Swans Commentary » swans.com March 24, 2008  



Streets, Doors, Offices


by Martin Murie





(Swans - March 24, 2008)   In 1947 there was a thriving Young Progressives Club at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Portlanders often called the school Red College, but it was far from that. We had thriving Young Republicans too. As usual, the Donkeys, obsessed with yellow stripes in middle of the highway, were there, but mostly silent, unorganized.

One fine day a meeting of Young Progs was called. Professor Lloyd Reynolds was slated as the speaker. My radical friend urged me to attend. I did. Lloyd Reynolds showed up on time, was introduced and said, "We're not here to talk, we're here for action." He and the rest of us broke up into pairs to knock on doors and collect signatures to put Henry Wallace on the ballot in the state of Oregon. (Wallace ran for president in 1948 on the Progressive Party ticket). My radical friend collared me and we went door-to-door in our assigned area. I watched and listened. After a while I got the hang of it and damned if it wasn't interesting.

Since then I've been puzzled by the reluctance of teachers and other intellectual species to hit the streets, knock on doors, sit down in offices of war hawks and others of the military-industrial complex. In the fifties Alison and I witnessed McCarthyite tactics hooked into the two houses of Congress with their Un-American Activities Committees going around the country on missions of intimidation. People lost jobs, teachers were fired. Those were times we thought we had left behind for good. Now they are back, with a vengeance.

Having been fired, for activism, from a tenured teaching job at Antioch College, I now understand what it's like to be suddenly, overnight, unemployed and black-listed. We fought, tenured and un-tenured, got our jobs back. I see no incongruity in the intellectual life that includes activism. Well, of course, a couple of years later professor Reynolds had to appear before a faculty committee and swear he was not a member of the Communist Party. [ed. note] But he never gave up. He taught a humdinger course, Eighteenth Century Literature, urged us students to write our own thoughts and turn them in, and to read widely in the books he had reserved for us in the library. It was a great course. I read like a starved animal. When the time came for action it was great fun in downtown Portland collecting signatures for Wallace, and showing up for other social occasions associated with that campaign. Fun? Yes. McCarthyism hadn't penetrated deeply just yet. The worst was ahead of us. Meanwhile, we could talk to all sorts of people, from old-time Wobblies to sophisticated liberals who wavered; but most of them, eventually, signed the petitions.

A member of Swans crew wrote a while ago that we ought to turn our minds to practical solutions as well as analyzing what's wrong with our nation and our world. Then co-editor Gilles d'Aymery posted a similar little lecture on Swans internal mailing list (the "Flock"). We should do that, but I still have that lingering wonder about us intellectuals. Why don't we hit the streets once in a while? Or regularly, for that matter? There is nothing like meeting diversity in the form of actual human beings cussing us out, or tearful, or quietly talking and listening. We could be in Iraq or Afghanistan you know, experiencing at first hand the devastation of land, water, minds. We now endure our own collapse as a society, headed for an ice-cold drop into deep fascist water.

I ask myself why, with our knowledge of what's wrong, we aren't chomping at the bit to get on the street, or go door to door, or sit with Raging Grannies in recruiting offices. Yes, I know, our jobs, our careers, but if we don't bring ourselves out there to join the quiet and not-so-quiet conversations among our fellow citizens, the worst will happen and we will be sorry we didn't act sooner. Very sorry. Careers? Forget careers. Tenure? Believe me, you can be fired even if you have tenure. Family? Thousands of families in our country live in toxic trailers, courtesy of Homeland Security, some are unemployed, uncertainty day by day. Not one of us is secure. There is no Ivory Tower. We all live day by day.

Flock, we thoroughly enjoy the analyses and fictions and satires and poetry that come to this backwoods place every two weeks. We profit from all of that. We absolutely have to have it. But, what holds us back from being ambidextrous?


Ed. Note

1.  In the summer of 1954, the House Un-American Activities Committee held hearings in Portland. Three members of the Reed College faculty -- Leonard Marsak, Lloyd Reynolds, and Stanley Moore -- accused of communist association were forced to testify. According to Rick Harmon ("In the eye of the storm," Reed Magazine, August 1997, Vol. 76, No. 4), "On June 20, 1954, [Reed] President Ballantine suspended Professor Reynolds from teaching his scheduled summer-session course, explaining that the popular art history and English professor had 'created an emergency' for the college by citing the Fifth Amendment (the constitutional guarantee of freedom against self-incrimination) during his HUAC testimony. Then, in the course of statements made during July and early August of 1954, the Reed president and trustees made clear that all three teachers--Reynolds, Marsak, and Moore--would be fired unless they could assure college authorities that they were not presently communists." Though professors Reynolds and Marsak ultimately kept their jobs, their colleague Stanley Moore "was fired by Reed College for his political beliefs." (It seems that we have yet to learn the lessons from the past.)
See http://web.reed.edu/reed_magazine/aug1997/storm/2.html  (back)


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Internal Resources

Activism under the Radar Screen


Patterns which Connect

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About the Author

Martin Murie on Swans (with bio).



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art14/murie47.html
Published March 24, 2008