January 9 2019
Naomi Jaffe was interviewed by Anna Robinson-Sweet at Jaffe’s home in Troy, New York on January 9, 2019. Jaffe is an alumni of The New School and lifelong activist. The interview begins with a discussion of Jaffe’s early life. She describes being raised in a community of leftist Jewish chicken farmers in Sullivan County, New York, during the 1940s and 1950s. Jaffe goes on to recount her time as an undergraduate at Brandeis University in the early 1960s, where she studied politics. She speaks about her disappointment with the faculty at the university, who she described as being “pro-Vietnam liberals.” The exception was Herbert Marcuse, under whom Jaffe studied. She recounts some moments of activism during her time at Brandeis, such as a trip to Washington, D.C. to protest the United States’ involvement in Cuba. After graduating from Brandeis, Jaffe worked for a year doing community organizing in Syracuse, New York, while applying to PhD programs in sociology. She speaks briefly about this experience. The majority of the interview is dedicated to a discussion of Jaffe’s involvement in student activism during the years she was a graduate student in sociology at The New School. Jaffe describes her involvement with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH), and the role she played in creating Granpa,
a leftist student newspaper at The New School. She speaks about some of the major protests organized by SDS and WITCH in the late 1960s, including the WITCH protest at the Ms. America pageant in Atlantic City. Jaffe explains how her involvement in these organizations lead her to join the Weather Underground Organization (WUO), a revolutionary offshoot of SDS, in 1969. Jaffe explains how she was one of the few activists at the time who was involved in both the radical anti-war movement and the women’s liberation movement. She describes the network of groups that included the SDS chapters at The New School, Columbia University, and the greater New York City group, and speaks about some of the other revolutionaries who were involved in these groups, including fellow New School students David Gilbert and Robert Gottlieb. Jaffe discusses the impact of living underground for eight years as part of the WUO, and the decision to “come up from the underground” in 1978. Jaffe closes the interview with a discussion of her ongoing activism around anti-incarceration and criminal justice reform.
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