[The following is a tribute to Gail Lord presented by John Percy at a memorial service for her in Sydney, 2007.]
We mourn our friend and our comrade Gail, who lost her valiant battle against cancer on July 2.
It’s so sad, a life cut short.
But it was a life well-lived, a proud life, a productive life, a life on the side of the poor and oppressed of the world.
Gail was such an inspiration to others, with her 40 plus years of struggle. She never gave in. She never accepted the injustices, the crimes, the rottenness of the system.
Working people are weighed down everyday in their battle for survival, earning a living, bringing up a family. Gail had all that. But Gail also fought back.
By fighting back – we haven’t won yet, although we’ve had some partial victories – but by fighting back you’ve already had a major victory over the system, over the rulers of the world, over the millionaires and billionaires who run it.
And Gail maintained that proud resistance throughout her life, fighting back, taking arms against the sea of injustices.
Gail was always a battler, a fighter against oppression – in Australia, and around the world.
She fought on the big issues, of world-wide importance. She fought on the local issues, in the struggles of her community.
She was a true internationalist. She campaigned on Vietnam, Palestine, Indonesia and East Timor, the Kurdish and Irish struggles for freedom.
She was passionate about Cuba and was a long-term activist in Central America solidarity. Time and again at political meetings, no matter what the motion up for discussion – uranium mining, child care, abortion on demand, elections, opposition to privatisation – she always managed to bring Cuba into it. Some might have thought Gail was off the point; in fact, she never wavered from the line of march.
Along with her life-long partner Ted Lord, Gail was one of the few Australian leftists to have firsthand experience of the Grenadian revolution, and she was very inspired by the current developments in Venezuela.
Gail also fought on workers’ and trade union issues, for women’s rights, the rights of gays, on environmental issues, for Aboriginal rights, refugee rights, and in anti-war campaigns.
It’s a list of all the struggles against injustice in the world, all the struggles for liberation.
She was always in touch at the neighbourhood and local level, and maintained a network of pen pals around the world.
Gail joined the socialist youth organisation Resistance in late 1967, as a high school student. It was just after she’d been part of a delegation to the Soviet Union from the Junior Eureka League, the Communist Party’s organisation for very young activists.
It was in Resistance that Ted and Gail met. I have a great photograph – and it was printed in the program at Gail’s funeral – of a very young and very shy-looking Ted and Gail sitting together on a rock at an educational camp organised by Resistance up in the Blue Mountains, in 1969. (One of Resistance’s notorious “Guerilla Training Camps”, that sent the Daily Telegraph into apoplexy.) That’s about when Ted and Gail got together, and they’ve been together since then, for nearly 40 years.
And to the end of her life, Gail was a great supporter of Resistance and, sick as she was, wrote earlier this year about her delight at the good results of Resistance’s orientation week efforts on campuses. She would have been so proud of Resistance’s latest efforts at the Talisman Sabre peace convergence.
Gail was a founding member of the Democratic Socialist Party. There are not many of us left from the 1960s. And unfortunately too many of us are being hit by that modern scourge of capitalism, cancer – my brother Jim Percy, national secretary of the DSP for nearly two decades, another party stalwart Dot Tumney, who was the mainstay of the DSP’s finance office for years, and now Gail. Now we’ve heard that another early former leader of our party, Dr John McCarthy, is battling for his life against cancer.
And to demonstrate that Australia is on the way to US status, for all of you who saw the preview of Sicko on Thursday – John, who worked his guts out managing the emergency ward of a major Brisbane hospital for years, for decades, still has to work in order to pay for his cancer treatment!
And that is yet another reason to fight for a better world, for a socialist world, where resources would be put towards research to eradicate disease, and reverse global warming, rather than towards wars and ever more horrifying weapons systems.
Gail was a consistent seller and promoter of first, Direct Action, from its first publication in 1970, and since 1991, Green Left Weekly. Rather than flowers to her funeral, she requested donations to Green Left, and that’s how she wanted to be remembered, as a builder of the movement even after her death.
Gail served on executives when we established branches in the western suburbs of Sydney, where she lived and raised her family, but she was never a member of the national leadership body. Although she always attended the national congresses, she was not always a delegate. But Gail was a real leader in the best possible way – by the example of how she lived her life as a true revolutionary.
Gail’s revolutionary politics were not confined to paying her party dues, attending a branch meeting every two weeks and doing a couple of hours of selling the paper each week – although she did travel long distances on public transport to attend branch meetings on work nights, staying to the end, getting home very late and then getting up early the next day for an equally long trip to work in North Sydney.
Gail was a full-time revolutionary who took her politics into every aspect of her life: talking to the young worker on the supermarket checkout, active in neighbourhood campaigns, on the job, on picket lines of striking workers at nearby factories, at protests outside Richmond air base, and in international solidarity.
Her commitment never diminished during the darkest days of her illness. Even at her lowest ebb, she gave all her effort to the struggle for socialism. Late last year, having just come home from hospital after the killer cancer had returned, Gail was in Penrith leafleting and selling GLW at Your Rights at Work and other public meetings. There’s no doubt she would have talked to the hospital workers about the impact of Work Choices on their lives.
Gail was a loyal builder of the DSP for four decades.
And she would have urged us today, while we are mourning, to follow the advice of US workers organiser Joe Hill, before his execution – “Don’t mourn, Organise!” She would have wanted us to continue the struggle she carried on for 40 years.