Marj Sutherland: Spear bearer for justice

Marj Sutherland, born May 24, 1941, a member of the National Committee of the Communist Party, and a life-long communist, died last week at age 61 from lung cancer.

Marj lived a life committed to social and economic justice, peace and for socialism, making her mark engaging in the great struggles of the day. With courage, passion, utter commitment, devotion and sincerity, Marj contributed to the work of uniting people in struggle for the betterment of all humankind.

Marj’s unshakeable faith in humanity was forged in the civil rights struggles. In 1964, she traveled to the south as part of the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, created to build the collective strength for voting rights and other basic democratic rights denied to African Americans.

In words written to her family from Mississippi, she said voter registration and registration for the Freedom Democratic Party was “one of the hardest tasks of the movement ... it involves plain, hard, tedious, tiresome, exasperating, patience-trying, infuriating, hellish work ... it is also most satisfying.”

She wrote: “... here you see all the ways that oppression is maintained, practical ways, bread-and-butter ways, life-and- death ways. And so when you win with even one person, it is deeply satisfying ... we do win and are winning, step by step, one man at a time – but winning.”

Marj came of age in the oppression of McCarthyism. When Marj was a teenager, her mother, Irene Hull, was named by the Veldi Internal Security Committee (Senate) as an “enemy of the government.” Years later, Marj overcame such intimidation and was interviewed for the Tacoma News Tribune as a member of the Tacoma Communist Club.

In the early 1990s, Marj was a key activist in helping form the Washington State chapter of Jobs with Justice (JwJ). She led actions against Newt Gingrich and his “Contract on America”; organized Tacoma residents to rally behind striking Boeing machinists; and helped connect labor activists to anti-poverty organizations in the community.

Marj was not only a hard worker, “she was an extraordinarily clear thinker,” said Jonathan Rosenblum, union organizer. “I can remember many occasions when we’d have to make an important decision about building the JwJ coalition, or about how to conduct an action. When the picture would seem confusing or complex to many of us, Marj would cut through the haze with uncanny clarity. She had a tremendous knack for helping to figure out how to build militancy and unity at the same time. And she put forward her ideas simply and crisply.”

Marj emersed herself in too many struggles to even list. But a few of the highlights of her life include: a lifetime of struggle for peace, including efforts to end the Vietnam war and to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons; friendship and solidarity with Cuba (including two trips with the U.S. Cuba Friendshipment caravan); support for economic justice, including efforts to extend unemployment compensation, raise the minimum wage and create jobs.

A word must be said about the cause of her death. Since her first cancer diagnosis, Marj regretted that “it took [her] 40 years to quit smoking.” Throughout her illness, she counseled family and friends who were smokers to quit.

While her death leaves a huge hole for others to step forward to fill, her life’s work leaves us with myriad examples of how to fill that hole.

Marj is preceded in death by her husband, Milford Sutherland; and she is survived by her mother, Irene Hull daughter and son-in-law Laurie and Greg Arnold, grandchildren Kendra and Quinn, sisters Beverly and Sally and the Sutherland/Lindberg family of which she was an important part.

A memorial is planned for Sunday, July 28, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. For location please call: 253-627-6402. Donations can be sent in her name to the People’s Weekly World and Communist Party.