Alma Strowiss, Organizer-Activist

Against the Current, No. 61, March/April 1996

Andrea Houtman

ALMA STROWISS, A pillar of the Los Angeles Solidarity branch, died November 13, 1995 at age 60. Her long battle with cancer had never stopped her from her active political life as a socialist, which began in the late 1950s.

Alma came to socialism via an unusual path: Her father,Dr. Walter Thomas (a Ph.D in theology) was a Baptist minister in a small town church but was fired because of his homosexual orientation and because he became an atheist and a socialist.

The family lived in various cities and for a while on a farm, eventually settling in Los Angeles. Here Alma attended a high school in a working-class neighborhood where there were students of Mexican descent, some of whom became her friends. She developed an interest in learning Spanish and Mexican culture that was to stay with her for a lifetime.

After graduating high school she worked at a number of jobs: in a cafeteria, in a collection agency and as a file clerk with an insurance company. Also at this time she decided she was a socialist, She attended meetings of various groups, finally choosing the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which she joined in the late 1950s.

In the SWP she was active in youth work. Alma was a voracious reader and read all of the basic Marxist texts. She attended as many classes as she could but did not take part in the branch discussions. She was a shy person and felt intimidated by the older comrades in the branch at the time. She remained an insatiable reader and took theory seriously until her death.

In 1962 she married Bob Strowiss and went to work in the printing business he had begun after being thrown out of industry in the McCarthyite witch hunt. At the print shop Alma did a lot of work typesetting and printing for the SWP, the antiwar and women’s movements.

In the late 1970s she began studying Spanish. After earning an associate of arts degree as a Spanish major, she enrolled at California State University-Los Angeles, where she earned a dual degree in Spanish and Latin American studies.

During this period of her life she developed personal ties to the Mexican Revolutionary Workers Party (PRT) and came to know Rosario Ibarra, an internationally renowned human rights activist–a relationship she treasured.

Also during this time, a political crisis developed in the SWP. After her expulsion from the SWP and a period of membership in the Fourth Internationalist Tendency, formed by a group of expelled SWP members, Alma joined Solidarity shortly after the formation of our organization in 1986.

It was in this same period that she felt called upon and capable of raising her own political voice. It is a funny irony that younger members of Solidarity–who had not formerly known Alma–sometimes felt intimidated by this older comrade, just as she had been when she began her political life.

Once Alma found her political voice, she often used it with great passion and persistence. She demonstrated that these qualities were not always convenient for others–nor were they meant to be.

She had served on the executive committee of the Los Angeles branch of Solidarity and most recently as a member of the Steering Committee of the Rosario Ibarra Tour Committee, which successfully held an October 1995 meeting of over 500 in East Los Angeles in support of the Zapatistas.

Alma’s last political experiences were rewarding. She and Rosario Ibarra greeted each other with mutual respect and affection at a small potluck dinner during the tour. At a Mexican solidarity rally, which took place immediately following her death, demonstrators held a moment of silence and then a chant of “Alma-Presente!” which echoed among the high-rise caverns of the streets of Los Angeles.

Also mourning her death is the California Peace and Freedom Party (PFP), in which she was a Central Committee member of the state and county bodies. She became active in PFP to support the 1992 campaign of Ron Daniels for president and to foil the attempts of the New Alliance Party to take over the party.

Often Alma took on tasks that were out of the limelight; she worked on the Solidarity branch books, kept the branch mailing lists, maintained the mailing lists for the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Mexico, typeset and mailed the Solidarity city letter, did mailings and much more–the type of tasks that are fundamental to keeping an organization going, but which few want to do.

Despite her illness, Alma reliably attended Solidarity meetings and, in fact, thought the branch should meet more frequently. This was also true of her regular attendance at meetings of the Rosario Tour Committee.

It wasn’t that she was a tireless activist. Rather, she would huff and puff, catch her breath, use her walking cane, stop to rest, then make her way into her meetings. But she was almost always there.

The day before her death, in fact, she was on the phone trying to get the information she needed to compose the next Solidarity city letter. Because of this unwavering activism, her death came as a shock to her comrades in Solidarity and to the movement activists with whom she’d worked.

She will be missed by many people. There are too few like her.

ATC 61, March-April 1996