A Theater for the Poor

— Alan Wald

EACH PHASE IN the nine-year-history of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) now reads like a chapter from a cautionary tale for future generations of young radicals. In 1960, SDS elected its initial president, Alan Haber (b. 1936).(1) Two years later the first convention adopted a manifesto with lasting scriptural authority, “The Port Huron Statement.”(2) SDS membership was soon zooming toward one thousand, with a strong base at nine colleges.

In March 1963 Haber received a $5000 grant from the UAW (United Auto Workers) to study economic issues by establishing ERAP (Economic Research and Action Project). But he then lost a political struggle to Tom Hayden (b. 1939) over the prioritization of on-campus work. Hayden aimed to ignite “An Interracial Movement of the Poor” and took 125 ERAP cadre with him to live in urban ghettos.(3)

In the fall of 1964, SDS national leaders were newly aroused by the Berkeley Free Speech movement; several months later they were outraged by the escalation of the United States bombing of North Vietnam. The SDS national office moved from New York to Chicago in 1965 as the organization downgraded ERAP and lurched back to the campuses, embarking on a mad dash of exhilarating ventures. Several were sensationally effective (the University of Michigan Teach-in, the Columbia University Student Revolt) and others are long-forgotten (the Political Education Project, the Peace Research and Education Project). By the late 1960s SDS acquired perhaps a hundred thousand members and was known worldwide.

SDS had a good run, but nothing lasts forever. The organization was compromised by incoherent political priorities in tandem with a chaotic, ever-changing, and decentralized structure. Like a reckless long-distance runner overcome by heat stroke, SDS crumpled to the ground in 1969.(4) Among many reasons for the implosion was the intervention of a Stalinist sect (the Progressive Labor Party) and the emergence of factions led by ultraleft megalomaniacs (Bernadine Dohrn, Bob Avakian, Mike Klonsky, Lyndon LaRouche), acting as if they knew what was good for every country in the world. SDS deserved better than this; it surely had more gifts than it understood how to use.

Fifty years after the founding of SDS, historians and activists are faced with a puzzle as to what can be reclaimed from this extraordinary record. Was the SDS experience transient and unrepeatable? Bound to an era irrevocably ended? Or, as one young socialist leader proposed in 1970, should the demise of SDS be judged “an episode in the education of a new generation of revolutionaries”?(5) If this last, perhaps SDS was a unique, phoenix-like phase of radical history; should we see it as a naïve student movement sacrificed on the altar of producing the seasoned activists who created the socialist, working-class presence that came soon after in the teamsters, auto unions, and AFSCME? At the moment, the unambiguously definite answer to all such speculations and claims about the SDS legacy is that we do not know.

I cannot write about SDS as a leader or insider. Radicalized in high school by way of reading Franz Kafka and Richard Wright, I gravitated to “the movement” in the early 1960s not from political understanding but out of emotional need. My contribution to SDS was chiefly to show up for picket-lines and sit-ins, although I chaired some meetings and wrote for mimeographed newsletters.(6)

I was mainly a bit-player in the Antioch College chapter in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and in ERAP in Cleveland, Ohio. (The latter was officially called the CCP; this stood for “Cleveland Community Project,” not to be confused with the acronym for the Chinese Communist Party.) Other walk-on roles were in Washington, DC and Pittsburgh, and Western Europe.

This personal mobility between 1964 and 1968 was facilitated by enrollment at Antioch College. The diverse jobs in Antioch’s work-study program were selected more for adventure than the development of professional skills. In a “lite” version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) or the TV show “Route 66” (1960-64), students moved to a different location in the United states, and sometimes abroad, every three or six months. Once there, an Antioch “co-op” (the term referred to the student participant in the co-operative educational program that administered the jobs) was on his or her own — and usually went wild.

The first years of my co-op work record include employment as a stock boy in Scribner’s 12-story bookstore and publishing house on Fifth Avenue, copy boy on the Washington Post, guard in the Buhle Planetarium, nurse’s aid in a home for crippled children, staff member of the East Village Other, and clerk in Tompkins Square Books. The Antioch campus itself was distinguished for its Left-wing, civil rights culture, along with an abundance of sex, drugs, folk and jazz music, and foreign films. Antioch in the 1960s…what’s not to like?

Where I can provide some new material about SDS concerns an aspect of the “Community Theater” of the CCP. There is historiographical amnesia on the matter; only two or three substantial accounts of the CCP exist, and the focus is 1963-1965, when its greatest success was CUFAW (Citizens United For Adequate Welfare), a precursor of the National Welfare Rights Organization.(7) But the Community Theater was launched in summer 1965 precisely to give new energy to CCP. The theater ultimately failed, and Cleveland ERAP itself disintegrated in 1967.

My sources for the history and activities of the Community Theater are a cache of personal letters, notes, and reports that I recently located, and e-mail communications with some of the surviving participants in the wake of the death of our leader, Bob Smiddie, in June of this year.(8)

Organizing the Poor

Sharon Jeffrey (b. 1940) was the initial full-time staff member for the CCP, which applied the methods of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) to its goal of organizing the poor and creating democracy in the everyday life of its activists.(9) There may have been a Marxist aura to the economic analyses of ERAP, but the assigned task was to mobilize the powerless and disenfranchised, not the “lumpenproletariat” but the poorest of the poor.

The dangers of this approach — focusing on the chronically unemployed rather than the employed or temporarily out-of-work — were pointed out in early SDS discussion documents.(10) ERAPers were famously accused by Haber of fomenting a “cult of the ghetto” rather than trying to radicalize the professions and intellectual life.(11)

My view was simple-minded; it felt right that anyone who wished to fight for a more just society should live among and assist the struggles of those on the bottom rung. I also applied for a low-paying job at the Cleveland Metropolitan Hospital (previously called City Hospital) working with the same population among which I would live. I spent no time cogitating about objections to ERAP; at age 21 I subscribed to the philosophy later expressed by the wise Jedi Master Yoda: “Do or not — there is no try.”(12)

Jeffrey, a recent University of Michigan undergraduate, was joined by Paul Potter (1939-84), a University of Michigan graduate student in sociology and anthropology, who would be elected SDS president in the summer of 1964.(13) Potter, an introspective idealist with a “finely tuned fondness for paradox,”(14) was already a legend for his April 1965 speech at an antiwar demonstration of 25,000 in Washington, D.C., demanding that young radicals “name the system.”(15) Seven years older than myself, he seemed of a higher order of intellect and ethics. Even today, memories of Potter in 1965 are psychologically invigorating; they remind me of Bernard Shaw’s stance that one has the moral obligation to optimism and a better future, something about which I often need reminding.

Likeminded core activists included Charlotte Phillips and Ollie Fein, Swarthmore College graduates who had become medical students at Case Western Reserve University; Carol and Ken McEldowney, recent University of Michigan graduates; and David Strauss, another Michigan graduate who was from a Communist family in Cleveland and fighting for Conscientious Objector status.

Others came and went from CCP, including three individuals later associated with the SDS’s Weather Underground — Bill Ayers, Terry Robbins, and Kathy Boudin. Several Antioch students preceded me, Roger and Marty Rudenstein. The two Antioch College co-ops who accompanied me are now deceased, Celia Stodola (1946-1992), whom I would marry in 1975, and Jonathan Bley (1947-2010), later a Colorado magistrate specializing in family and adoption matters. Several indigenous residents of the community were active, the most prominent being Lillian Craig (1937-1979), who rose to become the leader of CUFAW. There were also artists and musicians on the scene, particularly the brothers Carl and George Woideck, and George’s wife, Leslie.

Potter & Friends settled in an old, Near West Side, inner-city neighborhood of predominantly Puerto Ricans and Appalachian immigrants. They selected a rambling frame building at 2908 Jay Avenue. The CCP itself was housed in a storefront called the “Community Union” at 3228 Lorain Avenue called the “Community Union,” the location of Wednesday night community meetings.

The rest of us, also committed to living in this ghetto, resided nearby in small roach-infested apartments close to notorious rat-breeding grounds. These rented at $25-week and were locally called “hillbilly havens.” An accurate description of our housing conditions was published as “The Landlords Aren’t Cold” in our mimeographed paper, Cleveland Community News.(16)

The New Left has rightly been charged with sexism, but CCP, in practice if not in theory, was fully committed to the equal treatment of women. The Jay Avenue house served a communal lunch and dinner, with the men obligated to learn cooking. All domestic duties were shared and had titles such as the “the broom keepers” to avoid suggestions of status. In this urban kibbutz, where Potter himself led group calisthenics (I can still hear the pounding of his running in place on the wooden floor), house members did their own repairs and food was regulated, especially orange juice and eggs.

A Quaker influence produced rule by consensus; no one was silenced and no one had authority. That meant some marathon meetings, ones that could go on seven days a week with discussions now and then lasting 12 to 18 hours. For much of the time, a rotation system allowed only one person in the house to hold an outside job, with all earnings donated to a collective kitty. No one went to movies, although on February 23rd, 1966, we all attended a performance of Martin Duberman’s “In White America” at Karamu House, an African-American cultural center.

Potter himself would go on to a life of quiet activism, often behind-the-scenes, for nearly two more decades. He first combined employment as a janitor or in a factory with occasional teaching and writing. He also worked fulltime to organize the August 1968 protest at the Democratic Party convention in Chicago; the last time I spoke to him was moments before we came under assault from the “police riot” in Grant Park. He then served in the office of the defense of the “Chicago Seven” who were charged with organizing a conspiracy to violence.

Afterwards Potter lived in cities along the West Coast and in Hawaii, in 1976 working for Tom Hayden’s senatorial campaign. In 1980 he moved to New Mexico, where he died of pancreatic cancer in Sante Fe just a few months after his 45th birthday. In accordance with his personal modesty, he was at his own request buried in an unmarked grave on a hill.(17)

The objective conditions for CCP organizing might seem promising inasmuch as there was close to 19% unemployment in our community. But alcoholism was rampant, and men from Appalachia frequently left their families to go back home. Then there was the abysmal political consciousness. The Near West Side was segregated; racism and pro-war sentiment were widespread, and many of the unemployed did not even want to think of themselves as “poor.”

The Cleveland Red Squad easily intervened against ERAP, feeding stories that the Jay Avenue house was a center of Communism, prostitution and bootlegging. Once there was a frameup effort to evict Potter and the others for alleged health code violations. Yet the Jay Avenue commune made an effort to be unprovocative; a typical social gathering involved sitting around the fire, drinking hot mulled wine, and singing.

Under such adverse conditions, it proved impossible to get community members to attend meetings. At first the CCP activists used voter registration as a way to introduce themselves to residents, and then tried to elicit activities around unemployment, tenants rights, and welfare. There was minor success with the second, but the last proved most viable, because one could talk to the women on welfare who regularly lined up at an office to receive checks.

Moreover, the women in the community had more life skills, and they responded well to two of the CCP’s crack organizers who were women, Sharon Jeffrey and Carol McEldowney. This situation led to the revitalization of CUFAW, our one successful initiative to the extent that it could draw as many as 12 people to a meeting.

By 1965 CUFAW was focused on developing local leaders and sponsored an interracial national conference of 150 poor people at which Mississippi Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-77) spoke, and bonded with Lillian Craig. Cleveland welfare mothers won concessions on school lunches and some local residents wrote for the Community Union News, sometimes under pseudonyms. There was a spectacular 1965 march on city hall where Blacks and whites together heaped trash and dead rats on the steps. Later that year the CCP was invited by activists in CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) to organize in the East Side Black neighborhood.

A Community Theater

With the student upsurge in 1965, many ERAP projects began shutting down and its national leadership was largely abandoned. The surviving units in Cleveland, Newark, and Chicago became virtually autonomous, and CCP would close due to a series of 1967 departures: Jeffrey and Potter went to Boston; Carol McEldowney to Vietnam (she would emerge as a lesbian leader of the Gay Liberation movement before she died at age 30); and Kathy Boudin to Chicago.

With the maintenance of CUFAW a constant struggle, the big hope for reviving the CCP in mid-1965 was a Community Theater spearheaded by William Robert Smiddie (1931-2011), with whom I had the honor to serve for some months as apprentice, sidekick and gofer. Called “Bob” or just plain “Smiddie,” he arrived in the spring of 1965 with his wife, Connie, and two children. They rented the second floor of a house which had a large living room and porch, perfect for discussing politics and theater.

Bob had sparkling blue eyes and was a delightful storyteller whose tales showcased imaginative and pungent humor. His curious life exudes qualities of myth. I’m still uncertain how to separate fact from horse pucky. Bob explained that he was born the son of a coal miner in Harlan County, Kentucky, and grew up in the violence of the class struggle. His father was a union militant who only took union jobs, and was therefore often out of work. The family moved to Tennessee, where Bob became a high school basketball star at McMinnville High School, playing guard in an up-close and aggressive manner.

Bob started work in a Dupont factory but was drafted in the Korean War. First he served in battle on the front lines, then was assigned to guard Red Chinese prisoners. He lost some stripes after he was caught trying to teach several of them basketball, but was reassigned to another who had studied at the University of Chicago. From this Chinese Communist Bob learned the history of race and class oppression in the United States.

Returning to the United States, Smiddie graduated from Tennessee State University on the GI Bill, his studies mostly confirming what the Chinese Communist had told him. Then he went to Iowa State University to obtain an MFA, but dropped out and moved to Nashville. From there he wrote a play that was produced off-Broadway, and while in New York visited Tom Hayden at Newark ERAP. Hayden convinced him to forgo an organizing job that Bob had lined up at the Highlander Folk Center, and soon he was en route to Cleveland.

Smiddie was paid a salary by the CCP and held a first meeting to organize the theater on July 1, 1965. According to an article by Bob, he planned a skit with an eight-person cast, but the response was so small that he ended up doing a play with only two characters, a social worker and a poor boy.(18)

Soon Bob was joined by Roger Rudenstein, an Antioch College student with skills in theater and music, and a singular love of Bertolt Brecht.(19) That summer the Community Union sponsored Rudenstein’s play “Wozzeck,” an adaptation of an unfinished work by Georg Buchner called “Woyzeck.” Feature parts were played by Terry Robbins, Kathy Boudin, and Carl Woideck.(20) Rudenstein also directed a work by Smiddie called “The Kate Play.”

Rudenstein recalls that the play that Smiddie had brought to New York city was about a prisoner who had been involved in coal field unionization combat, and that he had written other plays on the theme of the warfare between workers and bosses. These were all nuanced, realistic dramas in which heroes and villains could not clearly be discerned.(21)

“The Kate Play,” in contrast, was about a Southern woman in the North campaigning for welfare rights; it was an agitational-propaganda performance and marked an evolution in his style. Rudenstein feels that this change may have occurred due to the influence of his own promotion of Brecht; Bob was lured away from subjects he knew firsthand, the very ones about which he could write most effectively.

Statements on Poverty

By the time I arrived in Cleveland, Rudenstein and the earlier cohort of actors had mostly moved on. I had Christmas 1965 dinner with CUFAW leader Lillian Craig and around New Year’s I was sent to a meeting at a church where CCP activists challenged the Director of the Cleveland Poverty Board. On January 4 I attended a strategic conference at the Jay Avenue house, where ERAP workers from other cities led a discussion of organizing the white and Black communities. While African Americans were coming together on the basis of common discrimination, rightwing groups were making gains on the Near West Side by promoting segregation.

Because I worked a fulltime job and had literary ambitions, I was soon assigned to assist Smiddie in preparing a group of eight skits to be performed at the Community Union storefront. We built a stage in the big front window so that passers-by might become curious and stop in. In an act of kindness, Bob asked me to contribute to the writing, but I could produce nothing good enough. My notes say that the skits’ authors were Smiddie, Rudenstein, and someone identified as “the late B. Brecht.”

A few days before the performance, an article by myself in the Community Union News was titled “West Side Theatrical Statements to be Made on Poverty.”(22) Apparently I acted in most of the skits, but my biggest role was in one called “The Last Poor Man on Earth.” This was a satire of Lyndon Johnson’s Poverty Program and I was given a certificate saying that I was no longer a “lower-class” person but actually a “lower middle-class” person. Another skit had everyone standing on chairs and wearing a mask, except for me — I was supposed to be “Labor.” The masks were of a pig, wolf and devil, who represented banking, business and advertising.

In lesser parts I was a cop, a businessman, an aide to the mayor (played by George Woideck), and a demonstrator. The date of the performance was February 9, 1966. A key aspect was a 90-minute discussion period following the skits. Forty people were in the audience. A photograph of me from the performance appeared in an underground newspaper called A Different Drummer along with an article by Craig, who reported that the skit eliciting the most discussion was about a hospital.

Rudenstein was correct about the agit-prop character of the plays we performed. Smiddie, a writer of prose more than blank verse, demanded simple dialogue and incidents. There was far more attention to accuracy than to aesthetics, but there were moments of dramatic force. Some of the plays were even taken from interviews with community members with the goal of reproducing exact experiences. Bob’s aim from the outset had been to get local community people, the truly indigenous, to do both writing and acting, but this was impossible. We lived in the community but were known as “the SDS kids.”

On the other hand, Bob deftly employed a range of styles, from satire to tragedy, and we were true to the aim of addressing concerns of the impoverished community members from their point of view. All the skits contributed to a unifying theme of people caught in a system from which they can’t break out. In publicity for the event, I claimed that this was to be “a new method of community action of concerned community members” and that we hoped to stimulate actions about shared anxieties on the West Side.(23) For us, the Community Theater was politics by other means.

So far as I know, the Community Theater didn’t last much longer; we had talked of future performances in churches and community centers, but nothing materialized. Bob subsequently survived as a pottery maker, writing predominantly unfinished and unproduced dramas, and achieved some recognition in the last decade of his life as an activist in health care reform, a leader of the Ohio Single Payers Action Network.

I remained in Cleveland through April, 1966, but during March was increasingly disconcerted by my fulltime job at the Cleveland Metropolitan Hospital. In hopes of discovering work that would reflect my “serve the people” orientation, I had hired on as the assistant to Emma Plank (1905-1990), a Professor of Child Development at Case Western Reserve University, as a child care worker in her experimental “child life” program.(24)

The concept of “child life” began in late 1940s, when doctors strongly believed that a parental presence in a hospital would be upsetting for child patients facing longterm confinement; they should be kept isolated. Yet Plank argued that there needed to a child care worker present who could serve as a friend and tutor, play games, and help explain the diagnosis and what was going to happen.

Every morning started with my going through the hospital ward and finding out which children were sufficiently well to be moved; then the aides and I would roll them in their beds, carts, or wheelchairs to my private activities room. I had lunch regularly with Plank, and every week participated in a group meeting with all the child care workers in her office. The pay was abysmal but I was able to eat breakfast at the hospital for 25 cents and dinner for 45 cents.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the impact on my mental state of the children’s combined poverty and illness. Mostly African American and Puerto Rican, some were victims of car accidents or falls, but others were inflicted with polio, cancer, cerebral palsy and hemophilia. The most devastating revelation to me was the scourge in Cleveland of sickle cell anemia, which attacked red blood cells. This was an inherited disease disproportionately appearing among children of African-American and Caribbean ancestry. Victims were heavily susceptible to death and suffered extreme pain from swelling and infections.

I bonded with several children who died, but even those who were released were returning to a world of hopeless poverty. I also developed an excruciating relationship with a teenage hemophiliac whose internal bleeding was concentrated in his joints. He had an IQ of 135 and badly wanted to write.

I wanted to write, too. Those evenings when I wasn’t doing CCP or Community Theater activities, I sat by my cracked and dirty apartment window agonizingly typing out bleak and despairing poetry in the vein of Allen Ginsberg. Seen in the most positive light, all that can be said for this thankfully-forgotten verse is that it expressed a tendency to plunge into the underside of consciousness. I was demoralized about not having the work skills I wanted and the poor quality of my creative writing. Apparently I was going to have to earn my living in some other way and develop an alternative mode of creative expression.

This made Cleveland significantly a “dark night of the soul” experience, one that engulfed me for some months afterwards. I felt like a small consciousness in the midst of some unfathomable mystery. But depression can have a psychological upside if one survives. In the 1960s, history was leaking into everyday life and there was no doubt a relation between the uncertainties of my emotions and the changes underway in society.  I eventually saw the connection and stumbled toward a gratifying way of combining work, writing, and socialist activism.

The Meaning of Failure

Radicalization moves in mysterious ways, usually not according to the prognoses of mini-Lenins and academic experts. Much of what made sense following the demise of SDS now seem to be a series of mental pontoon bridges uniting what were actually autonomous problems and issues. Albeit skeptical, and always more Kafka than Trotsky, I mostly bought into a critique of SDS achieved through the notion of “Leninist” party-building as a magic tool kit; a strategy to fuse everything with clear priorities.

After decades of forcing reality into the shape demanded by a “revolutionary program,” many well-meaning organizations such as the ones I joined have left a legacy of justly-ignored documents; most of these, including a few authored by myself, now read like a funeral parade of “correct positions.”

Still, if Marxists are to periodically re-evaluate and re-understand an infinitely perplexing world, there are moments when the texture of experience should be examined prior to everything else. Yes, I spent four grueling months in Cleveland trying to create a theater for the poor. Five years later I spent four equally grueling months trying to convince the political group I was then in (the Socialist Workers Party) to send a contingent of its forces into the trade unions.(25)

Neither of these high-stress ordeals, dominating my life completely at the time, produced anything that lasted. Had I only been consuming political junk food that gave short-term energy, ultimately yielding empty calories when it came to the political realities of the socialist long haul?  Should one obliterate these from one’s memory, wax cynical about youthful foibles (“Youth is a wonderful thing; what a crime to waste it on children” — Shaw), and sound the alarm to others against analogous courses of action?

Surveying the fractured and bewildered landscape of the Far Left in the United States today, it appears that the 1960s set us off on a prolonged, improvised odyssey; the frantic quest for a decontaminated (non-Stalinist) replacement for the Communist Party and Popular Front that never came. As things stand regarding the capacity for the Left to shape the national agenda in 2011, all campaigns to end poverty and organize the working-class might be characterized as failures. For those of us who still seek a socialist transformation, the prefabricated blueprints of vanguardists were but little advance over the trial and error of the neo-Narodniks of SDS.(26)

On the other hand, as Tom McGrath (1916-1990) observed in his stellar poem Letter to an Imaginary Friend, for revolutionaries “all battles are lost but the last.”(27) One must avoid the error of retrospective teleology, the unperturbed assurance of perception after the fact. Just because something has happened, it doesn’t follow that it necessarily had to happen.

There is a melancholy plausibility to the argument that the demoralized social base to which ERAP was oriented spelled doom, and that “Leninism” as a systematized ideology is its own undoing. But to be a radical requires a resolute willingness to enter spaces of contradiction and deep disturbance. Capitalism continues to create its oppositions, and I suspect that whatever emerges will contain residues of mixed inheritances — from ERAP to the vanguardists.

The Argentine fiction writer Jorge Luis Borges was fond of citing the Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle about “history being a text that we are forced to read and which writes us.”(28) I like that, but somewhere in my head I also hear the bemused and earthy voice of Bob Smiddie: “Never piss on your own shoes.”

Notes

  1. Several of the early SDS members were associated with the Student League for Industrial Democracy, a branch of the League for Industrial Democracy that had evolved from the Intercollegiate Socialist Society founded in 1906.
    back to text
  2. This can be found online at: http://www.h-net.org/~hst306/documents/huron.html.

    back to text
  3. Famous for its vision of “participatory democracy,” the manifesto also advocates non-violent civil disobedience to achieve liberal reforms and condemns anticommunist Cold War foreign policy.

  4. This is the name of an influential document by Hayden and Carl Wittman, available online at: http://www.sds-1960s.org/Interracial-Movement-Poor.pdf.
    back to text
  5. A faction of SDS led by the Maoist-Stalinist group Progressive Labor Party (PLP) continued to exploit the name until 1974. In 2006, a new organization called SDS was announced.
    back to text
  6. Larry Siegel, “The New Left,” International Socialist Review (May 1970): 24. (This journal, which was published by the U.S. Socialist Workers Party, is not to be confused with today’s publication of the same name, associated with the International Socialist Organization.)
    back to text
  7. One article on SDS accurately describes the centrality of the mimeo in its title, “Our Founder, the Mimeograph Machine,” by John McMullen, Journal for the Study of Radicalism (2009) 2, no. 9.
    back to text
  8. The most information is available in Jennifer Frost, An Interracial Movement of the Poor: Community Organizing and the New Left in the 1960s (2001) and James Miller, Democracy Is in the Streets: From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago (1987). There is also a Senior Honors Thesis from Ohio State University by Steven Beha, “‘Great Hope and Great Faith and Mainly Determination’: The Survival of the Cleveland Community Project in a Climate of Failure,” May 2008. Many details about Cleveland ERAP originate in the excellent 1965 New Republic article by Andrew Kopkind, “Of, By and For the Poor,” reprinted in his  The Thirty Years’ War (London: Verso, 1995), 8-14.
    back to text
  9. These include Roger Rudenstein, George Woideck, and Carl Woideck. I also appreciate the assistance of Leni Wildflower, widow of Paul Potter.
    back to text
  10. An incisive summary of the unique aspects of ERAP can be found in Howard Brick, Age of Contradiction: American Thought and Culture in the 1960s (New York: Twayne, 1998), 103-4.
    back to text
  11. See Kimberly Moody, “Can the Poor Be Organized?” in Mitchell Cohen and Dennis Hale, The New Student Left: An Anthology (Beacon: Boston, 1966), 153-59. A major study of the Left and the earlier unemployed movement was later published by Franklin Folsom, Impatient Armies of the Poor (University Press of Colorado: Boulder, 1991).
    back to text
  12. Alan Haber, in Miller, Democracy Is in the Streets, 190.
    back to text
  13. Star Wars: The Empire Fights Back (1980).
    back to text
  14. The fullest study of Potter to date is Jeffrey Drury, “Paul Potter: The Incredible War,” Voices of Democracy (2009), available at: http://umvod.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/drury-potter.pdf/.
    back to text
  15. Miller, Democracy Is in the Streets, 192.
    back to text
  16. The speech still reads well today and is on-line at: http://www.sdsrebels.com/potter.htm.
    back to text
  17. Marty Ruddenstein [sic], “The Landlords Aren’t Cold,” Cleveland Community News, 3 December 1965, 1.
    back to text
  18. Phone interview with Leni Wildflower, September 16, 2011.
    back to text
  19. Bob Smiddie, “Cleveland West Plans a Play” ERAP Newsletter, August 1965.
    back to text
  20. Rudenstein is today an award-winning classical composer; see: http://www.rogerrudenstein.com/.
    back to text
  21. Rudenstein is in possession of a flyer that reads, “Wozzeck, a play about a murder July 22nd at the Community Union 3228 Lorain, admission free, no children please.”
    back to text
  22. E-mail from Rudenstein to Wald, July 2011.
    back to text
  23. Alan Wald, “West Side Theatrical Statements to be Made on Poverty.” Community Union News, Feb 5 1966, 1.
    back to text
  24. Wald, ibid.
    back to text
  25. Plank was born in Vienna where she studied under Maria Montessori and Anna Freud. A Jew, she fled the Nazis in 1938 and came to United States. In 1955 she founded the Child Life and Education Division of the Department of Pediatrics at the Cleveland Metropolitan Hospital. At the end of her life she returned to Vienna.
    back to text
  26. See Alan Wald, “The Socialist Workers Party After the 1960s: A Winter’s Tale Told in Memoirs,” Against the Current #153, available at: http://www.solidarity-us.org/node/3317.
    back to text
  27. The Narodniks were late 19th century middle-class Russian students who left the cities to live in villages where they saw poor peasants as a revolutionary class. ERAP activists are frequently compared to them.
    back to text
  28. Tom McGrath, Letter to an Imaginary Friend, Letters Three and Four (Cooper Canyon Press: Port Townsend, 1985), 14.
    back to text
  29. Jason Wilson, Jorge Luis Borges (Reaktion Books: London, 2006), 12.
    back to text

November/December 2011, ATC 155

LaRouche and SDS

For a detailed study of the LaRouche group's emergence from SDS, see my new e-book How It All Began: The Origins and History of the National Caucus of Labor Committees in New York and Philadelphia (1966-1971) available at http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.HIABcover.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <b> </b> <br> <br /> <a> </a> <em> </em> <strong> </strong> <cite> </cite> <code> </code> <ul> </ul> <ol> </ol> <li> </li> <dl> </dl> <dt> </dt> <dd> </dd> <div> </div> <img> <style> <font> </font> <blockquote> </blockquote> <hr>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.