Richard "Tet" Tetenbaum, a lynchpin of the San Francisco Anarchist community died of cancer on June 2. "Tet" was one of the founders of Bound Together Anarchist Books and worked there for 20 years. He was active in a variety of anarchist attempts to create community spaces, and was an activist who lived anarchism in his personal life. He shunned traditional forms of wage labor, but was a hard and dedicated worker for the things that he believed in. And he was incredibly generous with his time and any resources that he managed to accumulate.
Tet was a dedicated activist who had been involved with most of the San Francisco anarchist community's major ongoing projects. He was one of the few people deeply respected by all the various anarchist communites, and his death brought together (at least for a few hours) many people who despised each others' politics.
It was incredible to see that just one day after he died, about 200 of his comrades gathered to pay tribute to him . We told stories about his life and recounted experiences we had with him.
For wage labor Tet drove a taxicab, which gave him ample opportunity to do something he really loved -- talk with people. When he found passengers receptive, he would suggest anarchist readings to them. And, on a number of occasions, he would actually bring a passenger by Bound Together in the middle of the night to show them anarchist literature.
One person recounted how, when he came to San Francisco, Tet seemed to be everywhere: "When I was shopping at my collective community foodstore (the Inner Sunset) Tet was behind the counter, when I looked for information at my local anarchist bookstore (Bound Together) Tet was there, and when I had to catch a ride somewhere Tet seemed to always pass by in his cab and offer me a lift.
Another person told the story of sailing with Tet under the city's July 4th fireworks and being approached by police in speedboats. "The cops were surprised that we didn't obey their requests to leave the area and that we didn't appear scared of them. They didn't realize that we had been disobeying orders from authority figures all our lives."
Tet spent his final weeks in a hospice, surrounded by caring friends. His parents and relatives initially wanted him in a hospital, but were really moved by the intense emotional support shown by his comrades and realized how important it was for him to be in a caring non-institutional setting. As his condition deteriorated, his immediate family thought that Tet should be protected from the constant stream of visitors and suggested drawing up a list of people who should be authorized to see him. Of course this was never successful because, even at the edge of death, Tet could not create a hierarchy among his multitude of friends. And the visits from his very large extended family of comrades was something that really seemed to sustain him.
Tet had ambiguous feelings about having to sell books in order to keep Bound Together open. He was the kind of person who, seeing someone stealing a book, would tell the person "As long as you're planning on reading it, go ahead and take it."
Bound Together window