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.