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
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
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When the International Brigades were withdrawn, Milt marched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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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