September 30, 2015

Remembering A Fighter Who Died Too Young


[I think I might have met Neal Gammill. Once. These moving memorial thoughts by my friend and comrade T. Shelton of Tennessee give some idea of how much I missed.]

photo credit: Whitney Wood

"Hey, you're with that Freedom Road group, right?"

Those were the first words Neal Gammill ever spoke to me. He had walked right up to me at an anti-war event, and as I would come to know in his true-to-form way asked the political question on his mind. Over the next 5 years we shared countless hours talking politics, and doing politics--from trade unions, to community campaigns, from police killings, to movement surveillance, to revolutionary feminism, to the centrality of racism and methods for organizing working class whites to destroy white supremacy. And internationalism. In fact, always internationalism.

More than anyone else I know Neal always centered his revolutionary internationalism and the struggle to destroy white-supremacist imperialism headed-up by the USA. His internationalism and anti-imperialist line was always with him and his beloved √Čire (Ireland). These same lessons he shared time and again on the picket, at the rally, at the prayer meeting, at the public forum demanding self-determination and independence for occupied Palestine. A mid-southerner, the application of these politics to his own home was no different, always noting the imperialist root of US racism and seeing the struggle against white supremacy and for Black liberation as central fronts in our movement for real justice and freedom.

Neal could be counted on as a first responder to every threatened and undertaken act of US aggression, from Libya to Iran, from Egypt to Iraq, in Syria and Columbia. And Afghanistan. That was an imperial project he had seen firsthand, had participated in while in the Air Force and one, he would confide, he felt he had never been meant to make it out of alive. Like so many others, he did make it back from Afghanistan alive, but with those scars on the soul that the US military gives to vets.

Neal's politics grew on anti-authoritarian and anti-fa roots. Both as a working class white kid and in the military, he spent time in and around the white power movement. As is true for too many, the allure of whiteness and the ideas of Third Position politics were a quick mental exit ramp towards some taste of power. But even then Neal was always
a great poser of incisive questions, and the degree to which those positions crumbled under his interrogation laid a firm anti-fascist cornerstone for his ideological foundation for the rest of his life.

Neal believed in organization. He founded a local Memphis collective of socialists that gave an open door into leftist politics for dozens of us. Growing from late night conversations between him and one other friend, that group has grown into one of the largest (and most ideologically advanced) branches of the Socialist Party. Though he left the collective as it evolved, Neal always, always cultivated "party spirit" with others on the left. He was so open to criticism, to making self criticism, to asking deep, probing questions, and to principled dialogue. The bar he set time and time again for all of us on the left was truly high, but he showed us what being principled instead of sectarian looked like. And even when we failed to live up to that example, he was there to talk it through, to share his ideas with such amazing humility. To show love.

He was a marksman, and an amazing rifle instructor. For many, from his days in the Air Force to his final months working as a consultant at one of the only Black-owned gun ranges in the US, Neal was the first person to really teach you how to hold, fire, strip, and clean a weapon. And again, there was never room for a division of mental and manual labor. Neal knew you cannot split work from working class politics, anything else wasn't genuine. Neal would give you a crash course in safe shooting along with a full round of anti-focoism. His rules were clear, no one in front of the firing line, always know the rounds in the weapon, never think that you can "wake up" the people with a gun, and never delude yourself into thinking that "guns" alone were going to end this class dictatorship.

He was a comedian. He was known to homebrew, and to bootleg. He knew so much, about so much, and these are just the parts of him I was lucky enough to meet. He was a worker. Teamster Neal at UPS. Lineman Neal pulling cable and climbing poles in his AT&T/CWA prem-tech polo. And he had dark places too, and demons, and scars both physic and physical he brought back with him.

He never joined the Road as a cadre, but he was much more than a fellow traveler. He wore the heck out of his 25th Anniversary FRSO/OSCL shirt, and publicly supported the organization. It was always only a matter of time before we would have been together in an organization. But time isn't guaranteed, and losing him at 40 feels like such a raw deal. He gave so much of himself to so many of us, and taught us so much more than we can put into words. He was our comrade. 

Lal Salaam, my friend.  ¡Neal Gammill--Presente!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful tribute to a great comrade.

Anonymous said...

Neal was my nephew and I can only wise I would have know him like you did. What a beautiful tribute, I will make sure the rest of the family read this. Thank-you so much.

Whitney Wood said...

I love that picture. That was such a great night. He came over for dinner and my cat just WOULD NOT get off of him no matter what we did. I finally had to lock the cat up in my bedroom so Neal could eat, and then he proceeded to have a 45 minute conversation about the Spetsnaz with my 16 year old son. :)