By Jim Retherford
Originally published by CounterPunch, February 1, 2006
Editorial note: I met Stew Albert during the months of 1969 when I was sharing a West Village apartment with Jerry Rubin and Nancy Kurshan, working to fuse a mass of taped-recorded (and obviously substance-influenced) “conversations” into a coherent mass-market book, for which Jerry had already secured a sizeable advance from publishing giant Simon and Schuster. Stew and his partner Judy Gumbo were most certainly among the voices transcribed from tape, as likely were Abbie Hoffman, Anita Hoffman, Paul Krassner, and perhaps Phil Ochs and, I’m sure, others. In the late winter 1969, I inherited the book project — as well as the almost 1,000 page transcript — from my friend and fellow underground newspaper compadre Mark Kramer, who previously worked for months, amidst growing frustration, trying to edit the massive paper pile into a coherent narrative. My final product was released as Do It! Scenarios of the Revolution and quickly shot to the top of the New York Times best-seller list.
I am greatly saddened by the news of Stew Albert’s death. The last of the Yippies’ unholy trinity of Abbie, Jerry, and Stew, noted “theoretician” of the Youth International Party, the “quiet one” – Stew was a very decent man as well as an indefatigable True Believer. My heart goes out to Judy Gumbo and their daughter Jessica Pearl.
I am especially moved by Stew’s dignified dialogue with death during his last days as he continued to post thoughts and feelings on his blog every day until the day before his passing. You will find no remorse, no regrets, no backing down in the face of his own mortality: “Dreaming of sleep / in a nice warm hole / forever.” I am pleased to say that he died with his passion fully focused on the business at hand.
Stew Albert will always live in my memory because of two extraordinary events in late-Sixties New York City ...
The first was a group visit to the Palestine Liberation Organization observer team at the United Nations (probably in 1969). I don’t remember who planned it or who attended, other than Stew and Gumbo and (I think) Daria Price. Maybe Dennis Dalrymple /aka/ Crunchy Granola. Maybe Robin Palmer and Sharon Krebs. A small contingent of NYC leftist crazies. We met with a passionate young Palestinian (late 20s) and had an extraordinarily candid discussion about the Palestinian “question.”
At one point Stew announced that he was Jewish and was very concerned about the public perception that the PLO hated Jews.
Our host replied: “Hate Jews!?! I cannot hate Jews. I am Jewish. That would be like hating myself. My mother is Jewish, my father Arab. By Jewish law, I am therefore Jewish.”
“In my village in Palestine,” he continued, “Jews and Arabs, for many many generations, lived together peacefully as one people, Palestinian people. We laughed and played and sang songs and ate at the same table for supper, shared the same dietary laws. Many, like my parents, intermarried. This ended when the Zionists came and drove us from our homes at gunpoint. Our Jewish neighbors, Sephartic Jews, dark Jews, were driven away also.
“We do not hate Jews. We hate Zionism.”
The second event was the nationwide Guy Goodwin “witchhunt” grand juries of 1970. After our good friend Leslie Bacon had been “abducted” by FBI agents in D.C. and driven incommunicado across the country to appear before a Portland grand jury without counsel, special prosecutor Guy Goodwin convened grand juries in several U.S. cities, including NYC, ostensibly to investigate the United States Capitol bombing by the Weather Underground. Six of us were subpoenaed to appear before the NYC panel — myself, Stew, Judy, Sandra Wardwell from Isla Vista, Ellen Stone from New York and Chicago, and Walter Teague.
We all — except Walter — decided to play dress-up for our grand jury appearances. I rented a gorilla costume (since I didn’t want to disappoint the feds in their search for guerrillas). Judy and Sandra dressed appropriately as broomstick-carrying witches (Ellen Stone might have been the third witch from Macbeth but was never served with a subpoena).
Walter portrayed himself as, well, vintage Walter: picture your everyday working class commie in blue flannel work shirt festooned with National Liberation Front support buttons, blue jeans, work boots.
Stew, however, stole the show! He appeared as a cross-dressing female terrorist bombshell, glamming to the nines in an utterly f-a-b-u-u-u-u-l-o-u-s rainbow-striped minidress with the name “Bernadine” stitched in sequins across the bodice. All the trannies of Lower Manhattan dropped their mascara pencils at the sight of this burly 6-2 bearded beauty with a tall blonde ’fro.
Meanwhile, the ever-present undercover cops could be seen nervously shifting from one foot to the other, trying to hide the blackjacks bulging in their pants pockets, and special persecutor Goodwin blinked, freaked, and called off the entire proceeding when he realized that Stew wasn’t wearing any underwear.
Fond farewell to a courageous comrade, freedom fighter, revolutionary prankster, and defender of a real Palestine of Jews and Arabs alike …
Stew Albert, Judy Gumbo, and Jerry Rubin
Stew Albert: revolution for the fun of it (Photo © Robert Altman)