Peter Kellman Honored at Retirement Party
Asked one time how to tell the difference between right and wrong, Peter Kellman once said, “Embrace everything based on love and cooperation; reject everything based on greed and competition.” That’s a pretty good description of Peter’s life/work/career, the celebration of which brought together a hundred friends, fans, and family members Saturday night for a surprise retirement party at the Maine Irish Heritage Center in Portland.
Born in Brooklyn in 1946, Peter has spent most of his life in Maine, where he’s been an influential participant in the labor movement, whose members described getting “Kellmanized” over decades of campaigns, strikes, and struggles. In the past few years, Peter has given more attention to homesteading and to mentoring a new generation of organizers, the “Grasshoppers.”
Several of the Grasshoppers spoke at the party. Matt Schlobohm, a member of the “Seattle generation” of global justice activists and now the Executive Director of the Maine AFL-CIO, described three lessons he’s learned from Peter:
First, organize around fundamental principles and basic rights. Don’t fight over half a loaf or what others tell you is achievable.
Second, base your organizing in a long term vision and a strategy to achieve it.
Other speakers noted Peter’s work in the Clamshell Alliance and the No Nukes movement, his leadership of the historic but ultimately unsuccessful paperworkers strike in Jay, Maine, and his work with the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy. Along the way he’s worked in the Deep South freedom movement of the early ‘60s, taught labor history, and written a couple books . His pamphlet on “Building Unions: Past, Present, and Future,” is in my opinion the most useful publication that has come out of efforts to expose how corporations have gained rights at the expense of workers, citizens, and communities.
When I took my own turn at the mic, I said I had learned from Peter that there’s a time to negotiate and a time to strike, a time for electoral politics and a time for civil disobedience, a time to study and a time to teach, a time to garden and a time to retire. And every time is the right time to stand up
and organize for social justice.
The party was meticulously organized by Peter’s wife, Rebecca Younan, who emailed a string of instructions over many weeks but somehow managed to keep the party a surprise.
In addition to stories and a slide show revealing Peter’s hairier youth, the party featured bottles of homebrewed “Labor Leader Lager” and ”songs led by “Nine to Nine.”
And as the song goes, “we can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old.”