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A Working Class Intellectual Is Lost (continued)

[…based on comments Don Fitz made at memorial services for Mary Jo Maroney at the Central Reform Congregation, St. Louis, on October 18, 2009.]

These are the public sides of Mary Jo. The side I appreciated most was the side that others often did not get a chance to see. Mary Jo was what I would call a “working class intellectual.” She looked deeply at political events and realized what was happening beneath the surface.

The first year that we got to know each other we shared a critical attitude toward the Earth Day being organized by those pretending to be environmentalists but who appeared more interested in pulling off a publicity gimmick than in doing anything that had a serious environmental component. The entire time we knew each other, we shared the experience of being labor supporters while not having jobs that gave us the opportunity to join a union.

Whenever the Greens worked on issues of gender or race, Mary Jo reminded us that class was the fundamental dividing line in US society. She brought a class perspective every time the Greens dealt with school closings, lead poisoning, or efforts to drive people from their homes.

In the early days of the Greens, Mary Jo went on several trips to help build the Left Green Network and infuse it with working class values. She helped found the magazine Synthesis/Regeneration, which is sent to members of The Greens/Green Party USA. Though she always helped get the magazine out, she told me that she did not feel comfortable at editorial board meetings because she would be the only one there without a college degree. I often told her that the magazine would benefit far more from a working class person who could think than from a brain-dead Ph.D.

During the last couple of years, I came to admire the feeling that Mary Jo had toward her job. She had work that was in some way related to medical insurance the entire time I knew her. Most people can tell you something they dislike about the particular job they are paid to do; but very few people can ask “Should this work be done by anyone or should it be abolished?” Mary Jo was one of those people.

She was acutely aware that Americans need a single payer system that guarantees medical care to all. She was also aware that such a system would have no need for the sort of work she did, and there would have to be a way to find different jobs for those working on insurance claims because, like her, they all need an income.

Sometimes we reflected on how great it would be for nuclear workers to demand other jobs so that nukes could be shut down, for auto workers to envision themselves doing something besides making cars, and to find some sort of socially useful labor for lawyers, psychologists and social workers.

There are many ways to commemorate Mary Jo’s life. I can think of no better way than to work for a single payer health care system — a system that does not compromise away medical care but provides it to everyone in America, regardless of their ability to pay and regardless of their immigrant status.