Saturday, December 25, 2004

R.I.P., Pam Gaston

(also see Leonard Henderson's post here:

(also see for the latest info including where the funeral is -- TODAY, Monday, at 1 PM)

Pamela and Will Gaston

Bear with me at the outset folks; this gets right round to Pam after a quick intro -- and it *is* about Pam, though also about me, and what I've benefitted from having known her (to the too-limited extent I did).

Lately I've spent a tremendous amount of time pondering large questions such as "will 'the people' ever be more than Alexander Hamilton's 'great beast'?" Many variations on that theme have been mulled, and I have not yet come to firm conclusions (you'll hear them if/when I do). In considering such things, I look around me at the specific challenges facing us today, political, economic, spiritual, educational, attitudinal, and of course the perpetual battle between good and evil, right and wrong, Heaven and Hell, liberty and totalitarianism. Will that battle be won gradually? Evolutionally? Revolutionally? By man, under God's direction? By God intervening? Soon? Ever? I say that last question must be heresy, but it's a heresy we all must sometimes feel, even if we don't want to think it. To avoid feeling it is to fail to even dip your toe in the maelstrom.

In pondering the great questions of the romantic idealist, few provide me more grist for my mental mill than Pam Gaston. Pam didn't look like what you might expect a champion to look like; one could be forgiven for judging that book by the cover. One would have, however, been wrong. What animated Pam was the very seething essence of that which I often despair of finding any way to foment or conjure in the breast of my fellow man: Pam absolutely _hated_ injustice. She yearned to find a cure for it, screamed at it, called it names, named its practitioners, listed their offenses, trumpeted her -- and to her eternal credit, many others' -- grievances about it, even obtained some legal victories over it, and seemingly a day didn't go by when I wouldn't get several emails from her attempting to throw a glaring spotlight on anything which smelled of it, quacked like it, or stole kids like it.

Yes, stole kids. In case you've been living in a denial coccoon (or trust your TV, if there's any ultimate distinction wringable there), the state is stealing people's kids. When Pam's own family was attacked (via paper, not physical weapons) and her step-daughter Melissa stolen, she stopped being an unimpressive-looking middle-aged woman of modest means and became something very different. She was once described as "Superwoman" by a fellow activist, and if you knew Pam, you know that was about right. Predators generally choose the weakest of the herd for their lunch, seeking the easiest target. Pam -- and Will -- probably looked like fairly easy prey. What the state didn't count on is that even an atom bomb can come in a plain brown wrapper, and for the next handful of years, their "easy prey" pretty well ran rings around them and left them -- sometimes literally -- running for the doors and hiding from *her*.

Let me back up a bit.

I heard a few days ago that Pam had just died. It was completely out of the blue for me; I hadn't even heard she was sick. The instant that I heard the knews I knew my life had already changed, and many others would change even more. I knew I would need to write something about her, even though she is someone who in some ways I barely knew. (I never spent any time around her other than at political or other "important" events, and have no idea what she was like when she wasn't being an activist -- if indeed there were any such moments. Nor did I know her prior to her having been drafted into The Fight.) So I started to reflect (isn't that a beautiful word, BTW?) on Pam. I was distracted by other things though, and didn't immediately do this.

At about the same time, Gary Webb, intrepid journalist documenting CIA drug trafficking, died. You can read a visceral, poignant eulogy at this address: (warning: occasional profanity; very worthwhile reading nonetheless) That these two people should both die almost simultaneously certainly got me thinking, and my thoughts here began to coalesce.

Watching a special on the history of human flight on TV yesterday, a section on aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan made me think about legacy; they asked his long-time flight tester Mike somebody what he thought Rutan's legacy would be. The answer wasn't particularly important for our purposes here, but the question got me thinking about Pam again.

Last night, I dropped in on the Salem Alliance church with my family for Christmas Eve service. John Trumbo, the pastor, spoke about a man he'd long known, formerly a greeter at S.A., who had just been killed (an innocent victim of an office rampage) in another state. That brief eulogy was the final serendipitous inspirational nudge I needed to set everything else aside and get this hammered out (for my 3 blog readers out there, and hopefully a few more sets of eyes). I've now spent most of the night on it, and will be a miserable wreck this Christmas day with no sleep. (Hopefully my family will understand.)

(Note: as I post this, I find that fellow judicial reform advocate Elena Ruth Sassower was released at practically the same time too, just 3 days later, after serving her full 6 months for an absurdity. Considering death as a release from a life sentence, the comparisons with Pam's passing are obvious.)

So, let's see what can be said.

Pam Gaston had no guile. She was as subtle as an air horn on the 18th green. There was never any need to guess what was on her mind. I considered writing a "stealth" obituary where I only revealed at the end that she had just died, but Pam never operated that way, so in honoring her I won't do so either. (Besides, it would have probably become an onerous task, what with everything I want to say about her.)

Political battles, it's said, are won by those who show up. Pam, as will be denied by no-one, showed up, and did so in ways most people would find pants-wetting to even contemplate, let alone attempt (let more alone *succeed*). I didn't always agree with everything she said or did (is there anyone who did?) but then that is true of everyone else I know, your humble eulogist included. :-) But the broad arc of a life reveals what anecdotes or incidents might occasionally obscure, and the panorama of Pam... "Pamorama"? sorry... 's life collided with my own beginning about 7 years ago. I knew from the first that she was someone unusual; the way she spoke truth to power "left a mark", big time. There was no mistaking her rants. When she talked about what she believed in, her chastisements were blistering; about what she knew firsthand, they would melt asbestos. Rabid attack dogs could take hostility lessons from Pam's commentaries. (Well, if they weren't rabid, they could... if they could read, and if they could get online or hold a book without opposable thumbs... but, I digress.) I can easily imagine that the prophets of old were received in much the same way; a vexatious mouth made more so by the innocence of the person wielding it. I do not mean Pam never did anything wrong; she was not perfect. But she was not deserving of the treatment she and her family received, and that is the shame of the state, her absolute knowledge of which provided an Achilles' heel by which she got hold of her guilty tormentors -- and anyone found aiding or abetting them, even if only by their cowardice -- and caused them relentless consternation.

The last time I saw Pam, as is so often the case with such things, was unremarkable as an instance of the intersection of her life and mine. In fact I'm not even sure exactly when it was. I remember some time spent talking one on one at Gary George's place this past summer on the occasion of the benefit auction for Ken and Trudy Reusser, for which ad hoc chat I am now exceedingly glad, because that unplanned "face time" was the longest I ever had her undivided attention, and it's about the strongest lasting impression I'll carry of her (out of many). I may have bumped into her since, someplace, but not for at least a couple of months now; if so, it was "just another activist thing" of some nature; somebody's kid being stolen, somebody's reputation being peremptorily slimed, some hearing or filing for some case of blatant crime by the state, some something, like so many others I'd come to know and expect, being within virtual earshot of Pam.

Suddenly, there will be no more opportunities; the book of Pam Gaston's unique life is now abruptly closed, with nothing left but reviews for us in her wake (no pun intended) to write, describing for one another -- and posterity -- what we thought and think of her, and what they should know or, more likely, learn from her. I'll have to let others fill in most of the details; my own involvement with her chosen (though not really by her) causes was mostly observational, having no kids of my own to protect and not having been individually victimized by the state in any way. Thus I never had cause to dive fully into what she was doing and exploring; quite vast parts of all that are still a hazy mystery to me. Notwithstanding, any time we bumped into each other I was invariably interested in what she had to say and where she was headed next in her efforts. I only wish I could have done more to help, or that I could do more now for Will and the other victims of the state.

Pam was, in the Bible's language, no respecter of persons; one's station in life, one's fame or fortune or other trappings of circumstance or worldly power, made no difference at all to her. What she cared about was whether you were doing right or wrong. If your heart beat with the love of truth, compassion for your fellow man, and willingness to undergo difficulty in order to overthrow abuse of power, you were Pam's friend and ally. If not, you were at best a sleeping watchdog; at worst you were part of the problem -- and she was never shy about expressing her beliefs as to which of those was the case (or, for that matter, anything else, that I ever noticed). You always knew where you stood with her. Her big mouth got her in trouble a lot, but then, as someone said to me once, I like getting in hot water; it keeps me clean. In Pam's case, that perpetual torrent of hot water was visited on a seemingly endless nest of filth and poison centered in the halls of power. Her own suffering as a consequence of this activism (Pam put the "active" in "activist" if anyone ever did) seemed to be the furthest thing from her motivation. She was well aware of what was being done to her, and was vocal about it, but the essence of Pam would never let her avoid this combat, and so no submissive alternative was entertained. What mattered was the cause, and merely seeing it was insufficient; she was compelled to do something. I'm reminded of the Bible's exhortation to be not hearers of the word only, but doers as well. That was sure Pam's way.

We've heard the old saying "I'll rest when I'm dead"... for the first time since I met her, I know Pam is now resting.

Rest in peace, warrior.

With thanks from an analytical friend for the personally priceless gift of a life exceptionally interestingly lived, and from a too-often-timid colleague barely daring to call himself such for the priceless gift of matchless courage displayed with reckless abandon, and with regret only for having not taken better advantage of the too-brief window of opportunity to fully appreciate both in their season, I am sincerely,
Jamie Jackson

As something of a stream-of-consciousness postscript, and to help focus us all on the battle which very much remains with us and ahead, I offer the following list of quotes, culled from my large collection. "Histories make men wise" because the past always repeats. The list is in roughly chronological order. Some of these may seem irrelevant to you; if I get any queries I'll add explanations. (It is perhaps a special tribute to Pam that gathering these up was an exercise in absurd superabundance: probably 1/4 of my quotes seem to shine some light on some aspect of who and what Pam was and did and stood for, a testament to the light she herself shone on whatever was around her. I barely scratched my collection for this list; to include every one that stood out would tax even the dedicated reader.)

Strangely, perhaps, only one quote from Pam; while fascinating and constantly writing, I didn't find Pam very quotable. In pondering why that is so, it occurs to me that her energies were focused not on broad analysis of general principles (like mine usually are), but on specific solutions, actions, and remedies. She was churning out application, and I'm a ruminator of fundamentals. Perhaps that's another reason we only brushed across one another occasionally; just different areas of personal focus. I don't know. I do know Pam was something I'm not, and in honoring her and what I saw in her, I've tried to be what I am. I hope it's been helpful and/or stimulating to read; it has been my somber joy to compose.

Here's the one quote I do have (so far) from Pam, BTW:

"People HAVE to realize that all the 'risk assessments' and 'evaluations' and whatever they write are only written to get their money and to make an appearance of legitimacy - if there is no abuse, they make no money ! If the child goes home, they make no money! If the numbers go down of children taken, they make no money!"
--Pamela Gaston, 1/2000, on the problem with state "child services"

See what I mean? As Yoda might put it: All business she was, yes. A walking seminar in practical application of legal self-help and explication/extrication of personal life from the talons of the nanny state -- NTTAWWT. :-)

Note: no sacrilege intended by the Bible verses included; for best results, contemplate loosely.

"When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers."
--Proverbs 21:15

"Strange times are these in which we live when old and young are taught in falsehood's school. And the one man who dares to tell the truth is called at once a lunatic and fool."

"Wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."
--Matthew 26:13

"A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."

"Madness in great ones must not unwatch'd go."
--Shakespeare, in "Hamlet"

"The deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded."
--C. L. De Montesquieu, in "The Spirit of the Laws", VIII

"A little neglect may breed great mischief."
--Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

"Few discoveries are more irritating than those that expose the pedigree of ideas."
--Lord Acton

"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."
--Thomas Jefferson

"Any man can work when every stroke of his hand brings down the fruit rattling from the tree to the ground; but to labor in season and out of season, under every discouragement, by the power of truth -- that requires a heroism which is transcendent."
--Henry Ward Beecher

"Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle! Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."
--Frederick Douglass, 8/4/1857

"[W]hen the Paris Exhibition closes, electric light will close with it and no more will be heard of it."
--Erasmus Wilson, Oxford professor, 1878

"Every truth goes through three stages before it is recognised. In the first it is ridiculed; In the second it is opposed; In the third it is regarded as self-evident."
--Arthur Schopenhauer

"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
--George Santayana, philosopher, 1863-1952

"Calling a coyote a dog won't save your chickens."
--G.D. Knox

"Governments, whatever their pretensions otherwise, try to preserve themselves by holding the individual down ... Government itself, indeed, may be reasonably defined as a conspiracy against him. Its one permanent aim, whatever its form, is to hobble him sufficiently to maintain itself."
--H. L. Mencken

"The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are."
--H.L. Mencken, in "Smart Set" magazine, December 1919

"The Press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of the government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people...."
--Justice Hugo Black, United States Supreme Court, in New York Times v. United States

"The dominant purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit the widespread practice of government suppression of embarrassing information...."
--Justice William O. Douglas, United States Supreme Court, concurring in New York Times v. United States

"As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air - however slight - lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness."
--Justice William O. Douglas, United States Supreme Court

"Nichts ist schwerer und nichts erfordert mehr Charakter, als sich in offenem Gegensatz zu seiner Zeit zu befinden und laut zu sagen: Nein!" ["Nothing is more difficult, and nothing requires more character than to find oneself in open opposition to one's time (and those one loves) and to say loudly: No!"]
--Kurt Tucholsky, Germany, 1934

"The most difficult struggle of all is the one within ourselves. Let us not get accustomed and adjusted to these conditions. The one who adjusts ceases to discriminate between good and evil. He becomes a slave in body and soul. Whatever may happen to you, remember always: Don't adjust! Revolt against the reality!"
--Mordechai Anielewicz, Warsaw, 1943

"Anarchy did not kill six million Jews...Nazi Socialism did under the guise of Law and Order and what was best for the majority."
--unknown Israeli (Holocaust survivor)

"News is what someone wants to suppress. Everything else is advertising."
--former NBC news president Rubin Frank

"Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history, mankind has been bullied by scum. Those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadow about which way to bend in the wind are the most depraved kind of prostitutes. They will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve power. The worst off-sloughings of the planet are the ingredients of sovereignty. Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy the whores are us."
--P. J. O'Rourke, "Parliament of Whores"

"Once a citizen is faced with absolute undeniable proof of government wrongdoing, he or she has to decide what, if anything, to do about it. To take action against a corrupt and dishonest government involves great risks to person and prosperity. To NOT take action against a corrupt and dishonest government means surrendering one's self-image of standing for truth or justice; to be seen by the world and by oneself as no better than the Germans who allowed Hitler to do what he did. Most people do not have the courage to take a stand against a corrupt government. More to the point they do not have the courage to admit to themselves that they lack the courage to take a stand against a corrupt government. The easy way out is fanatical belief in the government's innocence and benevolence, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. One does not have to face the question of what to do about a corrupt government if one simply refuses to see the corruption. The government relies in great measure on this denial in the public's collective mind to conceal the government's crimes. The downside is that once the facts finally do break through the public's denial, the anger will be all the more extreme for its being delayed."
--Michael Rivero, 5/19/2001, on

"Most people prefer to believe their leaders are just and fair even in the face of evidence to the contrary, because once a citizen acknowledges that the government under which they live is lying and corrupt, the citizen has to choose what he or she will do about it. To take action in the face of a corrupt government entails risks of harm to life and loved ones. To choose to do nothing is to surrender one's self-image of standing for principles. Most people do not have the courage to face that choice. Hence, most propaganda is not designed to fool the critical thinker but only to give moral cowards an excuse not to think at all."
--Michael Rivero


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