Bob McGlynn, linked Tompkins protests and glasnost

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BY BILL WEINBERG
The Villager
September 8, 2016

Bob McGlynn, a longtime figure in New York City’s anarchist scene who linked the Tompkins Square Park protests of the 1980s to pro-democracy movements in Eastern Europe, died of a heart attack on Aug. 23 at his home in Yonkers. He was 60.

With his long hair, army boots, sleeveless denim jacket and prizefighter’s build, McGlynn could be taken for a biker. But he was motivated by an intense idealism.

McGlynn’s activist career began in the early 1980s with Brooklyn Anti-Nuclear Group (BANG), which was organizing to shut down the Indian Point nuclear power plant. His artistically crude but politically sophisticated cartoons gave the BANG newsletter a punk aesthetic.

In this same period, he began working as a bicycle messenger — which also thrust him into political activity. Faced with police harassment and city government attempts to oppressively regulate cyclists, in 1982 he organized the first bike messengers’ union in New York, the Independent Couriers Association. In 1987, when Mayor Ed Koch issued an order banning bicycles from three Midtown avenues during working hours, the messengers repeatedly rode in a large group in defiance. McGlynn was on the frontlines of this successful struggle — the ban was overturned as unenforceable. McGlynn proudly called himself the “King of All Bicycle Messengers.”

McGlynn was again facing off with police in the streets when the city attempted to impose a curfew on Tompkins Square Park in 1988. That set off three years of conflict on the gentrifying Lower East Side, with squatters, anarchists and the homeless fighting the cops in an endless series of angry protests and riots. McGlynn, although living in Brooklyn, biked across the river to join in the action.

But McGlynn’s special passion was building ties of solidarity with anti-nuclear, anti-militarist and ecological activists in the Eastern Bloc — challenging work in the paranoid and polarized atmosphere of the Reagan Cold War.

This work began when McGlynn and friends formed a New York sister organization to the Moscow Trust Group in 1983. The Trust Group, with its unassuming name, had been formed by Moscow activists as an “acceptable” cover to advocate for nuclear disarmament. Now linked with a New York group, the Moscow activists had greater visibility, and were less vulnerable to being imprisoned or “disappeared” by Soviet authorities.

In 1986, in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, McGlynn and his NY Trust Group collaborator Ann-Marie Hendrickson joined with two activists from the U.K. to travel to Moscow — smuggling in Russian-language fliers about the dangers of radiation and a banner reading, “No More Hiroshimas, No More Chernobyls — Peace and Environmental Safety for All.” The action took place in early August, timed for the Hiroshima anniversary. They promptly headed to Moscow’s Gorky Park, where they unfurled the banner, began distributing the leaflets — and were of course quickly arrested by the K.G.B. After a few days in custody, they were deported. The action won international media coverage.

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Image: Seth Tobocman

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