Thomas' View of "The System"
Theory/Solution: A True Story
Theories of International Politics
for Prof. Onuf, American University
December 16, 1981
Every day hundreds drive past the White House and talk about
the President and his "lovely" wife, Nancy. They peer
out their windows as though the presidential home was part of a
freak show, While children yell out the window, "Hi, Mr. and Mrs.
President," adults either praise or criticize him. But Ronald
Reagan is not always the only attraction, demonstrators draw
Whether it be the suffragettes earlier this century or
the anti-war demonstrators of the 1960s and '70s, protesters feel
that the ultimate place to protest is in front of the White M?use
on Pennsylvania Ave. Each hoping that their cause or what they
represent will be beard by the highest elected official, the
Chief Executive of the U.S,, who has influence or the power to do
Rarely, Do you find someone walking back and forth holding a
sign endorsing the president, "Your doing a good job," or "more
power to you, Ron." Consequently anyone who marches in front of
the White House is unhappy about something, be it abortion/anti-abortion , ERA/anti-ERA, etc. They are unhappy
about something, or worried about something which would change
"the system," i.e. essentially how the world really operates and
Who controls 'the strings."
There are very few, who protest in front of the White House
who are against the entire 'system.' One such devoted protester,
a true model of civil disobedience, is Thomas, He has been
sitting on the sidewalk with his back against the concrete ledge,
below the black iron fence that surrounds the White House since
June 3, 1981. I first met Thomas last September, when I happened
to have been in the area. I stopped to chat, but unfortunately we
got into an argument, in which he lost his temper. He had asked
me what I was studying and I replied International Studies/
Economics. He then said the only way to correct the economic
system is to scrap it and start over. I firmly disagreed and said
it could be repaired from within.
Ever since that day I've had his words on my mind and
especially during our class discussions. So when we had to choose
the way we wanted to take our final exam, I immediately voted
in favor of the paper, because I knew my topic and it would give
me the perfect opportunity to see if either of us had changed
and to get to know him better. I wanted to know why he was
sitting out in front of the White House, when it was 35 degrees
with the wind blowing as if it would never stop. Especially, when
there were tents across the street in Lafayette Park, which were
donated by the Committee for Creative Nonviolence. Is he crazy or
is he lazy and needs the attention?
In order to understand Thomas, his viewpoint, theory and
beliefs a discussion about his background would be helpful,
Thomas was raised in Westchester County, N.Y. I mentioned that
Westchester was s rather wealthy area. He nodded without looking
and said, yes. When I inquired about his parents he said, "What,
my biological parents?" There was a great sense of distance
and 1 detected a bit of hidden sadness. He was married and has
two children. They live in New Mexico, where he had lived for
a long time. His parents don't know where he is and I don't
think his former wife knows either. His list of professions
include the following carpenter, driver of a semi, jeweler, and
he worked on boats in the oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico.
So what made him take such a switch from the oil fields of
the Gulf to the front of the White Mouse? Thomas didn't want to
be a seaman. He was just working on boats. He just wants to
learn. He's not interested in pinning labels. "I am not a thing.
I'm just doing something." Another factor Thomas mentioned was
The Bible. He couldn't remember exactly what passage, but it made
him reevaluate hie lifestyle, Essentially, it said the Lord will
provide all that is needed. One should be more concerned with how
one is living his life, rather than what one has or is. Thomas
didn't strike me as a terribly religious person, but he quit his
job working on boats and with his seaman's papers went to
Casablanca. He. proceeded to walk to Cairo. He wanted to test
what was written and see if it was possible. He saw the world
through a "looking up the skirts" viewpoint, no hotels, no tours,
and most of all no money. He's visited many Third World countries
and solidly affirms he never asked for food or money, but was
To this day he still lives that same lifestyle. He stated
he obtains most of his food from garbage dumpsters. An excellent
example was the 5 pm-donut break time. We went behind a donut
shop, where he and his buddies searched and inspected donuts that
they had dug up out of the dumpster. He told me that donuts were
very filling. They were extremely generous and offered me some
several times. I told them, "Thank you very much, but I'm very
full now." Occasionally, someone will bring him food, but he
never begs or buys food. Once in a while he'll ask someone for a
cigarette. There's always an exception to every rule.
Thomas is a short man who would be stereotyped in many a
mind as a bum. In his own words, "I live as a penniless wanderer
and pilgrim," His clothes are old, a rather "take what I can get or find" wardrobe. Considering his lifestyle,
living constantly outdoors in all kinds of weather he looks
rather clean with the exception of his untrimmed grey and white
beard. Surprisingly, enough he doesn't have a horrendous odor,
too. It is obvious after hearing Thomas talk about his lifestyle
nne can easily see how it has aged him by several years, so it
is hard to say exactly how old he is. I would estimate him to be
in his early thirties.
If Thomas is so unhappy with 'the system,' then why doesn't
he just leave? Thomas did leave this country and wanted to stay
out, but be ran into problems with Customs when he tried to enter
England. His seaman's papers had expired, but he refused to file
for new payers, on grounds that he disagreed with the whole
concept of immigration policies and regulations, He
disagreed with the idea of living by "imaginary lines" that are
on amn made maps, which don't physically exist an the earth.
feels that man should be free to travel where ever he would like
to go. Before he travelled he claimed he really didn't know the
true meaning of nationalism. He said it is all very arbitrary
where (i person is born, which determines how he can travel, how
he can live and whether he has access to the most fundamental
things that are necessary for life.
That is why he didn't file for new papers, instead he was
deported back to the U.S. and not by his own free will. It was
all because he happened to be born in the U.S. and is therefore a U.S, citizen.
Thomas sits In front of the White House in order to make
his theory or views public. Thomas sits next to a sign stating,
"Wanted: Wisdom and Honesty." Further down the White House fence,
a female friend sits next to a 'second sign which states, "Do you
believe in 'Humanity?' For God's sake, Help me, Don't destroy me,
care, dare, share, Get involved to strengthen the good that
remains" (and to the left side of the sign) "Corruption in U.S.
Political System Assaults terrorize women by Chemical Radiation
Warfare deadly to health." The second sign has pictures of women
whose bodies were exposed to large doses of radiation.
Why is 'the system" so wrong in Thomas' opinion? According
to Thomas, the U.S. is 1/20 of the world's population and that
it consumes 1/3 of thc world's resourcesi This is not equitable.
"The only reason that piece of paper is issued is
to help me, in theory and in practice it identifies me
as a protectee of this government, And this government
to represent me and help me and defend my rights, well
I don't need them, Well, since I don't need them to do
that shit for me, they have no right to expect me to
carry around their piece of paper and say I am one of
them. It was a matter of principle. I an a human and
not a piece of paper,"
When asked if 'the system' had anything good to offer,
Thomas replied, "No. 'The system" doesn't offer anything good.
The ideals and principles, on which it bases its reasons for
existing, its justification for existing those 'things' are good;
justice, equality, freedom, Those things are good, but 'this
system' does nothing, whatsoever to insure those ideals."
Thomas does not support any 'system' that is presently in
operation. To him the Soviet Union is just as guilty as the
U.S. what does he for see as the ultimate solution? After
interviewing Thomas twice, I outlined a five step plan or theory
that would lead to his ultimate goal; the destruction of 'the
system' and a final solution.. It would be the following:
1st step, Communications must be improved, Communications
is the most important issue, Thomas' answer is through computers.
"Having a computer gives you the ability of having
the Library of Congress in your living room. You would
have the ability to solve all the problems, because you
would have access to all the information, You would
need honest people to act as judges to mediate, if there
was some type of problem, of decision, that could not be
reached independently. But once people view reality
realistically, they'll see that's in their best interests
to resolve all the differences amicably, Then you won't
even need honest people to mediate, because everyone
will do their own mediation.· But communications is all
that you need, if you have access to information you can
solve all the problems, all the problems!"
Thomas sees computers as being misused. They are keeping track of
money and people. In his mind, that is a waste of time and
2nd step, If 10-20% of the producers stopped producing
and held strikes, then this would eventually paralyze the
country within time. It would help to destroy 'the system.'
3rd step, abolish money, patents and copyrights. "Money is the
root of all evil,"
4th step, Abolish all political systems. There is no
need for government and dictation of policies, because Thomas
believes 'the law' is set, referring to, "Every action has a
reaction.· What you give is what you get, Treat somebody good,
you get a good reactions. Treat somebody bad you get a had
reaction, That's how you get to be happy by treating people
Thomas later stated,
"You can build yourself a big White House on 'the
Hill,' but that doesn't change the law, You can put
a lot of words in books and make life very complicated
and difficult, and very unattractive, and very mundane,
and routine, and boring. But it doesn't change the
fact that there's only one law. 'What you give, is
what you get.'"
"The more primitive, you could say, a system is
the more in accord with natural law it lives, In
many places like the Third World, in Arabic countries
for certain there is virtually no crime, because
people realize this law of action and reaction, so
they don't need strong Police forces to control the
people. They have strong armies instead."
"If this country cannot make people act the way
it wants them to act. Cannot make people behave
the way it wants them to behave, If the Soviet Union
can't do it, then no one can do it .., No power on
earth has ever been able to do it. The Romans couldn't
do it. The Greeks couldn't do it. Hitler couldn't
do it. You can not build a system that will make
people behave in your ideal manner,,,You can coax
them. You can say things to them to try to make
them see their mistakes, but there's no sense in
trying to coerce them, because you are not going to
be able to do it, And I see no need for policy because
you can't enforce it."
Which leads us to the last and most important step, the
5th step, because without this, Thomas' solution is probably
impossible. Moral ethics, responsibility, control, sharing, and
honesty act as the foundation material for Thomas's theory.
Thomas speaking firmly said,
"There's a need for responsibility. There's a need
to govern your desires, your emotions, a very pressing
need. Rut don't expect somebody else to control them
for you, because if you do your going to wind up with
Park Policemen sitting around burning up energy and
flashing their lights, and not controlling nothing."
(During the second interview several policemen were
sitting in the car in front the white House, in
front of us; with their emergency flashers and the
engine was on, too,) "Control yourself. Be responsible
for yourself. Be responsible to your environment.''
Sharing and honesty is, also, needed.
What thoughts came to mind while interviewing Thomas? My
first impression was that he was just another bum. But
after talking with him I discovered that this man for only having
gone to the ninth grade, was extremely intelligent and extremely
dedicated to his beliefs, For someone who faces never ending
harassment by police, fighting the bitter cold weather and living
or what I and others would consider a despicable. diet, he is
more than super human.
In reference to his theory of the perfect solution, I find
several major faults. It is all based on idealism; abolition of
money, patents, and copyrights. He also emphasizes ethics,
responsibility, no social control, sharing and most af
It might be wonderful if all these existed perfectly
but this is the real world. Thomas even stated that the two
greatest super powers cannot maintain social control.
How can he expect total social control among individuals?
All it takes is several dishonest individuals and Thomas' theory/
solution could end up in a worse state than our present day
'system'/s In regards to people putting in wrong information in
the computer bank (whether it be accidental or not) while others
are using it, is dangerous. I think it would be very dangerous to
rely on computers to the extent Thomas advocates.
It would be very difficult to abolish all political systems
and if it was possible, I do not think it would happen all at
one time. This to me seems very dangerous because, even if just
one system existed, more than likely another country would
conquer and replace the already present 'system' with the
aggressors 'system.' In other words there would be no change.
Thomas does not think this would happen.
Thomas is against nationalism, He sees it as creating
friction, building barriers, causing major disruptions in
communications (which he considers to be most important),
creating all possible symptoms which lead to war, I view
nationalism as a means of uniting people, but I recognize after
reviewing history that nationalism can go too far.
Even though I disagree with Thomas, I respect him and his
viewpoint because he is, to the best of his ability trying to
achieve his goal. Living by his beliefs and trying to inform the
public openly is quite admirable, He is unemployed because he
does not like 'the system.' He wants it to be destroyed,
therefore he does not want to contribute to it. Do you think he
likes digging: in dumpsters? It takes a lot of guts to do what he
is doing. What Thomas enjoys most is learning, talking with
people and travelling. In fact, this spring he plans to travel to
Jerusalem. Ask Thomas, "Why Jerusalem'" and he'll smile saying,
"It's a good place to make peace."
"There are so many things that are outside of 'the
system,' now. Improvements that could make life so much
better, but "the system' because 'the system' is "things."
'The system' is automobiles, so automobiles have a vested
interest in remaining. You can't come up with a better
form of transportation, because if you do it's going to
put the automobile industry out of business. So we must
protect the automobile industry, It is an endangered
specie, There are many alternatives to transportation,
communication and education and all of the things that
civilization is about, but civilization won't allow
them because they threaten 'the system.' If you make
these new innovations, then all 'the things" in 'the