me arrested
by the Secret Service for harassment at the Republican Convention. So
I got out of jail the next morning, launched a project called Draft
Dodgers for Quayle, and then the following day flew back to New York—the
first time I’d ever flown in my life. What a trip. I’m on
probation now for felony riot on the same night that they accused me
of the assault—the ’91 Memorial Day riot.
I’ve been at Glass House for a year and five months, since the
beginning of last September. I like to travel. It’s really only
these last couple of years of probation that have made me a Lower East