Jane Kinzler

I guess I’ve always felt myself to be an outsider, so, in true spirit, my relationships to the political scene at Columbia, and anywhere in fact, before and afterward, have been from the outside, and from the personal. For years, I felt like an observer in my own life, that I was perennially thirteen years old, still sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car. Forty years later, I feel finally that I am a part of my life. I remember a tea at Barnard, where Anais Nin, in wonderfully cool white go-go boots, responded to a question by saying, “Girls, the confidence that you see now has taken years to develop.” That’s certainly true of me.

Currently: I work as a civil rights investigator for the Human Services Agency in San Francisco, conducting investigations into allegations of discrimination by both clients and staff of the Agency. You could say that everyday is like “Rashomon” with many compelling versions of the same story. Aside from work, I play Appalachian Mountain dulcimer, garden, cook, write songs and limericks, enjoy dancing with my sweetie, and generally try to keep things together. I am married to a lovely man and documentary filmmaker, David L. Brown. We actually met in 1981 leafleting in SF. I was giving out mimeographed leaflets for the Abalone Alliance against the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, and David was giving out finely printed two-color posters about a ten-part series he was producing on nuclear weapons, war and power, with speakers, films, and discussions. Needless to say, I tossed away my leaflets, and the rest is history. The main lesson, I suppose, is don’t skimp on your leaflets.

I am just recovering from a horrendous bout of poison oak, from the woods near San Luis Obispo, where we screened David’s film, “Of Wind and Waves” on legendary surfer, glider pioneer, and inventor of the modern catamaran, Woody Brown (no relation) (ofwindandwaves.com). The film won the Audience Award for best feature length film at the San Luis Obispo Film Festival. We just returned from the Ashland Film Festival, where we also screened “Of Wind and Waves.” For all you film buffs, we drove Les Blank (“Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers”) up and back to Ashland, and we got to hang out with and do a video interview with “brother” Albert Maysles (“Gimme Shelter” “The Gates” “The Running Fence” “Yanqui No!” (on Fidel and Che)). Seeing “The Gates” on the Christo’s Central Park gates, I totally identified with Jeanne-Claude. It’s a wonderful film. Al talked about peoples’ last will and testament – that we all decide who gets the “stuff” but we fail to write or record our lives and legacies. So that inspired me to dive into the life story project, against my better nature.

I love being part of the Bay Area’s progressive independent filmmaking community, and being part of a filmmaking “family.” We like to say that, instead of having children, we had documentaries every few years – films on nuclear power and war, on nuclear downwinders, on healthy aging (surfingforlife.com) and on a group of radical seniors who opposed the Iraq war before and since (“Seniors for Peace”). Check out dlbfilms.com.

Back to the Strike: During the strike, I was in Fayerweather for about a minute. Not being a particularly forceful young woman (or was I a girl?), and not having a boyfriend or pals there to latch onto, I just didn’t feel comfortable, and had to leave. I was at my apartment on 109th and the Drive the night of the bust, and heard on the radio (was it WBAI?) that the bust was imminent. I rushed up to the campus and teamed up with Gerald, a friend of a friend from Rochester (since deceased), and then we met a Columbia grad student, Larry, whose arm had been broken by the cops. After people were marched out of the buildings by the cops, and the bust was over, I took Larry home to my apartment and tore up a pillowcase to use as a sling for his arm. Of course, in the meanwhile, at my apartment, a short-term Nichiran-Shoshu (sp?) roommate, whose name I don’t even remember, was at that very moment entertaining two cops (from the bust, she said) whom she was “shakabutu-ing” and trying to get them to chant in front of her altar. Larry and I started hanging out together after that. It turned out Larry’s cousin was Allen Ginsberg, so we got to meet him on campus after the strike.

I was at the graduation at St. John, and left with WBAI playing “The Times They Are Changin’) (which I play today on the dulcimer) and went to the alternative graduation on campus. That summer, I was living on 113th Street, working at 125th and Lenox as a social worker, having turned down Lindsay’s teaching training program, since I was afraid I would be taking a space from some unknown guy who would then have to go to Vietnam.

JJ: Speaking of my relationship to politics being more personal than political, I met John in a reading room of the Columbia library, during my junior year (after transferring to Barnard from Penn, but that’s another story). It was months before I realized that my John (pardon the pun) was actually the famous, or infamous JJ. John said that I was the first person to turn him on to pot, but I still find that hard to believe. We dated that year, and spent a lot of time listening to records (what ever happened to David Blue?). John would come by my apartment, and then head up to visit with Hannah Arendt, who lived upstairs. I remember going to the New Moon and Moon Palace, where John would leave pictures of Chairman Mao under his plate when we left. I also would make him go to the Ideal, and he had to be civil, if not downright charming, to the owner, whom he grew to like, but first saw as a Cuban gusano. I also made him come pick me up at my uncle’s on Central Park West, which he hated doing. He lived in the rattiest flat ever, as I recall. Curiously, John had grown up spending time on Fire Island with my cousins, one of whom recalled that John had always taken more than his share of the lox at brunches. We dated throughout that year, and drifted apart, after I went off to Europe. Of course I made John send me a postcard in Greece, just to get his goat, since I knew how he felt about the government there.

A few years later, when I was in grad school, I got some very indirect communication from John. We ended up spending a lot of time together while he was underground – setting up meetings through friends, meeting in odd places like Times Square and unknown apartments, movie theatres (we saw “Superfly” a few times), not being able to talk in my VW, for fear that my bug was bugged, me having to hide under blankets so people in his various places didn’t see me, and I didn’t see them. Things were better for him (and me) after he got his own apartment – that was a very sweet time. John was always pushing me to be political – the free school bust, the TV station takeover, shooting practice in Vermont, and on and on. The last time I saw John was in the mid-seventies, when I was on Cape Ann. It was actually a difficult meeting, our last meeting. He had a family with him, I think I was jealous, his kid peed on the afghan I had just finished crocheting, his partner criticized my dulcimer playing, and, sadly, that was it. I’ve always felt regrets about that last encounter. I am glad and gratified that he’s scattered over Che.

Back to Aftermath of the Strike: Assuming that the revolution was imminent, I couldn’t really think about a career, and went off to Paris, to work as the librarian for Columbia’s Reid Hall. The next year, I came back to NY, and went to Columbia Grad School in English for two years. When, as part of my fellowship, I was asked to teach freshman English at Columbia, I panicked, thinking, “These boys are paying a fortune for college, only to get me as their instructor,” so, I bolted. I volunteered, and then worked, at a free school in an abandoned storefront (94th St.?) (Elizabeth Cleaner’s Free School), where, at first, I was known as “Jane Macrame” (teaching macramé), but finally taught everything from Emma Goldman to Native American studies (what did I know?). We did agit-prop theatre, and went to schools in the area acting out the robotic-nature of the educational system. The biggest challenge was trying to reign in a group of very creative and very stoned kids. I got arrested as part of the school’s participation in the squatters’ movement, and we ended up writing a book for Random House about the school.

Bolting NYC, I dropped out of grad school, moved to Cambridge, then Cape Ann, played dulcimer, did Tai Chi, yoga, and massage, waitressed, carved candles in a touristy storefront, stayed in a tipi, lived in various collective houses, took on a Sufi name, and, I suppose, all but broke my parents’ hearts. In Cambridge, I took part in and was arrested in a well-orchestrated takeover of a local TV station. I think we had a statement from the Viet Cong that we wanted read on the air. The plan was so well arranged, that we had people calling the other stations in the area right at the moment we “took over” so that the station had to switch from their ruse of “temporarily off the air” to “out-covering” all the other local stations. It was all very clandestine, and very exciting.

Trying to “get straight” after too much sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and feeling like a casualty of the sixties, as well as feeling oppressed by my own liberation, I started shaving my legs again, and moved out to San Francisco in the late seventies. I worked as a legal secretary (my motto: “Legal Sec’ts, we service attorneys”), and then as an activity director in a senior center, where David called me alternately a “geezer pleaser” and the “dean of fun.” It was only after years of working for various non-profits, and having “no profit” to speak of, that I started to work for the City, hoping to eke out a bit of a pension for the upcoming “drooling years.”

Growing Up: I spent the first seven years in relative luxury, living on the upper West Side (101st and West End), going to Ethical Culture School, summering at the Jewish bungalow colony etc. Then, my father lost a bundle of money in some business deal, and, as part of the downward mobility, we moved to a non-Jewish section of a town on Long Island. Only later did I learn (after calling him about watching the holocaust series on TV) that the reason my father, a lawyer, was unable to make things work for himself was that he had been part of the liberation of Dachau, and that it left its mark on him in the way of paralysis – all he wanted to do was stay at home and play the piano. We moved in August, and that first “chalk night” – the night before Halloween, someone chalked anti-Semitic sayings all over our sidewalk – “Dirty kikes – Go home to Brooklyn or wherever you came from – etc.” It was very embarrassing for me, and I never felt “at home” in that house. My mother always blamed the Corrigan “bullies” who lived next door – although we never really knew who was responsible. My mother, a social worker, who nevertheless was sort of a snob about class issues, was totally offended that they thought we were from Brooklyn, rather than thinking we were from Manhattan!

One story comes to mind about my family’s fear of differences. I was asked to a party by a blond “waspy” boy, and for days my mother went on and on about it. I tried to reassure her that I was in ninth grade and not about to marry the boy. When he finally came, with his parents, to pick me up in their station wagon (not a very “Jewish” vehicle), he came to the door and our dog ran out of the house up to his car, since his dog was in his family’s car. When he and I got in the car, his father said something like, “Our dogs should mate – they would have cute puppies.” I guess I had been so “brainwashed” by my mother that, instead of saying, “Oh no, they can’t mate, my dog’s female too” I said, “Oh no, they can’t mate – my dog’s Jewish!” Needless to say, I spent the whole party hiding in the bathroom.

I wasn’t quite a red-diaper baby, but did grow up with some political sensibility and feelings of being an outsider, always. I grew up sitting in at the local Woolworth’s, wearing black armbands on May Day, sneaking into the Village with my girlfriends to hear folk music at the Gaslight and Café Wha, and 99 cent hoots at Town Hall, etc. etc. My first anti-Vietnam demonstration was when I was at Penn. We were marching around the circle outside the President’s office, chanting to end the war, when a group of jocks showed up, and started their own chant: “Push ‘em back, Push ‘em back, way back.” They grabbed our placards, ripped up the signs, and left us marching around with wooden crosses, all that was left of our placards. Very eerie, indeed.

A few years ago, I took an amazing class on the Psychology of Race taught by a wonderful woman, Lisa Harrison. I’m including some interesting (to me, at least) short essays that I wrote in her class.

My most empowering moments have been centered around my political involvement – sit-ins, college anti-war activities, and throughout my years with the environmental, anti-nuclear, and non-violence film and activist communities. However, I have also experienced powerlessness in terms of disillusionment with the left – both its in-fighting, as well as its seeming failure to make any headway in influencing public and/or global policy. Not to mention my dissatisfaction with my fellow boomers.

I feel that I have experienced a lack of power both as Jew and as a female. I remember one incident as a high school student, when a Jewish girlfriend and I went to a New York statewide conference to represent our high school girls’ service club, Hi-Y, which was affiliated with the YMCA. In our school, there were the Jewish service clubs and the non-Jewish service clubs. The conference was a retreat somewhere on an island in the middle of Lake Ontario. At this conference, one of the main topics for discussion was, “what to do about all the Jews in the Hi-Y service clubs in the downstate area.” Needless to say, my friend and I were upset, although we were too afraid to speak up at all, and just “passed.” I regret now not taking a more courageous stand. In retrospect, the other reason my friend and I probably didn’t act was that she was having a major flirtation with the one of the cutest “Waspy’ boys who was in a leadership position, and we didn’t want to make waves.

I recall one story about power and race/ethnicity from the early seventies. After going to hear Billy Graham at Shea Stadium with a group of “politically correct” friends, (Bob Fitzgerald among them – he okayed me mentioning his name), we were standing on the corner of Broadway and 107th, when I noticed that a Chicano-looking man was emerging from my brownstone, with my record player under his arm. The group immediately retorted that if it were a white guy, I would have said, “there goes a guy with a record player just like mine” and that, since it was a man of color, I jumped to the conclusion that it was my record player. Anyway, we all watched as the man disappeared across Broadway. When we went upstairs, my apartment was indeed ransacked. One of life’s great ironies…. Go figure.

I have been playing music and writing songs lately. Here’s the lyrics I put together for one of David’s recent film projects on the amazingly quick rebuilding of the MacArthur Maze in the Bay Area in April 2007. The song was originally to the tune of an old folk ballad, the FFV, with alternative lyrics written by Charley Poole in the thirties about “Georgie and the IRT” (Georgie, a shipping clerk, was cut in half by the subway’s doors shutting on him). Anyway, our guitarist reworked it as a smoking rockabilly song (aka “dieselbilly”) so we used it as the closing title song for the Director’s Cut (the client was reluctant to use it) for David’s film “Amazing.”

A tanker truck on ol’ 880, came a’ cannonballin’ through

Rolling up the MacArthur Maze, as the City came into view.

At 3:42 on that April morn’, into mighty flames it burst.

To the driver’s surprise, he was still alive, but commuters, they feared the worst.

Experts came from far and wide to measure and to test.

As blood pressures rose, Caltrans chose, to bid out for the best.

The lowest bidder was C.C. Myers whose skill in the trades was known.

We’ll fix this maze in the fewest days; and I’ll take the bonus home.

All at once, ol’ C.C. Myers had crews workin’ night and day

The goal at last, was to build it fast, and get the folks back on their way.

With Stinger Steel, the working crews and safety engineers,

They tamed the maze, in 17 days, got drivers back in gear.

So sing a song to MacArthur Maze, the Caltrans staff, the team,

Working day and night, to get it right, they labored on full steam.

An urban legend, ol’ C.C. Myers, along with Stinger Steel,

They made a plan to fix the span; the public sure got a great deal.

And to conclude, here are some of my random untitled limericks:

At first it began as a whim

And a need to be shapely and trim.

Soon I will be fatless,

And you’ll be Charles Atlas,

Hooray, ‘cause we’re joining a gym.


The Pilgrims were feeling forlorn,

‘til the Indians gave them some corn.

Instead of beef jerky,

They got to eat turkey,

And that’s how Thanksgiving was born.

- by Jane Kinzler
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