Special weekend

Last weekend was terrific for the RFC, Elli and me. It started in Ann Arbor, where Elli and I visited dear old friends who helped organize an RFC reception, and ended in Chicago at an RFC party hosted by Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. We raised almost $10,000 as part of the Fund’s 20th anniversary 20/20/20 program, but I’ll focus on the personal, rather than the financial aspects, of the weekend.

Elli and I lived together and got married while we were undergraduates at the University of Michigan in 1968. It was a time of intense protest and outreach to build movements to end the war in Vietnam and battle racism, sexism and homophobia. We also participated in the first stirrings of the Green movement. Walking past the sites of so many political skirmishes on the campus was an exercise in nostalgia. Connecting that with building the RFC through last weekend’s fundraisers provided a powerful reminder that while times have changed, many of the same struggles continue.

Sitting on the same bench on which I’d sat over 40 years earlier at countless rallies on the Michigan “diag,” I thought about how many generations of students had come and gone since I went to Michigan. I felt even more intensely that if it is going to take decades to transform our society into one that is more just, equitable and sustainable, we must build and support child-oriented institutions whose charge is the transmission of progressive values from one generation to the next.

Reliving what happened over 40 years ago in Ann Arbor fueled my multigenerational musings. In Chicago, I’d only be looking back to 1990, but that too had generational implications. We arrived early on Sunday afternoon, after a 4-hour drive through Michigan’s rolling farm country and Northern Indiana’s industrial wasteland. The reception at Bill and Bernardine’s was the 14th event in the RFC’s series of 20 events in 20 cities over a 20-month period to celebrate the RFC’s 20th anniversary. This one, however, was special because it took place almost exactly 20 years to the day after the first one they hosted in May of 1990.

That May, I was working at the Massachusetts Appeals Court. My job would not end until that August, but I was already spending my evenings and weekends gathering support for a project I called The Rosenberg Fund for Children. I’d begun spreading the word among the circles of people who might benefit from the fund and this had brought me into contact with Bill and Bernardine. They agreed to host a reception at their home in the Hyde Park section of Chicago to test of my ability to raise funds for this new project. So I hopped on a plane to spend the weekend prospecting.

For the first time I told the story of what happened to me as a child, how the progressive community helped me to survive, and that now I was starting a project so our community could help children today who were enduring similar nightmares. I received an enthusiastic response, but I had special help. Bill and Bernardine were raising Chesa Boudin, the 9-year-old son of political prisoners. Chesa sat at my feet as I spoke. When I finished, he piped up loudly: “Boy, his life was just like mine, only worse!”

We had an even bigger group and raised a lot more money at Bill and Bernardine’s last Sunday. I told my story once again and this time was able to report on all our progress over the past 20 years. The response was excellent, but Chesa wasn’t there this time. Now he’s almost 30, is finishing law school and working for the ACLU.

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