-by Dorothy Reik
President, Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains
Tom’s activism finally did him in. The billy club blows he suffered at the hands of Southern sheriffs during the Freedom Rides didn’t kill him. Chicago police who beat him during the 1968 Democratic Convention protests didn’t do it. The US bombs that rained down on him in Hanoi didn’t either. It was the poisonous air at the Fresno oil fields. In the last years of his life Tom was working on environmental justice. He wanted to bring the communities who were suffering the effects of our oil production into the environmental movement and justice was his “hook.” So he went to Fresno, the epicenter of California’s environmental injustice, and he felt ill. When he came home, as he explained to the meeting with had honoring him (video above), he had a stroke and the aftermath finally took its toll.
But Tom will always be with us. He is our conscience exhorting us to do more than we think we can, to be better than we think we are. He lives on in the peace movement, in the anti-nuclear movement, in Occupy, in our inner cities and our universities, from Berkeley to Columbia, in the fight to preserve our planet. He was in Newark before Ras Baraka and he was in Cuba always. He was in Latin America. And while he wasn’t in North Dakota, his last battle, the battle for environmental justice, would have surely have brought him there.
If you re-read the Port Huron statement you will find it all. The seeds of all our movements are planted there. What you think is written there. How you feel is written there. Who you are or wish you were is written there. He wrote it in 1961.
Tom was not a “hippie.” He was an activist, a writer, a teacher, a guide. He tried to rid our country of its “long war”– some might call it our permanent war but Tom didn’t. He was always realistic but never pessimistic. And to his core he was a Democrat. On that he never waivered. He worked to send progressive Democrats to Sacramento and to Washington, including himself. His final trip was to the Democratic National Convention. He went to his first in 1960 to see JFK, who would become the first Catholic president, accept the nomination. He had to be there to see the first woman 56 years later. History again was being made. It was only right that he should bear witness.
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis