Sunday, October 07, 2007

Susan Blake

In "Susan June Blake," Kimberly Wilder notes:

Updates: Info about upcoming memorial events.

Our dear friend Susan Blake passed away at 8pm on Tuesday, October 2, 2007. She was staying upstate at a friend’s house. When I called Monday, I spoke to Susan’s sister, Nancy Blake, who was there having dinner with her.

We will keep everyone updated on information about a memorial service. We have made a page for updates about events for Susan: here.

Susan Blake was the force behind PeaceSmiths, Inc. Susan was careful with words, and uncomfortable with titles. So, she always corrected me when I called her the director or leader of PeaceSmiths. I hope that her commitment will open the door to the whole PeaceSmiths community feeling empowered to keeping that work alive. Members of the PeaceSmiths board actually met with Susan on Monday, and they are planning on moving forward full steam ahead with their work for peace and justice.

The work of PeaceSmiths includes a hotline for activist events, a monthly forum, and the "PeaceSmiths monthly Topical A-Typical Folk Music, Poetry, and Whatever Coffeehouse", held in Amityville, at what songwriter Sonny Meadows dubbed "the last church on the left" in a song. (Susan loved that!) And, of course, the work of PeaceSmiths included Susan attending an impossible amount of demonstrations, cultural events, networking events, and workshops to support every good cause in the world.

Many of the causes Susan supported are listed on the fairly recent, bright, multi-colored PeaceSmiths banner that she hung at each coffeehouse. But, a smattering of causes Susan worked for would include: peace, anti-militarism, human rights, labor rights, the environment, anti-death penalty, ballot access (she included local politicians at candidate events, but also write-in candidates and third party candidates), immigration rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, holistic medicine, vegetarianism, independent media, intellectual freedom, and dignity and justice for all. The PeaceSmiths banner proclaims: "We're Pro Humanity"

Sounds like someone we would have considered it a pleasure to know. We applaud the efforts she made in her lifetime and we applaud Wilder's attempt to be sure that Susan Blake is remembered and her passing noted.

It's not an easy battle to fight. Whether it's the lack of coverage so many in independent media demonstrated when Grace Paley died or the fact that The New York Times didn't run one column on the passing of Coretta Scott King (a friend of then editor Gail Collins got a personal tribute written about them on the editorial page and also made the front page -- it's all about who you know) or anyone else, it's become obvious that even in death, women take a second seat to men in coverage.

In one of the rare obituaries on Blake in print (the only one?), Carl MacGowan's "Susan Blake, 54, Amityville singer, activist" (Newsday) provides an overview:

Susan Blake, a singer and activist considered by some the heart and soul of the Long Island peace and justice community, died Tuesday after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 54.

Blake, of Amityville, died at a friend's house in the Westchester County town of Goldens Bridge, said her sister, Nancy Jane Blake, of Peekskill.

On January 19, 2005, Susan Blake's mother, Betty Blake, died in her sleep and, we're told, Betty Blake's dedication was an inspiration to her daughters. We're sure Betty Blake inspired others as well and that Susan did so as well.

Her actions live on and those who knew her can attest to that. But that really shouldn't be the end of it. Susan Blake wasn't a drop-in and drop-out activist. In popular culture, we love the narrative of the awakening of an activist. And, by book or movie's end, the activist has generally solved (or at least addressed) the problem and returns to 'normal' life. Susan Blake's life was normal life. Activism was as much a part of her daily routine as brushing her teeth.

People like that do exist and in much larger numbers than many would guess. When her passing, or others like her, aren't told, aren't amplified, it's very easy to leave the impression that causes are something you pick up when times are really, really bad but nothing to build a life around. Oh sure, there are exceptions. For instance, if you're a lawyer. But leaving aside her musical talents and her own individual talents and traits, she didn't do anything that the rest of us couldn't have done without focus and drive.

But we don't tend to hear about these passings. If you're amassed a ton of wealth (especially if your heirs will squabble over it), you're pretty much guaranteed wall-to-wall coverage when you pass. But what about the people who enriched others with their life's work? Too often those stories aren't told.

A young teenager just awakening to the illegal war could see an example from Susan Blake's life. (Granted, we all could.) But maybe that's really the point behind the silence on these passings? Better not to enlighten the people on how much difference they could make, on how much can be given in a lifetime to make the world a better place?

Howard Zinn has many accomplishments but chief among them is rescuing history and restoring it to the people. Maybe it's time for someone to start a project entitled A People's Obituary Page where not only are War Criminals not given the kids glove treatments because they were heads of state or served in government, but neither are the rich; instead the focus would be on people who lived every day aware of the world around them and attempting to address it?

If and when that day comes, maybe we'll all grasp just how much power we really do have.
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