I have learned a great lesson about “finding my voice.” Before my involvement in Peoples Temple, and during my time in it, my associations with progressive, integrated, and idealistic groups made up my “voice.” I lived it each day, or felt that I did.
When Peoples Temple died, along with all of my wonderful family, I lost that voice. For the next thirty years, I survived, raised a family, and put myself back together with a profession. I was treading water, and I was satisfied doing that.
When I decided to write my book five years ago, that became my burning candle. I had to do it before I could move past it to whatever would come next. It blocked my view of my future. I then went through all the hoops to get where I am – editing, publishing, publicizing, and encouraging people to talk both about my book and about a deeper understanding about Peoples Temple. That, along with my family and job, took all of my time and energy. I was enriched by what I did, and I was even delighted by my own accomplishments. I thought about writing more books, maybe even fiction. I thought about other directions. But my “voice” had other ideas.
I feel that I finally put my own jigsaw puzzle together so that I am whole. I do love my family, my students, the Quakers, progressives everywhere, communalists at Communal Studies Association, my fellow writers, atheists, peace advocates, and the Occupy-ers who are so much a part of my life these days. And, of course my fellow survivors and other dear friends make up a huge part of who I am. It has taken this one piece – the Occupy-ers – to really complete my circle. That was the missing part of me. I feel so fortunate that these days, when crises flare up, and bigots and homophobes feel too comfortable spouting offensive rhetoric, I am in a good spot to defend the defenseless, and vocally advocate for everyone I know – the 99%. It was a long time coming.
(Laura Johnston Kohl, who had lived in Jonestown but was working in Georgetown on 18 November, died on 19 November 2019 after a long battle with cancer. She was 72. Her writings for this website appear here.)
(The website for Laura’s book Jonestown Survivor is here. It was reviewed by The WriteEdge Bookshelf, a project of the WordPress website for book aficionados (also available here). Her blog on her site includes a number of articles, including A Gathering of Peoples Temple Survivors , Grief, and Going Home Again.
(Laura was also interviewed for a podcast at the Escondido Library following a presentation of her book in May 2012. A podcast from November 2011 appears here (scroll down to Baycast #2; program begins after 30 seconds of intro music).)