The timing was just what the hundreds of longtime liberals of Los Angeles needed. The event was to celebrate the life of Stanley Sheinbaum, who passed away on September 12, and who epitomized the term “citizen.” The guests had expected to be celebrating a presidential victory as well, yet the mood was not one of resignation, but of determination to get up and fight once again. Just as the man being honored always did. “If he were here, he would know not only what we are feeling but what we should be doing,” said actor-activist Mike Farrell.
Sheinbaum’s achievements were countless. Over the decades, he served on the University of California Board of Regents, and as chairman of the Los Angeles Police Commission following the beating of Rodney King. Former Los Angles Times editor Narda Zacchino recalled being in South Central Los Angeles with Sheinbaum after he’d driven out Police Chief Daryl Gates. “Jesse Jackson was with us, but the people were cheering and yelling ‘Hey, Mr. Sheinbaum!’ Jesse Jackson couldn’t even keep up with him.”
He engineered the release of Greek’s former leader, Andreas Papandreou, who was imprisoned by a military junta. He was the chief fund-raiser for Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers trial. As Ellsberg said at the event, “If it wasn’t for Stanley, I would just be getting out of prison now. He was a man of moral and physical courage, the kind who doesn’t come around very often.”
Mostly, as I spoke with guests who wandered the grounds of the house that had been the site of thousands of large fund-raisers, small salons, and everything in between, the word that came up most often was “mentor.” Danny Goldberg recalled that when he was a growing force in the music business, he went to Sheinbaum to ask how he could be more “valued” politically. “He said to me, ‘Why don’t you become the chairman of the ACLU?’ I went before the board and they said, ‘We don’t even know you, but if Stanley says so…’ I served for seven years.”
Steve Wasserman, now an editor and publisher, was a 17-year-old high-school student in Berkeley when he decided to go to Cuba to pick sugar on a brigade. But he didn’t have the $500 for his expenses. “Someone told me to write to this guy in Los Angeles named Stanley Sheinbaum to see if he had any ideas. The next thing I know, I had a $500 check from him.” Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, a popular activist on human-rights and social-justice issues, first met Sheinbaum when she was the student representative on the Board of Regents. “He took me to lunch at Michael’s restaurant,” she recalled, “and he said, ‘Today is my 60th birthday so this better be good.’ I learned so many things from Stanley, including his model of opening up his home so communities could come together.”
Gilbert-Lurie wasn’t alone: As Norman Lear said, “I think I had a year on Stanley, but I still considered him a mentor.” Alluding to a typical day in the life of Sheinbaum, Lear recalled asking him for a breakfast meeting. “He said, ‘I have something first but how about a late breakfast? See you at the Brentwood Mart at 7:30.’”
Sheinbaum never met a good cause he didn’t support, always for the right reasons. But he also savored the attention. “He was super-human, but at the same time, very human,” said Gilbert-Lurie. During his remarks, Lear’s phone rang (obviously planned) and he played it perfectly. “Stanley? he said. “They have phones there? Yeah, yeah, you got a good crowd.” He liked the adulation, but Sheinbaum never played favorites. “He was the same with Warren Beatty as he was with King Hussein,” said Goldberg.
The afternoon was about one man, but after a harrowing week, the guests took heart in being together. We kept reminding one another—as we had our devastated children the morning after—that we had lost many more campaigns than we’d won. The mood was reflective but not retaliatory.
For me, the most touching moment was when I saw Barbara Williams—the widow of Tom Hayden—leaning over to pay her respects to Betty Sheinbaum, Stanley’s wife of more than 60 years. Williams told me that Hayden’s last words were “Are we safe?” Both men—who died within a month of each other—spent most of their lives trying to answer that question. The rest of us have lost two important voices, great friends of the Nation, and a pair of brave men who never stopped trying to make a difference.