As Abe Osheroff's
body slowly began to betray him in his 80s and 90s, one of his
favorite lines was, "I have one foot in the grave but the other
ended on Sunday, April 6, when the 92-year-old Osheroff died of
a heart attack at his Seattle home.
is remembered most for his rich life of political activism. From
the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War to streets all across
the United States, he was a master strategist, energetic organizer,
and courageous fighter.
I think about a world without Abe, it's Osheroff-the-philosopher
I will miss the most. Conversations with Osheroff typically turned
into wide-ranging philosophy seminars - inquiry into the maddening
complexity of being human in an inhuman world, focused on the
difficult moral and political questions that he always pursued
with intellectual rigor and a demand for accountability expected
from himself and others.
And at the same time that Osheroff was in this relentless pursuit
of more knowledge and a deeper understanding, he squeezed all
the joy possible out of this life. He taught and he told stories,
he learned and he loved, with incredible passion.
activism: Beginning in his teens, Osheroff organized tenants,
the unemployed, and workers. In 1937 he joined the Abraham Lincoln
Brigade, the U.S. wing of the internationals fighting in Spain.
After Pearl Harbor, he re-entered the fight against fascism with
the U.S. Army in Europe. While working as a professional carpenter,
he also spent part of the 1950s moving around the country semi-underground,
avoiding the FBI's campaign to jail Communist Party members.
After leaving the party in 1956, Osheroff moved to California
and got involved in community organizing against real estate developers
on the Venice canals. In 1964 he went to Mississippi to help build
a community center. He worked behind the scenes in the Vietnam
antiwar movement in California. In 1985 he went to Nicaragua with
the Lincoln Construction Brigade, which he organized to build
housing with a workers' collective.
Living in Seattle since 1989, he and his wife, Gunnel Clark, worked
in that city's antiwar movement. Osheroff continued to give talks
at universities and high schools until several spinal surgeries
made it increasingly difficult for him to travel. Along the way
he made two documentary films about Spain and the legacy of the
civil war, the award-winning "Dreams and Nightmares" in 1974 and
"Art in the Struggle for Freedom" in 2000.
philosophy: Abe was a doer and talker, but rarely a writer. Perhaps
the only disappointment friends have with Osheroff is that he
never wrote a book that would have organized for us the lessons
he took from his life. That's why a few years ago I asked him
to sit for a long interview, to make sure some of those ideas
would be available. A transcript of that interview is online in
chapters at: http://thirdcoastactivist.org/osheroff.html
the full interview in a PDF file at http://thirdcoastactivist.org/abe-osheroff.pdf.
I was privileged
to know Osheroff for a few years, and there are hundreds of friends
and family members who knew him longer and better. I look forward
to hearing their stories in the coming years, as we collectively
remember not just the things Abe Osheroff did but a spirit that
embraced an uncompromising resistance and an endless love for
this world. I think it was that balance between a rage against
injustice and a love for the beauty of creation that was at the
soul of what Osheroff called "radical humanism."
As we face
the difficult times ahead - dealing with the mounting consequences
of human arrogance and greed - more than ever we will need to
find in ourselves the strength Osheroff had to continue fighting
and to continue loving. We will need to harness, as Osheroff always
did, both our hearts and our minds to the tasks ahead. We will
need to remember to celebrate, as Osheroff always celebrated,
both the joy and the sorrow of being human.
Jensen is a journalism professor
at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the board
of the Third Coast Activist
Resource Center. His
latest book is Getting
Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press,
2007). He is the author of The
Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege , Citizens
of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity and Writing
Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream
(Peter Lang). He can be reached at
his articles can be found online at http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/index.html.
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