The Death of an Anarchist


Upon hearing of Audrey Goodfriend’s death, my partner, Carla Blank, burst into tears. I’m sure that many of those attending a standing room only memorial for Audrey, held at the Hillside Club in Berkeley on March 31st, had the same response. Audrey was named appropriately by her immigrant family. She was everybody’s good friend. Her career was multifaceted. Speakers spoke of her as an educator, co-founder of Walden School; actor, she performed with Stagebridge Theater company for over thirty-two years; movie buff, she organized a Wednesday film club, liked strong women characters; book keeper, she was bookkeeper for the legendary bookstore, Moe’s Books. Dancer. She liked the Mambo. She was also spoken of as a swimmer.

That’s how I met Audrey. I grew up in the YMCA. It was the segregated Y located in Buffalo, New York. In those days, working families who lived in the projects could drop their kids off for all day programs. I even spent weeks at a summer camp in the woods and, when my money ran out, they kept me on for an extra week, anyway.

About a decade ago, I returned to the Y. This time in Berkeley. My doctor told me that swimming was the perfect all-around exercise. He was right.

Swimming culture at the Y is divided into two categories. There are the transients, people who begin a swimming regime only to abandon it. Then there are the regulars. Dedicated. Addicted. Among them, Joanne, Wendy, Ina, Karen, and Mo. Mo brings us cakes from time to time.

Audrey was a regular and while swimming, I managed to have many conversations during which I was exposed to her quick wit and musings about life. I wish I had kept a notebook of her priceless sayings.

For example, often people will compete over who would occupy swimming lanes. It sometimes takes on the form of the old Roller Derby. Over a month ago, one swimmer collided with another and even though the offending swimmer apologized, the other swimmer started splashing water on her in anger. I looked over at Audrey and told her that one day we might have to call the police about these lane wars.

One of the speakers at the memorial recalled names that she gave to swimmers who were obnoxious. The trasher, the splasher, the washing machine. Fins. Said in jest; I never heard her express ill feeling toward anybody.

Audrey Goodfellow at the DeYoung Museum. Photo by Tennessee Reed

Audrey Goodfriend at the DeYoung Museum. Photo by Tennessee Reed.

Audrey said that a graduate thesis could be written about the lane wars. That was an example of her sense of humor. Even after having six hip replacements and declining health, her humor never faltered, and when, as an actor, she couldn’t memorize lines, she improvised.

Improvisation is what brought her to California. She and her companion bought round-trip tickets from New York to Los Angeles for $28.00 a piece. They decided to take a side trip to San Francisco and remained here. But despite the humor, Audrey was serious about her beliefs.

She was a dedicated anarchist. Her parents were anarchists from eastern Europe.

She grew up in the Sholem Aleichem Cooperative Housing, named for the great Yiddish writer, and described as a “Neo-Tudor fortress built in the 1920s and one of the first housing cooperatives.” She joined the anarchist movement when a teenager and died keeping the faith. She was fiercely dedicated to a movement that fought against the intrusion of the state. When a teenager, she hitchhiked to Toronto where she met Emma Goldman. Her ideas were formed by events like the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti. She sent supplies to the members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, among whom were Jewish Anarchists from New York who fought against the fascists in Spain. During World War II, she was a member of Why?, an Anarchist publishing collective. She appeared in the film, ”Goldman: The Anarchist Guest “(2000).

She defied convention all of her life. She never voted. Had two children out of wedlock because she didn’t believe that love had to be endorsed by the state. Last Christmas she told me that she wasn’t going to celebrate it. She celebrated birthdays though. Among Audrey’s keys to longevity was to keep in contact with friends. She said that good friends were more important than sex, but if such an opportunity came along to go for it. Other keys were to laugh with people whom you love. Love books. Keep your brain active. Read newspapers. Don’t find yourself too far from the restroom.

Another of her expressions was “why die to day when you can do it tomorrow?” Audrey postponed tomorrow for ninety-two years. Her friends said that she faced death unafraid and even took in a play at the Berkeley Rep. before coming home and laying down for the last time. They say that she stroked the dog a few times and listened to the plums falling on the roof of the house. She told Carla that when tomorrow came she wanted her ashes to be spread over the site of The Haymarket Massacre, which took place in Chicago on May 4, 1884.

During those last weeks, she told me that she was experiencing shortness of breath. I was lucky to have a final conversation with Audrey. It ended with her encouraging me to watch a series called “The Abolitionists.”

Audrey used swimming to maintain her health, twenty laps per day. She was an example to all of us who are trying to postpone that tomorrow.

One of our regulars took up a petition to have the Y name the shallow pool after Audrey. Seemed like an easy thing to do. After all they had named Grace’s pool after a Y member. On April 1st, I spoke to Marjorie Cox, Volunteer Chair, Board of Managers at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA about the result of the petition. She said that they couldn’t accommodate the request and that the Y only named places after people who made sizeable contributions. But she promised to send a letter that would include alternative ways to honor Audrey. Maybe a mention in the Y’s newsletter or a poster in the lobby.

I was really disappointed. My mind went back to the summer camp at the Michigan Avenue Y. Even though my folks couldn’t pay for an extra week at the camp, they said that I could stay on. Just wash some dishes. In those days, the Y wasn’t all about the money.

The highlight of the memorial was a poem read by one of her daughters.If you believe that the shallow pool should be named for a woman who exemplified what the Y is all about, a healthy mind and a healthy body through the discipline of exercise, someone who was a friend to all, and if you are a member of the Berkeley YMCA please call and request that this be done.

Ishmael Reed’s latest book is “Going Too Far.” He is the publisher of Konch at ishmaelreedpub.net . 

Ishmael Reed is the author of The Complete Muhammad Ali.

Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Jennifer Loewenstein
Heading Toward a Collision: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Regional Proxy Wars
John Pilger
Wikileaks vs. the Empire: the Revolutionary Act of Telling the Truth
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria
Gary Leupp
A Useful Prep-Sheet on Syria for Media Propagandists
Jeffrey St. Clair
Pesticides, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Acceptable Death
Joshua Frank
The Need to Oppose All Foreign Intervention in Syria
Lawrence Ware – Paul Buhle
Insurrectional Black Power: CLR James on Race and Class
Oliver Tickell
Jeremy Corbyn’s Heroic Refusal to be a Nuclear Mass Murderer
Helen Yaffe
Che’s Economist: Remembering Jorge Risquet
Mark Hand
‘Rape Rooms’: How West Virginia Women Paid Off Coal Company Debts
Yves Engler
War Crimes in the Dark: Inside Canada’s Special Forces
Arno J. Mayer
Israel: the Wages of Hubris and Violence
W. T. Whitney
Cuban Government Describes Devastating Effects of U. S. Economic Blockade
Brian Cloughley
The US-NATO Alliance Destroyed Libya, Where Next?
Barry Lando
Syria: Obama’s Bay of Pigs?
Karl Grossman
The Politics of Lyme Disease
Andre Vltchek
Southeast Asia “Forgets” About Western Terror
Jose Martinez
American Violence: Umpqua is “Routine”?
Vijay Prashad
Russian Gambit, Syrian Dilemma
Sam Smith
Why the Democrats are in Such a Mess
Uri Avnery
Nasser and Me
Andrew Levine
The Saints March In: The Donald and the Pope
Arun Gupta
The Refugee Crisis in America
Michael Welton
Junior Partner of Empire: Why Canada’s Foreign Policy Isn’t What You Think
Lara Santoro
Terror as Method: a Journalist’s Search for Truth in Rwanda
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Elections and Verbal Vomit
Dan Glazebrook
Refugees Don’t Cause Fascism, Mr. Timmermann – You Do
Victor Grossman
Blood Moon Over Germany
Patrick Bond
Can World’s Worst Case of Inequality be Fixed by Pikettian Posturing?
Pete Dolack
Earning a Profit from Global Warming
B. R. Gowani
Was Gandhi Averse to Climax? A Psycho-Sexual Assessment of the Mahatma
Tom H. Hastings
Another Mass Murder
Anne Petermann
Activists Arrested at ArborGen GE Trees World Headquarters
Ben Debney
Zombies on a Runaway Train
Franklin Lamb
Confronting ‘Looting to Order’ and ‘Cultural Racketeering’ in Syria
Carl Finamore
Coming to San Francisco? Cra$h at My Pad
Ron Jacobs
Standing Naked: Bob Dylan and Jesus
Missy Comley Beattie
What Might Does To Right
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi Jayanti, Gandhi’s Dream
Raouf Halaby
A Week of Juxtapositions
Louis Proyect
Scenes from the Class Struggle in Iran
Christopher Washburn
Skeptik’s Lexicon
Charles R. Larson
Indonesia: Robbed, Raped, Abused
David Yearsley
Death Songs