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Frances Goldin brilliantly combined serve-the-people tactics with visionary, transformative organizing. She believed in the radical notion that oppressed people need immediate services but also are capable of identifying, and must be the architects of, solutions that address the root causes of their problems. She was a founder of both the Cooper Square Committee and the Met Council on Housing.
While it didn’t save the Lower East Side from gentrification, the Cooper Square Committee stopped Robert Moses’s slum clearance plan for the Lower East Side and Chinatown in the late 1950s. It created a model based on grassroots organizing that took bold direct action, nurtured deep organizing relationships that built community, and enacted concrete solutions. This visionary work resulted in the formation of the Cooper Square Community Land Trust and Mutual Housing Association, and unusually large and unusually democratic community-controlled housing development. Cooper Square preserved hundreds of units of deeply affordable housing, modeled the possibility of a scattered-site limited-equity housing cooperative, and inspired the emergence of the community land trust movement in New York City and beyond.
In 1950, Frances ran unsuccessfully for the New York State Senate as the candidate of the American Labor Party, on the same ticket as W.E.B. Du Bois, who ran for United States senator.
In 1977, she founded the Frances Goldin Literary Agency, which represented radical authors, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Adrienne Rice, Robert Meeropol, and Barbara Kingsolver, Susan Brownmiller, Martin Duberman, Juan Gonzalez, Robert Meeropol, and Frances Fox Piven among many others. Frances made sure that these writers, and through their works, these radical ideas, found an audience.
Organizers nurture relationships that transmit knowledge, ideology, and tactics. When these relationships are nurtured across generations, our movement institutions grow stronger and radical change becomes more possible.
The memories that I have of Frances are among my most precious but are just a tiny, tiny lens through which we can witness some of that intergenerational nurturing.