Sunday, January 15, 2006

reading recommendation: Red Diapers

I was flipping through the Times magazine this morning, thinking that I was going to write a post about the cover story on the Living Wage movement*, and I went off on a mental tangent that led me to write this post instead. WorkingLife has a pretty good post up about it, if you are interested in the subject.

In the last couple of weeks, I've been thinking about the book Red Diapers a lot. "Red diaper babies" was the term of art for kids who grew up in the American communist movement from the 20s to the 50s and 60s. This book is a collection of memoirs of kids who were Red Diaper babies, including one of the most famous Red Diaper babies of all--the younger son of Julius & Ethel Rosenberg (identified in the book as Robert Meeropol--he and his brother were adopted and changed their last names to the name of their adoptive family).

I've been thinking about this book so much, because there's been a lot in the news that's helped me imagine what the lives of these children must have been like. The whole 'the government is eavesdropping on people' situation is one that would have been very familiar to the families that are involved in the book. Many of them were spied on by the FBI, some for having acted on what today would be considered to be fairly pedestrian political beliefs (ie--the belief that African Americans should be able to sit anywhere they wanted to on the bus).

After the tragic events of 9/11 there was a period where I believed that either landisdad or I would have to quit our job, in order to ensure that one parent was around to raise our daughter (the Potato was not yet born). I was terrified that, as part of our government's response to the attacks, we would be giving up civil liberties left right and center, and that activists like me and LD would be spied on. It didn't help that a European that I knew through AIDS activism was stopped at the border and refused entry to the country. Admittedly, one of the things that happened to me immediately post-9/11 was that I had a miscarriage, and I'm not going to deny that my hormonal levels were all over the place. But it now seems like I wasn't that far off the mark, either. In the end, I decided that I needed to keep doing what I was doing, but we did make sure to establish a clear guardian for the Bee, in case that became necessary.

I wonder, sometimes, what my kids' memories of life in our house will be like. Both of my kids attended more rallies in utero than most people do in their lives. They've been to organizing meetings practically since birth. I'm not trying to make it seem like they're having some tremendously abnormal experience--I think that most kids who grow up in a household where both parents work are gonna get taken to work once in a while--it's just that most kids don't go to meetings where half of the meeting is spent talking about how to organize your own precinct to defeat an incumbent city councilman or something.

I think the thing I liked most about this book was the snapshot of what my kids' experience might be. The editors (both Red Diaper babies themselves) didn't try to paint a one-sided portrait of what it was like to grow up in a politically unpopular household. They got stories from people who loved it, people who hated it, and most importantly, people who were indifferent to it.

It may sound odd for me to compare myself to a Communist--after all, I'm not being excluded from employment, or forced to name the names of my co-conspirators because of the work that I do or my political beliefs. It sometimes seems like a valid comparison to me though, because I think that the left in this country has come so far centerward, that now the work that LD and I do is in the vanguard, rather than the center-left.

I'm sorry to say that I lent my copy of Red Diapers to someone a few years ago, and I can no longer remember who that was. I'd like to be able to read it again, but I'd also like my kids to have a chance to read it when they're older.

*(Note, I'm linking to this on Sunday, when you can read the whole article online for free--not sure how long that will last, it might be archived already by Monday.)

• Posted By landismom @ 1/15/2006 06:05:00 PM
  2. My daughter is the Bumblebee. My son is the Sweet Potato. You'll have to ask their father.

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  2. cool site
  3. finally, some good news!
  4. sometimes when life hands you lemons...
  5. I'm a weirdo
  6. whose family are you friendly to?
  7. gentle reader, I need your advice
  8. Happy New Year!
  9. but will she end up working in the Dead Letter off...
  10. just got back...
  11. Have a great weekend



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