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“Dream bigger.”

Raising the nation’s public policy IQ…Adding the National Initiative to Democracy’s Toolbox.
People’s Lobby Newsletter – Special Issue – May/June 1976


BY DWAYNE HUNN,  Member of People’s Lobby 

“Dream bigger!”


Ed Koupal, fresh from failing to re­call Reagan in 1968, came into the smog­gy Los Angeles skies like a breath of fresh air. Out of their ramshackle house, he and his wife gave teach-ins while they learned of smog. Around them gathered a group of “Crazies” and from that mind track came the first successfully sponsored grassroots initiative in California’s history. Millions of oil and nuclear industry dollars defeated that initiative, but it only toughened the Koupals and their still “crazy” but “wiser” Lobby.

The “Crazies” worked harder, laughed louder at their nastier political jokes, and vowed deeper to get the vested interests out of the political process. Because Ed felt it deeper, cared more, and worked harder, he became the super crazy, the giant among the lion cubs. By election night in November of 1974 those crazies became a power to be reckoned with in the state. Their Political Reform Initiative won with the largest plurality in California history.

Most people will remember Ed Koupal for his political accomplishments — the Clean Environment Act, Political Reform Initiative, numerous lawsuits. They will remember him when they continue to hear of People’s Lobby, that group Whitaker and Baxter Ad Agency branded as “long haired, mosquito worshiping radicals” in full page ads in 1972 that by 1974 had earned the L. A. Times title of “blue jeaned populists.”

To hundreds of blue jeaned populists he was a loved father, friend, rabble rous­er, troublemaker and joker. His wicked, cutting jokes and his quick hands kept everyone laughing, on their toes, and sometimes embarrassed. His vocabulary could make Richard Nixon’s expletive de­leted tapes a Sunday sermon in compari­son. His insights, organizing, and energy excited one to the successes that are possible in a sick political system.

Ink and paper will never capture Ed Koupal. How does one capture a man who, with no name recognition or money, builds what Ralph Nader calls the “strongest grassroots political organiza­tion in the nation”? What was it in the man that brought tears to Governor Brown? What kind of man is it that keeps his cancer down and secret till the inevitable end because he has “too much to do and no time for dying”? What kind of man chooses to die on his own terms — without pain killing drugs and life support systems? How do you measure one who plays Benny Goodman tapes, drinks wine and cracks jokes in his last days and buoys the grieving around him? The concentrated economic powers, the vested interests, and jealous sniped at him till the end. In the confines of that hospital, he confessed how they could have taken him out of his crusades. “If they would have given me a 21 piece band to conduct, I would have been out of their hair the next day,” said the grinning, diehard Dorsey trumpeter.

Burly Ed Koupal is gone now. His legacy is the accomplishments and goals of People’s Lobby. It is the footprint he’s left in the butt of many politicians. It is the hope he’s given many that the system can be changed. It is the indelible impression he has left on the minds and hearts of hundreds who were privileged to rub shoulders with him “in the trenches – out in the streets, getting signatures – where the people are.”

I spent April 3rd listening to eulogies. Listened to Tom Quinn say, “I’ve heard people say, ‘Ed Koupal is crazy, obstinate, stubborn.’ I agree. I’ve heard them say, ‘He is the most demanding and just about the nastiest man.’ I agree. The special thing about Ed that makes that okay is that Ed Koupal cared. He cared enough to do something. If you care, do, and fight enough, you will accomplish something. Ed accomplished something and now Ed’s fight must be our fight, if we care.”

I listened to State Senator Roberti say, “If Ed were looking down now, he’d be wondering what we were doing. He’d want everyone here getting signatures. His message to each of us was to churn up hell, in our own way. Ed would rather see us doing that than this.”

Hijinio Romo repeated Ed’s parting words to Joyce, “We’ve got it made – you don’t have to cry.” That, however, has not held the tears back. Those who frequented his machine-strewn house knew the loss. The loss was one of God’s great, angry men.

Society lost more, if they never knew this giant who was fighting the good war for them. Society never got to rub shoulders with him. Those of us who did – we cry because we wanted more time for more of him to rub off on us.

Ed had no time for movies. Instead, his life was an award winning movie- riddled with excitement, vigor, and courage. Ed had no time for reading books. Instead, he lived so he knew more than any college professor I had ever met.

Koupal’s words should be captured in movies, in books, and for college professors. They show where Koupal was going and where he wanted to take you and I. Culled from Steering Board Meetings, from the circuit, from company – some of these words I’d like to share with you:

During one of People’s Lobby’s many financial straits:

“I’d rather put social justice in the bank than money.”

On coming back from setbacks:

“Grass keeps growing out of free­way cracks. If you don’t drive on it for three hours, it keeps trying to get through.”

Berating us at a Steering Board Meeting:

“Dream bigger. Think bigger, and things will get bigger. No room in a strong organization for devil’s advocacy. We need positivism.”

Nader introducing the Koupals at the 1974 Critical Mass Conference in Washington:

“The Koupals, who face adversity as children face chocolate ice cream.”

Between the defeat of the Clean En­vironment and the victory of the Political Reform Initiative:

“Success is failure analyzed. Success is staying power.”

Lecturing Steering Board on the need to keep a head of steam:

“If you don’t have any goals, anything to go for – you’ll go flat, go broke.”

On how Ed keeps his crusading energy:

“I get up in the morning and read the Times. I see some more people getting screwed, and I’m peeved and have to do something.”

On how People’s Lobby was and should be seen:

“The California Reporter wrote that anyone against Proposition 9 — People’s Lobby will investigate.  We’re known as bastards. We want that reputation. Want to be known as honest, but hard bas-­tards. That’s what they respect out there.”

On initiative campaigns:

“Doing good is like fighting a war. When it starts, you can’t leave the war for casualties. Nothing takes precedence.”

On public financing of elections:

“Politicians don’t trust the poor and needy – they give them food stamps. People’s Lobby suggests the same for politicians. Instead of giving them money, give them public services – give them media, office space, etc.”

On the victorious election night for the Political Reform Initiative, telegram sent to the opposition, the-Public Rela­tions Firm of  Whitaker and Baxter:

Dear Clem

The people have won. Couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks,

On KCBS, San Francisco, after the Political Reform Initiative was law:

“We voted political reform into law… We, we the voters of Cali­fornia, voted to clean up cam­paigning. Well, there are campaigns going on right now and nothing is being done to police them. The nuclear initiative campaign is run­ning in high gear and the oppo­nents of this thing are not follow­ing the law we voted in…

“The problem is Dan Lowenstein has the mind of a social worker… He believes you can reform these politicians, get them to be good… Well, we’ve been trying that since the days of Arti Samish and it hasn’t worked… What you need to do is throw a couple of these poli­ticians in jail… whomever they might be. Throw them in jail when they break the law and then you’ll see all those politicians reforming. Unfortunately, that requires more than the mind of a social worker — that takes the mind of a cop.”

On what’s wrong:

“Freedom to do your own thing is not ‘freedom’. What we need to insure freedom is accountability.

 “Our politicians confuse freedom with license. The proper business of business is business, not government. The proper business of people is government.”

On involvement:

Americans are conditioned… Conditioned to go to a movie for $2.50 a week. Yet they won’t give $100 a year to clean up politics.

 “Talk to groups with a mission in your mind, with blood in your eye. Living in this country isn’t free. If there is no accountability — there is license. Get that point across to them.”

On making points in the media:

“Don’t let your mouth overtake your mind. Talk of what you know. Talk slow and deliberately. Use as few words as possible to make your points”

Don Koch on Ed and Joyce Koupal and People’s Lobby:

“Ed and Joyce are a national resource – they are not mere humans. I challenge anyone to find anyone in the last 50 years who could’ve formed this lobby. It is fundamental democracy.

 “Don’t sell this country short. No country is capable of containing this fantastic notion that the Lobby has now. It’s involved in the second American Revolution. It’s a high stepping organization — but it’s not elitist because no one is good enough. It’s most serious requirement is money – we need  one-quarter to one-half  million dollars to swing this national initiative.

Ed again, on the national initiative:

“The erosion of public confidence is due to the misuse of money and power. We’re creating the missing institution in the U.S. We’re putting checks and balances between the legislature and the people.

 “Marking a ballot every couple years is absentee management. Therefore we need the national referendum, recall, and initiative to be passed on in sacred trust to be proficiently used.”

Ed’s often-heard parting instructions:

“Don’t let your meat loaf. We gotta get boogieen …… “

Many of us will remember Ed – his thick hands, his bushy white sideburns, his strong voice that always cut to the heart of the issue – “Let’s quit the bull-shit and get to it!” Many will remember he cared – not for himself with his two worn suits, holes in shoes, boiled potato dinners – but for a country “out there.” He wasted no time telling you he cared -he spent all of his time and energy proving it.

We loved you, Ed. We’ll miss you. Watch over your Joyce. Only in having had such a giant as you, could she carry the loss.


“Ed Koupal was a rare spirit who followed his vision with a joy and relentless energy that this practical world finds hard to understand.”

                                      Edmond G. Brown. Jr.  Governor