Curiouser and Curiouser (this is the next go around to the immediately prior post)


Another go-round. The thinking gets twistier.
My son reminded me that Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a founder of the
ACLU, was expelled from that organization because of her membership in
the CP. Others have sent me wonderful (and quite radical) statements
from John Dewey himself. A favorite anecdote: When Maxim Gorky was
in New York in 1905, he was refused lodging at several hotels because
he was traveling with a woman not his wife. The Deweys “invited the
couple to their home,” and hosted a reception for students “in honor
of the non-Mrs. Gorky.”

Dear Bill,

I take full responsibility for being the one who cannot invite you,
but you mistake me if you infer therefore that I think of education
ever as an apolitical endeavor. The politics of what we are doing
here is keenly felt. I embrace having our efforts identified with
radicalism, but I am opposed to the claim that violence should be part
of the solution. Civil disobedience means challenging and even
provoking authority, but it is conscientiously non violent. I am
sorry to be drawn into what seems like a very prissy judgment about
you and your past. It’s not about whether you have paid your debt to
society. My primary concern is that your celebrated recent book and
“I regret none of it stance” not become the banner for our School of
I’m sorry if our letter was either hurtful or annoying, since as you
say we had no need to inform you of our non-invitation. Perhaps it
will seem less self-important or weasely if you imagine [your friends]
holding my feet to the fire, making us explain our decision, and
certainly not taking the easier, silent course of action.


Dear Lauren,

I admire your opposition “to the claim that violence should be part of
the solution”. I make no such claim myself, and believe, in fact, that
non-violent resistance is preferable whenever possible. Of course your
opposition puts you into direct conflict with your own government, the
greatest purveyor of violence on earth, as Martin Luther King, Jr.
noted more than once. We live in fact in a sewer of violence, often
exported, always rationalized and hidden through mystification and the
frenzied use of bread-and-circuses. If endorsing your opposition is
the oath that must be spoken in order to attend your conference or to
come to your School of Education—and I don’t think it should be—
consider the exclusions: both of your US Senators, the president and
his cabinet, the liberal head of the New School and the reactionary
front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination (both of whom
committed war crimes that they’ve refused to account for), military
recruiters, of course, and anyone not a pacifist, and, oh, don’t
forget Nelson Mandela— he wasn’t in prison all those years only for
civil disobedience.

I’ve never claimed that my actions were superior to yours, for
example— actually, I’m not sure what specifically you participated
in then or now, but I know folks who built counter-institutions,
organized in factories, emigrated to Africa or Europe to get away from
the madness for awhile, built communes and collectives, fought for a
peace-and-justice platform inside the Democratic Party, and a lot
else. I don’t think all of it was brilliant or perfect, of course, but
nor was it entirely stupid. I’ve said repeatedly that no one with eyes
even slightly open can reach the age of sixty and not have countless
regrets, and I have my share, but I can’t think of a single action I
took against the government and its murderous assault in Southeast
Asia that I regret. Perhaps you can point to something in particular
that you think I should regret, and then apologize for. I’d consider
it. But I certainly don’t denigrate non-violent resistance—I’ve
admired and participated in direct action for forty years, most
recently last week.

I’ve taught at UIC for twenty years, and I don’t think anyone here
considers either my presence or any of my writings emblematic. I’ve
given several commencement addresses— one at a school just down the
road from you— and countless lectures— two at your university—
and again, I doubt that anyone thought that I’d left a banner—
perhaps not even an impression. I can’t imagine what forces would have
to come together to make Fugitive Days “the banner” for your School of
Education. Is anyone proposing such a thing? It seems utterly
preposterous, but it raises a question: are all scholars and educators
who might attend your gathering being scrutinized by the same standard
to determine whether their writings might inadvertently become your

If I’m as radioactive as you seem to think— so contaminating that
simply being around me is a threat to the good people— maybe you
should spread the alarm to my dean, my university, my publishers, the
organizers of the dozens of events I’ve been asked to address in the
next several months. You won’t be the first, of course— you’ll be
joining a campaign already underway, fueled by David Horowitz, Sol
Stern, Chester Finn, and more.

Your choice to exclude me is neither here nor there, and I don’t take
it personally. Please don’t take my response personally either—I
really have no idea about your politics or your commitments or your
activities or your projects, and I’m willing to assume for now that in
your work and in your life you stand steadfastly for humanism,
progressivism, peace and justice.


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