TARRYTOWN, N.Y. – Laughter, tears, and vivid memories flowed at the DuBois Clubs reunion here June 8-9 as about 100 men and women celebrated the 50th anniversary of the multi-racial, working class, youth organization named for the great African American leader, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.
The hallway of the Inn in this Hudson River valley town resounded with happy greetings, with bear hugs and tearful kisses. Many had not seen each other for a decade, even four decades.
The socialist youth group, aligned with the Communist Party USA, existed only from 1962 until 1969. Yet speakers, now looking grayer, a little bent, a bit portly, told of the indelible mark they made on crucial issues then and now.
Their claims were bolstered by a photo exhibit featuring black and white photos shot by Ted Reich and a video using many of the same archival photos by Matthew Weinstein. There was an image of women, including DuBois Club members, in a sit-down protest in front of the White Hall Induction Center in New York demanding an end to the Vietnam War and the military draft. Others featured the DuBois Club contingent in the April 1967 march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dr. Benjamin Spock on the United Nations protesting the Vietnam War.
Bobby Heisler, a leader of the radical youth organization, who came up with the idea for the reunion, urged the crowd at the Saturday evening banquet not to judge too quickly that the DuBois Clubs failed.
“We stopped the war in Vietnam. We stopped the draft,” Heisler said. He ticked off victories that followed: freedom for the Fort Hood Three and for Angela Davis, legalized abortions, long strides in the struggle for marriage equality, ending racist apartheid in South Africa, electing more African Americans, Latinos and more women to political office, the struggle to save planet Earth from global climate change.
“We played a big role in electing the first African American president of the United States,” said Heisler as the crowd erupted in applause. He hailed the Affordable Care Act for placing the right to health care on the same level as the right to free public education.
“Do you have any regrets?” Heisler asked. The crowd shouted back, “NO!” To prove it, the crowd then took to the dance floor, tripping the light fantastic until dawn.
Earlier that day, the crowd packed a conference room for a panel discussion, “A Look Back, A Look Forward.”
Michael Zagarell, a former youth leader of the Communist Party USA, said, “I see socialism that we thought was dead reemerging” but the socialism embraced by millions today “means democratic control, checks and balances, guarantees for minority rights.”
Jarvis Tyner, Exec. Vice Chair, Communist Party USA (CPUSA) who served as a leader of the DuBois Clubs, praised the members for their courage and determination. Along with the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-in movement, the DuBois Clubs were “breaking the stranglehold of McCarthyism,” he said. “We talked about multi-racial unity and at the same time were aligned with the labor movement. I’m very proud of that,” Tyner said.
He invited the crowd to visit the CPUSA website to dispel misconceptions about the Party. He also urged the crowd to join the CPUSA. “You will be welcome,” he said.
J.J. Johnson, one of the Fort Hood Three, army draftees who went to prison for refusing to serve in Vietnam, said the question facing everyone at the reunion is “what to take from the past and what to discard? You cannot bifurcate yourself into your political side and your personal side.”
Michael “Dynamite” Hallinan, a founder of the DuBois Clubs when it was first organized in the San Francisco Bay Area, praised both current and former Communist Party members for knowing how to organize, build coalitions. “We need a vision. I’m working in the Democratic Party as a progressive,” he said. “But there is no vision.”
Speaking from a floor microphone, JoAnn Demas, said “nostalgia” for the past is not enough. “We have a duty to rock the boat to fight back against any cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.” The crowd erupted in applause.
Lisa Bergman, current national coordinator of the Young Communist League (YCL) thanked the organizers. The YCL is fighting for jobs for unemployed youth and against gun violence, she said. In New Haven, Connecticut, for example, the handgun death toll reached a staggering 34 homicides in one year. The YCL established a youth jobs program that cut the death rate in half in one year, she said.
The afterglow from the reunion has not dissipated. Jay Schaffner, a member of the DuBois Clubs Reunion Organizing Committee posted a statement on Facebook. “We found we still had a lot in common despite the years, the changes in the world,” Schaffner wrote. “Many of us feel that capitalism is not working and there has to be an alternative—a better system without economic, racial and sexual oppression. For most, we still share the vision of a democratic and socialist alternative,” said Schaffner adding that the path to that goal is unclear.
“For the period of the 60s and 70s, the DuBois Clubs and YWLL showed that it was possible to have a socialist-oriented, multiracial, multinational youth organization that was partisan to the working class and the labor movement.”
Photo: Matt Weinstein