19 February, 2000
NEW YORK CITY
Every day I jump on the #4 train and head up to the Bronx. Today 1 am handing out newly printed broadsheet flyers that hammer out our rough little call to arms. I am taking down numbers when a kid I don’t recognize approaches me. He introduces himself as Simcha. He is Chilean Jewish and his look is difficult to place. He wears neat clothing, formal but not preppy, and has an intense look about him. He isn’t tall in stature, nor is he incredibly articulate or easy on the eyes. He looks a little Latin and a little Gorski. Unbeknownst by me, I have just met one of the first great ideological influences of my blossoming political ideology.
“My name is Simcha Rathajzer. We’ve met before but you might not remember me.”
I extend my hand to give him a pound, but he shakes it firmly instead.
“I know exactly who you are, comrade. I want to talk to you about this club you’re putting together.”
“What do you want to know?”
“What is your intention by founding this organization? I understand you’ve recently become a member of the Young Communist League.”
“That’s true. I joined last week. How did you know that?”
“I was surprised to hear you had become a communist. Some people are saying the organization you want to found is a front group.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“A front organization is an issue specific group funded by a larger communist organization to bring young people towards political action and then condition them to accept communism. You are somewhat familiar with the loaded nature of your new affiliation?”
“No. Not particularly.”
“You haven’t exactly picked the most beloved of ideologies to embrace for your new found desire to be political. There have been nearly a hundred years of government action against the party you are affiliated with, not mention assassination, imprisonment, and deportation of many of the more radical members,” Simcha continues.
“I’m hangin’ on your every word, but how do you know all this stuff? Everyone else is like ‘politics, yeah that sounds cool’ but you seem to have thought about a lot of this stuff before.”
“I’m a socialist. I’m not a member of any of the big organizations. It’s just something that my family has believed in and I grew up with.”
“Isn’t a socialist like a halfway communist?”
“I get the impression, and this is not meant as an insult, that your reading of the Communist Manifesto is your only real exploration into this school of thought. You’re telling everyone that you embrace the most hated of adversarial cultures in American society, an ideology our government fought a bloody hundred-year, international conflict to contain. You’re going to make a lot of people nervous with all this. I just want you to be aware of that.”
“I’m quite aware.”
“There’s another thing. Your own political ideas aside, once again, what is your intention by creating this new organization?”
“To build a fighting force for people’s struggle.”
“You need to pick your words carefully. Is your objective to spread Communism or is your objective to make apathetic high school students care about political issues?” Simcha continues to grill me.
“Well I hardly see those two ideas as mutually exclusive.”
“I thought as much. Did the YCL put you up to this or are you acting as a free agent?”
“They don’t even know I’m going to do this. We have a meeting tomorrow to request to use their meeting space on 23rd Street.”
“Do you have a name yet?”
“Youth Resistance Front.” I tell Simcha, proudly.
“You need a better name. That name connotes violence and no one will join.”
“Well, we have ‘til tomorrow to come up with something better.”
“I’ll join if you change the name.”
“Will you help me better understand my ideology so I can articulate more effectively to the kids around the City? I could use a person like you on my team.”
“Yeah, I’m down. I want to help you with this thing. Just remember that what you’re doing has a lot of baggage that comes with it. You really ought to read a bit more before you jump head on into organizing a project like this.”
“You can make me better informed as we go.”
“Yeah, have you talked with Isaac Zucker yet?”
“Who? Crack? No, why?” I ask remembering the friend I stole from before I was locked up.
“Zucker and his brother are both members of the International Socialist Organization. Hubert O’Domhnaill ’s brother is in the same organization you are. You gotta connect with all these kids that are already political to help you get the kids who don’t have a clue.” Simcha advises.
“O’Domhnaill and Crack are socialists?” I said incredulously.
“Isaac is and recently, Hubert has become highly sympathetic to certain working class ideals.”
“This is perfect! The four of us ought to sit down and work this out as a group.”
“I’m sure we could make that happen.”
Zivia Lubetkin is following this organization stuff with mounting interest. She and Sebastian had been very close before he was sent away. She is curious to see if the massive overhaul of each of their lives will allow them to continue the near-sibling relationship they once enjoyed. Sebastian is now sober and political. Zivia is not so sober and a platinum blonde, candy-raver girl.
Zivia has observed that kids end up getting involved in the new organization for a variety of reasons. There is the shock of Sebastian, this crazy kid everyone knew who has come back reformed, preaching a firebrand popery of communism, personal discipline and individualized reclamation of one’s purpose. It is not like Sebastian has a unique ability to make a political issue make sense. Zivia thinks that he is articulate but not always well informed. He does have charisma pouring out his ass.
Zivia knows that he is making all of this up as he goes along. Even though he openly admits to his communist leanings, his political rhetoric is acceptable because he knows that all of the kids he targets are united in their political ignorance. The first step is to educate the group about what is wrong with the system. Zivia sees that Sebastian recognizes that the real challenge is youth apathy. She has watched his sidekick Simcha chime in and list the things we should care about—problems like nearly perpetual war, worker exploitation and wide-scale global poverty. Then the potential recruit always says,
“Tell me more.”
Then Sebastian takes down the kid’s phone number. Sebastian and his crew are not pretending to have detailed explanations or pseudo-intellectual horseshit solutions. They just say that there are many problems. Then they invite the recruits to help get some resistance going.
That’s what they are calling it: a resistance movement.
There are fifteen minutes left before the scheduled meeting with Mr. Leban, who is the local Communist Party leader. We are meeting with him to negotiate getting the permission of the Communists to allow us to use one of their rooms as a meeting hall. Izzy Vitz, Nick Trikhovitch, Hubert O’Domhnaill , and I are all sitting on a stoop on 23rd Street trying to come up with a name. These are the kids who have really pledged to help me make this new organization happen. The only concrete thing we have decided is that there will be four cells that take on different jobs. The service cell will undertake grassroots, community projects. The publication cell will put out a political newspaper. The recruiting cell will agitate and get more members. And the activist cell will organize political actions. Each cell will have a leader. The four cell leaders will be the leadership of each chapter. The decision making body will be called the Executive Committee. It will be made up of two cell leaders per chapter. We plan to focus our recruiting at the magnet public high schools. The name everyone involved has unanimously shot down is my Youth Resistance Front.
“So what names are we still toying with?” asks Izzy.
“Youth Resist,” reads off Trikhovitch.
“Nope,” says Hubert.
“I don’t really like that either,” I say.
“Students for Change.”
“Definitely not,” says Izzy.
“Youth Protest League? That’s just retarded.”
“Next,” says Micky.
“Youth United for Justice.”
We sit on that one for a minute.
“These names fucking suck,” I say.
“Hold on, what’s the point of this whole thing, Sebastian,” asks Hubert O’Domhnaill .
I think on it.
“To put everyone on equal footing.”
“Then how ‘bout this for a name: Youth United for Equality?”
“The Y.U.F.E. Yeah. That could work,” I say.
“Is that pronounced yufe or yufee?” asks Trikhovitch.