Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

My Beloved Revolutionary Sweet-and-Sour Heart

When Annalee took Thom Gunn's poetry-writing seminary in the spring of 1988, she became friends with three classmates who ended up playing a key role in my life: Priscilla Lee, who ended up introducing me to Kim in 1989; Josh Weiner, who was my first alternative-music friend in the States and who then became my housemate in August, 1991 and, later on, cpratt's and Mark Bingham's; and Leanne Miller, who turned out to be my closest friend, male or female, during my last two years of undergraduate and my first few years of graduate schoo and who introduced me to Josh Gold, who became my housemate in August, 1989 and was one of the "best men" at my wedding in October, 1996. Aside from my own positive experiences in Gunn's seminar in the spring of 1990, the fact that his course was ground-zero for the rest of my life left me pleasantly disposed towards him despite the fact that he was not pleasant to Kim.

During the summer of 1988, when I was at home in Maryland feeling miserable while Annalee was having two new relationships, she and Leanne spent a good deal of time together. Upon my return in August, Leanne was there when I came over to Annalee's place to pick up my things and have a final goodbye and, to my surprise, subsequently ended up spending the night. Throughout the fall, Annalee and I started to spend more and more of our time with Leanne's circle of acquaintances and Josh Gold's, which overlapped to a large extent. Most of the people in them were "political" in various ways: organizing demonstrations, putting out radical publications, promoting the Bay Area's leftist alternative culture. Leanne was actively involved in a student organization called SAICA -- Students Against Intervention in Central America -- and encouraged Annalee to start coming to meetings with her.

Although non-plussed at first, Annalee began to participate in SAICA and brought me along with her. I was secretly glad to have a window on a side of UC Berkeley campus life that I had romanticized since arriving on the campus. I'm sure there's a right-wing pundit out there -- Max Boot, for example, was a Berkeley undergrad at the same time I was -- who will claim that SAICA was a front organization, funded by nefarious Cold War Communists. As far as I could tell, though, it was just a bunch of idealistic students sitting around doing "work" 25% of the time and having fun during the rest.

It was in SAICA meetings, for example, that I first encountered the term "political correctness." A couple years before the term was everywhere in the mainstream media, a bunch of twenty-something progressives were sitting around making fun of each other. Whenever someone would get too focused, too earnest, we'd accuse them of being "excessively P.C." I now realize that the term was put to similar use all the way back in the 1970s, having been imported from the China of the Cultural Revolution, where it was presumably not deployed ironically, at least not on the surface. By the time Dinesh D'Souza and company were complaining about leftists in the academy enforcing "political correctness," I was so familiar with the term as a form of self-critique on the Left that I, like many others, failed to take their Kulturkampf seriously enough.

The high point of my involvement with SAICA was the work I did helping to prepare for a visit by left-wing student leaders from El Salvador. Frustrated that nobody in our group seemed particularly interested in getting things done, I volunteered to make a design for an armband to commemorate the event, even though I hadn't had any experience in that sort of endeavor, and to have Hunza Graphics turn it into a silkscreen. Later, after all that was accomplished, we had a silkscreening party to make the armbands themselves. While the finished product was pretty amateurish, it makes me happy to contemplate my brief tenure as one of the engagé:

Were I to be nominated for an important government post, this armband might be retroactively transformed into a political noose. Certainly, similar evidence has been used against leftists throughout American history. But I'm not too worried. If David Horowitz can turn his coat inside out, so can I!

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