By Dave Lindorff
We’ve come a long way towards imperial government in the US—towards
a view of the relationship between the federal government, and
especially the administration, and the citizenry that has more of a
ruler-subjects than a democratic feel to it.
Now I know it is easy to gloss over the way things were, and since I
spent a few days in federal prison for protesting the Indochina War at
the Pentagon in 1967, after being beaten by federal marshals for doing
nothing more than exercising my constitutional right to protest on public
ground, I am well aware that 40 years ago we were also often treated
like serfs. But that said, there was something different back then—a
sense that you could deal with powerful officials as an equal.
Back in the summer of 1968, I spent one of several summers on the
road (something more young people should do today). I had hitch-hiked
across the country from Connecticut to Washington state with Allen
Baker, a college buddy, and then, towards the end of that summer break,
had bought an old pick-up truck for $100, which we were driving home
via the West Coast and the central route. Not having much cash, we were
stopping at cities along the way, where I would play guitar for gas
This was the late ‘60s, and there was a major and sometimes violent
culture war underway between the long-hairs like me and the clean-cut
American “Silent Majority,” and my travel companion, Allen, and I were
concerned that it would be tough scaring up much cash in the vast
Republican stretches of desert, mountains and prairie that lay between
Nevada and Missouri. So when we passed through Yosemite National Park,
we decided to spend a day in the valley’s main parking lot, raising
donations from tourists.
While Allen dozed in the back of the truck, I opened my guitar case
and put up the “Gas Money” sign, and then, sitting on the running board
of the old Dodge, started to play.
The money poured in—over a hundred dollars in a fairly short amount
of time. It was really astounding. People walking by really enjoyed the
music and wanted to help us out.
Then a park ranger, an older fellow with a friendly smile, drove up.
“I’m sorry,” he said apologetically, “but I have been told to arrest
“What for?” I asked, genuinely shocked.
“There’s no panhandling allowed in the park,” he responded.
“What’s panhandling?” I asked him, genuinely unaware of the meaning
of the term, which I, an Easterner, thought must have to do with
cooking with a skillet on an open fire.
“It’s what you’re doing right now,” the ranger said.
By that point, Allen had woken up and sat up in the truck bed, rubbing his eyes.
“You’ll have to come in too,” the ranger told him.
We followed him back to the ranger station, where he proceeded to
write up our tickets. I noticed that there were two actual jail cells
in the station. Thankfully, at least we weren’t going to be locked up.
Then there was a loud bang outside. Suddenly, a younger ranger, looking
like a recent Marine veteran, muscled and crewcut, ran in. “Where’s the
first aid kit,” he yelled. “ I was just bringing in a kid on a
marijuana charge and he tried to run. I shot him in the leg.”
Whoa! I thought. This is Dodge City!