Comments for Mark Rudd Event City Lights Bookstore, SF 4.22.09 Alan Senauke
When I visited Mark and Marla last month in Albuquerque, he impulsively asked me to say a few words at one of his readings. And I impulsively agreed to do so. We have known each other since Columbia in 1965. I was in the Columbia strike, a member of the Low Library commune from nearly the beginning to the very end. I’ve got a small but noticeable protuberance on the right side of my head, an artifact of police violence in the Low bust.
But Mark and I became close friends later, in the years underground with his partner Sue. By strange happenstance, in the mid-70s I was in the WUO while he was out of the organization. Those days we talked and argued and broke bread together in places near and far until Mark surfaced in the late 70s.
I was teaching in Santa Fe this March, and when I was done Mark spirited me away to his homestead outside Albuquerque, with an essential stop for a green chile burrito. Next day we cruised the city in Mark’s shabby '92 Chrysler LeBaron, top down on a warm and dusty late winter day. It was an amazing trip, with Mark leaning back in his bucket seat, slouching to the right (This is not a political metaphor.) pointing out the architectural highlights of downtown, stopping for fiery and wonderful cholesterol-laden New Mexican food. Everywhere we went, walking the streets, lingering on street-corners Mark stopped to engage with friends from every walk of life. This, I guess, is what an aging organizer does. I was happy to be along for the ride.
We got into conversation about our kids — each of us has a daughter and son, Mark’s kids a bit older than mine. Our children are prospering, blessed by good education, ambitious, and, it seems, well-balanced. Reflecting on our children’s actual and potential success, I was taken with a particular notion — the stickiness of privilege.
Despite all efforts to de-class ourselves — the Columbia occupation, Weather politics, peace and solidarity work, marginal income, and years out wandering through an existential wilderness — privilege was and is still available to me. Realities of Ivy League education, upper-middle class Jewish roots, and social connections trump our various concerted efforts to drop out, and our vow not to drop back in. When Mark surfaced in 1977 he was able to walk in and out of courthouses without having to post bail, without doing time. I think this was incredible even to him. I have had no legal problems stemming from past connections, though I wonder about those blacked out passages in my Freedom of Information documents. Our children seem easily to inherit this privilege. At home in Berkeley Laurie and I joke that one day our daughter Silvie took a look around and decided she’d rather not be downwardly mobile like her parents.
Contrast the stickiness of privilege with the legacy of racism that haunts a group of aging Black activists and community organizers charged as the San Francisco 8. These men, tested and respected in their communities, now face revived charges stemming from the 1971 killing of a San Francisco police officer. In 1975, the court dismissed these charges citing legal misconduct and the torture of witnesses and defendants. Thirty-five years later, these men face murder and conspiracy charges all over again. So oppression, too, has this sticky quality. Someone said the other day: yeah, shit is sticky, too.
We can’t easily shake this weird thing — privilege. Without getting into an extended Buddhist analysis, it is like karma, the subtle interplay of cause and effect — race, class, education, and so on. In fact, I’d say this is karma, Whether we choose to accept it or not, it is inescapable and must be reckoned with
I am not discounting Marks’ sincere work and the relentless honesty of his writing. If anything, I am appreciating it. I am not discounting my own work and the efforts of so many of us. We cannot shake this privilege thing that sticks to us like sidewalk chewing gum on a rubber sole shoe. But I hope can we keep trying to use it wisely for the benefit of others. At this late date can we conjure up respect for each other rather than carp about the past, bemoaning and hiding our shortcomings?
This brings to mind a favorite Bob Dylan lyric. His words seem to give voice to a debate the singer is having with himself.
Now each of us has his own special gift And you know this was meant to be true If you don’t underestimate me, I won’t underestimate you.
Recognizing these gifts, we reach beyond the narrow places of our background and history. If a gift is to have life and worth, it must always remain in motion. So, pass it on, please.