I came 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 bush hospital. My then husband, Bob Bates had
gone down to New York 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 clotheslines available there. Hanging laundry in the breeze
up so many stories above west Manhattan gave me the whim-whams because
I have 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 Batistas 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 dont 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.
On January 1, 1959 Batista was overthrown and, thereafter, various
flights out of Camp Colombia took Batistas friends and high
officials to Miami, New York, New Orleans and Jacksonville. Gangster
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.
The 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. Bates was a Socialist so hed
been talking to them at that level. 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. Id see a book and say to myself I
dont know anything about that and Id 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 by
Ethel Mannin had a profound effect on me. The book took potshots on
the various radical movements then current in Britain and the only
group spared was the Anarchists. The author didnt 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 thus I found the Libertarian League. They
had the use of a large room halfway to Greenwich Village, near St.
Marks 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.
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 Labor 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, at 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 wasnt a spy. He was
just curious. Barcelona prison was apparently in the middle of an
artichoke growing district and thats what the prisoners were
fed morning, noon and night. Russells 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, `Views and Comments.
ON THE PICKET LINE
I dont like picketing. It makes me feel like a professional
martyr but I have marched on a few picket lines. I picketed Woolworths
for CORE (Congress of Racial Equality). The Puerto Rican kids who
always followed Russell Blackwell around would march around proudly
with us for a while and then dart into the store to buy a candy bar.
Theres no way you could explain to them that this was unacceptable
under the circumstances.
I took part in one street march something about Teachers
Union. There, I found out that a crowd can turn into a mob and the
mob had a different kind of mind from that of an individual. A crowd
could do some fairly dangerous things once it got started on its
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 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 publicly
doing active radical things.
Later, when I went to work for Canadas Federal Government I
did not advertise my political beliefs but simply practiced the principles
of Kropotkins Mutual Aid. I worked for the whole
office, 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 our 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. 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.