Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Remembering Abe Osheroff

When I first met Abe Osheroff in 1996, he said something I will never forget.

At the time, UW professor Tony Geist (and surely others) organized a film festival and exhibition of posters from the Spanish Civil War. During these events and some classroom chats, I got to hear many of Abe's impressive stories, such as when he and other activists in Depression-era New York broke open chained doors to move families and their possessions back into the apartments from which they had been evicted. Later, when the U.S. banned Americans from going to Spain, he tried to sneak into the country, to fight against Franco's coup and the larger wave of fascism that was gathering across Europe. His ship from Marseille to Catalonia was torpedoed by an Itaian submarine, and Abe and his fellow volunteers had to swim to shore.

Around the time I met Abe, I was studying labor history, doing an internship with the United Farm Workers, and participating in a campaign to win family housing and health insurance for gay UW students' partners, equal to those which heterosexual students' spouses already received. It was a transformative time for me, and Abe was part of it. His stories inspired me to be bold, and his practical philosophy of "radical humanism" was equally compelling. His words I will never forget: "We are all a part of history. Every single one of us. It's up to you to decide whether you want to be a participant, or a spectator."

Two years later came the 60th anniversary of when the ALB left Spain. A plaque was placed in front of the UW student union building to commemorate the students who had joined the fight, and Abe and other ALB veterans from across the country reunited in a moving ceremony. I was one of many who shed tears to hear the veterans' tales of valor and humor. I felt their stories had infused into me, somehow becoming my own.

That same autumn of 1998, I graduated from the UW. Developing a roll of photo film from my graduation party, I came up with some great shots of family and friends. I tucked these into my wallet, including one of Abe and fellow ALB veterans Bob Reid and Dutch Schultz, posing by the UW memorial on the day of its unveiling. I carried these photos with me for the four months in 1999 I reported on the massive student strike at its National Autonomous University, and during the rest of the year, while I and every other activist in Seattle was frenetically organizing the historic protests against the World Trade Organization.

Abe's memorial will take place May 25th in Seattle. I am sad to say that I will be out of the country, but I will remember him, always.

To read more about Abe Osheroff, a lion of a man:


The Seattle Post-Intelligencer obituary: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/358021_obitosheroff07.html

The New York Times obituary: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/11/us/11osheroff.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

[This post was revised 4/23/08, after receiving a couple of historical corrections from Gunnel Clark, Abe's wife. Thanks, Gunnel.]

No comments: