Thursday, July 31, 2014
Veteran Activist Mourns His Mentor
I'd like to say that Tom Cahill needs no introduction. Maybe he doesn't to you. That fellow shaking hands with Tom Cahill was President of the United States at the time. Tom is congratulating him for signing the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
In case you don't know him. Tom is a long time activist. The cause that absorbed him more than any other was the fate of people who were sexually assaulted while in prison. To the extent I am an activist, Tom is one of my inspirations. Of course, the people who inspire you were inspired by others. Tom recently wrote a touching piece about the passing of one of his mentors. He gave me permission to share it with my readers.
As I write this, the bells of Eglise St. Pair are ringing wildly--noisily announcing '"high mass" to the town's faithful. But to me, the bells are reporting to the world the passing of another great soul.
Tom Flower, my friend and mentor of almost half a century, left earth June 28 on his journey to wherever and however his soul wishes to spend eternity. John Thomas Flower was 83 and had been suffering poor health for many years. He leaves behind his "flower children"--two daughters, two sons, and lots of grandchildren. His dog, Aidan, the last of a long line of American Water Spaniels named for Irish saints, will also miss him dearly.
Tom died peacefully while taking a bath in his home in Houston, Texas, according to his children.
If the purpose of life, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, is NOT to be happy but instead "to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well," then Tom Flower gets high marks in anyone's book.
It was Tom Flower more than anyone else who in 1967, turned me 180 degrees from a neoliberal supporter of the U.S. War to stop "Godless Communism" in Vietnam to a radical, activist, "peacenik" and publisher/editor of an "underground" newspaper in San Antonio, Texas. Although my memory fails me in many things, I vividly recall the day a handful of us were picketing for peace in front of the Alamo of all places. Tom was softly, gently conversing with a passerby who, as Tom explained his reasons for not supporting "Lyndon Johnson's War," the man became more and more agitated until he punched Tom in the face, knocking him down. Tom, then 36, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard AND Marine Corps, and in the peak of health and strength, quickly got to his feet, and assumed military "parade rest" with his hands behind his back while looking straight ahead as the man mumbled something and walked away, eyes wide with fear.
Because the Democratic Party including its staunchest supporter--organized labor--accepted Pres. Lyndon Johnson's main agenda of escalating the war on Vietnam, mostly young Americans all over the country formed what became known as the "New Left"--conversely supporting the deescalation of the war as proposed by Pres. John Kennedy before he was assassinated in 1963. COINTELPRO, on the other hand, was the FBI's totally illegal counter intelligence program to destroy the New Left. And Tom Flower was so active in the "San Antonio Committee to Stop the War" that he became targeted by J. Edgar Hoover's sycophants. Among other things, Tom was fired from his job as a highly-successful, well-paid and well-liked pharmaceutical salesman. Malicious rumors were also spread about him throughout South Texas. This and more "dirty tricks" were reported in a mainstream magazine in San Antonio in about 1978, the journalist having gotten his information from the government under the Freedom of Information Act.
Tom Flower then lived and traveled all over the U.S., sometimes living communally and sometimes homeless but always being of service to others and working for the most worthy of causes especially peace. In San Francisco in the 1980s, while both of us were living in vehicles, he set-up a soup kitchen under the auspices of a church. About this time, another church, I think Anglican, ordained him a priest. I visited him often in San Francisco's Tenderloin, sometimes helping him. My favorite photo of him was published in a local newspaper at this time. It shows Tom sweeping the sidewalk where he was about to serve breakfast. He's wearing a beret and a long cassock made of denim an admirer made for him. With his grey beard and wire-framed glasses, he looks like a holy man from another century and another country.
But like many saints, Tom could be a pain-in-the-ass. He was clumsy, disorganized, messy, always breaking stuff, disrespectful of his own and others' possessions, space, money, and time. He was forever loosing his keys and other things. I could always find him because wherever he went, he'd leave a trail of dental floss but no other debris; he must have had the healthiest teeth in Christendom. He would give anyone the shirt off his own back and perhaps the shirt off your back if he could talk you out of it as he once did with me. But just once! When he would visit me on a quiet, bucolic ranch in Northern California where I lived many years, I would cringe when he called Brendan, the predecessor of Aidan, in his loud, booming voice like a first sergeant with a megaphone even. I was always happy to see Tom and his latest Spaniel arrive, but always equally happy to see them leave. They took up too much of my tiny, quiet, monastery-like space.
But on the other side of his ledger, Tom was not only a supporter of, but genuinely lived "the Radical Imperative," "religious socialism," "and "Liberation Theology"--all progressive ideas to help humanize humankind in general, Christians in particular.
Tom was a great story-teller in the tradition of the Irish. He liked to tell about the time he and I got lost looking for a friend's home on San Juan Island in the Puget Sound. Footsore and tired as night darkened the road, I began playing Irish marching tunes on my harmonica to keep our spirits up. And, damn, if Tom didn't know the words to every song I played.
Tom Flower's IQ was off the chart and he was verbally-gifted--meaning, of course, his tongue was well-connected to his brain. I frequently imagined him a great court-room attorney or an even greater statesman successfully advocating unpopular causes. Hey, he did very well selling drugs--the legal kind. And while he smoked the illegal kind--maybe a little too much sometimes--he never sold pot. I know this for sure because often while he was working and I was collecting unemployment, he would hit ME up for a loan. If he had been selling marijuana, he would have built his own church with a kitchen instead of an altar, and bunks instead of pews. My Brudder was that kind of stand-up guy.
More About Tom Flower
I found this case from 1972 that Tom Flower starred in.
More about Tom Cahill.
Here is a little bit of what I have shared about Tom Cahill over the years.
This piece is about some progress in the fight against those sexually detained in prison.
This was written by Tom for me warning the activists at Occupy Wall Street about the threat of sexual assault behind bars. Two words in the piece, that Tom is still doing penance for, ended up launching me into following contemporary radical feminism, something I never thought I would write about, but it turned out I did.
This is another OWS piece.
This piece about an activist case ended up mainly being about Tom.
Tom Cahill and Peter Reilly 2010.