By Ken Stone
Nothing can silence Doug Porter.
Not death threats, a media firestorm (in 1975 with the D.C.-based magazine CounterSpy where he says he’d “flown too close to the sun”) or too many publication and website closings to count, including San Diego Free Press in December 2018.
Not even the loss of his vocal cords to throat cancer. He uses what he calls “a not-very-reliable prosthetic implant.”
“It’s mostly unintelligible over the phone, which is helpful in dealing with spam calls; not so helpful most of the time,” he’s written. “I have a difficult time being heard at meetings and demonstrations. I don’t see that challenge getting in the way of being a voice for progressive ideas and activism.”
“It’s my opinion … that things will never be the same again,” he recently wrote about the pandemic. “Let’s have a conversation about what that could mean from a glass half-full perspective. I’m not interested in promoting ideas with no connection to reality (sorry, some form of capitalism will continue to exist, at least for a while); I’m looking for the seeds of change embedded or suggested by the needed focus on what is the greater good.”
His fans are legion.
“Doug Porter was superb,” wrote Judi Curry on the closing of the Free Press website, where he was a key editor. “His research skills were second to none and since we shared the same philosophy on just about everything I looked forward to reading his writings and daily column.”
Fellow activist Frank Gormlie addressed him during an OB Rag interview: “You, probably more than anyone else locally – and certainly within the progressive community – have a pulse on the electoral fortunes of the political class.”
Now it’s our turn to quiz the 69-year-old North Park resident.
Times of San Diego: How are you working during this pandemic? What telework tools are you using?
Doug Porter: Since I’ve been writing full time, I’ve always worked from home.
I have/had a routine: read all the papers/newsletters (about 18 daily), write from 7:30 to 11:30, walk, shop, correspond & cook in the afternoon.
I’m already sort of a hermit, since my prosthetic voice (lost it to cancer in 2012) is unreliable and makes strangers uncomfortable. My daily strolls usually cover about three miles. I solve a lot of problems walking around North Park. And, unlike my days of wine and roses, I often remember those thoughts.
I use everything for communicating. Signal for sources, Twitter Direct Messages, (mostly for people I don’t know, so they can see who I am), Facebook messenger for my family, Slack for my volunteer work with Indivisible, Zoom for group meetings, Skype when needed, and three email accounts — one personal, one for the blog and one for newsletters, political mailing lists and assorted subscriptions. I don’t talk on the phone often; people have a hard time understanding me.
How many in your household — number of kids and adults? How are you all getting along?
We’re empty nesters, so it’s just my wife of 35+ years, Lisa, myself, and our cat who doesn’t seem to know she’s very old. Our daughter lives in Austin and we Skype on Sundays.
Lisa still works full time at the University of California as a Big Cheese in the Dining & Housing division. Needless to say, there’s always something stressful going on, so my role is to make her life easier. I really like doing it. I had my fill of being a workaholic. This is much more satisfying.
How are you getting food and other necessities? How often do you personally go out, or are you taking delivery mostly?
Obviously the food shopping part isn’t happening for me (because I’m old) these days and I miss it terribly. My wife now does the shopping. As a former chef, she’s good at it. I just miss the thrill of seeing things at the market that inspired my menus. She does a Target run once a week, and we get a wee bit via Amazon.
We’re experimenting with delivery services for local food that have sprung up since the Hillcrest Sunday Farmers Market closed; the problem they’re having is demand is so high that some products sell out instantly. One farm told us demand exceeded 800% of what they’re currently growing.
My main vice these days is coffee. Coffee & Tea Collective on El Cajon Boulevard has curbside pickup, so I’m staying caffeinated in the manner in which I’ve become accustomed.
We haven’t been doing carry-out meals, mostly because I’m such a food snob that I always end up saying I could do better.
So my time outdoors is limited to my afternoon strolls and the once a week in-person drives to see my Mom, who’s ninetysomething and very independent, except when it comes to technology. I’m her fix and repair guy for the stuff that happens with various devices.
Aside from official local, state and government channels, how are you getting news about the outbreak? How much social media do you use?
I often watch Governor Newsom’s pressers live, catch up with Supervisor Fletcher/Mayor Faulconer on social media, and studiously avoid the presidential circus every afternoon. I’m a voracious reader of mainstream media, magazines and blogs.
I find Facebook to be not very useful these days in terms of news stories. Twitter is my go-to social media, since I follow a wide variety of journalists, politicians and people who strike me as smart. I have zero tolerance for trolls, Baghdad Bobs and fools, and mute them as needed.
How do you ward off negative emotions — fear, anxiety, depression? What steps are you taking to preserve mental and physical health?
I struggled with depression for decades. Back when I had cancer and things weren’t looking too bright, I got referred to a shrink who set me up with a regimen that’s been working most of the time for nearly a decade. My biggest fear is that sometimes these meds stop working after a while, but so far, so good.
My almost-daily walks are real mood improvers. A week of rainy days can be a downer, for sure.
Anxiety is the boogeyman for just about everybody I know these days. I try to watch some lighthearted stuff on Netflix (right now it’s “Grace & Frankie”) and look to “Star Trek” (all versions) for a diversion. CBD oil helps at bedtime.
I make it a point to think past the immediate crises we face these days, and like to spend some time thinking about what could be in the future. There are a lot of wonderful people out doing good things, and I believe in the Mr. Rogers’ lesson about looking for the helpers.
What else do you want people to know about your own personal response to the outbreak?
I care about what other people are going through. I believe a lot of what got us to the terrible place we’re at was greed triumphing over empathy. Now it’s “Me” vs. “We,” as far as the future is concerned. The Me-types are hoarding toilet paper and buying guns; meanwhile, lots of people are putting their lives on the line in so many ways.
This crisis has strengthened my belief that our best future lies in learning how to make working together. I hope that’s the good thing coming out of this nightmare.
Fifth in a series. We invite suggestions for interview subjects — prominent San Diegans in politics, business, nonprofits, sports and the arts. Write to Ken Stone, contributing editor, or post a comment.
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