Sylvia Weinstein, business manager of Socialist Viewpoint, died August 14, at age 75. She was born Sylvia Mae Profitt in 1926, on the outskirts of Lexington, Kentucky. Fifty-six of those years, her entire adult life, was spent as an active participant in the revolutionary workers movement: 38 years in the Socialist Workers party, 18 years in Socialist Action, of which she was a founding member and full-time worker.
Sylvia spent the last six months of her life as a full time worker for Socialist Viewpoint and the Socialist Workers Organization. On the day she died she worked in the San Francisco office of the magazine and organization. She left the office in the afternoon, saying she felt ill, then collapsed at home and lost consciousness. Efforts to resuscitate her by paramedics at her home and later at St. Lukes Hospital were unsuccessful, and she died a few hours later.
Sylvias life, from an early age was closely joined with that of her husband, Nat, whom she married at age 18. Their marriage was a 57-year relationship of interdependence, love, parenthood and grandparenthood, friendship, and comradeship. Theirs was a lifelong collaboration in the work of the revolutionary movement. Sylvia leaves behind two daughters, Bonnie and Debbie and three grandsons, Kevin, Johnny, and Reshad. But many, many more people feel that with Sylvias death we have also lost a mother, sister, or friend.
Sylvia was an activist for 38 years in the Socialist Workers Party. She took assignments as secretary of the New York City branch of the party, as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement in the Brooklyn branch of the NAACP, and as a full time worker in The Militant newspaper office, among many others. She was arrested for sitting in at Coney Island Hospital at an NAACP action there to force the hiring of Black workers in the construction of more hospital buildings. She picketed at Woolworths in solidarity with the southern sit-ins. Like many socialists during the McCarthy-era witch-hunt she was visited at home and harassed many times by the FBI. Of course that never stopped her. She not only increased her activism, she even ran in socialist election campaigns for public office in New York and later in San Francisco.
Sylvia was an activist in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Soon after the Cuban revolution Fidel Castro came to New York City to address the United Nations. Sylvia was a key organizer in the committee that arranged a big reception at Harlems Hotel Theresa for Fidel and the Cuban delegation to meet with their U.S. supporters and Black community leaders. Sylvia remained very proud of that experience.
A working class feminist leader
But it was the feminist movement of the 1970s that inspired Sylvia to take a leadership role especially in the struggles for abortion rights and childcare centers. These issues had a deep personal meaning to Sylvia. The personal is politicala watchword of the second wave of the feminist movementreally fit Sylvia. In those struggles Sylvia was an organizer and activist. She did countless mailings and handed out hundreds of thousands of flyers. But the feminist movement brought out Sylvias tremendous leadership talents.
Sylvia spoke and agitated about legalizing abortion and about expanding childcare centers for all working parents who wanted them. She made her own experiences as a young mother who was forced to obtain illegal, terrifying, and unsafe abortions the property of the movement as a whole. She testified at speak-outs to legalize abortion; and later, when it was legal, she organized to defend the clinics from the attacks of the rightwing anti-abortion terrorists. She became a spokeswoman and teacher. She set an example for the entire feminist movement of unalterable opposition to the capitalist government who stood in the path of womens liberation. Her campaign for Board of Education in San Francisco was run on a financial shoe string, but Sylvia got about 10,000 votes.
S.F. Mayor Willie Brown, then speaker of the California State Assembly, tried to elbow her off the stage in the middle of a speech at a Day in the Park for Womens Rights. That was an annual demonstration that Sylvia had helped to initiate during the struggle for childcare in San Francisco. Sylvia also found herself face to face in opposition to Dianne Feinstein, then president of the Board of Supervisors of the City of San Francisco. Feinstein tried to use the childcare issue to gain political power for herself but not to expand childcare services for S.F. kids. Sylvia fought her on this and fought successfully against the S.F. chapter of the National Organization for Women endorsing Feinstein for mayor. Sylvia was both the main spokeswoman for the militant wing of the feminist movement and also the most respected feminist speaker among the masses of working women who demonstrated for womens rights. Behind the scenes powerful politicians moved in to try to isolate Weinstein and her collaborators from the NOW members by initiating a public red-baiting campaign in the S.F. media. To Sylvia, this campaign only showed how effective her militancy in the feminist movement was.
Sylvia Weinstein had the unique ability to make masses of people feel justified in their anger at oppression and in the justness of their cause. She also imparted a strong sense that masses of oppressed, working together, could exert their innate power and change things for the better. She believed in every ounce of her being that the workers were fully capable of taking control over society and ruling in the interests of themselves and all humankind. She was sure that eventually masses of people would join with her to change things, to make a socialist revolution. Perhaps it was because she exuded a deep belief in the goodness of her fellow workers, that people gravitated to her and were so affected by her.
In the womens movement Sylvia was able to impart that attitude of class consciousness to thousands of women during the ascendancy of the movement. In the socialist movement she was able to impart that confidence to her comrades.
Her last important political work was in founding the Socialist Workers Organization after the demise of democracy within Socialist Action. She continued the regular monthly column, Fightback! that she had written for Socialist Action newspaper in the first three issues of Socialist Viewpoint magazine. Her last column, on stem cell research, appears in this issue. The future success of this magazine and the Socialist Workers Organization will be assured only insofar as we are able to infuse this work with her revolutionary spirit.