Remembering Tom Condit
By Stan Woods
Thursday February 04, 2010
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
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.
Weeklypublications that almost exclusively supported Democratic
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!
Tom Condit dies - socialist, frequent candidate
Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, February 4, 2010
A celebration will be held in June to honor Berkeley resident Tom
Condit, a lifelong socialist and founding member of California's
Peace and Freedom Party who ran several times for public office.
Mr. Condit died Jan. 9 at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland
of prostate cancer. He was 72.
John Thomas Condit was born June 17, 1937, in Spokane, Wash. His
father was a newspaper journalist and the family moved frequently as
he chased jobs around the country. They were often poor, said Mr.
Condit's wife, Marsha Feinland, and Tom Condit picked fruit in the summer.
Mr. Condit began college at UC Santa Barbara but soon found that he
couldn't afford to attend, so he joined the Marines. After being
discharged he joined the Young People's Socialist League in New York.
He held a leadership position in the Students for a Democratic
Society. He headed west to Berkeley in the mid-1960s and became
involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements, among others.
He attended Merritt College, San Francisco State University and UC
Berkeley on the GI Bill, Feinland said, "but never received a degree
because there was always a protest to organize."
In the late 1960s, Mr. Condit helped to get the Peace and Freedom
Party on the ballot in California. He ran under its banner for state
insurance commissioner three times, as well as for Assembly and state
Senate. In 1984, he ran for president, but lost in the party's primary.
Over the years, Mr. Condit worked in an Oakland cannery, drove a cab
and typed documents in a law office. But he was always advocating for
working people and supported a single-payer health care system for
decades. Feinland said he viewed the current health care legislation
before Congress as "a gift to the insurance companies."
Mr. Condit met Feinland, a schoolteacher, at a socialist convention
in 1984. They married in 1992.
In 2007, for a reunion of the Young People's Socialist League, Mr.
Condit wrote a memoir that was recently reposted by Solidarity, a
socialist organization, at www.solidarity-us.org.
"In the past 50 years, I have seen the socialist movement decline on
a world-wide scale," Mr. Condit wrote. "At the same time, the need
for one has never been greater. The capitalist class is greedier,
more violent and more destructive of both humanity and the earth than
ever before, and shows no sign of improving despite all the
'greenwashing' corporations are rushing to give themselves.
"We need more than ever to build a movement capable of putting an end
to capitalism and building a new society based on cooperation,
democracy and sharing," he wrote.
He is survived by his wife, Feinland of Berkeley; his stepson, Ian
Grimes of San Francisco; his brother, Colin Condit of Vancouver,
British Columbia; his sister, Constance Condit, and her partner,
Kathleen McCall of Claremont (Los Angeles County); and his
stepmother, Geraldine Irby of Surrey, British Columbia.
Memorial contributions can be made to Haiti Emergency Relief
Fund/EBSC, 2362 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704, or to Feinland for
Senate, 2124 Kittredge St., No. 66, Berkeley, CA 94704. A June
celebration of Mr. Condit's life is being planned. Details will be
made available at www.peaceandfreedom.org.