“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.
Maybe they have to be crazy.”
The above quote directly applies to me. Hired as a faculty member in the Sociology/Anthropology Department of Western Washington State College I came into town (Bellingham) in December of 1967 with a degree in sociology and a specialty in community systems analysis. But more than that, I came into town with a world view that called into question the existence of many of the local systems that made up the community where I lived. As an academic, I could study the local systems and write academic “papers” on my findings. I chose to get involved. For me, knowledge was for use. It had use value rather than the true value.
FBI and the local police
Sometimes I needed help in confronting powerful elements in our community and my participation kept secret. Such was the case when I called in the FBI to confront our police department. When I became aware that Spedo Suthas, Assistant Chief of Police, and a Sgt. took a Hispanic prisoner out of jail to a gravel pit in Skagit County and beat the hell out of him and dumped him there I contacted the FBI in Washington, D.C. and got them to investigate. I was afraid of the possibility of a Greek Mafia that would take revenge if they knew that it was I who got the FBI to investigate this member of the local Greek community. Nor did I know how strong the police brotherhood was. Would they take it out on me for tarnishing their reputation? So I said nothing publicly about my involvement until we got a new Chief of Police and at a closed meeting of the City Council I told of my involvement and said that if I ever heard of any discrimination by members of our police force none of them would get a salary increase while I was on the City Council. I was assured that things were changing rapidly under the new Chief.
Saving the Bus System
One of my earliest involvements as a “trouble maker” in Bellingham was the issue with the bus system. The local bus system was privately owned but was going bankrupt. The drivers had an initiative before the Bellingham City Council asking that the city take over the running of the buses. The City Council members and the Mayor were opposed, citing higher taxes. No one spoke for the users of the system so I, as a sociologist, intervened with a questionnaire given to all users of the bus system that allowed them to speak out. Based on my research the city acquired a bus system, now, known as WTA it is one of the most admired in the State of Washington.
I was a “troublemaker” writ large when I took on the Recreation Commission. The Recreation Commission was a non-governmental organization the board of which was comprised of representatives of the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, and the local school district. The City of Bellingham provided most of the funding. Chairman was Hal Arneson, former Bellingham High School letterman in many sports and letterman at the University of Washington. He was a local sports hero. He was also on the Board of Education and was Chairman of the Board of Realtors, a highly respected and well-known member of the community. None-the-less I won the battle and the Recreation Commission was dissolved. To me this Commission epitomized what I called the “good old boys network.” For years there was no change in membership. These same names appeared as officers of other community organizations. They did not like me. Even the Bellingham Herald had an editorial supporting the Commission and dismissing my efforts at change. Read the story here.
WARC and the United Way
As President of the local chapter of the Washington Association for Retarded Children (WARC), I confronted the United Way and won.
Bellingham Housing Authority fight
Another good example of the “old boy’s network” was the Bellingham Housing Authority. The members had sat on the board for decades with little change in membership. Again, they were from the Bellingham “old-timers” and were well-known in the community and sat as members of other boards and commissions. My strategy was to go to the RCW, the state law establishing Housing Authorities. Then I went to the WACs, the Washington Administrative Code to see how the law was translated into action requirements. I found that they had broken the law from the year they were formed. I then went public with a call for them to “shit or get off the pot.” They were ignoring the needs of the disabled, the poor and other elements of the population and were only catering to the elderly. Housing became a major public issue and the new mayor dismissed all but one member of the Housing Authority and a new day dawned for housing in Bellingham.
Bellingham Herald Carriers Protective Association
My developmentally disabled son was a paper carrier for the Bellingham Herald and I took care of his bookkeeping. I thought it would be simple to discuss the problems that I encountered with the Managing Editor of the Herald. No so. So I formed an organization of parents of carriers and we picketed the Herald Building. Soon we had staff from company headquarters coming to Bellingham to spy on us and handle the situation to the advantage of the newspaper. We eventually won but it was scary to know that a major news corporation wanted us “out of the way” so they could conduct business as usual.
WARC and the School District
Perhaps the most serious confrontation I was involved in was the potential lawsuit against the Bellingham School District for several million dollars and/or placing charges against the School District with the Washington State Office of Education. The State Director told me that if what I said was true [it was] he would initiate an audit of the financial records of the Bellingham School District for the preceding five years and levy fines of such magnitude that the local district would have to have a special levy to raise the money to pay the fines. We opted to go another route. Read the story here [2.7]. Yes, I was a troublemaker. One of the crazy ones. Where did I get the chutzpah (cajones in Spanish) to confront one of the most sacred institutions in the community, our local school district? Again, we won.
Senior Activity Center
You don’t challenge the most respected Senior Advocate in Bellingham, Catherine May, without expecting a real fight. She was the director of the Senior Activity Center and well known not only in Bellingham but in Olympia where she was always advocating for seniors. I challenged her and won.
High school students study race
Pacific Grove, California was the Methodist Church home base in California, comparable to Ocean Grove, New Jersey. It was a ‘dry’ town and very much a religious community. Then here comes George who shows what a racist community it was.
Saving the school psychologist
I didn’t become a troublemaker on coming to Bellingham. I had a reputation long before that. When teaching high school in California I became known as a troublemaker and while not fired I was urged to find employment elsewhere. Here is how I took on the Board of Education and won.
It took guts to call one of the most respected Korean War heroes a fraud but I finally decided to do so. The fight is still going on.
Call a student illiterate and you are in trouble.
Gota de leche
Even in Colombia in the Diplomatic Service I was a troublemaker.
Firing the head of the Whatcom County Opportunity Council.