Marc Lowe Interviews Debra Di Blasi CB Smith BIO Mike Palecek BIO
An Interview with Mike Palecek

By C.B. Smith

CBS: The reader, if you are an unknown quantity to him, has now gained instant awareness of you with the publication of Terror Nation. And with this newfound awareness the pressing question: Who are you and why do you write?

MP: I don't see any newfound awareness of my work out there, but I remain forever hopeful, so I’ll not argue.

Who am I?

Well, I want to begin the answer with aw-shucks, but that doesn’t get us anywhere. I’m a guy from the Middle West who is sick of the Middle West, but pretty sure things wouldn’t be so different anywhere else. I'm sick of the phony religion on every corner, and I’m sick of how when we bomb people in other countries we still get our mail on time, and I’m sick of how our green grass does not turn a sticky red when children in other countries die. I’m sick of us being so stupid. I’m sick of being around stupid people who think, aw you get the idea. That’s enough about that from me, I suppose.

Why do I write? That’s a pretty deep question. There are 365 different answers to that question. Today’s answer is that it makes me feel better. It makes me feel like I’m doing something. I’m practicing “my craft,” what I was meant to do. I think it’s always been in me. It’s being true to myself, that kind of stuff.

CBS: I’m in total agreement with your stance on the death of children. That such atrocities continue unabated in this so called modern and “civilized” world is nothing short of astounding. Children of any age dying for any reason is unconscionable, yet I am all too aware that one does not need to look beyond our shores to find the same issues and marginalization of children’s lives and rights, on the very streets, towns and cities where we live. When did you realize that this passion of activist writing was something you wished to pursue as an occupation or more specifically what particular event if any spurred you on or forced your hand?

MP: I wrote a string of e’s on a piece of paper when I was a kid. I remember looking up at my mother and saying, “I’m writing!” And I wrote a poem for an English assignment in high school and the teacher printed it in the school paper, much to my embarrassment. And then I wrote a letter to the editor later as a member of the baseball team congratulating a nearby town on winning the district championship.

In college I took some journalism courses, sports reporter, took all they had, there was no major.

Well, that was the mid-70s. Progress to 1989. I had just been released from six months in the county jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I had “gone crazy” that last time in jail, took Xanax three times a day to get through that. The federal judge had offered to send me to the federal prison in Springfield, Missouri. He let me choose to stay nearby. I was already in bad shape at court time. Well, anyway, that was the first time I had been in jail with a child at home. Sam was two, I think. So, it was a hard time. The volunteer psychiatrist from the peace movement said I had post-traumatic stress syndrome, maybe from earlier jail time. So when I got out that time, we left the resistance community in Omaha and moved into our own apartment. I started working construction. I remember it was a hot Nebraska morning and I was knee-deep in mud — concrete — puddling — smoothing it around. And I stopped, stood up straight and remembered my journalism classes and thought to myself, maybe I can write.

I guess that was it.

CBS: So being knee deep in mud on a hot, maybe blistering, Nebraska morning, thinking in effect “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore,” was perhaps not the only, but at least the most pressing motivational factor of the moment that essentially “forced your hand.” I suppose now would be the apropos time, as well as the respectful time to inquire, what was the jail-time bit about, and if it involved fighting one battle in an ongoing war, did that event bring you some sense of pyrrhic victory in the fight, or did it just go down as an unfortunate and terrifying event that you now feel would be best to steer a wide berth away from?

MP: Yes, I think I was trying to come up with some way to not have to puddle mud the rest of my life.

During the 1980s I served five jail terms for civil disobedience at Offutt Air Force Base, just south of Omaha. The common way for us to get arrested was to walk across a white line. Many people crossed in those days, some still do. I did 10 days, 30 days, 50 days, six months, six months.

Offutt is the home of the Strategic Air Command, or now USSTRATCOM, really the command and control center of the U.S. nuclear force, and now these days, perhaps much more. I think their role has expanded.

Terrifying event[s], yes, but not unfortunate. I’m very glad to have done it. I remember once walking through the concourse at O’Hare airport in Chicago with two U.S. marshals flanking me. I was being transferred from the county jail in Omaha to the federal prison in downtown Chicago [MCC]. They asked if I wanted to carry a shoebox with my belongings and I said, no thanks, I’m proud of this, let everyone see my handcuffs. So, I’m still very proud of my handcuffs.

CBS: I stand refuted on the word choice of unfortunate. What form did the civil disobedience take and what was its objective, or maybe you're just paying homage to Thoreau in some offhand way: One doesn’t have to physically fight the government, but one must not support it or have it support one (if one is against it)?

MP: As I mentioned, we would step over a white line marking base property. And so we were trespassing. They would take you onto the base, to a building and down stairs, past a staff that we became very familiar with, got to know their names, they knew us. You get processed, sent home, then about three months later you get visited by a U.S. marshal with a summons to court. Then the nightmare begins.

The objective: Well, yes, to fight, non-violently, to resist, like King, the Berrigans, Dorothy Day, many, many others.

The charge is a federal misdemeanor. You get one “free” one and face possible prosecution on the second, leaders prosecuted much tougher. Very political, I think.

When you go to prison other prisoners cannot believe you are there for a misdemeanor. Because it was a misdemeanor, I was able to run for Congress later.

CBS: Well the next question seems a no-brainer but I feel it must be asked. If your viewpoint is as it appears, one of staunch opposition to the standing government, what possessed you to join the service in the first place, or was it a strategic move, a matter of can’t beat ’em join ’em? Although the attempting change from the inside “sounds” an achievable aim, the ossified machinery of our government seems nothing more than different people, sometimes the same people, toeing the remarkably similar line of those that went before. So what did you hope to achieve?

MP: Service? No. I was among protesters outside of the base, crossing the line — trespassing onto the base, then they would arrest us and take us into the base for processing and then release us until court time.

CBS: My mistake. So you and others were protesting outside of this base for what purpose? To close it down? Or was this simply a protest against militarization in general?

MP: Sure, close it down, stop nuclear war, all that.

One thing that was always in my mind — I had recently come out of Catholic seminary — was the amount of money that goes into the killing in south Omaha [Offutt] and the amount of poverty in north Omaha.

For me, it was religious — Thou Shall Not Kill — money for the poor, that was my deepest gut level feeling about the whole thing, CB.

CBS: I’m entirely with you on the commandments. Seems God has been left out of much of the current dialogue and narratives. But then there are others like yourself who are ever vigilant and alerting us to repellent abuses in His name-as Michael Standaert informs in Skipping Toward Armageddon — that take the role of Antichrist in that a doctrine of death and destruction is preached instead of the words of our greatest teacher, Jesus, who said among other things as last words to his disciples, “But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love 1 Corinthians 13:13?” Evidently this was deemed un-Godlike in the final analysis? But I digress. I’m curious about this one thing. You later ran for Congress, for the very government whose policies you oppose. And although attempting change from the inside “sounds” an achievable aim — it didn't work for the peace and love generation who became the blood-thirsty vampires of Generation Swine in the 80s — it seems that while it is a passionately commendable effort, it is also quite naïve considering the ossified machinery of our government plods along as nothing more than different people, sometimes the same people, toeing the remarkably similar line of those that went before, ad infinitum. So don’t get me wrong, I do admire your purpose and passion, but what did you hope to achieve by jumping into this Parliament of Whores (P.J. O'Rourke)?

MP: Well, what I have to achieve is to keep trying, to keep plugging away.
I ran as a Democrat in a very Republican district, so there aren’t many Democrats in the first place and not many interested in running against a powerful incumbent. So, I figured it would be a good way to talk about some things. I pretty much detest the Democratic Party, but I am registered as a Democrat. I remember asking my mom and dad what we were when Kennedy ran against Nixon, and so that’s what I was. Anyway, I sort of ran as the anti-Democrat. To start my campaign I ran a full page ad in the Sioux City Journal that said “Shut Down the 185th” [local air national guard], shut down prisons, welcome immigrants. That pretty much shocked and awed and dismayed the local Democratic Party, as it was supposed to do. They don’t want to talk about anything important, just try to gauge what they think people want to hear and then repeat that. So, I fought the Iowa Democratic Party and county parties and was ignored by donors and did not get any party support. I endorsed Ralph Nader over Al Gore in the final weeks and got a mention in Roll Call magazine the day before Election Day, so the fur flew. But, I received 67,500 votes in a Republican district on an anti-military, anti-prison, pro-immigration platform. And I raised some issues, on my own, after driving all over hell and back in this huge district to march in parades, speak, etc. I even walked from my home to the IRS office in Sioux City with a crossed-out tax form saying I would not pay taxes for the military. And reporters talked to me and put what I said in the paper. It was a form of protest, yes, but actually, it was the way a candidate should act, though the Democratic Party had no clue of that.

CBS: Mike, I tell you this, based on the platform you just outlined, you run for Congress, governor, president, anything! you have my vote and any more I will so surely reel in. And oh baby you are so right on the money, as you so succinctly encapsulate the entire Democratic Party — we defend democracy, we don’t practice it! — stance, blowing their cover so to speak, and showing them collectively as that most heinous of salesperson who tell the customers what they WANT to hear instead of what they NEED to hear. If there was any lingering doubt, by that act alone the Democratic Party has anointed itself the unilaterally solipsistic-out-of-touch boneheads — did I just say boneheads? — that they so surely have degenerated into. Maybe the two-party system is nothing more than a wistful memory of days that exist only nostalgically, but nostalgia ain’t what is use to be. For my money, I go with P.J. O’Rourke on his summary, “We have three branches of Government: Money, Television, and Bullshit!”

You know, Mike, you have been a very generous and tolerant interviewee, and unless you wish to put forth a campaign speech to set your political career rolling toward domination in 2008, I feel I have quizzed, questioned and grilled you enough, asking some brutally wearisome questions that demanded from you the poise that only a great politician is capable of. So, my hat's off to you, candidate Mike Palececk. May all your endeavors political and otherwise meet with well deserved success, cuz for my money pal, you’re the real goods, and one politically savvy gentleman who has his priorities in the right place. Okay, I can’t help myself, the tugboat of interviewers, slow to start but once going, UNSTOPPABLE!

The last, really the LAST, question. We’ve covered a lot of ground and I have in a flash had my faith in political integrity restored, thank you. So, what’s next for you, Thoreau of the 21st century, any aspirations you wish to disclose?

MP: CB, first of all, thank you very much for caring enough, being interested enough, to ask me these questions.

The next thing for me is a new book, The American Dream, by CWG Press. It was supposed to go out in review copies last week, probably next week. Then we are planning a nationwide book tour in the spring to promote.

Again, thank you very much.

I do appreciate it.



Mike PalecekMike Palecek is an Iowa author, former federal prisoner for peace, and newspaper reporter. He lives with his family in northwest Iowa. He was the Iowa Democratic Party nominee for the U.S. House, 5th District, 2000 election. He has written several novels:
Read C.B. Smith's Review of Mike Palecek's book Terror Nation.
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last update: November 19, 2008