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Susan June Blake

susan_wave.jpg

Updates: Info about upcoming memorial events.

Our dear friend Susan Blake passed away at 8pm on Tuesday, October 2, 2007. She was staying upstate at a friend’s house. When I called Monday, I spoke to Susan’s sister, Nancy Blake, who was there having dinner with her.

We will keep everyone updated on information about a memorial service. We have made a page for PeaceSmiths updates and events, and about events for Susan: here.

Susan Blake was the force behind PeaceSmiths, Inc. Susan was careful with words, and uncomfortable with titles. So, she always corrected me when I called her the director or leader of PeaceSmiths. I hope that her commitment will open the door to the whole PeaceSmiths community feeling empowered to keeping that work alive. Members of the PeaceSmiths board actually met with Susan on Monday, and they are planning on moving forward full steam ahead with their work for peace and justice.

The work of PeaceSmiths includes a hotline for activist events, a monthly forum, and the “PeaceSmiths monthly Topical A-Typical Folk Music, Poetry, and Whatever Coffeehouse”, held in Amityville, at what songwriter Sonny Meadows dubbed “the last church on the left” in a song. (Susan loved that!) And, of course, the work of PeaceSmiths included Susan attending an impossible amount of demonstrations, cultural events, networking events, and workshops to support every good cause in the world.

Many of the causes Susan supported are listed on the fairly recent, bright, multi-colored PeaceSmiths banner that she hung at each coffeehouse. But, a smattering of causes Susan worked for would include: peace, anti-militarism, human rights, labor rights, the environment, anti-nukes (especially anti-nukes in space), anti-death penalty, anti-SOA, ballot access (she included local politicians at candidate events, but also write-in candidates and third party candidates), immigration rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, holistic medicine, vegetarianism, independent media, intellectual freedom, and dignity and justice for all. The PeaceSmiths banner proclaims: “We’re Pro Humanity”

Attending the Clearwater Hudson River Revival was an annual event for Susan and PeaceSmiths. Every year, Susan took a crew of Long Island activists upstate to table and to man the Cow Game, which taught about Mad Cow Disease and antibiotics in milk. The PeaceSmiths’ International Folk Dance/Music Fundraiser Garden Party was another important annual event. This year the event took place on September 15th, and for many of Susan’s friends was a last chance to spend time with her, a wonderful last dance.

One of Susan’s recent projects was working on the production of “The Booby Trap or Off Our Chests”, the musical on the connection between breast cancer and bras.

Ian has been corresponding with another of Susan’s friends who suggests that a list be created of every musician, poet, and performer who ever appeared at the coffeehouse, in addition to every presenter, author, candidate, elected official, and panelist who appeared at the monthly community forum. The list itself would be overflowing and informative.

Susan was a fun person. You always remembered she was an artist. Susan even worked as a stage-manager, occasionally for “Theater for the New City.” Susan made exciting events happen. And, I remember my delight whenever I gave her a ride, and realized I had her attention all to myself for a few moments. Susan would listen and discuss about all the subtleties of organizing and structure. She cared about the causes, the people, the friendships, and the impact.

I love looking at the video of Susan at the Long Island Peace Summit, because it reminds me of so many of her wonderful mannerisms connected to speaking (or preaching) about a cause–about vibrant, reaching-out energy; smiling some of the time, even when the topic is so serious; and every posture a face could take during deep thought.

Ian posted the following words as we were first hearing the news and creating a tribute on our web-site:

“I learned a great deal from Susan. She taught me more than anyone, by her example, what nonviolence meant. She taught me about having the courage to live by your values. She taught me about how culture and politics inform and support each other. She taught me that being a pacifist did not mean being passive. She taught me that to work for the future meant to learn from the past. She taught me how to find friends who support what you do. And I am glad I could call her my friend.

Susan was the heart and soul of PeaceSmiths. Susan was the definition of a peace and justice activist. She was a peacemaker.”

Susan Blake supported the unsuccessful struggle to save the old elm tree in Amityville. She loved the tree, not just because it was old and alive, but because of its uniqueness and what it symbolized. Susan loved to tell the story of how beautiful it was that someone had built a wood-slatted boardwalk–instead of a concrete sidewalk–over the roots of the tree, so that it could continue to grow, right there along busy Rt. 27A. And, Susan would say, she loved riding her bicycle over that boardwalk, how the sound and the bumps were a break in the monoculture.

I will truly miss the break in the monoculture that Susan’s beautiful, unique, sometimes interrupting presence brought to the Long Island community. I am so glad to have known her, to have witnessed some of how she did what she did. May Susan June Blake’s work, energy and lessons pedal on.

Friends and colleagues can look for unfolding memorial service info at the following places: our web-site www.onthewilderside.net, the Suffolk Progressive Vision web-site http://www1.freewebs.com/suffolkprogressivevision/scpg.htm#53562544 , or through the PeaceSmiths community.

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21 Responses

  1. I think what you said about what Susan taught you rings very strongly; being a pacifist does not mean being passive. Susan was a true-to-life rallying cry against apathy. Of which, unfortunately, far too many members of my generation are proving themselves by their non-words and non-actions.

  2. Mucho props for having this footage & posting this lovely tribute to Susan. I hadn’t cried yet about Susan being gone but while watching this footage…I lost it.

    I was thinking how Susan should have been on a game show where they click off how many issues one can discuss in a finite period of time, also judged on content and quality of the statement. Count how many political and social justice issues Susan covered in this clip :) . She really is at the top of her game here.

    Please make out a will and a health care proxy if you haven’t done so already as Susan did not (health care proxy she maybe had but I won’t swear to it)…no matter how little you have, it’s a good thing. If you can’t afford to do so, go to a law school and see if someone can do it pro bono.

  3. The world has lost one of its most vibrant, courageous, and loving souls, someone who fought eloquently and tirelessly for the greater good in spite of immense personal suffering and pain. Susan was a friend and mentor, a human being in every way inspirational. Although under a death sentence herself, she gave a damn about those on death row, and so much more. She will be missed greatly.

  4. Thank you, Ian, for making this clip and your lovely words available; Susan has been a good friend of mine for years and I’m terribly sad to lose her presence. I don’t mind being repetitive in saying that she taught me so much by her exemplary indefatigable commitment, activism, and passion. She had an almost endless ability to take on new issues with the interest of a muckraker and the intensity of a hero. As one of the “token” Western trained practitioners on her health care team, I need to say that she handled her diagnosis with extraordinary courage and grace. I hope that she is at peace now.

  5. Thank you so much for putting this up, I hadn’t seen it before…Susan taught me so many things about resistance and pacifism (including that it’s not nice to give the finger to people that yell at you on picket lines) She was always active, always doing something, always thinking about the movement, every single day, up till the end. This is a terrible loss, but her example inspires us…

  6. Thank you for this page dedicated to Susan. I agree that this is a terrible loss. Susan was an utterly tireless worker for peace and justice. She taught us so much about determination and courage in the face of dark times. She taught us about commitment and how to ignore despair, be her example, by continually throwing herself with love, humour, joy and seemingly limitless energy into the endless work of resistance. Susan, I will miss you. Thank you for teaching me and for never ceasing to prod me. If I have inherited even a fraction of your stubbornness, I will feel blessed. Fine journey……..

  7. Thanks for sharing that video…
    Keep posting friends….

    puthzel
    Thanks…

  8. Grace Paley and Susan June Blake

    by richard chilton

    The late Grace Paley, the celebrated short story writer, lived in Greenwich Village and Vermont, while the late Susan June Blake, founder of Peacesmiths House, a peace and justice, cultural center, lived in Amity, Long Island. Both were extraordinary gifted women who believed passionately in life, and in Humanity, and were active in neighborhoods and communities all over the greater New York metropolitan region and beyond. Both were artists, but gave even more to the disenfranchised and dispossessed than to personal ego. Both were irrepressible activists, who “worked” the streets tirelessly on scores of diverse but related concerns, from nuclear power to nuclear weapons, and on issues of race, gender and class. Both had breast cancer when the Iraq War began, yet they sustained if not increased their public presence, as if to say, “My body may go, but my spirit will live on” in the work of others, and of our shared belief as a People and species in how the world could be.

    i was humbled to know both women. Each made a mark on those who knew them, who loved them, who knew about their work and their lives. We are all better for such women having lived among us. Thank you, Susan, and travel well on your journey.

    richard chilton
    Rosalie, Nebraska

  9. Last night, Thursday/Friday at midnight, there was a tribute to Susan on WBAI. Bob Fass’s show-Radio Unnameable. The show is available to play on the wbai archives at: wbai.org. You click on “archives” and find the “Radio Unnameable” show for October 5th.

    Also, I wanted to mention, that on the show, a few people referred to Susan as “pixie-like.” And, while it seems ironic to say about such a strong woman, such a fighter for peace and justice, there was something bright, energetic, and pixie-like about Susan’s spirit. And, I appreciate her friends for finding another word to describe her spirit.

    With love,
    Kimberly

  10. Por nuestros Muertos y Desaparecidos, no un minuto de silencio. Todo unavida de lucha.

    “For our dead and disappeared, not a moment of silence. Only a lifetime of struggle.”

  11. You are not gone until you’re forgotten. :)

  12. Very strange. I was about to invite Susan to be on my internet radio show and was fumbling through my lists looking for her phone number when the notice came through that her breast cancer had spread to her liver, and she’d died.

    Ohhhhhhh.

    Long ago, Susan and I had many differences — she was (was? was? WAS?) a pacifist who obsessed on every little detail, and I was (and remain) much more open to all sorts of actions so long as they are clearly directed against the war criminals and mass murderers. Over the many years we knew and respected and sometimes disagreed with each other, it was only during her illness and in the WBAI battles (we were on the same side there) that we got to know each other a little better. Still, when she invited me to speak, read poems, etc. last year at one of the PeaceSmith events, she was nervous about what I was going to say, and called me several times (can you spell c-o-n-t-r-o-l, but lovingly) …. each time I assured her that I wasn’t going to advocate blowing up buildings. Susan had a sort of cartoon-caricature of me and others in the Red Balloon Collective from long ago. It culminated at a 1980 march on the Congress, if I remember my dates correctly, in which I and other members of the RBC joined her and other pacifists carrying a giant banner that read “If you need more energy, burn the bourgeoisie.” Susan strongly objected to those “violent” sentiments, and didn’t so much “ask” us but directed us to march with a different contingent. And then there was the time …. oh, but I digress ….

    We came closer with her illness. I was very impressed that she — unlike so many other activists — chose to struggle with her cancer using alternative protocols, and rejected the dominant capitalist paradigm. That’s probably what enabled her to live 4x longer than the doctors had predicted — although I do have some questions for Dr. Schachter about his treatments. Having had health issues (heart) myself, and having, like Susan, rejected the pharmaceutical poisons they peddle as “treatments” in this society, I really appreciated and applauded Susan’s decision. I never understood how people who fight against the system in every other aspect of their lives then trust it and turn to it on matters of health care, life and death. On Susan’s recommendation, I even went to her acupuncturist, Dr. Feng Liang, who helped me greatly in some issues I was having. And then we both spoke on a panel last year (along with Bill McNulty) at the annual Be-In that Tim, Rob, Jessica and Erica organize out in Yaphank every August, and we had some interesting exchanges there.

    Anyway, I originally wrote the following poem for Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, but it seems apropos to read it again for Susan — who loved it the first time she heard it at the aforementioned PeaceSmith event where she asked me to “perform” (she was very surprised she liked it so much, and told me so. It’s fun, isn’t it, to learn that people have many layers and are not one-dimensional, no?) … I was also honored to read it at our friend and antiwar veteran David Cline’s funeral a few weeks ago, too. (All these dyings of friends in our antiwar Movement, I am reminded by the Clancy Brothers great song: “Let’s not have a sniffle, let’s have a bloody good cry / and always remember the longer your live / the sooner you’re going to die …” )

    THE MACHINERY OF SLEEP TURNS ITS FIRST WHEEL

    They took the owls
    our wolves
    our deer

    They took our words
    and sold
    the rain

    They took our corn
    and coined
    the pastures

    They took our pictures
    and stole
    the spirit

    They took our forests
    and now gasp
    for air

    They paved our paths
    running deserts
    corrugated streams

    They took our time
    the long silence
    between heartbeats

    They took our shoes
    still we are coming
    our feet

    Wrapped
    in the skins
    of dreams

    – Mitchel Cohen
    Red Balloon Poetry Conspiracy

  13. for susan blake

    she was managing the affair
    at my reading for her
    a flashlight!

    I remember now
    on the telephone how tired
    you said you were

    I’ll miss you girl
    bow in red curly hair
    rose-cheek smile
    such an early time
    to leave

    she is setting out
    cookies and flyers
    on the tables of heaven

    joan payne kincaid

    Love Mitch’s poem and thank him for referring me here.

  14. for susan blake

    she was managing the affair
    at my reading for her
    a flashlight!

    I remember now
    on the telephone how tired
    you said you were

    I’ll miss you girl
    bow in red curly hair
    rose-cheek smile
    such an early time
    to leave

    she is setting out
    cookies and flyers
    on the tables of heaven

    joan payne kincaid

  15. Max asked us to post this here:

    PeaceSmiths House: Prelude to the Topical, A-Typical, Folk Music, Poetry and Whatever Coffeehouse

    for Susan Blake

    Winter evening
    mugs of hot cider
    guitar music glowing

    “Puff the Magic Dragon lives by the sea. . .”

    Hearth flames flickering
    near sofa
    where girl makes a cave under arm
    of boy with red hair

    “If I had a hammer. . .”

    Young woman on frayed brown chair
    cushions her man’s head
    on long lavender dress

    Black cherry log crackles

    The professor, streaming fingers
    through his wife’s graying black hair
    looks up

    “For all we know this may be only a dream. . .”

    Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr. ©

  16. I will always remember you at the Coffeehouse every month making shure every thing was just right.

    Sue

  17. A great loss. Thank you for honoring her.

  18. …I am so sorry to hear of Susan’s death. It’s not getting any easier for me to accept the whole idea of death, even though we have lost so many of our friends recently…

    Please accept my sincere condolences, and love.

    Peter Berryman

  19. I never knew Susan Blake, the woman and activist, but I did know her as my daughter Janet’s best friend, a teenager in High School.

    When I think of Susan, I will remember her as the youngster who always marched to a different drummer, (her drummer).

    I see from the other tributes, she has taken her tune and used it to make a difference in the world around her. Bravo, Susan!!

    Alice Rubien

  20. I remember when I first met Susan some 20 odd years ago. She lived behind my bakery and always came in for croissants. She was invariably colorfully dressed with her trusty bicycle. I have a picture of her in front of the store on her bike along with Barry. They serendipitously ran into each other there that day after several years and retold the story of how Susan saved Barry from drowning many years before.

    I loved when Susan would come by my house in the evenings and we’d have dinner together in my sunroom, candles on the table …… the crickets chirping outside…classical music softly playing in the background. But the best thing was our conversations. Susan was brilliant…. a wonderful conversationalist and a fabulous debater. Sometimes we’d disagree vehemently and other times we’d laugh….we even gossiped some.

    She was afraid of dogs but when she saw how gentle and well behaved my dogs were, she relaxed and even enjoyed them.

    I remember that distinctive smell that was quintessential Susan….Dr. Bonner’s Peppermint soap!

    She’d call me when she needed something artistic. One night she came by and we worked on a flyer using my computer….that was in the days when she hated using computers for anything. So we sat up all night long because everything that was written had to be redone and looked at in every kind of font possible! Not bad for someone who didn’t like computers!

    We’d often get tired after talking for hours and Susan would end up spending the night on the sofa. Just a few weeks ago Susan called….she was feeling uncomfortable and hot and asked if she could come over. Of course! It was the first time she actually allowed me to pick her up and drive her home the following morning. We watched a tape of her play that night.

    Susan gave me a gift before she died that I will always remember and she helped me in an hour of need when she herself was in so much need. That is real love and caring. She also gave me the gift of meeting wonderful people.

    I don’t feel like she is gone yet. I guess it’s denial. But I will miss all those things we did together and her wonderful Peacesmith’s coffeehouse events….presented as only Susan could do. Sometimes….tired as I was…I’d stay afterwards to wash the dishes and help her pack things away until the next coffeehouse.

    I will miss our late night phone calls. I will miss running into Susan at the supermarket or riding her bike around town. I will miss her scintillating conversation, her smile, her humor. The world will miss an avid activist who lived by her creed.

    Someone very special is now gone and my life will be changed because of the loss. This makes me very sad.

    Susan, wherever you are, I hope you finally found peace. It was an honor knowing you and having you as my friend. Thank you. Peace.

  21. I first met Susan a few short months ago last May when she booked me to perform at the PeaceSmiths Coffeehouse. I was immediately struck by her warmth and intense commitment to so many issues dear to my own heart. It’s not often I meet someone like Susan. It was shocking to learn about her passing through a message left by another friend. I had heard about PeaceSmiths for years and I am so thankful I got to meet the woman who was behind it. I will always cherish the memory of the night I spent making music and sharing time with Susan Blake, a woman of strength, passion and deep commitment to peace for all beings.
    May peace prevail,
    Sharleen Leahey
    Songs for Peace

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