Piles. Of. Things. Sit everywhere in Paidraig’s West Ravenswood abode. He has high hopes for the flotilla that just set out for Gaza. “One of them’s from Ireland—The Rachel Corrie!” He enthuses. The ship is named for the 23-year old American activist killed by an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer while attempting to level the home of a Palestinian man in 2003. “They thought it got sabotaged, but it’s under way. Under sail, as they say. I have this video—the live stream. . .” The ship was one of six carrying humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, a flotilla attacked on May 31, a few days after we spoke, resulting in nine deaths.
The lanky activist and computer programmer clicks off the video and shuffles into a back room. “I’m not doin’ so good,” he calls out, referring to a recent surgery that’s left his knee in poor condition.
Let me just get my pretzels, here.
How involved in Palestinian/Israeli issues are you?
Me? Much as I can. I grew up in a super Jewish neighborhood. Some of my closest friends were not Irish—they all wanted to drink and fight. I’m only half Irish I guess, because it just didn’t appeal to me. You know what I mean? So I had more Jewish friends than Irish friends when I was growing up.
Being half French, I’m really more of a blend. I identify with the Irish. But I’m half French which means I’m half a colonial oppressor and half oppressed. My dad and I care for Napoleon, my mom, naah—we don’t like Napoleon. My dad and I like how he ended the monarchy. He became an emperor but, ahh—we overlook that.
I grew up at Devon and Western. When I was ten my folks bought a house at Pratt and California. But I still hung out more on Devon than I did anywhere else. I grew up there, the oldest of five kids, first generation, culturally, on both sides. My mom and dad met in Paris. I’m the first born and the first kid to graduate from college. On either side of the narrow family tree.
The first time I was political would have been the Malvinas*. We were helping them try to get their islands back. We didn’t know how bad that government was. I met these LaRouche folks when I was at UIC. They had these great newspapers. I later found out they were a bit of a cult. Some of the things they were saying made a lot of sense. Obviously they’re a mixed bag.
I was in college—I was in college for a long time. John Belushi program. About nine years. I thought I wanted to be an accountant. I thought I was good with numbers. I realized after a semester, I don’t like accounting. It’s not math. It’s writing. I took a survey as a senior in high school, and it said: computer science. I was like, Eh. At that point I’d taken one course at Loyola. The old Loyola, it was on Pearson and Rush on the West Side, it’s now an old people’s condo. I did well in computer science. Punchcards! Punchcards. Then I decided maybe those guys were right. UIC was very hard to get used to. I was in such a large place. I went from about 60 seniors in my graduating class to about 25,000—it was hard to get comfortable.
The second political thing I did was vote for Harold Washington. I don’t believe in royalty, which means I can’t vote for Daley’s son. So I thought, I’m gonna vote for Washington. And when he won, I was so happy. I was ecstatic. No one expected it.
I was still in Rogers Park. I was living at home commuting to UIC. About a year after Washington got elected, I left home. The reason I left home, I decided to rent a movie for my sister. Life of Brian. I took the movie home to my sister and after half a movie she said, “Get that blasphemous movie and get out of my house!” She kicks me out of her home, I park in my neighbor’s spot where I live, and a tree fell down on my car. Splat. Destroyed it. Squashed it. You know when you cut a sandwich open? Like that. So I took the money and I used it to move out of the house. Commuting to school—I wasn’t going to make it, I would have to live down there.
I graduated, I got a job—career job. Hours were great. 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. At that time I was quite nocturnal, I said, “Are those my hours?” I tried not to smile too much. Eighty-six was a tough year for work. Took ten weeks to get a job. Tight job market. This job market’s probably tighter.
I wasn’t political for awhile, and then I gave up on the Dems. I voted a non-democrat for president in ‘92, ‘96. I voted for Nader twice. I didn’t like what was goin’ on in the former Yugoslavia. I thought that was all wrong. All wrong. And then I found out who was behind breaking the country up. Possibly Germany, who thought they were a threat. Yugoslavia had the highest literacy rate in Eastern Europe. And they were making cars! Tensions had really simmered. Tito was like, you’re not going to cut each others’ throat. Ain’t gonna happen. And then they were reminded how much they hate each other.
In ’96, I moved down to LA. I protested the Iraq war there, and then of course I was researching 9-11. There was never a huge protest about the failed commission, or I would have gone to it. So after those buildings were demolished by, possibly an inside job, certainly not by these foreign people, there were no programming jobs. So I had to come back to Chicago.
*In 1982, Argentina and the UK clashed over the Falkland Islands (the Malvinas, in Spanish) in the South Atlantic, both of which claimed sovereignty over the territories. A 74-day clash resulted in the deaths of 257 British soldiers, 649 Argentinian soldiers, and 3 civilian Falklanders.