I offered the following remarks at the September 18 celebration of the life and work of Dr. Marty Nathan in Florence:
“Every moment is an organizing opportunity. Every minute a chance to change the world.”
These urgent words from the beloved Dolores Huerta beautifully embody the guiding principle of the life and work of Dr. Marty Nathan.
Marty. Prophet. Galvanizer. Leader. Speaker. Writer. A fierce and remarkable woman who never stopped working for justice and peace.
She was for me, and very likely for you as well, a lightning bolt that served to jolt me – and our region – into formation to keep us moving forward.
She was my teacher in so many ways.
Elliot, Leah, Mulu, Masaye, my wife Ann Hennessey joins me in honoring of Marty.
As I thought about Marty’s lifetime of work, I had a recurring, vivid image when I closed my eyes. I would see Marty at the tip of a wave. Leaning forward. Balancing on almost nothing. Face to the wind. Defying the odds.
It makes sense because after all that’s the life of an organizer (at least the kind of fearless organizer Marty was) – pushing forward with no map. No net. Hustling to get ahead of a looming crisis or sieze a possible opportunity. Relentlessly, fearlessly, bending that arc of the moral universe that the Rev. Dr. King called us to – a little faster and a little closer to justice.
After all, Marty was an organizer’s organizer. She set the pace and dared us all to keep up.
I met Marty first while at the American Friends Service Committee – somewhere between 1999 and 2000. So I’ll share stories of that time. And I know that we’re blessed today by many who will share stories of Marty’s profound Civil Rights and Anti-Racism work rooted in Greensboro, North Carolina; the necessary work of La Cliniquita; the battle to save the Iran nuclear deal; the Markham/Nathan fund that honored and funded grassroots organizing; and her ground-breaking climate work.
The breadth and depth of her legacy is staggering. Stunning.
During the early days of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – Marty was out front in the organizing for peace and justice, soon turning her work to battle something equally insidious. Treacherous: The attack on civil liberties as a result of the passage of the PATRIOT Act.
At the 2001 Women’s Congress for Peace – called forward by Marty and so many in this room – creative sparks flew that grew into the flames of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee or BORDC, founded by Marty, Arky Markham who is also much missed, Nancy Talanian, and others from this valley.
BORDC – in the vanguard of civil liberties defense – battled the perverse and dangerous encroachment of the NSA, FBI, and many agencies which threatened the underpinnings of democracy as we knew it then – taking its work national over time with Nancy’s leadership.
Then came Guantanamo and Marty’s call to action to resist the lawless, racist brutality with the founding of the Pioneer Valley Coalition Against Secrecy and Torture. This work went hand in hand with resisting a new women’s jail in Chicopee. Marty helped build a faux prison cell to demonstrate the inhumane horror of incaceration – hauling to and from the streets of Northampton and Chicopee.
Amid all of this work, somehow we understood (and I can’t remember how) that Homeland Security was surveilling regional organizing meetings. So we thought we’d make their job a little easier by turning ourselves in. Marty, me, many others welcomed people to create files on the work they and we were doing and including pictures, their address, the best phone number to reach them. We drove a large stack down to the Springfield federal building to shine a light on what was happening in a public action, where – wouldn’t you know it – the FBI and Homeland Security were waiting.
I wonder how they knew we were coming?
Marty lived her values.
My wife Ann and I absolutely loved to see Marty out walking – often with Elliot. It seemed we always saw her on Elm Street headed downtown – not burning fossil fuels – headed to catch a bus or to run errands – of course we saw her while we were driving, and wincing a bit we always pledging to do better, urged on still by Marty’s example – whether around climate justice, community building, or the love of family and friends.
Of course in these last years, it was all about climate – Susan will speak more about Marty’s work to help found Climate Action Now and 2degrees Northampton, but I wanted to speak specifically to the profound impact of this work in putting an end to big biomass.
From my perspective, in the Legislature, I saw and I felt the power of the ban biomass organizing rooted in Springfield, driven by Marty, Springfield leaders, Susan, and so many.
Democracy is at its strongest and most robust when community leaders hold elected officials accountable for the moral imperatives the community sets forth. This was Marty’s sweet spot. She had seen the devastating impact of environmental racism in her medical practice and she was hell-bent on preventing any more damage. She made sure local, state, and federal elected officials knew that. And she – and the movement she helped create – prevailed. I’ll say prevailed against all odds.
I’m not alone in recognizing Marty’s power and force – and this people-powered victory she helped make happen. Shortly after her death the six western Mass Senators: Gobi, Gomez, Hinds, Lesser, Velis, and me joined to close the Massachusetts Senate in Marty’s honor as a tribute to her work.
The end of our closing read, “Those of us who want to honor Marty in the way she would have wanted to be honored must carry the work she loved forward, in her name.”
Emboldened by Marty and channeling her fiery and visionary spirit, I want to close these remarks by speaking very briefly about two pressing issues on the ballot this November:
The Fair Share Amendment – this is YES on ballot question #1.
And the organizing to defeat a possible repeal of the absolutely necessary Work and Family Mobility Act – this is YES on ballot question #4.
Voting YES on #1 means we pass the Fair Share Amendment that would put a 4% tax on the income of individuals earning over $1 million. Folks get a pass on the first million. The tax begins on the first dollar after the first million, so $1,000,0001. The funds from this tax would go to fund public pre-K to public higher education and to roads, bridges, buses, and trains.
Voting YES on #4 means that we sustain the Work and Family Mobility Act which the Legislature passed and then we passed again to override Gov. Baker’s veto. This law simply allows immigrants without documents to obtain a driver’s license. It’s a public safety, public health, economic development win.
Both of these campaigns are threatened by a rising tide of misinformation, xenophobia, and hate. They will take ALL of us living in Massachusetts to prevail.
So please. Remember Yes on ballot questions 1 and 4. Go home and Google how to get involved (or text or email me and I’ll help you). We cannot lose these fights – and so we have to fight like the wellbeing of our communities depend on winning. Which it does.
Every minute we have a chance to change the world.
Let’s pass these for Marty and keep her beautiful legacy alive.