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Guided by 'great feelings of love'

Published May 24, 2005 10:26 PM

Pat Chin

Pat Chin, contributing editor at Workers World newspaper and Workers World Party national committee member, died on May 16. She was 56.

She was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994. Throughout the almost 11 years that followed, including the two-and-a-half years after she learned that the cancer had metastasized and could not be cured, this stalwart revolutionary socialist carried on with her life's work of fighting to overturn capitalism and build a new world of justice and equality.

In fact, only three days before she was hospitalized with seizures in February, she had driven from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Boston to speak at a Haiti solidarity event. Her last words in what would prove to be her final speech: "On your feet, on your feet and get back into the street!"

This was Pat Chin, fighter to the end.

'A better world's in birth'
Pat Chin's last message to the New York branch of the Party, called in to a meeting on March 25.

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(Running time is 05:08, filesize is 4.7MB)

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She was a fighter--and fearless--from the start. One day when Pat and her older sister Veronica were little girls walking home from school, a boy started teasing Veronica. Pat grabbed a tree branch, jumped in front of her sister waving the branch and shouting at the boy to leave her alone, and drove him off.

This was in Kingston, Jamaica, where Patricia Rose Chin was born on Jan. 13, 1949. The family lived in the working-class community of Fletchers Land, on Love Lane.

The Chinese Revolution took place that same year. This great event in the world's most populous nation would always have a special resonance for Pat, not least because her grandfather was Chinese.

Later, as an adult, Pat would talk about what it was like growing up in Jamaica at a time when that country was still a British colony. The masses of people, descendants like Pat of enslaved Africans, were trapped in poverty. Meanwhile the imperialists got rich off Jamaicans' labor and Jamaica's resources such as sugar.

Pat attended schools under British control, learned about British laws, British history, British arts and letters. The racism of the colonial rulers was pervasive. Black schoolchildren were expected to learn to submit.

But this, the post-World-War-II era, was also a time when nations around the world were waging anti-imperialist struggles. From Africa to Asia to the nations of the Caribbean, among them Jamaica, oppressed peoples were rising up and kicking out the colonizers. All this had an impact on Pat.

Then, on Jan. 1, 1959, came the Cuban Revolution. The breathtaking news from the nation just to the north swept across Jamaica. Pat--about to turn 10, an avid reader, interested in everything happening in the world, a working-class Black child with a rebellious spirit--must have been thrilled.

Developing political consciousness

Pat's family immigrated to the United States in 1962. They settled in Brooklyn, where Pat would live for the rest of her life.

Like so many others, Pat came to full political consciousness as a student in the 1960s and early 1970s. She attended Maxwell High School and graduated from Queens College--after taking part in several sit-ins. This was the period of the Vietnam War and the struggle to drive the United States out of Southeast Asia. In this country, the Black masses were in motion with the civil-rights movement. Marches, sit-ins and urban rebellions swept the country. In the rest of the world, the vast millions mobilized against U.S. imperialism.

Pat became an activist. She would take to the streets countless times over the next 35 years.

She also became a scholar of the worldwide class struggle. Pat studied the history of the Russian Revolution and the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. She read the works of thinkers and leaders like Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, Amilcar Cabral, Kwame Nkrumah, C.L.R. James, Frantz Fanon, Walter Rodney, W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X. She researched the development of U.S. capitalism and how this country's wealth was built on the backs of African slaves, learning about Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and about John Brown, too.

In the early 1970s, soon after the Stonewall Rebellion, Pat came out of the closet as a lesbian. Later she helped found Salsa Soul Sisters, an organization of Black, Latina and other lesbians of color.

A turning point in Pat's life came in the mid-1980s, when she traveled to Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade. She was already a Marxist. But she was so profoundly moved by the experience that she decided to commit the rest of her life to fighting for revolutionary socialism.

She started reading Workers World newspaper. A fierce opponent of male supremacy, Pat attended her first Workers World Party meeting to commemorate International Women's Day in 1986. In 1987, she decided to join the Party.

A passionate internationalist

She quickly rose to leadership. It's impossible to enumerate Pat Chin's contributions to WWP and the class struggle over the ensuing 18 years. But many of them involved this newspaper.

Pat was an extremely talented--and self-taught--photographer. She was adept at catching the most striking images, especially of people in motion. She had an eye, a feel, for the beauty and dignity of the workers and oppressed.

She was a gifted and disciplined writer. She'd turn in a concise news report on a protest demonstration one week, a political analysis of an ongoing struggle the next, an in-depth examination of a historical event the next--and in between, she'd be preparing a major talk or packing for another solidarity trip.

For Pat was a participant, not merely an observer. Whenever she was asked to speak--at a rally, to a class, to a forum or community meeting in cities across the country--she went. And she was asked often, because it was both enlightening and energizing to hear what she had to say. She ended many of her talks with the slogan associated with the martyred Grenadian leader Maurice Bishop: "Forward ever, backward never!"

What she knew came not just from book learning or her own instinctive understanding. Pat walked the walk--in many countries, and at considerable personal risk.

She first traveled to Haiti in December 1990 during the first presidential campaign of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. There she attended a mass rally, witnessing the strength of the popular movement known as Lavalas--and the U.S.-backed repression against it, when that rally was bombed 10 minutes after Pat left. Her photographs of those killed in the bombing are among the most powerful she ever took.

Pat loved the Haitian people. She returned to Haiti several times. She met with labor union activists, women leaders, mass organizers. She talked and ate and sang and danced and marched with them, knowing all the while that Tonton Macoutes death squads could strike at any time and that her own well-being was precarious.

Pat was enraged by the Feb. 29, 2004, U.S. coup-napping of President Aristide and the ensuing U.S./UN occupation of Haiti. She took part in many protests, and last April 7, she co-chaired a mass rally at Brooklyn College. Later that year, she co-edited the book "Haiti: A Slave Revolution," also contributing a photo essay and a chapter titled "Haiti Needs Reparations, Not Sanctions."

In June 2000, Pat was one of the prosecutors at the International War Crimes Tribunal on Yugoslavia in New York, at which the United States was tried and found guilty of war crimes. The November before, she had traveled to Novi Sad, Yugoslavia. There, she attended the International Symposium on NATO Aggression on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. While in Novi Sad, she toured the many bridges and other facilities that had been destroyed in the U.S.-led bombing campaign earlier that year. She made many new friends on this trip, and was stirred by the beauty of the culture there.

Pat had also traveled to Cuba a second time earlier in the 1990s, and come back an even more fervid supporter of that revolution.

A short but full life

It is as if he was speaking of Pat Chin when Che Guevara said, "At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love." For Pat's love was large. It fueled her lifetime of fighting against racism and injustice.

She loved her class. For most of her adult life, she made her living as an office worker. She worked for Legal Services, first in Queens--where she helped organize a union, insisting that lawyers and secretaries be in the same bargaining unit—and later in Manhattan. She also worked for a time at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Her last job was in the benefits department at Service Employees Local 32B-32J, which represents building maintenance workers throughout New York City.

She loved Brooklyn, and her community of Bedford-Stuyvesant. She did some of her last organizing there. She helped to organize the Bed-Stuy Coalition for Peace in 2003 in response to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Politically single-minded though she was, she was also multi-faceted. She was a star gazer and music lover. She filled her house with art. She tended her flower garden. Pat adored good food--who can ever forget her zeal for lobster on City Island, or how she'd swing by the Chinese community for some roasted duck, or the delicious rice and peas she'd cook for parties--and she was fond of a lazy day at the beach. She enjoyed movies, though mostly disdaining the Hollywood product, and she got a kick out of BBC mysteries on TV.

Pat's love, of course, was not an abstraction. As her lover Barbara, her sister Veronica, niece Helen, cousins Bev, Angela and Nicky, and all her family, friends, comrades, neighbors and co-workers can testify, her good heart was manifest in her day-to-day relations. This was a person without an ounce of meanness or malice, a generous person, gracious and kind. She had a sweet smile and a charming laugh. Even as she suffered terribly in her final months of illness, her beautiful essence shone through. And she was political to her last breath, denouncing the U.S. imperialist government for stealing trillions of dollars in workers' taxes to wage war on Iraq instead of funding medical research to cure cancer.

Above all, Pat Chin burned with love of the struggle. And it lives on, this great love of the working class, of the oppressed, this devotion to the cause of human liberation, this fervor for freedom. As she knew we would, Pat's comrades around the world will carry her passion forward in the struggle for a new society of real equality and justice. She will be in our hearts every step of the way.