Maggie Phair passed away on June 29, 2021, at the age of 91. Maggie was born just before the stock market crash of 1929 and she grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression in southern California.
Maggie’s activist career began at San Fernando High School when she brought the director of the Urban League to challenge racial slurs made by a teacher against Japanese, who had just been released from relocation camps. She challenged the discriminatory standards that enrolled all Chicano students in agriculture or home economics majors. She was a strong advocate for free speech, even for the bad guys.
Soon after enrolling at UCLA she joined the Congress on Racial Equality, helped to desegregate Bullock’s Tearoom, and Bimini Baths, a popular swimming pool. Anti-racist work convinced her of the need for full employment, and for democratic socialism. It was there that she met lifelong friends Vern Davidson and David McReynolds while organizing for the socialist club on campus.
In 1967 she became a founding member of the Peace and Freedom Party of California to provide a viable alternative for voters who support civil rights and oppose war. She remained a member for the next 50 years. She was on the Los Angeles Central Committee for the party and ran for office several times on the party’s ballot line.
Nationally, Maggie was active in the Socialist Party USA. She had first joined the party (then the Socialist Party of America) in the early 1950s as a college student and remained a party member for close to 70 years. In the SPA, she had been a member of the Debs Caucus, and was one of the core members who helped form the SPUSA when the old SPA split into three factions in the 1970s. She held several positions within the party, serving at one time as National Co-Chair. She also helped publish the party newspaper when it was in Los Angeles.
Maggie helped build the social workers’ chapter of Service Employees International Union Local 535. She fought the company association to its defeat and was one of the key organizers who brought the chapter to a strength of 2000 members and its status as SEIU Local 535.
A peace activist, her opposition to war began with the dropping of the atom bomb and has included opposition to the Korean War, Vietnam War and to U.S. intervention in Central America and the Middle East. In August 1990, Maggie helped to organize the first demonstration in Los Angeles opposing a U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf.
Maggie co-founded the January 22nd Committee for Reproduction Rights which was a leading pro-choice organization in Los Angeles.
Maggie had a lifelong enjoyment of kaleidoscopes, limericks and hootenanies.
She is survived by her daughter, Katherine Goldman, and granddaughter, Sydney Goldman.
Kielan Hammans writes for the Maggie Phair Institute.