Paul Krassner Leads Fire Island Incursion
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. August 7, 1969, Vol. XIV, No. 43
Swarming Into The WASP Nest by Jonathan Black
Point O' Woods is one of Fire Island's quainter attractions, an anachronistic fenced-in retreat for vacationing WASPs with nary a Jew or a black to disturb the storied ecology of familied gentiles. Last Sunday, however, this staid little enclave suffered a trauma that gave the nest a pesky jiggle. Led by a local caucus of radical lawyers, a small sign-waving ("Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "Bring Law & Order to Point O'Woods") band of demonstrators swelled to a determined mass as it paraded down the string of beaches that led to Point O' Woods, held a thunderous rally under the notorious POW Inn, and then swarmed into the nest itself, bypassing a handful of Suffolk police who deferred to superior numbers, and proceeded on a "guided tour" of the private community led by lawyer Florence Kennedy, chanting, "It's only a shanty in old Shanty Town."
Paul Krassner, emcee of the affair, set an ominous mood at the otherwise gleeful rally. "Tear down your walls," he warned, "or we'll put up a fence of foreskins!" More dignified admonitions came from Nat Hentoff, who a year ago had succeeded in closing down the POW post office when he was denied entrance to mail a letter, and Alan M. Dershowitz, Harvard Law professor, who was refused accommodations at the POW Inn. An attempt to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the indulgent nesters peering over the railing appeared to have failed, however. At one point the hotel chef emerged on the verandah and raised a hand in some ambiguous gesture, and there were enthusiastic cries of "Power to the chef!" But Krassner's "Never mind, he runs the ovens" sent the sympathizer scurrying. There were more speeches, a reading from "Soul on Ice," a solemn Requiem to the Fence performed by the Crazies to the tune of the Volga Boat Song, and then Krassner introduced, "Florence Kennedy, my mother." Several ice cubes fell on the verandah and a sunshade or two was lowered as Miss Kennedy announced, "I think we'll have a look around, walk to the fence, and then ask to be let out." A couple of police attempted to guard the beach stairs leading into Point O' Woods, but led by the indefatigable Kennedy, the throng scrambled over the dunes with an enthusiasm that would have inspired Darryl F. Zanuck. The invading column was preceded by one of the Crazies, garbed in a green monk's habit, waving a giant cross generously over each house as he pronounced, "Unclean."
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Few residents were to be seen. An occasional black face poked out of a kitchen window from a weathered Victorian house, and a couple of smiling youngsters were quickly ushered inside from their porch. As the column paraded through the clumped beach grass and prettily laid-out paths, choruses of "The Walls Come Tumblin' Down" rang out with gusto. A move to occupy the church was blocked by a determined pair of cops ho had had about enough, but the tour proceeded on gaily. At the gate the demonstrators regrouped, and then trailed through the fence with cries of "Herring!" "Pickles!" and "Chitlings!"
Despite the festive mood of the demonstration, there has been a good deal of angry resentment leveled at the POWers. The community is an effective blockade on the Island, and those residents wishing to pass through Point O' Woods have to detour across the beach. Neighboring Seaview residents find this especially distasteful since their community is also a private association, but without a fence. The arrogant comments of the "Woodsies," as they are locally known, has not contributed to cordial relations. POW youngsters also have a reputation for stealing bicycles and wagons (cars are banned on the island) and wheeling them inside the POW fence for the police to redistribute at the end of each month. Holes have allegedly been dug on the POW beach to prevent beach taxis from cruising past the community.
And the demonstrators see something just outrageous about the blatant racism practiced in this otherwise liberal-to-libertine summer spa. (In defense of the Woodsies, the only real integration on the 32-mile stretch of island is along the beaches, where black tar deposits spill onto the eroding sands.)
Like some other Fire Island townships, Point O' Woods operates as a private association that rents the land to residents through 99-year leases. The procedure for screening new applicants is fairly elaborate, according to Charles Lowry, president of the Point O' Woods Association. "We don't want any Tom, Dick, or Harry coming in here," Lowry has said. "We prefer families with kids. Families that take care of their kids. Law-abiding people." But Fire Island is part of a national seashore and receives state and federal funds, which means that the operation as a "private club" is pretty suspect. "If you look like a town and act like a town," says Dershowitz, "you have to behave like a town. This is a racist, discriminating club."
Perhaps the affair's most pungent note came from the leaflets distributed throughout the day: "Withdraw your consent to the conspiracy of silence which allows the continuation of the unaesthetic spectacle of Point O' Woods," read the pink and yellow papers. "Free the surely, by now, bored, klannish prisoners from their ocean-front concentration camp. The self-indulgence, ignorant snobbishness, dated restrictive policies, and contempt for others constitute blemishes which will not be tolerated!" But for summering WASPs, seeking a brief sunny respite from the anguish of Jewish neighbors and black power, it must have seemed as though no place were sacred any more.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
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