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Michal Myers, 1967-2005

October 14, 2005 | Page 11

From Stuart Easterling

OUR STRUGGLE lost a dedicated fighter last week when Michal Myers passed away after a lengthy battle with stomach cancer.

Michal (pronounced "Michelle") was an educator, a trade unionist and a revolutionary. Something about her made Michal a reflexive opponent of injustice. Anger at the consequences of this system always burned bright within her.

Michal was an intelligent and deeply principled person, but she also took a very practical approach to the revolutionary politics she held. She once gave a room of Berkeley undergrads something to think about when she told them that her experiences as a kindergarten teacher had convinced her that the only solution to society's problems lay, as she put it, in "class war."

Honoring Michal

THERE WILL be a funeral service for Michal on Sunday, October 16 at 3 p.m. at the Burton L. Hirsch Funeral Home, 2704 Murray Ave. in Pittsburgh, Pa. Messages of condolence can be sent to: Bill and Barbara Myers, 719 Thorn St., Sewickley, PA 15143; or Stuart Easterling, 1024 East End Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15221.

Even after going through her various surgeries and treatments, Michal couldn't keep herself from the political work she thought was so important. She was still a wizard with a bullhorn, and could turn a sluggish speakout into an empowering event.

Some years ago, before she was sick, Michal was able to travel to Paris, where she visited the Mur des Fédérés in Père Lachaise cemetery--the wall where 147 Communards were executed and buried by the forces of the French counter-revolution in 1871. It was a place that made a real impression on her, because it highlighted the importance of memory for those of us who seek to change the world for the better.

Revolutionaries aren't born, we are made--not only by the ups and downs of the struggle, but by what our comrades give to us, from their own accumulated wisdom and experience.

Remember that the very best of what Michal had to give is in so many of us. By not forgetting this, we remember her, and it's how we remember the countless past revolutionaries who have made us and our movement what it is. It's the strength of this revolutionary memory that makes us stronger fighters for a better world.

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From Todd Chretien

MICHAL MYERS died October 8 a few days before her 38th birthday, after a three-year struggle with cancer.

In her last week, with her devoted husband and comrade Stuart by her side, she attended an opera, went canoeing, and rooted for the home team in the Pittsburgh Pirates' bleachers. To the end, she lived life to the full.

But that isn't surprising to anyone lucky enough to know her. Michal had that magical quality that made everyone around her happy to be in her presence. She was beautiful, to be sure, but her charm sprung from something much deeper. Her kind and generous nature came from her parents' and family's gift of love and confidence bestowed at an early age.

Not content to confine herself to a small circle of comfort, Michal put her talents to work teaching grade school kids in Oakland and Los Angeles. We can only guess at the number of people who will live the rest of their lives remembering Ms. Myers as their favorite teacher, the one who helped turn their lives in a more fulfilling direction.

Michal had a similar impact on her coworkers as a union activist in the Oakland Education Association and the United Teachers of Los Angeles, where she became a union chapter chairperson. The past 10 years have been bad times for teachers' unions, and Michal did her best to keep the tradition of militancy alive, never afraid to stand up and say what needed to be said.

Teachers and students will not indefinitely tolerate the destruction of the public schools. They will, sooner or later, create a great and powerful movement to reclaim education as a basic human right that must be the number one priority of any decent society. A couple weeks before she died, Michal told me that one of her greatest regrets was not living to see and participate in this coming battle. Her personal loss is all our political loss, as there is no doubt in my mind that Michal would have emerged as an important and inspiring leader for many thousands of her co-workers.

Sometimes, it's the little things that stick with you. I remember the odd combination of how she would glide into a room, put her hand on her hip, and tilt her head. Michal and I are the same age and I swear that at times, her mannerisms would trip bits of the Desperately Seeking Susan soundtrack in my head. Then she would open her mouth and say, "Do you think Lenin was wrong to call off the June protests in 1917 against the pro-war Menshevik majority in the Soviet? Or was he right not to fall for the provocation?"

She combined in perfect measure a warm and expressive personal grace with a sharp and tough political mind in the rarest of ways, whether maneuvering around police blockades during the 2000 Democratic Party Convention protests, convincing a comrade of the importance of selling Socialist Worker newspaper to their co-workers, or standing up against a political opponent.

We will miss her immeasurably. Millions of people die early and unjust deaths every day. Each of those losses are mourned. Michal would be the last person to believe that her passing counts more than any other.

Yet for those of us fighting for social justice, the tragedy of losing her at such a young age is compounded in the knowledge that we not only lost a friend and a comrade, but someone who would have played an increasingly public role in that fight.

This pain is partially offset by the lessons Michal taught us all over these last three years. She fought the cancer to the last with a discipline and commitment that almost defies comprehension. Of course, there were moments of despair, anger, hopelessness, rage. That is only human. But she never gave in. Never allowed herself to sink info self-pity or passivity.

Michal's example will serve us all well in the coming years as we face the challenges of wresting power away from the gang of thugs who currently monopolize it. A political movement that cannot come to terms with loss in the short- and medium-term can never hope to win in the long term.

The Latin American left has a tradition of honoring fallen comrades with the cry "Presente!" More than the simple act of recollection, it calls the deceased to life, to action and to interaction in the minds and hearts of the living, not only for comfort or nostalgia, but to consult and commune.

I remember living in Nicaragua in 1990 and first experiencing this practice in the barrios of Managua. I couldn't really understand how people who had seen so many of their friends and family murdered by the dictatorship could smile when hearing their names.

Now I know that it wasn't bravado or callousness or "getting used to death" that made this possible. Instead, those who fight for justice form a bond that death cannot completely sever. Invoking their names not only brings to mind the pain of death, but also the love and pride and hope and strength that the fallen pass on to the living. It is the bond between the past, the present and the future, and it is entirely human.

I went to Pittsburgh two Sundays ago to say good-bye to Michal. I told the cab driver the situation and asked him to wait at the curb and keep the meter running, whatever it cost. Michal and I sat on the corner of her street and laughed and cried.

After a final hug and a kiss, I got into the cab, unable to say anything other than blurt out "airport" through the tears. On the ride, the cabbie told me about his father who died of cancer three years earlier. He said he was not only his dad, but his fellow cabbie and his best friend. He talked to me the whole way to the airport as I stared out the window in a daze, and then refused to take any money for the ride.

As hard as this is, that cabbie's gesture makes me certain that Michal's struggle was not in vain. We will win a better world, and we will have Michal and all of those who give the last full measure before the revolution to thank for it.

Michal Myers, Presente!

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