Saturday, August 3, 2013

“I choose not be arrested”: Recalling Chuck Reinhardt

"You're a good guy Ben," Chuck used to say to me.  "I don't care what anybody else says."  Laughing. 

Leslie Kauffman and Chuck at the World Economic Forum Protests in NYC in Feb. 2002.
Photo By Jim Glassner

Chuck came to me as a surprise – a funny high school teacher who looked like Jerry Garcia, who loved hanging out with anarchists and attended spokes council after spokes council in the peak years of the Global Justice Movement.  He brought stories of literally decades of activism, parenting, teaching history, and being a kind person.  He was part of the Reclaim the Streets group which met at the Charas El Bohio Community Services Center in the late 1990s.  He’d drifted to the group from Wetlands and decades of anti-war activism.  Yet, when the RTS and its spinoffs as the Clandestine Rebel Clown Army and Absurd Response to Absurd War group started to fade, Chuck stayed my friend.  For a while there Chuck was the only one who still came to the Wednesday meetings.  So we’d have a pint together and hang out.  And he helped me organize two Times Up! Roving Garden Parties, helping the kids at Children’s Magical Garden make pizza in the garden. And he helped me to try to be a kinder more patient person, even when the world of kids, activists, and cranky politics was coming at me fast.  

He was also a die hard at the Reclaim the Streets salons and holiday parties.  The first one there, he greeted me with a smile and a beer, every time,  just as he did at the Blarney Stone during Occupy when he announced he had been living in the park for days. 

But the times that stand out for me were moments when he expressed care or was there when things were not going as they should.  Hanging out with Chuck after trying to turn out the ballot for Norm Siegel for public advocate in 2005, we sat at the Life Café as we had for many of the RTS meetings and celebrations.  We knew lefty civil libertarian Norm Siegel was not going to win.    But we still hoped.  He knew I was a little heartbroken.  We try to make things work and so often we lose.  Chuck dropped me a line later that night consoling me when the ballots came in.  “Sometimes the right guy does not win,” he consoled me.  “The system is rigged against it.”  He was just a friend willing to say what needed to be said even when the chips were down.  When the hullabaloo about the war in Iraq died down, Chuck continued to wear his “Bush Lies, People Die!” t shirt to work as a public school teacher, even when his supervisors disapproved. 
He was the kind of activist who was willing to do the work over the long hall, always remaining in good spirits. He was sometimes the only one who showed up for a workday.  

He would post updates from the front lines of the global justice movement and represent these ideas at forums around the world.  As Colin Moynihan reported on the anarchist book fair in 2007:  

Take, for instance, Chuck Reinhardt, 64, whose business card lists him as “Teacher, Balkan Volunteer, Smoke Jumper, Deadhead, Legal Observer, World Traveler & Last of the Big-Time Spenders,” and who was hanging out Saturday at a table that displayed an array of antiwar buttons.

Mr. Reinhardt, who taught history in New Jersey public schools before retiring, now teaches part time in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where nationalism and ethnic and religious divisions led to war in the 1990’s.

“I teach that all groups can coexist,” he said. “What I’m teaching is anarchism.”
If there is one subject that haunts all anarchists, it is the view of them as dangerous criminals. That perception has strengthened since 1999, when anarchists started clashing regularly with police during economic summits in cities including Seattle and Genoa, sometimes breaking windows and committing other acts of vandalism.

Chuck took part in the Charas action in December of 2011, with this author, several members of Reclaim the Streets, and Tim Doody.  Photo by eric mcgregor.

And Chuck, of course, was there to hang out and build communities, while taking part in the movement hopping convergence actions at the height of the Global Justice Movement.  As he wrote on a list serve about his time in Genova in Italy on July 21, 2001:

there was a lot of tension this morning as we assembled to parade through
town, all several thousand of us. the police attacked the black block
in the  corso marconi, with tear gas, some  went up the corso torino. as we
crossed corso buenos aires, we received  news the g8 meeting were canceled.
the mood changed to joy. the march became a parade, wit music and dancing in
the streets. the speeches were by jose bovò and the leader of the de mayo
movement. at the end of the speech as we headed home, the black block, with
police help, were at it again. we were all teargases as there destruction
continued. this time i stuck close to them. i saw them blockade a street, on
the corso sardegna, one of the main streets,  physically  destroy a gas
station, set several fires, before the police moved in. as far as i could
see, no one was arrested.. same thing about a mile away from the plazza
tommase, where they destroyed an atm machine, and set a car on fire. no
arrests as i could see, only tear gas, which im getting used to. there are
many written reports that the polizi have joined forces with the black
block, to discredit the peaceful here but i don't see or hear or
that's going on. is this reported back home?
when we arrived back at the media center, it appears the talks are not
canceled, but may be moved to a yacht, that way they won't  be able to smell
the teargas used on the peaceful protesters.
all the black block destruction today and yesterday has been a over a mile
from the red zone.

Reclaim the Streets NYC -

The tension of such moments rarely wore on Chuck, who could stay optimistic, even the midst of the repression. Another discussion between Chuck and an activist about activism in New York and the police highlights the point.  One man notes he was unable to make things work because of police.  “I probabably would have stayed. I doubt, the way the NYPD were doing things,many people would be dancing, however.”

Yet Chuck disagrees in this bit of correspondence from February 4th 2002: "you should have stayed, we danced and partyed in the streets till the
evening....there were 10.000 of us and for the most part they left us
alone..chuck rts-ny   when all else fails,

I loved that optimism.   Years after Reclaim the Streets ended, Chuck still ended his emails with the words. “When all else fails dance…..”

This is not to suggest Chuck didn't have his human foibles.  But I only saw him lose his temper once.  And that was at a young activist, an NYU student, involved with Reclaim the Streets.  After months of rejecting his suggestions Chuck, who had also gone to all the spokes councils, let the student know he had had enough.  His voice thundered.  He sounded like a long shoreman.  Chuck was a kind gentle person, but not one to be dismissed.  He was patient with most everyone except those who stiffed everyone else on the Bill for the Life Cafe salons.  

After the second Roving Garden Parade in 2007, we drove up to the Clearwater Festival Together to see Pete Seegar.  We ended up missing Pete, but spending the day hanging out, talking, drinking Guinness, Bosnia, driving, recalling the good and the bad of the Reclaim the Streets Convergence actions, and his life as a teacher working with kids in New Jersey and Bosnia.  And he drove me home.  We talked about being patient, giving being a dad a chance, with care and grace.  That was the last time we spent extended time together, although he still engaged Times Up and others to stay involved with the Anarchist Bookfair.   And made his rounds at the RTS salons, bringing his vegan clam surprise to most every gathering.  After his daughter’s husband passed prematurely, he stepping into care giving for his grandson.

Steve Duncombe and I talked about hanging out with him after this year’s event.  I had not seen him at as many salons.  He missed the holiday party for the first time in over a decade.  So I put in a couple of calls.  Didn’t hear back from him. 

And then I got Leslie’s email message of his passing from LA Kauffman.
On Fri, Aug 2, 2013 at 2:04 PM, Leslie Kauffman < > wrote:

Hi everyone,
I was stunned to learn from Brooke that Chuck died suddenly of a heart attack in early June. I'm posting here both in case others haven't heard the sad news and to see if any sort of RTS memorial is being planned. Chuck's stamina, good humor, and upbeat energy will really be missed.
Brooke Lehman posted a similar note a couple of days earlier to Chuck on facebook.
So sad to hear of your passing Chuck. Thanks for putting so much of your life to making a more
egalitarian humane planet and for being such an incredibly nice person. We will all miss you. xo Brooke
My response was shock and disbelief.  Looking up his obituary, it was really true.

After posting his obituary on facebook and several people commented. Tim Doody wrote: “What a stellar man. Even his obit shines, like you know it's just a gloss and if only it was all hyperlinked so you could click for more and more about smoke jumping and Chiapas and all the anti capitalist high jinx between the lines.

Looking back I recall his humor, bringing his son to the RTS Rantathan, reveling in his very, very humorous stories about hemp.  Chuck was probably the best clown at the RTS Clandestine Rebel Clown Army group, proposing to a dog to marry him.  When Occupy came along, he arrived for a salon with a smile after sleeping in the park for days.  We hung out with him at the Occupy One year anniversary.  And then made only a few salons after that.  But most iconically, I recall those trips to Washington DC where Chuck helped coordinate the RTS spokes councils before convergence actions, reporting back to the group about the goings on. 

He generally coordinated serving as a legal observer.  "I choose not to get arrested," he explained to the police on June 18th 1999 at the RTS action starting in Zuccotti park.  The white shirt said, "arrest him and put my name on it."  Chuck loved telling that story with a smile. They arrested him but they never really got him, or got to him.  That was his genius.  Nothing ever really got to him. 

I’m sorry to not see you for another beer old buddy.  Your passing strikes an odd tone in me.  You gave us so much. You showed up for work days when no one else would arrive.  I’m not really sure any of us gave back as much.   Its an odd, hollow feeling to have never thanked you properly for all that.  So I’ll say it here.  Thank you for all your kindness, good humor, and friendship.  I really am lucky to have known you and shared those moments over the last fifteen years buddy. I’m really sorry not to see you again, at least not for now. We'll toast a pint to you soon. I promise. 

Chuck's last facebook profile pick as part of the 99%
A toast to our fallen comrade Chuck Reinhardt. — with Stephen DuncombeBenjamin Heim Shepard, Alex Vitale and Chuck Reinhardt.

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