- « Jenn Meeropol, right, will take over from her father, Robert, left,
as director of the Rosenberg Fund for Children
after he retires in 2013 (...) »
- Photography © Gordons Daniels
« Robert Meeropol— son of Ethel & Julius Rosenberg, and founder and Executive Director of the Rosenberg Fund for Children— sends this message on behalf of the RFC to the Stop FBI Repression Conference, November 5, 2011. » http://www.youtube.com/user/wwwrfcorg
The privilege of directing the RFC has made the last 21 years the best of my life. The decades that preceded it were more difficult.
In the 1970’s my brother and I had been plaintiffs in a lawsuit and had fantasized that we’d use the money we expected to win to start a foundation named after our parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. By 1980 I realized this was wishful thinking, but I hadn’t given up on the idea. This was the main reason I went to law school in 1982. My goal was to become a "left-wing estate planner." Friends scoffed, and only my wife, Elli, knew that I aspired to apply the technical skills I would acquire to fulfill my dream.
-Law school led to a judicial clerkship, followed by a job at a corporate law firm. Although I was gaining knowledge that might help me realize my dream, by 1988, I was no closer to it.
By the time I met Pat in December 1988, I was ready for a change. Pat was a member of the "Ohio 7" who were about to go on trial in my hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts for "seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government by use of force." Pat, whose three daughters were 13, 11 & 9, faced 60 years in prison.
Pat’s co-defendants, Tom & Carol, also had three children. When Tom and Carol were arrested the Federal authorities seized the children, aged 11, 5 and 3, and held them incommunicado for weeks. During this time the oldest was repeatedly interrogated, sometimes for hours on end. Their parents were told that the children would not be released into the custody of relatives until the parents "cooperated" with the government. Hearing about the terror our government inflicted on these children gave me flashbacks of my childhood.
I was startled to learn that in the late 1980’s there were children in this country living nightmares similar to what I endured after my parents’ arrest. My dream had found its focus. I would leave law practice and start the Rosenberg Fund for Children to provide for the educational and emotional needs of these and other children of targeted activists in this country.
I learned that our country held over 100 political prisoners (Black Panthers, American Indian Movement members, Puerto Rican Nationalists, and others) and my initial survey indicated that they had at least 70 children among them. I also gathered stories of progressive activists nationwide who, while not in prison, had been fired, blacklisted, harassed, physically attacked and even killed because of the work they were doing. There were more than I expected, and I realized that with few exceptions, the progressive community was unaware of the grim situations such activists and their children faced.
The United States pays lip service to encouraging a politically involved citizenry, but those who fight racism, injustice, financial exploitation and environmental depredation often pay heavily for their service to society. Activist parents face even greater difficulty. These activists often must choose between waging their struggles and protecting their families. I realized that the RFC could help these families, and by connecting their children to a support network, also facilitate the development of progressive community. I wrote the following to gather backing for the RFC in late 1989 :
"Regardless of tactical and political differences we may have with these activist parents, their fate is the result of political action they took to transform our society into one that values all people equally, places people before profits and recognizes the ecological limits of growth. Their children are completely innocent. When their parents were taken from them, they became, as did my brother and I, the children of the movement. As such they deserve special support from all those engaged in progressive struggles.
We see in the United States … and elsewhere in the world that achieving political freedom and social and economic justice can take decades. Therefore, every movement must work at transmitting its values and goals to succeeding generations. My personal experience has taught me that an important way to foster these values is through alternative community facilities such as schools and summer camps. Yet many of these institutions are in difficult financial straits. A grant that enables a child of [targeted] activist parents to attend a summer camp will also benefit and help to perpetuate that institution. Finally, the children of [targeted] activist parents provide us with a unique opportunity to foster these values in those who will particularly benefit from an understanding of them. The movement is, in effect, making an investment in the next generation."
In September, 1990, I moved into an office and became the Executive Director of the RFC. I had raised start-up funds in the previous year. Several dozen donors had taken a leap of faith by pledging to contribute annually for four years to enable me to work at this project full-time. The RFC made its first awards on May 10th 1991. Two grants, each for $402.50, enabled two children of a political prisoner to attend a two-week session at a summer camp.
Meanwhile, my wife Elli and I, along with a small group that evolved into the RFC’s initial Board of Directors, were about to launch our Granting Fund. We organized a "Kick-off Benefit Concert." It seemed almost absurd to dub the $12,500 we raised an "endowment," but we were not deterred. When we made our first grant the RFC had fewer than 1,000 supporters, less than $20,000 in its Grant Fund Endowment, and only $50,000 in annual pledges stood between it and institutional extinction.
While we were in the midst of it, our progress felt painfully slow as we added new supporters each year, built the endowment (mostly with thousands of $25 checks), and reached out to new beneficiaries one family at a time. Looking back, the pace was breathtaking. In 2000, we awarded 100 grants totaling $190,000 to 180 beneficiaries and our granting fund endowment had grown to over a million dollars. Today our granting has ballooned to over $350,000 annually, our endowment has surpassed two million and we have over 10,000 supporters nationwide.
-We have also expanded the scope of our project dramatically. At first we only provided grants to the children of "targeted activists" who were under 18-years-old. In 1993, we inaugurated our "Carry it Forward" (CIF) award for young adults aged 18 to 22. These awards have paid for training that would help them prepare for adult life. In 1995, we initiated our Travel Grant program to enable the children of political prisoners to visit their imprisoned parents. In 1999, we initiated a new "Gathering" program with our first "Carry it Forward" weekend for 30 current and former beneficiaries. In 2000, we revised our guidelines to enable us to support targeted activist youth as well as the children of targeted activists and also started a one-time special youth travel award for beneficiaries between the ages of 18 and 24. In 2004, for the first time, we brought together activists and their children for a "Family Gathering."
In each of our first 17 years we increased the amount we awarded and the number who benefited annually, reaching a peak of $400,000 granted to almost 300 recipients in 2007. We trimmed our awards back to $350,000 in response to the crash of 2008, but managed to increase that number to $360,000 in 2010 and hope to award a total of $370,000 this year. We’ve now awarded more than $4,000,000 in our 20-year granting history.
We are now helping the children of Native-American activists ; those who struggled against the Navy’s occupation of Vieques ; anti-racists ; union organizers ; African, Haitian and Central American refugee activists ; targeted muslims, feminists and gay rights activists ; environmental activists ; prisoners’ rights advocates ; political prisoners ; peace activists and more. During this past decade we’ve burst beyond the confines of my original vision. We are not only increasing the amount and range of our grant-making, but we also had made transcending activist isolation an ongoing and integral part of our project. The core of the RFC’s work has been and remains to provide for the educational and emotional needs of the children of targeted activists. The children are the beneficiaries, but their parents’ activism generates eligibility for our support. This reflects a second aspect of the RFC project — to support activism.
-The "Kick-off Benefit Concert" in 1990 was the first of several major public events. Both the RFC and I passed major milestones in 2003. On June 19th 2003, the 50th anniversary of my parents’ execution, we produced our trademark dramatic program Celebrate the Children of Resistance before a packed house of 2600 in New York’s City Center Hall. Also on that date St. Martin’s Press published my political memoir, An Execution in the Family, which I wrote to tell the RFC’s story. These events raised our public profile. This new visibility, coupled with the wave of repression that commenced after 9/11/2001 and has not abated since, has led to a flood of new applications for our support.
As I turn from the past to focus on the present and future, I foresee an exciting but dangerous time for progressive activists. The RFC is already operating amidst surging activism and a responsive wave of repression. Four years of terrible economic conditions and the ever-widening gap between the super rich and the rest of us have provoked hundreds of thousands of young Americans into action. As reported in The Nuclear Resister, arrests at protests are increasing each year. In 2009, the year Obama took office, only 665 people were arrested. In 2010 that number increased to 1290. So far in 2011 that number has surged to almost 3000 !
In post 9/11 America harsh prison sentences are complemented by rubber bullets, stun guns, free speech zones, corrals, jailing defense lawyers, muzzling academics, racial profiling, detention without trial and politically motivated deportations. We know the risks anyone who stands against the right wing agenda face. I want everyone who reads this to know how much our grants mean to the families we support. Activist adults and even their older children have told me, that important as our financial help is, the knowledge that the RFC community of thousands stands behind them is both a comfort and inspiration.
The RFC, with its support for a broad spectrum of activism, will be a resource for all current progressive movements as well as the new ones that are now arising. The demand for our aid may continue to escalate dramatically, but we believe that our programs will grow with the need. And we are confident that with the backing of our community, the Rosenberg Fund for Children will continue to make a powerful and unique contribution to building the more just and humane society these and other progressive movements are working to achieve.
During the last twenty years the RFC has been transformed from a dream into a viable project. The resistance of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as well as the nurturing of Abel and Anne Meeropol gave birth to the Rosenberg Fund for Children. The RFC is not about the Rosenberg Case, but it is part of its legacy. In doing this wonderful work I’ve learned some valuable lessons. Perhaps the most powerful lesson I’ve learned is that resistance is inspirational. My parents’ resistance through their refusal to repeat the lies the government demanded they put in their mouths and through their letters inspired a movement. That movement, in turn, inspired a community of support that protected and sustained my brother and me.
My parents were executed but the inspiration sustained by that community survived them. My parents wrote in the final letter to my brother and me : " we were comforted in the sure knowledge that others would carry on after us. "
The Rosenberg Fund for Children is my effort to justify that trust. I’ve made it my life’s work to build an institution to help the current and future generations of progressive activists and their children, so that even if it takes generations to transform our society into one that is more equitable and just, the RFC will be there to help them. Just as others have carried on after my parents, the RFC works to insure by aiding children and community building that others will carry on after us as well.
Logos are excerpted from the site © RFC (notoriously Ethel and Julius Rosenberg by Fernand Léger)
- « Michael, left, and Robert Meeropol rehearsing in 2003 for a commemoration of the execution in 1953 of their parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, for passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. »
- © James Estrin/The New York Times
Source The New York Times