Category Archives: Memoriam

Michael Harrington, b. Feb. 24, 1928

Michael_Harrington

Today is the anniversary of the birth of MICHAEL HARRINGTON. Harrington provided the intellectual ammunition for what became President Johnson’s War on Poverty when he published THE OTHER AMERICA examining poverty in the United States

Influenced in his youth by Catholic Social Thought, the continuing secret of the Church, Harrington joined the Catholic Worker Movement, a peace-justice group founded by Dorothy Day. Although tending toward a secular understanding later he always held himself out as a fellow traveler of Catholicism. From Catholic activism he migrated to Democratic Socialism and helped to organize what has become the Democratic Socialists of America.

I was privileged to have had lunch with Michael within the year prior to his death when he visited a mutual friend in Saint Paul, Minnesota. A soft-spoken decidedly rational man we talked about progressive politics, homelessness and socialist humanism. It’s been a quarter-century since his death and he remains an influence on my politics and thought today.

Lawrence A Winans

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Pete Seeger 1919-2014 R.I.P.

A great man, an icon of the age, has passed away. It is with great sadness that we report that Pete Seeger has died. Please take a look at the Seeger Appreciation Page at http://www.peteseeger.net/index.html

Colin Wilson and Tom Laughlin R.I.P.

Two of the heroes of my youth passed away recently, COLIN WILSON (1931-2013) died December 5 and TOM LAUGHLIN, or BILLY JACK (1931-2013) died December 12.

Colin Wilson was known as one of the original “Angry Young Men” who dominated the British literary scene in the Fifties. His first book THE OUTSIDER was a brilliant exposition of the ideal of the artist or thinker who stood outside the mainstream in a pursuit of authenticity. For me, Wilson was an introduction to existentialism as well as mysticism. As a teen I went from the simple answers of Ayn Rand to the more complex questions of Wilson and came to intellectual maturity in so doing. In my late twenties I exchanged correspondence with Mr. Wilson and he advised me on a writing career, wise advice which I neglected to follow.

Tom Laughlin was an icon of the age having become the character he portrayed in film, Billy Jack, in real life as well. Billy Jack, the defender of the weak against bullies and mindless authority exemplified what a generation sought in its leaders but could never find. As the film ended, how many of us felt compelled to stand along with the young people in the film saluting the captured hero facing the consequences of his heroism.

It was nice to have someone to believe in.

 

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

NELSON MANDELA passed away today at the age of 95. Mandela was a leading South African revolutionary who fought for democracy and equal justice. Born in 1918, educated as a lawyer, he became prominent in the campaign to overturn Apartheid in 1948. In 1962 he was arrested for seeking to overthrow the segregationist government.

After serving 27 years in prison, he was released in 1990 after an increasingly intense international effort seeking his freedom. With the dismantling of Apartheid, Nelson Mandela was elected the first Black President  of the Republic of South Africa serving from 1994 to 1999.

Seeking inter-racial harmony, Mandela oversaw the institution of a Truth & Reconciliation Commission which brought to exposure past human rights abuses without demanding retribution.

Acclaimed as “Tata” (Father) of the nation, Mandela serves to remind us that the True Revolutionaries are those can move us towards Forgiveness as well as Justice.

The film, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” starring Idris Elba as Mandela, was released last week. Unfortunately, Nelson Mandela had yet to see the film.

R.I.P. Margaret Mary Vojtko

Underpaid 83-Year-Old Professor Died Trying to Make Ends Meet by Working Night Shift at Eat an’ Save


Daniel Kovalik

ALTERNET http://www.alternet.org (September 18, 2013)


On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at the age of 83. She died as the result of a massive heart attack she suffered two weeks before. As it turned out, I may have been the last person she talked to.

On Aug. 16, I received a call from a very upset Margaret Mary. She told me that she was under an incredible amount of stress. She was receiving radiation therapy for the cancer that had just returned to her, she was living nearly homeless because she could not afford the upkeep on her home, which was literally falling in on itself, and now, she explained, she had received another indignity — a letter from Adult Protective Services telling her that someone had referred her case to them saying that she needed assistance in taking care of herself. The letter said that if she did not meet with the caseworker the following Monday, her case would be turned over to Orphans’ Court.

For a proud professional like Margaret Mary, this was the last straw; she was mortified. She begged me to call Adult Protective Services and tell them to leave her alone, that she could take care of herself and did not need their help. I agreed to. Sadly, a couple of hours later, she was found on her front lawn, unconscious from a heart attack. She never regained consciousness.

Meanwhile, I called Adult Protective Services right after talking to Margaret Mary, and I explained the situation. I said that she had just been let go from her job as a professor at Duquesne, that she was given no severance or retirement benefits, and that the reason she was having trouble taking care of herself was because she was living in extreme poverty. The caseworker paused and asked with incredulity, “She was a professor?” I said yes. The case- worker was shocked; this was not the usual type of person for whom she was called in to help.

Of course, what the case-worker didn’t understand was that Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course. Adjuncts now make up well over 50 percent of the faculty at colleges and universities.

While adjuncts at Duquesne overwhelmingly voted to join the United Steelworkers union a year ago, Duquesne has fought unionization, claiming that it should have a religious exemption. Duquesne has claimed that the unionization of adjuncts like Margaret Mary would somehow interfere with its mission to inculcate Catholic values among its students.

This would be news to Georgetown University — one of only two Catholic universities to make U.S. News & World Report’s list of top 25 universities — which just recognized its adjunct professors’ union, citing the Catholic Church’s social justice teachings, which favor labor unions.

As amazing as it sounds, Margaret Mary, a 25-year professor, was not making ends meet. Even during the best of times, when she was teaching three classes a semester and two during the summer, she was not even clearing $25,000 a year, and she received absolutely no health care benefits. Compare this to the salary of Duquesne’s president, who makes more than $700,000 with full benefits.

Meanwhile, in the past year, her teaching load had been reduced by the university to one class a semester, which meant she was making well below $10,000 a year. With huge out-of-pocket bills from UPMC Mercy for her cancer treatment, Margaret Mary was left in abject penury. She could no longer keep her electricity on in her home, which became uninhabitable during the winter. She therefore took to working at an Eat ‘n Park at night and then trying to catch some sleep during the day at her office at Duquesne. When this was discovered by the university, the police were called in to eject her from her office. Still, despite her cancer and her poverty, she never missed a day of class.

Finally, in the spring, she was let go by the university, which told her she was no longer effective as an instructor — despite many glowing evaluations from students. She came to me to seek legal help to try to save her job. She said that all she wanted was money to pay her medical bills because Duquesne, which never paid her much to begin with, gave her nothing on her way out the door.

Duquesne knew all about Margaret Mary’s plight, for I apprised them of it in two letters. I never received a reply, and Margaret Mary was forced to die saddened, penniless and on the verge of being turned over to Orphan’s Court.

The funeral Mass for Margaret Mary, a devout Catholic, was held at Epiphany Church, only a few blocks from Duquesne. The priest who said Mass was from the University of Dayton, another Catholic university and my alma mater. Margaret Mary was laid out in a simple, cardboard casket devoid of any handles for pallbearers — a sad sight, but an honest symbol of what she had been reduced to by her ostensibly Catholic employer.

Her nephew, who had contacted me about her passing, implored me to make sure that she didn’t die in vain. He said that while there was nothing that could be done for Margaret Mary, we had to help the other adjuncts at Duquesne and other universities who were being treated just as she was, and who could end up just like she did. I believe that writing this story is the first step in doing just that.

________________________________________________________

Having been an “Adjunct” myself I can relate to the plight of Margaret Mary. University-level teaching has practically been turned over to adjuncts and temps. It is remarkable that as the cost of higher education has gone higher, the real “costs” have been reduced to the bone. Universities will pay quarter-million salaries plus bennies to big name profs and yet students never see these all-stars. Most students are taught by adjuncts and temps as well as teaching assistants. The expense for all teaching staff in many a department is roughly equal to what one Star Prof takes in.

And this is symptomatic of employment elsewhere. “Temps” are IN! They are paid less, get fewer and frequently NO benefits, and are not even provided sick leave. From the Management standpoint, where “exploitation” is the most important product, it is a WIN-WIN. Hire the peons for pennies, work the crap out of them and then dump them when convenient. This is the Labor Market of today, and tomorrow.

Things to Come

Watching the classic film “Things to Come” (1936) based on H G Wells’ novels, I was intrigued by a child actor. She would have been about 8 or 9 when the film was distributed. I wondered what became of her, did she make other films, perhaps she became famous later.

Her name was Anne McLaren and her childhood acting experience in this film was her last. She never made another. She later attended Oxford where she studied zoology and made a career as a noted developmental biologist. Active politically in England, she was known as an advocate for public funding of childcare.

She died six years ago in an auto accident on the road to London. A remarkable life but one of which I was totally unaware until spurred by curiosity to conduct a brief research. So many lives meandering here and there, taking one path and then another until finally, usually when we expect it not, we run off the road.

Ken Tilsen, Lawyer Extraordinaire, R.I.P.

It grieves me deeply to report that one of my heroes has passed away. Ken Tilsen made it possible to believe in lawyers once again. The following excerpt comes from the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE:

He defended American Indian Movement followers during the Wounded Knee occupation, draft resisters during the Vietnam War, striking union workers, farmers opposed to high-voltage power lines, protesters at the 2008 Republican National Convention and myriad others at odds with the establishment.

Tilsen, 85, died Sunday night at his home in Hudson, Wis. He had congestive heart failure and other health problems and had been in hospice care for a few months, family members and friends said.

“If you’d ask him, he’d say, ‘I’m 85 years old and the parts are wearing out,’ ” his son David said Monday.

Attorney Bill Tilton said Tilsen was a surrogate father and a mentor for more than four decades.

“He taught me so much,” Tilton said. “He taught me how to die, among other things. He taught me how to practice law, how to be a member of the community, how to be a part of the issues of the day.”

Tilsen was “intimately involved in most of the cutting-edge social issues of the last half of the 20th century,” Tilton said. “And he was generally on the right side. He was all-in. He didn’t question whether he was going to make money, whether it was popular.”

Tilsen probably is best known for helping to defend more than 200 American Indians who took over the town of Wounded Knee on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation for 73 days in 1973 and for defending the “Minnesota Eight” draft resisters during the Vietnam War. But his influence was felt all the way from the early civil rights movement, to the 2008 Republican National Convention protesters, to those who opposed a new Vikings stadium.