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Remembering a community revolutionary

Death has silenced the voice of a true revolutionary: after a seven-year battle with cancer, our compañero Eric Quezada is gone.

On August 23, Eric’s beloved community visited him one last time, bringing candles and flowers to his house on Peralta Street to bless him on his next journey. He died the following morning, accompanied by his partner Lorena, brother Carlos, and mother Clara.

Eric was a founding member of the Committees of Correspondence for Socialism and Democracy and co-creator of the Mission’s Center for Political Education. He had little patience for empty rhetoric and challenged his allies on the political Left to be serious about study and theory in order to remain relevant in changing times.

Eric’s idea of socialism wasn’t rooted in abstract ideals, but in normal people working together everyday to create a better world in the present. He was always building dialogue and solidarity across borders with all those facing oppression and maintaining relationships to movements and people across the globe.

This year, two of his many dreams will become reality; 518 Valencia will open as a community space for Left culture and politics and the 59-unit Dolores Hotel will open as the first new community-based affordable housing in the Mission in a decade.

Eric was involved with many social justice groups, but his political home was PODER, an organization he helped shape into a powerful force for environmental and economic justice in the Mission.
An empty lot filled with car chassis and garbage turned into the Secret Garden on Harrison; an old cement factory filled with toxic soil turned into Parque Niños Unidos on Folsom—Eric showed us that what was discarded by others was worth saving, because the Mission is our neighborhood.

Through PODER and Mission Housing, Eric brought together the forces of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition. He took a broad view of gentrification, focusing on fights that others were reluctant to take on.
Nick Pagoulatos, a longtime MAC ally, remembers Eric as fierce, but also honorable, even to his political adversaries.

“One of the most striking aspects of Eric’s approach was his ability to go hard against an opponent but remain principled and earn the respect of the adversary,” Pagoulatos said. “His stand against the Residential Builders Association and their numerous gentrifying projects in the neighborhood was resolute, and not once did he suggest to MAC that we should cut a deal … [but] he was able to find common ground with the same RBA builders who, as the sons of Irish immigrants joined with him in fighting for immigration reform.”

Eric was awarded a Windcall Residency for social justice organizers in 2005.

“Eric was pivotal in transforming what had been frustration, anger, and scattered responses to gentrification into a real strategy—one that targeted dead on the city’s policies that supported capital, developers and landlords, in displacing Mission residents and families,” Holly Fincke, Director of the Windcall Institute said. “He could come up with strategies that would precisely fit the community and the political moment, and yet be forward thinking and transformative.”
In spite of his cancer, Eric fought to live each moment fully, with commitment to politics, the community and to his relationship with his family.

“It was as if I learned how to live freely again, dream, challenge myself, learn and experience life once again in a natural way,” Eric wrote after being awarded the Windcall Residency. “I want to take that feeling back with me, and keep it close to my heart when times get rough again.”

Eric had a Resplendent Quetzal bird tattooed on his arm: according to Guatemalan myth, when Tecún Umán, the last Quiche king, died fighting Spanish invaders, his animal spirit guide, a green quetzal, landed on his chest and its feathers were stained with his blood, a scarlet mark the bird still wears to this day.

Now, its bright colors remind us of those who struggle and love, who fight with us and accompany us on our journey … Eric Quezada, ¡Presente!

A celebration of the life of Eric Quezada will be held on Sunday, September 25, from 2 to 5 p.m. at Horace Mann Middle School. In his honor, the Mission Asset Fund has created an education fund for Ixchel Quezada (http://missionassetfund.org/ixchel).

Story by: Fernando Martí