Battles turn personal for longtime Sebastopol activist

  • Barry Latham-Ponneck, of Sebastopol, is a longtime peace and justice activist.

Barry Latham-Ponneck has long been a west Sonoma County activist in the thick of bold, often-strident confrontations that oppose war, imperialism and perceived threats to the environment, social injustice and the abuse of power.

"He's just been tireless," said friend Mary Moore, the regional matriarch of liberal activism and longtime resident of Camp Meeker. "Barry has always been somebody who got in there and did it, rather than talk about it."

Over the decades, the issue at hand might have been a proposed (and ultimately built) Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, U.S. aid to the contras that sought to undermine Nicaragua's revolutionary Sandinistas or former President George Bush's inching toward an invasion of Iraq. Latham-Ponneck didn't hesitate to speak out or lead the march.

Today he'd give anything to once again form words clearly and loudly enough to be understood, or to stand without wobbling and take a strong, stable stride. Now 60, Latham-Ponneck has taken on many foes but none as controlling or as immune to reason, rage or pleading as Parkinson's disease.

"Things have changed somewhat," the Sebastopol resident said during an email conversation. With that gross understatement, a flash of the humor that once characterized his politically charged but bemused approach to life shone through.

There's nothing wrong with Latham-Ponneck's mind, and he's still paying attention to what's happening in the world. He was thrilled by the way Occupy Wall Street grew into a tidal phenomenon and sparked a new generation to action.

"Their focus is much more practical in the sense that the earth is considered central to all their activities," said the sidelined veteran of myriad left-wing political movements dating back to the 1970s.

Any more, he has to focus virtually all of his energy on the basics: Getting out of bed, dressing, taking his medications, moving about, communicating.

Known widely as a most sociable, affectionate and energized man, he has slowly but irreversibly imploded.

"This has been a colossal struggle for him in many ways," said Healdsburg's Robert Neuse, whose shared history of protest with Latham-Ponneck dates to the historically huge demonstration of 1981 that sought to halt construction of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

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