Remembering Sam Feld and Mayer Shevin

From the October 2014 PNL #838

by SPC staff and friends

The Peace Council community lost two long-time activists last month. Here we devote some space to their memories. See more reflections at www.peacecouncil.net/pnl.

The age of my parents, Sam represented the generation of activists who preceded me.  Since my earliest days as a teenage activist, I have always been moved and motivated by those who were significantly older than me, but who were still out there on the street, making their presence felt and their voices heard.  Since I am now of the elder activist generation, Sam was really the only one left who was enough older than me to take that role!  I would notice with amazement that he had walked up the stairs to the office to lend a hand with a mailing, or that he had come out to yet another demonstration.  In my head I would say to myself “I almost didn’t come today because I’m tired (or too busy, or on the edge of giving up)—what’s my problem?  If Sam can come out, I can too.” 


Sam Feld. Photo: Andy Mager

Sam was with us this summer as we stood against the attacks on Gaza.  Actually, Sam never just “stood.”  He chatted, he discussed, he joked.  I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that he knew from experience how important it was to keep spirits up on the picket line during a strike.  Sam was a comrade who inspired not only by his words and actions, but also by his longevity in the struggle. I hope that I can at least in part, fulfill the role he played for me, for those who have come after me.  Thank you so very much Sam, for staying with us as long as you did.
-Carole Resnick


Mayer Shevin. Photo: Diane Lansing

Years ago I worked on an oral history project interviewing local activists. I spent some time with Sam at his and Jane’s home on Allen Street. Now, Sam’s all-too-short Syracuse.com obituary tells us he flew 35 missions over Europe during World War II, garnering warrior medals. These included the Distinguished Flying Cross and even one bestowed years later by Russia’s then-president, Boris Yeltsin. But that afternoon in Sam and Jane’s living room it was clear that the recognition Sam was most proud of was embodied in his thick, heavily redacted FBI dossier acquired through the Freedom of Information Act.

Like the late peoples’ historian Howard Zinn and like Nick Cardell, the late May Memorial minister, Sam’s anti-war convictions stemmed from knowing all too well the obscenity of war, especially the obscene terrorism of air war. Men like Howard, Nick and Sam spent their post-war years, not reveling in their thoroughly courageous exploits, but helping to make this world one where such war was no longer an option.
-Ed Kinane

Twenty-three years have passed since I first met Mayer. I am lucky he was in my life for so long.  We were in each other’s lives as friends, chosen family, coworkers, and collaborators. I learned so much from Mayer, as he worked tirelessly to advocate for and with people with disabilities.  Even when Mayer used written or typed words to speak for himself, he had the mission of teaching his care staff about communication access for nonspeakers. Never giving up… Mayer’s advocacy was about voice.

In many ways, Mayer used his own words as a voice for people with speaking disabilities: His famous poem “The Language of Us and Them” epitomizes this. He wrote, edited, and helped publish newsletters (Talking Politics and the Facilitated Communication Digest) centered on the rights of nonspeech communicators. 

In other ways, Mayer worked to make the voices of nonspeech communicators audible. He created public forums for them to communicate, online (Facilitated Communication, or FC, World) and at conferences (e.g., assisting nonspeech communicators give public speeches across the world, creating seminars where only nonspeech communicators were allowed to ‘talk.’)

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, Mayer worked to create voice with nonspeech communicators.  Being friends, sharing meals, visiting, going on trips together, and, of course, having conversations with nonspeech communicators, Mayer created a relationship voice for people who rarely get the chance to participate in ordinary friendships.

May all your work on voice continue to be seen, heard and respected, Mayer. We all learned so much from you!
-Annegret Schubert

Night has come, my wee one…
…If you listen, quiet and still,
You can hear the stars whisper your name…

(from a round by Mayer)

Mayer—a poet, cultural worker, facilitator of communication, father, ally and friend—will be remembered fondly in these roles, in various circles of community.  His loved ones will miss his unique way of being in the present with people, in life. Mayer was a healer of human connections, a wise Jewish elder, and a proud “geezer” in the tradition of Wicca. He integrated all these roles in the uniqueness of Mayer, and gave all who knew him the encouragement to be themselves as well.
-Peter E. Swords

 

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