Why and How (I Became an Activist, a Red, a Radical, a Revolutionary)

Why and How (I Became an Activist, a Red, a Radical, a Revolutionary)

by Ann Tompkins


Married in 1928, my parents bought a schooner for our home.

The pregnancy before me was aborted, but, when the ship returned

          from a cross-Atlantic cruise, I was brought aboard

          at the age of two months in 1930.

My brother, a winter child, came aboard in 1932 at the age of two weeks

          and promptly became the Commodore.

Radicalization #1: Girls count far less at sea.


Growing up at sea, I still maintain a special relation

          with the stars, the clouds in their many forms, and

          a healthy respect for the powers of nature –

          sharks and seagulls, sun and moon, wind and wave.

And I imbibed the power of collective humaneffort in the face of

          common dangers, along with respect for authority

          based on knowledge in service of the common good.

My brother can navigate by the stars and trim the sails for all weather

          conditions, but I cannot.

Radicalization #2: People, when organized, can contend with

powerful forces of nature and society.


Sometime before I was five, my parents met a Soviet ship in the Baltic,

          a government sponsored ship, with a crew from all walks of life,

          various professions, who chose a sailing vacation without fees.

WOW! WONDERFUL! A way for everyone to sail without regard to income!

For the USA to do likewise, when proposed to the Duponts and the Morgans,

          drew a sharp response, “But, Captain Tompkins, that’s communism!

          We can’t send our sons on cruises with you if you keep talking that way!”

My parents started reading, debating, reading and debating

          endlessly, it seemed to me then.

What is this thing called COMMUNISM?

I was eleven when my parents joined the Communist Party, USA.

My parents took a stand…

          an unpopular stand in Marin County and throughtout our land.

Radicalization #3: Notes came from two of my closest “best friends” 

in high school: “I cannot be your friend because you are a


          I felt sorry for them.


Oh, you’re a red diaper baby.”

I say, “No, not I.”

Chairman Mao says:

          “…materialist dialectics holds that external causes are the condition of change,

          and internal causes are the basis of change.

          In a suitable temperature, an egg can change into a chicken,

          but no temperature can change a stone into a chicken,

          because each has a different basis.”*

My brother did not become an activist.

My son did not become an activist.

Radicalization #4: I became an activist, a radical, a revolutionary

as an internal necessity with the suitable external conditions.


Oh, so you chose to be a revolutionary!”

I say, “No, not I. It was no choice!”

How can one look around the world and NOT be a revolutionary?

Don’t you see the racism?

          …the hunger?

                    …the inequalities?

                              …the injustices, the lies, and deceptions?

                                        …rip-off of the poor by the rich, of the many by the few?

Radicalization #5: I crossed conventions and invited black classmates

to my teen-age parties, as, many years later,

I find recorded in my FBI file. Radical? Subversive? Apparently so.


Out on my own, across 3,000 miles of my country, I studied, and,

          without consulting my parents, joined revolutionary groups,

          first one and then another, and another,

          with the FBI still keeping an eye on me,

          so indignant strangers, neighbors, told me.

Radicalization #6: There are Marxists, and Marxists, and other Marxists,

all self-defined. Learning to tell them apart takes time,

much time,…even decades.


It is not hard for one to do a bit of good.

What is hard is to do good all of one’s life and never do anything bad,

          to act consistently in the interest of the broad masses.” **

Umpteenth Radicalization: Approaching 79 and still trying to serve the people.

* (p. 214, Quotations from Mao Zedong)

** (p. 250 Ibid.)

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