September 4th, 2017
Events move too quickly. Just a couple weeks ago, people seemed deeply concerned with the violence at Charlottesville. Now, the nation is looking at the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the possibility of nuclear war with North Korea, and the frightening prospect of Kate Middleton and Prince William having yet another child. Madness, utter madness.
I’m kind of slow at this sort of thing. I ruminate and mull things over stuff for a while before I take any action. That usually puts me at least two weeks behind the news cycle. So, I am still lingering in Charlottesville. Specifically, I am intrigued by the “Antifa”, the anti-fascists. These are the people who want to battle against the Neo-Nazis, and appear to be hopeless romantics. These are the people that the talking heads at Fox News grimly point out as being left-wing thugs when they want to divert attention from the right-wing thugs. These are the people that the Left would prefer to officially ignore, while perhaps secretly applauding their actions.
The Antifa don’t advertise much. I did a brief scan of the Internet, and found that these folks generally keep a low profile, except in the instances when they decide to raise some hell in the streets. They love to out people who they have branded as fascists. Neo-Nazis can expect to have very little privacy. There is no hiding in this modern age.
In the course of my research, I contacted the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World). It is difficult to get further to the left than these people. I have met them at rallies in the past, and they usually come with their red and black flags, looking all serious and shit. The truth is that they are sincere. and they look forward to the Revolution, whatever that is and whenever that may happen. I admire that sort of commitment, mostly because I don’t have it. Their hearts are in the right places.
Last Wednesday I had lunch with a guy named John. He’s with the I.W.W. We met at the Fuel Café on the south side of Milwaukee. The original Fuel Café is the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee. It is old, and it has a gritty, working class feel to it. Most people there seem to be living on the edge. The employees there play whatever music appeals to them. The boys who sit on the sidewalk out front, they are all in some sort of recovery, and they indulge in the last acceptable addictions: caffeine and nicotine. However, the new café on the south side, the Latino area, has a very hipster vibe. It’s just not the same. As our youngest son, Stefan, told me, “It’s hard to make a brand new place look grungy and old.” Sad, but true. I prefer grungy and old. It feels real to me.
I had expected to just have coffee with John. He planned on eating lunch. John offered to buy lunch for me, but I stuck with my black coffee. I was probably being rude, but I wound up eating some of his lunch anyway. Fuel has some very good meals, at least at the south side location. John ordered a beet and goat cheese salad. He offered me some of it. It was good. He also ordered a salad with smoked trout. He offered me some of that too. It rocked. Even revolutionaries get to eat well.
John is a big guy. He looks like a boxer. I am guessing that somebody rearranged his nose at some point in his life. He’s about ten years older than me. He told me that he has spent the last fifty years working as an organizer. He loves that sort of thing, which is why we had lunch together. John is not an ideologue. He is interested in doing. So am I.
John is from Nyack, New York. That really isn’t very far from where I went to school. I graduated from West Point, and I mentioned that to John. He wasn’t that surprised. I suspect that very little surprises him any more. John told me his history. It’s quite interesting. I told him mine. We ate smoked trout.
At one point John paused in his meal. He asked me, “So why are you interested in the I.W.W.?”
I told him, “I have been reading about the Antifa. I want to know if you guys wear ski masks and torch Starbucks.”
John looked at me and said, “Well, generally not. We don’t usually operate like that. That does not mean that it’s impossible that specific individuals in the organization might decide to engage in that sort of behavior.”
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I see.”
John is not the kind of guy to start dumpster fires or beat up people. He’s old, like I am. He is passionate about certain topics, as I am. We talked a lot about immigrants. Back when John was is in Nyack, he helped to protect a Salvadoran family that was threatened with deportation. He, and forty other people, made that particular ICE action very public and very uncomfortable for the government. John and I talked about the possibility that it may soon get to the point where we need to hide people. It’s a bit reminiscent of the Anne Frank story.
John and I agree on a number of things. Mostly, we agree that it’s best to do something, and stop talking shit. I like that. I really hope to be able to work with John in the future. He, and the I.W.W., know that I care about immigrants and vets. Anything that has to do with those two issues is interesting for me.
I didn’t get to meet an anti-fascist. I’m not sure that I want to.