Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I wish I could have heard Ethel sing

June 19, 2013, is the 60th anniversary of one of the most heinous crimes of the U.S. government, which has committed many many heinous crimes: the execution of Ethel Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg, two communist workers who were the victims of a monstrous mendacious frame-up. They were wholly innocent of the concocted charge of providing the "secret of the atomic bomb" to the Soviet Union. But they were friends to the USSR, and to all people worldwide fighting for socialism, and they did what they could to aid in this fight. For that, their courageous acts of internationalist solidarity; for their lifelong devotion to the cause of justice, liberation, anti-racism, and working-class struggle; and of course for their noble refusal to submit and "confess," to betray their beliefs or their comrades, to lie, to sell out, even at the cost of their own lives—the Rosenbergs will always be remembered as true heroes. I believe that in the pantheon of heroes of the ages, heroes of the world's workers and oppressed, a pantheon made up not of imaginary supernatural beings but of merely human beings, people who did their best to their last breath, there will always be a place of honor for the Rosenbergs.
I was born a year after they were killed, and I can see now what I couldn't know then as a little kid in the 1950s. How along with the obvious anti-worker, anti-communist, anti-union, anti-struggle McCarthyite message it was meant to send, the Rosenbergs' execution also cast a specifically anti-Semitic chill that I believe partly explains the sense of siege, of threat, that my parents gave me to understand hovered over our Jewish household in suburban Detroit 10 years and more after the defeat of Nazism in Europe. I'll never know, but I wonder whether the fear engendered by the Rosenberg case didn't play a role in my mother's eventual rightward shift over the years. As for me, I didn't learn about the case until I was in high school, probably 1969 or 1970, a time of protest and rebellion that was bringing me to political consciousness. From then on I've always had a deep feeling of awe, love and respect for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. For the sacrifice they made. For the good comrades they were. As millions of others worldwide felt, and feel, and will continue to feel.
And so this past Sunday evening I was thrilled to be at Town Hall for a wonderful event sponsored by the Rosenberg Fund for Children to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the execution, celebrate today's families of resistance, and raise funds (which I hope it did!) for the RFC's good work of supporting and aiding political activists, especially imprisoned activists, and their families. It was called Carry It Forward: Celebrate the Children of Resistance. I'd attended a similar event 10 years ago on the 50th anniversary. That night I was pretty weepy the whole time. This night not so much, hooray! Yes there were tearful moments, primarily when actors Eve Ensler and Cotter Smith read from Ethel and Julius's prison letters to their children Robby and Michael, letters full of love, full of life, full of hope not for themselves but for the world. But overall it was a joyous evening, an evening of affirmation, of defiance and solidarity and music, and I left feeling strengthened and buoyed.

If Ethel and Julius had lived, I might very well have known them, for I travel in the same circles they did. Perhaps I would have had the chance to hear Ethel sing--she was by all accounts a lovely singer--at some rally or movement program. Wouldn't that have been something.

The Town Hall program the other night ended with a rousing rendition of the great Bob Marley/Peter Tosh song "Get Up Stand Up," performed by Latino hip hoppers Rebel Diaz with folk duo Mike & Ruthy. Gathered onstage singing along were the evening's narrator Angela Davis, the Rosenberg sons Michael and Robby Meeropol, Carry It Forward writer Ellen Meeropol, Ethel and Julius's granddaughter Jenn Meeropol who's the new head of the RFC, and all the actors and performers who had brought the evening to life with their portrayals of activist targets of government repression who have been RFC beneficiaries. 
We the audience, including many elders who were the Rosenbergs' contemporaries, who marched for them, who wept at their deaths, who still know which side they're on, and the rest of us, we got up, we stood up, we sang too, and at the risk of sounding mawkish I think we all of us felt an echo of Ethel and Julius singing along with us, our martyrs whose voices have never been stilled.