Barry Vogel Interviews Richard Johnson — Part 1

Radio Curious
Transcribed by Dave Smith
Parts 1|2|3|4
[Full Interview on MP3 available for download here]

A Revolutionary’s Memorial In His Own Words

Welcome to Radio Curious. I’m Barry Vogel.

Few people in Mendocino County who are not elected officials have created as much enmity and as many disruptive relationships as has Richard W. Johnson, Jr., who since 1984 has been the owner, editor, and publisher of four local newspapers under the banner of Mendocino Country.

Richard Johnson died March 16, 2011, at age 66.

This interview, intended as a tribute to his life, was originally broadcast February 19th, 2008, and he claims, among many other things, to be the original organizer of California’s Certified Organic Farmers; the recipient of The Walking Stick Award from the Mendocino Environmental Center in 1992 for promoting ocean sanctuary off the Mendocino Coast; and was the original proponent of Measure G on the 2000 ballot.

When I invited Richard Johnson to visit Radio Curious, he said he would like to discuss the amazing but little understood and seldom appreciated Richard Johnson… his life and times.

We touched on those and a few other topics in this conversation, recorded in the studios of Radio Curious, February 19th, 2008, and began when I asked him some of the areas where he would like to be better understood.

Barry: Well Richard Johnson, welcome to Radio Curious.

Richard: Thanks, Barry, for inviting me to be on your radio program.

B: When we were extending an invitation to be here, you wrote back about how you feel a little misunderstood and seldom appreciated.

R: …and amazing.

B: Let’s talk about being a little misunderstood. What are some of the areas about what you would like to be better understood.

R: I think, Barry, as an intelligent person, a well educated person,  you are familiar with the dynamic around here… people around here have generally lower level of education than we do and so they can’t always appreciate the amazingness of things that we do. So, that is the way I feel that people don’t appreciate what I do and what I’m able to do and what I have done when you look back over the years. I’ve been here over 25 years and have done a lot of amazing things and I’m still doing them.

B: What would you consider the top three in the quarter century that you’ve been here?

R: I started the California Certified Organic Farmers here back about twenty years ago. I was hired as a community organizer, self-funded. I publish four newspapers, one of which is in Spanish called El Sol… and the others are Mendocino Country Independent, which is a political paper, Mendocino Country Confluence, which is the county’s only health paper; and Mendocino Country Diversity, which is a Mendocino County art and entertainment guide.

Now, in this day and age, very few people own newspapers: a handful of corporate chains own them. In this county, for example, there are five local newspapers which are owned by the same corporation.

B: As a community activist, as a journalist, as a newspaper owner, editor, publisher, it would seem to me that you have certain specific goals, social ideals you would like to advance.

R: Yeah, I’m a radical, I’m looking for revolution… I moved here to make revolution.

B: What are you revolting against?

R: Complacency, standardization, the democrat party, American nationalism, war, capitalism…

B: How would society be after Richard Johnson’s revolution? Can you describe a typical day for us here in Mendocino County?

R: (laughing) I think a lot of people in Mendocino County are already enjoying post-revolution life in that they don’t have a job where they have to take bullpoop from stupid employers… they design their own lives around their own enjoyment, and they own property and have resources and gardens… occupations that challenge their intellect, and they’re living fulfilled lives, and that’s how we all should be.

But as you know, men live lives of quiet desperation… that’s a quote from some English author. American life as well as normal Mendocino County people, go from day-to-day in desperation, looking for meaning in life, and also looking for the next dollar to pay the rent or keep the gas from being turned off. This is not life, this is a kind of slavery.

So when you ask about revolution, what I’m saying is that everybody has the right to enjoy a fulfilling life, and that means freedom from economic work… it means spiritual freedom, and the freedom to enjoy substances if they want to without harming other people. And rules and laws of capitalist society in general prevent us from doing that. So that’s what I’m looking for.

B: Well I hear you describing two groups: one that is fortunate enough to own their own land, set up their lives to work how and when they wish, in areas where they wish… and other people who can’t quite do that. To whom are you directing your revolution?

R: Oh, anybody that’ll listen. I’m not discriminating! But I publish newspapers and I aim my newspapers at the constituencies that I think will receive what I have to say. And I have a website too: I want everybody to look at it because I put news on it every day.

B: Are you the exclusive writer for your papers?

R: No.

B: Who writes?

R. I steal a lot of stuff from the internet. For example, the latest issue has an article about how the Lakota have declared independence in the mid-west, and those articles were written by other people and I just took them off the internet. I also solicit articles from other people, local writers.

B: Richard, you still haven’t said how you implement a revolution… a Richard Johnson revolution.

R: Well, it’s probably going to happen after I’m gone… but I would say that one place to start would be to elect environmental supervisors. That’s one thing we haven’t been able to do since Dan Hamburg was a supervisor fifteen, twenty years ago, whenever that was. And he was the last environmentalist that was elected. Between now and then we have been electing liberals… people who have said they would do good by the environment, and they get in office and they vote one way one day, and the other way the next. You can go down the list of all the issues here in Mendocino County: Masonite to Cold Creek Compost plant, back into history with offshore oil drilling, the grading ordinance. The liberals joined the Democrats on the board, joined the Republicans and the Libertarians, and killed it. The basic reason was that the environmentalists refused to make them responsible for their votes and we have failed to get electoral power.

(To be continued…)
Parts 1|2|3|4


Another significant passing in the ranks of the old guard. He was one of those interesting folks unique to this area, not afraid to speak his mind, and often so far ahead of the curve he seemed a little crazy. In the great tradition of the venerable Mendocino Grapevine, his publications filled a need, and will be missed.

RIP, Richard.

I will greatly miss Richard. His intensity always looked warm to me regardless of whether I agreed with him (or he allowed me to agree with him). I attempted to visit him shortly before his death but had bad directions and had to give up and head home to Boonville. Of all the things that I know him to have done, I admire most his work on Measure G. Hardly anyone remembers Measure G, but it stands out as a shinning example of organized resistance to oppression (oppressive prohibition in this case) in cooperation with the cooperation and resect of key government officials (District Attorney Vroman and Sheriff Craver) that demonstrated an overwhelming rejection of the drug war and the misery it promotes.

My suggestion for his tombstone “He enjoyed being a human lightning rod.”

Lest we end up with more sympathy for Richard (I don’t think Richard liked being the focus of sympathy) than for ourselves, let us imagine that he has gone on to a new adventure with the entire Universe to play in.