WHO THE HELL IS STEW ALBERT?
by Stewart Edward Albert
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Stew Albert had one of his smart, funny ideas when he was thinking about a name for his memoir. “My Sixties,” he said was going to call it. He was in his late fifties when we kicked this one around and I thought the irony was sublime. He knew the book wouldn’t be out until he had turned the numerical corner.
Stew didn’t call his book “My Sixties” — the title is still out there, if someone with a lifetime of movement cred wants to grab it. Instead, he called it Who The Hell Is Stew Albert? Who indeed? The title is a quote from Howard Stern, who once responded with that question when one of his on-air gang started talking about Stew as if everyone in the world knew who he was. Stern didn’t, but that was his loss: it always seemed to me that Stew knew everyone and everyone knew Stew.
Nobody was more devoted to the idea of the Sixties. If you want to see what I mean, visit his Web site. He worked hard to translate Sixties values to a new generation of political activists. He kept in touch with a wide array of movement veterans, loyal and engaged, blogging his thoughts and poems every day — right up until his penultimate day. Younger activists adored him. He died January 30th.
Stew had the look, but it wasn’t the look of a Jewish kid from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, which is what he was. He was big, barrel-chested, with curly blond hair and piercing blue eyes. Losing Stew — he was 66 when he fell to liver cancer — creates a huge personal, political, and emotional hole for me, as I know it does for so many others, especially his wife Judy “Gumbo” Clavir Albert and his daughter Jessica Pearl. The Alberts’ post 1960s peregrinations — Bay Area, Hudson Valley, back to the west coast — finally landed them in Portland, Oregon, where they have lived for many years. Years of fighting various ailments kept Stew close to home, and close to his computer where he became one of the most successful Sixties radicals I know at moving to online activism (most of my emails were answered within minutes). Whenever we met, we spent hours catching up on the latest gossip about the doings of various old Panthers, Yippies, and Weathermen. And then we would plot and scheme, mostly about how to support the young activists that our mutual optimism always believed would emerge to lead a new generation of resistance to racism, environmental catastrophe, and Bush’s oil wars.
How I met Stew says something about who he was. That is, I don’t remember how I met him. I remember the first time I met the other Yippie founders: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Paul Krassner. But Stew just appeared in my life one day, and he never left. To one degree or another, the founding Yippies were all nuts. It was their strength, their weakness, their charisma, and their charm. For Abbie, in particular, it was also his doom. Stew was different. He always had a strategy and a plan. He managed the campaign of Pigasus the Pig for president in 1968 and ran for sheriff of Alameda County in 1970 (he lost, but carried the city of Berkeley). More than anyone, he helped Abbie and Jerry give definition to the Yippie movement. It has gone years without comment, but without his ability to broker their competitive egos and channel their ideas into strategy, what is passing into history as the Yippie story would have been different, definitely diminished and possibly disregarded.
The Sixties were filled with political tendencies: anarchism, communism, socialism, the working-class, armed revolution, Panthers, Weathermen, Maoism. It wasn’t easy to find one’s way and keep one’s head. The lineup may be different today, but it’s not any easier. In this political stew, Stew Albert was a cultural radical with a political ideology. We bonded because I was a political radical struggling to blend New Left ideology with the cultural power of young people. We found ourselves speaking the same language, and stayed friends to the end. Along the way we had some adventures. When the Weathermen helped Timothy Leary escape from a California prison and make his way to an uncertain reception at Panther Eldridge Cleaver’s expatriate compound in Algeria, Stew went over to help with the introduction. Long before today’s Bush-era wiretaps, Stew and Judy were being watched and tailed by the FBI. After the Weather Underground bombed the US Capitol in 1971 to protest the Vietnam War, they famously declared: “We didn’t do it, but we dug it.” Throughout their lives, Stew and Judy were always standup — courageous and uncompromising. And they always did a great job telling the stories: there is no better text for those who are interested than The Sixties Papers, Documents of a Rebellious Decade, which they edited and published in 1984.
We last spoke New Year’s day. That was just after his email arrived letting his many friends know that doctors had just found the cancer and that it was bad. His daily blog told the unfolding story of his fading hopes for a cure, his joyful, if tiring, visits with friends. Daughter Jessica came home from law school to be with him, and his happiness grew having her near. Two days before the end, he blogged to the world that “my politics have not changed.” No deathbed conversions or regrets for a life lived radically and well, in constant resistance to a government and political system he abhorred. As Stew slipped away, he posted his final words — “It’s still me. It’s still me.”
A memorial service in Portland used music to tell Stew’s story. It began with Mr. Tambourine Man, included his good friend Phil Ochs’s I Ain’t Marching Anymore, and ended with the emotional minyan joining in on Paul Robeson’s Joe Hill. Recent memorials to remember Stew and support Judy and Jessica took place in New York City, Boston, and Berkeley.
His life is still there on the Web — pay him a visit. It would give him eternal pleasure to know he still has friends stopping by.
|WHEREAS, Stew Albert died at 3:20 AM on Monday morning, January 30th in Portland, Oregon, and WHEREAS, Stew Albert was a leader of the Vietnam Day Committee, an organizer of peace marches through the streets of Oakland and through the streets of Washington D.C. and through the streets of Chicago and through the streets around the Pentagon and through the streets of Berkeley and through the streets around People’s Park, and
WHEREAS, Stew Albert was a prisoner at Santa Rita for his role in People’s Park, was released and became a candidate for Sheriff of Alameda County in 1970, receiving 65,000 votes, carrying Berkeley by 10,000 votes, and
WHEREAS, Stew Albert was a co-founder of the Yippies and a friend of Jerry Rubin and a friend of Abby Hoffman and a friend of Eldridge Cleaver and a friend of John Lennon and a friend of thousands who identified with the Movement, and
WHEREAS, Stew Albert was a target of J. Edgar Hoover and a target of Richard Nixon and a target of the FBI and the victor in a lawsuit against their harassment and an irrepressible critic of the unjust and the idiotic to the moment he died, addressing the power that rules us now, and
WHEREAS, Stew Albert kept faith with the Movement and kept its spirit alive in his soul every day and served as the Movement’s living historian and the Movement’s living history lesson and the Movement’s connection to new generation after new generation, and
WHEREAS, Stew Albert was a gentle man, a husband who loved his wife Judy, a father who loved his daughter Jessica, a friend who loved his friends, not just the old friends, but also the new friends and the friends he hadn’t met yet, and
WHEREAS, Stew Albert will be deeply missed; now
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Oakland City Council proclaims Wednesday, February 1, 2006, the day of his memorial service, “Stew Albert Day” in the City of Oakland, in recognition of his contributions, his humor and his good sense, his decency and his faith in what can be, what must be and what will be.
___ Ignacio De La Fuente, President: Oakland City Council
Jeff Jones was a leader of Students for a Democratic Society and the Weather Underground. He is a political consultant and environmental activist based in Albany, New York.