What Remains

Posted by CODEPINK Staff


By Karen Malpede

I’m standing with Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK, Ynestra King who organized the two women’s marches on the Pentagon in the early 1980ies, and the first eco-feminist conference, Women and Life on Earth, in 1980; and Ahmad and Ann Shirazi, an Iranian-Jewish couple, veterans of every antiwar,  and free Palestine march of this the last twenty years.  A few hundred feet away the core members of Occupy Wall St. are in the midst of their 15th General Meeting since their occupation began eight days ago.  And I’m thinking of Em Jo Basshe.  He was a progressive playwright who wrote a dynamic epic play about Jewish immigrants to the lower east side called The Centuries.  “Bread for the living. Shrouds for the dead,” are the opening lines.  His play was produced in 1927 by the anarchist New Playwrights Theater, a collective including John Howard Lawson and John Dos Passos, and funded by Jewish financier Otto Kahn.  (I have just benefited from George Soros funding for my new play, “Another Life,” about our torture program and post-9/11 madness.)  Basshe’s play had a cast of 35 actors playing the entire Lower East Side.   He later went to Hollywood to write films and then was black listed by HUAC and the McCarthyites.  He spent the final twenty years of his life in a depressive stupor on his living room couch.  His wife told me he “sat up” when the Free Speech Movement erupted in Berkeley in 1964.  Basshe was magically restored when he heard Mario Savio  fight for the right to shout “fuck you,” out loud.  The New Left had risen from the ashes of the Old.  And then he was content to die.

So we in our small group are speaking about the young.  Behind us, the General Meeting grinds on. They are using a “people’s microphone” in the plaza where no sound equipment is allowed.  A speaker says three words, which a core among the crowd repeats and so the rest of us can hear.  Everything takes twice as long. ‘I’m thinking of Athens,” says Medea, “how did they do it?”  I say, “Their only question was, ‘should we invade.’”  Ynestra says, “the microphone is a strategic invention.”  But we are happy in our little group of veteran protesters, though we lack the patience of the young for this General Assembly and its endless community-minded minutia.   The woman who announces the post-meeting meeting of the “non-male identified” occupiers of the square, follows this by saying, “you can be in a male body as long as you are not 100 % male identified,” and the man who tells us what the woman with pendulous bare breasts wants to say because she has taken a vow of silence, and the young women in hijabs, and the young (mostly) white men and women with their dreads and tattoos, all this would have been impossible but for the New Left, the Black Power and the Feminist movements that happened before these young ones were born.

Our New Left devolved into Weatherman fantasies of violent revolution, yet what remains forty years later are these new committed pacifists, reminding each other in their General Assembly to take their vitamins, stay hydrated and recycle.  They are gentle, non-hierarchical, non-doctrinaire, completely committed to non-violence.  There are egos to be seen, but, so far, so good, there are no internecine fights for dominance, no purges, no betrayals.  They paint signs with individualistic, often witty, always acute and encompassing sayings: “if you lost your house, Wall Street stole it from you,” and they have a bucket collecting money for their “adopt a puppy fund.” Yesterday, a score of them were brutally beaten and maced by New York City cops as they walked up Fifth Ave. obstructing traffic without a permit.  Today, they speak of a committee that is reaching out to local businesses to establish good working relationships. They say that Wall St. workers are coming surreptitiously to support them with funds.  Free pizzas are being delivered.  After the General Assembly, if it ever ends, there will be a collective meal.

I say to Ynestra, “Everything we fought for is here, now, today.”  The antimilitarism, the nonviolence, the feminism so accepted you simply see these young men and women working together as equals without a second thought, the anti-capitalist, pro-democratic socialist analysis, the anarchism, their concern for nature, and animals, for the immediate ecology of this place and the larger implications for the planet.

So, I feel like Em Jo Basshe, woken from a long dark sleep by the sudden emergence of these committed, radical young.  I wonder that they seem to have adopted as given the lessons we struggled so, often with such acrimony, to learn ourselves.    I marvel that from all our madness, they seem to have kept the good parts.  A gentle strength pervades their occupation.  “They are so sweet,” we say to one another standing in our elders’ tiny circle.  “Where did they come from?”   How, without a draft, did they get here, so resolutely antiwar?   Well, there are no jobs.  They went to school, graduated into the empty prospects of the decaying empire.  They looked around: whatever had been promised them was moot.  They target Wall St. because, of course, it is the brutality of unchecked, late free-market capitalist economy, brought even lower by the wars, that mars their future.  And they carry in the marrow of their bones, an Old Left, a New Left and whatever they have yet make of this, their one idealistic youthful energetic wish to change the world:  a New New Left.  A Newer Left.  At last. Rise from your stupor, your cynicism, your despair, as Basshe did, sit up and join them there.  They are our legacy, our children, and they are very much themselves.

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