by Randy Crutcher
Beginning in the 1970's and throughout the 1980's men from all over California began to take stock of their lives both in reaction to the changes women were undergoing and the feeling of confinement in unfulfilling jobs, difficult relationships, loneliness, the challenges of divorce and parenthood or a still small voice that asked, "is this all there is, is this what it means to be a man?"
Men began to gather, young and old, married and single, straight and gay, black, brown and white, working and middle class. Through conversation circles, workshops, rituals like the sweat lodge, movement and music, men began to find each other and in so doing find themselves, the parts that had been shut down, prohibited expression, disallowed to shine forth. In other words, many men were finding their complete humanity underneath all the messages about what they were supposed to be and do in order to be worthy and respected as men.
In 1978, at the age of 25, I was jettisoned into this world of examining what it meant to be a man by a couple, a man and a woman who attempted to open one of the first centers for men focused on issues of sexual health and relationships.
Initially their efforts at grant writing did not meet with success and because they wanted to keep their vision alive even as they needed to move on for personal and professional reasons, they asked me and another woman if we would persist in the effort and open Everyman's Center located at the Open Door Clinic in Arcata, California.
At the end of Jerry Brown's term as Governor, the grant application was resubmitted just in time for a small chunk of money issued by the State Office of Family Planning designated for helping men to become more aware and responsible for their contribution to unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmittable diseases.
Everyman's Center (EMC) opened its doors and began to provide what the state required and quite a bit more. A tremendous amount of outreach to groups of men and boys throughout the county was launched through the media and in education programs that included father/son workshops, programs for young men in the California Conservation Corps and military bases, colleges, junior and senior high schools, mental health out clinics, juvenile hall. Often the groups were mixed gender so relationship issues had a forum they had never had before the Center facilitated them. Walk in counseling for men and organized men's groups were developed. We even contracted with the Del Arte Players to write and perform a play called, "Performance Anxiety." Marc Chaton was one of the first volunteers and eventually became a paid Health Educator. I became the second Director. But we were a team that included our volunteers, one of the most dedicated, Bill Rodstrom.
By 1982, despite all of EMC's demonstrated success in the community, the state pulled out (the new administration saw little need to address men's issues) and the Center operated on volunteer energy for another year. A few contributions helped keep it alive.
During that time, one of the first Everyman's Center organized men's groups had evolved a unique group of men. These men were not only concerned about their own lives but the quality of men's lives throughout the county and the safety of their women partners.
I had been approached by an early director of Humboldt Women For Shelter who pled, "Randy, we have our hands full taking care of the women fleeing violent partners but we really see that the men need a way to change and stop their violence. Can you do anything?" (This was 1982 and national polls still showed that only 10% of the population thought domestic violence was a serious problem even as researchers came out with the astonishing news that one out of two women will be battered at some point in their lives and that domestic violence is the leading cause of women's death).
The issue came before the EMC men's group and a scary but powerful decision was made to educate ourselves about the issue and find the training we needed to help stop domestic violence in our communities. We had to come to terms with any violence we had done, physical and emotional, and not separate ourselves from the men we would be working with in order to facilitate a genuine change process.
Earlier, in 1980, as envoys from the EMC, Marc Chaton and I traveled to the SF Bay Area and attended our first California Men's Gathering where we were awed and overwhelmed by the gathering of gay, straight and bisexual men, nearly 300 in number. There were workshops of all kinds, places to talk, walk or play, musicians and artists performing, political discussions about gender equality and men's lives, meals together, sacred circles and yes, drumming, the media caricature equivalent of burning bras. But this was pre- Robert Bly, the icon still to become. In alternate years, the gathering was held in Southern California.
It was at this gathering that we discovered a core group of men who were dedicating themselves to creating grassroots organizations in their communities to address men's role in domestic violence. We drew inspiration and acquired new tools for our efforts to take home to Humboldt and we continued to attend the CMG's and spin off groups for several years, helping develop its leadership as we developed our own.
Throughout the 80's men of Humboldt became somewhat famous statewide for their efforts at grassroots organizing and focus on making a difference by educating, counseling and supporting men to make healthy choices about their lives and relationships. Our men's center and programs became the envy of some while others had developed or began developing their own. As a result of this connection to the statewide California Men's Gathering (still in existence today but more gay community focused) seed money was made available to found a more local men's gathering which would become known as the Northcoast Men's Gathering.
By 1986, I had continued to broaden my network of men by joining a national men's organization which sponsored the annual national Men and Masculinity Conferences held in every region in the U.S. But I grew weary of political infighting and ideological wars. It was not the kind of men's community I had envisioned. I decided to come home and act on the idea of creating a local men's community. I knew that one man efforts were no fun and just a recapitulation of the John Wayne-I'll do it myself-isolated persona. I wanted to find several men who would spark something new and wonderful and they were there! John Barger, Daniel Mapel, Uri Driscoll, Jim Smith (not the Nuke activist one), Peter and I were the co-founders of the First Annual North Coast Men's Gathering in the same place it is still held today, on the banks of the gently winding Mattole River, what has become for us a sacred site known as Mattole Lodge, a church run camp for gatherings of all kinds.
Our vision was to create a place where any man or boy could come and be accepted for who he is within the bounds of mutual respect and esteem that every man and boy deserves without having to perform first, a place where men could share their true passions and intimations of purpose, a place where it was okay to unabashedly laugh, cry, shake and scream, rest, play, do nothing AND do it TOGETHER, not in the painful isolation we might have come to accept, the disconnection from ourselves and loved ones we adapted to, the addictions we developed to take the place of feeling our feelings in order to cope with deprivation or demand.
And, in that first late spring of hope and excitement we did it! We gave birth to a legacy that you who may read this history already share or will if you choose to attend, participate and show up as the man you really want to be----all the time, not just one magic weekend each year.