The Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers were the Weatherman before there was Weatherman. They were the Yippies without the media bullshit. They were the Black Panthers without the discipline or the uniforms. They were the Diggers with a New York City edge and guns. They were crazy street kids who needed other like themselves to run with in the streets of New York City’s Lower East Side. They were political activists who believed in the propaganda of the deed. Osha Neumann, who called himself Tom at the time and whose stepfather during his preteen and teen years was the so-called Father of the New Left Herbert Marcuse, joined the gang early in its inception.
The times he spent with them are what he chronicles in his recently published book Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers: A Memoir of the 60s, With Notes for Next Time. The tale told therein is open to criticism for the occasional pointlessness of the acts described. Yet it is a criticism that usually can occur only via retrospect. Neumann tells a story of street living, street politics, fights with biker gangs and police, and an ever-increasing sense of impending apocalypse. Indeed, it was this sense of apocalypse that fed many individuals involved in the antiwar movement and the counterculture and it can easily be argued that it was that same sense that seeded the birth of Weatherman and the myriad of other revolutionary and radical groups that turned to armed struggle as the 1960s became the 1970s.
Neumann’s narrative takes the reader to St. Mark’s Place and the seedy apartments the Motherfuckers lived in and it follows them to New Mexico and the end of the group. Along the way, one is presented with an overview of the demons Neumann himself was fighting and a discussion of the meaning of revolution in what was then called the post-scarcity society. It’s clear that white-skinned revolutionaries in the United States and Europe were fighting the alienating aspects of the capitalist culture in which they were born and bred while many in the third world were struggling to achieve a material stability they never knew.
Neumann’s chronicle of his Motherfucker days ends perhaps three quarters of the way through the book. The remainder is consumed with a fascinating and needed argument for a universal understanding of certain truths and the inability of either global capitalism, religion, or science to provide that understanding. In fact, no part of this triad can even provide those truths, at least not as they are currently understood. Science and capitalism without values is nothing short of brutal. Religion without understanding becomes the opposite of sacred. As Neumann writes quite eloquently: “We are urged to veil our women and our minds.”
Mickey Z. is one of today’s writers/bloggers that are the internet equivalent to the Motherfuckers. Irreverent and iconoclastic, Z’s newest missive keeps the arrows of anger and daggers of distrust pointed at the heart of why we find ourselves constantly at the abyss. Titled No Innocent Bystanders, Mickey takes on the government of the United States with the same venom he uses against an antiwar movement whose leadership suckles at the teat of the Democratic Party’s cash cow. There is a sense of occasional hopelessness that things will never change, yet the fact the writer continues to write proves otherwise. His barbs are essential if a movement is to be honest.
Like the Motherfuckers, his effectiveness is most likely limited by a refusal to compromise. Also, like the Motherfuckers, the things he says need to be said even if they do piss off folks and institutions many believe should be beyond reproach–at least this kind of reproach. The points made by Mickey Z. are points that need to be made and when an arrow is pointed in my direction, I prefer that the bow be held by a friend. The Motherfuckers were friends. So is Mickey Z. Those who fail to understand this are those who should read Mr. Z. Read what he has to say, even if it raises your ire. That’s the point.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: email@example.com