Saturday, June 11, 2005

In Memoriam: Steven Drew Hampton

Edited August 1, 2006 I am posting the whole thread here from Las Vegas Indymedia.

In Memoriam: Steven Drew Hampton

posted by Donald Rilea Thursday June 09, 2005 at 02:20 AM

Summary article about the death of Steve Hampton.

As was announced on Page 5B of the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Nevada and the West section, Steven Drew Hampton, a local Trotskyist activist, died of natural causes(unspecified in the article)at his Las Vegas apartment on 2nd June of this year.

Hampton, who had resided in the Las Vegas area since 1996 or 1997, was a licensed member of the Nevada State Bar since October, 1997, a contributing poet to the various poetry readings at the now-defunct Cafe Espresso Roma, and had been part of the local Left since his arrival in Las Vegas.

He had burnt small American flags in public on 4th July and 11th September of 2003, and again on 11th September, 2004, for which latter offence he was arrested and detained on a misdemeanour "Interrupting a public meeting" charge by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers.

Hampton, whose trial on that charge was scheduled for 4th August of this year, planned to call Mayor Oscar Goodman, who was making a speech dedicating the new Las Vegas Fire Department station where Hampton was arrested, as a witness.

According to the R-J article, the Clark County Coroner's Office was engaged in searching for Hampton's next-of-kin, as of the time when the article was published.

There were no details on when and where a memorial service for Mr. Hampton would be held, if any were to be held, nor were there any details on the exact cause or causes of Mr. Hampton's death in the article.

Hampton was fifty-two years old at the time of his death.

All that said, please allow to indulge myself here by adding a personal note or two to this article.

I cannot say that I liked, nor even cared for, everything that Mr. Hampton said or did in life.

In many regards, I felt, as I still feel, that very often, he shot himself in the foot with much of the way in which he expressed himself.

But, for the record, it also has to be said that he indeed had the guts to take a very un-popular set of stands in one of the more conservative cities in the US, well before the emergence of Indy Media Las Vegas, much of the current day local Left and its organisations, and the '99 Seattle WTO protests that began the re-emergence of the American Left.

He was not an easy man to like, nor with whom to work, but, he was also one of the first of us here to stand up and express a left-wing viewpoint in a rather right-wing town.

That said, it's unclear if he has left any sort of real legacy for the Nevadan Left at this present time.

Only time will tell.

Still, at the very least, he was one of the first activists on the current Nevadan Left, and that alone should merit a mention, however brief, in any future history of the Nevadan Left, however small.

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by bubbleblower Thursday June 09, 2005 at 10:10 AM

Donald, when you write, "still, at the very least, he was one of the first activists on the current Nevadan Left," you either intentionally or unintentionally gloss over the rich history of activism and socialism in Nevada. Look up information on Nevada City in the 1910s and 1920s, talk to people about protests against the Vietnam war in the late 1960s and early 1970s, walk into the various unions where workers have been fighting for their rights since the construction of the first hotel casino. These are just a few of the many examples of past activism and socialism in Nevada. I'm sure there are many more that the mainstream media has failed to report. We cannot fall into the same trap the mainstream media falls into by glorifying an individual on false pretenses to the exclusion of many more individuals; individuals who have silently and patiently laid the groundwork for the movements and organizations we see today well before we were born. If we don't learn about and understand our past, our history, the material conditions that lead up to the present moment, then I think we're doomed to repeat it, no? Unfortunately for him, Steve Hampton was not one of the first ... nor will he be one of last.

Here is an excerpt from one source regarding socialism in Nevada in the 1910s, well before any of us were even thought of:

"Nevada's Socialist party gained most of its new members from the Democrats. Socialist clubs sprang up in traditional Democratic strongholds throughout the state, with one of the strongest in Tonopah. In 1912 at the height of the party's popularity, Tonopah miners elected Socialist candidate Martin J. Scanlon to the state Senate and J. F. Lewis to the state Assembly."

Democrats would probably like us to forget this part of history because if we know it WAS possible to run socialist candidates in Nevada, we might think it IS possible to run socialist candidates again. And that would take power away from the Republicans AND the Democrats.

We cannot forget history.

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Thank You
by Donald Rilea Thursday June 09, 2005 at 05:20 PM

Bubbleblower: thank you kindly for the info and the link to the article on the Socialist movement in Tonopah circa 1912.

I would agree with you that that chapter, as well as the ones on the various anti-Viet-Nam War, Reagan-era Central America policy and Gulf War 1 movements, not to mention the most important of all, the anti-nuclear weapons testing movements present here since the late 1950's at least, are important and essential to any informed understanding of the Nevadan Left.

I also have to admit that I am most certainly NOT as informed on those chapters as I should be.

However, it was certainly not my intention to slight, over-look or, whether through accident or intention, obscure or defame, through active comission or omission, any other individuals or groups active on the Nevadan Left during the period under discussion in the obituary(1996-present), nor any of those from the recent or distant past(distant for Nevada, that is).

But, like it or not, Hampton was, by his very vocal and loud presence, one of the very first of the current crop of Nevadan Left activists in the Las Vegas area, and most certainly one of the best-known, next to Saab Lofton, Jason Halprin, and Paul Brown, among others, in said area.

Do I think that Hampton's legacy will be a positive one, or that will it even be much of one at all?????

I can honestly say that his legacy, at best, will be an extremely mixed one. On one hand, he brought a form of Left thought and activism to the area which, more than likely, hadn't been seen or heard from since the days of the local anti-Viet-Nam War movement, if not more recently, to the best of my knowledge.

On the other, his turbulent personality, brusque, doctrinaire working style, and practically alienating just about every member of the local Left, including Yours Truly, cost him, and his cause, dearly, in my opinion.

Not that I think that revolutionary Trotskyism could have much of an inroad in this rather conservative city and state to start, which is in a very conservative and individualistic part of a very conservative and individualistic country.

This is something that I think that Hampton either failed to understand, or chose not to understand at all, and more the pity for him, and the Nevadan Left, such as it is, since he became locally famous for a set of flag-burning incidents, the last one, as you and everyone else here knows, landed him in jail for 10 days or so.

Regardless of how one feels about flag-burning as a tactic, the fact is that, while it garnered attention for Hampton, and to a vastly smaller degree, his cause, it hurt him far more in the eyes of the general Nevadan public than any such publicity could have ever helped.

I cannot say whether or not he alienated any members of that public on account of his use of that tactic, but, I think it's safe to say that, given the general level of non-support for Hampton and the New Socialist Party at whatever demos he held, that, between that tactic, as well as his various feuds with Lofton, Halprin, etc, most of which were very publicly conducted, with the heavy-handed use of Marxist-Leninist jargon for which Hampton became infamous on the Las Vegas Left, that his attempts to become a revolutionary leader in the classic Marxist-Leninist sense were a dismal failure, and, even had he lived, would probably have remained so.

All of us on the Nevadan Left, whether liberal Democrat, social democrat, Socialist, Communist(of whatever stripe you pick), Anarchist, Green, etc, have picked a hard row to hoe in this very conservative town and state at this very conservative time in US history, and Hampton picked one of the hardest rows of 'em all to hoe.

I admire his guts and his consistency, but I most certainly do not admire his sense, style or tactics, and, I think if any positive benefit can be derived from Hampton's life and career here, it would be as an example of what NOT to do and how NOT to relate to others, especially friends, comrades and allies on the Left.

Retain his guts and consistency, yes, but as for his tactics and style of relating to others, use those as templates for how NOT to conduct oneself, whether with individuals and groups on the Left, or with the general public, Nevadan and otherwise.

If that's glorifying him, then it's a pretty faint form of glorification, in my view.

The fact is that I think that his contributions to the Nevadan Left were very small, which is why I think that, if a future history of the Nevadan Left is ever written, that any mention of Hampton should be small.

On the other hand, I do believe in giving the Devil his due, however meager, and Hampton, by his very loud, vocal, if not downright aggressive and obnoxious, public presence, did give the Las Vegas Left that, albeit one that will take the movement time and effort to overcome and change for the better, both for itself and the general Nevadan public, whom we serve.

To the readers of this reply out there, I apologise for the overly-long and prolix reply here, but I wanted to both apologise for whatever omissions I made in the obituary, and to make my attitude towards Hampton and his possible legacy for the Nevadan Left quite clear. I think I have.

To Bubbleblower, if you know of other sites containing articles about the Nevadan Left and its various incarnations in the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries, please post the links on this site.

I, for one, would love to know more about the history of the Nevadan Left, and I think that it's vital to this body to know more about the successes and failures of our predecessors, so we can learn from them, and, one hopes, better apply the lessons of those successes and failures to our present movement.

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This is hilarious
by raspberries Thursday June 09, 2005 at 09:26 PM

The first one since 1996?? What kind of measure is this? I could say I was the first one since September of 1999- Does that make me special? You may as well say "Steve is the first of the group of boys that Donald Rilea knows personally who has been politically active in Las Vegas since 1996." How does that sound?

There are people I know of besides those you named who were politically active in 1996 as well, and most of them are womyn. And they are still working quietly and consistently to this day. Or is it just men that count?

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think about it
by shaneonyou Saturday June 11, 2005 at 12:12 AM

Understandingly, many people differed in opinion from Steve Hampton. The fact is, it was enlightening... How good are your thoughts if there isn't someone there to question and challenge it? What good is a revolution without adversaries? And if Steve Hampton was anything he was challenging and blunt and stubborn. and as much as I may have differed in opinion, I still appreciate what he has contributed to the scene. rest in peace man

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Authoritarian Personality Disorder
by Intruda Saturday June 11, 2005 at 11:35 PM

I don't want to criticize the man after his demise, and I sympathize with his family for his loss at an early age, but in my brief contacts and debates with Steve, it was evident to me that he suffered from a type of authoritarian personality disorder and paranoia. This is unfortunate; he could have sought help for his anti-social tendencies, and since he was an intelligent man, he could have found a way to contribute to society. Authoritarian personalities are far more characteristic of the right than the left, so I regard Steve Hampton as a crypto-rightist, rather than a leftist. As an avowed Trotskyist, he seemed to fit more with the likes of Lyndon LaRouche and his paranoid followers, and he seemed to seek succor in a sort of authoritarian cult-like environment. I feel sorry for the man and those he came in contact with. May he rest in peace.

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"a hard row to hoe"
by Saab Lofton Monday June 13, 2005 at 01:58 PM

"All of us on the Nevadan Left, whether liberal Democrat, social democrat, Socialist, Communist (of whatever stripe you pick), Anarchist, Green, etc, have picked a hard row to hoe in this very conservative town and state at this very conservative time in US history, and [Steve] Hampton picked one of the hardest rows of 'em all to hoe."

Truer words were never spoken. You can lead a horse to water but you can't force it to drink--unless you want to follow the path of Stalin. And politically speaking, Las Vegas is filled to the brim with horses staring at the water but not drinking ...This place is nicknamed the Mississippi of the West FOR A REASON ...

So if anyone wants to know why someone like Steve Hampton would go off the way he did (and all too often), remember what George Clinton of Funkadelic once said: "If you don't like the effect, don't produce the cause." I know from my own experience how utterly frustrating it is to have some spoiled suburbanite stare at a homeless single mom with kids and actually have the GALL to start blaming the mythical "Human nature" on their poverty instead of corporate greed (which translates into a lack of job creation). And said frustration will turn even the most ardent follower of Ghandi into the Incredible Hulk. So assuming that Steve Hampton wasn't a purposely disruptive agent provocateur of some kind (ask Jason Halprin about the time he had to call the cops on his ass), a form of that frustration must have been behind all those characteristic outbursts of his.

Out of all the things I've ever heard Steve Hampton say, this made the MOST sense: "The claim that 'Human nature' is inherently corrupt and evil is the last philosophical refuge of reactionary politics. 'Human nature' is a quasi-metaphysical concept, and in fact this idea is merely a rehash of the Christian doctrine of 'original sin.' There is no such thing as 'Human nature,' merely Human behavior, which is almost infinitely variegated. People are mainly products of their environment. Capitalism encourages and rewards greed and selfishness, so 'naturally' people living in a capitalist society tend to be greedy and selfish. People living in a society that encourages and rewards communality, sharing and a sense of communality would take readily to that."

In other words, it's all about culture, N-O-T nature. Speaking of, doesn't "the last philosophical refuge of reactionary politics" sound like Vegas ? Isn't that why this place seems so much like Pottersville from Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life ..?

I've seen Steve around town for years now. He was a regular caller on my radio show last year and usually spoke out against our oil-based imperialism in Iraq (by the way, check out the front page of the 5/13/05 USA Today: global warming is no longer a "conspiracy theory"). And I was there when he tried to burn an American flag in front of the 9-11 memorial at Las Vegas' New York, New York.

Hampton was a loose cannon to be sure, but more importantly, he knew how to get a motherfucker's attention. And unless being a left-winger is simply a temporary hobby for you, you should know that the name of the game is F-A-M-E since invisible protests are absolutely meaningless.

Then, it seemed, after the 2004 general election (that, for the record, the DLC lost all by themselves by picking Kerry over Kucinich--it was N-O-T Michael Moore's fault), Hampton fell from grace like Anakin. He became even MORE disruptive and argumenative than usual and accused various local peace activists and organizers of being a pack of power hungry opportunists ... he just went plumb off like a mad dog foaming at the mouth.

I don't regret having defended myself, Halprin and others during those online feuds. Part of the white left's problem is they seem to think that using Ghandi and Dr. King's methods means letting a motherfucker walk all over you--and anyone who knows the work of those great men knows that they were anything but masochistic (the only way to prove me wrong on this point is to stand up to your charismatic, intimidating, conservative brother-in-law this Thanksgiving and tell him where you REALLY stand politically--OUT LOUD, trust fund be damned).

What I DO regret is that Steve never did (assuming he was the least bit serious) what he talked so much about doing: ORGANIZE A GENERAL STRIKE TO END THE WAR.

Steve fancied himself a modern successor to the likes of Eugene Debbs, Leon Trotsky and Joe Hill. Hill's most famous (See? What'd I tell ya'll, FAME!) for saying "Don't mourn; organize." Well, take it from someone who's spent far too much time in Las Vegas' coy, snide cafe scene: This town has a fucking Ph.D. in mourning and being depressed about shit and coming up with every excuse under the sun not to care about this planet and its people. NO MORE. Assuming Steve's not sitting on the same beach as Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur laughing at our collective gullability, he's in the very afterlife I know he never really believed in, wondering why we haven't shut down the Strip by now (especially since it's never been a problem filling up a club or a stadium).

Even if there's no afterlife and Steve's consciousness has simply ceased to exist, WE STILL EXIST, and we have an obligation (Vegas' least favorite word) to everyone and everything else that still exist to organize, not mourn. It's not that Steve doesn't deserve to be mourned, but given that Hillary Clinton will probably be another Margret Thatcher and given that we can't afford to wait for Jesus, the UFOs, the Revolution, or anything else to save us from Wall Street, Exxon/Halliburton and the CIA/NSA, do all the good you can while you still can. Steve Hampton would ... SHOULD want it that way.

To quote Thoreau, "Cast your whole vote--not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence." And yes, that includes the money you just got done spending at Hot Topic at the mall ...

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Re: staring but not drinking
by Mom Monday June 13, 2005 at 11:14 PM

Saab: "And politically speaking, Las Vegas is filled to the brim with horses staring at the water but not drinking ...This place is nicknamed the Mississippi of the West FOR A REASON ..."

I was watching KLAS News last Thursday and they were talking about the upcoming execution (which did not happen) of Robert Lee McConnell.

The anchor person asked the reporter (who was standing in front of the prison) if there was or were they expecting a lot of protesters.

The reporter answered, no, and probably will not be because Nevada is not really an activist state.

I thought to myself, "How sad."

I admit to my own inadequacies but with Las Vegas and Reno being such well-known popular cities, Nevada's activism should be right in line with New York, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington DC.

However, with the Peace Now movement, I do believe Nevada is on the way to becoming a successful activist state.

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One Can Only Hope
by Donald Rilea Tuesday June 14, 2005 at 07:19 AM

Mom, Saab, and all the rest of you out there, I can only hope you're right.

Only time, combined with organsation, work, effort and mobilisation, will really tell.

Still, the effort is worth doing, even if it fails.

I can't speak for anyone else on the Nevadan Left, but I personally do NOT want, when the historical balance sheets are added up and totaled, to have been the American equivalent of a "good" German, Japanese or Italian of the 1922-45 period.

These "good" people, however well-meaning some of them were, allowed their countries to go down a path that resulted in the deaths of millions and in the kind of horrific societal and physical destruction of much of the Eurasian and African land-masses by the time that bloody nightmare of an era ended.

Add this on top of the already horrific destruction caused by the First World War, and it's a genuine wonder that anything was left of Europe, Africa and Asia by 1945.

This is, in my opinion, one of the primary reasons why we fight, to keep genocide from being part of Our Daily Bread, so to speak.

We may disagree on so many issues, as to astonish the world, but I hope we can agree that it's time to take the world out of the Massacre Business.

We may not ultimately achieve every goal we have, but the effort has to made nonetheless.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress.

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by Donald Rilea Friday June 17, 2005 at 06:11 AM

For those of you out there who may be interested, there is a lovely obituary of Mr. Hampton in this week's City Life by Matt O'Brien.

You can either pick up the hard copy edition, or go to City Life's web-site to read the article.

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About Steve
by ____ Monday June 20, 2005 at 12:48 AM

The loss of Steve is unsettling. He is one person I will never forget. He challenged authority in a place where it is unquestioned. He was out in the streets while 'some' of his critics were bitching from their computer screens. After the many years I have known him, I regret that I didn't learn more from him. I couldn't help but notice the amazing difference he made. He was angry, frusterated and isolated at the end. I see this as 'unsurprising' and there is tendency for vocal, bold, exceptional people to go mad in this tense hyper capitalist unsupportive cruel playground called Lost Fucking Vegas. And if I was to die like him, as 'quite a few others' I admire have, I wouldn't be surprised if scores of ignorant assholes were to joke about my death, because hey, isn't that what life is about, not giving a fuck about those who die?!

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by Saab Lofton Monday June 20, 2005 at 02:48 PM

I'm really tired of folks hiding behind ___ fake names and whatnot. "[Hampton] was out in the streets while 'some' of his critics were bitching from their computer screens." What the hell is that supposed to mean? He had his moments, yes, but like Hampton, yo' ass sounds as if being gratuitously rebellous for its own sake is the key and it ain't. It's all about getting stuff done*, and Hampton's disruptive ways stymied what the Vegas left was trying to do more often than not. Don't deify the man. And should you decide to respond to this, yo' ass better include your real name and your resume. Why? If you're so damn concerned with how much good needs to be done in the world*, I wanna see YOUR track record!

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Good post, Saab.
by Intruda Thursday June 23, 2005 at 12:04 AM

Well said. Nobody should deify Steve Hampton. He probably scared more people and turned more people off to progressive politics than drawing anyone into the progressive camp. Frankly, if I were a young, idealistic neophyte in the world of Las Vegas activist politics, and I bumped into Steve, and had a taste of his negativity, I'd probably be shag-assing it on the dead-run in the opposite direction. Activists have important work to do and need better role models than this...

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So long
by Logynn Thursday June 23, 2005 at 08:33 PM

Having known many people that have died, I often wonder if people are connected to a deep intiuition that lets them know their about to leave the planet and better do it now or never. In Hamptons case - he raised more hell over the last year, with everything, anybody than he had the entire time I'd known him. Makes one wonder.

Having said that, I can't recall a time of disagreement that I sided with Steve. I favor Gandhi and King and I disagreed with his more violent perspective on social change. However, Hampton ruffled alot of feathers when he stirred things up. In the end, I believe that only served to bring the rest of us closer together - And for that I thank you Steve.

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Mom said...

May 26, 2005 the LVRJ posted this article.

Flag-burning protester says he'll call mayor as witness

A man arrested after burning a U.S. flag at a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony last year said he plans to call Mayor Oscar Goodman as a witness when he defends himself at trial in August.

...As the incident unfolded last year, Goodman repeatedly called Hampton a jerk, a term the mayor was more than happy to stand by Wednesday.

"If the jerk wants to call me as a witness, he's certainly entitled to do that," Goodman said.

Las Vegas Review Journal

Mom said...

Two months before his trial and seven days after the LVRJ's article mentioning Steve Hampton's intention to call Mayor Goodman as a witness, Steve was found dead at his apartment.

I think an autopsy should be done.

Flag burner, 52, dies

Protester planned to serve as attorney at trial in two months

A man who burned a U.S. flag at a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony last year has died two months before his trial on a misdemeanor charge related to the protest.

...on Sept. 11, 2004. Hampton's protest interrupted a speech by Goodman.

...The Clark County coroner's office was still searching for Hampton's next of kin Tuesday.

Las Vegas Review Journal

Donald Rilea said...

Thanks, Mom, for posting my obit. of Mr. Hampton. Greatly appreciate it.

Hope you and yours have been well and happy.

Yours, D.