[Marxism] Almeda Kirsch obituary and MILITANT article

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sat Aug 14 15:32:15 MDT 2004


Kirsch, Almeda

KIRSCH ALMEDA KIRSCH, 84 of Judson Manor passed away July
19, 2004. Wife of the late Herman; loving mother of Fred
and Max Kirsch and Molly Valerio; dear aunt. In lieu of
flowers contributions may be made to Judson Manor, 1890 E.
107 St., Cleveland 44106. www.cleveland.com/obits

Published in The Plain Dealer on 7/22/2004.

see nice photo in THE MILITANT:
http://themilitant.com/2004/6828/682863.html  

Almeda Kirsch, a 58-year member of the communist movement,
died July 19 from a heart attack. In photo above, taken in
July 2002, Kirsch was selling communist books and pamphlets
outside the SWP hall in Cleveland. She joined the Socialist
Workers Party in 1946 in Cleveland, where, as part of
building the party for nearly six decades, she was active
in the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war
movement, the fight for a woman's right to choose abortion,
and other campaigns the SWP was involved in. A meeting to
celebrate her life and contribution to building the party
will take place in Cleveland shortly. For more information
on the meeting, and to send messages, contact the Ohio
Socialist Workers Campaign office, 11018 Lorain Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44111; swpcleveland at yahoo.com; Tel. (216)
688-1190. Please send a copy of e-mail messages to the SWP
national office at swpno at verizon.net

Vol. 68/No. 31           August 31, 2004  
 
Event celebrates life of Almeda Kirsch 
Socialist Workers Party cadre for 58 years
 
BY ILONA GERSH  

CLEVELAND-A meeting was held here August 8 to celebrate the
life of Almeda Kirsch and her contributions to building a
proletarian party for nearly six decades. Kirsch, who died
July 19 at the age of 83, was a member of the Cleveland
branch of the Socialist Workers Party since she joined the
SWP in 1946. The 50 participants came from Pittsburgh,
Detroit, Chicago, the Twin Cities, New York, and elsewhere.
Twenty messages were received from individuals who had
worked with Kirsch over the years.

Norton Sandler spoke on behalf of the party's National
Committee and chaired the event. Kirsch, he explained, was
born in the farming area of Ruggles Township in Central
Ohio. She attended Ohio State University in Columbus for
more than four years, studying music. Kirsch was a
violinist and pianist. Herman Kirsch, also a music student
at Ohio State, introduced her to socialist ideas. Herman
had joined the SWP in 1939. The two were married in 1943.
After living briefly in New York City, the couple returned
to Ohio.

Almeda joined the SWP in the midst of the post-World War II
strike wave that spread quickly across the country. She
worked office jobs for the rest of her life. Herman was a
member of the United Auto Workers at the Pesco division of
Borg-Warner company for 30 years. The couple had three
children.

Sandler noted that Almeda Kirsch lived through the
anticommunist witch-hunt in the 1950s. The Cleveland branch
of the SWP at the time threw itself into activity in
defense of Black rights. In late 1955, the Black community
in Montgomery, Alabama, organized a boycott of city buses
after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the
segregated Jim Crow bus system. Kirsch was assigned by the
SWP to help raise funds to buy station wagons to be used
during the Montgomery bus boycott.

The party campaigned in defense of the Cuban Revolution,
which triumphed in 1959. Party branches were involved in
the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, which spread the facts
about the revolution and opposed Washington's military
moves against the revolutionary government in Havana.

"The party was deeply involved in the Black struggle of the
1960s," said Sandler. In Cleveland one of the main fights
for Black rights centered on community control of the
schools. Malcolm X spoke on a symposium at the Cory
Methodist Church in Cleveland in April of 1964 on "The
Negro Revolt-What Comes Next?" The speech is widely known
as "The Ballot or the Bullet."

Dave Prince, now living in New York, explained how he was
recruited to the YSA under the impact of the tumultuous
events of the Black struggle, the Cuban Revolution, and the
early stage of the Vietnam war. An art student at Oberlin
College, he traveled to Cleveland frequently to attend
political meetings and other events.

"This was important to my recruitment," said Prince. 
"I saw a well maintained hall, with books and the Militant
newspaper, as part of a national organization. These things
are only possible with disciplined activity and attention
to organization and finances. Almeda helped set the tone
that was necessary. When she took an assignment, you could
count on it being carried out to the end and on time."

Debs Hall raid

Prince told the story of how a November 1965 benefit for
the Militant attended by more than 75 people at Debs Hall,
the SWP center, was raided by the liquor police and the
Cleveland cops. "The hall that night was packed with Black
community activists, workers, and youth who had worked
together," he said. "Participants had been involved in a
range of activities in defense of Black rights, including
the just completed campaign by Carl Stokes, who ran as an
independent Black candidate for Mayor. The attendance that
night reflected how the party was right in the middle of
things."

Plainclothes cops burst into the hall and pushed their way
into the event. A cop fired shots into the ceiling and some
participants were beaten. Thirty were thrown in jail and
charged with "disorderly assembly," including Almeda. A
broad defense campaign was waged and seven months later, in
July 1966, the charges were dropped. Almeda and Herman were
convicted of violating the state liquor laws, however, and
had to pay a fine.

The next month, National Guard troops and cops went into
the Black community of Cleveland to attack large-scale
protests against a racist killing. Warrants were issued to
re-arrest 29 of the defendants in the Debs Hall case, many
of whom were activists in the Black community. A three-year
fight led by the Committee to Aid the Debs Hall Defendants,
Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the NAACP, and the ACLU
led to a court ruling which declared the disorderly
assembly ordinance unconstitutional and reversed the
convictions.

"One of my favorite haunts, as was the case for most of the
Cleveland branch, was Almeda and Herman's home in Shaker
Heights," Prince told the crowd. "Whether we showed up on
short notice, or no notice, we were always welcome. I was
an aspiring artist. I hoped to use art to change the world.
I met several cultured workers and accomplished artists in
the SWP." Prince referred to both Herman and Almeda, and
also to Duncan Ferguson, a nationally known sculptor who
was also a member of the branch at the time.

James Harris, now a garment worker in Atlanta who was the
SWP presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000, described what
drew him to the party and Young Socialist Alliane (YSA) in
1968. "I was a student at Cleveland State University and
president of the Black Student Union there," Harris said.
"I became interested in the fight against the war in
Vietnam and was attracted to the Cuban Revolution. This
brought me around the SWP and YSA. There were many other
groups at the time, all contesting for youth of our
generation. I was attracted by the seriousness of the party
Almeda committed her life to building."

Harris described how the 1965 campaign of Carl Stokes as an
independent candidate for mayor of Cleveland grew out of
the struggles of the Black community. When Stokes ran for
reelection in 1969 as a Democratic Party candidate, the SWP
ran Syd Stapleton for mayor. Harris ran for East Cleveland
Board of Education. "Syd was 24 years old. I had been a YSA
member for six months," Harris said. "The Communist Party
criticized us for opposing Stokes. But we put forward a
revolutionary perspective against that of the Democratic
and Republican parties. We ran a bold campaign. Only the
intertwining of generations made this possible."

In a message to the celebration Syd Stapleton wrote,
"Almeda was always in the center of these events. She had a
lot of responsibilities, between work and maintaining a
household, and being a mother and an active member of the
branch. But she was always ready to take an assignment, and
never lost her cool. Almeda opened her home at the drop of
a hat, never missed a branch meeting or executive committee
meeting, and was always ready for a Militant sale or
petition drive."

Movement against U.S. war on Vietnam

In the late 1960s and early '70s, Cleveland was a center of
the movement against the war in Vietnam. Several
conferences that drew thousands of youth and other
activists were held here, where strategy and tactics for
opposing the war were debated and an action course to
oppose the imperialist war was charted.

Almeda's son, Fred Kirsch, who attended the meeting with
his wife Sylvia and their two daughters, was among those
shot at by Ohio National Guard troops when they opened fire
on a student demonstration at Kent State and killed four
students on May 4, 1970. The Militant ran a front-page
article authored by Fred, who then went on a speaking tour
to explain the truth about what became known as the "Kent
State massacre."

"In 1977-78 the party decided to organize its members to
work in basic industry and carry out political work in the
trade unions," said Sandler. "We made this decision
following the defeat of the U.S. government in Vietnam, 
and the 1974-75 worldwide recession that intensified
international capitalist competition and drove the
employers to make fresh assaults on the trade unions."

"Some members split from the SWP over this perspective,"
the SWP leader said. The course the party charted at this
time is detailed in the book The Changing Face of U.S.
Politics, by SWP national secretary Jack Barnes (see
centerspread ad). Among those who left, Sandler said, were
some party members of Almeda's generation with whom she had
collaborated for decades.

"Her grounding in revolutionary theory, internalized for
decades, and her practical experience in building the party
convinced her that the party was right," Sandler noted.
"She knew in her bones that this was the correct course,
and never looked back. It's easy to underestimate a person
like Almeda because she didn't speak often. But she would
speak up when something didn't seem right or needed
clarification."

Defense of abortion clinics, avid reader

Sandler described how Kirsch, already well into her 70s,
was part of the daily mobilizations that chased the
right-wing anti-abortion group Operation Rescue out of
Cleveland after their failed campaign in July 1993 to shut
down abortion clinics in the Cleveland area.

"From 1993 until she moved to Judson Manor Home she came to
most of our monthly counter-protest gatherings on Shaker
Boulevard," wrote Marilyn and Mike LaQuatra of the
Cleveland Pro-Choice Action League (CPAL), in another
message. "We all knew she had attended more protests than
any of us would ever achieve so we listened to her opinions
and experiences."

Helen Meyers, chairperson of the Cleveland SWP, spoke about
the last two years of Almeda's life. "She always took her
membership in the SWP very seriously," said Meyers. "After
she had a stroke in 2003 that left her blind in one eye and
caused other health problems, she decided to retire from
weekly activity in the party. This was a difficult decision
for Almeda because she took her vote in weekly branch
meetings seriously. She didn't want to raise her hand in
favor of a decision that she was not in a position to carry
out. But she never changed her political conviction of the
need for socialism and for a revolutionary party."

"Almeda loved to read," Meyers continued. "While in college
she got tuberculosis and spent 9 months in a sanitarium.
She read the whole time there. Rules forbid patients from
reading after dark, but Almeda used her heat lamp under the
blanket to read the Militant. She followed the trial of 18
SWP leaders and trade unionists in Minneapolis who were
convicted for conspiracy against the government for
opposing World War II." She read until the end of her life,
including Pathfinder's recent book Aldabonazo, Inside the
Cuban Revolutionary Underground, 1952-58, which she took
time to discuss with Meyers.

Schooled in classical music, "Almeda also loved reggae and
jazz," wrote Omari Musa, now in Miami, who worked with her
in the early 1980s. "We saw Miles Davis, Peter Tosh, Yellow
Man, Grover Washington, and several others at concerts."

"I didn't know Almeda Kirsch," said Ryan Scott of the Young
Socialists, who was the final speaker. "But from what I've
heard about her today, she led the kind of life I'd like to
emulate."

Scott has been part of the national effort to win ballot
status for the SWP candidates in recent weeks (see
front-page coverage). The meeting was the grand finale for
eight other young socialists from around the country who
have been on the national campaign team. Scott ended by
inviting all young socialists and other campaign supporters
to go to New York City to campaign for socialism at the
protests leading up to and during the Republican national
convention, beginning August 20.

Participants contributed $1,000 to an Almeda Kirsch
Pathfinder fund announced at the meeting. Anyone wishing to
contribute to this effort can send a check to Pathfinder at
306 W. 37th St., 10th Floor, New York, NY 10018.





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