Walt Sheasby: An Activist Life

— Dan La Botz

DURING THE LATE 1960s Walt Sheasby not only organized for Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in California, but also helped the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, worked against the Vietnam War, and advocated for and became a volunteer organizer of the Peace and Freedom Party.

In 1969 he founded and edited The Northcoast Ripsaw, a crusading, radical newspaper. That same year he helped found a branch of the International Socialists in the Eureka area.

Walt also gave an enormous amount of time to his friends and comrades. In 1969 I was a young teacher of literature at Humboldt State College interested in radical politics. I took summer school course on the May/June 1968 events, and in that class met Walt and a few other local radicals. We decided to form a radical collective.

Most of us were involved in organizing against the Vietnam War, but some were also active in labor causes and involved in the emerging feminist movement. Walt convinced us that we should join some national organization of the left in order to be more effective and helped us arrange visits from every major left organization.

He shrewdly invited the International Socialists (IS), the group he preferred, to be the last of the visitors. Most of us in the collective joined the IS. Walt introduced me to the IS view of Third Camp socialism, the revolutionary opposition to both capitalism and bureaucratic Communism. For Walt, socialism was about democracy, freedom and joy.

Later in his life, Walt developed a greater appreciation of his Latin American heritage and used the Latin form of Walt Sheasby Contreras, adding his mother’s family name at the end.

Whenever I saw Walt he would immediately launch into a discussion that took two directions. One part of the discussion dealt with what he was reading, what he was thinking, and the important ideas we both had to learn more about, most recently Marx and environmentalism.

The other strand of our conversation dealt with the group he had been working with — the African-American community in Pasadena, a group of Latino activists, or some young anarchists.

Already from the late 1960s, Walt argued that Marxist socialism had to take environmental issues and environmental theories seriously. Later he argued for a Red/Green politics of democratic socialism and environmentalism. Through all of these years, Walt remained committed to his vision of freedom, a green earth and democratic socialist society.

ATC 113, November-December 2004