As an individual, as a person who cared about people, and who helped create a world where we could all flourish, as GEO's "heart."
The first time that I met Frank Lindenfeld in person, he astounded me. We were meeting at a member’s home in upstate New York. Frank and I had been on GEO conference calls, but that meeting in 2002 or 2003 was our first face-to-face. Frank sat next to me and turned his full attention on me. He was genuinely interested in who I was as a person. I don’t even remember the questions he asked me –- probably some of the usual questions one asks when you meet someone for the first time, but I left from my encounter with him feeling a gentleness and loving energy. It was as if being in his close proximity left one wrapped in a cloud of warm, bubbly energy. I had never before met anyone who had that kind of effect on me.
Ajowa Nzinga Ifateyo
I knew Frank was special. In subsequent meetings, as I heard him tell the story of how he helped to build a house off the American utility grid and how he got fired from California State College in Los Angeles for using textbooks that were “too radical,” I came to cherish the times when GEO would meet so that I could hear Frank’s stories. In one particular story, I remember him making the point that often “the oppressed” can become just as vicious as the oppressors in their attempts to right the wrongs, and that was something that had to be guarded against. It was a new idea to me, and it stuck in my mind.
When preparing to write this piece, I knew that the most powerful thing for me about Frank was how he treated people. The experience of meeting Frank was full of respect; the vibe was extremely kind, and it felt good. It occurred to me that perhaps it was due to some spiritual practice. So I called Len Krimerman, who helped co-found GEO along with Frank and also Frank’s best friend, and asked him whether Frank had a spiritual practice that perhaps I hadn’t known about. No, he said, there was no religious or spiritual practice in Frank’s life, though he agreed that the way Frank treated people had a spiritual feel to it and was something that others had noted about him as well.
“What do you attribute his kindness, and loving energy to?”, I persisted. I knew there had to be something.
“Probably it’s connected to his work with the free school,” Len said. “That comes out of a passion for empowering people. It also involves knowing when not to intervene and how to allow people to express their own voices.”
From that discussion with Len, I learned that the free school was called Summerhill West, and was based on the renowned Summerhill school in England that encouraged “free” learning for young people from toddlers to young adults. Frank and others knew about the school which had started in 1921, and founded “Summerhill West” when he was teaching in Los Angeles. He had a son, and he and other faculty members were not satisfied with what their children were learning in public school. So they created their own community of learning. (I was amazed; there were so many “levels” or layers to Frank.)
Len also reported that Frank left an unpublished manuscript telling the story of Summerhill West from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s, as well as articles about the entire free school movement. I was looking for some defined spirituality as the solution, but valuing the “spirit” and specialness of young people makes sense. Naturally that would carry over into his relationships with all people, especially those of us considerably younger than he was. That special quality of Frank to make one feel valued, appreciated and loved certainly helped GEO to do the work and to strive to create a community of people to interact with like Frank.
A “humanist sociologist,” Frank was a scholar who worked to change the world. He did that in numerous ways: First, he helped to cofound the predecessor publication Changing Work and later GEO. At one point, Frank was not only volunteering more time than anyone of us and probably many of us together, but also regularly contributing his own money to sustain GEO. Second, Frank also wrote books and papers important to the issue of democratic workplaces and alternative economics. Third, Frank also organized sugar cane co-ops in Jamaica. On top of all that, he raised money for GEO, including writing grant proposals, and acted as our unofficial marketing coordinator, making sure we had ads requesting money and help. At times he was our mail-order person/layout editor/taking the hardcopy to the printer person/problem solver. Frank was all and everything to GEO, doing whatever GEO needed to stay alive.
In talking about Frank, Wade Wright, another incredible contributor to the early GEO work with Frank, must be mentioned. Wade laid out the hard copy editions without any financial compensation for many years. That kind of commitment, and that of Frank’s, is what has sustained GEO through many lean years (along with the support of Cooperative Charitable Trust).
GEO members have been reminded many times in the years since Frank’s passing in 2008 just how key Frank’s contribution to GEO was. He was our heart. He turned passion into action, and came up with new ideas. He inspired and kept us going. He pumped life into to our shoestring operation, especially when we were a hard copy newsletter. He has made us all intellectually and emotionally richer.
The best thing about Frank was not his ability to do all the things he did, but more so his ability to do them and at the same time to value and empower us as individuals. Probably each of us who worked with him has been deeply inspired by him. He leaves a model of the kind of world we are fighting to create, and of the people we can become.