Civil Resistance

Matthew X profrv at
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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