A letter for Gene Akins 1937-2010: A Lifelong Wobbly and anarchist“Jasper: I remember the time the Wobblies…
Jasper: You said one big union!
Mack: Yes, one big union..but we ain’t annarkists an’ we don’t believe in violence. No weapons ,no force unless your attacked.”
-- Langston Hughes 1930’s play HARVEST
Hello Comrades, Friends and Allies
This is a letter of remembrances in memoriam for my friend Gene Akins who passed away recently. Gene was a lifelong bonafide card carrying Industrial Workers of the World ‘Wobbly' since the early 1960's. Sure he let his dues lapse for years at a time, but he always carried around that crumpled up red dues booklet in his wallet EVERYWHERE and was proud of it. He was also the first Wob I met in the 90's down here in Texas. He was also a lifelong anarchist.
In his more raucous years he had done time at the notorious Angola Prison aka The Farm in Louisiana (which also still holds two former members of the Black Panther Party known the Angola 3) during the 60s for drugs, gotten clean and had worked towards social, environmental and economic justice pretty much since then.
He was a cantankerous agitator and old school organizer with a big heart, who worked doing community organizing with a lot of recovering addicts, adding a political foundation to their world views and understanding.
He also opened my political philosophy of what he called ‘real' labor history and not the distortions of labor we are sold now. He also gave me tools to organize across cultural boundaries. He would say "If you want people without cars, phones, safety nets or privilege to participate then you help them to participate". I went around with him in his old van picking up people to drag to meetings and rallies of all sorts, if they didn't have phones then you went to check on them, and if the electricity was cut off you helped them get through that month; he showed me the value of supporting people in political organizing. Helping to build their power and self sufficiency as they also worked to help others.
He was a street philosopher who loved dialectics and always stressed the idea of little ‘a' anarchism. He reminded me that it was freedom of thought, not dogma to be followed like a sheep. He would always bring libraries worth of things to read for people in his old van, always suggesting books, pamphlets and essays by writers many had never heard of. He turned me onto better books about anarchism, how many of the Wobblies had been anarchists, and how personal liberty was tied to collective struggle.
Gene often said "...if it describes you or your actions just claim the damn thing." It wasn't a label to box ourselves in with. To him it was a badge of honor, and a point of reference-an opening to possibilities. I had come home politically and philosophically to something that made sense, and wasn't always full of ‘old dead guy' language. It lived and spoke on many levels about us as individuals and about our worlds simultaneously especially in Dallas which was never an oasis for libertarian thought-even in its small DIY or punk circles. Gene and I didn't always agree on issues and topics, but at least we had good debates and tried out ideas. That loaded and distorted ‘A' word took on a positive meaning in my life for the first time.
Anarchism became just common sense thoughts or actions wrapped in political language. It became the integrated foundation I wanted to work and grow from. Gene had provided the spark for this revolutionary path with many questions --and others would fill in the gaps as I learned more. I thank him for that spark.
He was no saint and he would never want anyone to think otherwise, but he was gutsy, real and he was sincere. He struggled all his life and influenced and supported many people in making their lives better. Gene Akins deserves his place in our canons of Texas anarchist and labor heritage. You my friend will be missed by many. Your final and long struggle with death is over, please rest as you smile down on us.
"...You'll get pie in the sky when you die..."
Still Dreaming of Collective Liberation and recognizing my roots