Chapter 1: Early Experiences
One of the early influences on my life and thinking was a result of the accidental design of the street we lived on. Sycamore Street, named for the rows of sycamore trees lining both sides of the block, was a dead-end street with houses built close together—there were even a couple of duplex units at the end of the street—altogether about twenty-four houses and about thirty kids. It was the concentration of houses and kids that made it wonderful. Because of the dead end we could play touch football, softball, or tag and have almost no interference from cars. The dead end was where the cars could go no further, but for us it was the entrance to a hardwood forest where we could play and explore for days on end. As long as I lived there, the woods remained a touch of semi-wilderness for us suburban dwellers.
Life for the children on Sycamore Street was exceptional. Our parents always rose to the occasion of being good parents as well as excellent entertainers. They would consistently make already special days like the Fourth of July and birthdays really memorable because of their extra effort to make it fun for us. For example, the Fourth of July is a national holiday celebrated to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but I think the celebration on Sycamore Street in Cleveland Heights was unique to our neighborhood.
The day was carefully planned by the parents—almost every parent—way in advance, and almost everyone, parents and children, participated in some way. By 9 a.m. the street was blocked off and remained that way until 10 that evening. The first event was a parade with every child—and some adults— dressed in costumes. We paraded from one end of the street to the other, with the youngest pulled in wagons by their parents. Prizes were given for the best costumes. Then everyone ate free ice cream, and balloons festooned the air. The afternoon consisted of all kinds of races and games, some for the adults.
The big treat of the day was a “moving picture.” This was 1927 or 1928 when the films were eight millimeter black and white and pretty jerky. One of our neighbors worked for General Electric in Cleveland, and he was able to borrow a projector and films from GE. He also filmed the parade and the day’s events. Each year he would show the previous year’s film so that all the children and parents could see themselves. In the early evening families ate together and shared in the conclusion of the day’s celebration.
Another special occasion I recall was when one of the neighbors, who happened to be a friend of the owner of Rin Tin Tin, arranged a special performance for the entire neighborhood. The famous dog movie star showed up one day with his owner to give us a free show. Rin Tin Tin performed his tricks, and we were all very impressed.
I was born on March 26, 1918. My father was of Scotch/Irish background and my mother of Pennsylvania Dutch. The name Swann with two “n”s is not common, but it appears that a Swann clan settled in North Carolina back in the 1700s, and there is a town near Asheville named “Swannanona.” I happened to be in the vicinity once and looked the name up in the telephone book. Almost half were spelled with double “n.” My father, born in 1878, told me that his father had moved from North Carolina to Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the mid 1800s.
Even though my grandfather lived as a Yankee in Indiana, his roots remained in the South. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he, like many others at that time, had a hard decision to make about which side to fight on. One day while still deciding what to do, his father (my great-grandfather) was shaving when my grandfather asked him what he should do. Which side should he fight on? Without looking up or giving his son a glance he said, “Abraham Lincoln is President, isn’t he?” and went on shaving.
My grandfather must have distinguished himself in some way during the Civil War because my father said he was known all over Fort Wayne as Captain Scott Swann, and he had several medals to show. (Scott is my middle name.) I never heard my father refer to it, but I am afraid my grandfather’s fame may have depended on his role as a captain in General Sherman’s notorious “scorched earth” march through the South near the end of the war.
My father was a member of the Knights Templar (I remember seeing him dressed in the regalia of the Order, including a sword) and the Masonic Lodge. I don’t remember that he ever talked about them , and to this day I have very little knowledge of these Orders.
One other memory of interest was that my father had a collection of daguerreotype photos from the Civil War. It was a well-known collection by a famous photographer. He kept these large, very realistic photos depicting the dead and dying men of the Civil War stored on the third floor of our house. I used to sneak up the stairs to look at them—not that they were a secret, but somehow I felt guilty looking at them. I’m sure that on a subconscious level these photos played a role in my later anti-war convictions.
My mother was the second oldest in a family of five girls and one boy. She grew up in Ashland, Ohio. Her father was a police officer most of his life and was known as Bob around town. I don’t remember ever seeing him in a uniform, but I do recall him being somewhat of a tyrant at home, sitting in a rocking chair in his large house in Ashland and occasionally giving orders to my grandmother, who was always busy cooking or working in her garden. Grandma had a “summer” kitchen under the porch roof, where she baked. Her fresh bread, especially her potato bread, was a delight I always looked forward to. I also loved to visit Ashland because my grandparents had a player piano that mesmerized me. All I had to do was push a button and out came a song.
My parents met in a restaurant that my mother’s uncle owned and operated in a summer resort town outside of Cleveland, near Lake Erie. My dad frequented this restaurant, where my mother was working one summer.
My mother unfortunately did not inherit my grandmother’s skills in the kitchen. When she was old enough, it was my mother’s responsibility to bring in additional money to help support the family of eight. Large chain stores were already invading small towns. She worked in a local department store, which I think was J. C. Penny. Consequently, she never learned to cook, and when she married my father, she had to learn everything from a book. I remember her holding a book in one hand while with the other she stirred what she was cooking with a wooden spoon.
I began kindergarten in 1923 and loved it. We played games and sang songs. I also liked the social aspect of contact with other kids and generally had a good time. The school was in walking distance of my house, and my mother would take me there and pick me up. On the way home she would buy me a fresh waffle with powdered sugar from the “waffle man.” This made going to kindergarten a pleasurable event.
But then it all changed. I moved on to first grade, where we all had to sit in our chairs most of the day and listen to the teacher talk. We had only a brief break for lunch and a ten minute recess. We were learning to read and also to draw pictures on paper. This was all very well, but there was almost no time to play games and have fun. Besides, I found I could do the exercises (drawing pictures and writing the alphabet) faster than the other students. Then, having nothing to do, I would amuse myself by teasing someone. When this activity began to cause a commotion, the teacher reprimanded me, telling me to be quiet. But one day I apparently persisted, and in desperation she tried to catch hold of me. A chase ensued, with all the kids laughing. I managed to get behind an old upright piano where she couldn’t reach me. She left the room muttering and returned with the principal. Between the two of them, they managed to pull me out from behind the piano.
The principal marched me to her office and called my father to come for me. It took some time because he was on the other side of town. Meanwhile, I had to sit in the principal’s office while she and other staff people glared at me. When my father arrived, he spent some time discussing my fate with the principal, who then announced what my sentence would be: when my mother brought me to school in the morning, the principal would take me up to the second floor, past the sixth grade class. It was humiliating to have these older kids snicker as I went by. Then the principal put me in a coat closet. There I was to stay, locked in this little room with no toys or anything to amuse me. The only thing to look at was a small high window, which was too high for me to peer through. I was to stay there all day until my mother came to pick me up after school. Then, as soon as I got home, I had to go to my room and remain there until the next day. This punishment lasted for two weeks.
I am sure my mother felt bad about this; she spent a lot of time reading stories to me and playing games with me while I stayed in my room. I could forgive her but not my father. From that time on I felt alienated from him, and I suppose some of that alienation rubbed off on my mother. I’m sure I never felt as close to her after that, either.
To address my advanced ability the teacher and the principal decided that I should be advanced one whole year ahead of my class. I think they were right to do this, except that skipping a year of mathematics has always made that subject more difficult for me.
A couple of other positive experiences stand out in my memory. When I was ten years old, I had the good luck of being able to attend an all-boys summer camp in upper Michigan. Although the camp was only for two months, it made a lasting impression on me, as I’m sure many summer camps do on those who are lucky enough to go. I learned to swim and ride horseback; we also camped out, and I had no fear of the wilderness after that. It was a real fellowship, as the owner and director of the camp had promised my parents when they signed me up for it.
Something I remember with particular fondness was spending two summers on my uncle’s farm near Wooster, Ohio, beginning the year I turned eight. My uncle didn’t own a tractor yet; he still had a team of horses. I learned to drive the team to plow the fields and pull the hay wagon and hay rake. I loved working with the horses, who didn’t need much direction. They knew when to turn at the end of a furrow and where to go when my uncle said “go home.” I also learned to milk by hand four or five cows each night and morning. I liked the way the animals disciplined all of us—they knew when to come home to wait for their bundle of hay and to be milked.
My aunt Kate always had a big garden, and the food she preserved at the height of the harvest added greatly to their self-reliance during the winter months. I remember fondly the cherry tree, which supplied the household with fresh cherries and preserves. It was my first farm experience, and I loved it. I have identified with farmers ever since.
My uncle was involved in helping to create the first Ohio Farm Bureau as a cooperative. This was in the 1920s, before the Depression, but even then I understood that farmers were struggling for their livelihood. For me the lifestyle was idyllic, and I didn’t want to go back to the city at the end of the summer. After those two summers, however, I went back only once or twice for short visits. By then my uncle, who loved machines, had bought a tractor and sold his horses. I was very sad, because I loved the animals and not the machines. The horses had personality, and I missed them. He had also cut down a lot of the large trees that graced the yard. I remember they provided shade and a certain elegance to the house and farm, and with their absence I felt an emptiness to the whole scene. The place felt less human, and the machines could not make up for the living animals and trees. My uncle was later killed, having gotten ensnared in one of his beloved machines. One of his sons then took over the farm.
During my younger years I am afraid that school was never very attractive to me. How much my first grade experience contributed to my dislike of school I cannot say, but I could never—right through high school—overcome my aversion. My lack of interest was in school, not learning, however, and I consumed many books. My father, incidentally, was a self-taught person who never attended school past the elementary grades. He was nevertheless rather well read and had a considerable collection of the classics. I must admit I never saw him reading these books, and I never asked him how he got them. He was also an avid newspaper reader and regularly read columnists like Walter Lippman, with whom I could sometimes agree. But my father and I disagreed more often than not and had numerous arguments on almost every subject. My mother never participated in these arguments. It was simply not her realm of communication. More than anything our discussions would upset her, and she didn’t like to listen to us.
When I was in high school, from age thirteen to sixteen, I was fortunate to have the friendship of a true teacher, Reverend Joseph Sitler, the young minister of our local Lutheran church. My school was located a short distance from the church, so I would stop off at his office after school to discuss the books he suggested I read. I spent a great deal of time talking with Joe and absorbing his knowledge of music and books. I read German philosophers like Hegel, Nietzche, and Spengler, and novels by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, authors who are usually read in college. He also taught me to love classical music, particularly Bach, whose music is closely connected with the liturgy of the Lutheran church. I had permission from Joe to play the church organ. I could improvise simple tunes while pretending that I knew how to play. The organ played a special role in my life at that time.
Joe’s family came from a long line of Lutheran ministers, and he still had strong family ties in Germany. When Joe returned from one particularly long trip to Germany in 1935, he reported on how the Nazis, since coming to power in 1933, were bringing Germany back to life. They were pouring money into transportation and prided themselves on their effective railroad system, whose trains were running on time throughout the country. This was also the time when the Autobahns were built, providing both employment and transportation not available before. In addition, unemployment was extremely low as a result of all the new projects funded by the German government. I began to feel uneasy because I had also heard about how the Nazis were treating the Jews. When I questioned Joe, he was defensive but didn’t push his points.
Joe had a brother, Edward (we called him “Eppy”), who was younger than Joe but older than me and who was an exceptionally talented singer. He and the Sitler family lived in Columbus near Ohio State University. When I enrolled there in 1936, I was often invited to join with the family and hear Eppy sing at their home. Eppy also took a trip to Germany in 1935 or 1936, and he came back full of praise for the Nazis. In fact, he decided to return to Germany and remained there during the entire war. I heard indirectly that he worked for the propaganda organization headed by Joseph Goebbels, but I lost track of him after the United States entered the war in 1941.
During my time at the university, Joe Sitler and I continued our discussions about current events. As the minister of a church, he could not in any way support the Nazis, but his personal experience of being challenged by a Nazi brother and having seen the positive things the Nazis were doing for Germany perplexed him. Although he disagreed with my position, he could to some degree sympathize. His uncertainty was symbolic of the overall tension in the United States at the time. At the beginning of the war I remember Joe saying, “There is no question who is going to win the war [the United States], but the Nazis had a point.” After the war I never saw him again, but I heard that he had become chairman of the Luthern Seminary at University of Chicago, a prestigious organization and then later joined the protest movement against the war in Vietnam—he spoke in Orchestra Hall in Chicago with Staughton Lynd at a rally.
By a curious coincidence a similar struggle was going on within the E. F. Schumacher family in Germany at the time. Fritz Schumacher, who was to become my friend and associate many years later, had decided to leave Germany with his young family in 1932 when the Nazis were coming to power. His father, a professor, decided to stay, however, and although he wrote critically of the Nazis, he was not seriously harmed. Fritz and his father were never fully reconciled when they met again after the war.
I believe the experience of the war—the horrific violence and atrocities, the death and destruction, the separation of families—led many to reflect on the causes of war and violence. In his essay “Roots of Violence,” Schumacher dealt with their deeper, underlying causes and the scale to which they can be carried, as represented by the Nazis and the atomic bomb.
I had my first love affair when I was seventeen. Mary was, like me, alienated from school and in love with classical music. We weren’t in the same class but knew each other slightly—until we accidentally arrived at the same Cleveland Symphony Orchestra concert. We hit it off, and I was sure we would be married. We particularly loved going to the Cleveland Art Museum, which had recently installed a new organ (built by a local organ builder) in one of its large rooms adorned with paintings and sculptures. The sound of the organ in that room was overpowering. Mary and I often went to the museum on our dates.
Marriage never came about, though. She spent the whole summer following our junior year visiting friends in Louisiana, and when she returned the bloom of our romance had faded. From then on we met only casually. Her mother had something to do with it, I was sure, as she had tight reins on Mary, an only child from a broken marriage. I graduated without honors from high school and left home for Ohio State University the following fall, returning only for occasional visits. I was too alienated from my father, who was a staunch Republican, and from my mother, who simply gave her stamp of approval to my father’s position on everything. It hurt me to see this because I liked my mother and hated to see her so dominated by my father.
Chapter 2: The Depression–Ohio State University and Farming
We were a reasonably happy middle-class family until 1929. Then came the stock-market crash, and everything changed. My father lost his job as treasurer for Harris, Siebold & Potter Company, a large printing operation famous for inventing the printing method that created color cartoons. As a result of the crash, Harris, Siebold & Potter was bought out by a bigger company, similar to what is happening now. Before my father lost his job, his annual salary was about $10,000. In today’s terms that would be between $75,000 and $100,000. I remember my mother crying uncontrollably over our loss of income. Dad worked at whatever came along, and his income dropped to about $250.00 a month. It took several years for him to find full-time work again.
We had to give up what minor luxuries we had. It hit my mother the hardest when she had to let the maid go and do all the housework herself. I was eleven years old at the time, and I vividly recall this traumatic period for the family. I felt helpless to do anything about it; I knew not whom to blame or whom to fight with to make the situation change. My younger brother, Jim, was only five at the time, so he doesn’t have as vivid a memory as I do of those days. (I had been asking my parents for quite awhile to give me a brother so that I would have someone to play with at home, and just when I entered kindergarten they obliged me!)
Before the time of our financial woes I had realized by the age of ten how privileged we really were. I remember my mother taking large quantities of clothes and food to distribute in the poor sections of Cleveland—my first experience of real poverty.
A few of the other families on the street had similar tough experiences, but on the whole they got by better than we did. In fact, in spite of the financial strain we still owned our home and also a 1922 Dodge, which we occasionally used to visit my mother’s family in Ashland, Ohio. Those trips were memorable because of the dirt roads, flat tires, and other adventures with the car. It was about sixty miles to Ashland, but it took all day to make the trip.
In contrast to our suburban life on Sycamore Road, Ashland was a typical small Midwestern farming town when I knew it as a boy. The big event of the week was to bring the whole family into town on Saturday to talk about the weather and how the crops were doing. For the kids it was a great time to meet other kids and eat ice cream cones, which cost 5 cents. Everyone gathered on Main Street when all the stores were open, and the crowd was so thick you could hardly move around. I haven’t been back to Ashland since I was seventeen, but I would be surprised if much has changed since then. As a boy I remember a certain excitement in the air there, which I believe was due to a common interest in the land, on which everyone depended. Of course, that was summertime. I was never there in the winter.
As bad as the Depression was, those years did bring amusing experiences that I remember fondly. In the summer of 1932, at the darkest point of the Depression, when I was fourteen years old and looking for adventure with some of the neighborhood kids, three of us somehow convinced our parents that they should let us go on a trip to northern Michigan in my family’s old 1922 Dodge. The fact that we managed to get approval is either a tribute to our diplomacy or a sign of our parents’ gullibility. In any case, we set off in good spirits, with our parents and all our friends wishing us well. We spent two wonderful weeks camping, fishing, playing baseball, and just fooling around. We found the fishing so good that we would often wait until five in the afternoon to catch our dinner, and within minutes we had huge perch or bass to feast on.
One evening early on our trip we stopped for gas somewhere in southern Michigan. Now, a number of things were wrong with the old Dodge, not the least of which was a missing tail light. To compensate we hung a kerosene lamp on the back of the car so that we could be seen at night. As we pulled into the gas station, we yelled to the attendant to be sure and take the lamp down before putting gas in the tank. Maybe he didn’t hear us or was so accustomed to just pumping gas that he didn’t pay attention. Anyway, there was a sudden explosion, and we saw flames shooting up in the air. We hit the street running and ran at least a block before even turning around. When we did, we saw the attendant holding an extinguisher and spraying the fire, which was almost out. When we finally got up the nerve to return to the car, we asked the attendant, who was still shaking, how he had the courage to run into the store, get the extinguisher, and return in time to put the fire out. He explained that beneath the concrete under the pumps was a thousand-gallon tank of gas, which would have caused a major explosion if the car was left to burn. Amazingly, the car suffered no damage, and we continued on our way, making sure to remove the lamp before anyone could put gas in the tank.
I found that during the years of the Great Depression a spirit of people helping one another prevailed. Most people had a sense that “we’re all in the same boat together.” For instance, I didn’t own a car —in fact I never owned a car until I was twenty-nine. I always hitchhiked because I didn’t have money to go on buses or trains. Hitchhiking was easy. I never had to wait more than ten or fifteen minutes to get a ride, and people would go out of their way to help me get to my destination. I think it was partly this attitude that helped bring the country through the Depression. One of the things I always have felt about the Depression is the spirit of community and helping one another that came alive. It is regretful that it takes such a calamity for this to happen on a wide scale.
The Depression spurred a number of programs—known as “alphabet soup”—to provide work under the New Deal, such as WPA (Work Project Administration), CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), NRA (National Recovery Administration), HOLC (Home Owners Loan Corporation).
When I entered Ohio State University in 1936, the country was in the throes of the Depression, and I was so poor I could hardly pay the tuition—even though it was only about $100 for the entire year. Jobs were so few that all I could find was a “meal job”—that is, one or two meals in exchange for a shift waiting tables or washing dishes.
To satisfy my need for cash I created a couple of entrepreneurial projects. I bought what must have been the first custom-designed high-fidelity amplifier and record player, which wowed everyone who heard the sound. I used it to put on dances at fraternity and sorority houses for $8 a night. I had always been interested in music since Joe Sitler sat me down and made me listen to classical music in high school, only now my musical choices were popular dance tunes of the day. This enterprise not only provided a source of income, it gave a boost to my social life. Often when I arrived at the fraternity or sorority house, others would want to take charge of the record player, so I could dance with my girlfriends all night.
Another entrepreneurial venture was to go from house to house in suburban neighborhoods selling what was then a new invention—sponge mops. I would simply ask the lady who came to the door if she would like her kitchen floor mopped for free. Many women, like my mother, had given up having maids after 1929 and found themselves reluctantly doing all the household chores. These women never refused a free floor mopping, and they recognized the convenience of the sponge mop over the standard string mops, which needed to be rinsed by hand. I sold one every time and made $1 for every sale.
One summer I even got a job, with help from my dad, at Standard Oil moving kerosene lamps from one job location to the next, following the diggers and welders as they built an oil pipeline all the way from Texas to Cleveland. For this I was paid $1 an hour—high wages at that time. Even though I was earning money, it still wasn’t enough to attend school full time, so instead of paying tuition I audited courses, reading the same books but not receiving credit. That didn’t bother me because I refused to enroll in the required Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) on principle as a Conscientious Objector. This meant I couldn’t get a diploma anyway. I was uncomfortable with the officer status I would receive after graduating, and even then I had already decided I was not going to fight in any war. This was the beginning of my resistance to militarism.
During my time in Columbus at Ohio State University, book learning was a secondary factor in my overall education. Most important at the time was my new interest in painting and drawing. I shifted the courses I audited to the art department. At first, my interest was just curiosity; I wanted to understand why certain artists like Rembrandt are recognized as “great artists” while thousands of others are not. Exactly what made them great? It took more than a year, but slowly I began to understand. One of my teachers, Hoyt Sherman, was especially helpful. He was an accomplished painter and architect who had developed certain techniques to break the conventional way most people view drawing. He had written a well-known book entitled Drawing by Seeing, which explained his methodology. For example, he would turn familiar objects like tables and chairs on their side or upside down and have his students learn to draw them from that perspective. Or he would darken the room and rapidly flash abstract drawings onto a screen for students to draw. In fact, he even had a special building built on the campus to help develop these techniques. Cezanne and Rembrandt were his idols, but to understand them it was necessary to understand abstraction. So influential was he at the University that the dental school required all first-year dental students to take his course in drawing. He convinced them by scientific studies that his method significantly increased peripheral vision, which was an aid for dentists and artists alike.
While I was at Ohio State, I became part of a small student group of “dissidents.” A half dozen of us came together because of our similar anti-war beliefs and perhaps because of creative leanings we shared. Some of us lived together in a loft above a local saloon. Bill Lisky wanted to be a writer; George Bernard Shaw was his role model. Three of us were painters, and one of us was the philosopher “in residence.” We also had a nonresident guru who was a theosophist—a follower of Madam Blavatsky—steeped in Hindu and Indian philosophy. Our staple diet was oatmeal—at all three meals! We did a little scientific study and found that oatmeal comes closest to providing a complete balanced diet. It’s also very cheap. Altogether an odd bunch, we had a sense of community due in large part to our common decision to oppose war and particularly not to join the military, even if drafted. I believe all Conscientious Objectors, no matter what position they take (whether to go to jail or not) feel this strong connection to one another, just as people who turn out for a demonstration, a vigil, or a march feel a sense of community. But the higher the risk or sacrifice, the stronger the feeling.
Like me, the other members were auditing classes but were not trying to get a degree. The Depression had changed our world view and had strengthened our resolve not to follow an individualistic path but to work together and find a new, less explored path. We all agreed on one thing: we would not join the military when the war began, which we all saw as inevitable. But when the war actually did come, only the “philosopher in residence” joined me in going to jail. The pressure from family and other friends was very strong.
Another important factor that influenced my attitude toward war was anti-war movies such as “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “The Big Parade,” which I saw as a youngster of ten or twelve. From Sycamore Street I would walk the half mile to the only local movie house, and for 25 cents I could watch the latest Hollywood films—many of which were war films with “dog fights” in the air and so forth. In fact, the world of space and airplanes interested me a great deal, and I spent a great deal of time making model airplanes. The gory movie scenes made a big impression on me, and my sense of the indescribable tragedy of war stayed with me.
Alex King, one of the nonresident members of our dissident group, came from a Mennonite farm family near Wooster, Ohio, not far from where my uncle’s farm had been. He became a good friend, and we talked often about his father’s farm. His father was aging and Al, with no brothers or sisters, was the only heir to the farm. Al was a talented pianist, and he wanted to pursue his love of music rather than farming. We were both facing the draft, but Al would automatically get CO status (all Mennonite men did) and be allowed to stay on the farm to help run it. Many farmers, doctors, and men with specialized professions were being given this deferment because they were needed for the “war effort” at home. My experience growing up left me determined to get out of the city and work in the country. I remembered fondly the summers on my uncle’s farm, so I suggested to Al that we work together on his farm for at least a year; by then I should have learned a great deal about farming. He agreed, and with his father’s approval we set out to take on the hundred-acre farm.
Al was somewhat familiar with the idea of organic farming, which was just beginning to be heard of. In fact, even within the Mennonite community a discussion was going on over the issue. The community was split between the progressive and traditional way of life. Although not as radical as the Amish, the traditional community shied away from using machinery, including automobiles and tractors. They did not use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or insecticides but rather used methods such as composting and crop rotation and continued to use horses. The “progressives,” on the other hand, were embracing modern ways: using synthetic fertilizers to increase productivity, utilizing tractors, and trying out other mechanized implements. The organic farmers were somewhere in between—although they wanted to stay with traditional organic methods, they also wanted to utilize modern machinery and explore new methods. Al instinctively wanted to farm organically, so we set out to learn from some of the traditional farmers. (We did not know it at the time, but Louis Bromfield was also setting out to experiment with organic farming on his farm nearby. His book Malabar Farm, published in 1946, was one of the first to challenge “modern” chemical farming).
We ran a small rotation of hay, corn, and wheat; oversaw the small fruit orchard; and managed twelve milking cows. I remember harvest time well. Before the combine was invented, men used the threshing machine, and all available hands in the community would take turns working on one another’s farms loading sheaves of wheat onto the wagon and into the machine. I had great fun passing from farm to farm; never had I worked as hard as I did that season. The women would cook everything for us , so we were well fed—and tired as dogs by the end of the day.
Al was a dissident not only from regular society for his anti-war beliefs but also from his own church as well. While agreeing with the Peace Church position of the Mennonites, he couldn’t accept their “Hellfire and Brimstone” theology. I came to have a deep appreciation of the Mennonites but, like Al, could not accept their theology. I liked the Mennonite way of life for the same reasons I liked my uncle’s farm when I was a boy. I was rejecting the urban way of life for its sterility. I think I realized intuitively that it was not sustainable. At the same time I wanted to belong to a group or community in which people worked together for the common good—as the Mennonites do.
I remember one incident that got Al and me in trouble. Mennonites have strict rules of behavior tied to their religious beliefs. One of them is absolute abstinence from alcoholic beverages. The summer I was there was a very productive season for fruit. The black cherries in particular were prolific. Al and I decided we should make wine from them. We stored the cherries in glass bottles in the basement where they couldn’t be seen and then more or less forgot about them. One day we were sitting around the table, and suddenly there was a terrific explosion from the basement. Al and I looked at each other and tried to keep from laughing. I think his parents had to do some penance at church for our misbehavior.
Shortly before my year with Al on the farm was over, I received a letter from Jack Weigle, another dissident friend from the university. He had not lived in our loft but met with us occasionally. In his letter Jack told me about the plans he, his older brother Gene, and Gene’s wife, Bea, were making to set up an intentional community near Bennington, Vermont. This venture was being shaped by Gene, who was a musician, composer, and visionary. Gene had built his own house outside of Cleveland, where he was the organist for a local church. The house was an exact replica of the typical New England salt box design, including the lead glass windows. Gene had long planned to escape the city and start a cooperative farm somewhere in the East. Jack invited me to join them, and without hesitation I accepted. After spending the winter with Al’s family I accompanied Jack, Gene, and Bea to Vermont in the spring of 1942.
The time I spent in Vermont was so short (because I was arrested six months after my arrival by a Federal Marshall) that I don’t have a clear memory of it. I can remember working in the woods with the team of horses we bought. I remember Gene playing and singing folk songs, which were not yet popular then. Gene was a first-rate musician, playing organ, piano, flute, and violin, and was also a composer. After the war he taught music composition at a midwestern university.
At some point during my stay in Vermont, I went with friends to visit Scott and Helen Nearing in southern Vermont. I was impressed by how much they had accomplished toward self-sufficiency in food and by the house they built themselves. When I later heard that they had moved to Maine, I thought it must have been a heart-wrenching decision to leave all they had built, including a gravity collection system for gathering maple syrup, a major source of income for them.
Chapter 3: Richard Gregg and The Power of Nonviolence
During my time in New England I had the opportunity to meet Richard Gregg, author of The Power of Nonviolence, a book I read before going to prison in 1942. He had spent considerable time working and walking with Gandhi, and it was this experience he recorded in the book. I met him when he was giving a nonviolence workshop. The workshop was my first real contact with the intellectual ideas behind nonviolence and with other people who were also seeking alternatives to violence. At the time we discussed his plans to work with Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, who had recently moved to the United States to establish a biodynamic farm and training center near Kimberton, Pennsylvania. Biodynamic farming was very new in this country at that time, but along with organic farming it has since become more widespread as the public has become concerned with health and chemical-free food. My farm experiences in Ohio and Vermont provided background for my correspondence with Richard Gregg about farming when I was in prison and after I was released.
When I first met Richard at the workshop, I was not familiar with a small book he had written called The Big Idol. This book, I later discovered, had an answer to the question which had plagued me as a young man during the Depression: Why is money so scarce at one time and plentiful at another, especially during a war or arms race? By the time I discovered the book, Gregg had become ill with a terminal neurological disease, rendering him mute. He was no longer capable of discussing the book. But in recent years other writers, notably Margrit Kennedy, who wrote Interest and Inflation Free Money, have espoused the same idea, which really comes from Silvio Gesell’s The Natural Economic Order (pdf).
The idea is simple: money should not be hoarded, and rather than interest being paid on money not in use, a tax (called a demurrage tax) on money not in circulation should be applied in order to assure that money does not stagnate in the system. Gregg’s book gives an example of how the principle was applied in two towns in Europe (one in Austria and one in Germany) during the Depression. These towns issued their own money and imposed a demurrage tax. The result was dramatic—within a year or so the towns pulled themselves out of the Depression and were thriving again. Unemployment went from 25 percent to almost zero. The two towns became so famous that economists and journalists went there to find out how the miracle came about; among them was Irving Fisher, a professor at Yale University, who wrote articles about the achievement of the two towns.
Fisher, in fact, tried to introduce the system on a national level. President Roosevelt was intrigued and asked Howard Sprague, a Harvard professor, to investigate the idea. Sprague reported back to the President that it could work, but he said it would decentralize the entire banking system because all issue of money was (and is) controlled through the Federal Reserve. Roosevelt vetoed it. Although a few communities and towns did issue their own currency during the Depression, none of them, to my knowledge, used the demurrage tax principle. After Roosevelt discouraged the practice, no more local currencies were issued.
Chapter 4: Federal Prison–Breaking Down Unwanted Rules and Censorship, Correspondence Course with Arthur Morgan
Six months after joining Jack, Gene, and Bea in their cooperative farm venture, I was arrested while working on the farm. As was the case then, I had registered for Selective Service and claimed conscientious objector status. When my draft card arrived, I returned it with a letter notifying the draft board that I was not available for military service. The response was a personal visit from the local U. S. Marshall, who arrested me and put me in the Troy, New York, jail.
Before going to work with Al King on his father’s farm I had decided to take what was called an “absolute position” and not comply with the Selective Service’s policy for conscientious objectors. As a recognized CO I would most likely have ended up working at a Civilian Public Service (CPS) camp, which was similar to minimum prison camps but with a few more privileges, such as greater “leave time.” My decision was influenced by Bayard Rustin, who was the Youth Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a church affiliated organization. I first met Bayard while I was still working on the farm near Wooster, Ohio, when he spoke at a nearby CPS camp. Bayard was traveling around the country speaking at CPS camps, churches, etc. to advocate non-cooperation with the Selective Service. He was recognized as a leader in the civil rights movement as well as in the “radical wing” of the peace movement. I was also moved to action when I saw a front page photograph in The New York Times showing Yale Divinity students burning their draft cards. They were all sent to jail. These two experiences clarified my position as a non-cooperator.
The Troy jail was, I suppose, typical of small county jails. Only a few prisoners were present at any given time, most of them there of their own volition. They were homeless, without family connections, and probably winos. With winter coming on they deliberately committed some minor misdemeanor in order to get a short-term (six months) sentence and enjoy the warmth and security of the jail rather than face the freezing weather without money for food. I wondered how many more of our “criminals” were also voluntary.
From Troy I was moved to Columbus, Ohio, where I spent another month waiting for trial. Jail conditions in Columbus were worse than in Troy. It was crowded, noisy, and the food far from nutritious. Two experiences stand out in my memory. One was the visit from the head of my draft board. He came with a present for me—a copy of the St. James Bible. He apologized for the way he had treated me at a draft board meeting (which he had called prior to my going to Vermont) to examine my credentials, if any, as a CO. He had challenged my “right” to be a CO and had been rather nasty—using the threat of jail to break me down. Now that I was in jail, he had nothing left to threaten me with, so he revealed his own fear of jail.
While I waited for my trial, several others were also charged with violation of the Selective Service Act. Most were simple “draft dodgers”—uneducated men seeking the least painful punishment for avoiding going to war. Many of them would choose a minor criminal or civil violation such as theft or “moonshining”—making and selling whisky illegally. One man I talked to had a whole “conspiracy” scenario about how President Roosevelt, wanting to find an excuse to declare war on Japan, had secretly ordered the commanders of the boats at Pearl Harbor to “bank the fires” (furnaces) and reduce security, even though he knew from broken codes that the Japanese were planning an attack. This conspiracy theory, of course, has been brought forward often in the years since. At the time it struck me as not implausible.
The judge was known as a “hanging judge,” and the day I was brought into the courtroom for trial there were at least ten other Selective Service violators. We were lined up and one at a time stepped forward in front of the judge. He asked one or two questions and then, without any comment, pounded his gavel and announced, “Five years.” This was the longest sentence he could give for a Selective Service violation, while in other parts of the country most judges were giving six months to one year for the same violation.
I was sent to the Ashland, Kentucky, Federal Correctional Institution in September 1942 and was released exactly two years later. This type of prison was fairly new at that time, having been built under the Roosevelt administration as part of an overall plan for reforming the Federal prison system. The plan divided inmates into separate facilities, using three classes: minimum security for short-term prisoners (usually six months to one year); medium security for prisoners like me with two to five year sentences; and maximum security for those with sentences over five years, including life. The minimum security prisons were located in remote wooded places to make escape for an inmate with a short sentence unattractive. This was mostly done for the benefit of prison guards, who now had to work with either violent or nonviolent prisoners, not both.
The prison in Ashland was divided into individual cell blocks and dormitories. Prisoners were assigned to one or the other for various reasons, one of which was to separate according to race. During the two years I was at Ashland there were around forty COs out of 400 or so prisoners, about 100 of them black. Most were there for minor stealing, car theft, and moonshining. Many inmates were illiterate and were glad for help with writing or reading letters from home. With the arrival of the COs, we pretty much ran the educational program in the prison, teaching many inmates to read and write. Generally, both whites and blacks were sympathetic to COs—we were, after all, also victims of Federal law. My daily life in prison can only be described by recalling what school was like for me—the monotony was endless.
Immediately upon our arrival we COs became involved in actions against certain prison rules and regulations—having to walk “lock step” to and from the dining room at meal time, segregation, and censorship of letters, magazines and books. Any violation of the rules meant spending a few days to a month in solitary confinement—”the hole” as it was called by the prisoners. The room actually did have a hole in the center of the concrete floor for us to perform our “necessities.” The room, which measured roughly six by eight feet, contained no toilet, no bed, and no running water. We wore a one-piece gray coverall and were given pull-on leather shoes. A single light bulb shone during the day; then, promptly at 8 p.m. the lights went out and the guards threw a blanket in. In the morning the blanket was taken away. The door had a small opening through which food was passed. Meals were usually brown baked beans, potatoes, and lots of white bread. And of course water.
People often ask me, “What was it like in solitary confinement?” I suppose if you are a Tibetan monk (I was familiar with Zen Buddhism), solitary confinement wouldn’t feel much like punishment since meditation requires silence. But if you are a moonshiner from the Kentucky hills, it may not be so good. Some men go berserk and beat the walls of their cell until they drop from exhaustion. As for COs like myself, we could find ways to amuse ourselves. I would take the white bread they gave us for meals (I was on a fast for most of the time anyway), wet it, and roll it into balls about the size of golf balls. I let them get hard, and used them for games —juggling, mini basketball with a shoe for a basket, bowling on the hard floor, etc. One CO managed to write a lengthy dissertation on toilet paper (they gave us writing paper and pencil to write home—and only home), which he concealed in his shoe when he was released.
Washington, D. C., had ultimate control over all Federal prisons in the United States. Certain rules existed, such as “Prisoners will be kept a maximum of one month in solitary confinement.” Because of our consistent violation of the rules, however, we were repeatedly sent back to “the hole.” Over a three-month period there was a lot of coming and going of COs to and from “the hole.” Apparently this began to worry Washington—such activity caused unrest among the other prisoners, and this could be dangerous. In any case, prison authorities sent down a new warden to relieve the current heavy-handed warden, who we knew was generally disliked by his peers, including the assistant warden. In fact, the assistant warden on at least one occasion apologized to me for how we were being treated.
The new warden invited all the COs to meet with him; during the meeting he affirmed that he had been sent to change unnecessary rules and regulations. He asked us to be patient with him while he tried to educate the guards. (At the time we didn’t know he had a Ph.D. and belonged to the Church of the Brethren, a historic Peace Church.) He was as good as his word, and soon the guards began to relax. We didn’t have to go to the hole anymore for something like not walking lock step to the dining hall. The new warden continued, however, to enforce censorship of magazines and books. When Bayard Rustin arrived in 1943 with a three-year sentence, we found more inspiration to continue protesting. Bayard joined with us, and before he and other COs (Larry Gara was one) were moved to the Lewisburg penitentiary, censorship ended. That was a major victory for us. But the dining hall remained segregated because the COs didn’t want to force the blacks, who were either afraid to break segregation or were comfortable with segregated facilities.
I remember an event while I was still at Ashland that softened the whole prison experience. Charlie Butcher of the Boston-based Butcher Wax Co. arrived at Ashland with a one-year sentence. To amuse himself Charlie, who knew all of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “H.M.S. Pinafore,” wrote a satire of the prison system, using music from the operetta. When the warden found out about it, he asked Charlie to do a performance for the whole prison, including the staff and guards. The show was so successful that the warden invited the guards and staff to bring their wives to a command performance. And who was the star performer? Bayard Rustin or “Rusty” as he was called then. Bayard had a great voice. He could have become a renowned singer if he hadn’t devoted himself to the causes of peace, nonviolence, and civil rights. He had the power to move people deeply. Later, when he became a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., he used his sense of drama to encourage people to overcome their fear.
For me, the most important experience of my prison term was a correspondence course organized by the COs. Fifteen of us studied a book called The Small Community by Arthur Morgan. The book was the fruition of Morgan’s life work. He once said that he had searched all his life for the lever which could change or mold character, and he decided that the secret lay in the small community. He called the concept “a seedbed of civilization.” An important premise for the book was his idea that cities weren’t self-renewing; only because people from rural areas moved into cities could cities survive. We read several other books for the course, including Lewis Mumford’s The City in History and The Culture of Cities. Mumford is considered to be an outstanding critic of architecture and urban planning. I continued to read many of his books after I was released.
Arthur Morgan was something of a folk hero to me because of his varied experience, his social conscience, and his ideas on community cooperation. He became widely known for his work as a civil engineer designing dams in Ohio to control flooding of the region, especially around Dayton. As president of Antioch College for many years, he was famous for his innovative work/study program, which is now common practice throughout U. S. colleges and universities. It was Morgan who really shaped Antioch College, making it what it is today. But his good work as an engineer was what made President Roosevelt decide to appoint him as the first board member of the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933.
Morgan left TVA in 1936, returning to Antioch College as a professor. There he developed his course on The Small Community.
Toward the end of his life Morgan fought the huge dam the Army Corps of Engineers proposed to build in Pennsylvania, which would inundate several square miles and obliterate the Seneca Indian tribe’s land. After several years he won the battle. Morgan wrote a book, Dams and Other Disasters, in which he laid out his reasons for opposing most large-scale dams. This book was published by my friend and fellow CO, Porter Sargent.
In 1948 Morgan was invited by the new government of India to be an economic-development advisor. Knowing only of his work with TVA, they were shocked when he advised them against such megaprojects. In spite of his advice they went ahead with more dams. History has shown that Morgan was correct. Fritz Schumacher had the same experience when he was invited to India later in the 1950s. He also advised against building more dams.
Arthur Morgan certainly influenced the direction of my life As a result of our correspondence while I was in prison, Morgan later invited me to Yellow Springs to work with him in Community Service, the nonprofit organization he created.
The Tennessee Valley Authority was a federal agency established by the U.S. Congress in 1933 to protect the Tennessee watershed. Its goals were to control flooding; develop forestry and related environmental improvements; to maintain navigation in existing and proposed waterways throughout the seven state region; and to produce and distribute hydroelectric power and fertilizers. The original concept was proposed to use a rapids on the Tennessee River in northwest Alabama, to produce nitrates and hydroelectric power before World War I. The war ended before the project was completed, though efforts did result in the generation and sale of electric power after the Wilson Dam was completed in 1923.
In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to ‘enlist this project in the service of the people.’ In May he approved the act establishing the TVA, and utilized the TVA in ways that had no precedent. Advocates for the TVA believe it proved to be a model for multipurpose regional development.
Initially it was expected that the sale of hydroelectric electric power, a by-product of flood control and conservation, would provide sufficient revenue to sustain the TVA and would at the same time raise the level of social welfare and the economy throughout the entire seven-state region drained by the Tennessee River. In fact, a number of benefits resulted, the most notable of which were flood control, the production of relatively cheap electricity and fertilizer for agricultural purposes, soil conservation programs, and a reliable navigation network.
The TVA was filled with controversy from its inception: charges of unconstitutional government interference by competing private interests; rejected proposals to use TVA electricity rates as a national standard for measuring the fairness of utility rates in the region as well as the nation; disputes over appointments to TVA (Senators in Tennessee insisted that appointment of employees be turned over to Congress); disagreements regarding day to day operations. TVA was heavily subsidized and never stood alone as a viable economic entity; and there were different interests among directing personnel, namely Chairman Arthur E. Morgan and Directors D. E. Lilienthal and Harcourt A. Morgan.
(from TVA and the Grass Roots: A Study in the Sociology of Formal Organizations by Philip Selznick [Harper & Row, 1966] and Thomas Robson Hay in Colliers Encyclopedia).
Chapter 5: Washington, D.C.–Peace, Marriage, and My First Child
I was released from prison in September 1944, having served two years of my five year sentence. At least two factors entered into the decision to release virtually all 2000 of the COs in the United States at that time. First, they were creating continuous problems for the officials within the prison system with their general non-cooperation. Second was the fact that the war was winding down and there was more pressure from the outside to release us . For example, at Ashland there was dramatic support from Reverend Ashton Jones, a Southern Baptist. Like most Southern Baptists he had strong feelings and beliefs. Ashton was so incensed that the Federal government was putting COs, with whom he identified, in prison that he set up a permanent vigil outside Ashland’s prison walls demanding the release of all COs. As a minister he was permitted inside once a week on visitors day to talk with us, but when guards asked him to leave, he refused and had to be carried out. This went on intermittently for several months. I’m sure the guards were happy to see him and all the COs leave so that their life could return to normal. Ashton’s vigil was only a fraction of the national pressure the prison authorities were made to feel, though. Peace organizations like War Resisters League, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and half a dozen others kept organizing vigils and writing campaigns to Congress as well as demonstrating.
With $20 and a new suit of clothes I was put on the train to Washington, D. C., where I was to check in at the office of the American Civil Liberties Union to give a report on conditions at Ashland. The ACLU had set up a special office to keep track of COs all over the country. There, directing the ACLU office with only an occasional volunteer, was my future wife, Marjorie Schaefer. Marj was definitely an activist—an antiwar activist. She often described how painful her early life had been. Her father, who was “shell shocked” during World War I, once threatened to shoot Marj, her mother, brother, and sister. This experience was the driving force behind her antiwar activism.
From the ACLU office I was to go straight to the Child Study Center, where the prison office had arranged a job for me (without my consent, of course) as a house father to “predelinquent” (a term used by the staff) children. Most of the kids were from wealthy families where they were left to run wild. Their parents felt they had no choice but to send them away. There were a few poor kids among them sent by social service agencies. I found the Center to be nothing more than a prison for young children, who were subjected to violence on a daily basis.
During the four months I was there I shuttled back and forth between Washington and Baltimore in order to spend as much time as I could with Marj. Finally, the positive attraction of Washington and the negative aspects of the Child Study Center led me to violate my parole (I did call my parole officer to let him know what I was doing) and move to Washington. It was still war time, with housing in short supply. I moved in with two other COs who had recently been released from prison and three women, including Marj. The other two women worked at one of the many nonprofit peace organizations in Washington.
Tim LeFever, another CO recently released from Ashland, helped me get a job at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital working with him on the maintenance crew. I didn’t know it, but the poet Ezra Pound, who had supported Mussolini, was being kept a virtual prisoner there at the same time. Tim, a graduate of MIT, had been raised in the Brethren Church and could have qualified for CO status under Selective Service, but he too refused to cooperate. It was Tim who introduced me to Ralph Borsodi’s work while we were in prison. Tim was released before I was, and his parole officer assigned him to work at St. Elizabeth’s. When his parole ended, he returned with his wife to his Brethren community and created a homestead, which resembled that of Helen and Scott Nearing. Years later I helped Tim build one of the first solar-heated homes in the United States.
My stay in Washington was short. I was not happy working at St. Elizabeth’s and decided to go to Philadelphia. Marj did not accompany me initially because she had a good job. When we got married, she joined me there. We spent the next two years in Philadelphia. My first job, which I got through my parole officer, was taking care of and feeding research rats for a college laboratory—one of the strangest jobs I’ve ever had. Later I worked for the Friends Neighborhood Guild providing games and activities for eight to ten year olds after school. They kept me busy! And I enjoyed it, unlike my work in Baltimore.
We had our first child shortly thereafter. Barbara was born in the homeopathic hospital next door to our house—Hahnemann Hospital. She was one of the first babies to be born in this country by the natural childbirth method endorsed by medical authorities and outlined in Dr. Grantly Dick Read’s book Child Birth Without Fear. The technique, which came from Britain, was first introduced here in 1947. Our doctor, although a homeopath, was skeptical almost to the end, but Barbara came so fast that there wasn’t time to reconsider. Eventually we had three more children (Carol, Judy, and Scott), all born using the natural childbirth method.
After leaving home at eighteen for Ohio State University I had very little contact with my family except for occasional visits. My father died a couple of years after the end of the war. Because he opposed my position as a CO we had very little correspondence while I was in prison. Before he died, however, our relationship, although not close, became friendly and forgiving. My mother never understood my position, but it didn’t really matter to her—she remained a loyal mother until she died, twenty years after my father. During those years Marj and I lived in many different locations, and we didn’t see my mother often. After my father’s death she moved to Ashland, Ohio, where she spent the rest of her life among relations and friends.
Chapter 6: Yellow Springs, Ohio–Work with Arthur Morgan
While we were in Philadelphia, Arthur Morgan sent me a letter confirming his original offer that I work with him in Yellow Springs, Ohio. So Marj, baby Barbara, and I left to begin a new life in Yellow Springs. My work with Morgan, however, didn’t last even a year. He really needed an administrator to manage the office and plan conferences, skills I didn’t have. Marj worked in the office, too, and was much more useful than I. She continued to work as she was able, considering we had a second child on the way.
Marj and I had been living in an apartment above Arthur Morgan and his wife, Jane. From there we moved to a friend’s house—into the back porch, which I had remodeled into living quarters. The porch was my first design and construction project, the pay for which was over two years’ free rent. Our second child, Judy, was born while we were there.
While I was in prison a fellow CO had introduced me to the architectural drawings and photographs of buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright. Ever since, I had a strong desire to go into home design and construction. (Even while in prison I had managed to get on the construction crew. which had the added advantage of enabling me to go outside the prison walls and breathe the fresh air of freedom.) After completing the porch I got a job as carpenter with a local contractor. From then on I learned by doing, with very little instruction. Later, another local carpenter teamed up with me, and we took on contracts for a wide variety of jobs.
Yellow Springs itself had many interesting features. Morgan, with his interests and foresight, encouraged several small industries to locate there, making the town a unique and attractive place to live—a model of his concept of what can be accomplished in the small community. His sons, Ernest and Griscom, also played an important role in building Yellow Springs. Ernest Morgan created a small company that made bookplates and then turned the business into a cooperative in which each employee owned a share of stock. Together with his father he created a Yellow Springs local currency during the Depression and helped other communities follow their lead.
I insert here part of an article, “The Bucks Start Here: Alternative Currencies and the Coming Welfare Disaster” by Paul Salstrom, a co-worker from my Polaris Action days in Voluntown, Connecticut. Paul wrote the article for the Fall 1997 issue of Appalachian Journal. The article, which quotes a speech given by Arthur Morgan on November 9, 1933, reveals an interesting reason why Morgan left the Tennessee Valley Authority and returned to Yellow Springs to set up a small nonprofit organization, Community Services, to show how small communities could work.
Over 65 years ago, when Arthur E. Morgan first arrived in east Tennessee to chair the fledgling Tennessee Valley Authority, he found a widespread scarcity of cash money in the rural areas that the New Deal agency was created to serve: ‘A survey of one mountain county reported, as I recall, that the average cash income per family was about fifty dollars per year.’ Because the habit of barter had disappeared,’ Morgan wrote, and because “a money economy prevailed . . . the farmer could not go to the dentist because he could not pay his bill. The dentist could not have leaky plumbing repaired because he had no money to pay his bill. The plumber could not buy fruit and vegetables, the farmer could not hire labor, etc., and a very large amount of local productive capacity was idle . . . .’ (Arthur E. Morgan, typed manuscript, ‘Vagaries: Number Two: Local Economy in the TVA,’ in archives of Community Service, Inc., Yellow Springs, OH.)
On November 9, 1933, Morgan delivered an ill-fated speech in Ferris Hall at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. As Franklin D. Roosevelt’s point man for reviving the economies of small communities in the upper Tennessee River Valley, he was seeking allies who were willing to participate actively in practical ways. In his November 9th speech, Morgan outlined three complementary ways that local Appalachian communities could plausibly improve their economic condition. First was what we now call ‘smokestack chasing’—trying to attract industries to relocate. Morgan mentioned that Kingsport, Tennessee, had prospered after the Eastman Company in the early 1900s had located a major printing plant there. But most big companies then had (and still have) many equally viable options: ‘The Eastman Company is perhaps not making any more money [in Kingsport] than it would have made in a similar town in Maryland. It is getting its raw materials nearby, but it could get them in other places as well.’ (Arthur E. Morgan, ‘Group Industries: Problems and Their Solution,’ TVA Technical Library, Knoxville, TN, Arthur E. Morgan holdings)
The second way that Appalachian communities could improve their economic condition, Morgan said, was through products and services which were locally or regionally specific and which therefore could not be duplicated in most other places.
And then Morgan launched into his third possibility for improving Appalachian economic life, a set of suggestions that got him into big trouble. He described several layers of business and financial obstacles that would block the path of any small community which attempted to revive its economic health by simply producing what its own residents needed. The obstacles, he said, were the ‘deeply worn channels of trade, almost all leading into and out of the big business and industrial centers.’ But, he continued, I believe that to a certain limited degree this region might well set up its own local economy. It can produce its own goods and deal with itself. But if a region is going to build up a new economy by making things it needs at home, it will in a limited sense have to build up a whole economy and not a fragment of an economy. . . . I would build a cooperative of some sort. I would have a central purchasing organization, a central sales organization, a distributing organization, and I think I’d have that cooperative organization have its own tokens of credit, – a sort of local money. (Emphasis added) One year earlier, in the fall of 1932, Arthur Morgan had been instrumental in issuing a local currency in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he had long been president of Antioch College (and where he also owned a printing shop). But Arthur Morgan’s Knoxville proposals were anathema to both of his fellow TVA directors, Harcourt Morgan and David Lilienthal. They not only outvoted him in TVA meetings, thereby scuttling his idea, but Harcourt Morgan used Arthur Morgan’s proposals in that November 9th speech to discredit him in Washington, D.C. In 1933 when Franklin Roosevelt launched the first U.S. federal entitlement programs, one of his other first acts was to discourage any further issuing of community-based “scrip” currencies like the one Arthur Morgan had helped launch in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 1932. Roosevelt shared a top-down worry that America’s monetary system might get democratized out of the government’s control (Richard Douthwaite, Short Circuit: Strengthening Local Economies for Security in an Unstable World, Dublin, Ireland: Lilliput Press, 1996, p. 99.) Many years later, Arthur Morgan wrote about what happened: Harcourt Morgan . . . did not hear all of the talk and did not discuss it with me, but made a public statement about it in Washington that received nationwide publicity. He reported that I proposed a separate money system for the Tennessee Valley. Today [the early 1970s], after nearly forty years, that statement is still presumed to be historically correct in published studies. (Morgan, The Making of the TVA, p.58) Morgan was eventually convinced that this uproar formed a major component of what led to his ouster from TVA in 1938. The full text of what Arthur Morgan actually suggested in November 1933 has never been published, though I reproduced the entire text of the speech as an appendix to my 1988 dissertation, ‘Appalachia’s Path Toward Welfare Dependency, 1840-1940’ (Brandeis University). Arthur Morgan himself later penned his own summary of those now-notorious local currency proposals: I suggested that individual small communities or a few working together, set up a local credit exchange, with exchange credit coupons, to relieve this terrible paralysis of local economic capacity. The limited legal money earned by sales or services outside the community could be used for paying taxes, buying refrigerators, or for sending the young people to college. There is a saying in economics that ‘bad money drives out good.’ That is as it should be. The ‘bad money’ [a local currency] would stay at home to do the local economic chores. The good money (legal) would then be freer to go abroad for taxes, plumbers’ and dentists’ supplies, and for college education. Such a program might stimulate the general economy by making legal tender move more easily where only it would serve. (Morgan, ‘Vagaries,’ p. 17. Revised version in Morgan, The Making of TVA, pp. 58-59.)
My reason for retelling this TVA drama is not its historical interest but rather the aptness and potential utility of Morgan’s alternative-currency vision as a hedge against the changes being wrought right now by the Welfare Reform Act of 1996.
While living in Yellow Springs we were introduced to the Circle Pines Center, a cooperative adult-education camp in Michigan. I had heard of the place through the same CO who introduced me to Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. Although we never lived there, we made many lasting friendships with the members. Circle Pines was founded by Dave Sonquist and another organizer from the Farmers Union, a Midwest organization with roots in the Populist movement of the 1920s and 1930s. The founders organized the camp with the Danish folk school as a model. It attracted social activists from Chicago, Detroit, Yellow Springs, etc. The idea was to bring social-activist educators together to teach and inspire others to go out and be active in their communities. The folk schools in Denmark, dating back to the 1800s, educated a whole generation of social activists who created the most dynamic producer and consumer cooperative system in Europe, which still exists today. Denmark can be cited, like Switzerland, as an example of Leopold Kohr’s thesis that small countries function more successfully than large ones.
Each family member of the camp owned a share of stock in the corporation. A full-time director was appointed, and elections to the Board of Directors were held every year, according to the democratic principle of one person, one vote. During camp season the program included workshops for parents and supervised activities for the children, with folk dancing for everybody in the evening after dinner. Folk dancing is the heart of Circle Pines activity. It’s where my youngest daughter, Carol, began her career, which has led her into advanced forms of dance. These were the activists of the period who created consumer coops, cooperative housing projects, and cooperative credit unions.
One of these cooperative housing projects, outside of Detroit, had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright before the war for members of the United Auto Workers. The use of rammed earth and bermed earth made for a very low-cost design. The Wright design, with its low cost also because of the self-help factor, appealed to me. With self-help a single family house could be built for $10,000. Unfortunately the design was never carried out, but another project designed by Wright for a cooperative group just outside of Kalamazoo, Michigan, was underway. That was in 1948. As it happened, a member of Circle Pines, Louis Gosho, a Japanese American and CO, had a contract to build one of these houses and invited me to join him. The project was just what I was looking for, so I moved near Kalamazoo, Michigan—dragging my wife and children, who were not eager to leave Yellow Springs.
We had in fact developed strong ties to Yellow Springs. One of these was with a local peace group we had helped organize around the study of nonviolence as a means of solving civil-rights issues. One of its members was Coretta Scott, who married Martin Luther King, Jr., a few years later. In fact, Cory, as we called her, did baby sitting for us while she was attending Antioch College. Marj was a leader in organizing this group, having already been a member of CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) and with experience in nonviolent actions to protest discrimination, such as sit-downs in restaurants. This, of course, was long before the 1960s sit-ins by students in the South.
Chapter 7: Kalamazoo and Building Frank Lloyd Wright Houses–”U.S.onian” House Design
Louis and I worked together on three of the Frank Lloyd Wright houses near Kalamazoo. These were houses Wright called “U.S.onian,” constructed with specially designed concrete blocks. He intended them to be affordable for anyone and everyone. The special blocks were laid dry and were grouted with 1/4-inch steel rod reinforcing between rows. They were very different from the kind of blocks masons were familiar with, and we discovered that carpenters could lay them up faster and better than masons. Because the blocks were laid dry without mortar, they had to be shaved or tipped in order to get a straight wall. We poured grout (dry sand cement) in the spaces created by putting the blocks together. None of this was familiar to masons, but it was easily understood by carpenters. I discovered that I could lay up the blocks faster than anyone else, so that became my regular job, although I also did much of the carpentry work. This wasn’t what Wright had intended, however. He had assumed the blocks would be so simple to lay that even the owners could do it themselves. The estimated cost of these houses in the late 1930s, with self-help, was between $15,000 and $20,000. As it turned out, the average cost was close to $30,000. Today they would probably cost around $250,000—but could be sold for half a million or more. Such is the result of inflation.
The first time I saw Frank Lloyd Wright was when the masons who were following Wright’s design for another house we were building ran into difficulty. Wright had designed a curved wall using ordinary concrete blocks. As if that weren’t difficult enough, they were also to be corbeled (this meant that each row of blocks had to protrude about 1/2 inch beyond the row below). The masons were having a devil of a time, and the owner, who was watching, decided that he’d better call Mr. Wright to make sure the masons were doing it right. Mr. Wright arrived, and while all of us— masons, carpenters, and other workers—gathered to watch, he walked up and down the wall several times without saying a word. Then he turned to the owner, said “Tear it down,” and walked away. The masons were angry, of course, but the owner was shocked because under the contract he had to pay for the cost of the new wall.
The only other time I saw Wright was in 1948 when Marj and I were visiting her parents in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We realized that we were not far from Spring Green, Wisconsin, which was Wright’s summer home. (He and all his apprentices moved every six months from Spring Green to Phoenix, Arizona). When we realized how close we actually were, we said, “Let’s go visit Wright!” Although we didn’t have a car, we decided to hitchhike with our two-year-old daughter, Barbara—feeling confident that having her along would help us attract rides, which in fact it did. We arrived after a few short hours, the last ride taking us right to Wright’s home.
We arrived unannounced, but when the apprentice who answered the door recognized my name—because I was working on the second Wright house near Kalamazoo at the time—he graciously invited us in to a large living room. He told us to wait and left to find Wright. Barbara, who always wanted to crawl because she could crawl faster than walk, immediately began exploring the room, leaving it a bit untidy. Before we could clean up the mess, Mr. Wright himself appeared. Looking the whole scene over, he threw his shawl over his shoulders, making a noise to show his disapproval, and walked out of the room without a word. We apologized to the apprentice when he returned to tell us Mr. Wright was unavailable. Then we hitchhiked back to Cedar Rapids.
During my early years of building, the economics of construction began to interest me more as I experienced rising construction costs and observed builders’ continuous efforts to hold costs down in order to compete for jobs. I gained an understanding of why building costs were constantly rising from reading Henry George’s book, Progress and Poverty. George made clear that it wasn’t building costs that were rising but land costs—as an ever-increasing population put pressure on an ever-diminishing amount of developable land. Present-day Georgists advocate a tax on land, called Land Value Taxation, rather than a tax on buildings. They have been successful in introducing this kind of tax in several cities in Pennsylvania within the past few years and can document the improvement in economic development and employment. A new alignment between advocates of a “green” tax (eco-taxation) and Georgists is appearing in some parts of the country, particularly the Northwest. This offers new hope for change.
I had first heard of Ralph Borsodi when I was still in prison. Another conscientious objector, Tim Lefever, was familiar with his “homestead project” in Suffern, New York. This consisted of a twenty-six-acre piece of land that Borsodi and some friends had bought at very low cost in the early years of the Depression. The land, which was divided among twenty-six members of the Homestead Association, as it was called, had been purchased by the Association with borrowed money. Each homesteader paid a yearly (or monthly) lease fee to the Association, which held the land title, to cover the cost of the land and all other costs accrued by the Association. Because the lease tax was set high enough to cover all land and operational costs, a small portion went into a Land Fund to provide insurance against “hard times.”
This was the same formula Borsodi used in setting up similar homestead projects such as Bryn Gweled in Pennsylvania and one in Dayton, Ohio. It was also the formula I used in setting up New Communities in Georgia and it became the generic name for all projects which adopted two key practices, namely: 1) the land is held in common by a Community Land Trust but, 2) all improvements are owned by the individuals or family. The third practice I added is open membership in the corporation by-laws to all people living in the region. This has been my major contribution and I believe the result has been a more rapid growth of Community Land Trusts across the country.
The project in Dayton, Ohio, drew the attention of Harold Ickes, whom President Roosevelt had appointed Secretary of the Interior. Ickes gave Borsodi $50,000 to expand his plans for the Dayton area but attached a few conditions that Borsodi found unreasonable. Eventually Borsodi left the project, vowing never to accept money from the government again.
This experience convinced Borsodi that a currency must be independent of government control whereas many, if not most, monetary reformers (such as C. H. Douglas) believe in government control of money issue. This is a basic policy difference that is seldom discussed. Von Hayek, Nobel prize winner, is one of the few economists who agrees with Borsodi on this point. (See Denationalization of Money by Von Hayek.)
When I read Ralph Borsodi’s books after being released from prison, I learned of his practical application of Henry George’s ideas. Borsodi did all the legal background work to establish homestead projects in Suffern, New York (established in 1933), and Bryn Gweled, Pennsylvania (established a few years later). The idea was to create self-sufficiency by encouraging homesteading—growing large gardens and providing common buildings with space for different kinds of activities, including weaving, canning, and pottery. Part of the motivation for the project grew out of the psychology of the Depression, when on any given day you could walk past derelict human beings on the streets of New York begging for food. Borsodi called the project a “school of living.” He organized the land as a corporation and leased it back to individuals. Suffern was twenty-six acres, and Bryn Gweled eighty-some acres.
As I learned more, I found out about similar experiments going back to the late 1800s and early 1900s (one in Arden, Delaware, and another in Alabama). These projects tried to put into practice George’s concept of the land value tax, which is the economic basis for the Community Land Trust model now being used throughout the country.
In Tax Shift Alan Thein Durning and Yoram Bauman say: “A property tax is actually two conflicting taxes rolled into one: it is a tax on the value of buildings and a tax on the value of the land under those buildings. The tax shift scenario assumes that the tax on building values—which discourages development—is replaced with a stronger tax on land values, which encourages compact development and contains sprawl.”
Chapter 8: Move to Chicago–”Best House Design of the Year” by the Chicago Sun-Times; the Bucky Fuller Toy
We completed the three Wright houses in 1954. After that, there wasn’t much work left in the Kalamazoo area, so when a Circle Pines friend asked me to design and build a house for his family in South Chicago, I was delighted to accept the job. It was the first house I had the opportunity to design and build myself. My brother, Jim, who was just completing his education at the Illinois Institute for Technology, joined me whereas Louis decided to stay where he was . Jim and I had always been close. We influenced each other in positive ways. In our work, especially with regard to design, we came from different perspectives: Jim had a conventional architectural education; I, on the other hand, had no formal education in design or building, just experience with Frank Lloyd Wright construction. We learned to compromise in order to work together.
Jim and I worked diligently on our first building project together. I’m still proud of the design, which received the “Best Home Design of the Year” award from the Chicago Sun Times newspaper. The overall design was Wright-inspired— modular patterns, large fireplace, and lots of windows. We used a specially designed salmon-colored concrete block for the main walls and redwood for the exterior trim, including the doors. The garage was on a lower level than the living room. Using low-voltage electricity we devised a mechanism to turn on the coffeepot in the kitchen before anyone got up. The house cost about $40,000 to build, expensive in its day.
My brother and I worked together for four more years, building and remodeling houses around Chicago. Some of them were for other Circle Piners. Jim and I would take turns designing, but in the end our styles turned out to be remarkably similar.
Meanwhile, my family was growing with the birth of our third daughter, Carol, who had arrived while we were still living in Michigan. After we moved to Chicago, she became the model for the picture on the box of our toy creation—our first and only venture in the toy business. My brother had the idea of creating a large toy (we called it “Space Builder”) based on Bucky Fuller’s concept of “energetic geometry.” It was designed to teach children the principles of three-dimensional geometry (somewhat like a “tinker toy”). Using wooden cubes and 16-inch dowels you could build different geometric forms (such as the icosahedron or tetrahedron) and domes as high as six feet. One day Bucky himself arrived at our door, having accepted our invitation to come and see what we were doing. He spent the whole day helping us with design problems and explaining more about his ideas. It was a great experience, but the toy never made it on the market. We discovered that a big toy sells well only around Christmas; unless you have smaller, less expensive toys for year-round sales, it’s hard to succeed. We had fun, though, and my brother is still working on the concept. He has now perfected a small toy that he thinks can be marketed through schools and educational organizations.
Marj and I continued living outside of Kalamazoo, Michigan, near the Circle Pines camp after I took on the contract to build in Chicago. Jim and I began a period of commuting to Chicago. We rented a small apartment, where we stayed during the week, driving back to Kalamazoo for weekends. This didn’t work well for the family. Finally Marj, the kids, and I moved to Chicago, near the University of Chicago on the South Side. We felt reasonably comfortable there, with many friends from Circle Pines nearby, as did my brother, who had lived there while studying at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Marj kept busy with social issues such as housing segregation and discrimination. Although we built several houses and did a lot of remodeling work, it wasn’t the ideal location to practice Arthur Morgan’s concept of the small community.
My brother, Max Davis (who worked with us), and I moved with our families into three apartments, one above the other. Among us we had nine kids. Sharing meals and child care worked quite well for several years.
Chapter 9: Back to Philadelphia–Work with Morris Milgrim, First Private Interracial Housing
In 1956 Jim decided to set up an architecture office in Chicago with his good school friend Malcolm Weiskopf. Over the years Jim and Malcolm developed a successful business, from which Jim retired only a few years ago. Also in 1956, I was offered a job supervising the construction of a housing project in North Philadelphia, which I decided to accept. This project, started by Morris Milgram in 1953, was the first private housing project in the country to allow—in fact, encourage—interracial occupancy. Morris, the former director of the Workers Defense League, had joined his father in the building business—after his father agreed to build “open housing” (i.e., housing without restrictions as to race). It was Marj who had first met Morris through her work with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Building a private housing project was easy in comparison to the work Morris had to do to persuade lenders to provide mortgages to blacks. He had to crack the mortgage barrier raised by banks across the country on grounds that interracial housing was too “financially risky.” Morris finally convinced a bank in New York, which was started by the Ladies Garment Workers’ Union and had a long history of supporting liberal causes, to make the first loans.
His troubles were far from over, though. In addition to the usual problems builders have (land purchase, getting local approval, project design, marketing) he also had the task of making the developments attractive to white buyers. I say “white buyers” because he could easily have sold all fifty houses if he wanted to sell to black buyers only, but he wanted to demonstrate that interracial housing was feasible and acceptable to both whites and blacks. The problem lay in the fact that because black buyers had been excluded by developers up to that point, there was a surfeit of black buyers ready to buy with cash on hand. Morris had to use every means available to try and hold at least a 50/50 black to white ratio. When necessary, he had to offer “better deals” to whites.
When I joined the team with Morris, about half the houses had been sold, with sales running ahead of construction. Marj and I bought one of the houses in the development, called Concord Park. After this project we built nineteen more up-scale houses in North Philadelphia and then another forty in Princeton, New Jersey, always maintaining the 50/50 mix. I supervised most of these projects and designed several of the custom houses. Although construction had not been completed when I left in 1960, I felt our objective had been accomplished. A few years later the Open Housing Act became law as part of the civil rights legislation, preventing private developers who were dependent on federal mortgage guaranties from discriminating on the basis of race.
Chapter 10: CNVA Part I: “The Golden Rule” and Civil Disobedience at ICBM Sites
While I continued to build houses, other events began to impinge on our lives. In 1957 the U. S. government announced plans to test nuclear bombs in the Pacific Ocean. A number of activists came together to develop a nonviolent strategy to resist the testing. Out of this meeting two organizations emerged: the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) and the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE). Many leaders in the nonviolent movement, including Bayard Rustin and A. J. Muste, played a key role in organizing both groups. CNVA’s purpose was to take radical nonviolent action (civil disobedience) whereas SANE intended to carry out broad educational campaigns around the issues of nuclear power and its destructive nature. SANE members would organize protests, vigils, marches, and teach-ins, and CNVA members would do civil disobedience. SANE would then use the media coverage to educate the public about why folks were being arrested.
The resumption of nuclear testing in 1957 in the Pacific Ocean stimulated not only peace groups like ours in the United States but similar groups all over the world. The national CNVA organizers decided to sail a boat, “The Golden Rule,” into the test area. The boat didn’t make it to the test zone (all three crew members were arrested in Hawaii), but the media coverage provided SANE with the needed publicity for continued organizing. The action produced the desired result: a great deal of interest and support within the United States and around the world. Recently I’ve heard that the original organizers of Greenpeace got their inspiration from CNVA’s “Golden Rule” project.
The second major CNVA action took place in 1958 when the United States announced a first in the escalating arms race with Russia: the construction of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) to be built near Omaha, Nebraska. CNVA planned an action to protest this “city killer” before it could be built by “invading” the construction site with the intention of stopping construction. At the time I was the sole breadwinner so Marj and I agreed that she, who also had more experience in such things, should join the vigil being held near the fence that defined the property. After several days of waiting with no response from the government, the group of fourteen or fifteen CNVA members began climbing over the fence. As they did, they were arrested and handcuffed. A. J. Muste, one of the key leaders of CNVA and head of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, was the first to be arrested on charges of trespassing. When the judge handed down his verdict of six months in jail for everyone, he gave Marj a free lecture, calling her a “bad mother.” “You Are a Bad Mother” was the title of a very sympathetic article that appeared subsequently in Redbook magazine.
Without a strong support group, of course, I could not have managed for the six months Marj was in jail. Friends took turns staying with the kids, especially our old friends Wally and Juanita Nelson, veterans of peace and civil rights struggles. Wally had spent several years in jail as a CO, and after his release he became one of the first members of the Congress On Racial Equality. During this period of Marj’s incarceration, our youngest daughter, Carol, stayed with another family for an entire year. Laura and Don Rasmussen, who were also veterans of civil rights causes, had lived in Alabama, where they taught in an integrated private school. But when Carol lived with them, they were running their own private school near where we lived. For us and for Carol it was a lucky break, not only for her to attend their remarkable school but also to live with them as part of the family during that difficult period.
Chapter 11: CNVA Part II: Polaris Action–Prison Again, Life in Voluntown
When my work with Morris Milgram came to an end in 1960, Marj and I decided we should make nonviolent action a full-time occupation. The summer before, we had helped organize the national CNVA-sponsored Polaris Action Project. We focused on the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut, where the Polaris nuclear submarines were being built and where the U. S. Navy had a submarine base. We selected Electric Boat as a target for action because the rationale for building these submarines was the dubious notion that they provided defense against Soviet aggression. We all know, however, that what they could provide was mutual destruction—the so-called deterrence theory, which is no longer popular. Building submarines also provided needed jobs for some 5000 workers.
In keeping with our decision we decided to move to Connecticut, as close as possible to Groton, where the subs were being built. We were helped in this move by one of our supporters, who donated the money for us to buy a $17,000 farm in Voluntown. During the 1960s the farm became the base from which CNVA launched virtually all of its demonstrations. The farm consisted of forty acres, thirty wooded and the remainder open fields around the buildings. We moved into the large New England farmhouse, where from eight to ten people lived at all times. We also had a few outbuildings that we made into living spaces. Everyone participated in decision-making.
Our entire budget for all living expenses including food, transport, utilities, etc., was around $20,000 per year. We raised all this money from our New England mailing list. No one received a salary for working with CNVA, and all expenses came out of the same pot. We lived modestly, buying most of our food at wholesale markets, where clerks would save things like overripe bananas for us. Not having to pay a mortgage was a big help. We did pay all local taxes.
At one point we had a visitor from India, who had lived in one of Gandhi’s ashrams. She said that our Voluntown group was more like an Indian ashram than any other place she had seen in the United States. Ashrams are spiritual communities led by a guru. Gandhi changed the focus of the ashram from spiritual development to nonviolent social action.
Our family lived on the third floor of the old farmhouse. I remodeled it so that we were reasonably comfortable. Soon after we moved there our two oldest girls were offered a scholarship to a private school. This left Carol and her younger brother, Scott, to face the not-very-friendly kids at public school. We lived in a rural area close to Groton, where the submarines were being built. People in the community depended on the work supplied by the base, and they thought all of us living at the farm were communists. The kids bore the brunt of the ridicule at school. Although they survived this period, it was not the easiest time in their lives. For Carol, the interaction with the many young people who came into the ashram was some compensation for enduring the school life. For Scott it was more difficult. Although he got a lot of attention from the young people, it probably didn’t make up for the school, which he hated.
One of the buildings on the farm was an old barn we used for storage. It was about fifty or sixty feet from the house. One night we looked out the only window on the third floor to see flames coming out of the barn. Someone else had already seen them and called the voluntary fire department, which was not far away. In a few minutes the firemen arrived, but the fire was already too out of control for the barn to be saved. All the firemen could do was keep the hoses turned on the house to save it from going with the barn. One of our older members had put all of her belongings in the barn—including some of her dead husband’s music compositions, which she valued highly. That was the only major loss from the fire. In looking for clues to how it started, the firemen discovered pieces of a rope that had been soaked in kerosene and put inside the barn. We couldn’t understand how someone had succeeded in placing the rope there without being seen, but from then on we kept a vigil outside at night.
Nevertheless, it happened again—not a fire but a real armed invasion. Marj and I happened to be up in Maine and didn’t know about it until we got home. One of the superpatriotic groups called the Minutemen had been planning this invasion for many months. They didn’t know, however, that the state police had a spy within their group. One night two of the Minutemen, armed with shotguns, walked in the back door of our farmhouse and ordered the three CNVA members who were in the room to sit down. Just at that moment one of the police officers, dressed in civilian clothes, came in and yelled to the Minutemen to put down their guns. But he was so nervous that he accidentally pulled the trigger on his shotgun. The tiny shells of the shotgun sprayed a two-inch hole in the leg of one of our members, who was sitting only five feet away. Of course, the police officer rushed her to the hospital, where she stayed for a couple of weeks; the Minutemen spent longer than that in jail. From then on, there were no more incidents.
Our first actions were vigils held regularly at the entrance of the Electric Boat Company. As the workers would arrive and leave from the submarine construction work, they would first ask, “Why don’t you go tell the Russians?” and then, less belligerently, “Where are we going to find jobs?” It seemed to become clearer each day that the real force driving the arms race, then as now, was the need to create jobs and keep the economy going. These workers weren’t nearly as afraid of Russia as they were of losing their jobs. Once in a while a worker would confide to us in private that this was true. We carried out dozens of protest actions, including walks from Maine to the United Nations, from Philadelphia to the United Nations, and from Baltimore to Washington.
The culminating walk was from San Francisco to Moscow in 1961, ending in front of the Kremlin. It called for an end to the arms race and let workers in this country know that we were indeed “telling the Russians.” This walk lasted for ten months, “the longest most arduous pacifist journey ever undertaken.” It was the “first breakthrough in the arms race,” according to an editorial in the New York Herald Tribune. Jervis Anderson refers to the walk in his biography of Bayard Rustin:
It is a long time since any group of foreigners has been permitted to challenge that enforced conformity [in the Soviet Union]. Inhabitants of Moscow have had their first taste of the kind of diversity that exists in the West. . . . Through this tiny chink in the Iron Curtain a few seminal ideas have penetrated. They may not affect the current crisis, but they may grow.
Bayard Rustin: Troubles I’ve Seen: A Biography
[Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1997, p. 233]
In addition to the numerous walks and almost constant vigils at the Electric Boat Company, we organized events to dramatize the danger of nuclear submarines for the civilized world. They could unleash a nuclear war in which it would not be worth walking around the corner to see what was left (to paraphrase Thoreau’s “I wouldn’t walk around the corner to see the world blow up”). One of the actions we planned was to stop the first nuclear submarine from being launched. The idea was somehow to take canoes or rowboats to the point just below where the submarine would enter the water. This was to take place at the exact time of the launching, with thousands of people watching. As usual, we had notified officials of the Navy and Electric Boat of our plans, but we didn’t tell them exactly where on the Thames River we were going to launch our boats. They were not prepared, therefore, and couldn’t stop us from putting our boats into the water. Even though they were in motorized Coast Guard boats, it took some time for their security forces to catch up with our canoes and rowboats. And when two of our young members, who had come prepared with bathing suits, dove into the cold water, the guards couldn’t prevent them from climbing on board the submarine, much to everyone’s amazement. The security forces eventually managed to round all of us up and charged us with violating a long-forgotten law written in World War I to try to prevent spies from using the river. The next morning the Providence, Rhode Island, newspaper had a front page picture of Don Martin standing on the front of the sub with the caption, “Moral Courage.” This was the first sign of sympathy we had from local people. The picture was carried by the Associated Press and later was selected as one of the best photos of the year.
Being the oldest, I was considered the ringleader and therefore received a three-month sentence under Federal Law. So it was back to prison. This time I was sent to the Danbury, Connecticut, Federal Correctional Institution. Being familiar with Federal prison rules (no segregation now), I told the officer in charge that I wanted to spend my time studying. He was very cooperative and gave me a job that required only one or two hours every night changing the television stations for my fellow prisoners, who would look over the TV schedule early in the day and vote for the show they wanted to watch. Then I would add up the votes and change the channel accordingly. I sat within a fenced-in corridor, and all the other prisoners sat in the “recreation” room on the other side of a heavy wire fence watching television. Because I couldn’t actually see the TV, I had lots of time for reading and study. During the day I stayed in my dormitory room, reading and writing. Friends brought in all the books I wanted. One of them by Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, influenced my thinking tremendously. This period in jail, like the first one during the war, gave me time to think through what I wanted to do.
Chapter 12: CNVA Part III: The Everyman–Built and Sailed from San Francisco
In 1962 the United States announced another round of nuclear tests in the Pacific. This time we decided to build a boat and sail it into the testing zone. I was appointed to head up the construction of a thirty-foot trimaran sailboat because I was a builder—even though I had never built a boat! When I told Arthur Piver, the designer of the boat, that we had to build the boat in little over a month’s time, he told me that was impossible; it would take six months. I decided to decentralize the process by delegating the construction of the various parts to eager builders in the San Francisco Bay Area. Then the parts were brought to Sausalito (on the Bay) to a friend’s workshop and assembled there. Our efforts stimulated and directly involved many people in the construction process and gave the media something to write about practically every day.
As it became clear that we were going to meet our one-month time schedule, the U. S. Attorney in San Francisco decided to try to stop us by issuing a “cease and desist” order. Someone from the U. S. Marshall’s office delivered the order to us at the boat site the evening before our announced launching date. Thinking that this was all that was needed to deter us, he left for the night. But the U. S. Attorney had neglected to have a judge sign an important legal paper needed before he could have us arrested. The next morning the boat (without me on board) left on schedule, and he had to scramble to try to find the judge, who had left town for the weekend.
Meanwhile, the Everyman was sailing serenely out under the Bay Bridge and into ocean waters with a crew of three. Following the boat was a Coast Guard cutter with a U. S. Marshall, who was waiting for the papers to arrive so that he could arrest the sailors. Following the Coast Guard cutter was another boat with about fifty reporters and photographers waiting to get the story. Hovering above it all were several helicopters, also with reporters and photographers. All of this was being carried on local radio and TV news so that practically everyone in the San Francisco area was aware of the story.
Many San Franciscans are sailors, and they were well aware of the International Line (twenty-seven miles off shore, I believe) beyond which no arrests can be made by any national officials. It seemed a race between the Coast Guard and the Everyman. Finally, the papers arrived by way of another fast Coast Guard boat—too late! For the Everyman had crossed the line. But no, the U. S. Marshall, with the help of the Coast Guard, was trying to board the Everyman and hand the sailors the arrest papers.
The next morning the San Francisco Chronicle had a front-page story and a photo of the Marshall leaning over the gun wale of the Coast Guard boat trying to hand the papers to the crew, who were ignoring him. Eventually, with the help of the Coast Guard, he managed to arrest and handcuff the crew and return them to San Francisco. I was also arrested and spent the night in the San Francisco jail along with the sailors. Meanwhile, the word had gone out. Hundreds of supporters arrived at the Federal courthouse where we were being held. They filled the entire building before closing time, refusing to leave when ordered to do so. The Federal officials gave up and let them stay. We turned our night in jail into a party. Joan Baez lead the singing and we danced all night long. The next day the Feds dropped the case against me but charged the three sailors, who spent a couple of months in jail.
Chapter 13: CNVA Part IV: Russian Testing, Meeting with Betrand Russell in Wales
In the early 1960s the Russians were testing nuclear bombs again somewhere in Siberia. The national CNVA decided to protest, this time by sending a boat into Leningrad Harbor in hopes of calling the media’s attention to the situation and causing a worldwide outcry. Because I was by then the “boat builder” for CNVA, I was appointed to go to England to locate a suitable boat for the project. A wilderness group in England called Farthest Out was sympathetic to the idea and offered to sell us an old fishing boat they had used to train their students (corporation executives, managers, and others) in team-building skills. The boat was getting too old for their purposes. I was interested, but as is customary for such sales, the boat needed to be “surveyed” by an expert, who inspects for any defects that would need to be repaired and would affect the price. Someone from the school agreed to pilot the boat up to a port in Wales to have this inspection done.
Helping me in this whole process were some members of Bertrand Russell’s Committee of One Hundred. The Committee, a “sister” to CNVA, was organized by Russell to protest the arms race in the United Kingdom. Despite his advanced age he continued to perform acts of civil disobedience until he was physically no longer able to. At the age of 90 he sat down in London traffic and was arrested. In his day Bertrand Russell was probably one of the most renowned men in the world—at least among scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, and intellectuals.
A couple of members of the Committee of One Hundred traveled with me to Wales. When we arrived, one chap remembered that Russell lived nearby in a little town within walking distance of the boat. “Let’s go see Bertie!” they said. So off we went, without an invitation, and knocked on his door. His wife answered and graciously invited us in for a cup of tea. Russell was over 90 by then. I don’t remember much of the conversation, but I do remember asking him what the source of his vitality was. “Controversy, controversy, it makes the blood run!” he said. He said he wanted to see the boat, and it was agreed that his wife would drive him down the next day. That morning it was pouring rain, but he still insisted on climbing on board to look over the boat, of which he highly approved.
After buying the boat my job was finished, and I returned home. Later British and American sailors sailed it into the Leningrad Harbor, chased by Russian soldiers. When the soldiers climbed on board, the crew members went below deck and drilled holes in the hull. As the boat began to sink, the soldiers had quite a time trying to find the holes. This story made the front page in the Moscow newspaper.
Chapter 14: CNVA Part V: The Bay of Pigs, the CIA, and Back to Jail
Following the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, CNVA set up a vigil in front of the CIA offices in Washington, D. C. The vigil continued for several days. Allen Dulles, then head of the CIA,, came out to the vigil line to try to persuade us that we were on the wrong side and should go home. It must have been because his arguments failed that the police were called in to arrest all thirty of us. Back to jail again! I was in the Washington jail for several weeks. It was worse than the one in Columbus—overcrowded, without even a place to sit down and nothing to read or do except talk with fellow inmates. Several of the prisoners, mostly black, had been there for some time—up to a month—without ever being formally charged!
Chapter 15: The Civil Rights Movement–The March on Washington, Mississippi Summer, Rebuilding Burned-Out Churches, the Selma March
The famous March on Washington in 1963 was to be the biggest civil-rights march of all. As CNVA activists our energy along with that of all the other organizations and individuals participating was absorbed by planning for the march, which Bayard Rustin was directing. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I have a dream” speech for an impressive turnout of 250,000. It wasn’t coincidence that Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights legislation was enacted the next year. This marked a high point for Johnson; from then on his presidency went downhill.
In 1964 the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) called for a “hot summer” in Mississippi. It was mainly a voter registration drive to help black people get on the voting rolls. Hundreds of volunteers, mostly students, came from all over the country to help. Reaction by Southern racists was swift. Three SNCC workers were murdered and twenty churches were burned to the ground within a couple of weeks. Bob Kotitski, a member of a white church in Mississippi, decided to initiate a church rebuilding project. He solicited the aid of a Quaker group in Philadelphia. Larry Scott was the Quaker contact and a good friend of mine. I, as a builder and volunteer supervisor, and Larry as organizer were the only two who came from the North to participate physically in the project. The idea was not simply to rebuild the churches but to enlist local white church members to volunteer together with black church members so that a dialogue could be established. It worked well, and Bob deserves lots of credit for organizing the venture. In the first three months we rebuilt three churches; eventually all twenty were rebuilt (I was involved only in the first three).
The first church we rebuilt was located in a very small town called Philadelphia, which happened to be the same town where the three civil rights workers had been killed a short time earlier. When we arrived, the murderers had not been identified yet nor had the bodies been found. Shortly after we arrived in Mississippi and before beginning the actual church rebuilding, a local Mennonite minister (the only white man in the area willing to talk to me) showed me the site where the church had stood. Only its concrete foundation was left. The church had been in a wooded area hidden from other buildings. I remember having an eerie sensation being there, and I was glad to leave. I had just arrived and was uneasy about what we were about to undertake, but subsequently I overcame my fear.
Things changed fast in the South—at least in Mississippi, where segregation had been put to the test. Only a year after the last demonstration, when I had a chance to visit Mississippi again, I could hardly believe how much change had taken place. I was visiting a young couple who lived in Jackson, a town I had come to know well because we lived there while we were rebuilding the churches. My friends, who had been my associates during the rebuilding, wanted to show me the new life that was emerging in the town. They took me to a black nightclub—something neither they nor I would have considered doing just a short time before. We were welcomed and soon felt at ease. I remember that there were a few other whites there. Then we went to an upscale restaurant, where blacks were in the minority, reflecting the difference in income, no doubt. But the fact that they were there at all was a sign of progress, and there was no visible sign of hostility toward them.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the march which dealt the final blow to segregation in the South was the march in Alabama in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery. In some ways this was the march to end all marches—at least civil rights marches. Had it not been for Martin Luther King’s dedication to nonviolence and his willingness to take the most vulnerable position at the head of the march, things could have become ugly and violent. But the ugliness came later with his assassination.
Volunteers from all over the country came to Alabama to join the march. I would have been one of them except that I happened to have five kids in tow, my sixteen-year-old daughter Judy and four others from her school, a private Quaker school in New Hampshire called Meeting School. The school encouraged parents to participate in their children’s education by planning and carrying out a project outside the classroom.
Because I had just returned from the South and was familiar with the territory, I dreamed up a two-week trip to visit the South to experience first hand the political activity at the time and to visit intentional communities such as Koinonia, Macedonia, and Miles Horton’s school in Tennessee. So eight students and I piled into a little yellow school bus and headed south When the kids heard about the march coming up, they got excited and wanted to take part, even though they knew about the white woman who had been shot while she was helping prepare for the march. I was not prepared to take such a risk with the children, so we drove to Atlanta and sought advice from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We were advised not to join the march.
Chapter 16: From Resistance to Constructivism
The last major demonstration I was involved in was the anti-Vietnam war demonstration when Nixon was President and he watched television in the White House while 500,000 people, the largest number ever, marched outside. In fact, this demonstration attracted many from the civil rights movement, as well as the peace movement. It was more a group of individuals rather than organizations which organized this march, including Staughton Lynd, Dave Dellinger and myself. We expected violence from some of the angry Vietnam Veterans and decided to take front positions in hopes of deflecting it. As it turned out, Staughton and Dave did receive a bucket of red pain in the face and I caught some it while walking in back of them, but nothing more.
Following this, I decided to put all of my time into building organizations along the lines defined by Schumacher and Borsodi rather than resistance efforts. The idea of creating an American-style Gramdan Movement and starting new communities in the South made the most sense. Gandhi said something like “spend 90% of your time on constructive work and 10% on resistance.” A.J Muste had felt that driving this period in hosting 10% resistance was not enough and he spent considerable time trying to persuade Gandhians to this position. Now I felt it was the time (1966) to launch major constructive programs and Borsodi, J.P. Narayan and Schumacher had laid out the plan. I was excited and ready to put major energy into this approach.
About this time, an opportunity to test out some of our ideas presented itself. Two U.S. grape farmers from the Ukiah area of northern California invited us to join forces in a project they had initiated a couple years before. This project was located in northern Mexico in the state of Michoacon. It has a beautiful climate, where the temperature never varies more than 3% from 70 degrees. But an ancient Mayan Indian tribe had settled at a higher level (5,000 ft.) as a protection from the Spanish invaders. They were not only successful in defeating the Spaniards, but also were able to preserve their civilization for thousands of years. Their primitive methods of farming caught the attention of these two California farmers, who managed to convince some of the leaders of this tribe to use modern farming methods. The farmers brought in modern USDA methodology (application of fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) which had shown results in California.
However, when used on fragile mountain soil, the soil began to get muddy. Thus, the two grape farmers began to search for alternative methods and had heard of us. We helped them start to apply organic methods, but the tribal leaders were now sold on chemical farming. When a Mexican foundation from Mexico City came along with offers to fund the entire tribal land, the tribe was already committed to chemical farming. We stood helplessly by while the tribe followed the USDA orthodoxy and within a couple more years, the entire tribe was wallowing in mud as a result of too much money and “scientific” farming. Our California farmers learned a lesson also.
Chapter 17: Clarence Jordon and Koinonia Farm
Early in the 1960s, after we had moved to Voluntown in 1960, Clarence Jordon invited me to visit Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia. I first met Clarence at one of the early organizational meetings of the Committee for Nonviolent Action. He was a Baptist minister as well as a successful farmer on 2000 acres of land, as much at home on the seat of a tractor as he was in the pulpit. In addition to his credentials as a minister and farmer (a doctoral degree in theology and a graduate degree in agriculture), Clarence had a great gift for storytelling, not only Bible stories that he translated into modern language but also stories from his own life.
Koinonia, an intentional community of sorts, had a constant flow of volunteers from all over the country—people who came in spite of the danger of violence to share in the witness. In its early days the farm was comprised of three or four families, one of them black. The day before I arrived one of the buildings had been strafed with machine-gun fire on the side facing the road. The bullets had passed just above some sleeping farm workers. This wasn’t the first time Koinonia had been fired upon, although it may have been the closest escape from death.
Clarence Jordan, his family, and other co-workers on the farm had already suffered dozens of attacks because of their insistence on living as true Christians in a community that included both blacks and whites. Their suffering seemed endless. Shortly before I arrived, an interracial camp had been closed by court injunction. Local people stopped buying their produce and refused to sell them supplies or provide services. Explosives destroyed the farm’s roadside market and its walk-in refrigerator. Their insurance was canceled. And a store in Americus that continued to serve the farm was bombed.
The community persevered through their strong faith in God and the belief that people of different colors could live together. One of Koinonia’s major sources of income was a mail-order business of pecan nuts and candies. People all over the country not only bought them for their own consumption but also acted as voluntary “middle men” to increase the volume of sales. The business was successful, and the violence against them probably made it more so. In lieu of their canceled insurance policy, friends from all over the world assisted by pledging money to be used specifically for fire or other damage. Over 2000 pledges came in. Thus, Koinonia survived and even thrived to some degree.
The stress on the black members of the community took a heavy psychological toll. One of them became paranoid. Clarence asked us if we (at the Voluntown farm) could take in the family on a temporary basis. We agreed, and I went to Koinonia to accompany them on their trip north. We had arranged stopping-off places on the way back with several of our friends. We traveled in an old bus someone lent us. The family eventually located a permanent place in New Jersey where they were able to recover.
The pecan business became increasingly successful. As new members joined the farm, in the mid-1960s Clarence created a strategy he called the Partnership to find ways Koinonia could live up to its potential. He asked key people who had been close to Koinonia for many years for advice and invited them to participate in developing a new direction for Koinonia. I was one of those people, and I attended a couple of meetings with the Partners, but as I became involved in the New Communities project in Albany, Georgia, I had to drop out of the Partnership.
Out of the Partnership discussions grew a proposal to take a dozen acres of the farm’s property and build twenty-four dwellings on half-acre plots for low-income families. To make the houses affordable they would be built by the eventual owners together with volunteers. This low-income housing project later came to be called Habitat for Humanity. With the help of private grants at least 2000 houses are built worldwide each year. The original idea goes back to Clarence Jordan and Millard Fuller. It was Clarence who inspired Millard, but it was Millard who was the genius behind the success of Habitat.
Chapter 18: The Community Land Trust–Borsodi and Vinoba Bhave
As you can gather, I spent considerable time away from home from 1960 to 1965. Most of my time was spent participating in CNVA activities, but I also continued to build in order to supplement our income. This way of life would not have been possible without the dedication and hard work of my wife—and many others who came to join us in Voluntown for a short or long time. To be part of CNVA and participate in demonstrations, picket lines, walks, and other actions was a moving and exciting experience for me. Even the inherent danger in the activities was part of the excitement. It was also very discouraging when nobody paid attention, which was often the case. Sometimes I think that all the activity was perhaps just a preparation for something I can express only by the word “community.” Music was also part of the experience, and folk singers like Joan Baez and Pete Seeger were important members of the peace community.
In 1966 I built a house in Massachusetts for Milton Mayer, a co-worker of Robert Hutchins when Hutchins was President of the University of Chicago. The final price tag was over $50,000, a hefty sum in those days. When I returned to Voluntown, I decided it was time to build more comfortable and private living quarters for our family. I wanted to see how inexpensively I could do it, partly out of necessity, because we had very little money, and partly as a challenge. With my labor exclusively, except for a few volunteers here and there, I designed and built a 900-square-foot house on the Voluntown property. With two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, and bath, it cost only $3000. After building this house I realized that one of the questions we had never resolved concerning the Voluntown property was the ownership structure. When the purchase money of $17,000 had been given to us, we had set the farm up as a simple nonprofit trust. At the time it seemed the best legal solution, but I realized later that although the trust was the right answer for the CNVA organization, it didn’t address the need for ownership of that which was created by the work and labor of individuals. Then I remembered having read Ralph Borsodi’s description of his homestead projects like Bryn Gweled near Morris Milgram’s project in Pennsylvania. According to this approach the land is held by the community as a whole, and individuals or families own their own house and anything they create on the land. They lease the land for ninety-nine years with automatic renewability and inheritability. In this way a family has equity and security but cannot profit from an increase in land value or speculation on the land. There was, however, one thing missing in this model: broad participation by the town or community. In the Pennsylvania projects, only lessees of the land could be included in the management structure, whereas having representatives from the larger community in addition to the actual lessees provides greater participation. Later, when we created New Communities, we set it up with elected representatives from the community.
In 1967 Porter Sargent, president of Porter Sargent Publications, invited me to meet with him and Ralph Borsodi in Porter’s office to discuss our common concerns. Porter was a fellow conscientious objector who served at a Civilian Public Service camp. I had heard of him through other COs and also because of the large publishing business his family ran. They were well known for their reference books on private schools to assist parents in making decisions on where to send their children.
Borsodi had just returned from four years of teaching at the University of Amedabad in India. He and Porter were discussing the potential U. S. publication of Borsodi’s book The Seventeen Problems of Man and Society, which had been published in India. Porter wanted to edit and publish it for U. S. readers, but he considered it too complicated in its present form and thought it would benefit greatly from some changes. Borsodi was a very stubborn man and did not want his work edited. The book was never published in the United States.
At the time of our meeting Borsodi was, to Porter’s dismay, more interested in discussing a project he had worked out with J. P. Narayan before leaving India. To understand Borsodi’s excitement, you need to know that J. P., as everyone in India called him. was probably the best-known man in India at that time, having organized the political coalition that had just ousted Mrs. Gandhi as Prime Minister.
J. P. and Vinoba Bhave were the acknowledged leaders of the Gandhian movement, which included the Gramdan or “village gift” movement initiated by Vinoba after Gandhi’s death, Land was donated by individuals, held by the village as a whole, and then leased to people to use for farming, housing, and other uses. As it happened, I had met J. P. in London in 1959 when we were both involved in discussions about how to create a nonviolent Peace Brigade, one of Gandhi’s ideas that he never had time to develop. Because J. P. wanted to join Vinoba in walking through the villages, he had resigned in 1953 from the first cabinet under Nehru after India gained independence in 1948. Borsodi, recognizing the similarity between his homestead projects and the Gramdan concept, proposed a plan to J. P. for creating a “Rural Renaissance,” not only in India but also in other parts of the Third World.
In simplest terms the plan called for a novel way to make low-cost credit available to small farmers—particularly farmers in Gramdan villages. In this respect the concept was not different from many micro-loan programs (of which the Grameen bank is probably the best known); its uniqueness lay in the fact that it was designed to attract small investors instead of using public funds. This was to be accomplished by offering a kind of bond, or “debenture” as Borsodi called it, which would provide a guarantee against inflationary loss by being denominated in a basket of commodities. Having worked on Wall Street, Borsodi of course realized that simply offering such an attractive investment would not be sufficient in itself. It would have to be promoted in some way, and Borsodi thought J. P. could play a role here.
J. P. was a leader not only in India but around the world. He had spent a number of years in the United States, graduating from the University of Wisconsin. His English was nearly perfect. The target audience for investors would be the thousands of expatriate Indians in the United States and Europe, who would be drawn to hear J. P. speak and would make an investment. The U. S. dollars acquired this way would be used to purchase improved seed, fertilizer, and small-scale farm equipment; these, not money, would be given to farmers as loans—or credit. Many of the techniques used by Mohammed Yunus for the Grameen Bank were also part of Borsodi’s plan.
After the initial discussion at Porter Sargent’s office, I joined full steam. It seemed clear to me that this was what the world needed—or at least what I was looking for. Borsodi and I went to work. He enlisted a couple of local New Hampshire friends, Dick Newey and Gordon Lameyer, to help, and we began to put the pieces together. I continued to live in Voluntown, utilizing the office facilities there as much as possible. Borsodi drew upon his work with Irving Fisher at Yale University during the Depression to create a weighted basket of commodities to be used as the instrument for establishing the “standard of value” for the debentures, which he had printed in different denominations. We worked on lining up places for J. P. and Borsodi to speak in order to gain supporters for the project. But it was not to be. Borsodi was already in his eighties, and his doctor warned him not to overdo. J. P. was also in bad health and on dialysis; he had to drop out; Borsodi took a “leave of absence,” and without their involvement we had to put the whole project on the shelf. Several friends in Voluntown and I turned our attention to creating a Community Land Trust project in the South.
Chapter 19: A Gramdan (Community Land Trust) Movement for the US
Having spent so much time in the South made me aware not only of the pervasive racial inequalities but also of the economic realities that blacks continued to face even after legal segregation ended. I was determined to work for a more equitable solution to land ownership and economic security. Part of the answer seemed to lie in a land-reform program that would restore at least some of the land that had been taken from blacks after the Civil War. I began to put Borsodi’s model together with Vinoba Bhave’s Gramdan or “village gift” program in India.
After Gandhi was murdered in 1948, the spiritual leadership of the nonviolent independence movement in India fell into the hands of Vinoba Bhave according to Gandhi’s wishes. Vinoba was a scholarly man, who knew at least six languages. He had the reputation of a saint and was not active in the political wing of the independence movement as was J. P. Narayan. With Gandhi’s death, violence broke out in several provinces or states of India, in part stimulated by the communists, who were agitating against landlords in these areas where landlords controlled all the land and the number of landless was increasing.
At the urging of his followers Vinoba decided to go to one of the places (I believe it was Kerala) where the situation was becoming serious. Although he didn’t have any idea of how to prevent the violence, he went to one village and asked the villagers what the problem was. One villager stood up and said simply, “We need land.” So Vinoba put a direct question to those assembled, not really expecting to get a positive reply. Pointing to the man who had just spoken, he said, “My brother here is without land. Who can give me some land for him?” To Vinoba’s amazement, one man stood up and said he had some land he could give. Then another stood up and another until there was enough land for at least two or three landless farm families. What to do now? Vinoba said he would act as trustee for the land, and his followers worked out a plan for how to divide it among the landless. This was the beginning of the Boodan or “land gift” program.
Vinoba began a walk (a Padyatra) through the villages, stopping in each one to ask for gifts of land. Gifts of land continued to be made, but an unexpected problem developed. When the land was transferred, the landless were given deeds; the new owners, however, didn’t have the means to buy tools, fertilizer, or seeds nor did they have credit to purchase any. All they had was the value of the land itself. What happened is typical of most land-reform programs: in desperation the landless sold the land, and after the money ran out they ended up back on the streets of Calcutta begging. Vinoba realized something must change, and thus began the Gramdan or village-gift movement, whereby. as I noted, the land is given to the village as a whole, which acts as trustee for the land. It is actually the village elders who are the trustees. They see to it that the land is fairly distributed among the landless, who hold a lease to use the land, and they help individual farmers to purchase seeds, fertilizer, etc. Most importantly, the trustees cannot sell the land. Vinoba continued to walk through the villages for over ten years, during which time thousands of acres of land were donated and 10,000 villagers benefited from the Gramdan movement. When I talked with Vinoba in 1978 at his ashram in India, he assured me that the Gramdan movement was alive and well.
The answer to how a land-reform movement could happen in the United States emerged from the next large-scale project that CNVA initiated in 1965 when we sponsored a long walk from Quebec to Guantanamo in Cuba. The walkers never made it to Cuba because the police chief in Albany, Georgia, arrested all thirty of them, but through this confrontation there appeared the man who could start the Community Land Trust movement in the South. He was Slater King, a real estate broker and a key leader in the civil rights movement in Albany.
As one person put it, “If Slater had been white, he would have been the mayor of Albany.” The police chief, known as the toughest chief in the South, arrested the marchers on grounds that they were violating a local law against “racial mixing.” All thirty went on a fast in jail. Tough as the chief was, he let them out in thirty days. They proceeded to walk together through the streets of Albany, breaking down segregation there for the first time ever. The marchers won over the hearts of the black community. The joy at their release was felt everywhere. For Slater, this was the first victory he, as head of the Albany movement, had tasted, and it helped open him to the idea of a Gramdan movement in the South. Thus began my close working relationship with Slater.
As a first step, Fay Bennett (director of the National Sharecroppers Fund), Slater King, his brother C. B. King, and I decided to learn more about the land trust concept. With the help of the Jewish National Fund and the National Sharecroppers Fund, we were able to plan a trip to Israel, where a similar land reform movement had been in existence since the late 1800s. Members of the Zionist movement familiar with Henry George (author of Progress and Poverty) had established the Jewish National Fund around 1890 to purchase land from Arab land owners in Israel and lease it to Zionists who were coming to set up kibbutzim (cooperatives) and moshavim (villages) in Israel at that time. Their objective, following Henry George, was to prevent land speculation—with all the newcomers land prices were being driven up. They were successful in holding the price of land down until after Israel became an independent country in 1948. At that point the Jewish National Fund decided to raise the lease price and buy the land with money raised from private owners. This would prevent a relatively few land owners from becoming rich at the expense of the refugees arriving from Europe after the war. We arranged for a group of civil rights leaders to visit Israel in 1967 and spend a month with our host, the Jewish National Fund, studying the Israeli example. When we returned, Slater set out to locate a large tract of land for a model community land trust, which we called New Communities.
Chapter 20: New Communities–Five Thousand Acres and One Million Dollars
Because Slater was a real estate agent, he was familiar with land availability in the Albany area. Eventually he located a 5000-acre former plantation outside of Albany called Featherfold Farm, at the price of approximately $1,000,000. On such a tract we could put several hundred homes and still have plenty of land for farming. In Israel this is called a Moschav Shitivi—a village with small homesteads of half an acre each clustered around a village center and large, cooperatively-farmed fields surrounding the village. This model was adopted by the civil rights leaders as the best way to relocate families on the land.
The main problem was how to raise $1,000,000. Fay Bennett and I (the only other white person on the trip to Israel) arranged a $50,000 one-year option with her organization. We set out to raise the money with the one-year deadline at our backs. Fortunately Slater had many friends from his work in the civil rights movement and from his years as a student at Oberlin College. One of these friends was Chester Carlson, the inventor of Xerox and a multimillionaire. He was very interested in the project and offered to give the money for the land on one condition—that Slater and I should first meet with the Fellows at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. The Center had been established by Robert Hutchins, formerly President of the University of Chicago, where the Great Books method of education started. We agreed, of course, and flew out to Santa Barbara with great expectations. Here was the chance to dialogue with these distinguished Fellows. But most important was the million dollars.
At the Center W. H. (“Ping”) Ferry acted as liaison for us. Hutchins arranged an evening meeting with ten or twelve of the Fellows around a large table. The dialogue went well, with several constructive suggestions offered to improve our proposal. But before the meeting began, Ping asked us to come into an adjoining room and relayed a message he had just received that our benefactor had died suddenly a few hours before! This was the first disappointment in our quest to raise the money, but not the last.
The next disappointment came when a promised grant from Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty program failed to materialize. The story is that Robert Kennedy had managed to have a twenty-million-dollar fund set aside within the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) for programs to help poor people, primarily in the South. What was unique about this fund was that it was designed to prevent racist governors from blocking such grants for the South—as they had been doing by refusing to approve the grants. Bobby Kennedy’s fund removed the requirement of approval.
With the help of friends inside and outside of government we managed to get a commitment from the OEO for $1,000,000 from the Kennedy Fund. The only provision was that within a year’s time we do a feasibility study, for which we were given a $100,000 planning grant to be administered by McClaughry and Associates. We completed the study, and although the plan was approved, we never saw the million dollars. Slater King had been killed in a car accident, and without his leadership in Albany the OEO staff probably questioned the ability of other local leaders, in particular Reverend Charles Sherrod, to manage such a large project effectively.
We still had the option on the land, however, and we set out to raise the loan money from private sources. We had to patch it together with $20,000 here and $50,000 there, mostly from Church groups who were ready to “put their money where their hearts were.” Out of this experience came the idea of a nonprofit Community Investment Fund for the purpose of investing in socially responsible businesses.
Altogether we had to borrow over half of the million dollars, including a first mortgage with Prudential Life Insurance. The background on this is interesting. The two brothers who were the sellers of the land had a mortgage of $400,000. Customarily, such a mortgage can readily be taken over by the buyers. In this case, however, Prudential at first refused to transfer the mortgage on the grounds that when they had given a mortgage to a church several years earlier, the church defaulted on the loan. Because the church was a religious, nonprofit organization, Prudential decided not to collect on the mortgage in order to avoid bad publicity. Therefore, the company adopted a policy of not lending to a nonprofit organization, which they considered New Communities to be. It would be willing, however, to give a mortgage if New Communities were a for-profit organization. Fortunately we found a sympathetic Wall Street lawyer, who arranged almost immediately a for-profit “shelf” corporation to take over the New Communities corporation and then lease the property back to New Communities—all very legal. Now as a for-profit corporation, we had the approval of Prudential—and not only approval, Prudential increased the mortgage!
While the first mortgage from Prudential went a long way toward our target of $1,000,000, at the end of the day before the option was due to run out, we were still $50,000 short of our goal. But we did have a promise from a black church group in North Carolina that they would loan the $50,000. C. B. King, Slater’s brother and also a lawyer, Slater’s wife, Marion, and I were still in the offices of our Wall Street lawyer in New York. He had just received a call from the group in North Carolina confirming that they would have a $50,000 check in C. B. King’s office in Albany, Georgia, before the noon deadline the following day.
It was late in the afternoon when I called for reservations on a regular flight from New York to Atlanta and on to Albany. I was told that all seats were sold out from Atlanta to Albany. After two more calls I located a private airline that could accommodate us. So far so good, but when we got to Atlanta and found the private airline, the manager informed us that the plane could not take off because the rear door wouldn’t close. I asked if he had some rope, and after getting a reluctant yes, I finally convinced him that I could hold the door shut with the rope all the way to Albany, which I did.
The next morning we arrived early at C. B. King’s office. Everyone assembled had an interest in the project, including, of course, the two brothers who owned the property. They were nervous and clearly hoped the sale would not go through because apparently they had been threatened by some of their neighbors. As the hands of the clock moved to twelve noon and past, the two brothers jumped up and gleefully shook hands, saying “too bad.” C. B. King, however, called their lawyer aside, and after a brief consultation with the two brothers their lawyer announced that his clients would extend the time for another twenty minutes. At that very moment a messenger arrived with the $50,000 check . Now it was time for our group to cheer. Everyone, of course, wanted to know what C. B. King had said to their lawyer, but he said only that he had certain information that their lawyer would not want reported.
Tragedy marked the history of New Communities. When Slater was killed in an auto accident just before we took the option on the land, there was serious discussion about whether to continue with the project. With trepidation but as a tribute to Slater, the vote was to go forward. Then, one night only a year or so after purchase of the land, came another accident—a truck with its lights off blocked the road on which six key workers from the farm were traveling. They were in the hospital for months, which set the project back immeasurably.
In spite of all these setbacks the many people involved managed to hold onto the land for over twenty years although few of the plans worked out under the OEO plan were ever realized. This was a great disappointment because New Communities could have been an exceptional model for integrating large and small-scale farming enterprises and creating small industries to provide long-term employment. Perhaps these models would have prevented the mass exodus of blacks to northern cities, where property became tinderboxes for rioting, drugs, and gang warfare.
During the period we spent raising funds for New Communities we were able to do a lot of “spade work” with church groups, foundations, and other nonprofit groups that had considerable money invested in stocks and bonds. Most of these investments were in securities considered “safe or prudent,” but they were often with companies that manufactured products harmful to health and the environment or socially destructive. Our appeal to these nonprofit groups was to use an investment “screen” to establish criteria for investment from a social perspective. “Put your money where your mouth is.” This became known as “social investing.” (Morris Milgram was one of the early proponents of this approach, which he used to raise funds for his work in creating integrated housing.) Most of the early social-investment funds used what we called negative criteria (no pollution, no segregation, no pesticides or insecticides, etc.) We, however, developed what I believe were the first positive criteria for social investing, and New Communities was the first example.
There was considerable resistance from board members of these nonprofit groups, many of whom were bankers. They thought their responsibility was only to make investments that would earn maximum profits. Moreover, they were convinced that “social investing” could not, by its nature, be as profitable as “regular” investments. This assumption has proven to be wrong, and gradually social investing has become respectable as well as profitable. But in the 1960s it was still a “hard sell.” Today billions of dollars are in social investments.
Chapter 21: Puerto Rico–The Island of Culebra, January 11, 1970
In January 1970 I became a hero overnight in Puerto Rico. There was an ongoing struggle over the status of the island—whether it should become a U. S. state, remain a commonwealth, or be an independent country. In this conflict two approaches had developed, one nonviolent and the other violent. In recent years, those with the nonviolent orientation have been the most active, organizing many demonstrations and political actions.
In 1970 the U. S. Navy announced that it was planning a major target-practice exercise and invited other South American countries, including Brazil and Argentina, to join in the exercise. The target at which they were aiming was the small island of Culebra, close to—and considered part of—Puerto Rico. Culebra is populated by people of Spanish descent and by cattle. Some cattle had been killed by occasional bomb misfires, and of course there was danger to people as well. In fact, the island had been used for many years by the U. S. Navy for occasional target practice after the population had been moved from one part of the island to another—against the will of the people. This remained a source of continuing resentment both on Culebra and on Puerto Rico itself.
The nonviolent “independistas” decided to use the naval exercise as an opportunity for a major demonstration. They planned to march on the part of the island where the bombing would take place and camp there as long as necessary to prevent the bombing. The organizers decided to invite a few members of CNVA in order to show there was support in the United States. Eight of us volunteered, arriving two days before the planned demonstration. We learned that part of the plan was to build a church as a symbolic act because when the people had been moved, a church had been torn down. This fact was in part responsible for the anger that still smoldered in the local people. When the Puerto Ricans showed us the design for the church, we expressed the opinion that the church was too small—more “like a dog house.” They turned to me, “the special builder for CNVA,” and asked if I could do better. I said they should get more material and bring it from the mainland by ferry. I designed the church as a prefab so that we could cut the parts in advance with power tools and carry them to the site.
The Navy had been busy in anticipation of our demonstration and had brought in their Sea Bees (who can build whole airports in twenty-four hours when necessary). They constructed a tall wire fence across the entire island to keep us out. When we arrived at their fence, the commander in charge read an official notice warning us that we were not permitted beyond the gate. Well, according to Spanish law, by which the island was still governed, all of the shoreline is open to the public. All we had to do was walk along the fence to the water’s edge, go around the fence, and stay on the beach. Navy officials apparently assumed they could arrest us once we were on the beach, but the law gave us permission to be there, and one of our group had the legal papers to prove it.
When the Sea Bees realized that their fence was not going to stop us, they tried to wrest the pieces of wood from our members, who numbered forty or more. A tug of war ensued, all of which was being recorded by television reporters and photographers. “The Marine commander suddenly came to his senses and yelled ‘Negative!’ The Marines withdrew in uncertain order, even returning the lumber already taken—and the next day a San Juan Star headline read, ‘Navy beats retreat in beach invasion'” (Robert Swann, “Culebra: Island Besieged,” The Nation, March 1, 1971, pg. 263).
We went to work with the prefab parts and had the building up by nightfall—much to the chagrin of the Sea Bees, who stood at a respectful distance making derogatory remarks, at least until we completed the building; then they began to respect us. That night we had a party. Dozens of friends came from the main island with food, drinks, and music. Everyone in Puerto Rico had heard the news or seen it on TV. The Sea Bees had been ordered not to fraternize, but with all the fun going on, some of them couldn’t resist. In the darkness they took off their military clothes and joined in. The next day the front page of the San Juan Star had a picture, nearly half the size of the page, of our church with its two-by-four-foot cross.
After eight days Washington had enough; orders came down to “arrest those guys if they won’t leave.” Six men volunteered to stay and be arrested. All six (including one American) were sent to jail. One, of the six told me as he was about to be arrested that he had resisted the idea of nonviolence: “‘Not until today have I understood how powerful nonviolence is. We have stopped the Navy, and they are powerless to do anything about it. Now I am ready to go to jail.'” (“Culebra: Island Besieged,” p. 264) Years later, one of the Puerto Rican demonstrators was elected to the local legislature.
Much later, in 1982 Susan Witt, my partner, and I decided to go to Puerto Rico on vacation. Because I had told Susan about my experience on the island of Culebra, she wanted to see the church. When we arrived on the ferry, the first thing we noticed was a bus with the sign “Flamingo Beach.” We hopped the bus, along with a couple of dozen young Puerto Ricans going to the beach. When we got there, my eye caught sight of the church building I had designed. It was being used as a shed for picnicking. The entire former military-target area had been turned into a public park, which dozens of people were using right now! We asked the bus driver what had happened. He told us that after the demonstration the U. S. military had torn down the church but just left the material lying there. After the United States returned the island to Puerto Rico two years later, the local people rebuilt the church.
Chapter 22: The International Independence Institute, the International Foundation for Independence, and the Institute for Community Economics
My role in helping to initiate New Communities was more or less completed with the acquisition of the 5000 acres. Moreover, local leaders now had a firm grasp of the project and didn’t really want “outside” help. I don’t think this was a racial matter; it was simply local determination and local pride.
During this stage in my life our living situation changed. I felt strongly drawn to focus on the community land trust concept, and I wanted to further Borsodi’s ideas. The Committee for Nonviolent Action was not the focal point of my life anymore. Marj and I, along with other friends not part of our CNVA work, found ourselves looking more closely at community economic issues. So in 1972 Marj and I moved with two other families (Ted Webster and his wife and Shimon Gottshauck and his wife-to-be) to Ashby, Massachusetts, where we started an informal housing cooperative. Ted Webster was an accomplished editor who wanted to utilize his skills towards furthering CLTs and Borsodi’s ideas. Shimon Gottshauck was a sociologist working on his doctorate at Brandeis University; he had been specifically interested in the New Communities project. We found a site with a large home divided into two apartments, to which we later added a third. We had about four acres to ourselves, with lots of fruit trees to keep us happy.
Meanwhile, although both J. P. Narayan’s and Ralph Borsodi’s poor health had dampened our hopes of getting the Rural Renaissance project off the ground, Borsodi showed improvement in late 1967. He recovered enough to establish two nonprofit corporations that he hoped would continue the development of his ideas. One of these was the International Independence Institute, which he conceived as the training and educational arm of the project. The Institute would be linked to existing universities, which would carry out the educational responsibilities. Borsodi had talked with the President of Amedabad University in India and won his support for the project.
The other corporation was called the International Foundation for Independence, whose function was to operate as the banking arm for the Institute. It was to handle the money raised from First World countries by J. P. and others. (Except for a small amount Borsodi put in of his own money, the Foundation never became operational.) Money raised by the Foundation would be used to train field workers and to lend commodities like seeds and fertilizers to individual farmers in India and other Third World countries. As a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization the Institute could receive tax-deductible contributions to cover operating costs. It was this corporation that was the operational arm which I and a few friends—mainly Terry Mollner, Shimon Gottshauck, and Paul Salstrom—used to carry on the work. Later Erick Hansh joined us.
Before Borsodi went into full retirement, he outlined his vision of how the Institute would operate. He explained that each village applying for a loan would be required to develop a five-year plan similar to the one developed by the National Planning Board in India, which had to be approved by the Institute. There was one requirement Borsodi set out: all loans would be to farmers or small business people for seeds and fertilizers or small-scale equipment. No actual money would exchange hands, and repayment would be in kind. What is amazing about this 1972 proposal is its similarity to a lending plan designed by Muhammad Yunus a few years later to help poor people in Bangladesh. The important distinction is Yunus’s success! Between 1983, when he first opened the independent Grameen Bank, and 1997 over two million people (94 percent women) received over one billion dollars in loans. The Bank, which employs 12,000 people, has maintained a 98 percent repayment record. Now, in 1999, there are Grameen-type banks in over fifty countries around the world.
Unfortunately Borsodi was only able to outline his vision and then once again had to withdraw from organizing work. With both Borsodi and J. P. no longer able to play a major role, we decided in 1973 that the best task for the Institute would be to follow through on New Communities as a model to initiate a Gramdan movement in the United States—in other words, a land-reform movement following the initiative established by Vinoba Bhave in India. We changed the name of the Institute to The Institute for Community Economics and, using our contacts throughout the peace movement, we began a newsletter to promote the Community Land Trust concept in the United States. From the beginning there was a tendency for people to confuse the intentional community network with the CLT concept. Many people assumed they were the same thing, so our first task when speaking to groups was to clarify the distinction.
A Community Land Trust is a not-for-profit organization with membership open to any resident of the geographical region or bioregion where it is located. The purpose of a CLT is to create a democratic institution to hold land and to retain the use-value of the land for the benefit of the community. The effect of a CLT is to provide affordable access to land for housing, farming, small businesses, and civic projects. This effect can be achieved when a significant portion of the land in an area is held by a CLT . . . .
A CLT acquires land by gift or purchase and then develops a land-use plan for the parcel, identifying which lands should remain forever wild and which should support low-impact development. A CLT fosters healthy ecosystems and an appropriate social use of the land. The planners solicit input from residents of the region to determine the best uses of the land—recreational space, wildlife preserve, managed woodlots for a local industry, secure farmlands for the region, affordable housing, or affordable office space. The land trust then leases sites for the purposes agreed upon. The lease runs for ninety-nine years and is inheritable and renewable on the original terms. The leaseholder owns the buildings and any agricultural improvements on the land but not the land itself. Upon resale, leaseholders are restricted to selling their buildings and improvements at current replacement cost, excluding the land’s market value from the transfer . . . .
The CLT is a democratic institution, with the potential to hold most land in a region. The leasehold method provides both security and equity for leaseholders by encouraging their long-term investment and helping them to establish deep roots in the community.
—Susan Witt and Robert Swann
Land: Challenge and Opportunity
Schumacher Center for a New Economics
May 1995, pp. 7-8
Chapter 23: The Community Investment Fund
Our experience raising money to buy the New Communities land made us realize that in order for our work promoting community land trusts to succeed we needed available funds to purchase land when local groups were ready to move. We decided to organize a revolving loan fund called the Community Investment Fund. Applying our ideas on socially responsible investing, we primarily targeted churches, encouraging them to “put your money where your hearts are.” Although this fund was not limited to purchasing land for CLTs, that was its primary purpose. We established it in the mid-1970s as a program of the Institute for Community Economics. With a current investment base of around $13,000,000 dollars, it has helped many CLTs get started.
Now we were concentrating our work in the New England region, where we could easily meet with local groups to help them organize and to provide technical support. Based on our experience in the South we developed a handbook that includes the details on how to establish a community land trust: how to set up a nonprofit corporation and its by-laws, how to write a lease, and how to arrange alternative financing. The lease is the key legal instrument in the CLT. In order to provide the greatest possible security to the lessee, the lease guarantees possession of the land to the individual or family for ninety-nine years, with automatic renewal and inheritance—unless, of course, a violation of the lease takes place. Perhaps the most important requirement is that the land be used for farming or housing, as specified in the lease itself and the attached land-use plan. If a lessee fails to use the land, leaving it idle, or tries to rent it, this is a violation of the lease.
The land trust movement has been well received across the country. Now there are over fifty CLTs in the United States. Both the Schumacher Center and the Institute for Community Economics (ICE) promote and provide technical assistance to fledgling CLTs around the country. ICE has focused more on urban CLTs and the Schumacher Center on rural ones.
Chapter 24: The Constant–A Non-Devaluating Local Currency
At the age of eighty-seven, despite his declining health, Borsodi still wanted to make one last effort to challenge the money and banking system. He considered the present system to be the fundamental economic problem needing to be tackled before any social reform would be possible in the United States. “No social reform is possible without a reform of the monetary system,” he said, adding, “This is most difficult because so few people understand the problem.” In 1972 Borsodi was in Escondido, California, doing research for a book about “an honest money system” that was meant to challenge the conventional thinking that inflation is due to natural causes. One morning when he picked up the local paper, he read about another rise in inflation. He was incensed that politicians claimed ignorance about how to stop it. This was early in the Carter presidency. Out of frustration, he decided too many books had been written on the subject, and still nothing changed. He sat down and wrote what he called the “Escondido Memorandum,” outlining a real-life demonstration that would exemplify an “honest money system and prove that a local currency could be issued without bringing about devaluation.
Establishing a nondevaluating currency was part of his proposal to J. P., and he had worked out the mechanism for this purpose. The idea stemmed from Professor Irving Fisher’s work at Yale in the 1930s; Fisher used a “weighted basket” of all basic commodities in the world (at least thirty of them) in order to establish a standard of value that could be used like the consumer price index (CPI) to establish fair exchange anywhere. What made the Constant, as Borsodi called it, unique and convinced him that it could be used to establish an “honest” money system anywhere in the world was the fact that it was based on real commodities that were not controlled by governments but by actual trading.
You might ask, “why not use the consumer price index?” Because it is a national index, using prices of consumer goods in the United States only. Borsodi’s index used only the three basic types of commodities found anywhere in the world. These were agricultural products (wheat, rice, corn, oats, barley); energy (oil, gas, coal, wood); and metals (tin, copper, zinc, iron). As I have said, besides Fisher, other economists, including Benjamin Graham, considered a similar idea in the 1930s.
Borsodi was determined to test his conviction that an honest money, one that doesn’t lose value or gain value (is constant in value), would be the greatest gift to the human race he could imagine. So he set down the elements that he thought would be necessary to carry out the experiment. One was the cooperation of a local banker. The banker would set up a special account, where only Constants would be exchanged. When Borsodi returned from California to Exeter, New Hampshire, his hometown, the head of a local bank agreed to work with him. Borsodi designed and had printed a fair amount of Constants, which he sold to friends for U. S. dollars. These began circulating around Exeter. At this point his health took a turn for the worst, and he could not carry on the work. He called me up and begged me to help him out. Although I was up to my ears with CLT work and was still active in CNVA, I felt his project was so valuable that I could not let him down. I was joined by Eric Hansh, a follower of Henry George from Portland, Oregon, and two other part-time workers. We did most of the work out of the Ashby, Mass. office, and because Exeter was fairly close, we could drive there as often as necessary. We even hired a person to work part-time in an office in Exeter to handle the work from that end.
Borsodi had to drop out almost entirely, which left the responsibility for the Constant in the hands of us amateurs. By now almost 100,000 Constants were circulating in Exeter. Restaurants and businesses were taking them, and even the police accepted them in payment of fines. They continued to circulate for over a year, but we had to close down the office when we didn’t have enough working capital (in dollars) to cover our operating costs—a problem many businesses have. Borsodi, however, was satisfied to have demonstrated that people would accept Constants in everyday exchange and that it could become a world currency.
Before Borsodi died in 1977, we persuaded him to put into writing his ideas on how an “honest money system” could be created. This little book entitled Inflation and the Coming Keynesian Catastrophe: A Story of Exeter Experiments with Constants remains Borsodi’s legacy to the world on this key subject of modern times.
While I firmly believe that Borsodi’s proposal for the Constant can be realized, I also believe that the resources of a large bank or multinational corporation are required to launch it (Borsodi thought it would take $1,000,000). For this reason we have been searching for an alternative to a “basket of commodities” to provide both the security of redemption offered by real commodities and a “constant” measure of value. Because energy is a common element in almost all production, we have considered energy in different forms (oil, gas, coal, and wood) as a possible substitute for the basket. Each one of these, however, presents problems (storage cost, pollution, etc.) The best option appears to be various solar devices, such as photovoltaics and wind generation. At present the major obstacles are cost and limited resources.
The question will be raised, “doesn’t the Constant, or any universal money (like gold), go against the concept of local currency or a ‘buy local’ system?” I don’t think so. It seems to me that there is a need for both kinds of currency. Each serves similar but also different purposes. Presently, virtually all currencies are national currencies, whose value is determined by each national government’s willingness to accept their currency in payment of taxes. Local currencies, however, are given value because at the local level people can and will trust one other. The volume of money issued can be controlled directly at the local level, and if too much is issued (therefore causing inflation), it will be detected soon enough and will be corrected by the local “Federal Reserve” (or the potluck group—see Paul Glover’s Ithaca Hours, p. ). If not enough money is being issued, that too can be rectified by the local “Federal Reserve.”
On the other hand, the further away from home that money is issued, the greater the need for a system to prevent inflation in order to sustain confidence—hence the need for a currency that has a common basis of value and is acceptable on the broadest basis possible. Gold and silver have traditionally been the most common universal currency for this purpose. Today, however, no such currency is available—only national money is available, and we can see what havoc this paper money is causing in Asian countries today.
Thus, for world trade we need a money whose value is based on real commodities, as Borsodi suggested for the Constant. This means that there must be a way to redeem the value of paper money on demand in exchange for real commodities; otherwise the paper money will be just that—paper. Borsodi had solved the storage problem on freighters by working out a way of having “the bank of issue” hold options on these commodities, which could be called at any time in order to cover redemption on demand if needed.
I have suggested that an alternative would be to use energy in the form of electricity. This is based on the notion that energy is the common factor in all production and is storable in the form of electricity as well as transportable. While energy in the form of firewood would have some advantages in rural areas like ours, it obviously has too many disadvantages. There are “new energy” inventions such as cold fusion, tapping the vacuum energy of space, etc., however, that hold out hope for unlimited sources of energy drawn directly from the air itself. They are nonpolluting, inexpensive, and require no storage. These sources are now close to commercialization. They could be used for redemption and the determinant of value in the future and would eliminate government issue of money, as Borsodi advocated.
While these “new energy” sources have the potential for low-cost decentralized access to nonpolluting energy, other sources of nonpolluting energy are already available from solar, hydrogen, etc. and are on the market today, although the cost is not yet competitive with coal or oil. These “new energy” devices, which can be set up like a washing machine in your house, will produce more energy in the form of electricity than a house will need, in which case the excess can be sold to the utility, as is also the case with wind generators. They have the added advantage of not polluting the earth or destroying the ozone. Ron Svenson and others have noted that there are solar systems large enough to heat or air-condition buildings the size of schools. These could be installed immediately, particularly in schools, and would serve the additional purpose of providing a refuge in emergencies caused by severe storms or power failures as well as power failure from computer collapse. (See The Coming Energy Revolution by Jeane Manning and Miracle in the Void by Dr. Brian O’Leary.)
So far, in the struggle to bring these new energies to commercialization, at least two factors have blocked development, ignoring the fact that the Department of Energy has not provided any significant funds for their development while at the same time providing billions of dollars for “hot fusion” without any results. The most important block has been the U.S. Patent Office, which had refused to approve any such devices until last year, when a patent was finally issued to Dr. Randall Mills for his invention, which he has called “Hydrinos” or “collapsing hydrogen.” Dr. Mills estimates the initial cost of the equipment to heat a home at $2,000, with no cost for energy—in fact, excess energy is returned to the line. Subsequently, more patents have been issued with many more in line to be issued. It looks as if there will be a major revolution in energy production and distribution.
A second block, a shortage of funds to carry out experiments, has resulted in some violence, presumably emanating from sources afraid of losing power.
Chapter 25: E. F. Schumacher–Small is Beautiful
Fritz Schumacher died in 1977, the same year as Ralph Borsodi. These two men have had the most influence on my thinking about economics and on my life work. Although I had known of them for many years and had read their books and articles, I didn’t meet either of them until 1967, ten years before they died. Fritz and I had similar experiences during World War II, when we were both incarcerated and this experience played an important role in our thinking. Because Schumacher was a German, he and his family were detained in northern England during the war.
John Papworth, then editor of Resurgence magazine (published in England), had “discovered” Fritz sometime in the 1960s and regularly published articles by him. When I first read one of these articles, particularly the one on Buddhist Economics, I had a sense of him as a “fellow traveler.” I wrote John Papworth and urged him to collect Schumacher’s articles and put them into book form. I can’t say that my urging was a major factor in getting the book published, but I like to think that it helped.
Ultimately, I became so taken with his writings that I wanted to meet Schumacher. This came about when Borsodi and I visited him in London in 1967 to discuss Borsodi’s plan for small-scale credit and how it could mesh with Schumacher’s idea of intermediate technology. We agreed that they fit together very well and that we should keep in touch, which we did occasionally over the next few years. But at the time I was concentrating on the Community Land Trust movement, which was growing at a rapid pace, while Schumacher was preoccupied with the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), which he and George McRobie had recently founded.
Schumacher continued writing articles for Resurgence, and I urged John Papworth to publish them in book form. This finally happened in 1973 when Harper & Row brought out Small Is Beautiful. Later that year I called Harper & Row to see how sales were progressing, only to learn that the book was languishing on the shelves. I was determined to do something about it, so I wrote Fritz to ask if he would be willing to make a one-month speaking tour to promote the book in the United States. He agreed, and with $1000 from Harper & Row, we set up a national speaking tour. The American Friends Service Committee in particular did a great job arranging meetings.
Fritz met with Jerry Brown (then governor of California), the governor of Oregon, several senators, and even Merrill Lynch and Co. (thanks to Hazel Henderson). Fritz spoke from the perspective of a “fuel economist,” as he called himself, because he was Chairman of the Coal Planning Board in England and knew a great deal about fuels, not only coal. His visit coincided with the 1973-1974 energy crisis, during which the price of oil was raised several times by the cartel known as OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Producing Countries). As a result there was great interest in the issues he was talking about, and the book began to sell like hotcakes.
When Fritz returned East on his one-month speaking tour, I set up several speaking engagements before he returned to England. One of these was at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York state, where there was a great deal of interest in his message on science and technology. It was a natural then to take him for a visit to New Alchemy Institute in Cape Cod where the message was quite different. As it happened, the day we visited New Alchemy, an open visitor’s day, there was a Life magazine photographer and reporter who had just returned from Germany with a story about a woman—a nun, I believe—who had been on a total fast (no food or water) for a number of days. I don’t remember exactly how long, but longer than it was “scientifically” possible for a human being to live. As it happened, George Wald, a recent Nobel Prize winner in biology, was also visiting. When he heard the Life reporter telling this story he couldn’t resist challenging the reporter and began giving all the scientific evidence as to why it was impossible, but the Life reporter continued to persist and maintained that he had checked all the evidence and he could see no reason why the woman was lying. He and George Wald continued to carry on a lively discussion with neither one backing down from their position. At that point, to my surprise, Fritz jumped into the argument on the side of the Life reporter. His argument was simply that we do not know enough to be able to say “without doubt” that such a thing could not happen. But George continued to insist that if it could not be proven “scientifically,” then it could not be true. It struck me at the time that there were two men representing the two opposing philosophies of our time and age.
Fritz lived to see his ideas relating to the importance of small-scale technology, small work groups, and worker ownership become a reality on the world level. ITDG now has 600 full-time workers all over the world focusing on appropriate intermediate technologies. In the United States, for example, Appropriate Technology International was founded with the help of Schumacher’s right-hand man, George McRobie, and remains funded by the Agency for International Development.
At the end of his trip, Fritz asked me if I would be interested in becoming the U. S. liaison for his Intermediate Technology Development Group. I said no because I did not have administrative skills, which I felt was what Fritz needed. But while Fritz was here, I organized a meeting between him and Borsodi—the two leading decentralists, in my judgment. It is my deep regret that I didn’t tape-record their conversation. Borsodi maintained that no social reform would be possible without monetary reform. Schumacher seemed unconvinced that such reform was necessary. He made it clear that he wasn’t opposed to monetary reform but didn’t think it was essential. Later, on the way to catch his plane for England, he gave what seemed to me a valid reason for his position which I no longer recall. It appears that during the war while he was interned in northern England he had written several policy papers, which he sent to economist friends. He sent one to John Maynard Keynes, probably the most influential economist of the time. He never heard from Keynes, but it was later revealed that this policy paper (on establishing a world monetary clearing house) was in fact what became known as the famous “White Paper” that set international monetary policy for years. Keynes never acknowledged Schumacher’s authorship.
Schumacher spent the last years of his life speaking and promoting his ideas all over the world. Small is Beautiful became the longest-term bestseller of any nonfiction book Harper & Row ever published. In 1998, it was reissued by Hartley & Marks Publishers.
After his death, friends and co-workers set up the E. F. Schumacher Society in England, headed by Satish Kumar, who had become the editor of Resurgence when John Papworth left for Zambia. When Satish came to the United States in 1980, he asked a few of Fritz’s U. S. friends to set up a Schumacher Society here. I had some concern that he might want us to simply organize lectures, as he was doing in England, but he assured me that was not the case. We would be free to follow our own path as the U. S. Schumacher Society.
Satish’s suggestion coincided with a change in my life. I had fallen in love with Susan Witt, a woman who had come to the Institute for Community Economics after hearing me talk on the radio about what the Institute was doing to implement Borsodi’s ideas. She was so inspired that she offered to be a volunteer with the project. When she first called our office, she told us she had a degree in English and thought she might be able to help us keep our files in order. (In 1978, Marj and I and the others at our home in Ashby had moved the office to Cambridge and were concentrating on creating the Community Investment Fund.) It soon became clear that Susan’s skills extended far beyond organizing the files; before long she began taking on broader duties. Technically I was still the director, but in reality it was Susan.
Susan and I later became partners. We moved together to a small apartment near Harvard Square. Although our apartment was on the fourth floor, we were happy there, gladly climbing the stairs. By 1979-1980 we were both ready to leave Boston, for a variety of reasons. We wanted to live in a rural area on CLT land and had begun looking for opportunities. (We considered Tennessee, for example.) Satish’s letter, which opened up a whole other option to us, coincided with a letter from the DeRis family in the Berkshire region of western Massachusetts, soliciting our help on a complicated land issue.
Fortunately, the owner of this land, which was her major asset, was somewhat familiar with Henry George and the CLT concept. She was dying of cancer and wanted to distribute her assets equally among her five children. One of her sons had built a house on the ten-acre tract but was unable to buy out the other siblings’ portion of her assets. In order to divide equally, the only option seemed for everything, land and buildings, to be sold. She also owned a large home on the property. The land trust solved the problem by having her agree to take back a mortgage for the land in return for giving the land title to the CLT corporation (which was created shortly thereafter). The land value was set at $26,000, and a buyer acquired the owner’s house for $40,000, allowing her to distribute her assets equally among her children.
Susan and I fell in love with the Berkshires and decided to stay. We began organizing a CLT with the help of many local people. Members of the DeRis family were helpful in this process and we were able to put together a structure exactly as we hoped, with the ten-acre tract as the CLT’s first land acquisition. On the property was an existing garage that had housing possibilities. Susan and I bought it for $10,000, and I immediately began remodeling it into a small two-bedroom house while we lived in it. Without a bathroom we used a compost toilet for a couple years and hooked up a shower to the faucet of the kitchen sink. We added a greenhouse and depended on a wood stove as our only source of heat—that is, until 1997, when we installed a gas furnace. The wood stove remains as a reassuring backup.
In 1982 I designed and built a large dance studio for one of the DeRis family members. When the owner later left, the Schumacher Center purchased the building, which now houses the Center’s offices together with a library which specializes in books on decentralization. The centerpiece of the library is Schumacher’s personal collection.
The individuals who eventually founded the Schumacher Center in 1980 include Ian Baldwin, who shortly after became co-founder of Chelsea Green Publications; David Ehrenfeld, professor at Rutgers University; John McClaughry, former state senator in Vermont; Kirkpatrick Sale, author on environmental issues; Satish Kumar, and I. Susan Witt became the Executive Director, taking responsibility for the overall planning and daily operation of the Center as well as for the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires.
Since moving to the Berkshires in 1980, we have largely been consumed with carrying on the educational work of the Schumacher Center on a nationwide level. We have also organized locally—starting and managing the Community Land Trust in the South Berkshires, which currently holds title to two tracts of land.
Although I left the Institute for Community Economics to move to Great Barrington and help found the Center, a very capable group of workers has carried on the work of the Institute, first out of Greenfield, Massachusetts, for several years and now in Springfield. The Institute has focused on urban housing while the Schumacher Center has focused on rural land, particularly farmland. Together the two organizations are responsible for approximately fifty CLTs throughout the United States.
Chapter 26: SHARE Micro Loans and Deli Dollars
In 1982 the Schumacher Center, under the direction of Susan, organized a local study group out of which grew a microlending program called SHARE (Self-Help Association for a Regional Economy). This simple nonprofit lending program has, as intended, laid the groundwork for issuing a local currency in the Great Barrington region. To date we have had no defaults on any of the loans ($300 maximum). We’ve written a great deal about this program, most of which is included in our pamphlet, Local Currencies: Catalysts for Sustainable Regional Economies.
While SHARE was laying the groundwork for a local currency in Great Barrington, a surprising development thrust the idea of a local currency into the national spotlight. It was what we called the “Deli dollar” approach. Susan had suggested to a local delicatessen owner, Frank Tortoriello, that instead of borrowing from SHARE he issue his own money (local currency or “scrip”), sell it to his customers at a 10 percent discount, and then redeem it for food six months later when nine dollars of scrip would buy ten dollars worth of food.
Frank raised $5000 in no time; five other businesses subsequently picked up on the idea and did the same thing. This story caught the eye of a reporter from the Washington Post who happened to be in Great Barrington. His story appeared on the front page of the Post. The result was a number of TV, radio, and newspaper reports and a radio interview with Susan, followed by a flood of phone calls and letters to the Schumacher Center.
One of these calls was from Paul Glover, who heard the radio interview while recuperating from a back injury. After his back improved, Paul went to work enlisting subscribers, and when over fifty individuals and businesses agreed to accept Ithaca Hours as currency, he printed them. As a result of the publicity Ithaca Hours has received, over fifty groups across the country are now organized and printing local currency modeled after the Hours. (Paul sends out a handbook for organizing a local currency for $25).
There are several things I want to point out about Paul’s system:
- He is using a time measure for value (One Hour equals ten U. S. dollars). Theoretically the exchange rate of dollars to Hours will change if dollars devalue in the future—or increase in value, if anyone can imagine such a thing.
- There is no commodity redemption for Ithaca Hours. The question is, “Is there any need for backing (or redemption) for locally issued money?”
- A demurrage tax is not included. Bernard Leitauer, a former banker with the Belgian Central Bank who has written extensively on the subject of alternative monetary systems, believes that unless the demurrage-tax principle is incorporated into a local currency, it will not meet its potential.
Nevertheless, Ithaca Hours has issued the equivalence of over $50,000 and has over one thousand cooperating members. Paul says that on a yearly basis Ithaca Hours accounts for one to two million dollars of exchange value for businesses and individuals in Ithaca.
The Schumacher Center deserves credit for inspiring Paul Glover to print Ithaca Hours as a local currency intended for hand-to-hand use. We had been promoting the idea of a local currency for some time. In 1981 I wrote a pamphlet, The Need for Local Currency, and we discussed the idea in all of our Schumacher Seminars. In 1988 I delivered a Schumacher Lecture on the subject. Paul Glover had unsuccessfully attempted to start a Local Economic Trading System or LETS (launched in Vancouver, British Columbia, by Michael Linton) in Ithaca, using a computer to record trades. He was thinking about trying again when he heard Susan talking on the radio about local businesses issuing their own currency. She started Paul thinking about how to initiate a paper currency.
In my paper, “Building a Community Banking System,” I suggested how a paper currency would work. I no longer believe that strictly local currency needs redemption in any form. The experience of Paul Glover and others around the country is demonstrating that trust is enough to keep a local currency moving and valuable. This does not mean, however, that a redemption system is not needed at the national or global level. All of Borsodi’s and others’ arguments are valid at this level. In fact, even with every effort to “buy local” or “trade local” as Schumacher suggests, a relatively small percentage of the average person’s trading will be local—and will continue to be for some time.
I also suggested in my paper that it might be possible to use energy (in the form of electricity) as the redemption “commodity.” What needs to be added is that the possibility of using electricity is increased by any of the “new energy” sources. Because some of these devices—referred to as “space energy”— draw energy/electricity from the air, they will almost certainly replace the limited sources of oil and coal. Thus, not only will renewable energy be available anywhere in the world but nonpolluting sources as well. Redemption will not be a problem because equal access to energy will be available to everyone.
Chapter 27: Community Builders–Co-ops and Worker Ownership
After we moved to the Berkshires, I continued to work in the construction field, at first remodeling the garage and guest house Susan and I bought, both located on the ten acres bought by the CLT from the DeRis family.
In 1982 the Schumacher Center sponsored its first seven-day seminar entitled “Community Economic Transformation.” Community land trusts and local currencies were, of course, key subjects for the seminar. Worker ownership and stakeholder ownership were also major subjects. George Benello, one of our resource people and a co-worker, had just returned from a trip abroad. While in Spain, he visited the town of Mondragon and studied their unique cooperative ownership plan. Since that time Mondragon has become world famous.
Shann Turnbull, our colleague from Australia, presented plans for cooperative ownership in Australia, and Jeff Gates lectured on the model of the Employee Stock Ownership Plan in the United States. The papers from our seminars became a book called Building Sustainable Communities, edited by Ward Morehouse. We continued the seminars for several years until after George died in 1988.
Inspired by what George had learned in Spain, a few local members of the Center, also in the construction field, and I decided to start a building cooperative based on the successful Mondragon model. Within a few years our coop grew from three members to eleven, but then the stock-market crash of 1987 brought building almost to a halt. We had to end the coop, but while it lasted it was financially successful. Of all the projects it undertook, the building of a seventeen-family housing project on twenty-one acres of land held by the Community Land Trust was the most ambitious.
With this project—called Forest Row, located in the town of Great Barrington—we were able to combine the advantages of good land-use planning and creative house design (both single and multiple family homes, all but two of which I designed), at the same time selling the units at below market rates. The houses were clustered on several acres, with most of the land used for recreation and left as open space. In spite of some problems, mostly related to the depressed real estate market after 1987, almost all of the original residents are still living there.
Even though most of the houses on the twenty-one acres were built and sold at below-market rates, we were dissatisfied that we were unable to bring the cost down enough for average local families to afford. We decided, therefore, to create a separately organized charitable entity called the Fund for Affordable Housing. As a tax-exempt organization the Fund could accept donations to subsidize construction costs. The Fund has built two homes at Forest Row for sale to low-income families. It also administers a second-mortgage loan fund financed with investments from Berkshire residents and vacation homeowners. The loan pool provides low-cost second mortgages to unit owners at Forest Row, thus lowering monthly mortgage payments. Eighty percent of the original loans have been repaid, and some borrowers are now lenders to the Fund.
As a volunteer organization modeled after Habitat for Humanity, the Fund organizes community assistance for the construction of the homes it builds. Community members who are well-versed in the particulars of housing development are chosen for the board: architects, builders, and bankers who volunteer their professional skills. Once the housing is built, the Fund does not have the staff to manage the resale restrictions (which keep the units affordable for future generations) or to oversee land-use provisions, so affordability and land-use standards are maintained by working cooperatively with the CLT.
This association between the Fund for Affordable Housing and the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires represents an ideal form of cooperation between a charitable organization and a nonprofit CLT. The partnership provides affordable access to land and affordable home ownership for year-round residents who otherwise would not be able to live in this high-priced vacation-home region.
Another example of cooperation between land-holding organizations is provided by the Great Barrington Land Conservancy (which has tax-exempt status as a conservation group) and the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires. The office building known as Riverbank House on Great Barrington’s Main Street has been the home of many small nonprofit groups. When the CLT bought Riverbank House (which is now owned by The Orion Society), the steep riverbank behind the building was littered with debris from years of neglect and from a fire in the building next door. CLT member Rachel Fletcher led a team of mostly volunteers to clean up the riverbank, resulting in a cleaner lot and greater community attention to the Housatonic River and its environs.
Rachel next conceived the idea of a Housatonic Riverwalk to parallel a quarter-mile stretch of Main Street. The town has shared her dream. Over one thousand volunteers have helped in cleanups and trail-building along the river. Rachel estimates that the cleanup work of volunteers, combined with the actual costs for building materials, has created improvements valued at $100,000 on the properties. These improvements, though desirable, could not have been justified economically by the property’s commercial uses; however, the partnership between the charitably organized Great Barrington Land Conservancy and the nonprofit Community Land Trust helped facilitate Rachel’s popular project.
The Great Barrington Land Conservancy now holds a ninety-nine-year lease along the trail. Tax-deductible donations for materials to build stairs down the steepest part of the bank went to the Conservancy, as lessee of the site. The ninety-nine-year lease is a lien on the properties and protects the community’s investment of money and time for the benefit of future generations. Other property owners will be asked to sign similar leases in exchange for a cleanup of their banks.
Recently the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires joined with the Great Barrington Land Conservancy to establish a fund to purchase tracts of farmland and then lease the land back to farmers at a reasonable cost, thus reducing the overall indebtedness on the farms. The farmers will retain ownership of the buildings and equipment, which they may sell to future leaseholders at replacement value. The lease agreement is a tool to protect present and future affordability of the land for farmers and ensure that conservation measures are incorporated into agricultural practices. The fund provides a way for consumers to support an agricultural base in their community.
Chapter 28: Summary
Motivated by a commitment to peace and social justice, I have devoted most of my life to economic reform and the strengthening of small communities. Specifically, my work has been in land reform (trusteeship, not ownership, of land); monetary reform (interest- and inflation-free money and local currencies); and cooperative ownership (worker management and ownership of the means of production). I am encouraged to see growing interest in and application of these concepts around the world.
I would like to thank my colleagues at the Schumacher, its board and advisory board, and its generous members for supporting me in this work. Throughout these years of association with the Schumacher Center I have had the privilege of meeting and talking to a new generation of activists—a generation excited about the possibilities of local economic empowerment and eager to learn all they can about its theory and practice. I see how these young people struggle to apply what they have learned by shaping new programs appropriate for their own communities. I recognize their frustrations and despair; I delight in their innovations and triumphs.
All of this has made me ever more appreciative of the value of the Schumacher Center Library, which serves as a resource for scholars and students. The library holds the books, papers, and records of the foremost writers and activists in community economics. Each generation has added to the history and stories with its own experimentation. The staff of the Schumacher Center collects and records these stories, building a broader and richer base of knowledge for those who come after.
It is a pleasure for me to spend these senior years of my life helping to ensure a solid foundation, physically and financially, for the Schumacher Center Library. I see the library as the appropriate legacy of my own years of work to create a future built on peace, justice, and economic dignity for all.
Robert (Bob) Swann was the founder of the E. F. Schumacher Society, now the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. In 1974 E. F. Schumacher asked Robert Swann to start a sister organization to his own Intermediate Technology Development Group, but it was not until 1980, when prompted by Resurgence editor Satish Kumar, that Swann organized the E. F. … Continued