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Grandpa Al’s Home Going Celebration

by Kimberly Wilder

Here are some of my observations:

Jimmy Breslin spoke. It was interesting and gave insight. I was honored to hear him speak.

Professor Irwin Corey was not on the program. He was sitting a couple of rows in front of us, and we saw someone tap him on the shoulder and invite him to speak. He said yes. He was hysterical (and the service was so long and so touching, some comic relief was nice.) He was rather unabashedly bashing Bush and Dick Cheney.

A choir sung. It was beautiful. The program says ARC Gospel Choir. I think it was something like Recovering Addicts choir or something. The bass section was so good and so serious. People clapped when they finished, and then clapped in a wave as they marched passed.

A man who said that he used to be a “whore house piano player” spoke and then also played the piano later in the ceremony. It was so cool to hear him play the theme song he wrote for Grandpa’s Governor race. Wonder if we could recyle that for the next candidate? It was fun, light-hearted and catchy.

Tiokasin Ghosthorse of WBAI played the Native Flute. It was warm and beautiful. I was very happy, because my fondest memory of Grandpa Al is that when I was afraid of jail after my flute arrest, Karen Lewis read my poem about my predicament on the Grandpa Al show. It meant a lot to feel supported then, that there was a wider community who cared and was watching when bad things happened to good people. I had thought of bringing my flute, but knew I was not expert enough, and not close enough to the family to ask to be on the program. But, hearing Tiokasin play flute for Grandpa Al was a nice circle for me.

Maragaret Kunstler read the names of people released from prison due to Grandpa Al’s work on reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws. That was very meaningful. And, a man who was in a wheelchair spoke, and related that he was in prison, and he was released due to Grandpa Al’s work. I think that man’s name was Terrance Stevens.

Some of the greens in attendance were:

Gloria Mattera and Ian Wilder (my hubby) were there–so the two, current GPNYS Co-Chairs. And, Mark Dunlea, former GPNYS Chair was there.

In the morning, I kept thinking about if I could wear the Green Party bracelet the Kuriloff’s had made up for Region 1. I decided against it, thinking I should be more subtle about politics at a memorial service. And, Ian decided to just wear his brass, sunflower lapel pin, so, it was very subtle that he was a green.

Though, I was kind of pleased to see that Mitch brought by a big, white sign, with artwork from Grandpa Al’s Governor campaign. Mitch had a good idea to have greens who were there sign it to give to Karen Lewis. So, there was a little sign bubbling up here and there that said Green Party. It was nice, since, regrettably, there was no mention of the Green Party on either the shiny, full color memorial program, or the small, white typed up church program. (It is always frustrating when greens aren’t acknoweldged, but hard to complain at a memorial service. I can see the point of not having politics in the service programs.)

At least we slid in with having Alice GREEN speak. Though, Alice was listed on the program as “Civil and Human Rights Activist.”

Though, really, they said Green Party all over the place. Many people mentioned the party when they noted Grandpa Al’s governor campaign, and they did play the campaign song on the piano. My mother-in-law was listening to the WBAI broadcast and she said you heard Green Party, Green Party, Green Party over and over again.

Okay, so I was naming Greens in attendance: I would say I knew about a dozen. But, Mitch knew more people who were greens and signed the poster. So, I don’t have a true count.

Gloria, Ian, Mark, Mitch, Jeff from Nassau, Mara and her husband from Nassau, RH from the city (complaining about Malachy being unfairly criticized), Rebecca Rotzler, Jerry, Alice. Sander Hicks and Holley were there. (Not sure if the baby counts as a green, too!) Ian saw Elizabeth Shanklin passing by. Don D who is an honorary green was there. He helped with something on the technical side, and was thanked in the program.

And, Jim from Nassau who keeps posted and is sometimes supportive of greens was there. He has a local update radio show on WBAI.

Out front of the church, was the “Dragula” car that Grandpa drove in the TV show. It was very cool, a brass coffin with wheels. Rebecca Rotzler, who likes cool cars, was sorely tempted to drive it, and we practically had to pull her away.

Here are all the speakers:

Bernard White, Program Director, WBAI; Jimmy Breslin; Butch Patrick (man who had played Eddie Munster. He did a very heartwarming speech); Amy Goodman, Host of Democracy Now; Alice Green; Indra Hardat, Interim General Manager, WBAI; Margaret Kunstler, Attorney Activist; Father Lawrence Lucas; David Klein, Vietnam Veteran, reading from “War is a Racket”; Tiokasin Ghosthorse; Omawale Clay, Local Station Board, Community Activists; Terrance Stevens, Victim Rockefeller Drug Laws; Janet Coleman, Interim Arts Director, WBAI, Host of “Cat Radio Cafe”; David Rothberg, host of Any Saturday, WBAI and Founder, The Fortune Society; Cassie and John McDonagh, Host of Radio Free Eireann, WBAI; Norman Thomas Marshall, Reading from “John Brown: Trumpet of Freedom”; Elombe Brath, Host of Afrikaleidoscope.

Somebody who spoke was the man who brought the car from a fancy car company or something. He was wearing a bright yellow pit stop kind of shirt. The man actually made a good speech. He had known Al a bit in relation to the Hollywood things and the car. And, he seemed very moved to have heard these other parts of Al’s life.

The family spoke at the end. Grandpa Al’s three sons said wonderful, loving things about Al and about Karen.

Karen Lewis seemed to be doing fine. Her voice had warmth and energy. She mostly thanked everyone for helping with the service. And, she said that Grandpa Al loved all the activists and listeners who surrounded him. She was very wonderful and gracious.

The Riverside Church is so beautiful. It is grand and detailed, like Notre Dame, with lots of spaces for helping and celebrating and worshipping. I discovered that Riverside started as a Baptist Church, and still belongs to a Baptist national organization. Though, the church is now non-denominational. As many of you know, they host many great, progressive events. The Social Justice Committee was there to help smooth things along. The person who coordinated the event was WBAI producer Ayo Harrington.

Grandpa Al’s Home Going Memorial Service was very touching, enlightening and worthwhile. I feel sure that Grandpa Al’s work will continue on. Karen is working on the prison writing project, and everyone seemed to understand the value of that project. Prisoner’s Pen Pal program, P.O. Box 277, New York, NY 10044

Peace and struggle,

Gifts in honor of Grampa Al:

P.O. Box 11445
Church Street Station
New York, NY 10277-2071

Attn: Sue Walsh
3729 Caheunga Boulevard West
North Hollywood, CA 91604

3 Responses

  1. The Riverside Church is beautiful. I was married there.

  2. […] — New York’s notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws, something he championed along with Al “Grandpa” Lewis in 1998, leading to the Drop the Rock movement. The Correctional Association and other advocates […]

  3. […] — New York’s notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws, something he championed along with Al “Grandpa” Lewis in 1998, leading to the Drop the Rock movement. The Correctional Association and other advocates […]

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