Mark Rudd has a parrot named Sheldon Adelson.
Mark Rudd burst into national headlines in 1968, when, as a junior at Columbia University, he led a student revolt which took over five campus buildings for several days. As president of the Columbia Chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), he was the spokesman the media focused on–his face became the face of the skirmish. Not long afterward, the SDS spawned the more violent anarchist group, the Weathermen, with Mark as a member of the inner circle.
The Weather Underground (2002), a documentary about the Weathermen, includes many clips of Mark in action nominated for an Academy Award. (And is available from Netflix)
Mark’s book, Underground, My Life with SDS and the Weathermen, was published in 2009 under the William Morrow imprint.
At 7 a.m., Wednesday, June 8, 2011, I met with Mark Rudd at the charming adobe home he built decades ago in Southwest Albuquerque. He expressed some fascination for my travels, my thirst for meeting people and learning what they think about our times. I suppose this was his motivation to spend three hours with a perfect stranger. Whatever, his generosity was my good fortune.
We got into his pickup, and he called for Nicky, his dog. Nicky had a face so sweet he could pass for the stuffed animal on your girlfriend’s pillow.
Mark slapped the door panel several times, the signal for Nicky to jump in back.
He banged again when she was slow to leap.
“She has arthritis,“ he said.
We drove to a walking path in Albuquerque’s Bosque, the wooded area on the banks of the Rio Grande. Nicky ran loose, swam in the river, and let his Inner Puppy out to play, while Mark and I spent our first hour talking of his life. His stories were punctuated with gestures toward our surroundings.
“There, in the low land at the edge of the river. Those are geese and their goslings. I’ve been watching them since they were chicks.”
“Here is a spot where a woman was raped and killed by an interloper. They got the guy, he confessed. Or they got him to confess.”
I slipped into interview mode with a soft question about how his book was doing. And pricked deeper with questions about the old days; lightened up with questions about his children; bored into topics about activism–then and now; and advice for young activists. I asked about his abrupt shift from violence to repudiating violence. I got him to talk about Che Guevara, his personal icon, and what turned him from away from him. And more. The substance of my conversations will wait for tomorrow’s blog. Today I want to introduce you to Mark.
We walked for 30 minutes up to a gate, which Mark reached out and touched–his designated half-way point—and, wordlessly, he reversed direction.
Back at his house we sat in his cool patio under the shade of a mulberry tree so grand it deserves Longfellow to immortalize it. Shade is the scarcest commodity in all of Albuquerque, and it tasted better to me than the melon, fresh mulberries (both black and white), and strawberries that were put before me with a dollop of yogurt and handful of granola.
Two more hours went by before Mark begged me to leave him to his day’s work. I slipped in one more question.
“Why name your parrot Sheldon Adelson?”
“I don’t much care for the other Sheldon Adelson. He is the fifth wealthiest American with a net worth of 23.6 billion dollars. He supports rightwing-politicians in the U.S. and Israel. I thought there ought to be a Sheldon Adelson in the world that I liked. “
He’d given me a copy of Underground and, as I was leaving, I handed him the book and asked for an inscription.
He wrote: “Good luck in your travels and your writing.” Mark.
What a perceptive man, eh? He picked up the only two things in my life that require luck.
*Sheldon Adelson has donated over $80,000,000.00 to charity since 2005. A June 2008 New Yorker article details several controversies involving him. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheldon_Adelson)