Richard Flacks

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Dick Flacks

Richard (Dick} Flacks is a Southern California academic and socialist activist. He recently retired as professor of sociology at UC Santa Barbara. He and his wife Mickey Flacks have been community activists in Santa Barbara for nearly forty years.

He is the father of Marc Flacks.

Radical roots

Dick Flacks was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1938. His parents David Flacks and Mildred Flacks — both school teachers — were born to Russian Jewish immigrants. Both were active union members and organizers; both belonged to the Communist Party USA. But when the Cold War began in the 1950s, the Soviet Union ceased being America’s ally and became instead its mortal enemy. Flacks’s parents were targeted by anti-communist investigators and fired from their jobs.

Then, in 1956, the Soviets invaded Hungary. Flacks — a scholarly young teenager — began to find the blindly pro-U.S.S.R. position of the U.S. Communist Party, and his own father, repellent. At the same time, the rest of the American left had become virulently anti-communist. Radical red-diaper babies like Dick Flacks were having a hard time finding a place to call home. Then, in 1957, Flacks met Mickey Hartman, the daughter of Yiddish-speaking, Russian-born immigrants. One year later, the two married, beginning a 48-year partnership that produced both a family and a political juggernaut.

Together, the two students stumbled onto an aging American revolutionary named A.J. Muste, whose political vision fused Christian social justice, American populism, and nonviolent civil disobedience. For them, it was as if the sky opened up. “Revolutionary nonviolence? No one was putting those two words in the same sentence back then, let alone giving it serious thought,” said Flacks. “Muste became a complete role model for me.” So much so, Flacks gave his second son the middle name “Ajay.” Stifled by the political claustrophobia of Brooklyn, the young couple set out for the University of Michigan, where Flacks attended graduate school. “We didn’t want to be part of New York,” Flacks said. “We wanted to be part of America in the much broader sense.”

In Michigan, Flacks sought out other young activists whose politics emerged more from Midwestern prairie populism than from Marx. One such activist was Tom Hayden, who would become Flacks’s lifelong friend and political partner.

Inspired by the death-defying courage of Southern civil rights workers, who also followed a nonviolent approach to social change, the Flackses joined Hayden in reorganizing Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), then an obscure group loosely affiliated with the United Auto Workers Union. In 1962, Flacks, Hayden, and about 60 SDS activists gathered in Port Huron, Michigan, to pen what would become the rhetorical anthem for the New Left. An almost hormonal celebration of the democratic impulse, the statement began, “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably at the world we inherit.” It blasted both major superpowers — the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. — and supported democratic principles that they believed could coexist within socialistic and communistic structures. Acknowledging the raw audacity of their vision, the authors wrote, “If we appear to seek the unattainable … let it be known we do so to avoid the unimaginable.”

While in Michigan, Dick and Mickey Flacks began developing a lifestyle that not only kept them sane, it kept them human. They discovered college football, attending all of Michigan’s home games. Mickey remembered once having to yank Dick from an interminable SDS meeting to get to the stadium on time. No one could believe where they were going. Football before global liberation? “They thought we’d lost our freaking minds,” Mickey said. “But we’ve always made it a priority to take time for ourselves. We like going to the movies, eating out in restaurants. We have balance in our lives. That’s our secret.”

As a fledgling academic, Flacks was very much the hot young thing. In 1964, he secured a tenure-track position with the University of Chicago, then among the world’s most prestigious institutes of higher learning, not its current incarnation as a hotbed of neo-con political thought. Flacks resigned from SDS when he took the appointment, but he didn’t stop his political activities. That did not sit well with the school’s administration. Nor did his support of the 121 students who were expelled for sitting-in against the Vietnam War.

At that time Flacks was researching what would become his first published work, Liberated Generation. In tracking the family history of young college activists, he determined their protests were not examples of adolescent rebellion — as noted scholars such as Bruno Bettelheim were insisting — but extensions of the values they learned at home. The book — and its notion that young people could operate as an independent force in American society — put Flacks on the map. Soon publications like Newsweek and the Chicago Tribune sought his opinions on the political activism of the exploding youth culture. At the University of Chicago, however, most faculty couples led social lives that were decidedly old world. Their dinner parties with string quartets and black servants were too bizarre for the Flackses. As Mickey described it, “It was the last bastion of 19th-century male-dominated, super-intellectual elitist nonsense. It wasn’t our scene.”

But by then, UCSB’s sociology department — which was beginning to enjoy a distinctive, quirky reputation — had been courting Flacks. When the University of Chicago did not grant him early tenure, he started looking westward. The last straw came when Flacks was brutally attacked in his campus office by a man posing as a newspaper reporter. The attack — which police believe was administered with something like a crow bar — left his skull cratered in two spots and his right hand nearly severed at the wrist. Flacks’s assailant was never found.

Flacks hoped a sunny campus by the Pacific would offer the quiet he needed. How wrong could one man be? He arrived with his family just months after the historic Santa Barbara oil spill and just months before the burning of the Bank of America in Isla Vista.

Flacks’s 1969 appointment stirred significant concern that his assailant might strike again. Even relatively conservative faculty members like Otis Graham volunteered to guard the Flackses’ new home. On the other hand, a new neighbor volunteered to spy on the family for the sheriff and the FBI. “But mostly, people were really, really nice,” said Mickey. For Flacks himself, the times were exciting, bizarre, and nerve-wracking. “Between 1969 and 1979, there was not a single normal moment on campus where you could go about your routine,” he said. “Most of the classes were held in I.V., not in the classrooms; there were bomb threats constantly; fire alarms going off; huge dogs named Trotsky walking down the hallways; and every shade of hippie-dom you could imagine.”

Flacks was too old — and too straight-laced — for the hedonistic celebration of flesh and pharmaceuticals then accompanying the anti-war movement on college campuses. He managed to establish himself as a bona fide campus guru nonetheless. “The deal was if you took politics seriously and you took social change seriously and you did not ask Dick to smoke dope with you, then he would take you seriously,” explained sociologist Harvey Molotch. “That was a deal many people were willing to make.” Those who did found that Flacks could be both seriously intimidating and a friendly adviser. They also found he was passionately curious about what students think and ferociously dedicated to their right to express themselves.

Contrary to urban folklore, Flacks was not involved in the burning of the I.V. Bank of America. In fact, his friends made a point of shooing him away from any protest that looked potentially unruly because handcuffs could seriously damage his still injured wrist. For his part, Flacks does not consider the bank burning a positive political act; it happened, he said, in the spasm of the moment and in response to escalating police violence. “I don’t think anybody planned to burn the bank down,” he said.

It was after the bank burning, however, that Flacks really made his mark on Santa Barbara. He and Mickey started something called the Thursday Club, an evolving collection of high-octane activists who met every Thursday at their home. “We knew we couldn’t continue with this violence,” Flacks said. “We had to build positive organizations and we had to have a voice.” The Flackses’ living room served as a Petri dish where ideas mixed with the seed-money of wealthy left-leaning patrons such as Stanley Sheinbaum, Kit Tremaine, Herman Warsh, Maryanne Mott, and Katy Peake.

The Thursday Club produced an alternative community school, medical clinics, food co-ops, and a host of other community groups that gave expression to a new value system struggling to define itself. Though many of the original organizations have disappeared, they have been replaced by newer versions, with similar progressive values. The Santa Barbara Independent, for example, is a direct descendant of the News&Review, the worker cooperative weekly newspaper for which Flacks served as trustee and adviser. (One of The Independent’s four owners — Richard Parker — was an original founder of the News&Review.)

On the idea that all politics is local, Flacks turned his attention to elected offices. At the time, Flacks said, the Santa Barbara City Council was dominated by “Republican board-of-realtor types and development interests.” Despite the hard work of earlier, more traditional reformers such as Pearl Chase, the city was in danger of becoming another overgrown Orange County. Dick and Mickey Flacks helped start the slow-growth Citizens Coalition, which succeeded in electing a more environmentally minded council majority. Flacks jokes how conservative those candidates would be judged by today’s standards. Of the four, one is now a Republican city councilmember in New Mexico, one was a nuclear engineer, one was a Westmont administrator, and one the wife of a prominent conservative Republican.

When development interests wrested back control in the late ’70s, Flacks and his wife joined with others to start Network and the Gray Panthers — in which Flacks’s parents, who had moved to town, were extremely active — to give the progressive community a consistent political voice at City Hall. After about 15 years these groups also faded out. But Dick and Mickey did not. In 2000 they got together with other concerned citizens — some of them ex-students — to form SBCAN.

Flacks’s political beliefs have shifted a bit since first moving to Santa Barbara. He once believed that a ruling elite had usurped democratic control from a complacent population. Now he is not so sure. As Molotch explained it, in the present reality of Bush incompetence, “A ruling elite would be good news.” Where Flacks once regarded the university as a hatchery for intellectual worker-bees to maintain the corporate power structure, today, he’s a passionate defender of the university.

Flacks does acknowledge that times have changed. For the better, he noted that democratic participation in daily life has expanded hugely in the past 35 years. But for the worse, he said, the powers-that-be have become increasingly resistant to change. With the rise of global economics, national governments are less able to make economic concessions in the face of democratic demands. Still, people have to try. “If you took this town in 1969 and looked at what it was like then, you’d see that it’s changed enormously. There are Farmers Markets, environmental organizations, community health clinics — these are all mainstream. The assumed values in our political debate have changed, too. I’m enough of an anarchist to think we can’t change the government at large. But can people do things to make small-scale changes that have meaning? We did. It’s a point of great pride to Mickey and me, that we have been involved with this,” he said. “In whatever time you are living, there will always be spaces for initiative.”[1]

Santa Barbara radical

When Dick Flacks was appointed to a tenure-track professorship in UCSB’s sociology department in 1969, he’d already achieved notoriety at the University of Chicago as a radical anti-war activist. Ronald Reagan, then the governor of California, quipped that hiring Flacks was like hiring a pyromaniac to work in a firecracker factory. Robert Lagomarsino, then Santa Barbara’s Republican state senator, went so far as to call for a House Un-American Activities Committee investigation. To keep any more of Flacks’s ilk from getting tenure, the University of California’s Board of Regents voted to take control of the appointment process. The Santa Barbara News-Press’s editorial pages quivered about the potential violence Flacks might unleash.

Flacks didn’t turn out to be the bomb-thrower his detractors predicted. As his UCSB friend and colleague, Harvey Molotch, once dryly noted, “Dick was never at all athletic.” Instead, Flacks spent the next 37 years on campus advocating a pragmatic brand of radical politics coupled with nonviolent civil disobedience. As a result, Flacks was allowed to operate with a relatively free hand, helping to radicalize generations of students. Both through his classes on social movements and his work with student groups, Flacks inspired young people to go into the world and “make history.”

As a “think global, act local” kind of guy, Flacks directed many of his students’ idealism toward the Santa Barbara community, where he secured them positions in many of the political and counter-cultural organizations he had helped to found. In most of Santa Barbara’s defining political debates — including growth, water, housing, homelessness, the living wage, immigrants’ rights, environment protection, and alternative transportation — activists nurtured by Flacks have played crucial roles.

Harley Augustino of PUEBLO, the grassroots organization that helped bring 20,000 marchers to the streets of Santa Barbara in support of immigrants’ rights May 2006, started his career with the Isla Vista Tenants Union and then with the Living Wage Coalition thanks to a helping hand from Flacks.

Geoff Green, the 2006 director of the Fund for Santa Barbara, which finances progressive groups countywide; political organizer Ed Maschke, who kept Goleta developers tied up in knots for more than 20 years; and Rob Rosenthal, whose work with Santa Barbara’s homeless helped them emerge as a political force in the 1980s, all were mentored by Dick Flacks.

Though most of his protégés have been men — known as the Flacks Boys — he has mentored a number of influential women including Rose Ann DeMoro, the head of California Nurses Association.

The work of these men and women prove something that Dick Flacks believes with all his might: Small groups of individuals can make history.[2]

SDS founder

Dick Flacks was founder of Students for a Democratic Society in the early 1960s.[3]

Dick Flacks grew up in New York, joined Students for a Democratic Society in 1962while at the University of Michigan, and continued SDS and anti-war activities when he began teaching at the University of Chicago in 1964.[4]

DSA member

In 1990 Dick Flacks was named as a member of Democratic Socialists of America, in Democratic Left, Jan./Feb. 1990, page 13.


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In 1995 Marcy Darnovsky, Barbara Epstein and Richard Flacks edited the book "Cultural Politics and Social Movements"

Bridging the worlds of activism and academia-social movement theory informed with the real experiences of activists-this volume of accessible essays brings together insights from European New Social Movement theorists, U.S. scholars of social movements, and activists involved in social movements from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Contributors included : Alice Echols, Barbara Epstein, Richard Cloward, Marcy Darnovsky, Jeffrey Escoffier, Ilene Rose Feinman, Richard Flacks, Cynthia Hamilton, Allen Hunter, L. A. Kauffman, Rebecca E. Klatch, Margit Mayer, Alberto Melucci, Bronislaw Misztal, Osha Neumann, Frances Fox Piven, Craig Reinarman, Roland Roth, Arlene Stein, Mindy Spatt, Andrew Szasz, Noel Sturgeon and Howard Winant.[5]

Richard Flacks, is also the author of Beyond the Barricades: The ’60s Generation Grows Up (1989); Making History: The American Left and the American Mind (1988), and many articles on social movements, left culture and strategy.

"Who Asked You" Election Advertisement

In April 1968, Richard Flacks signed an Advertisement in the Hyde Park-Kenwood Voices as a committee member of an as yet un-named organization led by Ruth Adams, Timuel Black, Rev. E. Spencer Parsons, Al Verri and Rabbi Jacob Weinstein asking the question, "What can you do to get a real choice for president in 1968?"[6]

Tribute to Michael Harrington


In September 1989 Derek Shearer, Dolores Huerta, Dick Flacks, Harold Meyerson, Penny Schantz, paid tribute to the late Michael Harrington, at a Democratic Socialists of America event in Los Angeles.

Campaign for America's Future

In 1996 Dick Flacks, UC, Santa Barbara was one of the original 130 founders of Campaign for America's Future.[7]

Open letter to Andy Stern

On May 1 2008, Richard Flacks, of the University of California, Santa Barbara signed an open letter to SEIU president Andy Stern in protest at SEIU move to force its local United Healthcare Workers into trusteeship.

"We are writing to express our deep concern about SEIU's threatened trusteeship over its third largest local, United Healthcare Workers (UHW). We believe that there must always be room within organized labor for legitimate and principled dissent, if our movement is to survive and grow. Putting UHW under trusteeship would send a very troubling message and be viewed, by many, as a sign that internal democracy is not valued or tolerated within SEIU. In our view, this would have negative consequences for the workers directly affected, the SEIU itself, and the labor movement as a whole. We strongly urge you to avoid such a tragedy."

Progressives for Obama

In 2009 Dick Flacks Santa Barbara County Action Network was listed as a signer of the Progressives for Obama website.[8]

"Leftist VIPs"

Wrote Santa Barbara blogger Paul Rivas;

April 4 2011, "The eight-man Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro de Cuba killed it last night at Campbell Hall, whipping a crowd of high-paying white people into a rhythm-less frenzy".

The performance earned the Don Francisco de Goleta seal of approval, the highest honor that a Latin American musical act can hope to garner on a visit to Santa Barbara. Don Francisco was especially impressed with the singer who took over the microphone in the second half of the show, remarking, "He's playing the fuck out of the maracas, too." Goleta's other musical genius was also excited to see such impressive use made of the Cuban tres, a guitar-like instrument with six steel strings strung in pairs that sounds like a harpsichord.

It was great to see local leftist VIPs Dick and Mickey Flacks, Nick Welsh, Marty Blum and Salud Carbajal in attendance, but let's remember one thing: anybody can shell out to show solidarity when high-profile Cubans come to town, but it takes a real subversivo to rock a Cuba hoodie on the regular.[9]

CPA event

Citizens Planning Association Santa Barbara County 54th Annual Meeting, July 26, 2014.

President Dave Bernal called the meeting to order and got down to business. First up were brief introductions, an administrative report, and fittingly for the UCSB panel theme, a glowing brief of what an internship at CPA involves by current intern Lisa Haroutunian.

The panel consisted of honorees:

UCSB Assistant Vice Chancellor Marc Fischer, Emeritus Professor Dick Flacks and was moderated by Geoff Green, Executive Director at the Fund for Santa Barbara. The group engaged the audience with their lively discussion regarding their current roles, UCSB's ambitious Long Range Development plan, its Public presentation for the creation of the SUN Coalition (including 16 Goleta and Isla Vista community groups),and their five year private dialogue with the university college to improve the new campus plan and reduce impacts on the surrounding community.

The award ceremony portion of the meeting kicked off with an eloquent and enthusiastic acceptance speech by Buellton's 'Citizens Planning Award' winner Joan Hartmann. Presenting the award were County Supervisor Salud Carbajal and board member, Lee Moldaver.

Next up was Ted Rhodes, honored by County Supervisor Salud Carbajal and Carpinteria Mayor Brad Stein for career service in land preservation, conservation, energy and natural resource leadership in the Carpinteria Valley.

The Board of Directors voted to present a Certificate of Encouragement to Assistant to the City Administrator Nina Johnson. Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider made the presentation.

Finally, Dick Flacks and Marc Fischer were awarded their certificate of recognition by Nineteenth Senate District Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson for their outstanding commitment and dedication to the community through invaluable service at UCSB.

The closing reception - included several former CPA award winners, including Don Olson and Bob Field, former CPA president David Landecker, councilmen Gregg Hart and Bendy White, and planning commissioner/former mayor Sheila Lodge.[10]


Thirty activists gathered in the home Dick Flacks & Mickey Flacks. What brought them together was desire: some of them had a passion for social justice; others were environmental activists. They sought a place where progressive activists in Santa Barbara County could plan, dream, and join social and environmental justice issues within one organization. “For example,” Dick Flacks remembers, “we wanted to work for affordable housing as a priority, and use a community planning process that both protected the natural environment while promoting people of all socio-economic classes.”

In that initial meeting of 2001, the group determined that if they could get 100 activists to commit $250 each toward this effort, they would launch an organization. By January 2002, they had exceeded their goal and moved forward with incorporation. SBCAN (Santa Barbara County Action Network) was founded in 2002 “to bring together environmental activism and social justice in Northern Santa Barbara County,” said Ken Hough, the 2015 SBCAN Executive Director. The Fund for Santa Barbara has provided seed funding and ongoing support to the organization since 2002. [11]

SBCAN Board of Directors, 2011


Santa Barbara County Action Network Board 2011

Executive Director

Advocacy Director

SBCAN Action Fund Announces Endorsements

Board supports Salud Carbajal, Doreen Farr, Das Williams and Lois Capps, among other candidates

By Richard Flacks for the Santa Barbara County Action Network Action Fund, April 26, 2012.

The board of the Santa Barbara County Action Network Action Fund has voted for a number of endorsements in local races to be decided in the June 5 election.

The board is particularly proud to endorse Joyce Howerton, candidate for the Board of Supervisors in the Fourth District.

“Joyce was a founder of SBCAN (our sister organization) and has served as its director for the past 18 months,” Action Fund board chair Dick Flacks said. “Her record as a staunch advocate for the environment, for working families and for transparent government extends over decades as a leader and mayor of Lompoc. Her election to the board would be a transformative event in the history of this county.”

The board urges the election of Hannah-Beth Jackson for State Senate.

SBCANAF endorses the following candidates for re-election to the county Board of Supervisors: Salud Carbajal for the First District and Doreen Farr for the Third District.

The Action Fund endorses Das Williams for re-election to the Assembly and Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, for Congress.

The SBCAN Action Fund will be urging its hundreds of supporters to contribute their time, energy and dollars to these campaigns.[12]

SBCAN Board of Directors

Santa Barbara County Action Network Board of Directors, accessed January 9, 2018.[13]