Story by Peter Coyote

The word outlaw hints at the cloaked swagger of highwaymen throwing down on the king’s agents. During the sixties, it was common for dissidents of every stripe to cloak themselves in this borrowed antiestablishment glamour. The identity of the outlaw then might have signaled opposition to the war in Vietnam, hypocritical sexual morality, bourgeois existence, and/or venal drug laws. The word itself was a gallant sword raised in challenge to the gray, monolithic castles of the Establishment.

That charming denotation of being a fugitive is the second definition of outlaw in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. The first, more telling and disturbing, deserves careful attention. It defines the word thus: "to deprive of the benefit and protection of the law." You see, power now resides with those who can define us as "outside" the law. Easy judgments and the youthful certainty of our impunity need to be reviewed, lest our fates mimick the Spanish anarchists during the Spanish Civil War. The anarchists won power and refused to take over the Parliament, declaring the Parliment a fiction. However, their enemies in Madrid, suffering no such ideological blindness, assumed their seats and had them shot.

From the mid- 1960s to the mid-’70s, I was a member of an anarchist community called the Diggers, which later evolved into a larger, more amorphous group known as the Free Family. During this period we lived communally and without hierarchies or formal leadership. We sought first and foremost personal authenticity and secondarily political and social systems which would permit authentic men and women to thrive. To test ourselves, we eschewed the use of money and performed our acts anonymously, believing, perhaps oversimplistically, that a person who was not getting rich or famous pursued goals because they reflected heartfelt desires. Our aim was to reimagine America and then make those imaginings real by acting them out. To that end, we fed hundreds of people every day for free, established free medical clinics, free stores, free festivals—even a free bank (try imagining that for a while).

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