Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Living to See It...

When Jennifer and I lived in Connecticut we used to go to the annual Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) summer conferences, which are traditionally held at campsites. Not your standard academic conference, with an heterodox mix including plenty of people who were not academic economists (like me).

My main pastime at the conference was hanging out with a couple I met there, Jim and Rina Garst, listening to them tell stories about their lives spent organizing and agitating for social justice. I learned a lot of history from them. There is actually a interview with Rina discussing her childhood and education accessible via Google Books (or buy it!) that gives you some of the flavor:

I was born in Stelton in 1931 as Voltairine de Cleyre Winokour, the second daughter of Abe Winokour and Anna Sosnovsky, both dedicated anarchists who are now buried in Waldheim Cemetery, Chicago. My sister's name is Tisa, "ti" from Vanzetti, "sa" from Sacco. She now lives in California. At Stelton I recall in 1937 driving through the colony with Father collecting clothing for Spanish anarchist refugees. We also went to the Johnson & Johnson factory in New Brunswick to buy bandages and medical supplies to send to Spain. Spain was the overriding issue at the time, and I was weaned on anti-Communism, the Communists being the betrayers of the Russian Revolution and now of the Spanish Revolution. There was a big fight in the colony during the thirties between the anarchists and the Communists, even when I was a baby. Ma was so upset that her milk became poisoned and she almost died. Dr. Stretch saved Ma by putting me on goat's milk, and we then kept a goat in our back yard...

Rina told me a great story about her involvement in an action to desegregate diners in New Jersey, in what I guess must have been the early 1950's. She went from diner to diner with an African diplomat until by the end of the day they had been arrested over twenty times for sitting where they pleased (or, at least, that's how I remember it).

I also remember sitting with Jim and Rina in a panel discussion at a different conference in New York circa 1998 where the subject was the future of organizing over the internet (hm... actually it was "Politics and the future of the labor movement" in September of 1996... the things you can do with Google...). I didn't think it would replace face-to-face organizing. Turns out it didn't, but I don't think anyone quite understood how the two would work together a decade later.

So at this historic moment I've been thinking about Jim and Rina. Once I started teaching, the Summer Conference fell the weekend before school started, and it was too tough to attend, and I lost touch with Jim and Rina. Sadly, Jim passed away in December 2006 at the age of 80. Rina looks like she was doing well as of May of this year. So I hope she got to see this culmination of the long project of integration. I don't know if Rina would vote for Obama though. She always wrote in Jim's name for President. Of course, the good thing about living to see the day is that I don't have to wonder how she would feel, I should just track her down again and ask her.

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