Annette Gagne: Socialist & LGBT activist

May 2018 Annette 2By DAVID KIELY

Our dear comrade Annette Gagne died in Providence, R.I., on March 14, the 135th anniversary of Karl Marx’s death in 1883. In her last moments, Annette was surrounded by friends and comrades. All were people who, as a close friend of Annette said, “meant the world to her.”

Annette’s political legacy as a dedicated revolutionary socialist and party builder is inspiring. She came from a French-Canadian working-class family and spent her entire political life in Providence. In the 1970s she joined the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA) and Socialist Workers Party. She was integrated into industry work as a postal worker and assisted in getting the SWP on the ballot.

Her friend and comrade David Walsh recalled that when comrades would come down from Massachusetts to petition for ballot access, Annette was always warm and friendly and found places for comrades to stay. David remembered spaghetti dinners that Annette prepared: “There would be a lot of laughs, and it was a wonderful time. It might not have been so wonderful if we didn’t have this wonderful French-Canadian comrade.”

In the early 1980s the SWP began to collapse. The party wanted to consolidate all at-large members and small branches together. In Annette’s words, the party organizers told her to move to a city with a branch and enter industry —or leave the YSA and SWP. But Annette remained in Providence, preferring to stay in a place where she had roots for the long haul. From that point on she was not in a socialist organization until she joined Socialist Action around 2004 after reconnecting with her comrade David.

Yet being outside of a socialist organization did not stop her from doing political work. She continued work as an activist in Providence’s gay liberation movement of the 1970s and ’80s. She participated in the first Providence Pride March in 1976, was on the pride committee until the mid-1990s, and also was an editor for Gay Community News, a left-wing LGBT newspaper.

In 2016, on the 40th anniversary of Providence Pride, Annette and other marchers in Pride’s first march in 1976 were celebrated in front of a crowd of tens of thousands. When David had spoken to Annette about being recognized, he said she tried to play down her role, stating that a Bolshevik shouldn’t be worried about recognition.

Yet I can’t imagine how proud and happy Annette must have been on stage with her fellow marchers. Providence pride is one of the largest LGBT celebrations in the Northeast. As Annette put it: “From 75 lone marchers in 1976 to 40,000-plus in 2016!”

Perhaps the best attribute of Annette we can aspire to is uniting diverse people in struggle along principled political lines. Annette really abhorred the petty factional differences that would stop such unity. Instead, she was ready to work with anyone who was ready to help build the new social vision she saw.

Even in her later years, while on dialysis and having trouble walking, Annette still kept going, whether it was building an Assata Shakur reading group or helping Connecticut comrades flyer for the first “The Solution is Socialism Conference” in Connecticut.

Her comrades Hutch and myself came up from Hartford, Conn., in October 2016 to put up posters and flyer for the conference. As Hutch recalls, “It was a cold and windy day, but she was dedicated to introducing new people to socialism. We set up a literature table for her and she would sit and talk to people while we postered and flyered Brown and Rhode Island University. After we wrapped up for the day, we dropped her off at her dialysis appointment.”

Annette never stopped moving. She will be dearly missed by Providence organizers and by her comrades in Socialist Action.