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A Tree Grows in Santa Monica:

Whatever else a tree symbolizes, it makes us think of time. Or it should. When Ronald Reagan famously observed “If you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all” he revealed his deep nothingness in regard to the continuity of time represented by a living thing that has been growing for a thousand years. Time wasn’t kind to Reagan, however, and most environmentalists would likely observe that if you’ve heard one snappish observation on the natural world from Reagan, you’ve heard them all.

Jerry and Marissa Rubin might have taught Reagan something about continuity and commitment. They’ve both held-up their end of the bargain as far as commitments to peace and the environment and each other. They were married in 1983 near a very special tree in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park that is actually three different trees. There’s that story, then there’s the story of Jerry Rubin who is literally a man that anyone who has lived here for any length of time has probably run into the man on numerous occasions.

Rubin came to Venice Beach on July 4th, 1967. He says at that time, he was less the hirsute activist and “more like the Fonz.” He distinctly remembers that someone came up and gave him a flower (cue Doors music) and that the holiday fireworks were going off. It was a time when the beach was unquestionably a place of enchantment, and Rubin quite clearly remembers feeling “the peace and the love.” By his own admission, Rubin then “got involved in some negative things.” Far from having an epiphany after some bad acid, Rubin actually found a new direction for himself when a chiropractor cured the source of epileptic seizures that had in Rubin’s view, led him to become a high school dropout and not find his way earlier in life.

In 1979, Rubin attended a “No Nukes” concert at the Hollywood Bowl where he made a connection to organizations involved in environmentalism and peace. And that began Rubin’s commitment to activist work that has likely caused him to bump into most of the Mirror’s readers at one point or another. Maybe you’ve seen Jerry selling socially relevant bumper stickers down on the Promenade or heard him speak on city actions at Council meetings. Maybe you attended his recent tree-hugging, something I checked out since my attendance at tree-huggings has been irregular. Rubin is everywhere, even though he doesn’t drive.

Rubin is self-effacing about getting into people’s faces about city issues. “Some people are going to say Jerry’s pushy or he’s ‘out there.’ Hey, sometimes I don’t even agree with me!” But Rubin and his wife Marissa, a retired art therapist, have walked the walk, not just talked the talk. Rubin has archived letters praising their activist involvements from people like Denis Hayes and Gaylord Nelson, the founders of Earth Day. A 1985 letter from Jerry Brown indicates Brown would not be able to attend a 1985 Earth Weekend event, but congratulates Rubin for his involvement. Although he’s not the Jerry Rubin of Chicago Seven fame (“Don’t tell my wife!” Rubin jokes) I think the point is that Jerry and Marissa Rubin have been in there, getting it done, since way before you could buy a Prius and play whale videos for your kids. Here’s where the tree story comes in, and perhaps the continuity of Jerry and Marissa Rubin becomes one with the continuity of nature.

On Earth Day in 1983, Rubin and the Alliance for Survival got city permission to plant a tree in Palisades Park as a gesture of peace. Mayor Ken Edwards later proclaimed the tree “a living monument to world peace” and then LA Mayor Tom Bradley sent a similar letter echoing the sentiments. To forever link themselves and their commitment, both personal and social, to their environmentalism Jerry and Marrisa Rubin got married near the tree at a peace rally in June of 1983 and donated a plaque declaring the tree to be “The Children’s Tree of Life.” All of this beautiful dedication was rudely interrupted when a vandal literally snapped the young tree in half in 1984.

The city acted quickly to replace the tree… and then a few years later the same thing happened again. Again, the city provided another New Zealand Christmas tree. Then the tree took yet another hit when in the course of improvements to Palisades Park, a city vehicle again damaged the tree. But that tree was also replaced, and that tree has thrived since 1990, as have Jerry and Marissa and all of their involvement.

Perhaps cartoonist Robert Crumb should be tapped to draw a Rubin postage stamp, with Jerry and Marissa carrying peace and environment signs and the caption “Keep on Activating.” In a time and place where people routinely reinvent their lives to advance lesser agendas dedicated to themselves, the Rubins remind us that guarding the environment means committing for the long haul to the larger good. Far from being stuck in some groove from that first night at Venice Beach in ’67, Rubin keeps evolving. “All of us are teachers, all of us are students” he observes. And in his life with Marissa there is a pretty good lesson for our spring semesters.


Mirror Contributing Writeropinion@smmirror.com

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