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How My Parents Met
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My mother was a trade unionist, my father was a socialist.

They met on the strike line in front Aunt Greta’s Danish Cookies, the Oakland factory where my mother worked. My mother was running the picket line, and my father had arrived to pass out his socialist organization’s newsletter, “The People United/El Pueblo Unido.” They were both self-educated, working-class individuals, around thirty years old.

“I support your strike,” my father said to my mother. “But it’s not just Aunt Greta’s cookies that is the problem. It’s the whole capitalist system. We need a general strike to bring the bosses to their knees.”

“Well,” my mother said, trying not to roll her eyes, “let’s start with getting Aunt Greta to cough up an extra fifty cents per hour, shall we? Then we can talk about capitalism.” She handed him a picket sign on a stick. “Can you give us a hand?”

My father had to stop for a minute. Which should he do, carry the picket sign or continue to distribute the socialist leaflets? This was an existential dilemma for him. If he put down the flyers and picked up the sign, was he symbolically admitting that the trade union struggle for wages, the short term fix, was more important than the movement for revolution, the long term solution? On the other hand, if he refused to take the sign, was he sending a message that he and his comrades were too ultra-left and elitist to bother with fighting for a few pennies, even though the workers were having a very hard time paying their bills without a raise, and now, being on strike, they weren’t getting paid at all?

“I can see you’re mulling it over,” my mother said. “Don’t get hung up. Carry the sign for an hour, then switch over to the leaflets. You can alternate back and forth.”

“Thank you,” my father said, impressed with her decision-making ability. He stashed his pile of leaflets, grabbed a sign and joined the the picket line. Over a hundred workers were chanting, “What do we want? Fifty cents. When do we want it? NOW!”

After an hour my father put down the sign. He gathered his leaflets and began to distribute them to the picketers and engage them in conversation. “Join the fight against the bosses,” he said. “Greta’s is only a part of the problem. The whole damned capitalist system is rotten to the core. We’ve got to fight racism and sexism too. And immigrants have rights, whether or not they have papers.”

Most of the picketers ignored him. But some took leaflets, and he was able to have a couple of genuine conversations. At the end of the hour, he put down his leaflets and went to get a picket sign.

My mother wasn’t on the line at that moment, she was at a picket captains meeting. But my father did what he had promised, took a sign and rejoined the picket line chanting “Huelga” and “Oakland is a Union Town.” The strikers nodded to him appreciatively.

At the end of the hour, he was going to go back to leafletting when my mother returned.

“You’re still here,” she said in a surprised tone. “I thought you would have left. Picketing can be dull hour after hour.”

“When I make an agreement, I honor it,” my father said. “Especially with a worker on strike.

At that moment a police car passed by slowly. Both my parents eyeballed it carefully.

“Damn cops,” my mother said.

“Capitalist stooges,” my father said.

They studied each other, with growing interest.

“Will you be back tomorrow?” my mother asked.

“Absolutely,” my father said.

The next day they were both there at six AM when the picketing resumed.

“You came back,” she said. “Good. I brought this from home.”

She pulled out a length of twine and a hole puncher. She punched holes in two picket signs, ran the twine through the holes and made a sandwich board out of them. “Hold still,” she said. She placed the strings over his shoulders, so the signs hung gracefully down his back and his front. She looked like a mother putting a sweater on a child. “Now your hands are free, and you can leaflet and picket at the same time.”

“Thank you,” my father said. “I brought you something too.” Like a construction foreman on a job site, he unfurled a handmade, butcher paper poster. He had found a copy of a famous International Workers of the World poster, depicting the class system as a layer cake.

There were fancy, tuxedo-wearing types on the top of the cake;

Soldiers and cops on the next layer down;

Priests, judges and pundits on the next;

Happy-go-lucky, well dressed, champagne-sippers on the next;

And finally, dozens of workers crowded together on the bottom layer, supporting the whole cake.

But amidst the throng of workers, my father had added several drawings of Aunt Greta’s picketers. They were holding signs that said, “Aunt Greta’s Cookies on Strike,” “We need fifty cents, not cookie crumbs” and “Workers of the World Unite.”

“You see,” my father said, “it’s the capitalist system that’s the problem, not just the cheapskate owners of Aunt Greta’s Cookies. Greta’s Cookies workers are part of the international working class. We have to rise up and topple the whole thing.”

“I like your drawings,” she said.

“Thank you,” he said. “I did them myself.”

They both looked at each other.

“Have you had breakfast?” they both asked simultaneously. Then they smiled.

They’ve been together ever since.

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