Coping with the media coverage

From 'On the Edge'

An excerpt from Punya’s book On the Edge recounting the time she was filing press clippings: “Most of my friends had no idea of what was going on in the media and would not have been particularly interested in knowing it either.”

people mentioned in press clippings

Then came the filing of all the articles about the Festival. We had to get bigger premises for the new filing cabinets and we moved to the airport building. Our crew was enriched by a new member: Ma Veet Margaret.

She also happened to be Swiss and had grown up abroad, in England in her case, and, having married an Italian, had spent many years in Italy. All three languages were on hand for us to use, but, for some unknown reason, we had the unwritten rule that English was the language for professional matters, Italian for our private conversation and Swiss German was an infinite source for ‘funny expressions’ which lightened up our tedious job. We sat at two grey desks next to each other like two archivists in the Vatican library.

The local newspapers wrote so many articles about us that soon we had to have a separate drawer for each: The Bulletin from Bend, Corvallis Gazette Times, The Register-Guard from Eugene, Hood River News, Herald and News from Klamath Falls, Madras Pioneer, The Oregonian (Portland), Willamette Week, The Dalles Chronicle, and last but not least the Statesman Journal from Oregon’s capital, Salem.

The national newspapers had their own place. They included the New York Times, Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle. We were lucky to have a positive two-page article from the latter. This clipping was laminated and often photocopied. It was the best part of our press kit.

Soon Margaret’s desk was adorned by an enormous Rolodex file with a dark grey metal cover. Her new job was to read through the articles (she was in fact a writer – how jealous I was about that!) and mark the cards with the relevant topic including date and name of the newspaper. This cross reference would enable our lawyers to quickly identify the articles they needed for their research. We started to file the articles with a photocopy attached behind each clipping, so that the lawyers could take the copy with them right then and there. We had often seen them walk out with the original without the slightest sense of wrongdoing.

Past my eyes came many names. Among them was the oft-recurring name of David Frohnmayer, Attorney General of Oregon, who, according to what I had heard Sarita and Sunshine discuss, had boosted his political power with his campaign against us. His platform was the issue of separation of Church and State. Then there was the name of Rick Cantrell, the Mormon Wasco County judge who had accepted the incorporation of our city and who subsequently lost his job and moved abroad. We understood that the Mormons could move their people about like missionaries, but in this case the timing was obvious.

Then there were the dreaded 1000 Friends of Oregon. I felt them menacing like daemons who wanted to destroy my home. The aim of this land-use watchdog group was to ensure that Oregon remained lush, green and beautiful (but our poor Ranch was none of the above). Their attorney, Bob Stacey, said: “We are against urbanization and development in this case because their plans are inconsistent with existing state law…. Sure they have done a good job, especially at identifying adequate water sources, but their use is still inappropriate.” I just wondered what they feared we would do in these forlorn desert valleys and why they invested so much time and energy in having our city dis-incorporated.

Many of the articles spoke of the ‘red-clad followers of The Bhagwan who had taken over the city of Antelope’ (where Bhagwan was often spelled with the H in the wrong place). Taken over a whole city? But then few if any of the newspaper readers had ever been to Antelope and no article had ever mentioned that ‘the city’ of Antelope was practically a ghost town.

I am now looking at an aerial photo of Antelope in one of our publications: I see four roads, each about 100 yards long. Between them are three rows of properties. There are no more than fifteen houses, if I also take into account the fact that some might be hidden by the trees. At any rate, the population numbered just 40 – mostly retired folks – before we came, and many properties had been standing empty and up for sale for many years. When we first arrived we were interested in having a base in Antelope for the handling of book distribution, a business which would not have been permitted on a farm. Now that the legality of Rajneeshpuram as a city was disputed, there was more reason to take root there.

The ‘Antelope Store and Café’ soon became the vegetarian ‘Zorba the Buddha’, a stopover for visitors to and from the Ranch (the avocado pita bread was memorable) and the population increased to 95 (inevitably sannyasins outnumbering the original inhabitants). In autumn of 1982 the new Antelope elected our Karuna Kress as mayor. It was funny to see some of my friends playing politics, but Karuna looked very good in the position of a matronly mayor. (The change of name from ‘Antelope’ to ‘City of Rajneesh’ was decreed much later, in autumn 1984.)

I had a friend who lived in Antelope but worked at the Ranch. He had to take the early morning shuttle which took him to work on the 20-mile-long route including the 7-mile-steep descent on the narrow, unpaved county road. In the evening the same bumpy ride awaited him again. The waitress at ‘Zorba the Buddha’, on the other hand, lived on the Ranch and so also got a taste of both worlds. But for most of us Antelope was a place far away, somewhere in the outside world, not worth a visit or even a mention. In a way we did take over Antelope, even introducing recycling – to the horror of the old residents. No wonder I often found in my clippings defamatory articles signed by the former mayor of Antelope, Margaret Hill, who was trying to fight her way back into office.

I usually tend to deal with adversities by moving out of the way or giving in, but here the sannyasins were defending themselves tooth and claw against the cult-hysteria which was encouraged by the fundamentalist Christian, Ronald Reagan government. Sannyasins were standing their ground and fighting for their rights. This country had cherished constitutional guarantees – the rights of religious liberty and freedom of religious expression – which were being flagrantly violated left and right. This was a good lesson for me, but I can also understand that the poor old people in Antelope experienced quite a disruption in their lives. Because I was more of a submissive person, I admired the courage of the leaders of the commune in fighting for our legal rights, but I thought that there could have been a more diplomatic way to do things.

Other names our Margaret had highlighted in the clippings were those of the Jefferson County District Attorney, Michael Sullivan; a group called the Concerned Citizens; and a high-level government figure called Edwin Meese, who was counsellor to Ronald Reagan and later became the Attorney General of the United States.

The most frequently highlighted name was that of a redneck housewife called Donna Quick-Smith, the ex-wife of Antelope resident and unsuccessful mayoral candidate, Don Smith, who accused us publicly of selling pornographic material. What a mind she must have had to come up with such an idea!

Another housewife (I always imagined them with big pink curlers) was Joanne Bois from Albany. She spent her life organizing rallies against us, collecting signatures at fairs and parties (once she came up with half of the 62,000 she needed for getting a measure on the election ballot) and calling us an alien cult, a New Age movement (what an insult!) and naming Osho the ‘antichrist’. She even suspected that we worked with the CIA and that Osho might be a Jew.

To confirm the saying that pictures speak louder than words, I was most affected by a bumper sticker which often appeared in the headings of the articles. It said, ‘Better Dead than Red’. This might not have been such a big deal but on the right side there was a drawing of Osho’s face with beard and hat over which was superimposed a shooting gallery target. The first insight into the psychology of the ranchers, who were the ones distributing the sticker, came to me while driving to the Ranch for the first time. On their fences along the road they had displayed several coyote hides, legs stretched in all four directions, as if this ugly sight would deter other coyotes from entering their farms. But it said much about the rednecks and their rough manners. This bumper sticker had the same insensitivity – and was difficult to stomach.

I knew well that I was on the Ranch out of love for Osho and that I came to visit the place to be close to him, but this constant negative input made me wonder if maybe somewhere the media were right. I do not understand this psychological twist, but maybe it is a survival mechanism, similar to the way an abused child blames herself for her parents’ bad behaviour. I was in such turmoil that I decided to write to Osho. The answer just said: “Love your work.” I wondered how such a simple device as loving one’s work could stop this negativity from affecting me, but it must have done its job, as, with no effort on my side, I came back to my true self the very same day.***

Most of my friends were doing things like driving food trucks or sorting bolts in the plumbing shop and were blissfully unaware of the content of the articles piling up on my desk. They had no idea of what was going on in the media and would not have been particularly interested in knowing it either. We had The Rajneesh Times as a source of information, but this was more of a party publication with our view of things. We had no television and just a few of us had a subscription to Time or Newsweek magazines. Everybody was happily working along in our much more interesting world of spiritual pioneers.

From the same chapter
Lakes, dams and new buildings in a ‘non-existent’ town (with many photos)

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