Last January, a popular article in the New York Times spotlighted civil rights and peace activists who in 1971 stole papers from an FBI office and began a years-long expose on J. Edgar Hoover’s counterintelligence program. A year later, I’m still wondering how parents of three young children found the time to burglarize the FBI.
Of course I wonder at what our country might have become had activists not checked the FBI’s power. I wonder if we’d be even more systematically watched and controlled by unaccountable agencies. Hoover was after dissidents, after all. Eager to silence college students and activists, his FBI threatened to expose Martin Luther King, Jr.’s extramarital affairs unless he committed suicide. They drugged and arranged for police to murder Black Panther Fred Hampton.
The papers stolen in 1971 and the Freedom of Information Act that followed make Hoover look like the 17th c. Cardinal Richelieu whose spies patrolled Paris, punishing criticism of king or country. In the 1960’s and 70’s U.S., history was repeating itself as Hoover targeted Martin Luther King, Jr.’s potential not unlike his predecessor Richelieu opposed (MLK’s namesake) Martin Luther’s legacy.
The burglarizing activists helped pull the U.S. a little further from absolute monarchy and a little closer to democracy. Still, I’m most struck by John and Bonnie Raines because they did so while raising a family. A mother to two young girls, I marvel daily at my daughters’ charm, creativity, and wit. I am absolutely infatuated with and delighted by my children. I’m also dizzied by the demands and pace of a young family.
Today at least I’m balancing a full-time career and full-time motherhood, but I worry that the center will not hold. I make all of our meals from whole, minimally processed foods, which is of course all kinds of good and lovely. But it’s difficult to embrace the slow food movement after work as the five-year-old in her best falsetto laments, “I’m so hungry I can’t stand it!” and the three-year-old falls asleep on the floor at my feet. It’s hard not to step on one child while hopping to for another, let alone mindfully prepare a meal.
I can barely make dinner. How, how, did John and Bonnie Raines case an FBI office? Like me, John Raines taught at a university. Like me, Bonnie Raines cared for her family. But unlike me, they channeled the likes of Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. and planned revolutionary acts around their children’s bedtime.
After my children’s bedtime, I go to bed. Well, after that and after planning breakfast and prepping lunches for the next day and sweeping the floor and cleaning the potty while thinking through my academic responsibilities at hand, I go to bed. Because at the end of the day I’m utterly, achingly exhausted.
Still, it’s a good kind of tired: I work hard at home and on campus to encourage the people around me to think and act well. I begin and end my days feeling rewarded, not punished. John and Bonnie Raines, however, knew that their actions were punishable. Maybe not by the inquisition but certainly by a vindictive and, at the time, almost absolutely ruling Hoover. But they believed in freedom and country enough to arrange care for their children should they be caught and imprisoned.
There are certainly causes that I speak and act on. But to follow through with an act that might remove me from my children is next level. For all my leftist feminist-ing, I’m just talking and typing. John and Bonnie Raines joined the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the F.B.I. and then did so. They’ve my appreciation and my admiration, too.
So in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, here’s to those who serve our country. In our armed services and in holding our government accountable to serving the people.