“When I got an email about a MoveOn meeting in my area I was surprised at the address: Century Village in Deerfield Beach. I got to my parents old stomping grounds to discover a new generation of old lefties—red diaper babies like me who had inherited their parents’ condos and their parents’ politics. The Century Village resistance had been born.”
I come from a long line of proud lefties. My grandparents were socialists who escaped the ghettos of Russia to fight for the right to unionize in America. My parents fought for social justice in the 1930s. As the third generation, I am a red diaper baby who wanted to follow in the family tradition.
Although to their deaths they never admitted it to me, my parents were card-carrying Communists. How do I know? I can’t tell you. I was brought up never to reveal such information. When friends visited my parents, instead of telling me to put out the cheese and crackers, I was instructed to hide the National Guardian, a genuinely mind-numbing lefty publication. In addition to being told never to get into a car with a stranger, I was instructed never to answer a stranger’s questions—they might be FBI.
When I became a ‘60s activist, I didn’t hide. I joined an anarchist study group and a feminist consciousness-raising group. I marched against the war in Vietnam and took as gospel the beliefs I was raised with, beliefs that now seem quaint: human beings are basically good; if the people, not Capitalists, owned the means of production, poverty would disappear; economic equality can cure all social ills. Misguided and dangerous though Communism was as it actually played out, the passion for social justice and compassion for working people that the idea represented was not.
In 1968, I went to Cuba and signed up for the Venceremos Brigade, a group of American leftists who were invited to help with the sugar cane harvest. That experience was my reality check.
I’d spent my time on the ideological left in self-styled anarchist groups with utopian dreams of participatory democracy. I discovered that an actual Communist dictatorship bore no resemblance to my fantasy. While the Cubans mechanically spewed the party line and methodically eliminated freedom of the press and speech, the notorious Weathermen, who had joined the Brigade to recruit new members, used Maoist brainwashing techniques, like all-night criticism and self-criticism sessions, to induce us to sign up. I realized I’d rather be ruled by Richard Nixon than by the kids in the Weather tent. At least you could vote him out.
Disillusionment followed. I saw that the Weathermen were clearly delusional as well as dangerous, that my parents’ passionate belief in the Soviet Union as the promised land was another treacherous fantasy and that anarchism was a utopian crock. What’s more, my generation of leftists had splintered into identity groups, each defending its turf with more arrogant political correctness than my die-hard Stalinist parents’—without any unifying vision of a just and compassionate society.
It seemed to me then that political passion, no matter how idealistic, inevitably led to fanaticism. I became a cynic, disbelieving any group’s claims to a corner of the truth. My political life consisted of voting for the least objectionable candidate. I gave up my dreams of changing the world and became a wishy-washy liberal, avoiding the subject of politics whenever possible.
In the late ‘70s my parents moved to a condo in Century Village, a retirement community in Deerfield Beach, Florida that became the retirement haven of New York City civil servants like my mom, a former teacher.
At the time, Century was a hotbed of old commies. Gus Hall, the original head of the American Communist party, retired there. Although my parents and their friends were no longer marching, they loved to talk politics. I didn’t even want to discuss politics, much less get involved in it. My mother was dismayed, wanting to know who was supposed to carry the torch of radicalism into the next century.
“What torch are you talking about, mom?” I wanted to know. “All my generation cares about is defending their turf. Gays, blacks, women, gay black women, la de da. Gimme a break. They’re all so smug and self-righteous they make me sick. I don’t see you waving picket signs, either.”
“I’m too old. It’s your turn.”
“Well I’m not joining up until there’s a movement I believe in.”
Maybe the next generation would create my fantasy movement—where the interests of the poor and working classes would be paramount, no matter what race or sexual orientation. Leadership would be shared and, most important, dissent would not only be tolerated but encouraged.
As the years passed, I watched with dismay as blow after blow fell from the right, starting with Ronald Reagan and continuing with the insane rantings of the Tea Party. I kept my head stuck in the sand, because the left had no grand social vision to energize me. The extent of my political involvement was showing up at the polls to vote as a Democrat. I was encouraged by the Occupy Wall Street movement, but no way was I sleeping on the streets of New York. Anyway, I thought Obama’s election was a sign that positive change was on the way and human rights were alive and well. The next president was going to be a woman after all. That was certainly progress wasn’t it?
How could I have been so blind?
I was living in Florida when Trump was elected and my head finally emerged from the sand. I was so horrified, I decided I just had to get involved. When I got an email about a MoveOn meeting in my area I was surprised at the address. Century Village in Deerfield Beach. When I got to my parents old stomping grounds, I discovered a new generation of old lefties—red diaper babies like me who had inherited their parents’ condos and their parents’ politics. The Century Village resistance had been born.
At 74, with my parents long gone, I’ve moved to Century and joined up.
I’ve discovered that advanced age is no hindrance to political activism. In fact, it’s an asset. Retirees have plenty of time to devote to worthy causes. And we make a difference here in a swing state that has determined the outcome of more than one national election—a bigger difference than we could ever have made up North where most of us come from. The Century Village red diaper babies are keeping alive a weekly Deerfield forum that our parents’ generation started and that had been in danger of dying. The specter of losing our Medicare and Social Security, not to speak of a clean environment, an inclusive society, the right to abortion and just about everything else we and our parents believed in for our entire lives has reinvigorated us. I went to the Women’s March in Palm Beach with a bunch of other red diaper babies. We are making phone calls, showing up at meetings, getting involved in fighting for that vision of America I had given up on.
Will that vision ever come about? I have no idea, but I’ve gone back to the barricades and will hobble along, fighting for what’s right for as long as I can.
No need to wait for the next generation. We are that generation.
Erica Manfred is a journalist, essayist and humorist who
writes about everything from dentistry to divorce to fantasy fiction.
Friend her on Facebook.
Personal essays posted to this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Senior Planet