Philip Wohlstetter

Memories etc.

I learned about the strike in the middle of “Macbeth”. I was staging the play on campus at the time and, one day, Macduff, Malcolm, and the First Witch didn’t show up for rehearsal. All were in Fayerweather. Getting inside to see them was (I imagine) like trying to crash Studio 54: line up at the window, state your case, await the judgment of the gate-keepers. Somehow I made the cut. Macduff—a powerful actor and fine individual name of Gordon Swift—was torn. “I know Macbeth is important,” says Gordon, “I don’t want to screw up the production but shit, Philip, this is more important.” It was hard for me to argue that the show must go on when the show that was going on around me—classrooms re-imagined as candle-lit, hemp-scented Socratical-Political communes—was so much more theatrical and compelling. A few days of limbo and then the bust. I postponed the show until the following weekend.

Dick Gregory came to speak at Morningside to show his solidarity. The administration barred him from all campus auditoriums, hoping that denied a venue, he would disappear. I offered him the 200 seat Teacher’s college chapel I had rented for the play. As I’d paid the rent, I was free to dispose of it as I chose. I told Josh DeWind I would donate all proceeds from the performances to the strike committee, would discount all tickets for strikers. Solidarity? Certainly, but also a not-so-hidden agenda. The large and enthused audience that comes to see Gregory, I figured, will stay to see Shakespeare: I will see a dagger before me; they will see me.

Show time. Gregory is magnificent. He has the audience in his pocket. Fifteen minutes, thirty minutes. This is like having Dylan as a warm-up act. Forty-five minutes, an hour. Come on, Dick, wrap it up so we can head off to Scotland. Slowly my heart sinks. His talk runs for an hour and forty five minutes. “Half-price tickets to Macbeth are still available,” I announce to the exiting audience. Out of, say, 250 people, 15 remain in the theater.

Nietzsche claims that the highest human being has the right to make promises. He (for Nietzsche it’s a he) gives his word knowing he is strong enough to keep it in the face of accidents, even “in the face of fate”, in contrast to the “feeble windbag” who pleads circumstances to excuse breaking his word. I believe Gary Cooper said something very like this in High Noon. I’ve always regretted telling Josh DeWind after the production that yes, I did say I’d donate the proceeds to the strike committee, but what I meant was net rather than gross and since the audience I imagined didn’t materialize and we didn’t come near to covering expenses etcetera. Classic feeble windbag-ism. For years it’s haunted me, the grand gesture I sacrificed for the sake of two hundred or so dollars. Very rarely does life offer an opportunity to rectify the past. That’s why writing a check to support the 40th reunion event was one of my happiest experiences. There you go, Josh. Better late than never.

Post Columbia, I woke up one morning in Chile on September 11th 1973 and witnessed the coup against Salvador Allende and its aftermath. Why was I there? Supposedly to write a guidebook called “For the Wandering Gringo.” From across the street, I saw the Moneda palace rocketed by the Chilean Air Force. Thirty five years later, I’m finishing ‘Valparaiso’, a book set during these events (which I’ve spent my life trying to understand). I attach the beginning of Chapter Four (the Moneda, the all-day curfew, the Junta’s first broadcasts). Some of you might find it interesting. [NOTE: You can read this excerpt by going to the Files section of the Yahoo site and opening up the one that is appropriately titled.]

I look forward to the reunion. I’m hoping my daughter Isabel, now at NYU, will be able to attend some of the events with me (I live in Seattle with Christina, my wife of thirty two years, and have two daughters; the other, Julia, is 14). I’m hoping that our public discussions will offer answers to the following questions:

How did we on the Left ever allow the word democracy to be claimed by the Right (which opposes it)?

Why is it so difficult to refer to democracy without adjectives? (bourgeois democracy, liberal democracy, capitalist democracy, or Pinochet’s wonderful invention, ‘protected democracy.’)

Why is the word so often used before or after conjunctions? (freedom and democracy, democracy and liberty etc.)

How have we gotten to a point where so many Americans can’t recognize what is and what is definitely not democratic?

I have my own opinions I’ll be happy to share over a beer at the West End, sorry, Havana Central.

One final note. In the interests of full disclosure, I admit that my uncle was Albert Wohlstetter. Yes, that Albert Wohlstetter. The Albert Wohlstetter of Rand Corporation and the University of Chicago who brought Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle into our government and mentored Zalmay Khalizad, Bush’s Ambassador to both Afghanisthan and Iran. Albert W, guru to the neo-cons and advocate of an interventionist military strategy built around precision targeting and high tech command and control whose spectacular failure we are now witnessing. I can talk about that over a beer too.

Letter from Eleanor Stein (or you may remember me as Eleanor Raskin)

Coming from a Red family, I was already a civil rights and antiwar activist by the time I entered Columbia Law School in the fall of 1967. My Class of 1970 was composed of 311, including a handful of African-American students, one Native American student I know of, and 24 women. Barricading Fayerweather with a handful of law school classmates and a lot of other beloved friends, I wore a “Legal Observer” armband. At first we kept our distance. But after being dragged out by police seven days later – with a scar to prove it — I joined SDS, and the next year took a leave of absence to work full time against the Vietnam War and racism at home. Or maybe I just ran away from home, leaving law school, Columbia, my family, New York. My wonderful husband Jonah and I parted ways. I began to shed all the skins I had grown up with (I remember one woman friend calling to ask, “Can I have your jewelry?”). Nineteen sixty-nine: for some of us, even a crazier year than 1968, full of fear and foreboding, police violence, police assassinations of Black Panthers, and escalation in Vietnam no matter how many people took to the streets.

That summer, I traveled to Cuba with an SDS/antiwar movement group to meet a delegation of South and North Vietnamese – Ted Gold was on the trip, and it was a transformative voyage for us all. Coming back, it was the direction of Weatherman that seemed the most compelling: bring the war home. By 1970 I was underground, and lived a clandestine life for 11 years, with Jeff Jones.

Jeff and I were arrested in October 1981, our four-year-old son Thai taken in by friends. His dramatic description of that night (his earliest memory, he says) opens his family/left history, A Radical Line.

It felt, in the early ‘80s, like landing in another world, yet back to our own lives and families. I reapplied to complete my degree at Columbia Law School, my 1969 leave of absence having stretched into about 14 years. The disciplinary committee and faculty argued about readmitting me for almost a year, and in the end decided against it. So I finished at CUNY Law School, which had just opened its doors. I took that law degree to Albany, to a clerkship at the New York State Court of Appeals where Jeff – my bashert – and I have lived since 1986. Thai and our younger son Arthur, apparently genetically programmed for the Upper West Side, both live in New York City. Arthur is studying at Bronx Community College, making videos and tending bar, and Thai is a Richard Hofstadter Fellow in American History at Columbia.

That’s one circle closed.

For the last five years my work has been about catastrophic climate change: how to manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable, as the world’s climate negotiators put it at the Bali conference last December. I am an administrative law judge for New York State, deciding environmental and energy cases. I also teach domestic and transnational climate change law at Albany Law School.

Since coming here, on the Hudson wedged between the Catskills and the Adirondacks, environmentalism and in particular environmental justice – fighting the disparate impact of environmental burdens on communities of color – has become my abiding passion. So has painting landscapes in oil.

Our movement of the sixties came to profoundly understand the role of U.S. global dominance and the imperialist distribution of the world’s resources. But few of us grasped the significance of the unsustainable predation of those resources.

Our old understandings, themes, and concerns are as present in this field as anywhere else: there are climate winners and climate losers. Wealthy communities and the industrialized nations, especially the US whose greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for by far the bulk of the problem, can afford to adapt and protect their borders. The Katrina victims, the Inuit, the low-lying island and sea-level Asian nations and parts of Africa, have been and will be in for deluge or drought or both.

Looking back, what do I think? My own choices are hard to imagine or understand outside of the extreme, driven, urgent context of those times, times all of you remember so well. My regrets are for friends and family abandoned, and opportunities for mass organization-building foregone. My regrets are for taking on the trappings and rhetoric of militarism, being blinded by our own despair. The risks the Underground took, in the context of the times, are not cause for regret. The risks Weather visited upon others stand up less well.

My joys are that we – all of us, all of us from 1968 – shed the conventions of our times, rejected the oppressor role laid out like a pinstriped suit so tidily for us, linked arms as women, overcame our fears, and stood up in solidarity with the wretched of the earth.

- by Philip Wohlstetter
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