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February 5, 2006

"Grandpa" Al Lewis Remembered For A Lifetime of Radical Activism

-- by Thomas Leavitt

[This Reuter's article, Al Lewis, grandpa on TV's "The Munsters," dies makes his politics pretty clear with some excellent quotes and bits of history (somewhat surprisingly, to me... maybe because it isn't U.S. media?), as opposed to the AP article, Al Lewis, Beloved as 'Grandpa Munster,' Dies at 95. Unfortunately, the latter appears to have been the primary (sole?) source for most coverage in the U.S. Neither one of them gives you a sense of how deep his commitment was. I even saw one article say, "he turned to politics in the 1990's". I don't even want to think about the tv news treatment (thankfully, I don't own one). Mitchel is a fellow Green activist in New York City. -Thomas]

The Passing and Passion of Grandpa Al Lewis, 1910-2006
by Mitchel Cohen

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.

Later, I was to learn that Grandpa was rarely alone in
that way. Campaigning with him for Governor all over the
City with other Green stalwarts like Frank Carr, Craig Seeman,
Michele Daneles, Afrime Derti, Carl Lawrence, Pete Dolack,
Johann Moore and Robb Ross -- the core of the Brooklyn
Greens at that time -- I was struck by the amount of
adulation and genuine affection that so many people had
for Al, especially (gulp!) cops, I suppose thanks to his role
in "Car 54 Where Are You?" as well as the Munsters. They
all wanted Al to sign autographs. I collected hundreds of
signatures to put Al on the ballot from cops riding home
on the Long Island Railroad and the Staten Island ferry.
It was amazing, the transformation that came over people
when Al greeted them. He ended up getting just over the
50,000 votes we needed to put the Green Party onto the
ballot in NY State.

Al was also incredibly scholarly, a voluminous reader and
fluent in Yiddish, which he used during his borscht-belt
schticks, regalling his audiences with gossip and hilariously
funny stories about his friends, which included certain
Mafia chieftans 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 sabre-slashing anarchistic
stance when dealing with U.S. politicians, prison waradens
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 snaked by.

To say Al will be missed is, as is often the case, a vast
understatement. Among the many issues that he took on, the
fight to get rid of the onerous Rockefeller drug laws in
New York (in which people have been imprisoned for 20 years
and more for first offense non-violent drug charges) was
dear to his heart, and he fought the thanatocracy ceaselessly
to free the hundreds of those imprisoned, their lives
meaninglessly stolen from them.

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

Posted by Thomas Leavitt at February 5, 2006 5:48 AM

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Comments

I had no idea. It's like how Helen Keller's politics are scrubbed from her biography.

Thanks for passing that along.

Posted by: Dr. Laniac [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 5, 2006 3:04 PM

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