NY Co-Chair at National Writers Union
I think that being pushed little by little towards the frontlines of battle, while our friends and coworkers suffer, is at the base of the fear and trepidation many of us feel. We, who are still striving to get out from underneath the ruins of the past to create a new world before it is too late, we who often feel alone, but never truly are. At every corner of the movement for a world that only belongs to working people, there are and were magnificent workers to be found.
If you are a nice kid in the working class movement, you will find those people. Evelyn Toby Emmer was one of them. When I received the news that we lost her, I felt that same fear again. Her example is irreplaceable for me and for most of us with her energy, passion, and diligence for a world of the working class. Tobe worked for the black liberation and Puerto Rican independence movement throughout her life tirelessly. She was a different brand of internationalist, telling me that they were on the side of the people who wanted the Vietcong to win the war in the anti-war movement. She continued her work as a Union Maid and brought her educational work with her to District 65, later merged into UAW Region 9A, for which she ran the Education Fund the rest of her life. She always fought for more support to give to community education for non-members.
Again, Tobe Emmer was a different brand of internationalist. She was asking my name with a deep respect and tender care, unlike so many. Originally being a Polish Jew, she was also aware of the brutal indifference of whiteness, and its tokenism. She was always working class gentle. Her family fled the oppressive atmosphere in Eastern Europe. Her great-grandfather was a doctor in the Jewish workers’ association—the Bund. Her mother and father were members of the Communist Party of USA. As Gibb states, “She was a red diaper baby, whose parents were blacklisted and consequently poor, spied upon, and otherwise persecuted during the McCarthy era.”
Her own life was always spent defending the oppressed peoples without knowing any fatigue or whining. Tobe was such a brave person that as soon as one mentions the sorrows of other people, Syrian, Kurdish, Yemeni Arab, her heart would burn. One could see it in her eyes. She is the child of a Jewish immigrant family in an Anglo-Saxon-Germanic country. She has defended the most marginalized and humiliated communities, blacks and immigrants in the years when racism was at its height. She sided with the liberation guerrillas back in the Vietnam anti-war movement. She says that we invaded those countries and displaced people from their homes. Tobe was a tiny aunt. But her heart was so big that thousands of people, dark-eyed, dark-haired, children would fit in.
Now I write for Tobe Emmer. Because the youth of our movement have to know their history, magnificent, unknown, ordinary workers in the face of racist Republican and hypocrite Democrat capitalists, in the face of sell outs, and the bourgeoisie’s “leftist” agents. The youth like me, like my comrades, have to know that there have been those workers who have carried from hand to hand the fire that Prometheus stole from the gods.
As I said, she was a magnificent worker. There was always a moment between us when Tobe would mention her plans to visit Puerto Rico for some campaign to get in solidarity, visit her comrades. As soon as she comes back, she would jump in her car, drive to Ohio from New York to see her family. Tobe Emmer was always forwarding me all those emails about political prisoners who have tons of different names, from different liberation movements. Tobe Emmer never left the side of her generation, even if they got in the deep and dark prisons of the empire. This makes her a role model for us in these days that we the new generations are trying to overcome sectarianism and individualism in the movement.
Tobe’s legacy has a huge mark on us— me. I am a teacher now. And in a class we talked about how Puerto Rico was colonized on Thursday, May 12, I did feel instinctually that I have to mention about this Toby. She would love to hear that. I could tell Puerto Rico’s story, because Toby made me feel their pain. I never had that chance to tell Toby.
She was like my second mom, an elder sister that I could make gossip with. Before everything, Toby Emmer was one who would like to be called Tobe instead Toby. She was a revolutionary spirit in a skinless individualistic world. She brought me an organic tomato, and two pieces of the best corn I ever had from her long trip from Ohio. Back on the way, can someone remember her friend in NY, and get some vegetables from a farmers’ market before she leaves there?
Hence, Tobe Emmer’s greatness is at her simplicity —which is a beauty to belong to the working class people and its children. Junior’s Restaurant and Bakery, and then that Irish restaurant we ate together with Tobe for the last time. It was 2021 December as I recall, before I took off for Turkey for a while. We shared a Jumbo Hot Dog. Her appetite was so lively, youthful, and simple.
I wrote this article. When labor historian Mark Rogovin who I had a chance to meet shortly but felt like I had known him for thousands of years had passed away, I couldn’t write anything for him. I feel regretful about it. Now I write for Tobe Emmer. Because the youth of our movement have to know their history, magnificent, unknown, ordinary workers in the face of racist Republican and hypocrite Democrat capitalists, in the face of sell outs, and the bourgeoisie’s “leftist” agents. The youth like me, like my comrades, have to know that there have been those workers who have carried from hand to hand the fire that Prometheus stole from the gods.
Con la lucha, Tobe!
Categories: U.S. News