As I mentioned in my May 17th blog post, “70th Anniversary Prep: Connections and Stories,” I’ve spent a lot of time the last few months planning for the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of my grandparents’ executions. From deepening connections with beneficiaries as they shared their powerful stories with us, to getting to engage with valued partners who helped share some of those stories, to the range of heartfelt memories members of our community shared with us as the anniversary of the executions approached, it’s been an enormous amount of really fulfilling work.
Despite all of the build-up, I was still surprised by the emotional impact of our two virtual programs (on June 14th and June 25th). As I watched attendees pour into the Zoom webinar, many with very familiar names due to the years of support they’ve provided to the RFC, I was excited to share the film we created with them and hear their feedback.
Some of the most moving comments and questions folks shared with us via chat and by email after the events included:
“What a beautiful tribute and moving presentation. Both the story of the Rosenbergs and the stories of activists were so powerful. Hopefully there will be ways for many people to see the beautiful film.”
“The virtual event honoring Julius and Ethel Rosenberg last night was exceptionally well done. Thanks for all the great work!”
“Greetings and congrats on the event. Some of my family was in tears. My parents were the first generation to escape the Jim Crow Mississippi as adults. By integrating the schools and migrating to California, they thought they would be safe to raise their children. It was not the Dream they expected…I understand you can't run from fascism and must face it straight on. My daughter [an RFC beneficiary] will be nine years old on July 6, and we both have a new term to describe our reaction to state violence. "Constructive Revenge." I have been doing this for a while but have yet had a term to describe it. We will defeat the fascist with our ‘collective, constructive revenge.’ Thank you, thank you, much love.” (from an RFC beneficiary dad)
"My name is [X] and I'm 10 years old. My dad was sent to prison even though he was innocent. The RFC helps me and my siblings a lot. I want to thank the whole board very much. We will always fight for truth and justice." (from a current grantee)
“The film and presentation on Wednesday was terrific. You all did a fantastic job. I loved loved loved the graphics. They added a whole new element that brought all the pieces together into a single story, like a beautiful piece of tapestry. Great addition! And having the recipients’ comments included was lovely too.”
“That was a really brilliant presentation, thank you! The selections from their letters… the graphics and of course, the spectrum of testimonials (with a standing O' to the young actor reading the school strike student’s testimony!).”
“This was truly another blessing from the RFC! My children and I are so appreciative of the love and support from the entire RFC staff. There is one question that I was trying to type that I wanted to ask Robert, "What words of encouragement would he give beneficiaries in the efforts to continue fighting the good fight about fascism and other social issues? Thank you so much for everything you have done, are doing, and will do for my family and all beneficiaries past, present, and future.” (from an RFC beneficiary mom)
We weren’t able to answer that last question during the first virtual event but I thought it was an excellent question, so I shared it with my father, who offered the following response:
“Back in the days when I was giving a lot of RFC speeches I used to say that it was my parents' resistance that sparked the movement to save them, and although that movement did not succeed, the movement it inspired created a community that supported my brother and me. That community is what enabled me to grow up with a positive connection to my parents ideals. That, in turn, inspired me to start the RFC. So as long as there is resistance and a community of support, a movement can suffer defeats, but will never be defeated. So keep fighting, and build community while doing it so that no one is ever isolated or alone.”
Several recurring comments/questions focused on how folks who missed the virtual programs could see the film. I’m happy to announce that it’s now available here on our website. Also, if you want to explore hosting a virtual screening of the film this fall or winter, followed by a Q&A with Robert and Jenn in your community/for your networks, let us know.
The other most common comment focused on how much viewers appreciated the graphic art in the film, created by the fabulous Abby VanMuijen. I personally found working with Abby on the images in the film one of the most satisfying creative parts of making the film and I’m so impressed by the beautiful, compelling images they created.
Because we loved the artwork, we decided to partner with a local union Cooperative print shop to offer several items with a collage of some of the images from the film. Union made tote bags, t-shirts and posters are available for purchase here; all proceeds benefit the RFC and our work.
I’m moved by how enthusiastically and generously our community supported these events and showed up to help us commemorate this difficult anniversary. As my father said during the closing minutes of the Q&A on Sunday, the success of the RFC has drastically exceeded his expectations and so much of that success is a result of the staff, board and donor community who have ensured that we are not isolated or alone. I am so profoundly grateful for all of you.
The film was excellent - we, too, we’re impressed by the graphics, including the way they summarized each section. Can we see Martin Espada’s moving poem in writing, please?