Audrey Goodfriend was an anarchist her entire life. Born to anarchist immigrants in New York, Audrey grew up speaking Yiddish at home and lived in the Sholem Aleichem House; a radical cooperative housing project in the Bronx. She was a girl when Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in Boston in 1927 and their letters were instrumental in shaping her anarchism, continuing to move her throughout her life.
As an adolescent and young adult, Audrey sent care packages to anarchist comrades fighting in Spain, read Living My Life against the express wishes of her parents who felt it was too sexually explicit, and traveled to Toronto with a friend to have tea with Emma Goldman. During World War II, she was part of the Why? Group, a publishing collective that printed an anti-war anarchist periodical at a time when many radicals were choosing to support the state in what they saw as a just war against fascism. Anti-zionist since before there ever was a state of Israel, Audrey and her comrades believed strongly that no state violence was ever justified.
In 1946, after the war, she went on a speaking tour with her partner David Koven and some friends from their circle to raise money for the anti-draft movement. They ended up in San Francisco and decided to stay. They knew Paul Goodman and Kenneth Rexroth and were part of a generation of anarchists who laid the groundwork for the cultural movements that defined San Francisco in the fifties and sixties. Audrey told me once that she was too busy raising children to pay much attention to the beat generation, but followed this by saying she had attended the event where Ginsberg read Howl for the first time. Raising her two daughters directed Audrey’s interests toward anarchist education and the Modern School movement, leading her to help found the Walden School in Berkeley in 1958.
She worked as a teacher at Walden until the early seventies and was the bookkeeper at her friend Moe Moskowitz’s Berkeley bookstore for many years after. In her fifties, she had hip surgery, separated from her partner David, and began swimming at the YMCA every day. At sixty, she started acting with Stagebridge, the country’s oldest senior theater company, and continued to perform with them for over twenty-five years. She was still taking an improv class there this fall and spoke about the power and importance it had for her.
I met Audrey seven and a half years ago when I began attending the Anarchist Study Group at the Long Haul in Berkeley. Thirty to seventy years older than the rest of us, she spoke her mind freely and did not allow others to put her on a pedestal. When many of her peers had lost touch with younger anarchists, Audrey was one of us: engaging with us every week and reading more obscure theory than she ever wanted to.
Audrey always said she did not celebrate holidays; they were too tied up with god and the state for her taste. She did, however, love to celebrate birthdays and New Year’s Day because they were about people and life and making it through another year. I biked over to Audrey’s house a few weeks ago. She showed me some of her books and we talked about her life a lot. She did not seem to romanticize or regret any of it; she spoke of her own death without fear and was able to laugh, listen and be present with me as I spoke about myself. A week and a half later she went to the theater, came home raving about it, went to sleep, and passed away. She never stopped being an active part of our lives until she stopped altogether.
And she never voted and she never married and she never believed in the authority of god or country; and she was happy and present, well loved and a joy to know.
This was written for and published in Slingshot!‘s Spring 2012 issue.