September 25, 2009

Missing Sully, Part 4--A Commie In-Joke

For Christmas of 1980, I sent Sully (the late David Irish Sullivan) a paperback book on the Rote Kapelle, the Red Orchestra, the Soviet spy ring in Nazi-occupied Europe. He responded with the best thank-you note I have ever received.

[Those FotM readers who may, by some quirk of fate, not have found themselves in the vanguard party of the US working class in the 1970s--and there were many to chose from at the time--will probably find what follows a bit difficult to connect with. For you, there is a brief explanatory note below the two images.]

[Click on images to view full size.]
Okay, as promised, a few points of orientation for those who weren't there or have spent the better part of the last four decades trying to forget that they were.

1. The group we were both in at the time, the unfortunately-named Revolutionary Workers Headquarters, had a couple hundred members and nalmost no leadership structure to speak of, let alone a Central Control Commission.

2. This snarky set of "letters" reflects Dave's (and the RWHq's) developing break with the kneejerk public defense of Stalin that had characterized the group we had split from, the Revolutionary Communist Party, and a broader break with the deeply dogmatic style of many of the organizations in the New Communist Movement.

3. Requests for further clarification requested will be addressed. Incidentally, Sully incorporated one literary and one historical reference into the piece

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September 17, 2009

SDS at Woodstock!

Here's an artifact for you: The leaflet/poster SDS printed up to distribute at the Woodstock festival forty years ago. This may be the only copy extant.

[click image to see larger, enlarged at end of article]

A few points by way of background.

1. Though things were unraveling quickly, the October 8-11 Days of Rage were still officially an SDS action and not a Weatherman activity, with RYM II calling a separate demo. The leaflet, obviously, was an attempt to build it.

2. The leaflet was written, drafted and designed by one person in the NYC Regional Office of SDS on Spring Street, whose name I am not free to use. I think 2 cases, 10,000 or so, were printed. Most never got handed out.

3. The plan was to distribute them to the masses of alienated youth as they arrived. Our base was Movement City, a section of the Festival with a big-ass tent, a spanky new printing press and thousands of dollars worth of additional goodies Abbie Hoffman had jacked out of Mike Lang and the others bankrolling the Festival with threats of massive disruption.

4. Some folks from NYU Uptown SDS and the Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers and probably other chapters arrived a couple days early, which had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the chain-link fencing Lang's crews were humping to get set up before Friday somehow unraveled overnight Wednesday and Thursday, all of it. Nothing, honest.

5. The producers had remained pretty worried about disruption from the relative handful of movement forces there. The night before the concert started, Hugh Romney (not yet Wavy Gravy), whose Hog Farm commune had been imported to provide security, made his way to Movement City with what you might call a burnt offering--a chunk of very strong hash the size of a regulation softball.

6. The main SDS forces who showed up in Movement City were Weather types, in their early wannabe street-fighter mode. Some of them did help organize a couple of appropriations of vendors who were jacking prices through the roof in the happy knowledge that there were too many people and not enough supplies present. These guerrilla actions were watched with interest and sympathy by festival-goers, but the old "Join us!" cry drew minimal response.

6. Some of the core weather types dropped acid on Friday and others were completely freaked out by the size and apolitical character of the crowd even without benefit of chemical adulterants, but they all fled by Saturday afternoon, even as young people in their tens of thousands were still making their way to Yasgur's farm by any means necessary. Wusses.

7. The forces of sweetness and light did have a nifty, decently-executed banner with a picture of Che (less than two years dead) and his famous quote "At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love."

8. Me and Lee stayed for two days after the concert ended until chapter folks dispatched home were able to get back with a U-Haul to pick up the printing press, cases of paper and loads of other abandoned goodies. Never mind him getting clocked onstage by Pete Townshend, all respect to Abbie for the stuff he pried out of Lang & Co., which served the movement for the next decade.

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September 15, 2009

The Dead of Birmingham

Denise McNair.

Carole Robertson.

Addie Mae Collins.

Cynthia Wesley.

For many of us who came up in the ‘60s, these names will always be instantly recognizable, impossible to read or to hear—no matter how long it has been—without a deep emotional pull, an admixture of sorrow and anger and, most of all, a profound sense of loss.

Forty-six years ago today, a bomb planted by Ku Klux Klan murderers took the lives of four young teenage girls as they prepared for the first ever Youth Day at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. I write this to acknowledge their deaths, sacrifices in the long and painful struggle for Black Freedom, burnt offerings in a conflagration that wound up helping to consume the system of Jim Crow segregation in the Black Belt South.

I write also to memorialize two other young African Americans who died in Birmingham that day. Their names do not have the same resonance, but they died at the hands of white supremacy in this country as surely as did the young women in the basement of Sixteenth Street Baptist, and their deaths are the kind of deaths that the system still deals out to young Black men in this country.

For all the hold that the Civil Rights Movement’s non-violent ideology had in Birmingham, which had been a battleground against segregation, the killings sparked intense fury in the Black community and the area around the church seethed in near-riot all afternoon. The cars of white gawkers coming past had a hard time of it. When sixteen-year-old Johnnie Robinson saw one marked up with slogans like "Negro, Go Back To Africa," he chucked a rock at it.

Seeing cops, he fled. As Johnnie ran down an alley, Birmingham cop Jack Parker shot him. In the back. With a shotgun. Johnnie was DOA at University Hospital. An all-white grand jury failed to indict Parker for anything.

The final death was that of thirteen-year-old Virgil Ware, "Peanut" to his family. His father and uncles were coal miners, working at the Docena mine, and Virgil and two brothers shared a paper route. Riding home on the handlebars of his brother James‘s bicycle, Virgil crossed paths with Larry Joe Sims and Michael Lee Farley, two sixteen-year-old white Eagle Scouts, who had just attended a rabid segregationist rally where an effigy of Attorney General Bobby Kennedy was burned.

Riding with Farley on his red motorbike decorated with a confederate flag picked up at the National States’ Rights Party headquarters and pieced up with Farley’s pearl-handled pistol, Sims fired at the bike twice.

Virgil fell off and James cried, "Get up, Virge. You trimmin’ me."

"I’m shot," Virgil replied. He was, through the lung and the aorta. He died, the sixth victim of a racist murder in Birmingham that day.

The Birmingham press treated it as a tragedy--for the killers. “These two raw, grieved untutored boys who have had this unfortunate thing come into their lives at their age,” was how their high–priced lawyer put it. Both were charged with first degree murder. A Birmingham jury convicted Sims of second degree manslaughter and Farley pleaded to the same. Wallace Gibson, a white judge, the only kind on the bench in Alabama at the time, completed the travesty by suspending their sentences in favor of two years probation.

When we remember Addie, Carole, Denise and Cynthia, it behooves us to remember Johnnie and Virgil as well.

Because young African Americans are still being shot in the back by cops, like Oscar Grant in Oakland last year. Because cops still routinely get a slap on the wrist, if that, for outrageous shootings. Because the "criminal justice system" in the US still treats the killing of a young Black man as a lesser crime than other murders. Because today there are racists every bit as rabid, and as desperate, as those who attended the rally on the day of the church bombing, and they too are burning effigies, waving the Confederate flag and hiding behind talk of states’ rights.

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September 3, 2009

Missing Sully, Part 3

[A lot of people were stunned by the sudden death of Dave Sullivan, Sully, as the two previous posts (here and here) indicate, had an outsize impact on those who knew him. Perhaps the biggest of all was on Djar Horn, whose mother and Sully moved in together for some years in the early '80s]

All The Dad I Had

Djar Horn

Dave taught me a lot of things. To start with, it was because of him that I had the confidence to work as a union carpenter. The first time I met him, a large crew of leftists were building out a movement office in Chicago. He made me a pair of stilts. Shortly after that my mom and I started making routine visits to the south side. And around 1979 we moved in with him. I was about 8.

He had me paint my room. He and Bill Boardman worked with me to build a bookshelf for my 4th grade class. They taught me basic tool use. And when I graduated from high school, they offered to have me apprentice with them rather than head off to college. I took the path I was meant to take, but I came back to construction ten years later.

When my mom went to China in 1979, Dave got me into school and took care of me for a month. While I was happy to eat pizza for 30 days, Bill and Christine made sure I got an occasional well-balanced meal. Our time together had its kinks, but we worked them out. But I would be remiss if I didn’t tell the story of the fork. I know he told it quite a few times. Shortly after my mom left on her trip, Dave was instructing me in proper table etiquette. I have wonderful table manners.

A very important rule which he learned from his grandfather: Do not reach across the table. When he was kid, his grandfather would hold a spoon in his coffee. If a child reached across the table, his grandfather would take the hot spoon and place it on their hand. We were living in the late 70’s. You might send a kid to pick up your Marlboros at the corner store, but you didn’t burn children with a spoon. Now you used a fork to get the point across. I understood the balance of power in the household until my mother came back 30 days later. And before I could hug her or even see my presents, I blurted out “Dave stabbed me with a fork”. Still makes me laugh.

I like to think that I am street-smart, but the fact is when I moved to South Chicago, a mainly working class Chicano 'hood, I was a pretty easy target. A naïve, super-friendly 8-year-old white girl could find a lot of trouble. By the time we left 87th and Burnham, I was 12. And I know that Dave had laid down the law to the neighborhood boys.

It didn’t hurt our rep when word got out about the car thief. Someone tried to steal his pickup truck (I still have an unhealthy obsession with pickups; my first new vehicle was an F-150 just like his). Late at night he heard a noise, ran out of the house with a shotgun and pointed it at the guy. Lucky for the guy, he was inside Dave’s truck; Dave wasn't about to fuck up his new truck. The guy ran. Being that we were white, the cops came immediately, found the guy ditching his tools and brought him back so Dave could “speak” to him. I never knew what he whispered to the guy.

I remember lots of other things: episodes of MASH, Giordano's deep dish pizza, walks at the Indiana dunes, no vegetables, a blue US Steel workers hat, Molly and Erica, the firehouse, a trip to Utah. In the end, we had some hard times, in part because he was less than supportive about me being queer. But when I was a kid, he was all the dad I had and I needed that.

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September 2, 2009

Missing Sully, Part 2

[Fire on the Mountain continues to post material about Sully, David Sullivan, whose untimely death last Saturday has left so many of his friends shaken and bereft. (See the previous post here.) Below, you will find a photo taken of David in his teens during a stay in Austria, with an explanation by Mike Ely, a moving and thoughtful poem by Jed Brandt and another Sully anecdote focused on his badassery from Joe Iosbaker.]

Left: David Irish Sullivan

This was in the train station in Innsbruck, near the moutain village where David had spent a year in grade school. We went high up in the nearby ridge of Alps, and found a farming family grazing their herd at the timber line. They let us (all five) stay in their hayloft for a tiny bit of money -- and fed us whatever the family was eating. From there we could see the whole Inn valley up and down, draped in morning mists or crystal clear in the midday summer sun, and beyond rows of more high mountains.--Mike Ely (with red bandanna in photo)

DAVID | poem 35

Jed Brandt

In this only life,
throw your chest for the people
without irony.

In this only life,
let us save dying for death,
our back to the wheel.

Another Story About Sully
Joe Iosbaker

[This is edited from a note written to Molly Sullivan Nestor, one of Sully's daughters.]

Molly, you had said your dad was a bad ass. Here's a story to back that up.

While I knew Sully for 30 years, we didn’t hardly see him from the early '80s until a few years ago, when Stephanie and I and the boys started seeing him a couple times a year. especially at Jon and Marsha Baker’s annual pre-Thanksgiving get-together.

In 2004, we were still very involved in the anti-war protests in Chicago. The previous year, on the night the Iraq War began, over 800 people had been arrested in the protest in downtown Chicago. We had pissed off Mayor Daley when 10,000 people seized Lake Share Drive by totally outmaneuvering the police. 2000 riot cops were brought in, boxed us up, and proceeded to arrest us. The cops were rough with a lot of people, although it wasn’t August, 1968 or anything.

There has been a class action suit against the city since that night, claiming that the protesters were cooperating with the police when they started arresting us without warning. I was explaining this story to Bill Davis (¡Presente!) and Sully after dinner, telling them about the suit.

Sully’s response: “We never bothered with complaining about police brutality. If the cops beat us up at a demo, we showed up at the next protest for payback.”

So, I’m having a couple fingers of Cinco Blancos tonight in your dad’s honor, Molly. Here’s to payback!

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