In memory of Rina Garst

Dear URPE Friends,

I am very sad to say that long-time URPE member Rina Garst passed away September 26.

The Goddard Riverside NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community) that Rina was involved with (and helped found) will host a memorial Thursday November 3, at 2:30 pm, in the Strycker’s Bay Community Room, at 66 W. 94 St., NYC (near Columbus Ave.).

Please RSVP to Kaitlin Nelson at 212-655-3853 or knelson@goddard.org

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Rina fell in her apartment in early July, fracturing a bone. Because of the fall and additional health issues, she spent the rest of the summer in two rehab centers in NYC. During a visit in September, Rina, Paddy Quick, Rina’s cousin David and I talked for two hours; our conversation included Rina’s memories of growing up in the midst of the anarchist movement. Rina’s mind was lively but she was physically weak. She passed away a few weeks later.

There is an obit on Legacy.com:
http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=181683539

Rina and her husband Jim (who passed away in 2006) joined URPE around 1970. They (and later Rina on her own) attended URPE summer conferences every year — Rina, Jim, Roz Boyd and I drove there together for many years, sharing our anticipation, post-mortems and life histories. Jim and Rina always brought a bottle of wine to share before dinner. They were both vocal participants in workshop and plenary discussions, and loved singing folk songs around the campfire. Rina also attended ASSA meetings and URPE panels at the Brecht Forum and Left Forum — she chaired many of these panels.

Rina was a committed activist in the labor, civil rights, anti-war and housing movements. She held jobs with unions, New York City (anti-poverty programs and other departments), and independent political organizations. She was acting director of the Education Council of District Council 37-AFSCME, editorial assistant for the book Poverty Amidst Affluence, and liaison to two community boards for then-Borough President David Dinkins. She worked for four years at the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. She managed Socialist David McReynolds’ 1968 campaign for Congress on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket, braving a campaign office bomb scare and helping to make the Viet Nam War a campaign issue. Rina and Jim were both very active in housing issues. In the mid 1950’s they fought the demolition of housing to build Lincoln Center:“The prime consideration of the fathers of this City right now,” Lincoln Square resident Rina Garst told the commissioners, should be “the mothers of this City. We must think of the children . . . it is essential that they remain in their neighborhoods where they have developed friendships, where they have their family lives.” Jim was a co-founder of New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition and worked as a tenant lobbyist, and both Jim and Rina were very active in housing issues. Rina and Jim had strong principles – when some members of their Mitchell-Lama coop building wanted to change the coop rules so that owners could sell their units at market prices, Rina and Jim fought against it tooth and nail, even though they would have benefited financially (market prices eventually won). In recent years Rina was instrumental in creating an Upper West Side NORC (Naturally Occuring Retirement Community) to bring health and social services to seniors in her building and others nearby.

Rina’s strong sense of community and activism started at, or maybe before, birth. At the 2007 URPE Summer Conference, Rina proudly introduced a film showing and discussion of “Sacco and Vanzetti” — her mother appears in the film, leading a demonstration in 1927. Both Rina’s parents (plus other relatives) were active anarchists and union organizers during a tumultuous time. Rina was born in an anarchist community in NJ and attended the Modern School at Stelton. At the age of six she helped her parents gather medical supplies to send to Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Later her family moved to the Mohegan Colony. There is a chapter about Rina in Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America, by Paul Avrich, in which she talks about her parents and her childhood at Stelton. In 2009 she was very excited to be invited to Spain with other Stelton alumnae/i to honor Francisco Ferrer, whose educational philosophy inspired Stelton.

As David Laibman wrote, “Rina was a fighter, a fine spirit, and a true friend. She will be greatly missed.”

With respect and affection,

Ruthie Indeck