Doug Green recalls life of activism and achievement

Virginia Graziani

Redwood Times

A biography of Doug Green, founding board member of the Mateel Community Center and one of the creators of Reggae on the River, can be found on his website, www.douggreenmc.com, but it gives only an outline of a life of activism, travel, and achievement, a life that reflects the major political and cultural themes of the past 50 years.

"It's been a good one," Green told the Redwood Times last week. "I could talk about travel in Asia, I could talk about politics, I could talk about the music... It's been an exciting one. I haven't spent a lot of time sitting around idle."

Now Green, who has been battling liver cancer for many months, faces a prognosis of four to six weeks to live. His friends and well wishers are invited to attend a "LoveFest" at the Mateel Community Center this Saturday, Sept. 14.

Musicians from all over the West Coast whose careers Green has supported will be on hand for what the organizers describe as both a fundraiser to help defray Green's medical expenses and a "living tribute to a long-standing contributing member of our community."

"I feel blessed that I stumbled into Northern Mendocino/Southern Humboldt in 1968," said Green, who bought his land in Whale Gulch the following year, 1969. "I just love being here - for two reasons.

"The natural beauty is what brought me here. It was the people who kept me here."

Green cited his father as his primary inspiration. After what he described as a "fractious" divorce, his father gained custody of Green and his two older brothers and brought them up in Kentucky.

He remembers his father as strong and tough, an observer and innovator who acted as a consultant to many businesses, helping them make their organizations more effective. "I learned my team-building skills from him," Green said.

In addition, Green's father produced some plays in New York City, most notably the musical "1776." Green's stepmother was a "Warhol girl," appearing in artist Andy Warhol's underground films.

"I've been around theater people all my life," Green recalled. "And once you're around theater people, other people are pretty boring. Theater people are a barrel of monkeys... There's a subculture of humor and a sub-language." He also learned acceptance of alternative lifestyles from the theater people he knew.

Referring to the question of whom you would have dinner with if you could have dinner with 12 people you didn't know, Green said, "I'd have a hard time, because I've already had dinner with a whole lot of people that would have been on my list."

But what most inspired Green was his father's integrity and caring. "In his daily life he acted out his beliefs... If someone in a restaurant made a racist comment and everyone lets it go by, my father would have had the guy by the scruff of the neck...

"I remember my father came home from vacation one time looking haggard. I asked him if he was okay. What he'd done was, he had gone through the process of changing his mind about the Vietnam War... and emotionally it just tore him apart."

As a young man Green was involved in the civil rights movement and was the photographer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. His passion for equality comes from his father and from the African-American family that helped raise him when he was a boy in Kentucky.

They also introduced him to gospel music, as the father of the family was a deacon and his wife, Thelma, was "a complete gospel singer... I was just imbued with gospel music," Green said.

"I used to seek it out all the time. In San Francisco I'd wander around hearing and following music. I'd hear music coming out of a basement on Sixth Street... I'd wander in, and find a church service. Needless to say, I'd be the only white person there, which never bothered me."

Green was introduced to California by his mother, who had moved to Southern California after the divorce. He spent every summer with her. "My mother, wow, she was the original Little Old Lady from Pasadena," said Green. "I fell in love with Southern California - California, period."

This led him to enter the University of California at Berkeley in 1963, but "I didn't last long there because of the Free Speech Movement," Green said.

The Free Speech Movement (FSM) was a student protest that began on the Berkeley campus in the fall of 1964 as a response to a ban on political activity on campus. It inspired the nationwide wave of campus protests against the Vietnam War, in support of civil rights that occurred at many universities and colleges during the 1960s and 1970s.

Green was among the over 800 persons arrested at a sit-in inside Sproul Hall, the administration building, on December 4 and 5, 1964.

"I wasn't planning on being arrested but then I saw what the cops were doing to those who were being arrested - it was violent - and so I thought I should participate," he said.

He quoted Wes "Scoop" Nisker, a popular news commentator on counterculture radio stations in the Bay Area, whose sign-off is, "If you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own."

"It's true," Green said. "If you don't like what's happening, quit bitching about it and go out and do something about it... Not everybody can be a front line troop. You can support [your cause] economically or you can support it by volunteering to work in the office - but go do something about it."

In the late 1970s Green worked with legendary concert producer Chet Helms and his company, The Family Dog, producing the Tribal Stomps. His experience led members of the almost brand new Mateel Community Center to ask him to create a show that would raise funds to build a new center after the Garberville fire hall, which the MCC had been using to hold events, burned down in what is believed to be an arson fire.

Green, who was one of the first members of the MCC board when it incorporated in 1979, set to work. The first task was finding a site. After approaching several landowners, including the Tooby family, (at that time the owners of the current site of the Southern Humboldt Community Park), he made an agreement with the Arthur Family to use French's Camp.

"The biggest challenge, even today... is finding a venue," Green said. "A lot of it is NIMBY, Not In My Backyard... It's hard to find a venue because of zoning, environmental restrictions.

"I want environmental controls but I don't want environmental strangulation. I want the Mateel to be as good a steward as it can, to treat the Eel River with utmost respect...

"Whenever you're doing a project, you weigh the balance between the benefits and the detriments. Your goal is to get on the plus side. If you can't get 100 percent on the plus side, then you have to have community-redeeming value; the community is supported and enriched by that impact. That impact becomes worthwhile if it brings something to the community."

Regarding the return of Reggae on the River to French's Camp this year, Green credited the move to "a blessed miracle and blood, sweat, and tears by a lot of people. The youth really stood up, and the staff."

He described the festival's increased capacity for water storage, now up to 60,000 gallons, and said he would like to see enough storage to serve the whole event, an amount he estimated at 150,000 gallons. He would like to be able to keep the festival area grassy to keep down the dust.

Reflecting on the reasons for Reggae on the River's success, Green said, "The secret to a good show is not the music... Music is an integral part; I'd put it at number two. What would be number one? Community. The sense of community... If you can create that magic among a large group of people for a long period of time... ideally several nights, that creates a sense of community...

"Success is when people come back because they want to be there. And success is when you start teaching them how to make the right choices... from not throwing that cigarette on the ground, to picking up the recycling and putting it in the right container, to general random acts of loving kindness."

Green is most proud that people told him they felt safe at Reggae this year, and he said he wanted the festival to be an event that people can take their families to.

This year people greeted each other with "Happy Reggae!" like wishing friends a happy holiday. This year's production also made more money than ever before, Green said.

"My biggest challenge right now, my final challenge, is to not follow temptation to the myriad of opportunities to make the wrong decisions," Green said. "People are going to come out of the woodwork due to our success. Most of them are not going to come out of the woodwork with good intentions.

"We need people who love the Mateel, who love the community center, who want to see it grow. I would like to pay our staff better because they've worked for many years. I want to see our talent budget improve," he said, but he added that he did not want the MCC to overpay to get big names on stage or grow too fast.

Looking at changes in the community over the last several years, Green observed, "Hippies are not necessarily the greatest fore-planners, but they seem to be coming together by hook or by crook or by accident... I love the Town Square, the new Chautauqua store, Cafe Minou. I want to see meaningful, constructive dialog on the community park..."

His wish list for the MCC includes an expanded after-school arts program and creation of a "donation fund" that would draw two and a half percent of the net profit from the Summer Arts and Music Festival and Reggae on the River to support scholarships and help local schools get needed equipment.

"And I want to see Phase Two [of construction of the MCC]," Green said. "People who don't really know the theater experience don't understand what they're missing by not having Phase Two...

"People were saying it's going to cost four million dollars [but I told them] we don't have to start off with four million dollars. I can think of lots of useful ways that we could start the structure and use that area, including just the basic foundation for what would be a cement parking pad instead of gravel. Then we've got the cement down, and we've got a foundation."

Regarding his prognosis, Green said, "It's for real now. They originally told me I had two weeks to three months - that was nine months ago. But now the doctors and nurses and everybody are all giving me four to six weeks."

He has turned down life-extending treatments that would damage the quality of the life he has left. "If you're 68 and your kids are in their late thirties, it's like, let go. You can't come back if you don't let go," Green said.

"But this has been fun. I've been gifted with this incredible opportunity. People were telling me, ‘We don't know why you're standing here alive,' so I'm thankful.

"I got to do my entire summer tour. I got to emcee a little bit of Summer Arts, I got to go to the Sierra Nevada music festival, the Oregon Country Fair, I got to Reggae... and my birthday [Aug. 26]. I'm filled full of gratitude that I've been given this gift of time.

"I feel very fortunate and blessed to have this time, to say good-bye, to accomplish a goal," said Green.

PHOTO COURTESY OF DOUG GREEN

A famous face in Southern Humboldt, one of the founders of the Mateel Community Center and Reggae on the River, concert producer and emcee Doug Green will be honored this Saturday night, Sept. 14, at the Mateel.

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