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Brandon Darby

January 7, 2009

Listening to today’s Democracy Now broadcast – and its story about Austin-based activist Brandon Darby – has made me remember a moment from around 2002.
In those weird, paranoid days of just-post-9/11, all kinds of strange things were going on. Add to that Bush’s inexorable path towards attacking Iraq. Up to that point in my life, I had little contact with the peace and justice movement. Hell! I didn’t even know what the peace and justice movement was, although I had been listening and reading alternative media for at least a decade by this point.
With the build-up to war, my wife and I felt the need to get involved to see what we could do to help stop this insanity, even though in the schizoid times of All Terror All the Time it seemed like we could get arrested at any moment. So, imagine our delight when someone in our tiny ‘burg of Vancouver began circulating flyers about an upcoming meeting by a newly formed peace group. The cheap zeroxed handbill had an oft-quoted blurb about only two countries ever being convicted for unlawful use of force (The US and Israel) and mentioned an upcoming meeting at our local Unitarian church.
So, with much anticipation, we attended the meeting. We met a lot of like-minded, concerned fellow citizens. We heard the buzz about our organizer, who had yet to arrive. He was supposed to be from Portland, they said, and had extensive experience in organizing affinity groups and with street actions. We were all elated that someone in our town was actually going to do something about all this. We felt empowered and were excited.
Our organizer finally showed up. Now, I am an irritatingly skeptical non-conformist. Put me in a room with people just like me, and I’ll find some fussy reason to make petty judgements about them. So, when Mr. Come Lately arrives on the scene, I think that he’s unfortunately chosen Jeff Bridges’ The Dude as his fashion plate. But he seemed to know what the hell he was doing. What did a bunch of Vancouverites know about organizing, anyway? He started off by talking about where we were and the group started designating resources and set up lines of communication. We made plans to meet again to make further plans.
Now I may have missed a meeting, but the next one I attended, the Dude was late again. We all talked and exchanged testimonials about the strange times we lived in and got to know each other a little. We all sincerely wanted to do something to stop the insanity that was going on. Dude finally made his entrance and the meeting went on. We were planning some kind of march in town in conjunction with street actions going on in Portland. It seemed like there was some kind of debate whether or not we should coordinate with or go physically join the Portland events or simply do our own autonomous events.
There was also some debate about whether we should get a permit or simply go bareback and proceed without one, exercising our right to assemble. The Dude insisted that we not bother with a permit, citing the latter. This made many of us nervous, mainly because any kind of street protest seemed so alien in redneck Vancouver. This was a subject of intense debate throughout these meetings.
Later, in subsequent meetings as the date drew near, The Dude was strongly suggesting that we do something really bold and attention getting. One suggestion – after many came up with the idea of marching up and down the pedestrian walkways of the I-5 Interstate Bridge – was that we block traffic or have someone scale the girders of the bridge to hang banners across the Freeway. He was really insistant that this was what we should do. When people balked about it being against the law and could get us in trouble, he insisted we were being paranoid. This seemed to create a huge rift in the group. I started to lose interest, admittedly out of fear of getting in trouble, rather than the thought that it would shoot our group in the foot, intent-wise, although I told myself it was the latter reason.
I stopped attending meetings, but my wife still attended sporadically.
She told me that there were people who were questioning the intent of The Dude. One woman, whom I remember as having quite a bit of experience organizing similar groups started vocally criticizing The Dude and even suggesting that he was intent at getting us in trouble. During one meeting, when he didn’t show up, she flat out accused him of being a police provocatuer or informant. Shortly after that meeting the group dissolved. Another peace and justice group formed that is still thriving to this day, with a looser, ad hoc organization and has yearly festivals and with robust visibility, street-wise.

In all my comings and goings in various groups and alternative media, I usually run into one or two people from other local organizations. It seems like all of these little communities have at least one or two common denominators where people are concerned or with some kind of degrees of separation, you can connect us all. Yet, I have never seen the Dude again and can’t find a single person who has ever heard of him.
I have often speculated whether or not he was some kind of clumsy attempt to start some kind of half-assed investigation and bust in our area or that he was simply a flakey character who was more or less genuine in his attempt to do what we all wanted to do. I also chock a lot of it up to the incredibly paranoid time we were living in. I have since run into other veterans of that first abortive peace group and have heard someone else voice a similar opinion about that experience.
I still don’t know.

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