sâmbătă, 8 august 2009


(Buffalo, New York, May, 1972)

BOB DOLE and Jack Kemp were going to be the keynote speakers at a CREEP (Committee to Reelect the President) dinner at the Statler-Hilton Hotel in downtown Buffalo. Reelect Nixon so he can continue to wind down the war. Right.

An SDS leaflet that I got from my friend Lenore put it this way: "Nixon Winding Down The War??? Nixon's Vietnamization program parades a pull-out of American troops and their replacement by South Vietnamese regulars. This patently racist maneuver, using yellow skins to secure their profits instead of whites, is but a smoke-screen to obscure the continuation and indeed, escalation, of America's imperialist war in Indo-China. It must be revealed for what it is: FRAUD!!!"

Vietnamization meant bombing the Vietnamese people, all the people, not just soldiers. It meant destroying three old civilizations - not only Vietnam, but Cambodia and Laos, as well.

When I heard about the demonstration that was planned for "outside" the "Stalin-Hitler" (as some of us called that pile of brick) to protest what would be going on inside, I knew that was one demonstration I had to miss. I was sick and tired of marching down Main Street, rallying with the other marchers in Niagara Square. So what if Dole or any other of the CREEPs heard a chant or read a protest sign? I was sick and tired of being on the outside, looking in.

My housemate Harry agreed with me. "Let's go down early and do a little recon".

"Case the joint!"

"Yeah. Maybe we can get in through the kitchen or..."

On our way downtown, we talked wildly about all sorts of highly unlikely strategies. We knew we would do whatever we could. We'd take advantage of any opportunity, no matter how crazy.

"I've got no ID or anything", I said. "If I get arrested, I'm Emma Goldman. Who will you be?"

"Who else?" Harry smiled and shook the hair away from his eyes. "Alexander Berkman".

* * *

Inside the hotel, in the lobby of the enemy's camp, people were hurrying and scurrying about. The scene appeared to be one of chaos, but I'm sure everyone knew exactly what they were doing, where they were going. Everyone, that is, except Harry and me. We had no clear idea about anything, but to double our potential, we split up.

Almost immediately, I ran into someone I knew - a guy who was a cameraman for one of the local TV stations. He told me that before the one-hundred-dollar-a-plate dinner, there was going to be a press conference. He suggested I try to get into it.

"How?" I asked.

"Get yourself a notebook or something and say you're from "The Spectrum". I don't know, man. You gotta be creative if you wanna be subversive. I gotta run".

What an idea! I was wearing my dark blue SUNY Buffalo T-short and my jeans. I could certainly pass for a "Spectrum" reporter.

I spotted another familiar face in the crowded lobby. It belonged to one of the left-wing lawyers who'd been defending draft resisters and other antiwar activists. I caught him right before he stepped into an elevator. He was more than willing to part with a pen, some paper, and a manila folder. "I don't know if it will work", he said, after I explained what I wanted to do, "but good luck. And, here. Just in case..." He handed me his card with his phone numbers - office and home.

Once again, I spotted my cameraman pal. I waved the folder over my head. He was rushing off somewhere with the rest of his crew, but took a second to point toward the room where the press conference was to be held. I joined the group of reporters waiting to get in.

Someone was standing by the door asking: "What paper are you from?" and checking off the answers on his clip board. When I said I was Emma Goldman from the U.B. student paper, "The Spectrum", he said he didn't have that on his list, but agreed there must have been some mix-up. He gave me a pass to the dinner and let me through.

Once inside the room, I took a seat, opened my folder on my lap, and started jotting down notes. I was in the second row of metal folding chairs, just a few feet away from Bob Dole and Jack Kemp. There were TV cameras, microphones, lights. Expectation. We were instructed in the protocol and, finally,the conference began. I raised my hand. Dole nodded directly at me.

"In the fifties, when he was in the Senate", I said, "President Nixon went on record in favor of using nuclear weapons in Indochina. Is he in favor of using them now, in Vietnam?"

"No", Senator Dole said. He looked shocked for a split second. Then he moved on quickly to the next questioner.

The conference was brief. As everyone was getting ready to leave, I went up to another of the people in charge. I explained to her that I'd misplaced the pass the guy at the door had given me. She said, "No problem", and gave me another. On my way out of the room, I spotted Harry and handed it to him.

"Just act like you belong", I whispered into his ear. "If anybody asks, you're a reporter."

(Read the full text in: "Contemporary Literary Horizon", issue no 6 / July 2009)

NOTE: "Speaking Truth to Power" is one of two published excerpts from the manuscript of Peggy Landsman's not-yet-published novel, BUFFALO BRAIN, a story about coming of age politically and personally in the early seventies.

"Speaking Truth to Power" was published in the South African journal, "Jewish Affairs."

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