Funny thing about the politics of the life of a well-known political activist: none of it stops with your death.  Not even for a moment.

We celebrated my grandmother’s life yesterday, at the Redwood Gardens Community Room in Berkeley.  Redwood Gardens is senior housing – of the sort which is the last before you go to a special care home.  My grandmother, who would have been 94 yesterday, never made it to a special care home.  As independent as she was, she wouldn’t have lasted long in one.

The room was packed with about 150 people from various walks of her politics.  Some of us in the family were there; though the conservatives of the family were absent.  You might think that would make for a unified celebration, but life nor death are so simple.

As I mentioned in the earlier posts, she was once a member of the Communist Party.  She left during the 1950s, after having endured McCarthy, when the Kruschev revelations revealed to her that a big portion of what she had believed about the Soviet Union had been deadly fraud.    Unlike some others who left who either became what would eventually be termed “neoconservative” or abandoned politics altogether, sometimes in favor of less grandiose vices, she remained active for the rest of her life as a non-sectarian leftist.  When I came of age and became involved with Democratic Socialists of America, she told me that she was “finished with political parties.”  When I argued that DSA wasn’t really a political party, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “it’s too close for my comfort.”

Unfortunately about 25 years later she had fallen into moderate dementia with age and was coaxed into joining the Workers World Party; fomerly a Trotskyist splinter group from the Socialist Workers Party, but eventually adopting North Korea as its object of worship (and supporting the Tiananmin crackdown in China just over three decades following its indignant opposition to the Soviet invasion of Hungary).  Ironically she not only joined what was in tradition a Trotskyist sect, but a group which had evolved into the worst of the Stalinism she had rejected earlier in life.  On the positive side, like any religious cult, they took very good care of her.  They made sure she got home from meetings safely, and otherwise did quite well by her on a personal level.  It’s hard for me to be angry about that, even if her fellow VALB members didn’t understand what was happening.

And then you had her non-sectarian activist friends who didn’t understand much of the history nor the politics.

And what you had was recipe for arguments about what would be emphasized in her memorial; which songs would be sung and by whom; what causes would be championed; etc.  The details are boring, but somehow with all the potential for “family” arguments, the memorial turned out quite nice if imperfect in the eyes of any particular agenda.

We had the Berkeley Labor Chorus sing some songs, and Bruce Barthol, formerly bassist for Country Joe and the Fish, and presently a musical composer for the San Francisco Mime Troup, sang some others.  There was some overlap due to lack of coordination, but nobody minds hearing/singing Venga Jaleo twice in two different interpretations.  And as the “Trotskyists” rolled their eyes, excerpts from the documentary Forever Activists played, mostly from her interview of 1986.

Most of the veterans gone, only Nate Thornton was able to attend (he was the last of the veterans with the presence of mind for me to interview on radio a couple of years back).  For all of the shortcomings of their brand of politics, we’re losing a generation of selfless activists who set up an inspirational model that might not be matched by any group of people for decades to come.  And as the average age of attendees yesterday was about 60, with my 16 year old nephew being the youngest among us, a vital history may be lost in another decade.  And we have a left lacking any real depth and in desperate need of knowledge of its own history.

In my eyes we were memorializing not just my grandmother’s death, but  the death of a world view.  I have very mixed feelings about it.

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