Remembering Tom Condit

By Stan Woods
Thursday February 04, 2010 - 08:42:00 AM

Tom Condit, a lifelong Socialist and longtime resident of Berkeley, died Jan. 9 at Kaiser Oakland after battling prostate cancer. 

Tom was born in 1937 in Spokane, Wash., and he and his family followed his iconoclastic small-town reporter/editor father as he pursued numerous jobs along the West Coast. His sister Constance commented that they probably relocated a dozen times before she finished high school. Tom’s childhood probably influenced his evolution as a free-thinking radical, highly skeptical of the “free market” system. 

He lived throughout the United States before finally settling in the Bay Area. While already moving leftward, he did a stint in the Marine Corps out of economic necessity . 

He never saw combat, but his unit nearly missed being deployed as part of the little-known U.S. invasion of Lebanon in 1959. Tom later reflected that the invasion, while not nearly as bloody as subsequent and far-better- known interventions, was just as illegimate and helped solidify his anti-imperialist views. 

Tom was active in the left wing all his adult life. From joining his close friend, folksinger Dave Van Ronk, in the Young Peoples Socialist League in the late 1950s to remaining active in California’s Peace and Freedom Party up until the last week of his life, Tom always knew what side he was on. 

He was a founding member of the International Socialists in 1966. He worked as National Membership Secretary of the Students for a Democratic Society. He later was a founding member of Teamsters for a Democratic Union while working as a taxi driver in San Francisco. Last but not least, he was a founding member in 1968 of the Peace and Freedom Party, which became his life’s passion. 

He served as the editor of the party’s newspaper, The Partisan, and ran for numerous elected offices, with the most noteworthy campaigns being for state insurance commissioner. He first ran for that office in 1990 after it was created following the passage of Prop. 101, the Automobile Insurance Reform Initiative. 

He made practical suggestions to simplify and reduce the cost of all forms of insurance, such as pay-at-the-pump auto insurance. 

But the major thrust of his campaign was going after the health insurance industry. He advocated the right-wing’s nightmare, socialized medicine, as the best way to fight the AIDS epidemic and won the endorsement of several gay and alternative newspapers and publications, like the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the L.A. Weekly—publications that almost exclusively supported Democratic Party candidates. 

As Bay Area attorney Carol Shaw commented, she voted for Tom because, if by some dramatic upset he won the post, he would be a very capable opponent of the insurance industry in Sacramento. 

Many others agreed, apparently liking the idea of a radical fox in the corporate henhouse. Condit garnered more than 300,000 votes in 1990 and in a later campaign for the same position. 

Tom was widely respected outside of the PFP. Jack Heyman of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union noted that “Whether it was the Pacific Maritime Association lockout of our Longshore division in 2002, or during our 2008 West Coast port shutdown against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you could always count on Tom to mobilize activists to assist us. He was a real taskmaster in the best sense of the word.”  

Tom is survived by his wife, Marsha Feinland, a former Berkeley Rent Board commissioner, his stepson Ian Grimes of San Francisco, his sister Constance Condit of Claremont, and his brother Colin Condit of Vancouver, British Columbia.  

Rightists and even some liberals will sometimes dismiss Socialists as “people who love humanity but just not anyone in particular.” Tom lived a life that contradicted that cynical adage.  

Tom Condit Presenté!  




Memorial Contributions can be made to Haiti Emergency Relief Fund /EBSC 2362 Bancroft Way Berkeley, Ca. 94704, and/or Feinland for Senate, 2124 Kittridge St. #66, Berkeley, Ca. 94704.