Got back yesterday morning from a trip to the US. Still jet-lagged, but not too bad.
The primary purpose of the trip was to speak at a side-event organized by Oxfam and Transparency International at the UN in New York (during the fabulously exciting 4th Preparatory Committee (or PrepComm) for the Arms Trade Treaty) to present some research. Event went well, but probably of limited interest to most.
Didn't see enough of New York as usual. Want to go there more.
Stayed on a few extra days to visit the Perlos. Grandma Ellen and uncle Stan in Croton-on-Hudson, NY, and uncle Art and his wife Joelle in New Haven, CT. Mostly the latter this time. Ellen is 95 and generally hale, but, well, 95, and had problems with her hands (due to be operated on yesterday), and Stan is recovering from cancer. Currently, insh'allah, he is completely clear, and regaining strength, but still some way from full strength.
As has been well documented in this journal, the Perlo family are notorious Communists. Art and Joelle are the active ones these days, and indeed Joelle volunteers for them full time as the co-ordinator for Connecticut and on the National Committee.
While I was over, they had me give a talk about SIPRI to some folks from the New Haven Peace Council - good meeting, a very informed and engaged bunch as one might expect. Did some non-political stuff too though, including a walk up a local hill.
The most noteworthy thing though was on Sunday, when Art and Joelle took me down with a coach from the Connecticut branch of the Communist Party of the USA to New York, for a celebration of the centenary of the life of Henry Winston
, an African American civil rights activist, and Chairman of the CPUSA. Also a good friend of my grandparents.
Henry Winston was involved in the civil rights movement from way before it took off, as well as anti-war and labour struggles. Also an 'early adopter' of boycotting South Africa and the campaign to free Nelson Mandela. He was, along with a number of other Communist Party leaders, imprisoned in the 1950s under the McCarthy era laws. While in prison he went blind as a result of a benign brain tumour that was ignored by the prison authorities for too long. Pardoned by Kennedy in 1961, he came out to his signature quote, "They have robbed me of my sight, but not my vision".
The afternoon consisted of various speakers giving their rememberances and appreciations of him, as well as a very powerful poem reading and some acapella singing. Very strong impression of Winston as someone who was a very compassionate and engaging person at an individual level, with a genuine in interest in people.
The most famous speaker was Angela Davis
, a former CP member and Black Panther, who was framed in the early 70s in connection with a court-house shoot-out, where she was charged on the basis of the perps having stayed at her house. At one point California, under Gov. Ronald Reagan, was seeking the death penalty. Winston organized an international campaign on her behalf, and she was eventually acquitted. She is now a Professor Emeritus at UC Santa Cruz, and apparently a moderately well-known radical philosopher.
All in all a very interesting occasion. One thing that struck me was how racially mixed the audience (mostly, though not entirely, CP) was. Probably about 50% African American. In the UK, the far Left is almost entirely white.
Also, just how American
everything was. All enthusiastic, cheerleadery, revival-meeting. So I was thinking "How can this be so American, when the subject is COMMUNISM, which is surely the quintessence of Unamerican?"
There was a call-out on the coach back, with people giving their thoughts on the day. One guy surprised me by starting his list of thank yous with one to the Creator. But I had read in some of the CP literature at Art and Joelle's that they have a significant number of people of various faiths in the party. Evidently softened on the 'opiate of the people' line.
Finding myself liking these folks and what they're doing. Still can't cope with the notion of the Soviet Union having been remotely a Good Thing, and the accompanying busts of Lenin. But that's becoming something of a historical matter, and replicating the USSR in the USA is not part of the contemporary Communist agenda, it seems.
Though I'm not sure about their current immediate political focus, which is strongly into re-electing Obama. I am so mightily pissed off with the guy. Certainly, any of the Republican possibilities would be far, far worse, but I think I would be inclined to go for a 'safe states' strategy - vote for good third party candidates where available in states that are safe Republican or Democrat, but for Obama in swing states.
Anyway, that was my past week, and thus concludes the first of my hopefully daily Lenten posts.