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News :: Human Rights : Organizing : Politics : Race : Social Welfare : War and Militarism
Memorial Planned for Local Activist Eric Weinberger
06 Jan 2007
Boston, Mass--Eric Weinberger, a lifelong activist and organizer in the civil rights, anti–nuclear, and anti–war movements, died on December 15, 2006. Eric was best known in Boston for his work with Food Not Bombs, an organization which provides free food to the hungry year–round in public parks.

Eric will be remembered by many people for many things, but throughout it all he carried himself with dignity and an extreme humbleness. He devoted his entire life to working for justice, easing the hardships of others, and serving as a mentor and inspiration to many younger activists.
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Weinberger was born February 19, 1932 in New York City to Andrew and Sylvia Weinberger. As a teenager he performed as a magician at birthday parties, sometimes assisted by his younger brother. He began studying at the University of Chicago immediately after tenth grade, at the age of fifteen. A quiet, reserved youth, he had a difficult time adjusting socially among his fellow students, many of whom were several years older and had just returned from fighting in World War II. He found the academic world suffocating, and after a year and a half, he dropped out. He traveled the country, hitchhiking and riding trains, and worked in a carnival for the next few years, until he began studying at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. In this progressive scholarly environment, he finally felt at home, and concentrated on poetry, theater, and writing.

Eric became involved with the civil rights movement after his introduction to the New England Committee for Nonviolent Action, in Connecticut, where he first began his lifelong commitment to nonviolent action as a means to achieve social change. In 1962, Weinberger was instrumental in founding the Haywood Handicrafters’ League, an economic empowerment project for displaced African American women in Brownsville, TN. Eric’s presence was not welcomed by local law enforcement, and he suffered several brutal beatings in the local jail. In 1963, Eric and nine other activists from the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) set out to complete the route of postal worker Bill Moore, who was murdered while walking from Chattanooga, TN to Jackson, MS to deliver a letter to the governor pleading for an end to segregation. Eric and the other Freedom Walkers were arrested after crossing the Alabama border for “conduct likely to provoke a riot.” Eric refused to eat during the entire duration of his time in prison, which amounted to thirty–two days, during which time he lost forty–five pounds. Only twelve days after being released and beginning to eat, Eric was arrested again at a sit–in at an Atlanta restaurant, only to fast again while waiting to be released.

He was asked to give trainings in nonviolent civil disobedience to people in the town where he’d been working with the Haywood Handicrafters, and became the target of increasing police repression, culminating in an arrest in which he was beaten and burned with chemicals, and displayed in the cell to groups of children. Weinberger was the victim of at least one bombing attempt during his time in the south, and he felt that if he had been a more effective organizer, he would certainly have been killed, like his friends Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, who were murdered in Oxford, MS, in June 1964. During that summer, Eric was an actor with the traveling Free Southern Theater, founded by John O’Neal and Gil Moses. He made his exit from participation in the southern civil rights movement with Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, at a time when black leaders were stressing the necessity that the movement be black–led, and not a summer project for white northern college students.

Never one to stand still for long, Weinberger returned north and jumped into anti–Vietnam war activism. Playing a critical, but low–profile, role in organizing many marches and other events in New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC, he later described himself as a “stage manager of the anti–war movement.” Of course his arrest record continued to grow longer as a result of his activism, including sitting–in at the entrance to the military induction center at Whitehall Street in New York City.

Eric was married to fellow civil rights activist Elaine Makowski in 1963, and their son, Jeffrey, was born in 1970. Eric and Elaine divorced in the early '80s, and Jeffrey lived with each of them by turns--first with Eric, and later with Elaine. Jeffrey died suddenly at the age of 21, and the tragedy of his son's death affected Eric for the rest of his life.

Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s Eric worked as an accountant to support his family, becoming a self-educated expert in tax law. He remained active in both anti–war and anti–nuclear activism during this period, including resistance to the construction of a reactor at Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in NH. In the late 1980s, feeling burned out from his professional work, he retired to return to full–time activism.

Living in Boston, Eric became involved with the Free Theater Collective, which collaborated with the founding chapter of Food Not Bombs, which began as a group to feed protesters at Seabrook and elsewhere. Food Not Bombs then evolved into a project to distribute free vegetarian meals made from surplus produce that would otherwise be wasted, to the homeless population and anyone else who happened upon the regular servings in public parks. Food Not Bombs became a major part of Eric’s life. For the eighteen years that he was involved, he was the person who could always be counted upon to make sure the meals happened; and in a project whose chapters worldwide are composed largely of young people, Eric, with his big white beard, always stood out in the crowd.

He never allowed himself to idealize a particular era in the past, but continued to play a role in developing movements for justice. In the ‘90s, he participated in demonstrations by the groups ACT UP and Housing Now at President George H.W. Bush’s compound in Kennebunkport, ME, and every autumn he attended the National Day of Mourning, in Plymouth, MA, organized by the United American Indians of New England. In 2000, Eric took part in protests against the economic colonialism of the IMF/World Bank, in Washington, DC. The same year, he was involved with Biodevastation, the first ever mobilization called to counter the proponents of genetic engineering at the annual convention of the Biotechnology Industries Organization in Boston.

Eric will be remembered by many people for many things, but throughout it all he carried himself with dignity and an extreme humbleness. He devoted his entire life to working for justice, easing the hardships of others, and serving as a mentor and inspiration to many younger activists.

In the last few years of his life, Eric experienced the gradual degenerative effects of Alzheimer’s disease, and was cared for at home by younger friends who had met him through his activist work. He was aware of the disease taking effect, which was difficult for him, but he held on to his sense of humor for as long as he could, sometimes laughing at the absurd statements that would come out unexpectedly as his broad vocabulary started to arrange itself in inexplicable ways. He didn’t move into a nursing home until his final days, when he was sleeping nearly twenty–four hours a day, and he passed away in his sleep on Friday, December 15, 2006, at the age of seventy–four, with a friend by his side.

Eric is survived by his brothers, Michael and Tony Weinberger, both of whom live in Vermont, and by many friends and admirers. There will be a non–denominational memorial service at 1:00 pm on Saturday, February 10, 2007, at the Community Church of Boston, 565 Boylston St. Everyone is welcome.
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See also:
http://www.friendsoferic.blogspot.com

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Comments

Thanks for helping us remember Eric
04 Jan 2007
Thanks so much for this amazing article!!!! Also, if anyone has any photos of Eric that are not already on the Friends of Eric web site (http://www.friendsoferic.blogspot.com), please post them here so that they may be included in a presentation at his memorial service. Thanks so much.
Radio Interview about Eric Weinberger
14 Jan 2007
Your browser does not support embedded sound files. <a href="http://boston.indymedia.org/usermedia/audio/10/eric-on-rustbelt.mp3">Download the file.</a>
Here is a radio interview about Eric Weinberger reflecting on his life.
See also:
http://www.pittsburgh.indymedia.org