Charles Rehn - Democrat for President 2004

A Conversation With America
Questions That Must Be Answered
Web Edition (c) 2002, 2003 Charles Rehn All Rights Reserved

Autobiographical Essay


I’ve always thought of myself as sort of a country boy with a city mind.

I was born in 1955 in South San Francisco and lived for my first 6 years in East Palo Alto, California.  But, in the last quarter of the first grade, my parents decided to move their 6 children to the hills of Santa Cruz County, about 70 miles south of San Francisco.  They made that decision because it was at the beginning of the time of marches by black Americans to protest their treatment.  East Palo was becoming unsafe because of racial tensions.  6 months after we moved, our neighborhood was a ghetto.

My father was a man of German heritage who was born in San Francisco in 1908.  People said he was a certifiable genius with a 9th grade education.  He made a career in and around the military, finally retiring early from his position at the Naval Shipyard at Hunter’s Point, in San Francisco, in order to accommodate our move to Santa Cruz.

I don’t know a great deal about my father.  But, I’ve been told that he designed and installed the first land to air radio communications system used on aircraft.  He had the10th pilots’ license ever issued.  People described him as an electronics pioneer, and literally the kind of man who could figure out how to accomplish anything in the area of electronics.

Back then, Santa Cruz was a small town of  less than 10,000 people.  It was a retirement town that came to life every weekend and throughout the summer as the tourists would travel over the mountains from the Bay Area to swim and sunbathe at the beaches, and play on all of the rides at the Beach and Boardwalk. 

In the 1890’s, the wealthy people of San Francisco would travel in stagecoaches to weekend along the coast, and to attend performances at the famed Cocoanut Grove Ballroom and opera house.  The ballroom was located at the beach, with a grand view of the equally famous championship surfing venue called Steamer’s Lane at Lighthouse Point.

We lived back in the hills, though.   Where we lived, it was called Scotts Valley, just 10 minutes from the beaches. It was a 5-acre ranch where we raised horses and chickens and rabbits, and a wide assortment of other animals over the years.  We had a garden that was at least an acre.  I was the youngest of 6 kids living in a town where it was difficult for my parents to find jobs that paid even a minimum wage.  Raising our own food was the only way my parents could afford to support us.

My parents had purchased this ranch some 15 years before from my grandparents, who once owned the entire mountaintop.   They only sold off parcels to family and good friends.  Many people muse that my early childhood was a lot like living the life of the TV family “The Waltons”. For a couple of years, we only had an outhouse, no running water, mud roads that were impassable at times in the winter.  The road we lived on was a fire road through the mountains that went on forever but seemingly lead to nowhere in the midst of thousands of acres of nearly pristine forest.  That’s where I’d go to ride my horse.

We lived miles from where the paved road began, and it was another half-mile to get to where the bus would come to pick us up and return us after the school day.  My dog Duke would walk me and my sister, a year older than I, to the bus stop every morning, and would be there waiting everyday when we returned.  He instinctively knew when to be there, without fail.

I laugh sometimes because even in this modern era in 2003, I could easily describe my childhood in those hills with a story like a proverbial old timer spinning a yarn about how, when he was a kid, he had to walk miles through the rain and snow, through the mud and the ponds that covered the roads and pathways when the rains were heavy and lasted long, just to get to and from school everyday.

I had to chop wood and clear brush. I had to milk the goat and tend to the rabbits and chickens every morning in the frosty dew and drenching rains before I had breakfast and dressed for school.

But it was a good life, and I loved it.  I loved the mountains, and the quiet.  I loved living in and understanding nature.  I loved living in a place where I could sit as still as I possibly could in the middle of a meadow, patiently waiting as the creatures all around me became used to my presence, and began to show their own presence, 1 animal at a time, as they would go about their business or pause to wonder what I could possibly be up to.

I was fascinated at the way squirrels would interact with each other, and interact with other animals.  I watched rattlesnakes slithering by me as I anxiously prayed for their disappearance without the danger of confrontation with them.  I’d see colonies of ants and bugs, and I’d play games by throwing kernels of wild oat chaff into the air to see how it scattered in the wind.

I was an observer of everything.   I was curious about everything.  I did not necessarily require knowing the details of how things needed to be done: once a desired outcome was determined, I always knew the “how” part could be deduced.  My world was conceptual, as I constantly considered and applied what Einstein really meant when he said that “for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction”, the rippling effect that occurs in the physical world as well as in the minds of people as world events and personal challenges shaped their thinking and actions.  I was fascinated with the concept of perpetual motion.

When I was young, I was never particularly religious.  I loved going to church, and it seemed natural to accept the teachings of my Southern Baptist minister and my Sunday school teacher.  It just made sense to me. 

Still, I remember a time when I was told I had to go to church, whether I wanted to or not, at the insistence of 3 of my 4 older sisters whom I remember calling fanatics.  After a while, I became tired of their constant lobbying of my mother to get me to submit. 

So, I found myself a very tall tree on a hill overlooking the 1/2 acre yard in front of the house.  I used nails to provide steps for climbing the tree. And, just moments before being required to get in the car to go to church, I would slip out the front door of the house and climb that tree, and watch and listen as they would call my name and shout their anger until they’d finally give up and leave.  I’d wait a few minutes just in case they came back.  Then, I’d climb down from the tree, go back in the house, change into my jeans and see what my mom was doing. She’d usually just laugh at me and fix me some pancakes before she sent me back outside to play. 

Besides, it was very important to avoid creating noise as my father read his Sunday paper.  It was one of those rules you just didn’t break.  “Children were meant to be seen and not heard” I’d always remember him saying, especially when we drove to various houses of friends and relatives for a barbeque or dinner. 

Still, he was most definitely a family man, committed to his children and wife.  He was a leader amongst his brothers and sisters. Our place was the venue for the annual family reunion.  Every year, dozens of Rehns would converge for a week of baseball and basketball and food and hiking.    It was like having a fair in your own backyard.

It was strange, too.  My father and his brothers looked very much alike. I remember I’d come around a corner, and there one of them would be, and I’d have to take a second look to avoid being teased for calling them Dad.  They say I look, act, think and talk like my father, too.

He was a very political man, and he could speak on a wide range of topics with a great deal of authority.  I always believed he was trying to teach me about human nature from the “big picture” point of view. I always believed that he was grooming me to be a leader, and a politician.

That belief was supported by my activities in school.  Certainly I was involved in football, baseball and basketball through my elementary and junior high school years.  But, more than that, I was always involved with school politics, always running, and winning, at the highest school government position I was allowed to run for.

One day when I was 10, the first time my father considered me strong enough to assist him in shoveling gravel on the dirt road from the old ’49 Dodge pickup he was so proud of.  After we worked for about an hour, I could tell he wasn’t feeling well.  In another half hour, he told me “Son, it’s time to go home”.

So, we climbed into the old pickup, and for the first time, he let me sit on his lap so I could steer the truck home.  He died of a heart attack about an hour later.

We moved into the city of Scotts Valley shortly after.  4 of 6 of my siblings had graduated high school and left home, so my mom wasn’t able to maintain “the ranch”, raise 2 kids and hold down a steady job all by herself.  Moving to the city made everything easier.

Not long after that, though, my mother met a man named George who moved in with us.  Years later, they married.  But, it was a stormy time.

George didn’t have a great deal of education, and, unlike my father, he was always employed in physical labor.  He worked on dairies and farms, knew as much as a veterinarian knew, except maybe for sanitation.  I’d even witnessed him performing surgery on a cow with his bare hands.

He could fix any kind of machinery.   I was often amazed at his ability to get any kind of motor or vehicle running again.  He taught me a great deal about the physical world as he went from job to job.   He’d tell us stories about how he was supposedly a sparring partner for George Foreman and Larry Holmes.

It wasn’t that hard to believe. He only stood about 6 feet tall. But, he weighed nearly 300 pounds, had arms as big around as tree stumps.  He was incredibly strong. And, he was one of those guys who was as sweet and gentle as you could imagine… when he was sober.  Which wasn’t often.

He’d lived a pretty tortuous life of his own.  Through those years, I understood the pain he was suffering.  I understood what drove him to do things to hurt my mother and sister and me.  I understood it had nothing to do with me.  What I will say is that when it was over, when I finally left home, I understood why it all happened, but in no way could I ever condone it.

Still, I had a great time in high school. At Soquel High School in Santa Cruz, in my freshman and sophomore years, I was involved in competitive speech and debate.  I played lead roles in a few plays. 

And, of course, I was always class president.  I remember when our student advisor said we should come up with goals for what we wanted to do to celebrate graduating high school.  I suggested taking the entire graduating class to Disneyland, and provided a 2 year plan to raise the money so that everyone could go without directly paying.  Everyone looked at me kind of weird.  They were thinking more of things like a dance.  I was always a big thinker.

In the fall of 1971, we moved to the Big Bend Ranch in Humboldt County, California.  Home of the Marching Lumberjacks, the spotted owl, as well as the logging camp we lived in.  It was a beautiful place 40 miles from anywhere along a rough, dangerous logging road.  Imagine living on pristine land in the middle of nowhere, 175,000 acres bordering on the Trinity National Forest.

We had no running water at first, but finally found a spring on the hill that we could use.  There were no telephones, definitely no cell phones, and no electricity.   All of the things we take for granted simply were not available.

You may think it was bleak.  I thought it was wonderful.  I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place.  And I didn’t mind the inconvenience of getting up at 5am to get to school by 9am.  The 5 of us would ride on our mini-bus, playing guitars and signing all the way, to and from, every single day.

There was a true feeling of family.   A feeling of community.  Way back in the hills like that, you had to know that you could depend on the few people who were anywhere near. So you learned to truly enjoy simple pleasures, like making wine for fun, watching the animals, playing cards, dancing with the other 6 or 7 kids who would get together on Saturday nights to have fun.  It was like living in the old west.

That was all the country side of me.   But I began to realize early on that I was going to face a certain paradox.  I love living in the country, to this very day.  When it comes down to absolute preferences, it is difficult for me to feel free and unencumbered if I don’t have a certain amount of open spaces around me.  I grew up with and love to look at the grandeur of the mountains, the dizzying heights of the redwoods and pines I grew up with, blue skies and the galaxies of stars that you can see in the country at night.

But, my mind was in the city, where you could experiment with technology and hang-out with people – I was always a very social person.  The danger of driving to and from school prevented me from being in any more plays, though I was very active in the theater department.  I continued and did well in speech and debate contests, too. 

My heart was really devoted to being on the radio.  Most of my time was spent programming and doing shows on the radio station at Arcata High School.  I used to chuckle a little when I’d tell people that what I liked about it most was that I could play great sets of music, and go on the air and act any way I wanted to be.  Of course, you had to be willing to make a fool of yourself to be successful back then, the days of boss jocks and top 40 announcers.

There were a number of issues on my mind back then.  In examining myself and what I wanted to do and be in life, I realized the country boy/city mind paradox wasn’t just my own.  It was a time when many small towns across America literally became ghost towns because the children could not find jobs, and so, ended up leaving to pursue careers and educations in the city.

In Humboldt County, the primary occupations were logging, fishing and retail work.  It didn’t leave much upon which to build futures based on future technologies and opportunities.

So, in 1971, I decided to run for the School Board.  The primary message that needed to be sent was that the community needed to begin training students on a local level based on workforce requirements of the community.  This, I thought, would provide the greatest possibility of retaining the young people, and the heritage, of the community.  

Further, but less enunciated, was the necessity of the local government to entice ecologically sound businesses and manufacturing interests to relocate to Humboldt County in order to offset the job losses in the logging and fishing industries.

I did not win that election.  The truth is, at the age of 17, I didn’t want to commit 4 years to serving on the school board. So, when I began getting endorsements from organizations which began putting my name on their posters, I stopped making appearances, because I believed that my message had been understood. 

It’s fun to note that the Associated Press said, at the time, I became the youngest person ever to run for an elected office in the United States.

I took it all very seriously. But, at the time, I believed the message was greater than my ability to actually understand the full complexity of what it would require to do what I was suggesting.

Even more, I always promised myself that I would, one day, return to public service.

Part of the country/city paradox I felt included a knowledge or perception that I was in no position to receive the education I had imagined for myself.  I could see myself doing many things, but there was something inside me that wanted to study constitutional law at Stanford University.  Frankly, I didn’t know how to pursue it, and was not availed counseling toward doing it.

I also felt, deep inside that my success was not going to come in traditional roles.  I was never one who was much concerned with “in the box” thinking, believing that answers to questions and problems were required to be fulfilled by the same old ways.   I could not imagine doing the same job for 30 years.

My personal curiosity drove me most of all.  And I wanted to experience things – cultures and people and weather and terrain, and to witness more in order to more fully understand the true nature of people, the parts of us that respond to circumstances and natural events.

When I graduated from high school, and finally moved away from home at age 19, I considered all I had experienced… the great things, as well as the hell of living with a violent, alcoholic step-father.  I was really only sure of one thing:  that the example that had been set for me was invalid, and had been for many years.  I understood it, but it was at best the best example of what I could not allow in my own life. That has a great deal to do with why I rarely drink alcohol.

So, one weekend, I threw myself a party at my home in Santa Cruz, invited all my friends, and then announced that it was a party to celebrate my birthday, and I claimed it was because from that point on, I was going to choose who I was going to be based on my religion and sense of right and wrong, instead of repeating the same hurtful mistakes I had witnessed so many years of my life at that time.

And, so, even more than before, I began living an observed life, constantly reflecting on my life and thoughts and actions, and making sure that I was always on a path to living the principles I claimed.   This was in no way related to feelings of insecurity.

Of course, no one is perfect, and we are always responding to things that take us by surprise and lead us a bit astray at times.   But, for the most part, I believe I have lived up to that discipline.

You could also say that I have been in a constant inquiry.  Somewhere along the line, I distinguished that in the physical world of mass and inertia, equal and opposite reaction most certainly occurs. 

But, in the world of living beings and creatures, plants and animals, what occurs most often in relationships of all sorts is a subconscious but never-ending self-reconciling process of domination and submission.  

It affects all things.  It is pervasive. And there is a great deal to be understood about cultures and nations and people and war and peace inside that inquiry. More than that, for me, I believed there was an opportunity there, the key to causing understanding and harmony between people and the environment.  Somewhere in it all was the answer.

My Professional Life

I have spent a great deal of time discussing my development, as it is core to understanding my activities in professional life.   Amidst all of the interactions I’ve had with computers and software and technologies, there is really only one central theme.  

That theme is simple.  It is about unleashing those things in people that prevent them from expressing themselves in ways that fulfill themselves and accomplish their goals.   It is about individual empowerment, and finding the key issues and behaviors that cause people to accept perceived limitations. 

It is at the heart of my belief that everything is possible, and that global peace and abundance for all is available, and can be accomplished.  It’s something that I decided to attempt to address at a very early age.

I have never been concerned with job titles and formal positions of authority.  I suppose I should have paid more attention to that, in terms of maintaining my marketability as an employee.  I have never been concerned with that, so much as I appreciated completing work with excellence. 

My employers might say whatever they might say, but I sincerely doubt that they would ever have a negative word for the productivity and leadership I have provided.  I am very proud of my work ethics.  I am also glad that I have been available to my fellow workers as a personal and professional coach, and that I have been able to, and honored that I was trusted to empower them.

It’s difficult to remember when I wasn’t employed since the time I was fourteen.  But, as an adult, I began as a clerk in what was the largest catalog and department store retailer in the world.  At one point, when I was 19, I wrote a paper outlining what I believed were the key reasons for their declining sales and market share, the strategies that were being used by an emerging retailer to overcome them, and the steps they needed to take to retain their dominant position.

Two weeks later, the personnel manager called me into her office, and showed me a prominent business magazine containing an article that stated nearly everything I had written, point by point.  It wasn’t until after I had quit that job that I discovered that they covertly placed me in their management-training program.  I did paperwork for various departments, did a great deal of the ordering for the tv/stereo and music departments, analyzed sales and pricing information and much more.   I was the youngest person to be in that program, and the only person without a college degree.

My retail history includes small store management, departmental management, advertising placement and production, inventory management, sales and supervision, product merchandising and trend analysis.   My recollection is that every application of my skills in these areas lead to significant increases in sales.  In addition, other employees looked to me as a leader, whether I had authority or not. 

There were a couple of years when I was fairly involved in the music industry, as a disk jockey, a music critic and interviewer for an international magazine, selling syndicated radio programming, creating writing and producing broadcast commercials.  To this day, I consider doing part-time radio announcing one of my favorite hobbies.

My resume would suggest that I was a bit of a computer nerd.  In a way, I suppose that’s true.  Most of my professional life has been spent writing computer software in a variety of proprietary languages and in a wide variety of applications.  My specialty was accounting software and database configuration and programming.

The time I loved the most was when I was operating as a consultant. It was in the first days of microcomputers, when PC’s were first introduced to the world, and few people understood how to operate them, let alone how to build one that would actually be useful.

As the Director of Customer Support Services for an online mini-computer time-sharing company, I got a great deal of pleasure assisting people.  I realized early on that it was easy to develop concise ways of instructing people that always worked.   The real challenge was removing their personal embarrassment over not knowing what they were doing. I was dealing with powerful professionals who were accustomed to being in control.  That was 95% of the job. Creating an non-judgmental environment that allowed people to express themselves.

As time went on, I realized that most PC customers did not know enough to be able to make their systems productive.  Worse, that their were few vendors who had the knowledge or resources to run sales organizations, understand the new technology frontier, and provide a high level of service to their customers.

So, I became a consultant, supporting installations and problem situations for other resellers, while developing my own affordable, customized client and small business accounting software company.  I was proud to be known for the excellence of my work and service, as well as my persistence in seeking solutions that were not perceived to be possible.

I love doing the impossible.  It’s all about creating systems that provide a structure with a minimum of control. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing.  I call it concentric design, which is beyond what is referred to as multi-level thinking.  It is much closer to conceptual architecture based on modular application.

I learned volumes while working at Intuit and Borland, International. It was, sometimes, like watching order arise from chaos.   It was a lesson in successful compartmentalization, with a vigilant over-riding consciousness of an ultimate goal. 

My experiences at those two places proved to me the possibility and value of what is possible when people use their skills, in an employment situation, to fulfill the purposes of their jobs, and then, if there was time and energy left over, to give all the additional initiative and creativity in order to make the difference that often determines the difference between success and failure, profit and loss. That kind of ethic is real team work, and taking ownership for the success of your employer in every facet.

And, again, the additional skill and compassion I believe I brought to the table contributed to individuals going beyond themselves, as individuals and professionals, resolved differences and allowed for consideration of possibilities that otherwise would have been considered unconventional and unworthy of consideration, at best.  At the very least, it would add up to what we call generating team.

In 1990, I had been working to develop a series of seminars based on the lessons of observing dominance and submission.  It was then that a friend introduced me to an organization called Landmark Education.  Although it was in conflict with a number of the theories I had developed myself, I found that what they offered in experiential training was still similar, and, on a personal level, having experienced what I did in my youth, it was very useful in dealing with things that I had been unable to reconcile myself.

I volunteered for that organization nearly 10 years, including a six-month stint as a course registrar and volunteer manager.  I believe it gave me a great deal of insight and experiences that were beneficial to myself, and allowed me to make a difference for and with other people. 

It was a very rigorous job. It required being responsible for bottom line business activities as well as working on personal habits, attitudes and tendencies that interfered with personal performance.  It was one of those experiences I would never trade away, but likely would never want to do again.  And I mean no disrespect or diminishing of that organization at all.  I treasure everything I learned every single 13-hour day I worked.

In most ways, I viewed everything in my life, until 1993, as being sort of easy.  I always gave 120% to everything I had done.  But, for me, it was a great deal of pleasure.

In 1993, when I left Borland, I was (unfortunately) exposed to the “darker side” of things.  Certainly, I had previously dealt with office politics, clients not communicating, all the typical things that we experience every day.

What I’m talking about is working with people, small businesses and governmental departments who involved me, without my knowledge, in illegal and/or unethical activities. 

Like many people who have recently lost their jobs and retirement funds through no fault of their own, these associations cost me my money, my belongings, my health and well-being over a period of 7 years, and despite their criminal infractions, there was no way for me to be compensated or assisted.   I nearly became homeless.  At one point, I was mal-nourished.  And no attorney would take a case without a $20,000 retainer.

I finally got back on my feet. And I knew of all the good going on in the world. But I couldn’t help seeing the corruption that was harming so many people. I knew what it was like myself.  And I knew that I could not ignore it.

For the last 2 years, I have done nothing but study current world and national events, studied American and ancient history, space science and theory, philosophy, religion, sociology and political science.   Favorite books in that inquiry include The Prince by Machiavelli,. The Bible, Torah, Quran, The Conquerors and many, many other books that demonstrate and/or discuss the socio-political trends that shape cultures and eras. 

All in all, I view it as a study of how history repeats itself, and identifying quantum steps or adjustments that may be made which will lead to breaking the continuous loops in history in order to cause a different outcome to the paradigm of our present day challenges.

Whether you call it sociology or political science, psychology and human behavior, theology and bioscience or whatever label could be applied, what I am committed to is the consciousness of the concept of absolute connectedness of all on this planet.  I believe that people are actually ready to begin the process of adopting it. 

I want to empower it in every way I can, utilizing every physical and mental technology available, by my own knowledge, and embracing the knowledge of others.

I believe I can be a major factor in causing that by causing others to do it for themselves.


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(C) 2002,2003-2009 Charles Rehn Jr IV  All rights reserved