Mike Rotkin

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Mike Rotkin


Michael E. Rotkin, through his efforts in the Santa Cruz, California chapter of the New American Movement to establish a community health center, he was elected to serve his first of six terms on the Santa Cruz City Council and his first of four terms as the city’s mayor.

Today, he continues his work there and is local president and statewide vice-president in the University Council of the American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT).[1]

Early life

Rotkin grew up in Washington, D.C., and, after failing out of Cornell University, was radicalized by his experience in VISTA (the domestic Peace Corps) working with migrants in Florida. After returning to Cornell, he was further radicalized in the antiwar and student movements in the ’60s.

Rotkin came to Santa Cruz in 1969 for a summer job and decided to stay. His community organizing experience led him to help found and lead a local New American Movement (NAM) chapter and serve in national NAM leadership positions, including two years on the National Interim Committee. During the 1970s, while organizing for a community health care center in Santa Cruz, Rotkin taught and coordinated a field studies program in the Community Studies Department at University of California, Santa Cruz. [2]

SDS radical

As an undergraduate at Cornell in the 1960s Rotkin had been a member of Students for a Democratic Society and participated in massive campus demonstrations over the war and racial injustice that gained nationwide attention. He came to UC Santa Cruz in 1969 as a graduate student in a new program, the History of Consciousness, and immediately joined in local activist efforts. He also worked as a lecturer in the Community Studies program . He then was among the founders of the local chapter of New American Movement.[3]

New American Movement

In the late 1970's Mike Rotkin was a Santa Cruz, California, contact for the New American Movement.[4]

On the West Side of Santa Cruz in the late '70s, the local Chapter of the New American Movement (NAM), including founding member Mike Rotkin, was busily conducting an experiment in democratic socialism, its aim being "to establish working-class control of the enormous productive capacity of American industry ... Such a society will strive for decentralization of decision making, an end to bureaucratic rule, and participation of all people in shaping their own lives and the direction of society."

Using community-organizing techniques developed by Saul Alinsky and Cesar Chavez, they succeeded in helping the Westside Neighbors band together, define goals for themselves (keeping the Garfield Library and the medical clinic on Mission Street open) and ultimately achieve their goals through collective initiative and confrontation.[5]

Chinese model

Every meeting of Santa Cruz Nam ended with a fifteen-minute "criticism/self- criticism" session, modeled on the evaluation process developed during the Cultural Revolution in China, which began at precisely 9:45pm. This was the case even if it meant cutting off a heated ongoing discussion before it was completed. Chapter members saw this fifteen-minute period as the key to the group's commitment to developing a "socialist-feminist process."

Internal education topics included: electoral politics, science and industry in China, the mid-east, reproductive rights, NAM's socialist-feminist politics, the farm revolt, affirmative action, NAM's labor strategy, inflation, class analysis, and the U.S. left.[6]

Santa Cruz politics

Rotkin worked with another socialist-feminist, Bruce Van Allen, one of the leaders in a downtown neighbors association that had stopped attempts to widen a thoroughfare and expand the downtown. Van Allen was also a mainstay in the effort to bring rent control to the city. He, too, was ready to use electoral politics as a springboard after the rent control organization he helped found, the Santa Cruz Housing Action Committee, came within 74 votes of passing a city rent control initiative in fall, 1978, despite the fact that the real estate interests spent $100,000 to defeat it.

No one thought that Rotkin and Van Allen might win because less radical candidates had suffered defeats in 1975 and 1977. But they stressed their ties to neighborhood groups -- Rotkin even called his campaign "Neighbors for a Change" -- and received support from student and environmental activists. They won in a rout. Their margins in the neighborhoods they targeted were so large that they didn't even need the overwhelming support they received in the four precincts on the campus. Surprised and elated, they gave an interview to a socialist journal Socialist Review - of which Rotkin was an editor, explaining how their election would advance the cause of socialism, and put forth resolutions relating to national issues, but they also joined with other progressive leaders to plan for the 1981 elections with the hope of winning the two more seats to give them a majority.[7]

According to the Socialist Review interview[8];

I didn't run as a NAM candidate. My literature listed that I was a member of the National Interim Committee of NAM, as well as a member of the Central Labor Council and the steering committee of Westside Neighbors. It wasn't given a lot of prominence, though.... The real effect of the connection with NAM was that being a member of NAM for the last eight years meant that I had connections with a number of ongoing local struggles. It's important to understand that the Westside Neighbors, a populist organization, grew out of NAM work over the past two years. Finally, although the NAM chapter didn't collapse itself into my campaign, I got a significant number of campaign workers from NAM.

Progressive majority

The issue of rent control drew record turnouts to the polls, but was defeated by increasing margins in 1978 and 1979 and again in 1981, when Mardi Wormhoudt and John Laird joined them on the council, establishing the first "progressive" majority.[9]

New American Movement 10th convention

In 1981 Mike Rotkin, Santa Cruz NAM; Glenn Scott, Chair, Anti-racist Commission; Steve Tarzynski, Chair, Health Commission and Randy Cunningham, Chair, Urban Commission led a workshop entitled Pieces of State Power: Urban Electoral Coalitions at the 10th Convention of the New American Movement. The convention was held in a union headquarters in Chicago and ran from July 29 - August 2, 1981.[10]

Santa Cruz NAM achievements

Santa Cruz New American Movement, under Rotkin's leadership played a major role in the election of Mardi Wormhoudt and John Laird, resulting in a progressive majority on the Santa Cruz City Council, the election of a progressive majority on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, a citizens' initiative in the City of Santa Cruz that passed two-to-one calling for the withdrawal of all U.S. military and Economic aid to El Salvador,an unsuccessful initiative to create rent control in the City of Santa Cruz and a local solarization ordinance.[11]

NAM withers

Santa Cruz NAM collapsed around the time of the merger with the Democratic Socialists Organizing Committee in 1982.[12]

DSA member

In 1982, Mike Rotkin, Mayor of Santa Cruz, was a member of Democratic Socialists of America.[13]

Remembering Hugh DeLacy

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On September 6 1986 a memorial for Hugh DeLacy was held at the Louden Nelson Center, Santa Cruz, California.

Mardi Wormhoudt was the presenter, speakers included Margaret DeLacy, Jack Berman, Hon. Leon Panetta, John McTernan, Gary Patton, songs by Mike Rotkin, readings by Leon Papernow and Linda Bergholdt, a letter from Dorothy...by Greta Davis and songs by Steve Turner and Terry Turner[14].

Open Letter to Obama on Iran

In 2008 Mike Rotkin, Lecturer & Director of Field Studies, UCSC, Santa Cruz, CA signed an online petition “A Open Letter to Barack Obama on Iran”.[15]

References