Twenty years ago, I started writing a weekly column in West Virginia’s oldest newspaper, the Hampshire Review. It was an election year, and the column, “Thinking Locally,” was set up as a dialogue between me—a “liberal” urban transplant to the rural county—and a conservative native, in the form of the chair of the Hampshire County Republican party. I was more of a Green by inclination, but I felt bound to defend the Democrats in my position, and over the seven-year run of the column had a lot of fun doing that, and learned some things about the American political system in the process.
Most of the writing I’d done before that had been for progressive newsletters, so there had always been synergy between my political activism and writing, and I was glad for the rare opportunity to continue that pattern in a provincial corner of mainstream media. When the column ended, I continued writing online, but by the time I moved to Maine four years ago I had grown frustrated that, no matter what I wrote, things only seemed to be getting worse. So I decided to put most of my energy into activism, with only incidental writing in press releases, letters to the editor, and occasional essays.
But now I find that I’m frustrated by my own silence, especially now that there’s a palpable shift in the Zeitgeist and a genuine political revolution is afoot. There are so many issues to talk about—especially here in Maine. So that’s why I’ve decided to start this blog, Free Radical Maine.
First, I should explain the name. A free radical is what I’ve always aspired to be, and seems to be what my path in this life is about, and what I find most satisfying—always searching for ways to change things. Likewise, in human physiology, a “free radical” is a “highly reactive molecule” that the body generates within itself, that is by its own nature out of balance, having an “unpaired electron,” but which nevertheless is absolutely essential to maintaining the overall balance of the body—a creatively destructive element that keeps the body living. And that’s a pretty good metaphor for how I see my personal role in society.
Maine is where I’ve lived for the last four years, after a life spent in various places coast to coast. But it’s also where my Scots-Irish ancestor first settled in America seven generations ago, down east (as they say around here, even though it’s actually north east) in Machias, where he married the daughter of a guy who fought on the colonial side in the Battle of Machias, the second naval engagement of the American Revolution. I’m the first in my branch of the family, from my generation, to return to Maine, and in many ways too mystical to chew on presently, it feels like I’ve come full circle. What’s left but to write about it?
Free Radical Maine will cover a range of subjects.
A primary topic this year will of course be the 2016 elections, from the presidential to the local level. I’m a big Bernie supporter, and was volunteering for the New Hampshire campaign right from the beginning. As an officer in my town Democratic party, I’m also organizing for the Maine caucus coming up in March, and will give an inside look at that as well. And with an unpredictable and eminently impeachable governor in Maine, and initiatives on ranked-choice voting, increasing the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, and requiring background checks for gun sales on the ballot in November, there are plenty of other electoral follies to discuss. I’ll be dissecting a whole panoply of political issues.
I’m more concerned, however, with what political philosophers sometimes call the Deep State, the informal cabal of powerful elites—economic, political and military—who have far more influence on the actions of the US government than we 300 million average citizens do. The United States of America has not been a true democracy for quite some time. I don’t think most Americans are aware of the degree to which our democracy has been lost, because mainstream media keeps them mostly in the dark.
With regard to that, I’ll also be talking about the drug problem in America, and its relation to the Deep State, which is rarely discussed. I’ve been writing about and working for drug policy reform for three decades, working with early campaigners like Eric Sterling and Kevin Zeese in DC in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. I also bring a wealth of personal experience to the subject—youthful experiments in a variety of drugs, ten years on an opioid prescription (which, though useful for its help with the farm work, ended badly), and most of my adult life smoking pot. I’m currently a medical marijuana patient in Maine, so I can also bring an “enlightened” perspective to the marijuana legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot, as well as related issues.
Among the many other topics on the Free Radical Maine roster will be climate change and local efforts to turn it back; race relations in America—our central national issue, in my opinion—and the Black Lives Matter movement; international relations and local peace activities; music and culture; religion and spirituality; and when I run out of other things to discuss, I have a long life as a radical and some mildly adventurous memories to reminisce about.
What I can promise to you, dear reader, is that I will always strive to keep my insights provocative and my analysis nuanced. And every once in a while I’ll try to crack a joke.
Welcome to Free Radical Maine.