Jonestown Survivor – Thoughts on “Drink the Kool Aid”

Drink the Kool Aid


The term “Drink the Kool Aid” refers to the time Jim Jones coerced 912 people to participate in killing themselves and five more at the Port Kaituma airport, in Guyana, South America. He died that day, too. That was on November 18, 1978.

These days, the expression is used almost non-stop. Certainly the election of November 2016 is on everyone’s mind – since I have heard it so much in recent days. But, more and more, it is used in our daily lives – in print, in news, in politics (more and more), and in conversation.

As a Jonestown survivor who lost nearly my entire Jonestown adopted family and my dream, I cringe and pause when I hear it. It is an ominous and frightening image in my mind. It is often said glibly by people who do not know the history, but it is said often, in almost every setting I am in, by friends and acquaintances, by politicians, and by everyone in between.  

I do a lot of public speaking and writing about Peoples Temple, about Jonestown, and about my life before, during, and after the deaths in Jonestown. I always make the point that I speak only for myself. My journey as a member and as a survivor is unique to me. Yes, many of us walked the same road, going to the same place. But, our perceptions of the calamitous event, and all that came before it and after it, have been internalized in very personal ways. This expression has brought us back together – our responses are nearly the same.

For us, the expression is not a light-hearted, off-the-cuff, trite slogan. References to the WWII concentration camps and the holocaust are never to be made light of. Those were horrible days, and remind us of unforgettable sights and memories. We survivors of Jonestown would ask that the reference to “drinking the kool aid” be given the similar awareness and sensitivity.

I am not the first Jonestown survivor to write about “kool aid” and the weight of the topic. If you hear the expression used, educate the person who used it.

The SDSU Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple has a collection of writings on the topic at One of my favorites is “The Cultural Transformation of a Tragedy” by Rebecca Moore, at: