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Was I a recruiter for Don Quixote?


This poem by Tempest member and socialist activist Sam Friedman is part of a larger collection reflecting on his radicalism from the 1960s forward.

My ears stood open to
the earnest searching of Mary Ann,
thin, serious, fun-loving and determined,
whose lilting words
dispatched trucks here, there, hither, thither
to feed packages to airplanes’ waiting bellies,

and then to win drivers for revolution.

My ears recoiled at first
from Stuart’s cynicism,
a well-earned doubt based on his years of defeat,
from seeing friends’ hopes
turn to sectarian wrangling.
But my open listening
and what we were actually doing
won Stuart back to hope,
to organizing other workers in his warehouse
to speak,
to fight,
to rebel.

My ears welcomed the laughter
of tall, agile, and joyous Larry,
his thoughts and questions
as we discussed the Spanish revolution
on the steps of my home
near a wheat field in Piscataway,
his thoughts of why prices soar and nations fall,
his questing lust
for workers’ risings.

And as Larry and Stuart and I
met in coffee shops to plan
shop bulletins,
and they, Mary Ann, Howard and I
talked Teamster politics
and how UPSurge and TDU were organizing
workers’ power,
we could taste our growing hope
like oatcakes
for Rosinante’s equine lips.

But although we listened, loved, and offered solace,
the economic crawl-down
and the politicians’ and other corporate leaders’
soldiers, cops and racist ethics of rabid hyenas
steamrolled hope,
steamrolled resistance,
steamrolled solace,
steamrolled solidarity.

Was I then but a recruiter
for a hopeless Don Quixote,
a misleader of friends,
a windmill scrambler of dreams?
So some one-time comrades say,
after our decades of failure,
decades
of woe.

But listen, just listen . . .
as we near the ends of our frustrated lives,
I can now join again as workers strike,
as whole communities rebel against cops’ killings,
and I hear a new talk of change, of organizing workers’ power,
and whispers of revolution.

Featured Image Credit: Image by Luis Tasso; modified by Tempest.

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Sam Friedman View All

Samuel R. Friedman is a lifelong social activist and long-time socialist. His writings on social justice topics include about 50 publications on workers’ movements, how we might create socialism, political economy, racism or social movements—including Teamster Rank and File (Columbia University Press, 1982) and What happened in Ukraine (2015). He currently is a research professor of Population Health at a leading New York university and previously the Director of the Institute for Infectious Disease Research at National Development and Research Institutes in New York. He has published two books of poetry (most recently A Precious Residue: Poems that Ponder Efforts to Spark a Working-Class Socialism in the 1970s and After, as well as several chapbooks and many individual poems. He is the author of over 500 publications on HIV, COVID-19, STI and drug use epidemiology, prevention, and harm reduction. He is a member of the Tempest Collective, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Central Jersey Coalition against Endless War, and the People’s CDC. He can be reached at sam4wp@netscape.net.