Lifting Mountains: Memories of a Proletarian Sister

by Phillip Watts

Revolutionary Worker #1270, March 13, 2005, posted at

The names in this story have been changed.

It was yet another warm Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles when we walked to Mary's apartment in the projects. Marcus, an exceptionally bright 10-year-old youth, brought me. He was not related to Mary but he and his younger brother were staying with her while the chaos in his own apartment cleared. Marcus and his brother were tight with Mary's kids and he wanted to introduce me to them. I, along with other comrades in the RCYB (Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade) and RCP, had come to know Marcus and his brother shortly after the police had drawn guns on them while they were walking home one night in the projects. That, of course, is a whole other story.

As I looked through the crack of the door, I could see a huge gaping hole in the ceiling of Mary's apartment. "What happened?" I asked. "Damn pipe broke in the bathroom and water got everywhere," she informed me. Mary explained that the housing authority was supposed to fix it, but was waiting for a work order. It had been like that for a couple of weeks.

I learned on that visit that Mary had 11 children, 10 of whom were living with her. A full house with eight sons and two daughters, yet she had made room for Marcus and his little brother to stay, too. Over the years I learned the names of all Mary's children and came to know a couple of her sons quite well. I also came to know Mary well and I developed a tremendous respect for her.

I hadn't seen Mary in a number of years after moving from L.A. Recently, over coffee with a long-time comrade, I learned that Mary had died from medical complications. I was floored. Death can be so hard to digest. Especially when it is the death of someone who has gotten into your heart. Especially when it is someone so young with so much revolutionary potential.

Mary was by all accounts a fighter. I still remember the night we were sitting in her apartment, interviewing her as part of the research that went into the writing of the RCP Draft Programme. She was a nurse's assistant. She often worked two shifts to make ends meet. She was trying to go back to school so that she could become a Registered Nurse and make nearly twice what she was making. She explained to us that she had applied to the government program, GAIN, for financial assistance. GAIN told her that she had to take a job at a factory that would pay her eight bucks an hour in order to get the loan for school. So she would have to take a four-dollar an hour pay cut in order to go to school. She was rightfully outraged. She said "Do these people think I'm stupid?" In the middle of that interview the lights cut out. The bill hadn't been paid. We finished the interview by candlelight and flashlight.

There was another time when the Long Beach police interrogated her third eldest son, Mike, and beat him up. At first she filed a complaint against the police. But they basically laughed at her. Mary wouldn't stand for it. She went to the police station having organized a few of her other sons. Mary and her young family stood in front of the station and picketed the police with signs, calling them racist and demanding justice.

The state was always trying to split up Mary's family and take her kids away. At times the whole group was homeless. But she always fought and managed to keep the big family together. She struggled to care for all her kids to the point of sheer exhaustion. And all her kids loved her deeply.

You could learn a lot about Mary from how her kids looked at things. There was a certain attitude of "sticking together" and helping out those down and out that Mary passed on to her kids. I'm not sure how Mary developed her outlook on life. She wasn't into looking to "God" to solve her problems. She always seemed to look for the good in people. Part of it may have to do with the fact that she came from Louisiana, from a more rural life. Maybe part had to do with living so close to the edge, and being sympathetic and understanding to others in this situation.

Most of her kids never really got into the gangster thing when I knew them. Though they were under that constant pressure everywhere they lived. It is not just that they didn't get into a gang, but they didn't so much take up the gangsta outlook.

Her two eldest sons were tight with us revolutionaries in the RCYB. Ricky, the eldest, did go back and forth between being a gangster and being a revolutionary. There was a real pull on him that being a gangster was what he should do to be legitimate. Ricky had tons of heart, but he didn't see the possibility of revolution. Eventually the pull of the gangster life won out. But he lacked the conviction to really take up the outlook of gangsters and didn't last too long in the gang he joined. Ricky was in a kind of limbo. It is sad that we couldn't win him over. I know his younger brother never gave up on him. But Ricky ended up getting hooked on crack cocaine. Even more tragic, he was shot dead in the street over bullshit.

Mary didn't go the funeral. I can only imagine how devastated she must have been. I heard she didn't go because she didn't want to see people who looked down on Ricky saying nice things about him. She wanted to just remember him in her way. Ricky looked just like Mary. They both had dark chocolate skin and slight builds. They even had the same giggly smile which I can still see today.

In the time I knew Mary she never became a revolutionary or a communist. She was supportive and willing to help in what ever way she could. Sometimes she would criticize us in the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade when her "revolutionary sons" wouldn't help clean the house. "Why don't you talk to them!" she would say. She saw her sons becoming revolutionary leaders--and that meant something--including that they should set an example.


It is hard to look back, to think about this sister and know that she has since died. Lenin said that communism springs from every pore of society. I could see it springing from Mary. Revolution and history needs for such women to become communists. Maybe that seems like a tall order for some, that a woman with 10 kids, with barely enough time to sleep, would become a communist.

I was inspired to write this story after reading Chairman Avakian's essay "The Revolutionary Potential of the Masses and the Responsibility of the Vanguard" that appears in this issue of the Revolutionary Worker . Maybe I'd already been thinking about her, but Mary immediately came to mind. How many women like her, with this mountain on their back, will become part of an advanced class to take history forward.

How about a vision of 100 women like her in a housing project somewhere, applying dialectical and historical materialism to help solve not just their own very real problems but the problems of humanity. How about a thousand, how bout millions?

It tears my heart out to think of the untimely and unnecessary death of Mary. I feel deeply for her kids as well. So on the occasion of International Women's Day--I'm going to pour out a little liquor--and dream of the beauty and potential of women like Mary.