Streetbuzz Interview

June 1, 2005

Doug Barnes: Library worker, activist, optimistic rebel, dad, windmill-tilter.
Lives in Seattle, Washington, USA.

A STREETBUZZ INTERVIEW

Doug Barnes

STREETBUZZ: Doug, where and when were you born?

DOUG BARNES: I was born in Portland, Oregon in 1953.

STREETBUZZ: How about your family and childhood?

DOUG BARNES: I had two sisters and one brother. My dad remarried after my mom died, so I got two new brothers and a new sister. Yes, I had a happy childhood in Salem, Oregon. I spent summers in the fields with the farmworkers, and at farm of friends helping with sheep, sometimes you had to feed the newborn lambs when their parents died. Canoeing in the Willamette River, and just outdoors a lot, I really liked it.

STREETBUZZ: School?

DOUG BARNES: Well, regular public schools, then Evergreen College in Olympia, an alternative college. At that time, there were lots of hippies, people wanting to change the system or at least have a good time going to college (laughs.) I started getting active politically there, questioning the Vietnam War, questioning the U.S. role overseas. I was coming up to Seattle for demonstrations during the Vietnam War. What did I study? at Evergreen everybody just got a general bachlors of art. And I studied arts adminstration, then I went back to the Kennedy Center for Arts for an internship. I decided I didn't want to do blood money in corporate control of the arts. Yes, I was already getting radicalized, my grampa called me a dirty communist. My dad was going to support me but when he found out it was Evergreen he withdrew support (laughs.)

STREETBUZZ: So you graduated?

DOUG BARNES: No, I didn't graduate at Evergreen, but I went to work there setting up art facilities. Then I moved to Seattle. Started working around gay liberation stuff, lots of police brutality around gays then. Union of Sexual Minorities, picketing the police station, demanding the police chief resign. Then I got involved in the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) and Radical Women. I started thinking about the relationship of the war in Vietnam, the need for oil, finances, the need for war, the war-driven economy; and I decided I was a socialist. It was very conscious, I remember.

STREETBUZZ: Then?

DOUG BARNES: I got a job driving a bus for Metro, here in Seattle, a city bus, for seven or eight years. They were trying to hire part-time workers, not paying them as much. So we organized sickouts, like 1/4 of the workers wouldn't show up. I got fired for that but I got my job back after a year of legal battles, got my back pay and my seniority. Then I started working for the FSP fulltime as an organizer. And we were doing a lot organizing around abortion rights. Right - wing Christian fundamentalists were picketing and firebombing the Everett abortion clinic (the Feminist Women's Health Center). Firebombed it several times. We organized a big rally, put political pressure on the city to investigate it, which they hadn't been doing, and they finally tracked the guy down and put him in prison. Dottie Roberts was the Christian reactionary who was leading all the organizing around the state, the firebomber worked with her. They were harassing women going into the clinic. We organized escorts. Between that and Anita Bryant's anti - gay period, it was a time of reaction and confrontation in the streets.

STREETBUZZ: What other kinds of projects?

DOUG BARNES: - Bills to try to guarantee 20-hour day in the legislature. I was a lobbyist. They were taking away meal and beaks under the guise of equal rights for women and men.
-Fights around affirmative action, the Bakke decision, getting women into the trades. We organized a campaign getting women hired city light / pole climbers.
-Campaigns around homeless encampments, fighting for right so homeless to have shelter and not kicked off street for begging.
-Through most of those campaigns, I got a sense of the importance of defending rights of people on the bottom, that's what's going to change society in the long run. And the real dynamism of people on the bottom fighting, because they don't have anything to lose.
-The 90's: Cuba, union organizing, electrical workers, bus drivers, supporting the San Michelle farm workers. With Cuba we were trying to end the embargo and send aid on the Friendshipments. And hosting Cubans here that were speaking in the area.

Doug Barnes

STREETBUZZ: How about now?

DOUG BARNES: Now we're running for office, the city council. FSP candidates have gotten in the past 10-20,000 votes. We're using the campaigns to point out how corrupt the current administrations are, how they're supporting big business interests and developers, as opposed to the everyday needs of people. So really, a public education campaign, we're raising alternatives that the city should adopt, like free mass transit, making business pay for education instead of homeowners and taxpayers, stopping the funding of big corporate developments through public funds.
So it's been what...35 years I've been an activist. The thing that's kept me sane in this society has been to be an activist, instead of going with the flow. And I've learned a lot working with my sisters in Radical Women: a lot of what a future society could look like in terms of how men and women can work together and live together and treat each other in a humane way.

STREETBUZZ: Wow....that is great! To change the subject now, what can you say about the current world situation?

DOUG BARNES: I'm optimistic looking at the rebellions unfolding in Latin America, seeing the rejection of neoliberalism. That's taking place in the protests that are forcing Latin American leaders out of office. It points the way forward for key changes we need to have in this country. I think we need a revolution in the United States, and to change the basic economic system with it's foot on everybody in the world, the system.
And the Iraqi resistance is really multi-faceted, and it includes women and trade unionists, everyday people resisting the occupation. And that's also a heartening development, it's showing that you can beat the U.S. government and it's slowing down U.S. aggression in other parts of the world by making a quagmire in Iraq.
What I think is key, is for people in the U.S., especially immigrants and people that have a tradition of resistance, is to spark resistance here to the growing economic disparity we're all fighting as workers.

STREETBUZZ: How about the future?

DOUG BARNES: I'm also helping to raise a six year-old boy and that makes me think a lot about the future, and the need to save both the planet and its inhabitants. I'm cautiously optimistic about that happening. We don't have a choice.

Doug Barnes

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A STREETBUZZ INTERVIEW