Young and Immortal

It was August of 1982, and a bunch of us were hiking in the Golan Heights in the heat of summer. It was a long day with many adventures, this was the last.

The Golan is covered in minefields left by the Syrians before the Israelis captured it in the Six Day War in 1967. We had been warned, under no circumstances to leave the track marked with barbed wire. Every year a couple of people lost their lives to the mines.

We had just turned the last leg of the return trip down the Golan, when suddenly we hear loud wuh-wuh-whoom sounds above us. I knew immediately what it was, from a poem I studied in seventh grade. “Bullets smacking the belly out of the air.” We were being fired on. Ted Hughes and Mr. Davis saved my life.

Did I mention there was a war on?

I paused to try to decipher what was happening, jerked into action as one of the girls (when I look back, we were all children at nineteen and twenty) shouted at me “are you OK?” We sheltered behind rocks, fearful to stay where we were, fearful to move. We were trapped.

There were two different sounds of gunfire. One a faint crackle as if of fireworks. Very difficult to tell what direction it came from. The other a full throated clacking sound. They seemed to alternate.

Eventually I realized that the sounds were not of combat, but of target practice. Long bursts of fire, punctuated by longer bursts of silence. Only two guns. My fear that the war had come to us, that we were caught in a crossfire between the IDF and their enemies, whether Syrian or PLO, was unjustified.

My fear was now that we would lose our lives to an accident of war. A foot note, less than a foot note, a never to be remembered tragedy of errors.

I had seen as I paused that the firing was from an old Syrian emplacement that we had passed through hours before, on our way up. The trail led steeply down, until it was below it. I waited my moment, and when the riflemen paused to smoke a cigarette, charged down the hill screaming for them to hold their fire. Twenty seconds of running that encompassed my life.

After I reached the emplacement, the Israelis (kids our age waiting their turn at the War in Lebanon) sheepishly asked if we would like to take some shots with their M-16 and AK-47. We all declined. Any time before or after I would have jumped at the chance, but this was not that day. As it turned out, I was never to fire an assault rifle. My plans to emigrate permanently to Israel and serve my time in the IDF were up-ended when I fell in love with an American, and decamped to New York.

In later years I would dream of that time. The dream was always the same: that I had made a mistake in believing that there was no battle going on, and as the bullets hit me I knew I had killed not only myself but also my companions by revealing their position. My wife would wake me from these dreams, but I could not tell her their content until many years after they passed.

And after that, it fueled my passion against the NRA, when they tried to hold a fundraiser in my neighborhood in Brooklyn: Park Slope, the bastion of liberalism.

You Can Beat the NRA

They punch way above their weight. More than their direct contributions to politicians, they have a pool of committed single issue voters, and they are experts at turning them out. But the Marjory Stoneman Douglas kids are showing us the way.

In February Andy, a friend from the Rise and Resist activist group, sent around a flier that they had somehow found. The Brooklyn Friends of the NRA are having a fundraiser for the NRA. My email exploded. Everyone wanted to get them to cancel.

I buy tickets.

The effort to cancel was largely focused in Brooklyn, centered on the folks at Get Organized Brooklyn, the Coney Island Anti-Violence Collaborative, and Marjory Stoneham Douglas alumni. The restaurant for this shindig is Gargiulo’s, a Brooklyn institution – my son had his eight grade prom there, very swanky.

I stay out of the fight, sitting on my four tickets.

Last year when Trump was visiting New York for the first time as president and we were planning a response, a co-organizer Betsy proposed getting tickets to that event. Apparently this was a classic ACT-UP tactic, take the fight to the enemy’s safe space. Dress up in suits, first person stands up and starts a speech. When they get shuffled away by security, the next person stands up and picks up at the same spot.

Tickets to the Australian American Association dinner on the Intrepid were already sold out when we called. We did a great protest anyway in front of the Intrepid, in coalition with the Working Families Party and many others. And I filed away getting tickets.

Then we got word of a visit by Frank Gaffney to the Women’s National Republican Club. Anne took the lead organizing a group of infiltrators. They held up signs in turns in silent protest and refused to leave until NYPD was called in. They spoke truth to power.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt cancelled his speech at the Harvard Club when he heard we were there.

I started a new folder in Gmail to keep track of these “welcome” events. Intelligence is key, SIGINT research on the internet, HUMINT. We have the beginnings of a John le Carré novel.

And it’s the president again. Breakfast at Cipriani’s, a fundraiser. Got signs printed, organized with Jaime and the other members of the Rise and Resist actions committee.

And I wrote my first bot. After taking legal advice, I entered a lottery to get free expenses paid tickets to see Trump stump for cash. 50,000 times. My guess is that I failed a background check, no tix. We had a great protest anyway, joined by SEIU and the New York Nurses Association. Plenty of coverage.

So back to my NRA tickets. I got them in February. The event was not until April 12th. I had to give my real name for the credit card, I worry that they will discover me and cancel my tickets.

It turns out that our intelligence was better than their counterintelligence. The NRA emailed me that they have rescheduled for the Grand Prospect Hall, in blue-state/blue-borough/blue-neighborhood Park Slope, my home for 30 years. My ex went ballistic over dinner, how can they?

The Park Slope crowd went crazy when I let them know. Phone calls to the Grand Prospect, site of so many of our celebrations. Social media. The local PTA went on record that they will cancel the prom. City councilor Brad Lander went on cable news to condemn it. NY1, New York Post and New York Daily News cover it.

Within 21 hours of my posting, Grand Prospect Hall cancelled. The waiting game begins.

The NRA emailed ticket holders that the event is still on, but due to “press interest” they will not let us know the location until the day before. We continued to organize. Facebook event to recruit protesters. Fielding the press. Legal coverage in case we are arrested (unlikely, but the experienced among us advise it is possible). Claire of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas New York alumni and I talked, and it turns out we used to live in the same building. Tony of Gays Against Guns wrote the press release. The magnificent Elissa on graphics, Michael of MGX Copy on printing. Sandi on video for NowThis.

Jamie and I called every likely venue, no one ‘fesses up. Virginia and I prepare cover stories.

Eventually I broke down and called the local organizer the day before. He said the national organization will make an announcement by 5pm, sit tight.

And at 5:30, out came the NRA email. They have cancelled!

Shortly after I learned that they have also cancelled the event in Connecticut, near Sandy Hook.

So lessons learned. Local direct action works. It’s work, but it’s worth it. Act in coalition. Consensus is key.

We will likely never know exactly why the NRA folded. Maybe they saw the buzz on social media and realized that they faced a real drubbing in the press. Maybe if we had relied on word of mouth I would have had my 15 minutes of fame on NowThis.

But this was a solid win. The NRA can be beat.