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So Here I Am....
On a hot September night, about nineteen years ago, my father met the announcement of the Birth of his second daughter with the news that he had been dismissed from his position as cigar Salesman because of his participation in the organizing of the Socialist Party in Cleveland, Ohio. That night of my birth marked the end of my father's revolutionary career which had begun in his youth in a small town in the southern Russia of 1905.
For my part, the first record of any action of social significance was an editorial on the horrors of war, ostentatiously titled To Future Voters, which I wrote at the age of 10. However, neither this auspicious beginnings nor my later entrance into the progressive movement can be truthfully attributed to my father's influence--much to his sorrow. The long tirades against "the system" which he delivered with never-diminishing gusto at each dinner-time, fell on unreceptive ears, resulting in my junior high school days in a strongly negative attitude towards anything of social content--and not until my high school experience, in any sort of interested response.
Thus in the first years following my excursion into the realm of social thought I can report only an occasional reaction to anti-Semitic prejudice rampant in the bourgeois community in which I lived and complete concentration on the studies and social adjustments characteristic of most children of my class and intellectual background.
Then, in one day, in the corridors of Heights High School, I was approached by a long-haired, badly-dressed class-mate (whom I knew only because of his reputation for brilliances, eccentricities, and an election speech for Student Council which he had based on the Communist Manifesto) to attend a meeting of some sort. Having a half-hour free, assented, out of curiosity, and with a dozen bored companions listened half-heartedly to a reading of Bury the Dead by a completely untalented woman. I left without learning the name of the organization whose meeting I had attended, and not until a month later, when the official organ of the Heights chapter of the ASU, The Bombshell, was published did I realize that a progressive student movement existed.
Somehow, despite, the interminable meetings, in which three people met secretly in a corner of the building and formulated plans for removing the principal, revising the curriculum, running the student elections, etc., I emerged from that first year of ASUing (during which, by the way, I had been hurriedly made president because I was still considered respectable) an enthusiastic ASU'er. Also, by some inexplicable fashion, the three active members of the ASU decided that the Heights chapter was somewhat sectarian, and in the following year, we decided to make it a Mass Organization. We were not too successful, although we raised our membership to eight or ten, and made spasmodic attempts to represent the student body, because that year too found us under the cloud of disfavour as a result of suing the principal for the confiscation of a harmless leaflet we had issued.
In my senior year, the ASU at last achieved a semblance of respectability. The chapter was responsible for the establishment of a Peace Council, April 20th witnessed a partially-successful Peace Assembly, and hopes for recognition seemed not too impossible. Members of the ASU were accepted into the National Honor Society, but the faculty still used its power over school scholarships to force two members out of the chapters and witnesses heard the principal announce that he would do everything in his power to block the award of scholarships to the leading members of the ASU regardless of the superior qualifications of the students.
It was at about this time, also, that I was beginning to feel the force of reaction in my non-academic life. I had worked in a department store since I had been 15, and had noted, with humor and sorrow, the ideology of my co-workers--the identification of the white-collar worker with his economic superior, rather than with the working-class. I began to understand the failure at unionization to penetrate these ranks--and saw shop-girls eat candy-bars for lunch for months on end in order to buy a new hat.
Thus I arrived at my graduation from high school--my long-cherished vision of a college education in a fine eastern university vanishing before my eyes as it became obvious that the long years of insecurity had made both my father and mother old and chronically sick in what should have been their prime. And my savings of three years were exhausted.
So, I enrolled in the cooperative division of Cleveland College where it was arranged that I attend school for six months--then work six months of every year until I should have won my degree. I signed a little yellow slip which mortgaged my future savings until my debt to the college was paid and started the first year of my college career. After being juggled back and forth--from job to school and back to job--I was finally allowed to settle down to four months of attending classes--and going to ASU meetings.
At first I was delighted with the status of the C.C. ASU chapter and learned a lot about the functioning of the ASU--above ground. The C.C. ASU is a recognized, respected organization on a liberal campus, and I threw myself wholeheartedly into its activity and was soon elected assistant executive secretary of the chapter. However, I soon discovered that it contained all the faults of the average ASU chapter and many more: inadequate leadership, bureaucracy, unrepresentative membership, bad organization, etc., etc.
By this time, I had come to realize that the ASU was more than an extra-curricular activity to me. I was giving it every minute of my spare time--and many that should have been devoted to studies. When I stopped to take stock one day, I realized that this was so, not only because my studies offered insufficient interest, but also because--somehow--the attending of meetings, my new work as high school organizer, my trip to the Nat'l Convention--all the details of ASU work small and large,--combined to provide a source of inspiration and a living desire to associate myself permanently with the whole progressive movement.
But, with this, too, came the realization of my weaknesses and inadequacies for such an undertaking. My district organizer told me that if I have what it takes, five weeks at Locust Farm would bring it out. So, here I am....
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