Thursday, April 12, 2007

I realized that I have struck the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" from my speech.

"No one joins a cult. No one joins something they think is going to hurt them. You join a religious organization, you join a political movement, and you join with people that you really like."

- Deborah Layton Blakeley, who escaped Jonestown in June 1978

I watched "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple" the other day and it's really given me the heebie-jeebies, almost making me physically sick at times. I remember standing outside Saint Mary's Cathedral during George Moscone's funeral, but I remember nothing about Jonestown, which happened the same year. I think this is because at ten years old I didn't read newspapers or watch the news - and anyway I'm fairly certain that had I been a kid who watched the news my mother would have kept me from seeing the pictures from Jonestown.

Things I Didn't Know:

I didn't know that the Jonestowners knew what was in the Kool-Aid; I have always thought that most of them were tricked into drinking it. I didn't know that one person had questioned the plan for "revolutionary suicide." I didn't know that as many as eighty of the thousand people in Jonestown survived, most of them because they were not there that day. I thought only a few had lived through it by hiding under bunks or in the fields, like Jews in Nazi-occupied countries. I didn't know that elderly people went to Guyana because I didn't know that Peoples Temple had a lot of middle-aged and elderly members. I thought it was full of a bunch of young people from SF or new to SF, a city famous for seekers, who were sucked into Jones' church because they were looking for answers to their own questions and to social problems and he seemed to have answers for both.

I'm sure everyone made what seemed like (to them) rational decisions all along. It sounds like, though, that people's ability to think for themselves was usurped, through lack of sleep and through total involvement in Peoples Temple and Jim Jones' charisma. How do you know when you've allowed someone else to do all your thinking for you? If you can't think for yourself, how do you question it, especially if you are totally isolated by fear while surrounded by others who are equally isolated? How do you know when the leader is going crazy, when there's no one there to tell you so?

Every time the subject of Jonestown comes up my mother says that the butcher at Petrini's from whom she used to buy meat lost his daughter in Jonestown. When I was talking to her the other day about this documentary I'd just seen and about the Moscone/Milk murders, she said in a very sad voice still full of helplessness, "Jonestown was the last of the murders. That was a terrible, terrible time. A terrible time."

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