A Bit of History by Rich Yurman

To preserve some of MOVE’s 15 year history, I met with four of the men who founded MOVE, Mark Claycomb(MC), Allan Creighton(AC), Michael Radetsky (MR), Alan Regenstrief(AR), and two men who joined early on, Dana Francis(DF) and David Matchett(DM).

In this distillation of a two plus hour discussion, I’ve tried to retain the essentials without distorting the various points of view.

Unfortunately in this process a great deal of the humor and verbal by-play that brought the evening alive and gave me an insight into early MOVE meetings is lost. For this loss I apologize to the participants. I hope what remains is true to their memories and vision of MOVE.

— Rich Yurman(RY)

  • How did MOVE start?
  • How were the first men you dealt with referred to MOVE?
  • What was your early process like?
  • Where did the exercises you used in group come from?
  • You had all been activists not therapists.
  • How did the work with gay men start?
  • What did you get back from doing the work? 

RY How did MOVE start?

MR A woman from Seattle named Ann Ganley came to San Francisco to give a talk about her work with men who were violent in their relationships. What I got from that was: Here’s a process that is both practical–you could do it–and visionary–a way to make social change. Before that I hadn’t thought specifically of working with men who were violent.

AC MOVE started off the energy of women’s groups becoming very public and men’s groups beginning to be formed behind that. Our first meeting was Dec. ’80 or Jan.’81

MR It was a chance to do the sort of exciting things women were doing, a way to take the stuff men’s groups were dealing with and make it about social change and justice and political struggle, not just about ourselves.

MC But we decided we can’t do this work without first talking about our own experiences with violence and our fear of working with violent men. For the first 6 months our meetings were devoted to taking turns, often the whole 3 hours on one person’s experiences. We really had to understand that part of ourselves before we could think of becoming an organization. At first we were 10-12 men, but the core quickly became Bill Mack, David Anick, Andrew Bundy, and the 4 of us (AC, MR, AR, MC).

MR It was a little over a year and a half from that first meeting to when we actually said, “Yes, we’re going to do it.”


How were the first men you dealt with referred to MOVE?

MR Our stock line was they were “woman referred.” They weren’t self-referred and they weren’t system referred.

DF Back then the courts were poorly organized to refer men, so they floated around needing some kind of program. MOVE, along with the Family Violence Project, worked for years to get probation departments to understand what we offered.

MC Before we had an office, we met at Woman, Inc. That’s how we actually started doing the work–individual sessions with men who had been referred by abused women.

AC Or Woman, Inc would give the men our number. We’d get calls “Where’s my wife? Put her on the phone.” We’d try to interest them in what we were doing. “She’s not here. Why do you think she might not want to see you at this moment? Maybe we can address some of what’s been happening in your relationship.”

AC And Woman Inc. was instrumental in our finding our first office, that closet at 16th & Mission.

AR I remember how scary it was to rent that office. We didn’t have any money.

AC I think of those times and feel like I’m in that room again. It’s dark, it’s night. I can see all the chairs, the butcher paper on the walls, the pledge, the contract, the couches-

DF –the roaches. I remembering Jim Shattuck telling me about doing an individual session where at one point a cockroach goes crawling across the guy’s shoulder, and Jim very nonchalantly reaches over and flicks it away.

AR A therapeutic intervention.

AC Then the first group was one guy. Two of us and one guy. It was so embarrassing. We made him talk and talk and talk.

MC I remember the process of picking the facilitators for that first group. I was so hurt that I wasn’t chosen.

AC It almost destroyed us. We couldn’t figure out how to deal with who might want to do it. 6 or 8 of us sat in the office deciding. David Anick and I were the first two. We looked at each other: “I’m going to co-facilitate with you?” We didn’t even talk about how we would work together. That was difficult, but not long afterwards we were all doing groups.

MC Of course we didn’t charge. So we had to scramble around to raise money–kick in whatever we could at meetings, borrow from parents and friends.

AC There was a little money from Woman, Inc.

MR And we didn’t have many expenses, rent and the phone. That was it. We passed the hat.

MC We had to come up with the first month’s rent like that.

MR People who had a couple of hundred dollars extra were very generous and all of us chipped in lOs & 20s. Later Alan (R) was instrumental in us learning to accept money. I remember him urging us in the early days to ask for support from our friends and relatives. And in later days to start to charge, and then start to charge a little more.

DF Alan was a voice in the wilderness because we were all scared of money–for many reasons.

MR I remember talking to a group of women at the founding of the Domestic Violence Consortium. MOVE had been so careful not to compete for grants. They said, “It’s crazy for MOVE not to look for funding. We need you guys to do this work.”

RY What was your early process like?

AR Our first process was to talk about our own violence.

MR That kept us believing we weren’t ‘these people’ trying to cure ‘those people’. If we were going to work with anybody else around their violence, we had to track down our own. And we had to have process meetings to deal with our feelings.

AR We were meeting three nights a week.

MR You could miss a business meeting but you got some really bad trouble for missing a process meeting.

DF The retreats were a lot of process too, and struggle around the issues central to all our lives–violence, class, race–we were painfully aware that we were white, fairly educated and not successful in bringing in people of color who would stay.

AC I remember the retreat when we had the talent show. The absolute show stopper was a piece Alan wrote about a MOVE group. 10 minutes of puns and double entendres about penises. We went on laughing for 3 or 4 hours, then had a very sober next morning when Jim Shattuck and a couple of other gay men said, “What’s going on here? There’s so much emotion over penises.” It was a painful and profound lesson about the humiliation around penises that all men, particularly heterosexual men, carry.

DM And what was that game?

AC Pictionary?

DM Moments like that are just burned into my memory. I was in some alternate universe from everyone else.

DF You at least played. I didn’t because I was in that same universe you were in and couldn’t deal with the aggressiveness.

DM It took me by surprise. A game like charades, but you drew it instead of acting it. The competitiveness in the room just felt awful to me, but other people were enjoying it, so I felt totally alienated.

AR At the retreats this very traditional masculine side would emerge. It had been absent in all those other meetings, but over a retreat could not be repressed. It started off with how many of us were totally involved with sports.

AC The great secret.

AR At least 50% of us knew about all the teams and acted very competitive. I’ll never forget retreat check-ins, the emotional highlight of the year. It wasn’t exactly competitive but I felt compelled to put everything out there. I think unconsciously I would prepare for my check-in for days in advance.

MR I remember worrying about the order of check-ins. The later it got, the heavier your check-in had to be. Early on you could get by with baring your soul. If you were 7th or 8th, there better be something really dramatic going on in your life.

AR That’s making fun of what was an incredible process. There was such group compassion from the endless process at meetings. I think we managed to hold a huge amount of conflict, voice it and work through it, in a pretty damned healthy way. It’s amazing we could hold all the conflict we had.

RY Where did the exercises you used in group come from?

AR A lot of them we made up out of our relationships in the groups and with each other in MOVE meetings.

AC The group model, check-ins, the experiential stuff, role playing, was all right out of our process work.

MR We had a laundry list of things other people had done, but most exercises we invented out of whole cloth. If one went well, we’d tell everybody. If someone else liked the idea, he’d try it or modify it.

DF We also wracked our brains for provocative, interesting stuff we could do for the volunteer trainings. Sometimes those were very successful, so we modified them to use in group. There was a huge field of possibilities, like listing types of violence

MR And, “How was discipline handled in your family?”

AR A lot of exercises came from the men. One Father’s Day guys began telling how at a certain age they had made a vow that they would never treat their sons as their fathers had treated them.

DF That led to our most powerful and disturbing exercise–not disturbing in a bad way, but really hard: You’re your own father and you’re introducing your son to another person and telling in what ways you like your son and in what ways you’re disappointed in him. People just fell apart over that exercise.

AR The men invented that one, we didn’t. Some things just got tapped into in the groups that were archetypal. I’d get chills watching what was happening.

MC But even if we had an exercise planned, there was only a 50% chance it would happen.

MR Depending on the check-ins. If somebody needed time, that was the priority.

DF We always did a lot of soul-searching stuff in the first session or two: your experiences with violence in your lives; when you were a victim and when you victimized somebody else.

MR Do people still do the “spaghetti again” role play?

RY The fight in the kitchen? Sure. Dean uses that for the schools program. He says the kids respond to it every time.

DF We should have copyrighted that.

RY You had all been activists not therapists.

MR We were down on therapy.

AC We were doing it from a political standpoint, trying to all be equals, not knowing the least thing about therapy.

MR I still think that was good. I was and continue to be suspicious of therapy. For me, it was political action for social change.

AC Our focus on counseling was reluctant. We did groups because that had a practical existence. It wasn’t necessarily our first choice. The first priority would have been to transform things generally, not man by man.

DF I remember Paul Kivel wanting to get MOVE’s educational component beefed up. He got frustrated with the lack of progress and started Oakland Men’s Project. To me, O.M.P. has always been the part of MOVE that never blossomed–prevention, education, working with kids. Things MOVE sometimes did in little ways but counseling always had the stronger focus.

AC Because doing the groups was really therapeutic–therapeutic for the men and unquestionably therapeutic for me and for whoever I co-facilitated with. Astounding things would happen in group that we had no vocabulary for except therapeutic terms. Later I used a lot of MOVE exercises in O.M.P. workshops and classes. But a heavy contradiction had developed at MOVE–people had started going to New College so we had a growing therapeutic practice. This began a sustained questioning: Are these peer groups or therapy? Should the facilitators be therapists? and so on. Men who talked about equality were beginning to get professional careers for themselves. How did that fit our philosophy?

AR We had thought out that philosophy and wanted everything we did to follow from it. I’ve never found that in another organization.

DM (passing around files) These are from the first training.

MR (reading) MOVE counseling philosophy, June 1982. 1. “All men are abusive in some way.”

DF Fortunately that changed to a balance between confronting the violence and having empathy for the men.

MR An article of faith from the beginning was that men’s violence was learned. Abusive behavior didn’t come with the plumbing. That’s what made it possible to even think about doing the work. If it was learned, it could be unlearned. Men aren’t evil. They’re capable of being good, so there’s hope. Yet that doesn’t make wrong or incomprehensible women’s anger and need to fight against attack. It’s hard to balance those two.

DF But we did achieve that balance. Everybody in this room moved that paradigm along, and Jim Shattuck did a tremendous job of articulating it in public when he was director. And he took heat beyond what we can imagine because that was seen then as blasphemy, particularly among women who worked with survivors. A woman working in a shelter, seeing women come in with black eyes and broken arms, would find it difficult not to say, “What are you talking about, you have to empathize with this guy? Can’t you see what he’s done?” Yet it’s the crux of the matter. If you treat a man who’s violent like he’s a monster, forget it, you’re not going to be able to work with him.

DM We struggled for that distinction between the behavior and the person.

DF I’m really proud of MOVE for that position. Looking at our work over the years, I realize that’s what’s been passed along.

MR I always felt deciding you’ re able to do this work required having some positive feelings toward these abusive men. I’m very supportive of women doing the work if they can do that–but for me there was something special we brought to it as men. We could operate without all that rage. It was hard not to feel it sometimes, but it was fundamental to what we understood as our mission. I remember women saying they couldn’t understand how anybody would want to associate with “those men”.

AC It would be toxic.

DF It isn’t black and white, it’s gray and murky. And most disturbing, you’re never safe doing it.

RY How did the work with gay men start?

MR That study Andrew (Bundy) did was the beginning of MOVE dealing with gay men.

AC 1983. Then a gay man did an internship.

AR And there were clients. We struggled with should a gay man join the heterosexual group or should he be seen individually? Should we start a gay group? At first we did see some gay men individually.

AC I think Jim Shattuck made the difference.

MC He forced the issue in a way no one else had felt courageous enough to do.

DF But MOVE got a lot of flack in the early going from the S&M community. People wrote to us: Who the hell do you think you are defining what violence is in the gay men’s community, particularly since MOVE was seen as a very heterosexual group.

RY What did you get back from doing the work?

AC I did groups for 2 years, maybe longer. They were the most profound experience in my life up to that point.

DF I always came out after group feeling very hopeful even in the midst of the horrendous stuff we would hear. I never came out feeling this is not working–just the opposite, for these guys, being in that room was making a big difference. It was so intense, I always learned more in the 2 hours than they did.

MR I was the MOVE community education person for about 2 years. I would do the spaghetti role play and people’s emotional reactions made me feel I was really accomplishing something. After a couple of role plays, people would be into their histories and their families and their heartbreaks. No schpiel I ever gave about socialism ever created that kind of rapport.

AR Part of our philosophy was we would be self-disclosing, we would share about our own violence. I think that always carries the day. It leads to others sharing their experiences.

AC MOVE runs 16 groups now. I left years ago, but I feel proud that we were part of the process that fostered this and that a remnant of our early discussions survives. They still use our ideas for the opening groups. Some of the most important experiences of my life were in those 4-5 years. Going through that process with MOVE was a kind of birth or conversion experience. Still I’m grateful not to be doing it now because the work is so hard.

DF When I think back on all the politically correct head banging we did, sometimes I feel, “God, what a waste of time.” Other times I think we really had to get through that 15 years ago. Times were different, attitudes were different. The part I’m proud of, and I hope MOVE is still carrying this torch, is the metamorphosis of our position about men and violence from that thing you read before–all men are intrinsically abusive, flog, flog, flog–to that knife-edge balance of confronting violence while having empathy for men who’ve been where all of us have been and have not handled it well.

MR I remember walking in the Gay March with the MOVE banner and feeling I was getting credit for more than I had ever done. People thought, God, these are the saviors of humanity, the guys who dare to deal with “those men.” I was getting credit for being a hero of the revolution just because I worked with MOVE.

AR Tonight makes me realize the sense of loss I feel not having the kind of community I had as part of MOVE. A lot of stuff that’s come up is about hurts that are hard to contain without a community that understands how you feel. There are so few people in my life who can understand what I’m talking about that it becomes very important for me to express it here.

DM The last couple of times I’ve gotten into a MOVE kind of reunion, I’ve felt an overwhelming sense of loss. Just hearing you talk this evening has been such a pleasure. If we started doing something again, I feel I’d be immediately back on track.

MC For the last 2-3 years I’ve felt very estranged from MOVE. I left very bitter and angry because when I was on the board, you all kept leaving and I kept staying. I dealt with that by being just furious at what I’d lost. Then this year I had a chance to supervise an intern at MOVE. It’s been a wonderful way to reconnect and put to rest some of that intense feeling of loss.