Hard Times are Fighting Times

Alice Proujansky

2018 - Ongoing

New York City, New York, United States; Massachusetts, United States

My parents fell in love while planning a 60,000-person demonstration in 1976. Their friends joked that it would never last––my mom was a Marxist, my dad an Anarcho-Communist–but they’ve been married for 40 years. The story of their activism is the story of me.

My project describes the legacy of their participation in radical leftist groups like Weatherman, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee and the Native American Solidarity Committee, seeking to overthrow imperialism through organizing and revolution.

In this time of renewed social uprising we look to earlier movements for insight. What does this history mean now? What is to be done? This project is a universal narrative of familial reckoning and an unusual story about the pressures, hypocrisy and hope of a radical upbringing.

These photographs of my parents’ archive, snapshots and lives depict activism and family life from an intimate distance. They explain a cultural history and what it meant to grow up inside it.

Activism was all around me growing up: war tax resisters, Take Back the Night rallies, anti-nuke marches, anti-Apartheid bumper stickers. I wasn’t allowed a Barbie; my brother was. Peaches and Cream: peach chiffon skirt; sparkly iridescent top; big, sexist breasts.

Our family unit was its own political movement, culture and belief system. “Each according to their need; each according to their ability,” my mom wrote beautifully and taped above our door. Adapted to be non-sexist, Marx’s words were even applied to family arguments.

My parents’ way left no room for anything else. Their utopian dreams of Marxist-Leninism, feminist rigor and fairness are compelling but intensely rigid.

I needed to figure out how to be my own person and my own activist, taking what I’ve learned but introducing flexibility. It’s the challenge we all face: raising the next generation according to our beliefs, but leaving room for them to form their own.

Raised to be vigilant and emotionally astute, I became a photographer. Here I put this watching to use: commenting on my upbringing, I replicate the beauty in my family and dispose of what I do not need.

50 years after the founding of Weatherman, my father is proud of his history, but not uncritical: “I believe that my work then was important and helped to save lives. But my tactics were, at best, arrogant, and at worst, very destructive.” This past moves me even as it feels oppressive. How could anyone live up to these expectations? Do I want to? Which parts will I keep, and what will I discard?

This heritage is critical now, as the working lives of this complicated generation come to a close amidst massive societal upheaval. My parents have navigated hard times before. What did their actions mean for society and for me? What can we learn from them?

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  • My mom holds my 5-year-old daughter as my dad helps my 8-year-old son in Leverett, MA in 2019.

  • My dad roasts a pig in preparation for his 40th wedding anniversary at his home in 2018. My parents fell in love while planning a 1976 counter-bicentennial protest that drew an estimated 60,000 people to Philadelphia.

  • My father's mug shots taken when he was arrested for mob action during the 1968 Days of Rage in Chicago.

  • A flyer from my parents' archive urging activists not to cooperate with FBI investigations.

  • I photograph my dad as he works at home in Leverett, MA in 2018.

  • A 1975 poster for International Women's Day photographed by me. My dad wrote the text on the left.

  • Mugshots and surveillance images in a 1975 congressional report on the Weather Underground. My dad was a member of Weatherman but did not live underground with the organization's leadership. Ron Fliegelman (pictured) is a close family friend who has been accused of making bombs used by the organization.

  • My dad at home in Leverett, MA in 2018.

  • My mother looks at me in a photograph taken by my father, rephotographed by me.

  • My daughter, sister, dad, mom and son celebrate my daughter's third birthday at my apartment in Brooklyn, NY in 2018.

  • My father's FBI file in a box marked with his handwriting. He was under surveillance for seven years because of his participation in radical leftist group Weatherman.

  • My dad working as a computer programmer for a health insurance company in 2018. He taught himself computer networking to support his family, but the job doesn't align with his political values.

  • Buttons from movements my parents have participated in and supported: U.S. out of Central America, Native American treaty rights, Puerto Rican independence and others.

  • A photograph my dad took of me and my mom in 1979, rephotographed by me.

  • My mother directs my daughter at my parents' home in Leverett, MA in 2019.

  • A poster celebrating the outcome of the Vietnam War, screenprinted by my mother.

  • I hold a photograph of myself taken by family friend Anna Morrison in 1981.

  • A childhood photograph of me taken by my mother, rephotographed by me.

  • My baby book, with a dedication to the family of an American Indian Movement member who were killed in a suspicious fire.

  • My parents celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary with friends at their home in 2018. My mom's friends teased her when she started dating my dad because she was a Marxist but he was an Anarchist/Communist, saying it would never last.