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Twin Cities activist Wayne Wittman remembered

By Sarah Martin and Meredith Aby-Keirstead |
February 27, 2016
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Wayne Wittman
Wayne Wittman Photo credit: Dick Bernard

Minneapolis, MN - Wayne Wittman, age 86, a longtime activist in the labor and peace movements in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, died Feb. 23. Wayne suffered a heart attack while on a bus coming home from a labor meeting where he introduced a resolution that was passed. His wife Joan said, “He died doing what he loved to do.”

Steve McKeown, a close friend and a fellow member of Veterans for Peace Chapter 27, said, “I have never known anyone to wear so many hats and he did them all justice.” Wayne worked with Veterans for Peace, his church, labor unions, the Democratic Party, School of the America’s Watch and many coalitions including the Minnesota Peace Action Coalition (MPAC) and the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers.

Wayne’s activism was inspired by the life of Oscar Romero and his belief that the best way to world peace is when countries respect each other’s territorial integrity. Wayne wrote, “Every day I have a goal to find an effort to promote what I value and Veterans for Peace (VFP) gives me a unique vehicle through which I can join with others to promote a better life for everyone.”

Wayne served as a corpsman in the Navy from 1948-51 on a ship off of Korea. His anti-war activism began during the Vietnam War when he realized that his government was intervening in the internal affairs of another country. He joined Veterans for Peace and it became a political home for him for the rest of his life. Joining VFP was a turning point for him.

In the 1980s, appalled by the U.S. arming, paying and supplying the Contras in Nicaragua and the death squads in El Salvador, Wayne reinvigorated his anti-war work. He traveled to the region many times as an election observer and did civil disobedience at Fort Benning in Georgia to protest the training of Latin America soldiers in torture at the School of the Americas. U.S. foreign policy in Latin America remained an interest of Wayne’s for the rest of his life.

Wayne played a critical role in the Twin Cities anti-war movement after Sept. 11, 2001, organizing against the U.S. ‘War on Terror.’ One pivotal role he played was in connecting the anti-war movement with the labor movement. Wayne was the VFP representative to the Minnesota Peace Action Coalition, was a frequent speaker at the coalition rallies and marches and coordinated coalition outreach to the labor movement.

Wayne Wittman spoke at many city-wide rallies during the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan representing the MN State AFL-CIO. At one event in 2011 representing the AFL-CIO Wayne said, “Working people need to speak out for an end to the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Billions of dollars are going to war while millions are unemployed and millions more are losing their homes. We got taken in after the events of 9/11 to support an endless series of wars and military interventions around the world. We need to speak out now against the war. Peace is an issue for all working people. We need funds for housing, health care and human needs, not war.”

Marie Braun, served with Wayne in MPAC and said, "Wayne Witmann was a gentle man with an unfailing commitment to peace and justice; he was an inspiration to all of us who knew and worked with him."

Alan Dale also participated in MPAC with Wayne and states, "Wayne could always be counted to help with many of the tasks that go with building an anti-war action, getting leaflets out, getting groups to endorse and help publicize and action, making signs, speaking at rallies. He was willing to do whatever was needed to help build an action."

Wayne was a member of the Machinists District 22 retirees union and he used his membership in both his union and VFP to make connections between these two groups and movements. Cherrene Horazuk, president of AFSCME 3800 recalled, "Wayne was a consistent peace activist and was always attempting to reach out to new people. He often would raise resolutions in labor bodies to oppose U.S. wars and to endorse anti-war protests. He was able to get many of these resolutions passed and they always helped to get out the word about peace actions in the labor movement." In 1992 his effort resulted in a resolution opposing the impending Iraq war representing 15,000 workers.

In 2014, Wayne was awarded the Howard Zinn Lifetime Achievement Award at the Veterans for Peace national convention. In nominating him for the award his fellow chapter members stated, “Over his five decades of service and leadership with VFP, there are few, if any, examples where his wisdom, willingness and indefatigable energy have not played a crucial role in our chapter’s efforts.”

Wayne was the embodiment of ‘walk the talk.’ He was consistent, tireless, principled, eloquent, gentle and encouraging. Wayne Wittman, Presente!