Martha Biondi on the loss of our dear friend…

My dearest James Thindwa died yesterday January 19, 2020 after a courageous fight against cancer. His passionate commitment to fighting for social justice and his belief in the power of ordinary people to change their lives, and our world, will live on in the rich legacy he imparted to so many. Born in Harare Zimbabwe in 1955, James later moved with his family to Blantyre Malawi. In what ended up as a permanent move to the United States, James left for Berea College in Kentucky in 1974. There he began his commitment, as an African immigrant, toward identifying and forging solidarity with African American struggles. Upon earning an MA in Political Science from Miami University, and briefly considering a career in academia—and wisely rejecting it—James began his beloved work as a community organizer. Spanning issues from climate justice, to racial justice and the right of workers to unionize, James’ incredible skills at organizing and fighting for social justice touched countless people and communities. From 1985 to 1992 he was staff director of Citizen Action Coalition of Indiana and Ohio Citizen Action. He spent nine years as lead organizer in Chicago with Metro Seniors in Action organizing for national health insurance and mass transit. He served for many years as executive director of Jobs With Justice in Chicago, where he fought in numerous local campaigns, most memorably in the fight for a municipal living wage ordinance. His work with JwJ was featured on a Bill Moyers show in 2009, of which James was very proud. https://www.thirteen.org/programs/bill-moyers-journal/bill-moyers-the-journal-james-thindwa-and-william-greider/

He spent his last years working for the American Federation of Teachers, initially in making unprecedented strides in organizing charter school teachers in Chicago and then in the union’s efforts nationally to strengthen relationships with parents and community organizations. A lifelong activist and champion of human rights, James fought in numerous struggles including the anti-apartheid movement, immigrant rights movement, antiwar movement and many campaigns for racial justice. James was a firm believer in the responsibility of government to tax the rich, defend the rights of workers, provide free health care for all and robust support for the elderly. He refused the lure of cynicism and despair his whole life. He instilled in so many young organizers a fervent belief in the power of personal and social transformation. He served on many boards over the years, including the Illinois Labor History Society and In These Times Magazine, for which he also occasionally wrote. James loved music, especially Jazz, Soul, Blues, (and Rock and Country!) and a wide variety of the Afro-beat. He occasionally played guitar and drums in beloved South Side clubs and neighborhood bands. James cherished a wide circle of friends in Chicago and across the country and the world. He is survived by his comrade-spouse Martha Biondi, twin brother Jeff in Vienna VA and his wife Lucy; brother Robert in Harare and his wife Rosemary; sister Faith in Blantyre; his aunt, Joyce Kajama in Harare, and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins. Arrangements are private. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in his name to the Crossroads Fund in Chicago, a public foundation supporting the kinds of social justice organizing to which James devoted his life. An ongoing initiative will be created in his honor. https://crossroadsfund.org

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