Remembering Marty Nathan: “Go make the Revolution!”

Marty Nathan and Hector Figueroa at a stand out on the Coolidge Bridge, March 2019 (photo: Anti-Imperilaist Action Committee)

by the Anti-Imperialist Action Committee; originally posted at its Medium page

On November 29 2021, we lost our beloved comrade, Marty Nathan MD, who succumbed to lung cancer and heart disease at the age of 70.

Marty’s birthday, January 17, falls on Martin Luther King Day. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated for his actions and for his ideas — the kind of actions and ideas that Marty, too, fought for tirelessly her whole life, and she too was nearly killed for them.

Marty was a survivor of the Greensboro Massacre in 1979. She was stationed at an anti-Klan rally with her husband, Mike Nathan, as doctors and as comrades of a multiracial working-class movement that shook the establishment to their core so much that they couldn’t bear it: Marty and her comrades had to be silenced. With the complicity of the Greensboro police, the KKK opened fire on the protestors, killing five and injuring ten others.

On November 3, 1979, Marty and Mike were asked to split up to two different points of the march: Marty was stationed at the second starting place of the march, and Mike at Morningside, an early point on the march route where the massacre took place. Marty survived, but her late husband, Mike Nathan, did not.

In Marty’s words, the premeditated attack killed people who “were organizing unions. They were revolutionaries. They were socialists. And they knew that in order to change society, you have to have an organized working class.” Not only did this movement unite white and black workers with a clear vision, but it understood the value of internationalism; after the massacre, the survivors linked this “North American death squad” to the death squads in Central America, North America, and South Africa, up to the genocidal violence perpetrated under Bolsonaro’s Brazil: “after you lose somebody, there’s nothing else that you can lose. But what you can hope in all this is that you can change the future. For victims of racist violence, white supremacist violence, that’s the goal,” Marty told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman on the 40th anniversary of the massacre. Marty continued to fight against racism and imperialism and for justice until her last days.

Anyone who knew Marty would not be surprised to know that she was undeterred by the attack of the KKK that murdered five of her comrades and took away the father of their then six-month-old child. She fought tirelessly to expose the direct connection between the KKK and the police. She and others successfully proved the complicity of the police and city in the massacre, winning a $48 million lawsuit in 1985 and receiving a long overdue apology from the city in 2020. Though Marty was the only one awarded money in the settlement, she divided the money with other survivors. In 2009, she co-founded a foundation in Mike’s name to carry the work forward. The Markham-Nathan Fund is one of the many organizations that Marty poured herself into, and it has provided over $300,000 in funding to grassroots organizations since its founding.

Marty with peace activists at a rally following the attempted coup against in Venezuela (February 2019).

Throughout her life, Marty was a true revolutionary and organized on many fronts. She had a burning urgency in her work when it came to climate change and urging people and politicians to act, and act now. In 2012, she co-founded Climate Action Now and went on to help win Springfield’s decades-long fight against a proposed biomass plant, always keeping climate justice at the heart of her work.

Marty speaks at a rally asking Rep. McGovern to work to lift the sanctions against Venezuela and stop the genocide in Palestine (click for Marty’s speech, full livestream here).

During Marty’s final days in the hospital, she continued to write fundraising letters for the organizations she poured her blood, sweat, and tears into. Marty was the people’s doctor: two weeks before her death, she stood with migrant workers at a press conference, not only as a speaker but as a doctor, running over to a ditch to mend someone’s twisted ankle during the event. Even as her health faltered in the months before she passed away, she joined other anti-imperialist activists to call on Congressman Jim McGovern to work to lift the murderous sanctions against Venezuela or, in her words: “to inhabit his own skin … — an understanding and compassionate one — … and tell him that he has to follow through because this is not a theoretical issue. This is an issue of people in Venezuela dying everyday… because of the sanctions.” It is in large part thanks to her work that he did just that in a letter dated the day of that rally.

In fact, it is in large part because of Marty that both the Anti-Imperialist Action Committee and the Latin American Solidarity Coalition exist at all. When a far-right, fascist, racist, fundamentalist coup overthrew the democratically elected left government in Bolivia in 2019, Marty was the among first to respond to an email by a member of the Anti-Imperialist Action Committee to say let’s do something — just as she had done when Juan Guaidó attempted to stage a coup in Venezuela earlier that year. Marty was loved by so many who share her values, and they showed up when she asked them to. At our first rallies — and still — many of those who we are connected with as a group and those who come to demand an end to murderous, imperialist policies, are there because of Marty. We were able to cement into a group that has now been in existence for over two years in large part because of Marty and the support she gave other members of the group: the connections to local media, to like-minded organizations across the state, to comrades whose work is integral to our existence. She was always one to lift others up and live out her values in every sense of the word.

Left to right: Marty delivers a letter demanding that Senators Warren and Markey condemn the coup in Bolivia (Dec. 2019); Marty with other comrades at Rep. Jim McGovern’s office during AIAC’s first direct action (Nov. 2019); Marty and comrades at a delegation to Senators Warren and Markey’s offices (Dec. 2019); Marty with comrades from LASC rally standing in solidarity with the Garifuna people of Honduras (June 2021).

Marty’s list of accolades is unending, but those who knew her know that the warmth of her personality and her role as a true community pillar is irreplaceable. She welcomed anyone and everyone and drew together a web of connections and comrades that could continue to carry on the work even when she was unwell. She abhorred infighting and warned of the divisiveness she had lived through and its fatal consequences: comrades must stick together through personality differences and political disagreements, collective mistakes and shared struggles, collective victories and shared joys; there is a bigger cause at stake. She emphasized the importance of working together, respecting and welcoming the diverse views of comrades who are united in solidarity with people across the world who suffer under US imperialism.

When Marty wasn’t well, and she was asked what she needed (a meal? groceries? for errands to be run?), she would always say the same thing: “My only request is that you make the Revolution!”

We owe it to Marty to make the Revolution. We owe it to Marty, on her birthday and on Martin Luther King Day and the days and years that follow, to fight tooth and nail against imperialism and capitalism and the ills they sow in our society; we owe it to Marty to fight for the humanity and dignity of every human being on this planet, whether their life is at risk because of US policy — from Venezuela to Cuba to Afghanistan to right here in Massachusetts — or because housing and healthcare are treated as sources of profit rather than human rights or across the planet as we face species extinction.

We cannot put words to what Marty has meant to us and to so many. Presente, comrade Marty, and thank you for everything you taught us and for the legacy you left behind.

Our ask of our supporters is to contribute to carrying forward Marty’s work, whether you knew her or not. Join an organization and continue building the struggles that Marty spent her life fighting for. Donate to La Cliniquita or the Markham Nathan Fund. Go make the Revolution!