Margaret Shaper Jordan, 1942-2020

Against the Current, No. 205, March/April 2020

Dianne Feeley & Johanna Parker

MARGARET SHAPER JORDAN, a founding member of Solidarity, died early January 3rd. She is survived by her partner, Mike Parker, and her daughter, Johanna Parker.

Margaret grew up in Berkeley, California. Her parents Hans and Lore Shaper, whose parents were murdered in the Nazi concentration camps, fled Germany in 1939. Margaret was born in 1942 and her brother, Andrew, four years later.

Attending the University of California Riverside, Margaret then taught first and second grades in Richmond public schools. She became a specialist in teaching math to elementary school students. An early marriage to Joel Jordan ended but her lasting partnership with Mike Parker began in the late 1960s.

Over the course of her work life Margaret was a teacher, nurse and then received a doctorate in psychology at Wayne State University in 1993.

In her job as a psychologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, she trained doctors to relate to their patients. Working with physicians new to Detroit, she explained how racism was fundamental to understanding the health conditions of an African-American city that suffered segregation and white flight.

As a young teacher in the 1960s she was drawn to civil rights activity and then to the Independent Socialist Club, which was influenced by the revolutionary socialists from a previous generation, Anne and Hal Draper.

The ISC transformed into the Inter­national Socialists (IS) in 1969. They were one of the first left groups to prioritize implanting its membership in key industries. Adopting a rank-and-file perspective they moved much of their membership into Midwestern cities such as Gary, Indiana and Detroit, Michigan. Margaret and Mike moved to Detroit in the mid-1970s.

She worked with the Red Tide youth group on the campaign to free Gary Tyler, a young Black man unjustly sentenced to death in Louisiana. (He spent 41 years in prison and was only released in April 2016 after a long chain of judicial decisions that resulted in a plea deal.)

She and another member of the IS, Elissa Karg, attempted to set up Women Against Racism but the group never developed a base and later disbanded.

As the IS merged in 1986 with Workers Power, Socialist Unity and a collective in Madison to form Solidarity, she participated in women’s seminars and on the Detroit branch executive committee, bringing her distinctive approach of organizing spaces where people could enjoy each other. In one workshop her talk discussed how feminist ideas were surfacing in teen-age magazines.

She encouraged members to go out for dinner after branch meetings. She and Mike opened their home to a Superbowl/anti-Superbowl party where the branch could invite its members and friends over for a relaxing evening. This is now a tradition of the Detroit branch, which also uses the event as a fundraiser for a local organization or campaign.

Johanna Jordan Parker was born in 1979, and family began to play a more central role in their lives, especially for Margaret. While Johanna was at Cass Tech High School and beginning to develop an interest in theatrical productions, Margaret developed cancer.

Her network of friends was able to help by providing dinners, arranging to take Margaret to appointments when Mike was at work and making sure Johanna got to and from rehearsals. It was a difficult cancer to contain, but after some misdiagnoses and scares she beat it back and remained cancer free until 2017.

Richmond Progressive Alliance

Margaret wanted to return to the Bay Area, particularly after Johanna moved there and began to work as a Spanish interpreter. Inheriting her parents’ house after their death, Margaret and Mike moved into their home in Richmond.

During World War II Richmond had been an industrial center, with Kaiser’s innovative boat construction, Ford’s auto plant, Standard Oil’s refinery and dozens of other plants. By the 21st century most industry had left and its population was reduced to 100,000.

Standard Oil (now Chevron) expanded, becoming the behemoth that polluted the town and dominated its political life. An independent formation, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, had begun to challenge Chevron, and Margaret plunged into the work of expanding RPA’s presence.

Once again Margaret’s organizational and political skills were invaluable at extending RPA’s influence. She worked night and day on the 2014 city council campaign that beat Chevron’s candidates and elected RPAers to the council, taking on many different tasks, including the central organizing of hundreds of volunteers on Election Day.

She played an important role in men­toring some of the developing RPA leaders. And, on another front, she was always to be counted on at Labor Notes conferences. She developed friendships with labor and social activists from Brazil to Japan.

In addition to her work with RPA, Margaret worked with a number of organizations in Richmond and the broader Bay Area to better her community. These included her neighborhood council, a Richmond organization working to improve health in low-income communities, and the local humane society. During her last year she was a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and was encouraged to see young people becoming politically active.

Although her cancer had returned and she was on medication, Margaret was active until the last six weeks of her life. She had fulfilled a longtime dream by visiting Africa with Mike, Johanna, and Johanna’s partner, Matt Sylvester, last fall. A year before, she, Mike, and Johanna visited the German towns where her parents were born.

She was looking forward to a trip to England with her daughter and more trips with Mike. But around Thanksgiving she came down with a respiratory illness that became progressively worse until her lungs and kidneys failed. She died peacefully.

As a woman who fought for social justice throughout her adult life and understood that personal relations are an essential part of building a movememt, Margaret is remembered by a large circle of comrades and friends. Two memorial meetings are planned: in Richmond on March 8 and in Detroit on April 4.

March-April 2020, ATC 205

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