Always gravitating to the struggle

November 24, 2009

Shaun Joseph recalls the spirited determination of John H. Brown

OUR MOVEMENT suffered a blow with the death of John H. Brown on November 20 from an apparent heart attack. He was 51.

John's commitment to social justice was lifelong. He received his law degree from Antioch School of Law, a self-consciously progressive institution. In his practice, John always gravitated toward where he could be of most assistance to the working class: immigration law, employment law, bankruptcy law and so forth. However, John only joined the socialist movement late in life, as he was approaching 50.

In our experience, it's very hard to win people to Marxism after their youth; a whole lifetime steeped in capitalist ideology and routine hardens the mind. John was the exception to this general rule. He possessed the ability, which is surprisingly rare, to completely think an idea through to its logical conclusions--and to adopt those conclusions totally, if the original idea is correct.

He was, therefore, an extremely quick study, and soon became an "evangelist" of socialism. He excelled in turning all sorts of casual conversations into political discussions, concluding in the sale of a Socialist Worker.

John Brown at the National Equality March in October
John Brown at the National Equality March in October (Paul Hubbard | SW)

As a political militant who knew the law, John was always in high demand at demonstrations. One particularly wonderful intervention, which you can watch online, took place at Boston's JFK Library in August 2008. Nancy Pelosi had come to hawk her autobiography, and antiwar activists in Massachusetts and Rhode Island decided to protest her support for the ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The police of liberal Boston decided that the protesters should relocate themselves into a "protest pen," out of sight and earshot of the Democratic Party notables. John would have none of it. He launched into a brilliant argument with the officer in charge, befuddling the police while giving confidence to the protesters to stand their ground. The cops finally resolved the issue by moving the ropes of the protest where the protesters already were.

Over the last year, John struggled with mounting health problems, aggravated by the lousy U.S. health care system. This often prevented him from being politically active, to his great disappointment.

However, he attended both the National Equality March and the Northeast Socialist Conference in October, even though this involved substantial personal difficulties for him. We hoped that he would start becoming more involved in the struggle again, but at least he spent some time at the end of his too-short life doing the political work he loved.

John will be remembered by all who met him, but especially by the students at Empire Beauty School (who did his remarkable hair), by members of the Rhode Island Mobilization Committee to Stop War and Occupation, and by his comrades in the International Socialist Organization.

John H. Brown, presente!

For information about funeral and remembrance services for John, please contact [email protected].