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In remembrance of Chuck Kaufman, anti-imperialist, international solidarity organizer

By Jim Byrne

Chuck Kaufman in Honduras outside of the U.S. Palmerola Air Base, 2011

Tucson, AZ – It is with heavy heart that the news of the passing of longtime anti-imperialist organizer Chuck Kaufman reached communities on December 28. Born in a small Indiana town, Chuck’s life saw travels to numerous countries, most notably in the Latin American countries most firmly in the crosshairs of U.S. imperialism.

In 1987, as Reagan’s illegal Contra War against Nicaragua ravaged the country in an attempt to kill the successful Sandinista Revolution, Chuck answered the call for solidarity. He gave up his advertising business and joined thousands of other U.S. solidarity activists to help in the coffee brigades in Nicaragua aimed at helping the country produce commodities that could help fund the new government projects for the poor and working class. Later that year Chuck joined the U.S.-based Nicaragua Network on its national staff and served as co-coordinator for decades.

It is in that role that I first met Chuck in Nicaragua in 2007. I attended a conference hosted by Nicaragua Network and I was impressed by Chuck’s knowledge and seriousness of commitment to the Sandinista Revolution. One could easily see the internal flame lit inside him when he spoke of the Nicaraguan people and their struggle for national liberation.

Two years later, I joined a Nicaragua Network delegation with Chuck and others. It is there I got to know him a little better as we spent time hearing from coffee collectives and campesinas who received free cows and seeds from the Sandinista government’s Zero Usury program. During that delegation in January 2009, Israel had once again been bombing Palestine and there was an Israeli professor with us, and Chuck led the charge in defending the Palestinian struggle and silencing the Zionist claims that supported their genocidal apartheid.

Another unforgettable moment on that trip gave me chills: Chuck had recently returned from a delegation to Venezuela and he gleamed telling us that he was on the updated Caracas public transit system when a couple of anti-Chavistas were overheard by the crowd and were immediately drown out by deafening chants of: “Ooh aah, Chavez no se va!” As someone who had been interested in Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, that’s all I needed to hear to make sure I visited to feel that revolutionary power.

That awakening in 1987 cemented a lifelong commitment not only to Nicaragua but later other revolutionary movements in Latin America. As mentioned above, Chuck’s international solidarity, largely through his role as national co-coordinator of the Alliance for Global Justice, as well as with the ANSWER Coalition, extended to Venezuela, as well as Colombia and later, after the U.S.-supported coup, Honduras. It is there in Honduras where Chuck, like tens of thousands of Hondurans, was gassed by the U.S.-backed military dictatorship that ran the country with criminal cartels. Chuck’s work in the Honduras Solidarity Network allowed activists and organizers in the U.S. hear the voices of on-the-ground Hondurans battling the regime there. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Honduran masses and their organizations, Xiomara Zelaya, was elected the past November – a truly meaningful moment for Chuck.

One would think all this national and international organizing meant Chuck did not have time to participate in local organizing. On the contrary, Chuck was a valued member of the organizing circles involved in anti-war and immigrant rights. As previously mentioned, even though Chuck had a warm spirit and could joke frequently, he had a serious commitment to transforming this world from injustice to justice and from oppression to liberation. Most notably, in October 2013, Chuck and twelve others used dragon-arms to lock themselves around the wheels of the bus carrying detained immigrants awaiting the sham trial called “Operation Streamline.” The activists stopped proceedings that day and the buses blocked erupted in cheers at the bravery of the act. After a few court appearances, all charges were dropped.

Chuck also showed us younger organizers how to chair and conduct meeting – he exhibited the best traits of criticism but also worked tirelessly toward a principled unity. I will miss talking with Chuck on the picket lines outside the Federal Courthouse. And as someone who studied Nicaraguan history and fell in love with the Sandinista Revolution, it was truly a treasure to share space with someone like Chuck Kaufman who will always be wearing their bandera, La RojiNegra. Chuck also made sure we remembered our fallen comrades and led the call for: Presente! Unfortunately, from now we have to include his name: Chuck Kaufman, Presente!

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