William Barnett, my paternal grandfather, came to America in 1910, and became a union organizer with the International Cap Makers Union. Although William was enamored with his newly-found freedoms in America, and angered by the horrendous working conditions of his fellow laborers, my grandmother Lottie was not amused. With four children living in a tenement on the Lower East Side in two tiny rooms, Lottie knew that the only way they could stay in their adopted country was to earn a paycheck. And when William was eventually blacklisted due to his union involvement, the situation became desperate.
Lottie believed, as an Orthodox Jew, that the next thing that happened was divine intervention. She found two $ 20 dollar bills in the communal washrooms, moved the family to Canada, and advised my grandfather that he was welcome to join only if he intended to stop organizing and get a real job. Their children became doctors and businesswomen, but all were infused with a sense of justice for the millions who remained in the poverty that their family once knew.