A Tribute to Comrade Jack Gardener

Revolutionary Worker #1000, March 28, 1999

Sunday, February 21 was one of those days that gives Southern California its reputation for great weather. It was sunny and warm with a cloudless sky and crystal clear air. The park around the Normandie Recreation Center in Pico Union was crowded with people. Immigrant proletarians from Central and South America enjoying their one day off a week in the park with their families. Black and Latino youth shooting hoops and listening to music. Vendors selling cotton candy dangling from long poles or hawking elotes--ears of corn drenched in butter, mayonnaise and Parmesan cheese--wandering the walkways crisscrossing the park.

It was the perfect day for the memorial to celebrate the life of Al Abers, known to the readers of the RW as Jack Gardener. As the MC for the memorial welcomed people, he said, "For revolutionaries there is such a thing as Home, Sweet Home. And our home is wherever the struggle is." Pico Union was one place that Jack had spent a good deal of his political life--among the people, standing side by side with them, talking, listening and helping to lead them in revolutionary directions. This was indeed home for Jack.

One hundred and seventy people crowded into the gym for Jack's memorial. They were all nationalities and ages. Some were family members and some were long-time friends. Some people had worked with Jack, others knew Jack only briefly, and some had never met him. Everyone felt a deep sense of loss at the death of our comrade but the mood was far from somber. People came to this little corner of Pico Union to celebrate Jack's life and, as everyone knew, Jack was, first and foremost, a revolutionary communist whose life was dedicated to the revolutionary cause of the liberation of humanity. "The death of our beloved comrade Jack Gardener is a great loss for the masses and the Party. Deep in our hearts there's great pain and sorrow because we have lost a dear, staunch, fearless, exemplary brother and comrade. But we are here today to celebrate Jack's life and honor his memory by drawing lessons and inspiration from his boundless love for revolution, for the people and for the Party." Jack's memorial was deep, deep red from beginning to end!

Daring to Scale the Heights

For 19 years, beginning with issue No. 1, May Day 1979, Jack was a writer for the Revolutionary Worker/Obrero Revolucionario. So there was another special display: Collections of his articles, bound in covers with revolutionary artwork. One of the artists who made them told people: "I was struck by his words, words that came from a place that combined revolutionary theory with a deep love of the masses, where the tilt of his pen was sharp poetry to reveal the truth, arm you with a picture that leaves you unable to walk away once you know."

The day was filled with speech, music and poetry. A multimedia narration told of Jack's life as a revolutionary. People who knew him poured out their stories with tears and laughter. In the early 1970s, a time of protest, rebellion and revolution, Jack literally searched the U.S., in a VW van, looking for revolutionaries, for an organization that would allow him to give his life and talents for a communist future. Jack went to the proletariat, got a job in a steel mill, and became one of the founding members of the RCP.

There were special remembrances from the new generation. A woman who heard him Jack speak on Central American in 1992 said, "I walked in that room believing revolution was only possible in a Third World country and walked out believing the world could be ours, if we dare to scale the heights. I remember listening to Jack speak about the importance of having a correct line in order to make revolution and win. And how there was a Party here in this country that had a correct line and it was going to make revolution in this country. I walked out of the room, walked over the book table and bought the Programme and Constitution of the RCP."

Another woman added that she had learned from Jack that "as revolutionaries, everything we do is in preparation for making revolution, and how that is our starting point in every task, big or small, that we do. And that as revolutionaries, everything we do is to serve the people, and not to serve ourselves. I'll never forget Jack for not only the lessons learned, but for teaching me this approach, and our starting point, serving the masses and making revolution."

Joe Veale, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Branch of the RCP, spoke about his old friend. "One of the things I'll always remember about Jack--it's one of the gifts the brother left us--his relentless search for truth. He would argue, debate and struggle with you in pursuit of the truth. He wanted to know the answers to how and why society is organized the way it is--and how we can act on this in order to change all this shit for the masses of people. He wouldn't always agree with you--but once he saw what the truth is he would cast away old ways of thinking and act on what is true. Changing the world is what Jack's life was about!"

Jack's last assignment was to help report on the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. October 22, 1998, when 1,600 people marched downtown to the doors of LAPD headquarters. He said it was one of the high points of his life. The voice on the tape was bubbling with enthusiasm for what the masses were accomplishing. It was hard to believe that he had to march in a wheelchair. There was a video of the march and at the end, you could see Jack standing up proud, his fist punching the air.

Jack's wife and comrade of many years told the audience, "Al never belonged to me. He never belonged to his family. Al belonged, heart and soul, to the international proletariat and the oppressed people of the entire world. And that's the way it should be. That was Al. And that's why we loved him."

Jack's Music

A Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB) chorus sang "Who Will Dare?"--a song about revolutiony successors written after the death of Mao Tsetung. A jazz ensemble and vocalist performed "A Love Supreme." One of Jack's co-workers said they had a "mutual appreciation for artists and musicians who challenged conventions and pissed people off." Jack especially liked art that came with the experience of the oppressed, and jazz was a lifelong love.

One brother read a poem he wrote the night he heard of Jack's death. There was another reading by a noted L.A. poet. First was a poem by Bob Kaufman about jazz. He also read his own works: about playground basketball, another of Jack's passions. And finally, "Elegy for a Comrade, For Jack Gardener,": "Jack is more than memory / he is close and present / Listen closely / he is here now."

Jack's favorite band in the whole world was Ozomatli. "Ozo" is a band that looks like Los Angeles, and like L.A. it combines many styles and cultures into something captivating, stimulating and new. Their music just doesn't let you sit still. They ended their set with a dedication to Jack, and launched into his favorite tune, "Coming War."

Jack Gardener's life ended January 28, after a heroic battle against cancer. Jack's last song was "The Internationale," sung by comrades who surrounded him at his death. They sang it again at his memorial, in English and Spanish.

Jack called October 22, 1998, "a great beginning." In a lot of ways, so was his memorial. A sister who met Jack in 1994 when he was reporting on the fight against the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 said, "Jack's deep love and respect for the people, his relentless drive to see the masses rise up in revolution, and the way this radiates from his work is a challenge to live up to. " After the memorial, another youth said, "The way everyone expressed themselves and let their emotions out about Jack, gave me the chance to know who he was and what he had accomplished. The fact that he's been active and been fighting since the early '70s and on, just blew my mind away. It blew my mind because he was devoted and dedicated to the masses."

In the Red Book--the Quotations of Chairman Mao Tsetung--there's this section called "Communists." Reading it after the celebration we were struck by how Mao Tsetung set the highest standards of selflessness, dedicaton to the people and to the struggle. These were exactly the standards that Jack Gardener lived in his life... the life of a revolutionary communist.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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