Hard Times are Fighting Times
Most families don’t have their parents’ FBI files in dusty boxes; mine does.
This book project—a work in progress—describes the legacy of my parents’ participation in radical leftist groups like Weatherman, Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee, Prairie Fire Organizing Committee and the Native American Solidarity Committee, that sought to overthrow imperialism and capitalism through organizing and revolution.
My mom and dad fell in love while planning a 60,000-person demonstration. Their friends joked that it would never last because my mom was a Marxist but my dad was an anarcho-communist, but they've been married for 40 years. The story of their activism is the story of me.
My photographs of my parents' propaganda archive, surveillance records, family photographs and current lives describe their activism, and subsequent turn toward family life, from an intimate distance. Because there has always been enormous pressure to hew to the party line, as if our family unit were its own political movement, nation-state, culture and system of belief. “Each according to their need; each according to their ability,” my mom wrote beautifully, cut into a ribbon shape, and taped above our pantry door. Adapted to be non-sexist, Marx’s words were a way of resolving family arguments, and of telling us precisely how to be.
50 years after the founding of Weatherman, my father, Jed Proujansky, is proud of this history, but not uncritical: “I believe that my work then was important and helped to save lives. But my tactics were, at best, arrogant, and at worst, very destructive.” This past inspires and moves me, but it can also feel doctrinaire and oppressive. How can I live up to these expectations? Do I want to? Which parts of these perspectives will I keep, and what will I discard?
This is my heritage, and it is critical now, as the working lives of this complicated and extraordinary generation come to a close. We live in a dangerous era, and my parents have navigated hard times before. What did they do? What did their actions mean for society and for me? What can we learn from them? What now?