When I first wrote this, some people who read it thought it was aubiographical. I could maybe wish it was. This much I have in common with Sara: a cool father who used to work on the railroad and has said and done things very much like these, and those dogs. Otherwise, Sara and I are very different. Sara's better.

Nobody ever called me a yardbird either, but I did wear those Army surplus shirts!


        Sara's up on the hill digging terraces. Below, the curving lines of tract houses and the highway: above, the cow pasture. Ste's ten, she's barefoot and yellow from the sun, yellow as the sandstone of the hillside and yellow as the long grass. The dogs have come along. They follow her everywhere, though they have business of their own. The old one, an industrial dog, sniffs out the scent ‘of the trucks on the highway. The young recidivist dog digs up gophers and swallows them whole, but only because he has at last been convinced of the consequences of going after Pedersen's dairy cows.
      Sara's terraces are a whole world. They have a history, a folklore, a biology. She worries about ideology -- in books the fairy stories always happen in kingdoms. She wants to have the dragons from the books and her father's socialism too.
      Now her father is at the door of their flat-roofed house gesturing with his hands, moving them up and behind his shoulders with the thumbs out. This is railroader sign language, one of the many private ways he has of communicating. He picks up catch phrases from everywhere: bits of other languages, argot from tbe railroad yard and the jazz clubs and the Party. He's telling her it's time to go. Today they're going to the railroad yard to pick up his pay.
      The dogs race her down tbe hill and beat her across the street as she slides down on her bottom, holding the spade high before her. She climbs up and slithers into the pickup truck, older than she is and beginning to seem more massive and rounder than vehicles are supposed to. This is when the fins have begun to disappear from the cars on the road. The cab of the truck smells of rust and decayed rubber, for Sara pleasant smells because they go with the clashing of metal pulling metal along the roadbed and the lurch around the mysterious hillsides.     
Sara's father takes them on the freeway part of the way. Sara rides in tense wonder as they go on and on and nothing is revealed. When the old truck coasts down the exit ramp it is as if the question of life is answered. The hills still loom almost featureless but around the back of them small surprises lie waiting to become knowledge. Such things as an old barn with a Bull Durham sign painted on it, a sudden green place, a cottage surrounded by tall juicy trees and bright grass, with a horseshoe driveway and roses or even snapdragons, a fence of prickly pears. A quonset hut, a half-cylinder of metal from which emanates the unbearable sound of wire being drawn out. An oil refinery with its eccentric buildings ana tiny ladders, among them the "cat-cracker" that pours out bright flames when you drive by it at night.
      The railroad yard is in Port Costa, a foreign country of docks and factories. It smells like Saa's father's work clothes, like oil and heated steel. The railroad men move around the yard slowly, deliberately, without anxiety: they've got their railroad watches in their pockets, accurate to the second, to take care of the time, along with the timetable in the dispatchers office. The cars roll back and forth, coupling and uncoupling with squeaks and squweaks and noises like small explosions.
      For Sara the yard is a magical place she alone of all children has been allowed to visit. At time it is as if because she has seen this place, she has special knowledge and competence. She has something to say about it, as if she herself brings forth the wonderful produce of the railroad yard, as if she herself can pull the heavy pin that holds the cars, and run as fast as the train like the brakmen do, guide the long train like the engineers do.
      Her father is at the pay window getting his money. At first Sara stands behind his elbow, then she moves around the yellow room. The men that pass greet her father: "Hey, John. 'Lo, John."
They all know him because he has been working for the local board, filling in for the griever, the man who collects the union dues and represents the men when they go to the company for their rights. Sara's father isn't a pushy man, but an opinionated one. If he never opened his mouth they'd still know he was a Red.
      "John," a man says softly so Sara can just hear him, "A man was around the yard yesterday asking about you. A G-man." He smiles. Or snarls. "Nobody spoke to him that I know of but I thought you should know."
      Sara' s father laughs. The agents have been around before.
      "This your daughter, then. She's gotten bigger."' Sara's seen this man before, at the union lodge, a narrow room upstairs in a shabby block in Oakland. She mostly remembers the office for the wheeled chairs and the cups of paper clips and rubber bands, and the ornate framed paper on the wail, saving "Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen." The man is older than her father and totally pink except for his clothes which are denim, black from the yard.
      "Yep. that's my girl, the yardbird," Sara's father says, because she is wearing an Army surplus shirt and worn green jeans.
      As the truck lurches back towards home Sara tries to read the words in the little stiff blue rule books her father keeps in the glove compartrnent. They are shaped differently from other books, narrow enough for a jeans pocket. The words are so strange and the type is so small that Sara can't make headway against the motion of the truck. Her father is singing in a voice pitched high and tight, a silly song:
      "Three's for the Comintern, and two's for the opposites interpenetrating, oh! And one's for the workers unity that ever more shall be, oh"
      This is just a silly song called "Red Fly the Banners" and it's a parody, but Sara takes it very seriously and adds up Marx and Engels and Lenin to get the Four Great Teachers in the next verse, but she can't decide if the fourth is supposed to be Maxim Gorky or Berthold Brecht.
      "Daddy. " she asks suddenly, remembering the thing she was thinking about in the morning when she was leafing through the books and the museum souvenir folios in the bookshelf, "why is it that in my class at school almost all the kids who draw real well or write stories are girls and with grownups it's almost only men who write books and make pictures?"
      Her father doesn't pause. "Because in capitalism men control thee economic system and they tend to keep women out of work that gets paid for or valued in any way. But you can write or draw or whatever you want, anyway, many women do."
Sara has never thought before that people would get paid for writing or drawing. Where do they get paid? At a window, like the railroad yard. or a place like the unemployment office where she has stood long hours with her mother?
      "I m writing a book," she says. "There's a king in it but he's a good king and he's going to quit being a king and join the Soviet of People and Magical Beings."
      "Really?" her father says. "He'll just retire, like that? It would be nice if the bourgeoisie would step down in our country. Usually it takes some struggle.

     This year Sara and her friends have been creating a sparkling infrastructure of the new order. This is the new order that is supposed to transcend order, at least coercive order, and to put behind them the need for armed struggle. She's up to her nose in meetings: defense committees arising from confrontations with the police, schemes to provide health care and school lunches for the children of Oakland tenants' committees, the food conspirncy. Crates of golden melons seem highly significiant when they cost half what they do in the stores and the labor of distribution is provided by willing hands. There always seems to be plenty of extras and she and her friends hand them around the neighborhood.
Many of Sara's friends grew up in quite privileged homes out they seem willing to relinquish those privileges here in the Berkeley Flats where these students live crowded into tiny stucco housses up against the houses of poor families. Here and now it seems to Sara as if some kind of unity is developing. It seems to Sara she can see so clearly and so far, and she knows this is only because the moment is clear: but after this moment? Surely the clarity will seep into the future, at least a little bit. You can't go truly backwards. The world was never the same after the English factory children marched through their dirty streets chanting and singing for shorter working hours for themselves and the right to read books.
     Sara's thinking of these spontaneous movements because of a letter her father has written to the Alameda County Central Labor Council about the war in Viet Nam. He told them, "the kids are right, but we've got the muscle. why don't we back them up?" Her father admitted bitterly it would probably never be read in a meeting, but just filed away. Sara doesn't think much of letters anyway. She thinks of Catalonia in 1936, the red and black flags flying from the taxicabs. Her father says successful revolutions are defeated by becoming institutionalized. She says revolutions don't have to become institutionalized. He says freedom only exists in the wide-open times that sway wildly between decadence and revolution. Sara says her generation has learned the lessons of his though she knows few of her friends are aware of his generation having done anything but execute the Rosenberqs.
      Sara's father visits her on the weekend with a bag of groceries. They go the the cafe "Mediterraneum" and argue heatedly. Sara has been reading the classics of theory but she quotes Mao on "practice" which she says is food conspiracies and seizing the street. He dismisses every form of organization he has ever participated in but says you can't underestimate theory. She has been collecting signatures to out a new Party on the California ballot, called the Peace and Freedom Party, which Sara says will function within the State in order to dismantle it. He laughs, recalling a slogan, "to learn the tools of the fascists and use them against them," but he not only signs a petition but he takes one and carries it around to his friends. Still arguing, they carry the old folding spade to People's Park to plant trees.
     This time a new world does seen to be coming from the ashes, or at least the vacant lots, of the old. Sara helps to lay paving stones for a path, and her father pushes tiny flowering shrubs around in a wheelbarrow. The air echoes with celebratory greetings. The rutted dirt takes on form and a covering of bright grass. At the end of the day Sara and her father take up where they have left off in their argument. He goes so far as to comment on the florid clothes Sara and her friends wear, calling it cultural terrorism to dress this way when you hope to organize the community.
     The people of Peoples' Park have no such things as the right of condemnation or eminent domain. When the University reclaims the flowered ground to use it as a parking lot, the National Guard rings the block with rifles to protect this property from unauthorized use. Sara goes down to the new steel fence erected to keep her off the grass she planted and she weaves florist's daisies into the mesh. For weeks the lines of youth in bright costume and youth in uniform face each other through the steel. On the day in May when the lines are broken, the police have thrown up barricades and Sara's father can't get near the action. When the tear gas cannisters start flying, she is standing next to people she's never seen before.


     Early in the morning the driest hills have enough dew on them to make the grass as wet as rain. Here's an old school bus painted over from its broad back to its round nose with bright colors -- a scene of sea life and a sprawling tree and the words "Earth, Love Her or Lose Her." It's taking Sara and her father to Vandenberg Air Force Base so they can block traffic.
     The driver of the bus laughs out loud as he swings the door lever. He is a gnome with hair that reaches down below his seat. On his black cap is a red pin with a black A in a circle. He gives the passengers a thumbs-up gesture with both hands that Sara remembers is a railroader sign for "Take it Easy." Sara wonders how she'll do that in the long time before the work of the day. She didn't sleep well last night in the painted tipi erected by her father's affinity group at the encampment and she couldn't eat the breakfast cooked before dawn by celebrating volunteers from grains and fruit donated by local farmers and shopkeepers.
     Sara has come with a group of mostly gray haired churchy people who live in the small town she moved to after colleg.e Because of her and her father the two groups have "clustered," joined together, for this action. Her father's group is dedicated to a kind of revisionist paganism, but the two groups get along fine. Sara has plenty of time to write long documentary letters while her group prays and her father's group chants to the Earth Goddess. But somehow, the pages are mostly blank. She has folded them up in her pockets, hoping to fill them up in odd moments during the blockade and sitting in jail.
Sara takes a seat near the back. over the bump of the wheel casing. Her father ducks his head coming up the steps and gives a little skip c6ming down the aisle. He has his "Civil Disobedience Is Civil Defense" t-shirt on over his warm clothes and there are two tiny braids in his beard, and a miniature double-headed axe hanging from his ear supposed to represent the legacy of some mythical peaceful matriarchy of the misty past. The first demonstration Sara can remember was a march to the Ferry Building in San Francisco over integration: her father had worn a jacket and tie, and she had walked all that way in a starchy dress and maryjanes. Today Sara has on several shirts and long socks, but she is just wearing the same thing she would wear to work. The bus lurches and people chat, brushing away the cold and the tension.
     At the intersection the two groups confer quickly under a eucalyptus windbreak across from the gate. The cluster forms a squatting circle and individuals speak in a voice pitched barely 1oud enough to carry, projecting a Calm and cheerfulness Sara doesn't feel and doesn't believe in. People use a special language here with a vocabulary Sara has to work to understand. They couch their proposals in the passive -
     "I want to put out that the principles of jail solidarity were consensed to in the spokes' meeting last night, " says the "spokes" from her father's group. This meeting has officers not elected but self selected: this "spokes," one of the representatives to last night's big meeting, the two "cofacilitators" and a "vibes watcher" whose job it is to make sure no tension is expressed in the meeting and that there are no harsh words used and no appearance of unfairness. Sara has had an ongoing discomfort about this person who never likes the words Sara uses to express herself. Now Sara's wondering whether the "smokes" wished merely report, or to propose that the group here adopt the same consensuss? Nor can she tell right away from the replies how the others took it.
     "We are cooperators." says a member of Sara's group, meaning they will not go limp when arrested and will not withold their names when they are booked. One other, a mild looking woman of seventy with a very small voice says, "I will not cooperate."
     Faced with this surprise, the group does a tally. There are three noncooperators in the group and several who will "cite out' that is, accept the first offer to leave jail. Then the vibes watcher decides that enough time has been spent on the logistics and principles of the day and says "I want to put out that strokes ought to be given to John and his daughter Sara for celebrating her birthday here today."
There's a cheer and a lot of finger wiggling, which people do instead of clapping. Sara says, "What I think is really courageous is Denise sitting here with us while her daughter is over with the children's group. Stella is twelve and she's going to sit down in the middle of the intor~ section." Denise is wan but she smiles through the cheer. Sara's already heard her talk about how she decided with her daughter that she could do this thing in the face of the threats to their family. Word has spread that children who participate may be taken from their families and given to foster homes. Denise said she has a sense that her daughter needs to make those decisions for herself -- in El Salvador children are fighting a war: and finally, it is Stella's future that this is all about anyway.
      The time moves so slowly: it took months to decide on this action, weeks to plan it, days to sit around and talk in the encampment. Now there will be hours of waiting for their turn and minutes to be arrested and hauled from the street. In the crowd around the intersection Sara feels her breath pulled out in a great cloud with the breath of two thousand others. Across the intersection the giant truck sits as if beached or derailed, waiting for the intersection to clear or for new orders to be given. It's the biggest truck Sara's ever seen, and the huge flatbed trailer is loaded with great steel forms, small parts of the missile being built here. Sara knows she shouldn't be, but she is surprised by the Westinghouse logo she can see see on the cargo: Westinghouse, manufacturer of small home appliances.
     In the thick crowd, small knots of people are singing different songs: off to her left she can hear a song about the small nation which has been forcibly removed from its coral island home so that these missiles can be shot there, a thousand miles across the Pacific from where Sara stands. She heard the song for the first time last night, and she is glad to hear the tune again.
     Her group is going out into the street behind the green line painted by the authorities. This means that when they are arrested it will be by the military police: other people are blocking the intersection in other places and will be under the jurisdiction of the Highway Patrol or the County Sheriffs. It comes closer to their turn. They form up into lines: holding hands. Sara is beginning to feel the dread now, the dread that you always feel however much you desire the risk. The chain she is in is just long enough to fill the street, one of several waiting to go across one after the other. She hardly hears it when the word flies back to her: "Here we go!" but she feels it in her stomach.
     They're standing across the street with their arms locked. They've decided to sing ‘We Shall Not Be Moved," an old song everybody knows, for its beauty and not its sense, since they do intend to move when they are arrested. When the M.P.s neither immediately arrest them nor let them be but begin pushing them with sticks, trying to force them over the green line, Sara knows she is frightened, but she sings on, not missing a note: this might sound brave when I tell it, she thinks, but really there's nothing else to do. The pushing stops and the M.P.s begin coming for the singers, one at a time. When they lay their hands on Sara she knows they are under orders to be gentle, but they don't seem to know what gentle is.
     After a speedy reading of the rights and a formal frisking that only means to give them the feeling of really being under arrest, they are allowed to board the bus. The people already on the bus cheer and clap for every new arrival. There is laughing and animated conversation. Sara is shaking, she's much tireder than she thought she'd be. The person next to her is passing around Lifesavers, some flavor she's never tasted and can't identify now. There's her father, and behind him, a young woman with almost no hair at all, who dances in the narrow aisle.
     One of the MPs comes aboard the bus with a dog on a short leash. He's more nervous than the prisoners are. His voice trembles.He warns them if they don't cooperate he will be glad of the opportunity to show them what he means. Sara's father is sitting toward the front of the bus, quite still, with an amiable smile. Everyone is silent for a few minutes after the nervous M. P. and his lean dog are gone. Sara's father turns around right away and gives her the high sign, which she returns. The bus leans around the corners of the base roads, and the passengers resume their chatting and laughing and sing a couple of snatches of songs. Sara is surprised at how the base looks: like a college campus, only with more open space. Just beyond those hills are vast fields devoted to growing flowers for seed.
     The prisoners are kept in a schoolroom. All the chairs and desks have been removed: they have only their clothes and each other for comfort. The blackboard has some quotes about the psychology of personnel management left on it from an officer's training class. There is a piece of chalk and the shorthaired woman, who has more energy than a human being needs, jumps up and erases the class stuff, replacing it with statistics about the nuclear arms race, the profits of the companies who are building the missile, the lives of the small nation in the Pacific Ocean whose homeland has been turned into a target range. Then the chalk is passed around and others write statements about their unity of nurpose, at first in large letters, later in smaller letters as they come to realize how very much they have to say for themselves. The Federal Marshalls took all of Sara's things before she was finger-printed, so Sara can't write on her paper. The chalk comes to her hand and she can't think of any new reason why she is here exceot that it is her birthday. When she says this, some people cheer and wiggle their fingers at her -- they think it is a sufficient reason to be here too.
     Sara's head begins to hurt. She curls up on the floor next to her father. The others are having another meeting. Somehow gossip is flying from room to room and the behavior of the judges who have been flown in to try them is getting back to the prisoners. They are deciding that the judges are behaving unfairly to people who have been arrested before. The group is going to protest this by refusing to cooperate with the trials until equal treatment is guaranteed for everybody here. Sara doesn't have to be back to work for two weeks: she decides to stay with the others. Her father is going to stay too. Meeting with the lawyers who have volunteered their time is quick and painless: making the statement before the tired, pale judge takes only a minute: but thete are these hours of waiting again. And then they are returned again to the empty classroom.
     Early in the morning, before dawn breaks, they are finally led to new busses that will take them to Los Angeles to sit in jail until something is resolved. Now they are dividing the men from the women because they will go to different jails. They are going in separate buses to their separate jails. Just before they are split up, Sara embraces her father.
     "See you later, yardbird," her father says. The lack of sleep doesn't show in his smile.
      "See you later, yardbird," she says to him.
     The night is bright with the lights of the air force base dissipated in the fog, and the sidewalk where she stands waiting for the bus smells of oil and heated steel.