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Mitchel Cohen, "The Passing and Passion of Grandpa Al Lewis, 1911-2006"

The Passing and Passion of Grandpa Al Lewis, 1911–2006

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 Mayor all over the City with other Green stalwarts like Frank Carr, Craig Seeman, Michele Daneles, Afrime Derti, Carl Lawrence, Pete Dolack 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. 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 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 and warmongers to the end.

Al and Karen were incredibly supportive to many people, including me, personally, as 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. This crotchety, funny, whip-smart, annoying, ribald, generous and always dependable anti-racist activist was, in my opinion, one of the great people of the century. 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 !