-So could you tell me your first name?
James Joseph Richard Donnelly Godsil.
-James, Joseph, Richard? Ok.
Richard is my confirmation name, and Donelly is my mother’s maiden name.
-Oh, ok. And could you tell me where you live?
325 Euclid Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 3207.
-And if you don’t mind, could you tell me your age?
I’m 62 and a half. I love my age.
-Good. Unfortunately, not everyone does.
-And could you tell me where you grew up.
I grew up in north and south St. Louis, Missouri.
-And what brought you to Milwaukee?
I got a master’s in urban affairs at St. Louis University, and I wanted to go on to a PhD in political science, and my mentor at St. Louis U, George Wendell, ah, was mentored by Henry Schmandt at UWM, so I wanted to be mentored by my mentor’s mentor.
-Oh, ok. So when did you come to Milwaukee?
I came in June 1969.
-What has kept you here for so long?
I love Milwaukee. I have deep, deep roots in Milwaukee. I raised my children Milwaukee. I have become friends with people who helped me raise my children. I have been involved in civil rights, and anti-war, and neighborhood and historic and urban agriculture movements of Milwaukee, so I have deep ties, particularly in empowerment movements..
-The bonobo biodiversity project at the Zoo and in the Congo are other reasons I love Milwaukee… And also I started a business in 1974 called Community Roofing, which now is called Community Roofing and Restoration. And that business is still thriving and I hope to be up on the roofs into my 90s.
-Ok. And do you have children?
I have four children by my blood, my perfect daughter Rachel who is 40, my perfect daughter Megan, who is 24, my perfect son Joseph, who is 23, my perfect daughter Bridie who is 19 and a half. I adopted a boy, Joel. I had a cameo role in his life. He is about 38.
-Are you married?
I’m not married, no.
-Could you tell me a little about your roofing business? How it got started, how you kept I going?
Well, my father was a tool and die maker who did not want me to be tarnished by the rough men in the tool and die industry. And he and my mother hoped that my college training would find me spending time with more genteel people. So he would not let me work in his tool and die shop while I was in high school and college to earn money. So I hired myself out to a roofing contractor and I learned that trade while I was 16, 17, 18, 19, 20.
And when I finished my ph.d. prelims, I got a Fulbright Fellowship to go to North Africa, Tunisia, to do my dissertation research. And in North Africa I discovered a French theoretician by the name of Pierre Burdeaux, B-u-r-d-e-a-u-x, who introduced me to the concept of cultural imperialism and symbolic violence. I was very much inspired by that concept because I noticed in my work in the civil rights movement and also in my being raised a working class lad, that a lot of, a lot of people suffer deep status anxiety because they do not measure up according to the norms of the dominant culture.
That status anxiety was exasperated in a place like North Africa where Arabs have been humiliated by the Western powers by the past 300 or 400 years. And, uh, children were often ashamed to speak their mothers’ language. They were ashamed to wear the dress of their ancestors. They were ashamed of their particularities because they wanted to be accepted by the emergent and dominant European culture that inspired [undecipherable] in Tunisia. Back in the early 1970s, my department thought that was a bizarre notion. “Symbolic violence. “Cultural imperialism.” . And there was no way I could push through my dissertation. I had written that thesis regarding symbolic violence and cultural imperialism…both of which had something to do with 9/11. But, uh, my department’s people had not read that literature, so I fell back on my trade.
-So did you write a thesis at all?
I wrote a prospectus that was rejected soundly.
-And how did that affect you, did you turn away from academic, or…
No, I, I had to make a living, and at the time I was interested in cooperatives and the neighborhood movement, and I just figured this was an acceptable alternative. I made good money, I had a lot of freedom, I was able to work outside, I mixed mental with manual labor, I hypothesized that I’d be healthier. I have loved working in my business.
-Could you tell me a little about your family, your parents in particular?
My mother was from an Angela’s Ashes shanty Irish background. Uh, her father was an Irish alcoholic and her mother was not ambitious. Her parents were divorced with 7 or 8 children. And my mother’s childhood was so challenging to her that I could not get her to tell me any stories, she graduated from grade school and went to work as a clerk typist and she had a lot to do with raising her smaller brothers and sisters. My father, uh, was from [undecipherable]; on his mother’s side, the family was more substantial. They were Scots. And artisans, um, his uncle gotten him into the machine shop trade as an apprentice and out of grade school. He graduated from grade school, too.
-Tell Me About Your Parents
Both of my parents were quite bright. Salt of the earth. Mom declared a
“saint” at her funeral. While chained to family rearing project, Dad
somewhat reclusive. Upon mom’s death, after a year of mourning, he became
something of a bon vivant, including president of South St. Louis Senior
My father was a mechanical genius. He could fix anything. My mother was
blessed with the highest form of “common sense,” or, “horse sense,” as she
phrased it. My father was very well read. He gave me Whitman! My mother
didn’t read like as intensely as my dad, but she wrote perfect letters.
Their marriage was a classic upwardly mobile working class “artistocracy”
family drama. They nailed themselves to the cross to send us all to private
schools, including the bankrolling of tuition for Jesuit university
-How many siblings do you have?
I have two older sisters. Jo Ann, who is ten years older than I am, and
Jean, who is six years older than I.
-Did you and your sisters get along when you were growing up?
I was the baby of the family. My sisters were very very good to me. As I
got older, I liked them enough, but they were so much older than I that I
didn’t have that much in common with them. When my parents died we handled
their estate with perfect grace and have become closer to one another since
that time. I was the black sheep bohemian of the family and decided to not
have much to do with my nephews and neices until they were 18, so as not to
be blamed if they stepped outside of the dominant culture’s mores and
-Tell me a little bit about your parents. Did you get along with them? What
was your relationship like?
I had a very nice relationship with my parents until I got into the anti-war
movement and then I worried them badly. In those days, it was not unheard of
for civil rights workers to be murdered, or seriously injured. They threw
stones at us in the Chicago Open Housing Marches during Freedom Summer
1966. The crowds of “whites,” egged on by Nazis in full uniform, burned my
car, a metalic blue 1957 chevy with a V8 engine my father spent an entire
summer overhauling. If it were not for police lines to separate us from the
enraged crowds, they would have literally lynched us.I have never seen
humans look so much like enraged beasts.
So my parents were worried about that. In those days, there was a red
scare similar to that of the 1920s that found the FBI harassing my parents
because I was in the anti-war movement. And my parents were working class
people who were completely overwhelmed by having FBI people come and ask
them what their son was all about. I was [inspired] by Dr. King and Ghandi,
so there was never any issues of my having any violence, but uh, my parents
didn’t understand how this could be. I was a basketball player in high
school and my freshman year in college, very popular, and happy. One of my
nicknames was “Smiley.” My involvement in those movements made me very
serious as a young man , so I used to say that shortened my mother’s life by
a decade. I’m not sure I did, but I might have. When my children drove me
insane I used to say it was my mother’s revenge [laughs]
-And how did you get involved in the civil rights movement. What inspired
Well, that’s an interesting question. A lot of things inspired me. You know,
for one thing, my father was a black Irishmen as am I. He used to be called
the n-word. As little boy so was I. So there may have been a bit of
[undecipherable] about people of color, because relatively speaking we were
people of color. [laughs] So that could have been part of it. When I went to
a Jesuit high school, St. Louis U. High, sort of like Marquette High here,
the only African American in the entire class sat directly in front me my
freshman year. His name was David Grant, and he became my friend. And he
was as handsome as Harry Belofonte and as charismatic as Dr. King. I
witnessed insults directed at him. And then another one of my best friends
being part of some sort of uh, [undecipherable] that focused on issues of
racism. I remember my senior year of high school we were very impressed by a
forum that they did. My parents were open minded and kind toward all
people. . So, with someone from that kind of background saw old Bull Connor
of Montgomery Alabama sicking dogs on people who were simply protesting for
their basic civil rights…
-You mentioned civil rights and anti-war..What else did you do? What kind of causes were you involved in?
I taught some at a freedom school in Chicago with the Southern Conference Leadership Conference(SCLC), Dr. King’s organization. They had a freedom summer in Chicago in 1966…I went up to Chicago that summer for the purpose of putting on roofs in a cooler climate than St. Louis where the rates for roofing were also better paying. But a friend of mine, Joyce Wislowski(I wonder where she is?), took me to a meeting where SCLC, I think it was James Bevel speaking, was recruiting people to teach in freedom schools. And so I signed up. I lived in a tenement house with about 12 or 13 other college students all of whom taught at the freedom schools. At my campus, when I went back to St. Louis U, I moved into a house near the Pruit Igoe Housing Project, one of the worst in the nation, a terrible disaster. And I worked with a Catholic priest named Father Shockley on literacy education and then with some young Jesuits seminarians, Jim Moore and Dennis O’Connor, on neighborhood organizing. So those are two things I remember. Oh, and then on my campus I helped organize the St. Louis University Action Committee(SLUAC), which did most of the campus civil rights and anti-war work. I also headed up the Great Issues series, which found the Jesuits giving me a budget $8,000 to invite speakers…We invited Dick Gregory, and Sol Alinsky, a great people organizer, Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker, Eugene McCartney, Han Morgenthau, W.H. Auden, Saul Bellow, RogerGaraudy, a French Communist advocating dialogue with Christians….a few others.
-You mentioned that you had a Jesuit education. Are you a religious person?
Well, I’m very, very interested in spiritual matters. I honor all of the major religion’s deepest values, and while I don’t participate much in institutional religion, I read a lot of theology, a lot of philosophy. Matters of the spirit, I consider very important.
-Um, so you just talked about civil rights. Could you tell me about other causes that you were involved in?
My whole lifetime, or earlier?
-Whichever one you prefer.
Well, one thing I say today is that there are 10,000 movements in Milwaukee that constitute in their entirety “THE” movement in Milwaukee. And I am involved in many of those movements on a variety of levels. I guess movements that are most essential to me these days are urban agriculture(I’m on the board of Growing Power); the cooperative movements( I’m a very active in supporting in the Riverwest group co-op); I just joined the new people’s book co-op.
Historical preservation. I’m one of the founders of the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance. The neighborhood movement. I was one of the co-founders of the Bay View Neighborhood Association, the Bay View Matters Yahoo group, and I used to be the chairman of ESHAC’s board(Easting Housing Action Committee) of Riverwest. I run a Web site,www.MilwaukeeRenaissance.Com, that I’m the co-founder of.
And I tell people that I will be be…(People who are the heavy lifters and detail angels of the 10,000 movements. I call them great and modest beings who are doing really good things)… I tell them that I will be a nanosecond partner. I will always be thinking about their projects and how I can introduce them to people. I’m a connector for people across movement boundaries, or geographic boundaries or across division of labor or identity group boundaries. I like to organize things that bring people together that otherwise wouldn’t be together. “Offer good food and beauty and the people will come” [laughs].
So whereas I used to hate St. Patrick’s Day because it gave the Irish another excuse to drink and gave other people another excuse to get drunk and I hated it, I helped organize the St. Patrick’s Day celebration at Timbuktu, which is now in its fifth year. It gives people who’re doing good things a chance to have what we call soapbox moments, where they announce to people in three-minute speeches what they’re doing. And we celebrate with dance and song and music and food, and 100, 150 people from all over town go to that now. There’s two or three photo essays on the MilwaukeeRenaissance web site that capture the spirit of that great event. More recently, I’ve helped organize “Blueberry Pancakes Moments” on Sunday mornings at the Riverwest Food-Co Op. And that has been a too cool!. It has brought very, very interesting and accomplished people to share ideas over good breakfast at this place.
-Could you tell me a little more about Milwaukee Renaissance and your whole involvement with the Internet? How did that come about:? What got you involved in that?
Oh, that’s a good story, yeah. In high school I used to be the one who wound up organizing parties… spontaneous parties at parks that involved making 20 or 30 phone calls. Just keeping track of the details and, um, and that’s what contact is about… just connecting people and working with people’s natural needs and wants. When the Internet came, and I got a jump on that because my wife, Judy Wines, who died in 1999, introduced computer graphics to Marquette Electronic in the advertising department. So she was ahead of the curve in Internet and computer communication. And she taught me whatever I needed and wanted to learn. And then I returned for a second try at my dissertation in Political Science at UWM (with a different subject that my department could understand) and was introduced to emerging Internet communication movements that the universities trail blazed, especially by David Garnham.
So by 1998, I knew how to send e-mails. And I could remember when I was taught I could send grouped e-mails. For free! I used to send out postcards that mailed advertising… then I discovered how to group e-mails for business and social enterprise reasons. And I was just in awe of all these possibilities. My first campaign involved my creating The Friends of Ted Seever, a group which never met but would have e-mail exchanges for the purpose of inspiring the County board to name a street after a recently deceased a civil rights and anti-freeway environmentalist named Ted Seever. The Friends of Ted Seever had 10 or 20 of friends who had e-mail addresses consenting to be affiliated with this cause. I would send all 10 or 20 of them an e-mail saying what do you think about trying to get a street between the Lagoon Drive and the Sailing Center named after Ted Seever, and they all said, great. So I would send an e-mail to the County board and say the Friends of Ted Seever would appreciate your naming a street after Ted, who was [undecipherable]. And I would cc those 10 people or 20 people so the politician—this was all new for them, too, you know—
They would see the subject and they would see those 10 or 20 names, and they were all people of substance in their district. So without ever having one meeting, we won a street named after one of our own. There are two streets named after Ted Seaver. One at the foot of the Hoan Bridge right before Summerfest. You look up, a real tiny 25-foot stretch of road is called Ted Seever Street. That’s because he was the main organizer of the movement that blocked the freeway-ization of the lakefront. They wanted to put a freeway up the lakefront. We haven’t got a second street because his wife Carol died five years later and we decided that we should name the street connecting Lagoon Drive and the Sailing Center “Ted and Carol Seaver Street.
So that was my first internet driven political victory. And I built upon that technique and the emerging digitilization of the citizenry in the same way, for the last 10 years.
Then when Bucketworks came to town with wiki web software, it blew my mind. Because a roofer like myself could master a Web site language! My daughter Megan was among the first staff at Bucketworks. I learned a lot from my daughter who learned a lot from Bucketworks’ James Carlson. Then Bill Sell and Tegan Dowling began instructing me in computer issues. And we started an open source community and that was available to all and made it possible to take advantage of. my e-mail data base with the wiki web site capacity to store vast quantities of information and lovely pictures without a high powered web wizard being needed.
[I just noticed that Milwaukee’s poet laureate, Peggy Hong, put a front-page announcement on Milwaukee Renaissance without asking me or anyone else. And that’s the way it’s supposed to work!] (Laughs)
Do you have any plans for expanding Milwaukee Renaissance? Where do you think it’ll be in the future?
My ambition is to inspire people to use the Renaissance as a playground to learn what they can do and then start their own domain. Right now, I offer, we offer at MilwaukeeRenaissance.com, an important platform to people from different movements.
As people learn how to use it and they will branch off into their own. I wrote a proposal to the Knight Foundation and said I hope someplace somewhere we’ll build upon it, that involves creativity, funding, paying somebody to teach people in the different organization in town how to use wiki. One person won an $800,000 grant doing similar things on a more prosaic plane out east. He was not a movement activist, but a community newspaper professional and professor of… I can’t remember the name of his… I’ll remember in a little bit… Village Soup! Won an $800,000 grant. And I’m trying to find somebody who has a vocation to write grants and go after some funding and institutionalize things. I am hoping to never have advertising on it, other than the kind Channel 10 has, where you have sponsors. As long as I can make my money on the roofs I personally will not be one that has an income from the Milwaukee Renaissance. I think it’s about four years old now, maybe. There are months when it gets 3,500 hits, but I don’t really know what that means. Is that a really legitimate number? Or does that include…
-I don’t really know.
Yeah, I don’t even look at the counts anymore.
-Could you tell me a little about how you balance all your outside engagements? What’s a typical day like for you?
Well, I spend the first two hours of every day intensely involved in communications. Either writing poetry or responding to e-mails or developing the Web site or broadcasting the good news. And that includes communication regarding my business affairs with Community as well. I can remember in 2000… in 1998 and ‘99, it was torture getting my young American apprentices to electronically communicate. It was a big deal! To get people to e-mail. It was as a big a deal to get people to e-mail back then as it is now to get people to wiki. And wiki is as easy as e-mail. But you really have to have someone to walk you through it. And we also need more support people on hand for when computers screw up so people are not tormented by their lack of computer knowledge.
I myself don’t do anything with the Internet or with computer without experts there to help me. So I rarely get freaked out, I just accept… I accept what I can do at the moment, and when I run into a roadblock I just do something else until somebody shows up to help me through my problem.
You ask me if I have plans for developing the Renaissance. One thing I recently volunteered to do was to have, uh, Internet empowerment classes at the new People’s Books Co-op once a month. And those Internet empowerment classes will not simply be me showing somebody how to upload a picture onto a Web site. They will include my whole philosophy of asking people for help. Being aggressive about learning who knows how to do what. Asking for help and returning the favor, either with money or with work, you know. Did I avoid a question? You asked a question… [Laughs]
-[Laughs]I asked you how you spend a typical day. For the first two hours you do communication…
For the first two hours, I do writing, Internet work. And then for an hour I’m driving around to the job sites or supply houses or warehouses and while I’m driving around I talk on the cell phone either about business or about social enterprise movement stuff. So now it’s about 9 or 10 o’clock—I usually get up at 6 or 7 in the morning—and I’m absolutely fried by all this social energy communication work. And I love to get up on the roof and ply my trade, or, when the weather is not right, go for walks. Or, city farm!
It’s a great, great feeling to have done all that head work intensely and leave it behind, turn my phone off for two hours, and just focus on moving material and fashioning that artisanal and industrial product… I work on a certain kind of roof that’s artisanal craft and industrial work… I focus on flat roofs nowadays.
It’s very dangerous work; it’s very physical work; it’s very dirty work. So for two hours I’m closely engaged in that. And two or three hours I take some phone calls; I relax; I also catch up on some business stuff. I spend about an hour for lunch, and while I’m doing my lunch — I eat here - I meet people involved in many of the major movements of the city. I also have my laptop, so I check my e-mail. Sometimes my lunch is an hour and a half. So then I’m refreshed and ready to do some more physical work. I do it for a couple of hours, usually. And then I’m tired. And then I have to do an hour or two of fire watch. After that period I’ll be back on the cell phone or I’ll be in meetings and that at the time, I crash… And, then, I crash.
After I crash, I watch… I have a cable [undecipherable] I surf through the channels 44, CNN news, uh, channel 8, book TV, uh, there’s a channel 38 that has nature stuff I really like. [Undecipherable] 314. Oh, sports classic, 29. And then movies, between 300 and 313. I check in with my kids on the phone…
-Actually, one of my questions for you was, what are your hobbies? And you mention TV.
Oh, TV is a hobby, sure. Well, I’m an apprentice farmer now! I have a lush city farm in my backyard and front yard now. I’m growing food for my neighbors to help themselves as they walk by my houses. I’ve got raspberry bushes, I grow Italian plum trees, uh, garlic, and I will soon have a have a sign that says “take some.”
-Can I stop by?
Yeah, yeah, I’m serious! I have raspberry bushes 5–6 feet high. I broadcast on Bay View Matters Yahoo group, come on over to my houses and pick up my raspberries, I have more than I can eat. No one takes me up on it, I think people are shy about going in…I’ve got one person ask. I think people are nervous about going into the yard when the owner’s not there. I have a front yard now that’s soon to bear fruit for my neighbors!
And… spinach, turnips, peas, all kinds of things. I’m totally ignorant about this. But being on Growing Power’s board has found me studying and picking up bits and pieces here and there. I finally took the plunge this March and started creating soil by composting. Veggie waste from the co-op and Sendik’s — as much as I want; brewer’s yeast from the Lakefront Brewery — as much as I want; coffee grounds from the Fuel Café — as much as I want, woodchips and composted leaves from the city yard and the Glendale yard — as much as I want. So I had a compost pile 8 feet by 3 feet by 5 feet and another one 8 feet by 2 feet by 4 feet, and I have grown soil so rich and vibrant anybody could grow whatever they want in my soil, with the help of Will Allen worms. If a roofer can grow wonderful things, anybody can!
-And what got you interested in Growing Power?
Oh, I love this story, this is a great story. I was the informal mayor of Riverwest when I was raising my kids here. And I took great pride in Riverwest not going ghetto, but rather gracefully integrating to point now where the poet in me says that Riverwest could be the first neighborhood in the history of humanity to win a Nobel Peace Prize. And three summers ago that good feeling about Riverwest was seriously wrecked when some 15 year old shot in the stomach the owner of the ArtBar on Burleigh. He was a neighbor when I lived on Gordon Place. He was gay and the shooting was within maybe two weeks of McGee gay-bashing the Milwaukee cops in the aftermath of the Jude beating in Bay View.
One of my daughters is a lesbian, so I was furious with McGee for doing that, and I went up and told him that. And when that ArtBar owner got shot by that kid, I thought maybe that happened as a homophobic act, because of McGree stirring up all that stuff. I freaked out about that. I went to a gathering at the ArtBar in Riverwest, and I bet 100 people showed up. Rather than responding with vengeance and rage at this young man’s stupidity, a lot of the speakers asked us all what productive actions could we do to creatively and intelligently respond to this tragedy?
And I said to myself, one thing I can do is get my fat ass up to Growing Power where I heard this basketball player was blazing trails in urban farming with an eye towards training young people to work that would bring them dignity, money, healthy diets and community building experience. And, so, I went up there and it turned out that they had heard about me because of Milwaukee Renaissance. And they had been wanting to call me and ask for my help. And so they welcomed me very graciously — as they do anybody, but I was very moved by that.
And that great and modest being, Harvey Taylor, who is my poet laureate of Riverwest, who went on a Growing Power tour that Will had given, was so inspired by that tour that he went home that night and wrote a song about Growing Power and Will Allen. He may have sung that song to me, I don’t know, but he was so inspired that I said, well, I’m gonna go on a Will Allen tour also. I went on a Will Allen tour and had what’s come to be called a “Growing Power awakening” After a Will Allen Growing Power tour, the city never looks the same again!
Growing Power and the urban farmng movement offer simple, basic, concrete steps to take that require much more imagination and steadfastness than money, steps that frontally address the problems of unemployed misbehaving, and inattentive youth, violence in the streets, anonymoity and alienation: all those things are dealt with with the simple act of getting together with neighborhoods and growing good food.
-I know you’re very devoted to Riverwest, obviously, and Bay View. Why those two neighborhoods in particular?
Well, I guess, I’m from working class neighborhood in St. Louis, and they’re both working class neighborhoods. I’m committed to bridging barriers between different identity groups and both Bay View and Riverwest are prime illustrations of big city neighborhoods that can be organized by the most attentive 10 percent to foster the notion that diversity is strength, which I really believe not just for humans, but for growing soil, or running a business— diversity is strength. Both those neighborhoods are very polyglot and will continue to be polyglot. In fact, I see them as emerging planetary villages. The planet is coming to Riverwest and Bay View!…All of God’s children are learning to live convivially and gracefully in those two neighborhoods. And I love the architecture. I love the street layout of Bay View. And Riverwest, with the Milwaukee River here, it’s so cool. Riverwest is the great white black integrator; Bay View will be the great white brown integrator. Pretty soon a commuter rail will connect Bay View and Chicago. Now that will be something to witness!
-And you mentioned the city of Milwaukee itself, and its problems. What are some solutions to solving its problem like violent youth, and so on, in your opinion?
[Long pause]. Well, uh. Well, I have a lot of thoughts on that but I’m running out of mind power. Can we stop for a moment?
-Sure. [Tape recorder stopped]
-[10 minutes later, tape recorder back on] We can skip a question if you’d like.
No, no. I think Milwaukee is perfectly located for the new century because it’s an elegant, graceful city with a myriad of real neighborhoods that combines [undecipherable] downsizing suburban boomers getting the hell out of their boring subdivions into the vitality of the big city with smaller spaces for elegant living, with exciting, inspiring things to do within a 10 minute walk, 15 minute bike ride, 20 minute bus ride. The sustainability movement in response to the global warming challenge means the old city is the place to focus our efforts, imaginations…and what old mind sets see as problems, I often see as opportunity. So the vacant lots that are a reflection of the end of the industrial age of Milwaukee a new frontier for a respiriting our neighborhoods with community gardens and city farms.
Young people who are bored to death so often in many of our neighborhoods and wander around the streets I see as labor for those city farms and the artisinal reconstruction of our housing . The marriage of restorative justice programs with community farming would have a huge impact on growing communities, because victims of crimes will have a chance of being compensated by the perpetrator of that crime— that is, putting these folks to work I’m hoping that our school system will radically decentralize and there will be more collaborations that find students getting credit for working in neighborhoods, for learning trades, hands-on work, neighborhood, event, and start-up business and social enterprises.
The various forms of capital—green money, wisdom, social connections, spirit!-- that the boomers have at their disposal, now that their children are raised, might become invested in mixed-model enterprises, both for-profit and not-for-profit. We won’t have people at 65 assume that they’ve done their work, when in fact it’s time for some of their real work to start. They spent a lifetime with their nose in the grindstone putting up will all kinds of bullshit so that their kids could go to school or so they could have their health insurance. A lot of people at 65 have another 20, 30 years of potential, and I think globalization offers the hopes that Milwaukee will venture into sisiter city and sister neighborhood relationships with people on every continent, expose our children to life not just in Milwaukee, not just in the USA, but across the world entire!
-You talked about young people…Are your children involved in activist causes at all?
Well, my daughter Rachel is a civil rights and an environmental law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. My daughter Megan has married a Nigerian American and is hoping to start a restaurant in Chicago that will attract movement people. My son Joseph, his sweetheart is African American, is studying liberal arts at UWM while making a good living at Potawatomi. My daugher Bridie is hoping to acquire the skills of auto repair and and restoration trades at MATC. If she follows through with that, it will be as if she graduated from Harvard [smiles].
-Do you think you people are progressive these days? More than they were in your day? How would you describe them?
Well, I think young people are vastly more tolerant than when I was growing up. They’re much more sophisticated…they have a more complex reality than we did. They have many more choices than we had. The script is theirs to write. Young people are not as involved in movements as they were in the 60s. I’m glad. They’ll find their way and make their mark.
-A while ago you mentioned your interest in bonobos. Is that because you’re an animal rights activist?
No, it has to do with a rule that I’ve tried to follow my whole life, that is: know thyself. I don’t think humans can be really understand ourselves if we don’t understand our evolutionary journey. At least for me, the bonobos, the chimps, the great apes, have an enormous amount to teach us about who we are because all our wiring is their wiring. And a lot of our responses [undecipherable] our biological makeup is…to learn about the bonobos, the chimpanzees, the gorillas [undecipherable] to learn who we are. I visited Madame Bell and she told me she had to take Lody away from the group for three solid hours and he was going nuts. When I heard about that, I reflected upon all the CEOs that are alcoholic, all the CEO that are depressed, don’t sleep well, don’t see their wives and children or their husbands. They’ve lost their souls. If they have quiet time after three hours of CEO-ing and chill out [undecipherable] and [undecipherable] and part of the organization is more cooperative deicision making maybe we wouldn’t have the guys we have in the White House. [laughs]
I have great reverence for the bonobos, and I would talk with Madame Gay to extend that reverence to all the creatures [undecipherable]. But I must confess that if I thought that the human race evolves [undecipherable] better chance of survival [undecipherable]. Native Americans told me, watch the owls…
-It’s interesting that you have Milwaukee Renaissance, which is obviously an online network, but at the same time you’re very connected to people that are in the neighborhood.
After my children’s mother died in 1998, that year, that was a way for me to be in society in a safe way. [undecipherable] a way to meet people without having to tell my sad story. So there was a three-year period where people who didn’t know me would say he’s a reclusive Internet activist. But I was that because I couldn’t stand to be around the people and they would say well, how are you doing, and I would [grimaces]. Well, that wasn’t fun. But this past five years I’ve been on the mend. The Internet work is dramatically augmented by spending real time with people. The real time with real people is really enhanced because of the Internet communication. The other day I heard that the Fuel Café banned smoking. The mother of my two children died of lung cancer at 43, the next year my best friend died of lung cancer at 38, the next year my brother in law died of lung cancer at 66, so I have a real problem with smoking.
So I went over there to check it out, and decided that I would [undecipherable] if I could broadcast this news and follow this story. So I went home that night and I have a few thousand of people that I regularly broadcast too. And so I sit down and say that Fuel Café now [undecipherable] something about our lovely lungs of hearts. Fuel Café is now [undecipherable] the next morning there must have been eight people celebrating that with me online. One of them said well why don’t we try to get [undecipherable] Wisconsin and somebody else to broadcast that. So stuff like that happens all the time now, in my travels I will see stuff that is really good news. I’ll let people know…Like the bonobo stuff, that is really cool.
-I asked you about Milwaukee Renaissance and where you think it’s going in the future. What are some of your goals or wishes for the coming year?
Oh, boy. This is great. Wow. 10,000 city farms and gardens. A Yahoo group for every neighborhood in town. An edible playground in every school in five years. [Undecipherable ]. A group that [undecipherable] in Milwaukee and the rest of the world. Ah, an urban agriculture institute to get some of the money [undecipherable] for commercial agriculture as usual [undecipherable] that would involve the collaboration of MSOE, and UWM. Rebirth of the Soldier’s Home. Commuter rail to Chicago. A Milwaukee Central Park. [Laughs]
-That would be nice. [Laughs]
Restorative justice programs that find offenders [undecipherable]…People dancing sober in the streets of Milwaukee during neighborhood festivals. That happened in Bay View!
-Oh, really? [laughs]
Yeah, these African musicians with the drums! There were white males dancing sober! There were only about three of them, but that’s a start. [Laughs]
-Oh, yeah? [laughs] You know, that’s all I have for you, unless there’s anything else you’d like to mention…
No, I think you covered it…