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Sacramento; Cesar Chavez, Ronnie and the Dart Board, Willie the Pimp, and the 3 Italians

18 Mar

At the heels of Mario Savio’s “put your bodies upon the gears” address given at Sproul Hall, University of California, Berkeley, I was busily motoring to our state capital for slightly more mundane pursuits.     With my copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels: the Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs neatly tucked under my arm, I registered at Draper Hall and sought the nearest newspaper.  It turns out that Sac State had a lovely little publication called the Daily Nexus. Fitting.  As I got to know Sacramento the name changed to the Daily Nauseas and never changed back.

Having been a photographer in high school, it was a matter of formality to assign me the assistant photo-editors position and set me loose to run amok in the State Capital.  It wasn’t long before my position evolved to that of a staff reporter as well.  They sent me to cover and photograph semi (top only) naked lesbian feminists, rock and roll concerts, and most importantly politicians.  We interviewed then Governor Ronald Regan, sitting around lunch at the Capital at a table of about 12.  We have never been able to explain how one of my photographs ended up on the newspaper official dart board with the caption “Ronald Regan: Mad as Hell.  I must admit it wasn’t a very flattering photo.  To think, I would end up voting for him years later for president…

This was an atmosphere rampant with change.  The grape strike had been so successful up in Napa, Cesar Chaves moved through Sacramento on his way to the Salinas Valley to work on lettuce.  It was an “ace” reporters dream; working with him and his people organizing the picketing around Safeway’s, photographing the overturning of boxes of the illicitly picked foul vegetables and the fleeing protestors.  There were even threats of police brutality and other social abuses that whipped us up into a lathered frenzy.  No excuse was too trivial to march on the Capitol, and we thought of hundreds.  I actually remember several of us milling around the newspaper office one fine October Saturday morning discussing exactly what we wanted to protest, who we could convince to do it, and who was going to cover it.  Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  We thought we had all the power until some of the Hispanic protestors we were covering decided that they wanted more than to be covered, and decided to take over the newspaper.  Javier Tafoya and La Causa de la Raza stormed in and  caused such a stink about their rights and our whites that the paper totally lost focus and most of the staff just left rather than participate in the incessant bickering.   It was at that time that my enlightenment came as to the fact that “white” people were not the only people capable of racism. That was a disturbing, but sobering,  thought.

I was eventually given a press pass to the State Assembly floor.  It was cool to be able to come and go as I pleased, ducking behind the benches and looking oh so important while taking photographs of then Speaker of the Assembly Willie “the pimp” Brown.  Willie didn’t ever actually traffic in “dating services” to my knowledge, but his dapper attire ever accentuated by his fine Borcelino hat earned him the moniker none the less.

There were, at the time, three Italians running for the office of mayor of San Francisco, an office Willie the pimp would himself occupy in ensuing years.  Bob Moretti, George Moscone, and Joseph Alioto had all thrown their hats in the ring for the position, and after interviewing Moretti and Moscone, I                                                                was more impressed with George.  If it hadn’t been for those damn Twinkies he might still be with us.  Alas, I was quick to volunteer in his camp offering whatever meager services that might be of help to the campaign.  There were phone calls to be made, dinners and other events to photograph, copy to write, etc.  Having survived the depressing occurrences at the end of the Chavez protests, my liberal zeal was again being fanned into the flames of pure self-righteous immortality until, as providence would have it,  I finally had my chance to interview Joe Alioto.   I had my half hour of patty-cake question and answer and was note-taking diligently when my eyes happened to drift past the eminent attorney to a photograph on his wall.  It was in top center position, and very hard to miss:  Mr. Alioto, Mr. Moretti, and Mr. Moscone.  They were arm-in-arm in a very very friendly embrace – three Pisano’s supposedly in a heated race now bosom buddies!?!  I was crushed.  All my hard work had been for nothing.  Moretti and Moscone mysteriously dropped out of the race a week later and the Alioto legacy was furthered.  Oh he took care of his buddies after he was elected, all right, but for me the luster had forever gone from the political apple.

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