Grandchildren & Great Grandchildren

I had a real treat a couple of weeks ago. Elli and I spent the weekend in New York City to celebrate our granddaughter, Josie’s second birthday. It took relatively little effort. A bit of planning, 3 or 4 hours in the car fighting heavy traffic, and we could join the other grandparents and a couple of aunts for a party with Josie, her parents and a few of their friends. It was a special, but commonplace, family ritual that fell within the normal course of our lives.

It isn’t so easy for some people. Just two days after I returned from New York, the RFC held its first granting meeting of the year. We made several dozen awards, but one new one stood out for me. We received a request from the grandson of RFC Advisory Board member Leonard Peltier. He asked for an Attica Fund prison visit travel grant to enable him to introduce Leonard to his great grandchildren. The family lives in South Dakota and can’t afford to visit Leonard who is now imprisoned in Danbury, Connecticut. What this family must go through just to consummate a simple family gathering enrages me. It saddens me that Leonard has been in prison for so long that neither his grandchildren, nor his growing number of great grandchildren, have ever known him as a free man. I hope every RFC contributor takes some pride in helping to facilitate this family reunion.

I learned of another bitter-sweet reunion at about the same time. I have told Ray Levasseur’s story many times (see Blogs “Ray Returns, Parts 1 & 2, 11/5 & 11/12/09). I first learned about Ray and his fellow Ohio 7 defendants in 1988. They were three married couples, and a single man who were arrested in 1985. The three couples had nine children between them. The government seized three of the children, interrogated them and held them incommunicado for weeks.

This horrible story evoked distressing memories of my childhood, but what happened to these kids, aged 1l, five and three, seemed even worse. Their plight percolated in my subconscious only to reemerge five months later with the realization that my dream of starting a foundation in my parents’ name had found its focus. The foundation would help children today suffering the same nightmare I endured as a child. While there were other factors involved, it is no exaggeration to say that the case of the Ohio 7 gave birth to the RFC.

Ray, who served almost 20 years in prison and is now out, last week wrote to tell me that he has been discharged from parole and is finally a totally free man. It was a short note, as he has a lot of people to communicate with, many of whom the conditions of his parole had forbid him to contact. He concluded his letter by describing a very special upcoming event: “Pat [Ray’s ex-wife] was one of those I was prohibited from having contact with, direct or indirect. [In two weeks] we’ll all be gathering together - the grandparents, three daughters and three grandchildren – in the same place for the first time.”

What a joy to share such family milestones. I dream of the day when all our beneficiary families can do so without state supervision.

2011 Gathering: Building a Community of Resistance

Left wing families face a serious challenge integrating their politics into their lives. The pervasiveness of international corporate exploitation, consumerism and pacification through entertainment make it almost impossible to live progressive lives that are consistent with their values. Yet without such integration, it is difficult to create the essential culture of resistance and alternative vision that is needed to transform our society.

At the RFC we’ve recognized the need to build progressive infrastructure in order to transmit such values from one generation to the next. This is why, whenever possible, we channel our funds through progressive providers to our beneficiaries. It is also one of the reasons we developed our Gatherings. The program consists of Carry it Forward Gatherings for the children of targeted activists and targeted activist youth between the ages of 18 and 24, and Family Gatherings for targeted activists and their school-aged children.

Last week we held our first Carry it Forward Gathering since 2006. Originally we planned this event for 2009, but in the wake of the crash of 2008, we were forced to cancel it for lack of funds. This time we brought together over 20 young adults, all current or former RFC beneficiaries, for four days of sharing, network building, artistic expression and fun. A few were targeted activist youth, while most were the children of targeted activists, although many of the latter had as young adults become activists in their own right. They were a dynamic and inspiring group. This level of engagement, coupled with our exhilaration at reinstating this threatened program, had a cathartic impact upon me.

We could tell from how they responded to us and each other, that the program had a powerfully positive impact on them all. Moreover, a number of the attendees connected with kindred spirits who, I believe, will provide mutual support for their ongoing organizing work in the future.

I wish everyone in the RFC community could have shared this experience, because no one who did could have doubted its value. While the vast majority of our constituency has expressed strong support for the Gatherings, we’ve received some correspondence from those who have asked that their funds not be used for these events because they question their long-term value or impact. Rather than being a waste of precious resources, the problem with our Gathering program is that it needs to be a hundred times bigger in order to build the communities of resistance that must complement the direct actions needed to transform our society.

While I have little doubt about the importance of the RFC’s work, and am proud of the hundreds and, perhaps by now, more than a thousand children and youth we have helped, I do not have delusions of grandeur. We’ve just taken a few steps on what must be a long journey. But I come away from last week with a profound sense that we are headed in the right direction.

PS   We are most grateful to the Fineshriber Family Foundation for their leadership grant, the Puffin Foundation for providing funds for the Arts workshops, the Shana Alexander Foundation for assistance with staffing the Gathering, and four individuals whose generous support has allowed us to move forward with this summer’s program.

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