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Ginny Hirsch.

The following are excerpts from Fred Hirsch's words at the Santa Cruz, CA celebration of his wife Ginny's life, followed by a tribute from Bernice Reagon Johnson.

Dear Friends, Sisters and Brothers, Companeras y Companeros, Ginny's Comrades all,

We are, as I knew we would be, humbled by the depth, breadth and warmth of the love and respect for Ginny that's present in this room. Ginny's death touches us all for a single mason, her life touched us all ...

[Ginny was born in Altoona, PA and graduated high school during the Great Depression of the 1930s. At age 16, she became a socialist and life-long activist. She defended immigrants and naturalized citizens against deportation and became a union organizer. At the height of the McCarthy era she refused to name names for the FBI. She did the behind-the-scenes administrative work that put an anti-racist activist in the California State Assembly, and helped organize the San Jose, CA Friends of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).]

Ginny campaigned against the [anti-labor] Right to Work Law and typed and edited the booklet Our Badge of Infamy: A Petition to the United Nations on the Treatment of the Mexican Immigrant. It raised one hell of a stir and was widely circulated by La Raza Unida Party years later ...

In 1963 or '64 she went out to buy a needed family car and instead came home with a used offset press. Ginny upgraded movement leaflets in San Jose and made the mimeo machine obsolete locally. She was known by her signature: "Labor Donated."

When SNCC was organizing an interracial union in Laurel, Mississippi, Frank Cieciorka, who's here today, sent Ginny leaflet copy for overnight return. Ginny would stay up all night printing. Nine year old [daughter] Liza often fed her paper. When Liza graduated law school her first client was a Black worker in Laurel who was discriminated against by that same company. Liza won the case and Ginny glowed with full circle pride.

Ginny avoided the spotlight but always did the vital and unseen back-stage work of unfolding social dramas, such as weekly picketing of Woolworth against Jim Crow policies, a civil rights march to San Francisco, building the grape boycott, fundraising for the farm workers, helping and harboring draft resisters, organizing for the demise of the House Un-American Activities Committee, organizing the first San Jose demonstration against war in Vietnam.

Ginny did some of the basic work on school problems which led to formation of United People Arriba, the first East San Jose inter-ethnic action group. She provided the counseling and clerical work that put the Community Alert Patrol on the streets to document and publicize police brutality. Ginny worked for six months, gratis, to help three young radicals establish a law office. In Delano, in 1967 and '68 she helped form the Farm Workers Union's legal department. Her work joined trade unionists and priests together for international solidarity against Pinochet with the Committee to Defend Democracy in Chile. When asked by the National Lawyers' Guild to head up the jury investigation for the Angela Davis trial, Ginny swung into action ...

Ginny was an instinctive organizer. In just a few minutes Ginny could meet a person, learn about them, start a relationship and recruit them to the work at hand. She loved people and listened to them and they loved her in return. One saying out of SNCC stayed with Ginny as a mantra of faith for forty years: "The people is always right."

Ginny despised the fact that the old AFL leadership collaborated with the CIA to overthrow the democratic government in Guatemala. That betrayal meant death for thousands of workers. When asked to aid Guatemalan guerrillas, she took it as a working-class opportunity to help right past wrongs. It meant a clandestine trip, crossing borders to deliver well over a ton of ammunition to the Guatemalans fighting for justice. Ginny wouldn't let me go with her. She thought it was too risky and said, "One of us has to be here for [grandson] Sam."

Ginny knew that anything war can do, peace can do better and that action by organized labor is a key to keeping this globe intact for our grand kids. She supported U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) 100%.

Ginny was a spectacular person in every way. For years we had a late night ritual. Lying in bed I'd say, "I wonder what'll ever become of us?" She'd respond, "I don't give a damn, it already has." She'd chuckle and drift off to sleep.

More than death, Ginny feared becoming dependent on others and losing choice in her life. When her illness became irreversible she refused extraordinary treatment--accepting only medication to lessen pain. A few days later she died in my arms. In a larger sense, she chuckled and drifted off to sleep.

As in most of the last 50 years, I hope to continue to measure what I do by what I think Ginny would want. I am so lucky to have shared this life with her. She was a true daughter of the working class, a wonderful wife, comrade and lover, mother to courage and grandmother to children in whom she had undying hope and faith.

A Tribute from Bernice Johnson Reagon When former SNCC field secretary Bernice Johnson Reagon read Fred's tribute to Ginny she was moved to send this note "to the editor."

I never knew Ginny Hirsch, but every time I get tired, I am going to read her husband Fred's incredible tribute to her. First there is the tribute itself and the way it reveals the depth of the partnership between Fred and Ginny, that makes you feel the wonder and shouting glad that they found each other and held on together. And then there is the consistency in the way Ginny did her work as a fighter who made a difference. As I read the lines I could feel the force of her energy, not missing an opportunity to be about creating a world with justice and access to change. Her work really seemed to be about getting up in the morning, finding out she was alive and getting to organizing that made sure her "light" would be there. There is a song that goes:

Let your light shine, shine, shine let your light shine, shine, shine maybe someone down in the valley trying to get home

There is an Ella Baker quote that is the basis for the song I wrote, "We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it happens," which of course means that Ginny Hirsch is still charging the air somewhere for those of us who believe the dead are not under the earth ... Ginny Hirsch found the way to use the breath of life to its fullest. May we all move in the power and spirit of her light and, yes, "call her name" so that we will have her with us as we continue ...

Editor's note: If you would like the full text of Fred's tribute, send Social Policy an e-mail address or a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
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Title Annotation:In Memory of ...
Author:Hirsch, Fred; Reagon, Bernice Johnson
Publication:Social Policy
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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