Merle Ratner ¡presente!

On Feb. 5, 2024, the U.S. movement lost longtime anti-war, community activist Merle Ratner. She was killed instantly when a tow truck struck her near her home in New York City’s East Village.

Merle Ratner supporting peace for Vietnam. Photo:

The daughter of leftist parents, Merle became involved in the movement against the war in Vietnam at 13 when she was arrested for the first time holding a banner supporting the National Liberation Front of Vietnam at the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. Her moral indignation and dedication grew as she saw scenes of the war on television and learned of the U.S. use of chemical warfare against the Vietnamese people.

Merle’s political trajectory mirrored that of many youth of the 1960s who were inspired by the resistance of the Vietnamese people and then made connections to struggles playing out at home. She became a socialist and a communist, continuing her involvement in the movement for peace, justice and a humane world until her death at 67.

Support for the Vietnamese people remained her anchor throughout her life. She described her political journey in a moving interview with the New York Historical Society’s oral history project about the U.S. anti-war movement. (

Demanded reparations

After Vietnam’s victory over the U.S. in 1975, Merle turned to organizing to demand that the U.S. government live up to its unfulfilled promise of reparations, to normalizing relations between the two countries, and to ensuring that the people of the U.S. learned about the devastating and continuing effects of Agent Orange/dioxin that the Pentagon had spread across Vietnam. 

Merle and Ngô Thanh Nhan, her life partner and husband of 44 years, co-founded the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign (VAORRC) in New York to ensure that the continuing horrors of Agent Orange/dioxin weapons were well understood.

Merle remained the link between the U.S. movement, the Vietnamese community, and the Vietnamese delegation to the United Nations. Together with Nhan, she worked to educate people about the terrible effects of the imperialist war through public meetings, house meetings, media campaigns, and multicity speaking tours. They brought people together from the Vietnamese community and the broader population to meet with and hear Vietnamese people speak about their lives under attack from the U.S. 

Fought against Agent Orange

These powerful grassroots events included Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange poisoning, Vietnamese and U.S. veterans, survivors of the cruel and torturous CIA-run tiger cages, and anti-war and community activists. Merle arranged a U.S. tour for Phan Thị Kim Phúc, whose iconic photograph as a child fleeing from napalm being dropped on her village had so outraged the American public.

Over more than half a century of political work, Merle was deeply involved in many struggles. Besides Vietnam-related issues, she contributed her energy and organizing skills to the struggles for a free Palestine, for racial justice, and for the rights of low-wage workers. She served on the board of the Laundry Workers Center.

Merle worked at many jobs over the years, often for progressive law practices, and most recently as a substitute public school teacher. But her activism was her identity and through it she made an enormous contribution to the movement for a more just and fair world. Her untimely death is a great loss to all of her family, friends and political associates, but most of all to the political struggles to which she has given so much.

Merle’s solidarity was greatly respected and appreciated in Vietnam. The Vietnamese Communist Party sent condolences to her family. A moving memorial for her was held in Hanoi and virtually on Feb. 16 by the Viet Nam Union of Friendship Organizations. High level Vietnamese colleagues from the diplomatic community, the friendship associations, Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA), and her spouse Nhan remembered her work and love for Vietnam. 

Merle received awards from the Vietnamese Women’s Association in 2010 and in 2013 for her work with Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange/dioxin. The Viet Nam Commemorative Medal for Peace and Friendship among Nations was awarded to her posthumously at this event.

Merle Ratner ¡presente!

Paddy Colligan worked with Merle Ratner for more than 40 years, representing Workers World Party in Vietnam solidarity work.

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