|Lew Friedman and Angel Gonzalez, May 14, 2016|
Both of them are lifetime activists and both had long-term influence on me politically, albeit almost 40 years apart.
I was introduced to Lew by my childhood pal Marty Needelman at the end of my 3rd year of teaching in 1970. Marty was a Vista community based lawyer assigned, ironically, to the neighborhood I was teaching in. Lew was involved in challenging the UFT leadership in the 1968 strike and he and others started an alternative newsletter out of his school, IS 318 - today known as the chess championship school. When I joined "Another View" I was the first from outside IS 318 and after I brought others in and more people from other schools joined, we morphed from a school to a district newsletter - Another View in District 14 which became legendary in the district for many years and helped swawn a new caucus in the UFT, the Coalition of NYC School Workers in the 70s - one of the 3 parts of the original NAC - New Action Coalition preceding the current New Action which was founded in 1995.
Lew and I, later joined by the late Loretta Prisco, became the scourge of the local school board and the local district and UFT administration. I learned how to get up at school board meetings through Lew. How to hand out leaflets - which mortified me at first - I went to my first rally/demonstration ever with Lew and others on May 1, 1971 at UFT headquarters protesting their support for the Vietnam War. We didn't cross the custodial workers' picket lines and all kinds of other actions that often drove our local UFT and district machine batty.
I went to my first AFT conventions with Lew - 1974 in Toronto when the Shanker coup against Dave Selden took control of the AFT - and 1975 when we drove cross country to Oakland and flew to Hawaii with "The Case Against Shanker."
Without meeting Lew I don't know how active in the union I would have become or met the people I ended up meeting. There is a long list of things we did, including hitting the Jack LaLanne gym 3 times a week - the only time I lost serious weight. I shocked myself at what I became politically, so unlike what I was before.
In late 1975 we had political disagreements and we each moved on.
In 2007-8 I first met Angel Gonzalez over the Puerto Rico teacher strike when he approached ICE for assistance. He told me he would partner with me when he retired and I rolled my eyes. But sure enough he and I became a pair - turned out Angel had been doing political work for decades and for some reason I had never run into him. We didn't always agree but I learned so much about what it takes to be an organizer - to organize rallies, conferences, to brand your organization, etc. (I also found out I didn't have the will to be a major organizer like Angel but could be a good wingman - tell me what I have to do, etc.
We jumped into the ATR battle in late 2008 and out of that movement we basically founded GEM and within a few months became the scourge of the charter schools, especially the Eva Moskowitz operation, going to every hearing and attracting support. In March 2009 Angel was the major force behind a conference around the ATR, testing and school closing issues -- that was before we were GEM. That attracted people to our group and we were able to build towards a May march from Battery Park, past the UFT and onto Tweed. Angel taught me how to get a police permit and when we would need one and when we would not. Angel also introduced me to the Skylight Diner on 34th st and 9th ave as a good meet up place for small groups and ICE has used that place every since.
Angel was a firm believer in bringing an organization labeled banner to every event you attend. No banner? Create one from an old sheet and some paint - which we did one day at his apartment in the Bronx. That banner went everywhere we went. And later when we had a GEM banner you would see it all over the place.
GEM attracted people like Julie Cavanagh and parent supporters due to our charter school and anti-testing stance and grew in influence. Also ATRs. When schools were closing we went to many hearings and a massive list of ATRs grew. Angel and I went to hiring halls with leaflets announcing meetings. At one we attracted over 40 ATRs.
Angel was not a big believer in the move toward the founding of MORE for a complex set of reasons. And when GEM, ICE, TJC, NYCORE and others began to move in that direction he was no longer involved and shifted his attention to other issues.
We're getting together this Wednesday to reminisce and catch up. When he was suggesting places to meet one thing he made clear. Skylight Diner - NO. Instead we're meeting at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which is the place where we hung out the last time we met a bunch of years ago. Angel is a fellow gardener too.
When I saw that photo of Angel and Lew yesterday it brought back all these memories and more.
After I meet Angel on Weds. I will head to Manhattan to stop by the Delegate Assembly for a short time before heading uptown to meet my wife who is seeing Frank Langella playing an aging man with the beginnings of Alzheimers - not something I want or need to see at this time of my life.
Remind me again who Lew and Angel are?