I met Judi Bari in early 1979 when she came from Baltimore to marry Mike Sweeney and live in Sonoma County, California. Mike was in my "affinity group" formed the year before as part of the Abalone Alliance--a statewide antinuclear coalition that was organizing protests at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant near San Luis Obispo. Our group had the silly name of the "Chuckleheads" a name that not all of us embraced and a name that definitely did not apply to Mike Sweeney. Mike had two small children from his first marriage that he often brought to meetings and potlucks. He was serious, quiet and very controlling.
At the time Mike was going with a young woman in our group named Whisper. He dumped her when Judi moved out here, and the women in our group were prepared to not like her out of loyalty to the dumpee who was our friend. When I met Judi I changed my mind. She was funny, smart, creative and most important to me her analysis of what was wrong in the world was not limited to nukes. Most of the people in my affinity group were young and pretty single issue in their analysis. That was hard for me at the time as I was older and often frustrated by what I felt was a limited viewpoint. Judi and I made a good connection on that basis and became friends. Later Judi jokingly commented that she considered changing her name to Shout!! She was definitely not a Whisper!
Judi was a talented musician and organizer but she was also a very good artist--actually more of a cartoonist. When I first met her I was working with another group that was beginning to organize around Bohemian Grove in Sonoma County. A lot of the folks in our group didn't yet understand the significance of this good old boys network in our backyard but Judi did. She contributed some artwork to several of our flyers over the years and it was in the early 1980's--I think 1983--that I went by her house on Primrose Lane in Santa Rosa to pick up some of her work. The usually cheerful and strong Judi that I was used to was very upset and in tears. She told me that she had had a fight with Mike and he had been physically abusive to her. That was the first time she shared such a thing with me and I think it is because I caught her right after it had happened.
We talked a lot after that. The awareness about domestic abuse at that time was a little better than it was in the '60s or '70s but nothing like it is today. I knew of no shelters in our community and doubt that Judi would have gone if there had been one. I offered my home to her and her baby and would offer it several more times over the years. Once she had broken the ice she talked to me about the abuse in her marriage several more times while she lived in Sonoma County. She never took me up on my offer for shelter. She chose to tough it out. She also told me about Mike's involvement in the fire at the old Santa Rosa airport which she claimed she had no part in. I know he was a suspect at the time and I know I'm not the only person she told then and later. Nothing was ever proven.
Judi was also a friend to me. We connected because there was a lot of naiveté in our group and we were often at odds with some of the single issue folks. In fall of 1986 there was a C.A.M.P. helicopter raid in Cazadero with the cops coming down in full military gear, arresting people and taking their marijuana plants. I wrote about it in my column that was a regular feature at the time in the PEACE PRESS. It was censored on the grounds that it was "too controversial". Many of the people in our group did not want to make an issue of this but Judi did. She wrote a letter in my defense that did get printed even though my column never did. Shortly after that someone gave me $1000 to start another paper and that's how the SONOMA COUNTY FREE PRESS began. Judi was one of the people who encouraged me, even contributing her artwork for my Grandma Nudge column.
1986 was also the year that Judi and Mike moved from Sonoma County to Mendocino County. There was a financial settlement from a lawsuit they were involved in and they used it to buy land in Redwood Valley near Ukiah. They planned to build their own house. I had just returned from a trip to Nicaragua when they had a going away party at their house on Primrose. Judi was happy and excited and hadn't talked about abuse in the marriage for awhile so I thought perhaps things had worked out. I didn't think about it again until years later when I talked to a close woman friend of Judi's from Mendocino County. According to this woman the abuse had indeed continued after their move and both were in the process of leaving their abusive marriages at the time of the bombing. A lot of people don't seem to realize that Judi planned to move to Willits in June of 1990 and had already begun moving things. The bombing happened on May 24, one week before she and the girls were leaving Mike in Redwood Valley.
I remained in touch with Judi after her move north. Both of us were still doing organizing work in the Central America support movement as well as other things. Her involvement in the Redwoods actions came later. When she was bombed in 1990 I had someone take over my business and put in several months at the Mendocino Environmental Center mostly dealing with her finances. I also organized her first public appearance in front of FBI headquarters in San Francisco on August 14. I visited Judi at Highland Hospital three days after the bombing and her first words to me were about her fear that Mike would use the bombing as an excuse to get custody of their girls. She was terrified of this. I later visited her at the rehab place in Santa Rosa and at her "safe house" in Cazadero. As far as I know she was not friendly toward Mike during this time.
I think that at some point Judi realized that Mike might be involved in her bombing. They both had a lot of information on each other and I don't think Judi believed she could win in a custody suit. I broke away from Judi in the mid 90s when she wouldn't stop publicly accusing Irv Sutley of being an informer for the FBI and of setting her up for the "Tanya" photo. I knew that wasn't true as I had talked to Judi several days after those pictures were taken and she thought it was very funny and planned to use the pose as a cover for their new audio tape. In hindsight, all involved realize the photos were very stupid but Judi never took responsibility for her part in it.
I visited her at her home east of Willits in the winter of 1991 to see her "proof" regarding her allegations against Irv. There wasn't any. Kwazi Nkrumah went with me and they ended up in a shouting match with each over over her refusal to listen to his past experiences with this kind of public infighting. He had worked with the Black Panthers in the '70s and remembered how damaging it could be with fellow activists trading accusations of being FBI informers. In those days people were getting killed from this stuff. My research into the methods of the FBI are that they prefer to use existing splits in the movement to turn people against each other. I wrote several pieces in the FREE PRESS about not feeding into this and asked Judi to stop her accusations against Irv and to try mediation so we could get to the bottom of it ourselves. She didn't and wouldn't.
Judi did not like my breaking with her publicly. I tried to do it with respect for what she had been through and because I truly did care for her. After the bombing Judi surrounded herself with people who never questioned or challenged her. I don't think it was a healthy situation. Some people have accused me of being her "enemy". That isn't true and what those people may not realize is that Judi and I talked several times during this period in an attempt to work it out. In one conversation that lasted over an hour it degenerated at one point into each of us defending a man--in her case Bruce Anderson who had with her encouragement been attacking Kwazi and me in the Anderson Valley Advertiser and me defending Kwazi and what he was trying to tell her. We were upset with each other but I think both of us saw the irony and humor in the fact that we were both "defending our guys". Judi could see the humor even in a situation like that.
When we would end one of these conversations where we could not agree, we always said "Little fingers touching" meaning we were trying to hold onto what had been a good friendship. As the years progressed and her allegations against Irv didn't stop I gave up trying and so did she. I wrote her a couple of letters after I heard about the cancer. In the last one I begged her to tell all she knew before she died. She never did and she never answered my letters.
Judi was a complex person. As stated before she was smart, funny, creative and sophisticated in her political analysis. She also had other qualities that are not so complimentary--just like every other human that walks the earth. I think people who see her as some kind of saint are doing both themselves and her a disservice. I wish people who make icons out of others would simply adapt in themselves those qualities they so admire. Icons can make mistakes and I think in Judi's case her biggest one was her inability to hear or accept any kind of criticism. I think Judi took a big secret to her grave to protect her children and her place in history.
I still admire Judi for the good stuff and for her ability to get people to listen and learn and I think I was (and am) a damn good friend to her. I want this unsolved attempted murder investigated!!!
Little fingers touching......
Written for FLATLANDS MAGAZINE by Mary Moore 2/11/00