[sixties-l] How 60s People Stay Relevant

From: William Mandel (wmmmandel@earthlink.net)
Date: Mon Jul 24 2000 - 21:17:33 CUT

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       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
    barred him.
       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.
                                            William Mandel

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