Ben Masel gave us a gift. He was willing to give up a life of material trappings and give it to the dedication of protecting our civil liberties from a government that seems all to willing to take them away. He was willing to stand on principle 100% of the time. He was able to draw attention to issues that might have gone unnoticed. He was the Socrates of our generation. He was an activist, he was a teacher, he was our Luftmensch.
Ben died from complications of lung cancer on April 30th. I attended memorial services and heard some great stories from friends, family, and colleagues. Some funny, some serious, but even the serious ones were usually funny. Madison Mayor Paul Soglin’s first words were to thank Ben for the right to speak at his memorial service.
The public memorial service at James Madison park on May 4th was attended by many friends, local celebrities and included speakers Paul Soglin, Mark Pocan, Jeff Scott Olson, Allen Ruff, Bill Leuders, Hannah Jon Taylor, Barb Vedder and music from Bradley Fish, El Donk’s the Falcon, Salam Shalom, and Dave Pankin. Ben’s daughter Semilla read a letter sent by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin. There is going to be a planned get-together in the summer, a “bash” Ben would probably say.
Ben brought the passion from the protests of the late 60’s to new generations, teaching and inspiring us with his action and debate.
Learning that he had terminal cancer during the very beginning of the protest didn’t deter him. He was quoted as saying, “If I’m going to die today, I can think of no better place to decease than the capitol rotunda.”
I saw him at many of the rallies in what would be his last few weeks, and he was just as passionate and concerned as if nothing were the matter.
When the Walker Administration posted a sign on the first ring to say that protesting with signs on that ring of the rotunda was forbidden (and right next to the Wisco constitution stating otherwise), Ben was there to test the law. He always knew the law better than the police, lawmakers, and polititicans… and he was always right. He went in to protest with a sign saying, “This is a test of the emergency free speech system.”
The police refused to arrest him. That happened to him a lot as his reputation for winning lawsuits over rights infringement had become legend. He once said, “It’s a great hourly rate… if you can wait to get paid.”
Yiddish is always a funny language, but Allen Ruff, who likened Ben as a Luftmensch, described it as a person whose head is in the clouds, thinking at very a high level, who doesn’t have a practical job or income. Very much like a travelling rabbi who was described as one of Ben’s ancestors. A person who stood up for the rights of others, sometimes landed himself in jail, but always made a negative to a positive and affected change on a deep level.
I guess it runs in the family. After listening to Semilla speak on the Sly show and at the memorials, she has a whole lot of her dad in her, and I think she’ll pass on the family tradition to Ben’s granddaughter, Anandi. Your Grandpa was a special man!
It is hard to think of facing Darth Vader without old Ben, but thankfully he taught us a few Jedi tricks before he had to go. Sorry Ben, I couldn’t help the reference, it’s Star Wars day. Good bye Ben, you will be sincerely missed by many, many people that you have touched so deeply.
***There are many who have written some great articles on Ben Masel’s life and achievements. John Nichols of Madison.com wrote a great story and tribute loaded with history and facts. Great piece John. If you’re not familiar with Ben’s history, please do a little research, it won’t be hard to find. Ben also uploaded his immortal soul to Facebook, check there too!
Bastard Den: Max Ink Radio’s crazy, local rock-n-roll internet radio show is out in action during the month of May. On Tuesday, May 24th the Bastard Den show will be broadcast live on Maxinkradio.com from the Dragonfly Lounge on E. Washington Avenue. It is in the lower lounge at Bellini Italian Restaurant (the big church). There will be drink specials all night and couches, tables and a great atmosphere. WiFi is available, so you can bring your laptop to jump in the chat room.
Max Ink Radio will be broadcasting from the MAMA awards show as well, stop by our table and we’ll be doing interviews live. The MAMA award show is Saturday, June 4th, go to www.themamas.org for more information on the show.
Faces For Radio: Saturday, May 21st at the High Noon Saloon in Madison, that crazy band that is part Rapscallion and part Last Crack will be releasing a new CD. The release party will also double as Dan Droster’s birthday bash and one of my favorite Madison bands Subatomic has been added to the bill. Sounds like a fun night, who’s meeting me there?
Adventures With Elizabeth: We had the priviledge of having Ben over to our house for dinner a few weeks back. I hope one day they can realize the significance of whom they once shared the dinner table with, it was priceless.
Lizzie turns 13 in May. I bet there are a few of you out there that just read that twice because you’ve been reading this column since I reported of her birth, and the disbelief that you are 13 years older is setting in.
It’s May, so the snowbirds from Florida should be migrating north just in time for Lizzie’s dance recital.(4254) Page Views