Life of the party: Portrait of L.A.’s perpetual progressive Jan Goodman
L.A. progressive stalwart Jan Goodman, pictured with Martin Sheen (top right) and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. (bottom right). | Courtesy of Jan Goodman

In The Tempest, William Shakespeare mused “What’s past is prologue,” which is certainly true for Jan Goodman, whose radical roots set the stage for a lifetime of activism, making her an indispensable part of Los Angeles’ left. Born 1949 into a progressive family and raised in Watts, her father, printer Eugene Goodman, was named after Eugene V. Debs. Monikered after her dad, Jan was therefore also named in honor of the 1920 Socialist Party candidate who ran for president from a prison cell.

As the Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born’s bail fund holder, Eugene’s father, Morris, posted bail for left activist non-citizens imprisoned at Terminal Island. Morris, who also organized with the Insurance Agents Union, worked closely with Committee founder Rose Chernin; she was arrested during the McCarthy era and charged with conspiring to overthrow the government.

Oneil Cannon and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, who is currently an L.A. mayoral candidate. Courtesy of Jan Goodman

Jan’s stepfather, Oneil Cannon, was the first African American to integrate the Printers Union. The class-conscious Cannon was befriended by Paul Robeson, who later joined the Communist Party. In 1986, Oneil, along with his wife, Adele, Jan and Jerry Manpearl (Jan’s husband), and others co-founded a community center named after the famed actor/activist/singer. Adele, a longtime treasurer for California’s Peace and Freedom Party fought for years for a Community College in South L.A., eventually becoming a co-founder of Southwest Community College. Although blended families are commonplace today, when she was about five and her Jewish mother married Cannon, Jan became part of a biracial household. This then extremely rare status rendered Jan “always aware of race” and “looking at things through two lenses, noting racism as few other white folks do.”

Attending L.A. public schools, including Gompers Junior High (named after AFL labor leader Samuel Gompers), Jan grew up in this multi-cultural milieu during the sizzling sixties. She was involved with the Angela Davis Defense Committee and active with various antiwar organizations, before earning a law degree at UC Berkeley in 1975.

Jan worked for author Ann Ginger, founder of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, a nonprofit devoted to human rights; also served as San Bernardino’s Legal Aid Society’s executive director; and co-founded L.A.’s Working Peoples Law Center, enabling her to fulfill her passions as an organizer and attorney. In the late 1970s, Jan ran for Board of Education on a “Pro-Integration platform,” coming in second to Gov. Jerry Brown’s sister, Kathleen Brown-Rice.

Other leadership roles include stints as regional vice president for the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and chapter president of Americans for Democratic Action. Jan helped save Sunset Hall, a retirement home for lefty Angelenos, from the wrecking ball. She has worked with members of the African National Congress and was heavily involved with the Anti-Apartheid Movement. In the courtroom, she has primarily practiced personal injury law, representing the little guy/gal against the insurance companies.

In 1985, Jan married her second husband, attorney Jerry Manpearl, in Havana during an NLG Cuba trip. Together they acquired a low-slung brick house built in France’s Limousin Valley style on a half-acre of land in Santa Monica. Although not exactly a French chateau, Jan and Jerry immediately opened their spacious grounds to present countless events to benefit and highlight left-leaning causes, issues, organizations, and individuals, starting the very week they moved into their new home in 2001. Moving in on a Wednesday, their first fundraiser took place the following Sunday, featuring New Left lion Tom Hayden, when the author of SDS’ Port Huron Statement, Chicago Seven defendant, and Jane Fonda’s onetime husband ran for L.A. City Council.

This was an auspicious start for what has been a virtual cavalcade of lefty luminaries and convocation of the progressive tribes over two decades, combining conversation, consciousness- and fundraising, good food, drink, and entertainment beneath the Santa Monica sky. Jan’s parties with a purpose have featured: Writer Gore Vidal; Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who launched pro-peace presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008; outspoken U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, who represents the congressional district where Jan grew up; anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott; Martin Sheen; investigative reporter Greg Palast; Congresswoman and current L.A. mayoral candidate Karen Bass, whom Jan’s known since the 1980s through her stepfather Oneil; Marxist intellectual and author Michael Parenti; and groups such as the Sholem Community and Progressive Democrats of America. (At the last minute, a 2019 speaking engagement with the Squad’s controversial Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was canceled at the Santa Monica grounds due to security concerns.) Socially-conscious entertainers such as comic Paula Poundstone, Robeson re-enactor basso profundo K.B. Solomon, and musician Jackson Browne have performed at the Santa Monica enclave, including for Progressive Magazine benefits.

Often called “Salonistas,” Jan and Jerry don’t charge rental fees or write the gatherings off on their taxes. These frequent politically motivated get-togethers have made the couple focal points of the L.A. left, the progressive movement’s proverbial “hosts with the most.”

A week before his death, legendary actor Ed Asner supped at this Santa Monica refuge for dissent. In addition to enjoying fine dining poolside beneath the stars, the Hollywood star joined the dinner to discuss what is currently Jan’s main cause: Reforming Pacifica Radio, the community-oriented, listener-sponsored radio network known for its independent, non-corporate programming.

Jan began listening to KPFK while riding in the back seat of her parents’ car, when she had no choice in the matter, and 50 years later she was elected to Pacifica’s National Board and the Local Station Board of Pacifica’s L.A. channel, KPFK (90.7 FM), which began broadcasting in 1959 and formed the soundtrack of the L.A.-born-and-raised activist’s life. During another critical turning point for the network, she hosted a fundraiser featuring Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. Since then, Jan watched with increasing alarm at what she viewed as growing dysfunctionality at the listener-sponsored network, concerned that “our present situation wasn’t tenable.”

This dysfunctionality included internal squabbles, faction fights and mismanagement, and a downward spiral in listenership and donations. According to Jan, a main sticking point is that Pacifica’s Current Bylaws create a cumbersome, dysfunctional “governance structure” with “crisscrossing lines of authority,” frequently causing gridlock. Jan contends “this has resulted in 18 executive directors in 20 years… Basically what you have had was nobody at the helm of Pacifica” since around 2000.

By 2020, a coordinated campaign to reform Pacifica’s bylaws arose, spearheaded by the “New Day Pacifica” reform movement.

An election to amend the bylaws took place in July 2021, with a majority of listener and staff members voting for the reform slate to reduce the size of Pacifica’s board and streamline the decision-making process so that the National Board (not LSBs) decides budgetary, personnel, and other essential matters. However, current management has filed a lawsuit to stop the New Bylaws from being enacted. Jan regards the basis of the suit to be a legal diversion thwarting majority rule. As part of this stalemate, Jan and the reformers have been embroiled in this ongoing lawsuit, essentially since the 55%-45% Yes vote on the Bylaws last July.

Meanwhile, the undaunted Jan Goodman continues to host those renowned Santa Monica soirees that have become mainstays of L.A.’s activist community. Recent events featured former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, a firebrand who co-chaired independent socialist Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign and was a congressional candidate. In March 2022, anti-nuke crusader and “solartopian” Harvey Wasserman held a signing for his new book, The People’s Spiral of U.S. History, which included celebrated barrister Danny Sheehan.

A Goodman family heirloom passed down from one generation to another highlights their commitment to social justice: A large white tablecloth autographed by notables, their John Hancocks illumined in multi-colored embroidery, signed over the decades by Martin Luther King, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Daniel Ellsberg, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, Shirley Graham, Angela Davis, and other movement greats.

The next event at Jan and Jerry’s is for L.A. City Council District 11 candidate Erin Darling, seen here with legendary labor leader Dolores Huerta, who has endorsed him. | Erin Darling via Twitter

Now, a new generation is joining the clan’s radical ranks: When the protest wave triggered by George Floyd’s murder erupted, Jan and Jerry’s daughter, Terry Manpearl, followed in her family’s feisty footsteps. Terry played a major role in jail support for detained Black Lives Matter demonstrators, including raising bail—just as her great-grandfather Morris had. Born in 1996, Terry also works for journalist Greg Palast, as she carries on the Goodmen’s’ left-wing legacy of fighting for truth, justice, and the progressive way.

Perpetually in motion, the next event for Jan and Jerry—truly the L.A. Left’s hosts with the most—is for a candidate who has received the Democratic Socialists of America’s endorsement. Venice-born and raised Erin Darling is running for the Los Angeles City Council, District 11. This surfer and civil rights attorney has also been endorsed by: Our Revolution, Feel the Bern, LA County; Americans for Democratic Action; the L.A. Times editorial board; California’s Working Families Party; ILWU—Southern California District Council; and legendary labor leader Dolores Huerta. According to DSA: “Darling’s campaign emphasizes permanent supportive housing, a tenant’s right to counsel, and actualizing a Green New Deal for Los Angeles.”

This campaign fundraiser to help elect Erin Darling will take place 2:00-5:00 p.m., Sunday, August 7, at Jan Goodman and Jerry Manpearl’s home, 939 San Vicente, Santa Monica, Calif. 90402. To RSVP call: (310)717-7279.


CONTRIBUTOR

Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/critic and co-organizer of the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Hollywood Blacklist.

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