Tom Bonanno

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In January 1968 Tom Bonanno was a student at Dade Junior College in Miami, Florida, when a Hialeah policeman punched him in the mouth for having long hair. At that time Tom wasn’t a “radical”. His only involvement in the student movement was to join a march to mourn the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in April 1968. In June US Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated in California while campaigning for US President and Tom attended the funeral in Washington, D.C. Tom spent the following summer welding Chevrolet automobiles at a General Motors plant in New York State. He spent most of his spare time on the Boston Commons smoking dope and listening to anti-war speeches.

In September 1968 he enrolled in Western New England College in Springfield, Massachusetts, a conservative business school. He and two friends started a chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and applied for recognition as a student organization. The Student Council approved Tom’s three-person SDS chapter after a three-hour debate but the Dean of Students vetoed the Council’s decision. Two weeks later the Student Council reaffirmed its decision and the chapter was approved as a campus organization.

Tom was able to avoid taking a pre-induction physical examination as ordered by his draft board until November by shuffling his address between Miami and New York City and then by hiring a lawyer to keep a speeding ticket pending as long as possible. He took methadone for two and a half days prior to the Army physical and passed out when the blood sample was taken but still passed the exam. He returned to school to await his induction notice. In January 1969 the Students for a Democratic Society chapter in Springfield, Massachusetts rented a storefront where they intended to do draft counseling. Tom attended a regional SDS conference at SUNY-Albany and while there invited a guerilla theater troupe from New York City to perform at Western New England College. He also found time to attend the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. where he was “impressed by the US Army’s display of force”.

In February the campus SDS chapter merged with a community group to form a Springfield SDS/MDS chapter. They began researching the power structure of the City of Springfield and the campus SDS chapter began showing films from Newsreel in New York City. Tom first noticed that he was being followed and photographed. SDS, the Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS) and Black Student’s Coalition planned a combined anti-war rally for April. The Guerilla Theater Troupe performed on campus and electrified the student body. Members of the town’s Unitarian Church donated money to purchase a printing press for the SDS/MDS chapter. Tom was elected to a Student-Faculty Committee and invitations to chat with the Dean of Students become more frequent. The door to the group’s storefront draft counseling center was smashed.

The April anti-war rally was a huge success. The City granted a parade permit and police and FBI agents attended in large numbers. State Police stopped longhairs they suspected of driving into Springfield for the rally and turned them around. The remaining windows of the SDS draft counseling storefront were smashed and the landlord threatened. A benefit concert for the SDS campus chapter raised $1,500, some of which was used to buy a complete set of the works of Karl Marx for the school library. The Dean of Students at Western New England College where Tom was a student became aware of Tom’s difficulties with his draft board and Tom felt that he was “about to be set-up”.

The SDS chapter at Western New England College ended the school year with strong support from the student body. The Student Council gave the SDS chapter a budget that was second in size only to that of the school newspaper. Tom found unexpected support in the Student-Faculty Committee of which he was a member and during a public debate with Tom the student body booed the Dean of Students, Tom’s nemesis. After school was out Tom visited Toronto with his friend Art, stayed at 224 McCaul Street and became acquainted with the hippies at the Ragnarokr leather shop.

By July 1969 Tom knew that his induction into the US Army was imminent. He had already made the decision to immigrate to Canada and had made the necessary preparations. After a six-hour waiting game with the Immigration Officer at Prescott, Ontario Tom was given landed immigrant status and moved to Toronto. He and his girlfriend, Bobbie Harding, lived above the leather shop at 11 Baldwin Street and learned to do leather work. In October he left Ragnarokr to finish his education at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.

By February 1970 Tom assisted two deserters who had been referred to him by the local Catholic priest and learned with satisfaction that the students at his old school in Springfield, Massachusetts had occupied the school to protest the invasion of Cambodia. The year before many of these same students had supported the war in Vietnam.

In October 1971 Tom and Ginny Turcotte from Hamilton moved into 33 Baldwin Street and begin producing leather goods with the Ragnarokr co-op. In August 1972 Tom and Ginny Turcotte rented a storefront on Crescent Street in Montreal and opened a leather shop called Pickle Lake Leatherworks. Madelyn Averitte from the Ragnarokr leather shop in Toronto went with them to help set up the store. In August 1973 Tom and Ginny closed the leather shop in Montreal and moved to St. Thomas, Ontario where Tom found a temporary job with the Parks Department cleaning the City Park. He then went on Unemployment Insurance for the winter. Tom continued to make leather goods, selling them locally and in the Ragnarokr leather shop in Toronto. In April 1974 he moved to the Village of Sparta and worked in a sawmill for six months. He also taught a course in leatherwork at Fanshaw College in London, Ontario. In November he was laid off from the sawmill in Sparta and again went on unemployment (UIC) for the winter.

Tom was hired by the Public Library in St. Thomas, Ontario in August 1975 as a part-time reference librarian and the next summer he drove a bookmobile called “The Knower’s Ark”. Tom continued to work as a professional librarian for the remainder of his working career. In the 1980s he was employed at the public library in Fort Erie and in the 1980s he moved to the town of Markham, Ontario. In 2004 he was the CEO of the Scugog Memorial Public Library in Port Perry, Ontario.

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