Monday, November 17, 2008

Thirty years after Jonestown

Tomorrow is the 30-year anniversary of the Jonestown mass-suicide in Guyana performed by the Peoples Temple. Yesterday on the way to school I had biked by a gas stations to get a soda and saw a story about it on the front of the newspaper. When I got to my studio I started doing some research on it and was shocked at how I had never heard of the incident, having half of my family from Indianapolis (where cult leader, Reverend Jim Jones, began his congregation) and having moved to San Francisco 2 months ago (where the Peoples Temple flourished in the early 70's before exiling to their compound in Guyana). I wound up reading articles and watching clips on Youtube for 3 hours and then watched a full-length documentary.
The story is intense/confusing/non-linear/climactic as perhaps expected, but something about it continues to feel unsettling. I think that it's that I could imagine myself getting on board with Peoples Temple if given the choice-- everything they were about was progressive and noble (a multi-racial congregation of activists committed to anti-racism, positive self-esteem, local agriculture and sustainability, community, socialized medicine providing for the poor, elderly and sick...). It's also just so sad to me that people were so unhappy and economically/socially desperate that they had to look outside of themselves, their family and community for acceptance and support. The story is troubling to me too because the congregation felt persecuted in Indiana, moved to California, and then to Guyana, and I want for their utopian vision to have been realized... but here's how it ended:
On November 17th, a congressman had flown to Guyana with a camera crew to check in on the community to make sure everything was consensual at the request of concerned family members in the US. On November 18th, 1978, the congressman escorted a handful of Peoples Temple followers who wanted to go home to an airport, many of which were attacked by gunfire as they boarded the plane. Around the same time, Jim Jones urged the habitants of Jonestown to prove their loyalty to him and their cause. Over 900 people drank cyanide-laced flavor-aide and perished in the jungles of Guyana as a revolutionary act against the CIA and the rest of the world. Tomorrow a memorial is taking place in Oakland, because many of the annonymous bodies, unclaimed by their families who were afraid of the stigma of being associated with Peoples Temple, were buried there. In fact, the reason why they are buried in Oaland is because no other cemetary in Marin or San Francisco would accept them.
Honestly, you should just check it out yourself. Here's a link to the PBS documentary, which you can watch for free online:

The 30th Annual Anniversary Jonestown Memorial Service

"Remembering to Love and Honor the
Sacred Life of 305 Children and the 919 Lives Lost At Jonestown".
Oakland, CA November 18, 2008 @ 11:00 a.m.

Evergreen Cemetery
6450 Camden Street
Oakland, CA 94605

1 comment:

George said...

trippe's talking about Jonestown on start some blog on blog dialogue.