Joe Blum is the subject of a huge article (3/4 page) in, of
all places, the Business section of yesterday's San Fran Examiner
& Chronicle. Accompanied by three photos, it describes his
current reincarnation as photographer of industrial work in
present-day San Francisco and his exhibit (this is its last week)
at the somARTS Cultural Center there. It reports that he has just
retired from 25 years in metal shops and shipyards, that he is
completing his work for a doctorate in sociology at UC Berkeley,
and that an award-winning essay of his on his shipyard
experiences will be published in Global Ethnography, to be
brought out by the University of California Press.
The article is open-mouthed at the idea of an industrial
worker becoming a scholar, although the reporter in her research
discovered two earlier local cases.
There's a bigger story behind that, and some professor on this
list ought to work on that or interest a grad student in making a
Ph.D. of it.
The story is that of how 60s activists have found ways to stay
relevant after the r-revolution faded out and the world changed
in unpredicted ways. I was first struck by that a few months ago
at the 40th anniversary get-together of veterans of the UCB
student party, SLATE.
Joe Blum's case is that of a subset of 60s veterans. In the
mid-60s, he and I were members of the editorial board of THE
MOVEMENT, SNCC monthly. I remember him scaring the crap out of me
by taking an impressive-looking revolver out and laying it on the
table at a board meeting, most definitely not against anyone
there but in case we were raided. He also helped fund us by
winning at cards at Lake Tahoe because of his ability to remember
every card played, to the point at which the casinos finally
As the 60s wound down, the question arose as to what to do to
further the struggle. A number of the people I knew had become
Marxists. I argued that the place for them to go was the working
class, since Marxism views it as the group that will overthrow
capitalism. Several did make that choice. Whether or not Joe did
so because of my advice I don't know, but he went into the
classical proletariat of heavy industry.
That proletariat has declined sharply in numbers, particularly
in the Bay Area. Joe reached retirement age. What to do now?
Loyal both to his ideals and the people he became part of, he
decided to perpetuate their work for history, inter alia via
photography. He told the reporter: "I never thought I had a
creative bone in my body. I'm glad they're quality photographs,
but...I would like people to have an appreciation of...what it
takes to do this kind of work. People take it for granted."
And, having come out of the student movement, it was natural
for him to go back for his doctorate, which will open new doors.
Each of us is required, if we want to stay more than just
physically alive, to find new outlets as we reach major turning
points of age. The fact is that is precisely what happened with
me. It was members of that SNCC editorial board who first
suggested to me, thirty years ago, that I write an autobiography,
because of experiences from the 30s through the 50s that I would
use to reinforce suggestions or arguments at our meetings. I
postponed even an attempt at that for fifteen years. But when it
was clear that the American people would re-elect Ronald Reagan,
I became desperate at what was clearly a sea-change to the Right,
thought my life had been wasted, and wondered what I could do
that would be of use. That led me to the conclusion that putting
those experiences, and the thinking they prompted, down on paper,
would be the best service I could perform for a new militant
generation whenever it would come. Ultimately, Saying No To Power
was the result.
-- To be removed from list, e-mail "Opt Out." You may find of interest website www.BillMandel.net
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Mon Jul 24 2000 - 22:30:48 CUT