Mendel Letters 17: How Mendel Became a Political Activist

Ou Hongyi’s climate protest in Guilin, China.

Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.

February 9, 2021

Dear Mendel,

I was reading about an 18-year old young woman who conducts lonely climate change vigils in China and has really aggravated her parents who wish she would stop. It reminded me of our protest history together.

When I started college and going to anti-Vietnam War protests, you warned me, if I got arrested, I shouldn’t call you. You wouldn’t bail me out. I’ve always felt you opposition to protest was rooted in fear of drawing attention to yourself and was a response to what happened to Jews in Germany and to leftists in the United States during the post-World War 2 McCarthy Red Scare.

Well, in December 1967, I was arrested. They wouldn’t release me on my own recognizance because I was under 18 and charged as a youthful offender, so I called Mother who came. You wanted me to keep it hush-hush, but that didn’t work because the arrest made the college newspaper including a picture of me being dragged away by my coat collar.

That was 1967. By 1970 you were marching with me in anti-war protests. You were my best recruit to political activism. After you moved to Co-Op City in the Bronx, you helped organize a rent strike of tens of thousands of people because of faulty building construction.

I know if you were here today we would be two alta cockers marching together demanding action against climate change, opposing gun violence, and challenging racism and rightwing anti-democratic threats to the United States. Maybe my grandkids could help us keep up.

Your son