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  • WHAT IS A RED DIAPER BABY?

    I grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to parents who were revolutionaries and visionaries. When I was younger, both my mom and dad were members of the Communist Party. Children of CP members were known as Red Diaper Babies because of the red hammer and sickle logo used as a part of communist symbolism.

    Radical leftist politics were the norm in my house. I was weaned on Pete Seeger songs; I learned to walk on picket lines protesting racial inequality. According to my parents, the revolution was just around the corner; the workers were going to take over the world and peace and justice would prevail. When something was unfair or wrong, we protested, we picketed, we wrote letters, and we took action to change the situation.

    Both my younger sister Reeni and I went to public schools, and although there was a strong and vocal progressive movement in the New York in the early 50s, most children in our school were not part of that community. This was a time of McCarthyism, and our parents were targeted for their political activities. Whereas most children were warned to “be afraid of strangers”, we were admonished to “watch out for the FBI”. We both went against the norm when there were air raid drills and we were supposed to crawl under our desks for protection. Reeni and I, in our separate classrooms, both refused to participate; clearly this was just anti-communist propaganda, and logic told us that even if there were a bomb threat, crawling under our desks would not protect us.

    When I was 8 years old, my family took a trip from New York to Los Angeles to visit my grandparents. At that time the flight took about 20 hours. What a paradise we found there! We stayed in their house, which had a big backyard with a fig tree. I had only eaten dried figs; a fresh fig was a revelation. My grandfather was a handyman and had a workshop in the garage in the back of the house. Coming from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in a tenement apartment, this was an amazing experience. Reeni and I played in the sun, and reveled in the spaciousness of the house and the yard. After several days, our parents told us we were going to leave and go up to San Francisco to visit other relatives. We didn’t want to go; we loved being in L.A. and getting to visit with Baba and Grandpa and eat fresh figs. We begged, we pleaded to stay longer in L.A., but our parents were firm: We had to leave.

    I immediately drew on my background: When something is wrong, protest! My sister and I went to my grandfather and I told him I needed to make a sign. He found a stray piece of wood and a stick, and I painted it a bright turquoise. On it I wrote in big black letters: “LET’S STAY IN L.A.” We then got some notebook paper and cut them into small pieces; on each piece we wrote “Let’s Stay In L.A.” We proceeded to put them everywhere we could think of: In my mom’s purse, in my father’s pocket, in the sugar bowl, in their valise, in their socks, under their pillows, etc. The morning before we were scheduled to leave we woke up early and started picketing outside their bedroom window. We walked back and forth for about 15 minutes, chanting: “Let’s Stay In L.A.! Let’s Stay In L.A.!” Surely this picket line would allow us to stay longer.

    It didn’t work. Although my parents were amused, and I think also proud in many ways, we did have to go on to San Francisco. Some struggles are won and some are lost, but according to how I grew up, you at least have to take a stand!

    Update: My parents eventually left the CP but continued to fight for peace and justice. My father was active in a local group protesting the Vietnam War, and my mother was a prominent figure in the affordable housing movement. My dad died in 1978, but today, at age 88, my mother, Frances Goldin, is still making trouble whenever she can. She is the literary agent for Mumia Abu-Jamal and also an active participant in the campaign to Free Mumia. She owns her own literary agency – www.goldinlit.com, and is the agent for such renowned literary figures as Barbara Kingsolver, Juan Gonzales, Adrienne Rich, Dorothy Allison, and many others. She still works 2 days a week and is a fierce advocate for the LGBT movement (my sister and I are both lesbians.) She is a strong supporter of A Jewish Voice For Peace, and of the Occupy movement.

    Although we may be “outsiders” to the 1%, we are definitely a proud part of the 99%.
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