[Friday, February 3]
What a sad day ... and what an incredible, artistic and political life!
I first met Al Lewis
in person in New Haven in 1971, at a demonstration in support of the
jailed Black Panthers. I remember it being a very raw afternoon, and I
kept staring at the man I'd later introduce myself to, wondering at the
famous fellow standing all by himself unlike so many actors and famous
people, and then lost in the small crowd that turned up.
Al was also incredibly scholarly, a voluminous reader and fluent in Yiddish, which he used during his borscht-belt schticks, regaling his audiences with gossip and hilariously funny stories about his friends, which included certain Mafia chieftains like Gotti. He told Greens over and over about how his first political protest was when his mama brought him to defend Sacco and Vanzetti, and he fought for political prisoners all his life.
One of his disappointments in the last few years was his difficulty in being able to read due to problems with his eyesight. But he maintained his saber-slashing anarchistic stance when dealing with U.S. politicians, prison wardens and warmongers to the end.
Al and Karen were
incredibly supportive of many people, including me, personally, when I was
a Green Party candidate and as an organizer against pesticides and genetic
engineering. They sponsored several events with the Roosevelt Island
Greens at which I was the featured speaker, and contributed generously to
the NoSpray Coalition over the years as well as to my campaign for Mayor
on the Green Party line in 2001. I remember when Al was already sick, a
Reclaim the Streets party/demo had ended up on Roosevelt Island. We
marched past Al and Karen's apartment, and I started the chant: "We love
you Grandpa, we miss you, get better!" and pretty soon the hundreds of us
took up the chant, lights came on in the apartments, people looked out the
windows, and everyone waved, knowing whom we were chanting about as we
This crotchety, funny, whip-smart, annoying, funny, ribald, funny, generous, funny (!) and always dependable anti-racist activist was, in my opinion, one of the great people of the century, a legend walking among us. I loved him dearly, even (or especially) when we argued, and so did many, many others.
A life well lived? Hell, a life in REVOLT!
Grandpa Al Lewis -- Presenté!
Mitchel Cohen is a member of the Brooklyn Greens/Green Party of NY State.
Other Articles by Mitchel Cohen