Features » May 18, 2020
Perry Rosenstein: Building a Foundation for Art and Social Justice
As president and founder of the Puffin Foundation, Rosenstein nourished independent journalism.
Perry had hoped to become a teacher—but he was blacklisted because of his economic and racial justice work, so became a captain of industry instead.
With the passing of Perry Rosenstein on April 3, In These Times lost a friend and American workers lost a champion.
Perry was the son of Polish Jews who, having immigrated to New York at the turn of the 20th century, became labor movement activists. His was among more than 700 working families who, in 1925, pooled their savings to build the United Workers Cooperative Colony, a residential housing co-op in the Bronx. At the time, “the Coops,” as it was known, was the largest residential housing cooperative in the United States.
This grand experiment in cooperative living (and its sad, self-inflicted demise) is documented in At Home in Utopia, a 2008 film by Michal Goldman.
Yok Ziebel grew up with Perry in the Coops. He explains in the film, “The main force of all the kids in the Coops—though we didn’t know it at the time—was politics.”
Pete Rosenblum, who lived in the apartment be-low Perry’s, recalls how, in the 1930s, the two of them scavenged for the silver papers that lined cigarette packs. The collected “metal” (so they were told) would be melted down into bullets for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the Americans who, in the 1930s, fought for the Spanish Republic (aka the Second Spanish Republic) against Franco.
“It affected Perry like it affected me; it ruined us,” Pete laughs. “It instilled in us a Left spirit. We were part of the world.”
Following World War II and a stint as a union organizer in the steel mills of South Bend, Ind., Perry had hoped to become a teacher—but he was blacklisted because of his economic and racial justice work, so became a captain of industry instead. Perry’s innovative manufacture of screws and metal fasteners made him a multimillionaire. In 1983, Perry put his fortune to work for the progressive movement and established the Puffin Foundation, which supports individual artists, independent journalism, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives at New York University and the Puffin Gallery for Social Activism at the Museum of the City of New York.
In 2009, the economic fallout from the Great Recession forced In These Times to lay off half the staff. Perry, as president of the Puffin Foundation, stepped up to help fund the “In These Times Growth Plan,” which grew our subscriber base to 38,000 (up from fewer than 10,000 in 2010) and our full-time staff to 10 (up from 4 in 2010).
We are where we are today because Perry supported the publication of the magazine you hold in your hands. We honor him for his support of independent media. His legacy lives on in the pages of In These Times.
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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.
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