When Picasso Painted the Sixteenth Chapel
(Author's note: This was originally posted on my now-defunct website, The Faulking Truth, on May 29, 2010, seven days after Darren Saunders passed away. Today is his birthday.)
Darren Saunders spent fifteen years on a singular mission: to awaken America to the dangers of a financial system run amuck. I have often said that each person involved in the grassroots effort to reform our financial system played a specific role, and Darren was, quite simply, the heart of the movement. When he first showed up on my website over six years, he was, as I once described him on The Faulking Truth as “a passionate, but in all honesty, highly dysfunctional soul, filled with anger and discontent.” Over the years, Darren worked constantly to educate and better himself, eventually growing into one of the kindest, most incredible people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
I knew that Darren’s initial anger and discontent were well justified, because he had knowledge of an imminent danger that very few people were privy to in the twilight of the 20th century. While the rest of America was still oblivious to the rampant greed that was creeping into our system, he was outside of the SEC offices in both New York and Washington, DC in the mid-nineties, a solitary voice in the wilderness carrying a picket sign. In an interview for an unreleased film about financial fraud that was Darren’s brainchild, he told the story in his own inimitable way:
I had the bright idea, I think I was watching a Popeye cartoon or somethin', where they had the guy with the sandwich board. And I said, "Hey, that-- that looks cool. And I made a big sandwich board that said, "Hey, SEC, wake up.”
And before I went there, I sent them about maybe 50 or 100 letters that I was comin'. And then when I got there, they were like, "Are you the guy sending the letters?" And I'm like, "Yeah." And then I said, "Are you guys gonna let me in and talk to William Donaldson?" And they said, "No." And I said, "But I wanna talk to William Donaldson, or else I wanna make a citizen's arrest of William Donaldson."
And then they said they were gonna arrest me. And I say to them, "What are you gonna arrest me for, handing out flyers in the street? What are you gonna give me, five to ten years for handin' out flyers?”
Undeterred, day after day, month after month, he dragged his sign out and walked back in forth in front of the NASDAQ, New York Stock Exchange, and the SEC offices then housed at the ill-fated World Trade Center Seven building. Passersby either ignored him or heckled him. Why was this guy preaching gloom and doom when the market was on a seemingly unstoppable bull run?
He took his story about how fraud on Wall Street was destroying small companies to the local media, but no one cared. He called the SEC and told them the system was cracking, and that it was their responsibility to fix it, that the predatory practices of Wall Street were killing small companies and their shareholders. The SEC didn’t want to hear about it.
Then Darren hit upon another idea….get the story out to the public, one way or another. First he talked his way into doing a series of shows on public access television in New York City, then on internet radio on the Christian Financial Radio Network (www.cfrn.net), which eventually became an underground meeting place for activists to spread the word about financial fraud. He met others along the way who had stumbled onto the fraud in their own corners of the country, and the message spread.
On March 12, 2007, Darren was diagnosed with cancer, but it seemed to only strengthen his resolve. Instead of complaining, he talked about his journey of self-awareness, and an understanding that “life is so much bigger than you.”. At my urging, he wrote a short commentary for The Faulking Truth detailing his journeys. As always, his written pieces were sparse, in stark contrast to his colorful and detailed storytelling in real life. And as always, he never gave up, he never stopped fighting:
I would just like you all to know that this Cancer has made me stronger and even if it does "beat me" I will not go down easy. So like most of us being "misunderstood" I now finally realize that I am strong. I no longer allow others to define me to what they see in me. I define me for what I see in me.
He was given a year to live, but proved everyone wrong, and was the catalyst for yet another unlikely project that was conceived years earlier: a major independent film about financial fraud, at a time when the market was still defying the laws of gravity.
At some point in time, I was brought on board to work on the film, first as an interviewee, then eventually as a writer. I finally met Darren in “real life” in June of 2008, we greeted each other as long lost friends. Even while struggling with cancer, Darren was the heart and soul of the filmmaking process. His impromptu inspirational speeches were often fractured but always passionate. At one production meeting he grew frustrated with “creation by committee” and told numerous producers, editors, and various others whose job descriptions weren’t even clear, “when Picasso painted the Sixteenth Chapel, he didn’t have ten people all telling him what to do.”
(NOTE: I never asked Darren whether he purposely butchered both the location and artist in his analogy. It didn’t matter, his point was made either way. Two years later, I would name my own film company Sixteenth Chapel Films in honor of that uniquely Darren moment.)
After numerous production delays (which is another story altogether), the unthinkable happened: the market collapsed in spectacular fashion, and the original lone voice in the wilderness turned out to be among a handful of stock market reform advocates who had tried to warn the world about a financial system run amuck. The film production stalled yet again, and was finally nearing completion as of two weeks ago.
On February 25, 2010, Darren wrote his 267th blog, entitled “Snowbound for Life.” His final written words were:
You need to help me fight. The chemo treatment is really killing me. It took me 3 return visits to this computer to complete this blog.
PLEASE HELP ME
Time is very ,very scarce.
On Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, after months in and out of hospitals battling constant pain and unable at times to even speak above a whisper, Darren Saunders passed away in a hospice in Brooklyn, New York. He never saw his vision of an honest and fair financial market come to fruition, but even in death, he performed one last unselfish act: he donated his body to science. My suggestion would be for researchers to forget about studying the cancer that eventually ravaged his body, and concentrate instead on Darren’s miraculous heart.
Darren Saunders leaves behind a legacy that includes 267 blogs about financial fraud, numerous radio interviews and television appearances filled with passion and heart, a family who mourns his passing, and countless people whose lives have been made somehow richer and better for having known him. Rest in Peace, my friend. So, for the last time, in Darren’s own words, repeated hundreds of times in emails and blogs:
THIS HAS BEEN A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
-KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
-KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
-SPREAD THE WORD
-RISE TO THE OCCASION
Peace and love to all