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Reflections

She's Left Socialism but Not Her Activism

March 19, 1988

Evelyn Munro, a former Socialist who lives in Laguna Beach, remembers an run-in she had in the '40s with conservative Orange County.

She was living in El Modena and had organized a nursery school to help the community's Spanish-speaking children learn English. When local farmers got wind of the school, they got very upset, she says. A local newspaper called it a "Communist" nursery school. Over the years, her activities on behalf of liberal causes has hardly abated even if, as she says, she's no longer a Socialist in the political sense. She labels herself "a liberal Democrat."

She's now involved in such organizations as Village Laguna, an environmental group devoted to preserving the city's village atmosphere. She lends spiritual support to the Beyond War organization and is working to provide shelter for the homeless. She also finds time to do free-lance public relations work and photography. A number of her pictures are on display at Upchurch-Brown Booksellers in Laguna Beach.

Munro, 74, discussed her activities and political views with Times staff writer Henry Rivero.

I think that I got a much better early education growing up in New Orleans than any of my children have who've grown up in California or other places. New Orleans is a setup that is very metropolitan, with a number of cultures, and I was close to my friends. As a teen-ager I read copiously, and most of my friends were artists, writers, poets.

I grew up and went to . . . the little theater in the Old Quarter. I was doing plays just before the group theater started in the '30s, which was the WPA project. We were earlier than that doing plays, doing Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio" and doing really important plays.

I didn't go to college, but I did become involved in the Socialist Party in New Orleans and was asked to go to Memphis, Tenn., . . . to help out as office secretary of an organization called the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, which was the first black-and-white union in the South.

I was a Norman Thomas Socialist. He ran for president on the Socialist ticket, and many of the things that have now become law here, like Social Security, were part of his platform. Some people don't know the difference between the American Socialist Party and the American Communist Party. There was a great difference. We may have had the same aspirations, but the ways of getting at them were quite different. For me, the end didn't justify the means, because whatever means you use usually determines whatever end you get.

I know that political parties and trade unions aren't perfect, and you can only do what you can do. The ILG--the ladies garment workers union--was certainly, at the time that I was involved (in the early '40s), an exceptional one. They cared a great deal about education. It was founded by Socialists, pretty much, who were idealists and who really did a lot to get rid of sweatshops and to make the living conditions possible. I certainly believe, as I did then, in those things. I think power corrupts, no matter who has it, and that's something you have to be careful about. You can't have any illusions about that, and sometimes you can't work with people when that is happening.

I haven't been with people (in Orange County) who seem to have that type of (socialist) feeling. Actually, I thought the '60s were pretty important, and I thought that the kids in the '60s had some awfully good ideas. But they blew it completely because of the drugs. And maybe if that hadn't become so important a part of it, some environmental things might have been achieved. They might not all be computer programmers now. They couldn't carry out any real ideals because I think they were just too spaced out.

I'm not completely against the "me" generation. I think it's important to know your badges, but I do think a lot of this is kind of phony. I'm pretty much an action person, and I think that when things need to be done, you try to find a way to do something about it. It's true you have to know something about yourself, and I think meditation is fine, but I don't think it should be an end in itself. The self-improvement program becomes an end in itself, and you don't really affect your environment.

Orange County is a lot of things. With what's going on right now in Orange and the undocumented workers, it sounds like the kind of place that it was some years ago when it was violently John Birch.

I wouldn't want to live in any place but Laguna Beach in Orange County. We're very, very fortunate to live in Laguna Beach, because Laguna Beach is a beautiful spot, I think.

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