rn: “Activists’ Night Out”


Jan Slakov

Dear RN,

This weekend I was up in Halifax to be at a surprise birthday party for a
long time activist and supporter of activists and artists and other good
things, Martin Rudy Haase.

One of the other main organizers was Elizabeth May, one of Canada's
best-known and loved environmental activists. She told Rudy some activists
were having an "Activists' Night Out" and would like to hear him speak on
his years of activism and some of the highlights. She even had fake posters
for the event made up and Rudy ended up distributing them, unknowingly
inviting people to his surprise birhtday party!

We had lots of fun and Rudy's talk gave me lots to reflect on. Since a
couple of the people at that event are on this list, and since the
reflections are pertinent, I'm sharing them with you.

Rudy has led an amazing life. He has rubbed elbows with some of the big
names in history (eg. took Albert Einstein out sailing, danced with Grace
Kelly and accepted surrender from a Japanese officer at the end of WW II).
Within his own family the tension between "left" and "right" has been
dramatic: his mother was part of a family that included Communists while his
father was an conservative-Republican who was responsible for launching Joe
McCarthy's political career! (Thankfully, when he saw how outrageous
McCarthy's witch-hunt was he withdrew his support.)

Once the FBI arrived at Rudy's house with their huge file and proceeded to
ask Rudy all sorts of questions. Had he indeed donated to Julius and Ethel
Rosenberg? Did he have any revolutionaries in the family? Yes, Rudy,
replied, and pointed to a portrait of Colonel Jeduthan Wellington (from the
US revolution) on the wall. The FBI agents got angry at Rudy making fun of
them and things began to get kind of nasty. Then Rudy said they had better
smarten up or he would tell his father's friend Joe McCarthy about them.
They then begged Rudy not to and left, for good.

Later I was talking with Elizabeth about how much worse the repression was
at that time. At times we feel we are living in a quasi-fascist state, and
there are indeed disturbing trends now. However, I feel more hopeful when I
think that, in many ways, we can more easily work to make a better world now
than was possible say 40 years ago.

Elizabeth herself experienced some of the Cold War craziness, even though
she was just a child at the time. Her mother was an anti-nuclear activist
and Elizabeth & her brother, then in the US, were shunned by other kids in
school as "communists"! Rudy also experienced shunning. The Boston Herald
once printed an article about the petition Rudy had presented to the UN ask
it to stop the US from using UN trust territories for their nuclear tests
(eg. the Bikini Islands). "UN Mum on Belmont Man's Protest Against Island
Blasts" (April 29, 1954). After that article appeared, Rudy had to close his
bank account in Belmont because the tellers refused to serve him!

What is possible now that wasn't before? I think the problems we face are so
inter-related (read "complex" in most peoples' eyes) and they truly threaten
each and every one of us, that we can approach almost any person and help
them contribute usefully to making a better world.

I'll give an example from Rudy's own work that shows the kind of alliances
we ought to dare to make. Once the governor of Mass. had signed an bill to
build an expressway along the Charles River which would have entailed
cutting magnificent trees & destroying the parkland between Harvard & the
river. People were despondent at the thought of losing those trees; they
felt the "democratic process had spoken" and there was nothing more that
could be done but Rudy pointed out the trees still had not been cut. He
arranged for students to keep a round-the-clock vigil on the trees and to
notify activists who at a moment's notice would come and tie themselves to
the trees to keep the chain saws at bay. One of these activists was the
governor's mother!

Well, those trees along Memorial Drive in Cambridge, Mass. are still
standing today! (The group through which Rudy has done much of his
conservation work is called Friends of Nature and membership is a mere $7
Can. per year. FoN exists in the US too but I'm not sure what the membership
fee is in US$. If you would like to join or simply to write to Rudy, here's
the address: R. Martin Haase, Friends of Nature, Box 281, Chester, NS
Canada, B0J 1J0.)

I cannot send this without also including a plug for the group both Rudy and
Elizabeth May struggle to keep going, the Sierra Club. Elizabeth is the
executive director of the Canadian Sierra Club (although this year she is
teaching full time and not being paid for her work for the Sierra Club). The
Sierra Club helped many Canadian young people go to the WTO protest in
Seattle (including Aaron Koleszar; actually Rudy paid Aaron's way back to
Seattle to face the charges which were dropped after the ticket could be
reimbursed). The Sierra Club also keeps the Campaign for Nuclear Phase-Out
alive. It is working hard to get half-decent protected species legislation
passed, to get cosmetic pesticides phased out, etc., etc. We need members to
boost this excellent work. Regular membership costs $30. For more
information you can contact the Sierra Club at <•••@••.•••> / 412-1
Nicholas St., Ottawa, ON K1N 7B7 (613) 241-4611 Fax: (613) 241-2292.

all the best, Jan