Tim Carpenter is being buried today, May Day, in western Massachusetts; one of a long line of American revolutionary patriots fallen there. Left behind are his wife Barbara, two daughters, Julia and Sheila, and many thousands of activists, radicals, and progressive Democrats to fill his place.
I knew Tim first as a teenager and in his later years as a family man and father. His hair was always red, his blue eyes always twinkled, his chuckles were unforgettable, and the speed of his speech a subject of laughter. Middle age never slowed his fire. Maybe it was the decades of living with cancer that made him hurry. Maybe he simply loved his family, friends and purpose.
According to Barbara, Tim's passion for justice first flamed when he was twelve years old, 43 years ago. I came across him in those days, somewhere between the George McGovern campaign, the rise of Jerry Brown, the Indochina Peace Campaign, and the beginnings of the anti-nuclear movement in California.
If a monument ever is built to Tim it should be dedicated to The Activist, the unknown soldier of peace.
Tim was a rare combination of Catholic Worker, grape boycotter, the No Nukes resister, and constant campaigner for progressive and insurgent Democrats all along the way. He also defied his terminal cancer diagnosis for decades. But he knew he could not defeat death itself, and accepted his fate heroically. On Saturday night, it is said, Tim took his youngest daughter out for a steak dinner; on Monday night, he was gone.
Tim even prepared the organization he founded and led, the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) for his transition, by scheduling a May 9-10 weekend of reflection in Northampton. Many of us thought Tim could simply will his life to last until the final meeting, but that was our false hope.
A memorial service is scheduled in Northampton for the afternoon of May 10th.
Tim's last crusade was to mount a petition, which gained 11,000 signatures calling on Senator Bernie Sanders to run in the 2015 Democratic primaries for the party’s presidential nomination. Sanders was to drop by the Northampton gathering. Also planning to attend was Representative Jim McGovern, a longtime friend of Tim's and a stalwart supporter of Hillary Clinton. Tim's roots ran deep and wide, across many political divides. He campaigned for Governor Jerry Brown in all of Brown's presidential efforts, and even in his last days Tim was phoning me to meet "Jerry" and push him on fracking and climate change leadership.
Tim built PDA out of the activist remains left behind by the Dennis Kucinich presidential campaign in 2004. There followed a decade of opposition to war under the slogan "Health Care, Not Warfare." Tim formed a progressive roundtable in DC, including leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who sat down regularly with a team of activist leaders from around the US. He built effective links with National Nurses United and Communications Workers of America.
Although he lived many years "behind the Orange Curtain" in Orange County, Tim remained a legendary force in Massachusetts politics. I remember receiving a call from a frustrated Senator John Kerry in 2004, asking for advice on how I could prevent Tim from passing a resolution at the Massachusetts' state party convention demanding single-payer health care. I told the Senator that would be like stopping Tim from chanting, "let Jerry speak!" when the Clinton forces were shutting off the Brown insurgency at the 1992 convention.
Tim was instrumental in defending Elizabeth Warren in 2012, when some frustrated Massachusetts activists were complaining that she wasn't "progressive enough" during a time when her electoral chances were unpredictable. Tim could communicate both with Warren's internal team and the radical local activists, knowing that both sides needed to work it out and carry on.
As Tim was going down, he was very happy to see progressive fortunes improving in the elections of Warren and New York Mayor, Bill de Blasio. He was excited to send me to Washington for a round-the-clock campaign to prevent President Obama from bombing Syria.
His prognosis spread an urgency everywhere he went and to every phone call he made. Now that his fiery energy is spent, Tim leaves behind legacies and lessons for us all.
He proved that the volunteers of a lost cause could be galvanized to continue building a progressive movement in the absence of their original candidate. He endlessly counseled against the progressive tendency to "form a firing squad" aiming at each other. He forged an example of combining the fire of an "outside" strategy with the skills of an "inside" strategy to gain footholds within the institutions. He demonstrated that personal experience and learned qualities of leadership are at the base of more impersonal social movements and electoral campaigns.
Now he's laid his burden down. Tim's friends will tell his story, dry their tears, and carry on. As he knew from his own experience, there are more Tim’s out there.