Coming to Terms with “Drinking the Kool-Aid”

(This is an edited version of the remarks Kathy Tropp Barbour made at the Jonestown Memorial at the service for survivors and families on November 18, 2011. The remarks were addressed in the presence of the 30 people gathered on the hillside and the 409 people buried at her feet, but also to the 914 members of Peoples Temple who died 33 years earlier.)

To the family we gather to honor, you will live in our hearts forever.

Some survivors and former members of Peoples Temple would like to stop people from using the phrase, “drinking the Kool-Aid” out of respect for you.

I think this is misguided and, even if it were possible, might not have the intended result. I say this for three reasons:

      • It is a useful phrase. “Drinking the Kool-Aid” is a verb; the noun is “Kool-Aid drinker.” These terms express a complex concept, that of loyalty to a leader or a cause to the extreme of one’s own demise. They are universally recognized, universally understood, to convey that, and usually it is appropriate.

• Although the offense of hearing our loved ones reduced to an aspersion is real, most of the time these words are used, it is to describe someone else. They are not talking about us. I would try not to take it personally.

• Third and most importantly, there is no untruth in it. It happened, we have all had to deal with the reality of it and the pain of the result, and come to terms with it.

Who hasn’t fantasized being able to turn over the vat that day? After many years of imagining somehow being there, to overturn the vat, I had a realization, which came in the form of a question: “Who is drinking the Kool-Aid now? Or lining up to drink it? Where is the metaphorical vat, and who can help me overturn it?”

This changed an exercise in futility, fantasizing about reliving the past, into a new perspective on the present, and on opportunities today.

Today, the proponents of endless war sit on that throne. The Arab Spring gave way to the bloody Arab Summer, and has now come home.

Finally, to those who are with us in spirit and on whose remains we stand, I say

You will live in my heart forever.

Your struggle is my struggle.

Your redemption is my redemption.

I love you.

I will never forget you.

(Kathy Barbour [Tropp] joined Peoples Temple in 1970 with her companion, Richard Tropp, and was living in the San Francisco Temple on November 18, 1978. She is a regular contributor to the jonestown report. Her other article in this edition is A Review of Stories from Jonestown. Her earlier writings on this site can be found here.)