My Radical Days (Mp3)
My Anarchist days in New York City and later, in Toronto
into New York from the wilds of Alberta, by way of Chatham first to
recover from the medical complications inflicted on me by a northern
My then husband, Bob Bates had gone down there first to settle himself
and get some kind of job. We set up housekeeping in a big room of
what had been a hotel but which was now a sort of tall rooming house
with shared kitchens on each floor. I used to take the laundry up
to the roof to hang it out on the lines available. Hanging laundry
in the breeze up so many stories above west Manhattan gave me the
whim whams because I have some fear of heights.
The folks who looked after the hotel/rooming house in the sense of
cleaning and repair and so forth were expatriates from Fulgencio Batista's
Cuba. This was just before the fall of Batista and the exhilaration
of his downfall at the hands of Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries.
People don't remember too much nowadays but Batista was a bad guy
especially to Liberal thinking people and leftists. He was a U.S.
supported dictator. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and the like were
the good guys in our eyes
January 1, 1959 Batista was overthrown and thereafter various flights
out of Camp Colombia took Batista's friends and high officials to
Miami, New York, New Orleans and Jacksonville. Meyer Lansky, suffering
from ill health, also flew out that night. On January 7th Fidel Castro
arrived in Havana and at that time the U.S. officially recognized
the new Cuban government.
Cubans who were helping to run the building were refugees from the
corrupt Batista regime and they had one heck of a whompin' party when
Castro overthrew Batista. We went to it. Bates was a Socialist so
he'd been talking to them at that level and he was invited to the
party and I went with him. I have never heard people give so many
impromptu speeches in my life It was as if each one in turn was touched
by a magic wand and gave a loud and glorious speech, and then on to
the next one; all in Spanish of course. I only had a little bit of
book Spanish at that time so I only caught a few words like "Viva
La Libertad !!!" and "el socialismo y el hombre en Cuba"
A great exultation and joy was was certainly there. We stayed a short
while and then left because it was their party after all.
The Chatham Public Library was a good source for all kinds of books,
thanks to Louise Schriber the Librarian. I got most of my real education
there. I wanted to know something about everything, for reasons of
my own, so I read just about everything I could get my hands on -
5 or 6 books a week. I'd see a book and say to myself "I don't
know anything about that", so I'd check it out. This led me,
in mysterious ways to Thorstein Veblin, who coined the phrase "conspicuous
consumption" and wrote 'The Theory of the Leisure Class'. And
to Karl Marx, who was very dull and Hitler who was duller.
A humorous British book called "Comrade, 0 Comrade" had
a profound effect on me. The book took potshots on the various radical
movement then current in Britain and the only ones spared were the
Anarchists. The author didn't favour the Socialists too much and certainly
not the Communists but really thought the Anarchists were kind of
o.k. So, when I got to New York I sought out an Anarchist group and
found the Libertarian League. They had the use a a large room half
way to Greenwich Village near St. Mark's Square. The landlord insisted
on labeling his tenants 'The Liberian League which may have helped
to keep the group safe from surveillance by the 'three letter boys'
as we called the FBI , CIA etc.
Libertarian League was 'led' by two worthy gentlemen
and Sam Dolgoff <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Dolgoff>
. Sam favoured Anarcho-Syndicalism. He was in the IWW, the Industrial
Workers of the World, also called the Wobblies. His famous speech
was called "Anarchism and the American Labour Movement",
which was given every time another speaker stood us up at our weekly
meeting. We got to know that speech very, very well.Russell Blackwell
was an first a Communist . He got kicked out of Mexico for that. He
spoke Spanish well. Afterwards he had gone over to fight in the Spanish
Civil War. In Spain he became disillusioned with the Communists due
to their dirty tricks and went over to the Anarchists.He wandered
about there, as was his habit. He would wander into the damnedest
places. In the process of doing that after the war had ended, he caught
the attention of the new authorities and ended up in Barcelona prison
as a spy. He wasn't a spy. He was just curious. Barcelona prison was
apparently in the middle of an artichoke growing district and that's
what the prisoners were fed morning, noon and night. Russell's wife
petitioned the President and the Congress and so forth and finally,
after a long while, got him out - with a lifelong hatred of artichokes.
Somehow or other he ended up with the Libertarian League. He and Sam
put out an Anarchist magazine called, mundanely, `News & Views".
THE PICKET LINE
I don't like picketing. It makes me feel like a professional martyr
but I was on a few lines. I picketed Woolworth's for CORE (Congress
of Racial Equality). The Puerto Rican kids who always followed Russell
around would march around proudly for a while and then dart into the
store to buy a candy bar. There's no way you could explain to them
that was not what it was about.I took part in one street march - something
about Teacher's Union - and I found out that a crowd can turn into
a mob and had a different kind of mind than an individual. A crowd
could do some fairly dangerous things once it got started on that
path. This helped to form my lifelong pledge to stay a way from crowds
and, if I saw one forming, I went in the opposite direction. I had
picketed also down at the New York docks with some real Spanish people
from Spain against a ship that Francesco Franco had sent as a training
exercise for young sailors. The Spanish picketers were very glad to
see me and they were lovely people. This was a rather quiet picket
line and I marched and marched around in a circle, and then I went
home. That was about the end of it when it came to publically doing
active radical things.
Later, when I went to work for Canada's Federal Government I did not
advertise my political beliefs but simply practiced them. I worked
for the whole office and not just my little section. I organized a
computer club and took an active roll in leading events that were
for the benefit of all. I tried to help civilians who came to us for
help. I did not recognize boundaries.
When out Union went on Strike I was made aware that they were using
goon tactics to intimidate workers who did not wish to strike by calling
their homes and frightening their children. I refused to be part of
this fascistic approach and crossed the picket line daily sometimes
facing screaming mobs of picketers.
Indeed, their cause was just but their tactics were tainted. They
did not recognize the will of the individual and that went against
my Anarchist principles.
© Sonia Fricker Brock 2006