profrv at nex.net.au
Fri May 7 07:25:56 PDT 1999
This is the first in a Baltimore IMC series on political activists in town.
In this installment we introduce Max O, a man who has been engaged at the
forefront of progressive political movements for over 20 years.
If you are fortunate enough to be on his list, you would have received from
him some half- dozen emails today, for that matter, every day-- unless he
happens to be in jail. He can't remember the exact number, but he has been
arrested 60 to 70 times. For his widely circulated mailings, he combs the
straight and the progressive press, and he pulls down materials from
liberal and radical news sites on the web. His missives are a virtual
anthology of the news stories of importance to activists for social change.
But Max O is not a movement librarian or computer geek, he is a political
activist of more than 20 years standing. His emails are a part of his work
as a political activist.
His political activism is built on a montage of seemingly unrelated
experiences, although when you talk with him it does seem to neatly fit
together. Raised in a conservative working class community of Erie,
Pennsylvania, Max's family lived above their small business, a tavern
started by his great-grandmother. It was his growing up in an environment
of hard drinkers and drunks that led him to be a nondrinker. The
vegetarianism would come later.
College was an unlikely choice for someone with his background, but Max got
a degree in electrical engineering and went to work for Pennsylvania
Electric Co. in Johnstown. On the death of his father, Max quit his job
going home to help his mother run the tavern. While tending bar, he went to
Gannon College (now a university) and earned an MBA. While the tavern was
being sold, Max went off to the Peace Corps, a lure to small town folks
everywhere. He Max signed up for a two year hitch in Botswana where he
helped the locals set up small businesses. The Botswana experience
sensitized him to the apartheid policies of neighboring South Africa. It
all begins to fit, though not obviously so.
While tending bar and going to school, he became involved in a local Freeze
group--the Nuclear Freeze was a national movement against the proliferation
and testing of nuclear weapons which was to reach its peak on June 12th,
1982 when a million people assembled in Central Park, spilling some 20
blocks south in to the west fifties. He talks with some pride at the 75
percent of Erie County that voted for a freeze and the fact that this small
working class community sent two buses to New York to participate in the
The MBA, his revulsion at bar life, and his African experience led him to
answer an advertisement for an internship with the Interfaith Center on
Corporate Responsibility in New York City which, then, was a major figure
in the movement for divestment of corporate investments in South Africa.
The ICCR was also involved in exposing companies doing business as nuclear
weapons suppliers. His time there, roughly 1982 to 1983, finished his basic
Max had graciously come to my office for this interview. There is a general
graciousness about him, although it is often hidden by an interpersonal
awkwardness. He seems unaccustomed to talk about himself and, when he does,
he talks about politics. Of course, that is his life. He is not a party
animal and has been known to go to parties with a pile of political
readings. Politics for Max is about "civil resistance." He doesn't like the
term "civil disobedience." Disobedience, he explained to me, was an attack
on the law, an attempt to dramatize the need to change the law. On the
other hand, he said passionately, "resistance is sometimes about getting
people to uphold the law."
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