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New Ground 33

March - April, 1994


  • Milt Cohen: A Life in the Movement by Curtis Black
  • Ron Sable: A Life of Health and Justice by Kathye Gorosh
  • National Health Care Strategy: Continuing the Struggle by Bob Roman
  • West Suburban DSA Spearheading Single Payer Advocacy by Kurt Anderson
  • Labor Party Advocates Organize by Donn Schneider

  • Milt Cohen: A Life in the Movement

    by Curtis Black

    For his entire life, Milt Cohen was ahead of his time. A "premature anti-fascist"; a determined dissenter in the darkest witch hunt days; a proponent of civil rights, independent politics and multi-racial coalitions long before these causes gained currency: Milt Cohen left a rich legacy of vision, integrity, caring and decency.

    Milton M. Cohen was born February 17, 1915, on the West Side of Chicago. His parents died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. He and two older brothers were raised in a Jewish orphanage in the area.

    In his last year of high school, amid the political upheaval of the Great Depression, Milt became a radical. He would later cite the influence of his brother, as well as the threat of rising Hitlerism and anti-Semitism. Entering the University of Illinois at Champaign in 1934, he joined the Young Communist League and became involved in protests against segregated dining facilities that excluded Black students.

    In 1937, a recruiter came to Champaign seeking volunteers for the International Brigades, defending the Spanish Republic then under the attack by Franco backed by Hitler and Mussolini. "I just simply said yes, without thinking about it," Milt would would recall, "as if I were taking another assignment." Even getting there was treacherous. Milt's ship was torpedoed and sunk. His lifeboat was the only one to make it ashore.

    Joining the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion (Canadian-U.S.), Milt first saw action at Brunete, where 25,000 died in three weeks. He fought at Fuentes del Ebro, Teruel, and in the final offensive over the Ebro. His comrades noted his courage in battle, in desperate, bitter trench warfare requiring sheer physical endurance and determination. He played a political leadership role, too, as party secretary for his unit, dealing with education and morale. In the retreat from the disastrous Ebro offensive, under massive aerial bombardment, Milt was seriously wounded.

    When the International Brigades were withdrawn, Milt marched with them through Barcelona, and he was there for the Spanish leader La Pasionaria's famous speech: "You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy's solidarity and universality. We shall not forget you."

    Returning to Chicago, Milt met Sue Greenberg. Sue's brother-in-law was Joe Gibbons, Milt's friend and mentor in Spain, and he had written to Sue about Milt. They were married in April, 1939.

    Weakened by his battle wound, Milt contracted tuberculosis, and spent ten years in and out of hospitals. He also finished college at the new Roosevelt University, and earned an MSW at University of Chicago.

    Working as an organizer for the Communist Party on the South Side, Milt began what would be fifty years of fighting racism in Chicago. Long before the civil rights movement became widespread, at a time when downtown hotels and restaurants wouldn't seat Blacks, he began working with the NAACP against segregation. Later, while working as a social worker and administrator, he supported the Chicago school boycotts and Martin Luther King's Chicago campaign, and worked with the emerging welfare rights movement.

    When racial integration came to the Cohens' neighborhood, Milt helped found the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, chairing his block club as well as the community-wide committee of block clubs.

    In the mid-50's Milt joined the Independent Voters of Illinois and became a valued organizer and adviser in numerous campaigns which challenged the Democratic Machine and steadily chipped away at its invincibility and total domination.

    With all his political activity, Milt always made time for his family, and he was a devoted father to Daniel and Jean.

    Milt paid for his political activity during the anti-Communist hysteria. Both he and Sue were harassed by the FBI and would learn of friends who had been government informers. When Milt was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1965, he chose not to avoid testifying under the 5th Amendment. Instead, he cited his 1st Amendment right to free speech and walked out. He was charged with contempt and counter-sued, challenging HUAC's constitutionality. His resistance contributed to HUAC's downfall.

    Milt became director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs in 1971, and his long experience and many contacts made him a natural coalition builder. He was one of the few whites working the Jesse Jackson's Operation PUSH in the '70s, and he helped lay the groundwork for the Black-Latino coalition which would transform Chicago a decade later.

    Joining the staff of the Illinois Public Action Council in 1981, he continued building coalitions. He helped bring together over 100 labor, community and social organizations in the Illinois Coalition Against Reagan Economics, which he served as director.

    In 1982, Rep. Harold Washington issued a challenge to register 50,000 new voters in preparation for the coming mayoral election. Milt helped organize a grassroots movement which met the challenge by more than double. Later he chaired the Chicago Coalition for Voter Registration.

    Milt joined the 1983 Washington campaign full-time. He later said that hard-won victory was his greatest satisfaction. The Washington movement clearly reflected Milt's long-time priorities: anti-racism, political independence, and progressive multi-racial coalitions.

    A few months after his election, Washington issued a proclamation declaring Milton M. Cohen Day a day for Chicagoans to honor a man "who has dedicated his life to the unceasing struggle for the civil and economic rights of all people and has worked for 50 years in the cause of progressive change and reform politics in Chicago and a more democratic, humane and peaceful America and world." Mayor Washington noted that to honor Milt Cohen is to honor "thousands of rank-and-file activists who work day and night in the struggle for jobs, justice, and peace."

    Milt worked to expand the movement's electoral gains and promote its progressive agenda, and he soon became active in a new area of civil rights with Access Living, promoting equal rights for people with disabilities.

    Through all the vicissitudes of the socialist movement, Milt maintained the commitment to basic social change which grounded all his work. Leaving the Communist Party in the 1960's, he supported groups which merged to form the Democratic Socialists of America, of which he was a founding member.

    Milt and Sue provided much of the spirit for the Southside branch of DSA, and later Milt was co-chair of the Chicago chapter. In 1989, Chicago DSA honored Milt and Sue for their long-term commitment with its Debs-Thomas-Harrington Award.

    Carol Moseley Braun's election to the Senate in 1992 was another landmark for Milt. He had helped recruit Braun for her first legislative race in 1978, and one of his last projects before leaving Chicago was soliciting DSA members to participate in the Braun campaign.

    With Milt suffering from Parkinson's disease, he and Sue moved to Oregon to live with Jean and her family in April, 1992. There he continued to stay informed and engaged, helping with phone calls in Beverly Stein's race for Multnomah County Chair.

    Hospitalized on New Year's Eve, he died in his sleep on January1, 1994. He is survived and mourned by his wife, Sue son Daniel, daughter Jean, granddaughter Laila, grandson Nicholas Milton, and brother Eli.

    We will miss and remember Milt for his tremendous commitment and energy, his sincerity and integrity, his tenacious combination of political realism with enduring faith in the possibility of a better world, and especially for his warmth, modesty, and basic decency. He had a special gift for seeing both the forest and the trees an organizer who knew the overriding importance of causes and principles, but understood the equal importance of people. In the work which was his life, over his 50-plus years in the movement, he reached out to thousands of individuals, encouraging and inspiring, and imparting to each a portion of his commitment and his humanity.

    Ron Sable: A Life of Health and Justice

    by Kathye Gorosh

    Ron Sable, M.D., Assistant Director of the Cook County HIV Primary Care Center, Attending Physician, Department of Medicine, Cook County Hospital, died from AIDS in peace at home in the company of friends and loved ones on December 30, 1993. He was 48 years old.

    Throughout his life, Ron was extraordinarily consistent. His personal and professional actions were guided by deeply held convictions of social justice and human rights. The remarkable breadth of his accomplishments reflect an unfailing commitment to progressive activism.

    Ron spent his entire medical career at Cook County Hospital. He did his residency training in Internal Medicine from 1976-1981, and became an attending physician in the Department of Medicine in 1981. Ron devoted his time at the hospital to the clinics and spent many years at the Cermak Health Services of the Cook County Jail.

    For Ron, there was no distinction between his medical career in the public sector and his political activism. He was a tireless advocate for health care as a human right. He was an advocate for the rights of the medically underserved, whether gay or lesbian, people of color, women and children, injection drug users, Vietnam veterans, or the 40 million Americans without health insurance.

    Ron spent his last years as the President of the Illinois Chapter and the National Policy Strategist for the Physicians for a National Health Plan. Until the last two months of his life, he traveled around the country, organizing physicians toward a single payer system of health care in the United States.

    In health care alone, the scope of Ron's activities and contributions is remarkable. He was a leader in Chicago in the fight against AIDS. In 1983, he co-founded the Sable/Sherer Clinic at Cook County Hospital for the care and research of HIV disease. In 1984, Dr. Sable established the AIDS Prevention Service for education and prevention at Cook County Hospital. In 1986, he co-founded the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, on which he was a Member of the Board of Directors until his death. In 1989, Dr. Sable co-founded the Chicago Community Programs for Clinical Research on AIDS with support from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Sable became the Assistant Director of the Cook County HIV Primary Care Center when it was established in 1992.

    Dr. Sable fought against racism throughout his life. He was among the many supporters of the broad, multi-racial coalition spearheaded by the late Harold Washington. He was a Board Member for 10 years of the Crossroads Fund and the Illinois Public Action Coalition. He served as a medic in Vietnam in 1969-1970, and he was an active advocate for the rights of Vietnam veterans throughout his career.

    During his life, he was a fierce advocate for the rights of gays and lesbians. In 1987, he became the first openly gay candidate for alderman in Chicago's 44th Ward. He narrowly lost to the incumbent. Although a second campaign in 1991 was also unsuccessful, he never felt defeated. After the first campaign, he founded IMPACT, a political action committee for the advancement of gay and lesbian issues. He was also an advocate for the rights of all women to freedom of reproductive choice.

    Ron Sable was a do-er. He had no patience for people if they talked about injustice but failed to do anything about it. Ron was an activist and remained true to his politics his entire life. This made the New American Movement naturally attractive to him. The New American Movement had made health care and gay and lesbian concerns prominent parts of its agenda quite early in its history. It had the reputation of being an organization of activists. In the late 1970's, Ron became an Associate Member of the New American Movement. While he was not active in the day to day doings of the organization, he was a generous supporter. When the New American Movement merged with the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, Ron Sable became a charter member of the new organization. He was instrumental in forming Chicago DSA's Gay and Lesbian Branch and continued his generous support of the organization.

    As Randy Shils, journalist and author of And the Band Played On, stated on a recent 60 Minutes interview several weeks prior to his own death from AIDS, "...I feel my life is finished but not yet completed." Ron Sable had so much more he wanted to do. His legacy of justice and activism is something we all should emulate.

    Ron Sable is survived by his life partner, Jose Narvaez; his two sons, John Gabriel Fagan and Matthew Gagnon; his mother, Barbara Sable; and his sister, Cindy Weinstein. Donations may be made to: The Ron Sable Fund, in care of the Crossroads Fund, 3411 W. Diversey, Chicago, IL 60647-1245.

    National Health Care Strategy: Continuing the Struggle

    by Bob Roman

    Toward the end of January, representatives of the Coalition for Better Health Care's member organizations met in Chicago to discuss the current state of the battle for a national health care system and to chart future strategies in that fight. Partly because of the weather, it was a fairly small meeting with about two dozen attendees, including four members of Chicago DSA. The division in the movement between supporters of the Clinton plan and the single-payer Wellstone-McDermott bill was not particularly prominent at the meeting. Most of the attendees supported the concept of a single-payer health care plan but felt that the Clinton plan was the main game in town. Perhaps this partially accounts for meeting's emphasis on state politics over the national arena.

    Only about a third of the meeting was devoted to national politics. The general feeling was that the Republican congressmen were mostly a lost cause. On the issue of national health, Illinois does have a very good Democratic delegation in Congress. The only Democrat needing a good education on the subject is William Lipinski. Congressman Lipinski, you may recall, defeated Congressman Russo by running a "me-too" campaign in favor of a national health plan. Since then, he has adopted a position somewhere to the right of the Cooper bill. And while all the other Congressional Democrats can use reminding, at least one needs reminding more than others: Congressman Mel Reynolds.

    The Campaign for Better Health Care's Federal strategy is primarily a campaign of public and Congressional education. The Campaign is distributing postcards to mail to Congress which do not support any particular bill but demand that any bill passed support the principles embodied in the single-payer approach: universal coverage, savings, simplicity, quality and choice. They intend to be sure that supporters of a national health plan are present at all the Congressional "Town Meetings" which Congressmen are planning around the state. They are also planning events around the state around a National Health Care week from April 18th to 23rd.

    Most of the meeting focused on state politics, primarily the Campaign for Better Health Care's efforts to pass an "Illinois Health Security Act". Last year's effort failed in the Illinois House, basically by one vote. You may recall that one of the early supporters of the bill, Jeff Schoenberg (D-56, Skokie/Wilmette) defected and voted against the bill.

    It is ironic that the Illinois Health Security Act is mostly a nothing bill. At best, it could be described as a lobbyist's chess move. Last year's bill stated that Illinois would have a universal access health care system by January 1, 1996, and describes features that are typical of a single-payer system without commiting to such a system. Then it appoints a commission to study how best to implement such a system. There's nothing else to it.

    The discussion centered on how to get the bill through the Illinois House. The Senate is regarded as being rather unlikely this year as the Republicans have been pretty consistently opposed to the bill. One of the tactics decided upon was to get the Democratic candidates for governor on board. This has been fairly successful, you'll notice, and it may have had the interesting side effect of making health care a popular issue among Democratic candidates, particularly those who won't be making any decisions on the subject if elected.

    West Suburban DSA Spearheading Single Payer Advocacy

    by Kurt Anderson

    Health care reform is the most pressing agenda item in the U.S. West Suburban DSA (WSDSA) has been working hard to spearhead the call for the little talked about single payer option.

    On January 29th, WSDSA attended the West Suburban Peace Through Justice Seminar at the College of DuPage and distributed material about single-payer and held a workshop about the single payer option. Many found the single payer's simplicity and fairness as the major reasons for their support. They were amazed that it was not getting the media play that the Cooper bill was. It was unfortunate, however, that the "S" word in our title kept a number of individuals from having an open mind.

    On Friday, February 18th, WSDSA in conjunction with the West Suburban Peace Through Justice Coalition sponsored a well attended and received panel discussion on health care reform at the College of DuPage. Mr. Chester Stroyny, Regional Administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration presented the Clinton proposal. Mr. Mark Vogel of the Americans for Intelligent Health Care presented the Republican and conservative Democratic plans, and Mr. Sid Bild of Physicians for a National Health Plan presented the single payer option. The evening began with some performance art concerning the state of health care reform. The performance was from Mr. Vogel who stated that he was "... not afraid to stand up here and wrap myself in the American flag and say that collectivism goes against everything that America stands for..." and " ... health care is not a right, but rather, can be regulated through good habits and paid for with medical IRA's." Mr. Vogel was unable to explain how his plan would make American industry competitive when it must pay about $700 per car for health insurance when the Germans pay $300 and the Canadians pay about $200. His response was that the UAW "got a really good contract".

    During Stroyny's presentation, he made an observation which many Americans have about the Clinton plan: "I don't understand the intricacies." The idea of regional health alliances, which is the linchpin of the Clinton plan, was attacked both by Vogel and Bild as bureaucratic and a process which neither Americans or the government would be capable of utilizing as planned.

    Dr. Bild presentation of insurance companies as unnecessary was substantiated by stories from the audience which indicated that the insurance companies' greed for profits is incompatible with the health of the insured. Most in the audience agreed that limits as to what pharmaceutical companies could charge was fair, necessary and ethical.

    WSDSA members organized, planned and executed the meeting with the tireless Steve DeLaRosa of the Universal Health Care Action Network. The event was taped for local cable TV and will be broadcast soon.

    On February 27th, WSDSA, in coalition with Church Women United sponsored an event at St. Michael's United Church of Christ in West Chicago entitled "Ethical Choices- Reforming Health Care". The event was designed specifically to make the participants examine the ethics involved in health care reform from a moral and religious perspective. The workshop was well attended and made several "conservative" Christians realize that single payer was indeed the most ethical and economical means by which to dispense health care. Many participants were unaware that our health care system is so rich but really serves so few. The workshop was also an excellent opportunity to debunk many myths about the Canadian system. WSDSA was able to make a number of new contacts and will be keeping in touch with them in order to dispense the gospel of single payer.

    Labor Party Advocates Organize

    by Donn Schneider

    On Thursday evening, February 24th, the Chicago Chapter of Labor Party Advocates held their founding meeting at Teamster City in Chicago. There were four items on the agenda. Set up a simple organizational structure. Elect leadership. Report on national LPA developments. And good and welfare, by which was meant setting priorities, among other things.

    The Labor Party Advocates is the ten year old child of Tony Mazzocchi of the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers International. In recent years, LPA has been gaining increasing support from unionists and progressives who do not believe that the Republican or the Democratic Party are concerned about the problems of the working man and woman.

    Today, Labor Party Advocates neither runs nor endorses candidates for office. They do not interfere with unions' political activities. However, LPA does push for a new economic, social and political agenda for the working class, including the organization of a labor party. At a future date, the LPA could serve as a catalyst for a strong national Labor Party.

    In June, 1993, former Congressman Charles Hayes, himself a former Vice President of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, called a meeting of trade unionists to meet with Tony Mazzochi. The participants of this meeting became the Steering Committee of the Chicago Chapter of LPA. Among the people on the Steering Committee are Charles Hayes, Johnnie Jackson, Jack Spiegel and Cole Wright. The February meeting elected eight additional members to the Steering Committee.

    There was a discussion on what national issue the Chicago Chapter should support. One proposal was jobs. Another was single-payer National Health Care. A vote was called and the majority voted to work on single-payer National Health Care. The next meeting will develop a strategy for promoting national health care.

    Labor Party Advocate's national interim steering committee met in Chicago last October. At that meeting, it was decided to hold LPA's first national convention in 1995. There was a great deal of talk about the possibility of having the convention in Chicago.

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