Category Archives: Democrats

The Missing Years (Part 4)

(This is the sixth chapter of my autobiographical series. It covers 1983-1991, after I moved from Phoenix to Tucson and resigned from the SWP. The others can be found on the column to the right. Go here to start at the beginning. This chapter was initially sent to my music fan email list on September 12, 2020. I have edited it slightly for the blog.)

Independent Political Activist in Tucson, 1983-1991

After resigning from the SWP in the fall of 1983, I continued as an independent activist for the next several years.  At the time I resigned, there was a copper workers strike going on in Arizona.  The other copper companies had reached settlements with the Steelworkers union, but the Phelps-Dodge corporation demanded more concessions from the union.  The union went on strike, and for the first time in decades in the copper industry, the company tried to continue operating during the strike with scab labor.  The scabs were met by mass picket lines by the workers, and the liberal Democratic governor of Arizona, Bruce Babbitt, called out the National Guard to keep the mines open and break the strike. 

The two mining towns in Arizona where the strike was based were Ajo and Clifton/Morenci.  (Morenci was a company town, entirely owned by Phelps-Dodge, and Clifton was an adjacent independent town).  These were close-knit communities, where generations of people had worked in the mines.  The majority of the labor force was Mexican-American.  The importation of out-ot-town scabs made the strike not just a labor issue, but an issue of defending one’s community from outsiders trying to destroy it.

The union leadership, being tied to the Democratic Party, didn’t see the danger, and didn’t really do anything to rally support for the strike.  So my best friend, Eduardo, and I formed a support organization.  (Eduardo had quit the SWP right after I did.)  We organized a food drive for the striking mineworkers, helped tell their story to the media, and organized support rallies for them.  I wrote a series of articles about the strike for Labor Notes, a newsletter of the progressive wing of the labor movement.  But despite the soladarity of the workers and people of the communities, and the efforts of us and others, the strike was eventually broken, and the unions destroyed by the partnership of the New York-based Phelps-Dodge corporation and the Governor Babbitt.  It was yet another lesson in the treachery of the Democratic Party.

Union Organizer

When I moved to Tucson in 1983, I took a job at National Semiconductor, an electronics factory.  The job paid barely over minimum wage, which I think was $3.75/hour at the time.  That’s because the electronics industry in the US was largely non-union.  I decided to go back to school at the local community college for a two-year degree in electronics, so that I could become an electronics technician.  I didn’t have much interest in electronics;  I’ve never had a technical personality;  but I did it for two reasons:  one, since I didn’t want to use my college degree to teach, if I didn’t want to work shitty low-paying jobs the rest of my life, I would need to learn a skill.  The other reason was that I had decided to try and organize a union, and technicians moved around, fixing machines, so I would be able to meet and talk to a lot more workers.

By 1988 I had my electronics degree and had been working as a technician, and had an underground organizing committe of about a dozen workers.  We launched a petition campaign to get a refrigerator in the break room to store our lunches, and won.  But soon after that, layoffs began.  During the 1980’s, the deindustrialization of America had begun.  Electronics and other factories were being moved overseas.  Even the pathetically low wages we got were much more than the companies paid in other countries.  Many of our organizing committee were laid off.  The union drive fizzled out. 

Music and Fun!

After the union organizing committe ended, I decided to give up political activism and be “selfish” for the first time in my life. I was now 34-35 years old. I had given my youth to the “movement.” It was time to live a little before I was old. I was now free from the incessant SWP meetings and activity, and– with my Associates Degree in Electronics completed– more free time, I started to make up for what I missed the last 10 years.  The workforce at National Semiconductor was young.  The factory was on Tucson’s southside, which was mainly Mexican-American.  So were most of my co-workers and new friends.  I made a lot of friends there, and we partied together.  I was digging the New Wave music of the 80’s– The Cure, The Church, Modern English, Berlin, Missing Persons.  I was started going out to hear more live music in Tucson.  There were only a few live music clubs in Tucson, but I made the rounds of them.  The main one was Club Congress downtown. 

I was also dusting off my neglected acoustic guitar, electric guitar and amp, and starting to play more music. I wanted to get into a band. I took guitar lessons, and later, vocal lessons. This will be covered in more depth in the next chapter.

Coming out of Activist Retirement to Protest the Iraq War

In 1990 or 1991, I quit National Semiconductor and took an electronics technician job at Burr-Brown. This was a better job– I was working as an engineering technician, assisting the engineers. While I was working there, the first President George Bush decided to invade Iraq.  Although I had sworn off political activism for music a couple years earlier, I was so angry that I got back into it, and joined the Tucson coalition of people and groups to organize protests, this time operating as an independent.  I became a leader of the group.  We organized a march and rally in downtown Tucson.  I created a mixtape cassette of political songs to play as the marchers entered the rally site, starting with Bruce Springsteen’s antiwar anthem, “Born in the USA.” 

The antiwar coalition ended with the war.  I decide to really quit political activism for good, and focus on music, and joining a band. 

This concludes the chapters in this series called “The Missing Years,” so-called because I was reluctant to talk to them about anybody I met after 1991. I suffered a mid-life crisis when I turned 39, in 1993. I felt that I had wasted my youth, pretending to be a revolutionary, accomplishing nothing. I became very depressed. I had a great girlfriend, and she broke up with me because she didn’t want to be in a relationship with someone who was depressed all the time. I can’t blame her. But I snapped out of it six months later, deciding that what’s done is done, so why not make the best of the years to come? And that meant moving music to center stage.

Next: My Music Career, Part 1.

The Missing Years (Part 1)

1972-1974 Age 18-20

(This is the third chapter of my autobiographical series. Go here for Chapter 1 and here for Chapter 2. It was initially sent to my music fan email list on August 29, 2020. I have edited it slightly for the blog.)

The previous blog, “LIttle White Boy Part 2,” ended with me graduating from high school in 1972.  This blog is the first of what I call my “Missing Years.”  You’ll see why I call them that.  This one picks up with after high school graduation and covers the next 3 years of my life. 

My First Two College Years in Dallas, 1972-1974

I had started college in the fall of 1972 at Mountain View Community College in Dallas.  I was the oldest of 7 kids (my mom was Catholic, remember) and my parents couldn’t afford to send me to a university.  I didn’t put forth much effort in applying for scholarships because I was so shy that the idea of going to a university in another city where I didn’t know anyone was a little scary to me.  So I stayed home and went to the community college where many of my other closest friends were going.

1972:  My First Election

In May, 1972, I graduated from Kimball High School in Dallas.  Three months later, I turned 18 and was eligible to vote for the first time.  That summer, George McGovern had been nominated by the Democrats to run against Nixon for President.  He had used the anti-war movement to get the nomination.  But when I watched his acceptance speech, live on TV, rather than praise the Americans who had protested the war– including the soldiers– he sucked up to the pro-war crowd.  I was appalled and angry at this utter betrayal of the people who supported him.  He lost my vote right there. 

The League of Women Voters used to send out a voting guide with information on all the candidates before an election.  There were socialists running.  Now I had somebody to vote for.  They were called the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).  They were against the war, anti-racist, pro-labor, pro women’s rights, and condemned the duplicity of the Democrats.  They got my vote.  To this day, I don’t vote for Democrats or Republicans.  I don’t play the lesser-evil game.  I only vote for candidates whose platform I support.  Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party candidate for President in 1920, said, “It’s better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you don’t want and get it.”  The lesser evil is still evil.

Not a Democrat, or Republican
    –from Misfit by Rob Roper 


I’ve worked jobs since I was eleven years old.  My first jobs were mowing neighbors’ yards for money.  After moving to Dallas, I got jobs delivering newspapers early in the morning.  My first on-the-books job was in the summer between my sophomore and junior years, when I was 15.  I worked as a lifeguard at a City of Dallas swimming pool.  Then, at some point in my junior or senior year of high school, I got a job at a Target store, unloading trucks.  Most of the money I made was stashed in a savings account.  Some went to buy a good stereo system and records.  Money well spent!

Vietnam and the Draft

At some point in 1973, I took a full-time job at the City of Dallas water department.  I was working second shift, 3-11pm.  I only had to work about 3 hours of the time, so I had time to do homework.  There was one other person working second shift with me, a Black man in his early 20’s named Charles.  Charles had been in Vietnam and told me stories of what it was like.  Lieutenants right out of West Point, clueless about the reality of Vietnam, making soldiers stand for inspection each morning in the jungle when there were snipers around– stupid and dangerous.  This lieutenant was “fragged”– killed by his own troops.  I learned later that the majority of US officers killed in Vietnam were fragged.  Charles told me that he once saw his sergeant shelling a Vietnamese farmer’s crops with mortars just for sadistic fun.  Charles aimed his M-16 at him and told him if he fired one more round he’d kill him.  Charles’ best friend was killed in battle right next to him.  Life was cheap, and it was largely random luck who lived and who died.  The Hmong people sold heroin to US soldiers.  This was allowed by the US military because the Hmong were pro-American and anti-communist, and the US had few friends among the Vietnamese they were supposedly protecting from communism.  Charles started using heroin after seeing his friend killed.  I think he had gotten off it by the time I met him.  Now he just smoked pot.  We would talk politics and music at work.  Charles turned me on to the legendary comedian Richard Prior.

When I turned 18 on August 31, 1972, I had to register for the draft.  At that time, they had gone to a lottery.  Birthdays were randomly picked.  I was worried about what I would do.  By 1972, even in conservative Dallas, Texas, most young people were against the Vietnam War.  There were only 3 choices if drafted:  go into the army, go to prison, or go to Canada.  They were all bad choices.  If I was too shy to go to a university in a nearby Texas town, I definitely couldn’t imagine going to Canada.  Going to prison was scary.  And I definitely didn’t want to join the army.  Oddly enough, it wasn’t the risk of being killed that scared me, I was terrified that I would have to kill people– people who I had nothing against.  But I never had to choose;  my birthday was a very high number in the lottery;  only the first 13 birthdays were chosen.  Nixon had been steadily withdrawing troops, due to pressure from the anti-war movement, and because the troops were rebelling and refusing to fight.  An agreement would be signed with North Vietnam in January, 1973, and the rest of the troops would be withdrawn.  Without US troops doing the fighting, the puppet South Vietnamese government would fall two years later.

Music in Dallas

Working full-time at the City of Dallas allowed me to move out from my parents and get my own apartment.  I loved being on my own.  My apartment was just north of downtown Dallas, where there was a great record store and several live music clubs.  What more do you need?  I lived near the now-legendary Mother Blues, now immortalized by Ray Wylie Hubbard in a song.  Check out this video of Ray performing the song, it’s funny.  I saw Ray perform there as well as a lot of other people.  And there were other live music venues in the area as well, although I’ve long forgotten their names.  I remember seeing Jimmy Buffett playing as an acoustic duo in a small bar near my apartment, before he became famous.  He was hiliarious.  It was just before his great album A1A was released, so I heard those songs first at that little bar.  When he played “Door #3”– a co-write with Steve Goodman, I thought I would die laughing.

Joining the Young Socialist Alliance

The 1972 League of Women Voters voting guide had listed the address of the SWP campaign office in Houston.  They had a youth group called the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA).  I wrote to them and asked to join.  In early 1973, I became a member.  Throughout 1973 and 1974 I read the newspapers of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), as well as a lot of books and pamplets.  I became aquainted with their brand of socialistm and Marxism.  The SWP and YSA were Trotskyist;  their origin was in the factional fight between Stalin and Trotsky after the Russian Revolution.  As you know, Stalin won that fight and Trotsky was exiled and eventually murdered by Stalin.  Trotsky and his followers said they supported socialism and democracy, which appealed to me.  There was no way I would have supported any anti-democratic or repressive form of socialism.  I was someone who liked to read different ideas, analyze them, and debate them.  I liked to think for myself and form my own opinions.  Still do.

The FBI Spies on Me

After I completed my second year of college in 1974, I took a break from college.  After 14 years of school, I was just tired of doing homework.  Later that year, the City of Dallas water department moved me to the graveyard shift, 10pm-6am, which included weekend nights.  That ruined my ability to go to the music clubs.  Nobody played on Monday and Tuesday nights, my nights off.  It also made it hard to have girlfriends.  Looking back on it, I wonder if that was done because of my politics.  Or maybe it was because I was trying to organize a union.  (In going through my old stuff, I found a union card from February 1974.  I don’t remember that.)  So maybe they were trying to get me to quit.  If so, they succeeded.

I found out later that the FBI was spying on me.  After the Watergate scandal which caused President Nixon to resign, Congress passed the Freedom of Information act.  Activists and journalists had previously exposed the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which showed that the FBI was spying on civil rights, antiwar and other groups engaged in peaceful, lawful political dissent.  I was curious what they had on me, so in 1980 I requested my files.  I found out that the FBI had interviewed my teachers at Mountain View Community College.  The FBI agent wrote, “ROPER has been characterized by his teachers as being intelligent and idealistic, but is a person who will, in most probability, re-evaluate his purpose in life and will establish himself as a useful member of society working within acceptable parameters.”  Obviously they were wrong lol.

Now the government’s unconstitutional spying is even bigger.  In 2013, an employee of the CIA, Edward Snowden, revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) was tapping into information from Google, Facebook and other internet companies, including cellphone data, to spy on not just activists, but all Americans.  Snowden had to flee the country, because he knew that he would be imprisoned and possibly executed for being a whistle-blower, but he believed that Americans had a right to know what their government was doing to them.  His autobiography, Permanent Record, is well worth reading.  I wrote a song about this, Metadata, which I plan to include on my new album.

We’re watching you.  Watching everything you do.
    –from Metadata by Rob Roper.  To be recorded and released on my new album.

In the next chapter, I move to Houston, attend the University of Houston, and become more active in the SWP/YSA. 

President McCain’s 1st Month in Office

On the foreign policy front…

One of President’s McCain’s first acts was to announce the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, where Prisoners of War were being held and tortured, contrary to the protections required by the Geneva Convention. Most of the prisoners had been quietly freed by President Bush over the past several years. President McCain is not freeing the remaining ones, but simply transferring them to other prisons in the U.S.

President McCain also announced with great fanfare that he had ordered US military and intelligence personnel to stop torturing prisoners. However, he stated that he would continue the nefarious practice of “rendition”, where prisoners are sent by US intelligence agencies to other countries where they can be tortured and the US can feign ignorance.

President McCain announced that he would continue the American occupation of Iraq, leaving as many as 50,000 US troops, and an unnamed number of mercenaries, to maintain US domination of the country. He did say, however, that he would reduce the number of direct US troops over the next 16 months in order to transfer them to Afghanistan in an attempt to shore up the US occupation of that country.

Regarding US support for Israel’s ongoing war against its indigenous population–the Palestinians–President McCain has sent his new Secretary of State to Palestine to meet with officials there. However, based on statements made during his campaign, there is reason to believe that that he will press Israel to end its violence and land grabs against the indigenous population, and comply with UN resolutions to resolve the conflict.

Prior to taking office, the new President announced that President Bush’s Secretary of Defense would continue in that post, and reached across the aisle to name Hilary Clinton–a strong supporter of President Bush’s Middle East policy while in the US Senate–as his Secretary of State. Thus President McCain’s continuance of Bush’s Mideast policies, with a few minor variations, should come as no surprise.

Moving onto the domestic front…

President McCain announced a new budget with a record deficit, following in the footsteps of President Bush. Although he said this is the worst economy since the Great Depression, there are no Roosevelt-style WPA jobs programs. Instead there are tax cuts a la Bush, and subsidies to companies in the tradition of trickle-down Reaganomics.

Of course the new President is continuing and even escalating the massive bank bailout program, which is no surprise, since he voted for it as a Senator just before the election. There is no talk of punishing those responsible for the meltdown, unless you consider limiting the bailout companies CEO’s salary to “only” $500,000 a form of punishment.

So far it appears that, as his opponent charged during the campaign, President McCain is just going to be “more of the same”.

The most noticable change, of course–and the one that has everybody talking–is that, after taking office, McCain appears much younger, and with a more tan complexion. Reporters have also noticed that his public speaking is noticably more elegant and refined, in the style of a Harvard graduate.

Rob Roper
March 1, 2009