Remembering Steffie Brooks
Yesterday there was a memorial for Steffie Brooks, a long-time activist and revolutionary, and member of Solidarity in NYC. About 200 folks attended, many current and more long-time comrades, as well as family members. I was impressed by how deeply Steffie's integrity, honesty and commitments effected so many people. Below are some remarks I gave at the service. Steffie Brooks, Presente!
Sadly, I didn’t know Steffie all that long. She joined Solidarity in the summer of 2007. Tough political experiences in another organization had made her a bit apprehensive about finding her political footing with us. But she was obviously excited to be back in a socialist group alongside comrades she’d known for decades, and eager to be engaged with younger and newer activists.
Steffie’s most impressive political quality was that she was a passionate full-timer. Many in our movement – including some of today’s younger activists who have yet to experience movements like those in the 60’s – succumb to the strains and demands of contemporary society and settle down in a niche. They dedicate themselves to an issue or campaign, and often do great work in them. But this specialization often comes at the cost of a narrowing of our horizons and a compartamentalized and semi-retired political life.
Not Steffie. She had the broad-mindedness of the best of revolutionaries. She was an ardent feminist, an anti-racist, and a peace activist. All fully and all at the same time. Steffie took her – and Solidarity’s - feminist politics seriously and she strongly defended women’s right to self-organization. She participated energetically in a Feminist Retreat in January 2008; she called on us to come out to the demonstrations against the verdict letting off the police who’d killed Sean Bell; and she was active in her neighborhood anti-war organization.
These were all equal and intersecting commitments for Steffie, which came together in her work on Cynthia McKinney’s Green Party Presidential campaign. Steffie presented an upbeat and thorough description of the potentials and shaping-up of the campaign at a meeting of our National Committee, and her observations contributed to Solidarity’s endorsement of it. Then she set to work organizing for the campaign in New York City and coordinating our support for it nationally.
One thing related to this campaign, and to Steffie’s character and her desire for political development –
Steffie – despite suffering the stress and pain of cancer – came out to New Brunswick, New Jersey in August to present a workshop on the elections at a large conference organized by Solidarity and other revolutionary organizations and collectives. She would simply not let her illness prevent her from campaigning before an audience of activists.
But the touching and amazing thing occurred afterward. She approached a few of us, asking how we thought things went, and how folks in the room took her remarks. She asked us how she might have done better, expressed things differently, or appealed more deeply to the participants. She had yet another quality of those we call “comrade” – a constant openness to learning from new experiences, and to improving ourselves.
My last long talk with Steffie was around Christmas, when she was in Lenox Hill Hospital. She was obviously weakening and I asked her about how she felt and what we could do to help. I was surprised that she just wanted to talk politics! She had me bring in the latest Solidarity discussion bulletins and wanted details on how our upcoming Convention was coming together. We discussed our views on different questions facing the organization. At a short pause in the conversation, she leaned back and said, “ah, John, I just don’t think I’ll be make it.” I was so impressed with her desire to keep up with and participate in the organization, given her limited abilities; and that a part of her even held out the hope that she’d recover enough to get to our Convention.
She was always there, a real full-time comrade, right in the thick of things. And her life and service to our movements will always nurture and inspire us.