Community Mourns Passing of Jennifer Fasulo, Former GEO Officer, Activist

Please take a moment to celebrate the life of a former GEO colleague.  This tribute was written by a few of her fellow GEO leaders and friends.  Her commitment to humanity, equality, social change and union democracy should be examples for us all.

The remarkable strides made by GEO under her leadership would never have been possible without her abiding commitment to justice and equality, and her willingness to work hard for it.

Members of the GEO staff and leadership of 1996-98 are deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend and comrade, Jennifer Fasulo, GEO Vice President from 1997-98.  Jennifer died in an automobile accident on August 18th, 2010, at the age of 43. Beneath Jennifer’s calm, gentle demeanor was a rare strength, conviction, and fierce intellect that has inspired us tremendously over the years.

Jennifer earned her BA from UMass-Amherst’s University Without Walls program in 1996 with a degree in Creativity and Social Change.  She earned her Master’s in Education from UMass in 1999.  Fundamental socio-economic change and challenging capitalism, racism, sexism, and homophobia was Jennifer’s life mission.

Jennifer was hired by GEO as a staff organizer in 1996.  The union was negotiating its third contract, and Jennifer immediately formed a Political Action Committee to build local and community support. As a union member, staff person and leader, Jennifer deeply believed in union democracy, rank-and-file involvement, diversifying the union at all levels, and direct mass actions to build a strong union.  She believed that the power of the union can be utilized to do more than just fighting for wages and benefits of the union membership:  she wanted GEO to become the voice of the voiceless, whether union members or not.  And she did just that throughout her union work.

It was this conviction, together with her great sense of love for people, which made Jennifer a most outstanding and tenacious GEO leader and organizer.  Jen fought particularly hard to establish a free flexible childcare center for the entire student body and to increase funding for graduate ALANA and low-income student recruitment and retention.  Jennifer pushed fervently for these in the union contract.  She had unwavering dedication to securing basic rights for people of marginalized groups.  We trusted Jennifer’s leadership because she was knowledgeable, dedicated, and led by example.  Jen was driven to create a true democracy where everyone’s needs are represented.

Jennifer built alliances with the other campus unions, the Graduate Student Senate, and undergraduates, particularly ALANA students.  She mobilized students who were on welfare, working tirelessly to nurture leadership among young undergraduate single mothers at UMass who had lost their public assistance and were gradually pushed out of the university.  She inspired them to believe in themselves and make their voices heard.

As GEO’s Vice President from 1997-98, Jennifer’s passion for equality, her strong spirit, relentless fight for justice, and joy in liberation galvanized the union membership.  In large numbers, Jen organized marches, rallies, letter-writing campaigns, phone bank nights, and research projects.  She organized a campus-wide teach-in to educate the student body about GEO’s struggle for a fair contract.  Following this event, Jen impressed upon the campus the meaning of the teach-in by organizing daily sit-ins outside Chancellor David Scott’s office.

Jennifer’s support of ALANA students led her to become one of the few graduate students who actively participated in a 6-day occupation of the Goodell Building in March 1997.  The building takeover aimed at improving ALANA students’ conditions at UMass, including recruitment and retention and staff advisors.  Jennifer’s solidarity with the ALANA student movement and her leadership role in building a diverse alliance on campus continued in various events, actions, and protests, including a 1999 action to block all entrances to the Whitmore Administration building for several hours.

Jennifer gave us life-long lessons about organizing and leadership, particularly the skill of building alliances with diverse groups with diverse goals.  The remarkable strides made by GEO under her leadership would never have been possible without her abiding commitment to justice and equality, and her willingness to work hard for it.

Jennifer also challenged our own organization.  In this excerpt from a memo she wrote to GEO staff and leadership in the fall of 1996, she urges us to handle the inevitable internal conflicts of a leftist organization in the following way:

“We have to create a model of decision-making and accountability that reflects the kind of change we are pushing for at the University.  Otherwise, our efforts will be superficial.  Right now the model we are working with is top-down rather than participatory.  We have a responsibility to challenge what is wrong with the labor movement by correcting these problems within our own organization.

“In a liberatory paradigm, conflict is simply a sign of active engagement with difference.  Conflict is a positive indication that differences of perspective are present and articulated. We can acknowledge that the more we succeed in our mission of expanding the diversity of our membership, the more difference, conflicting opinion, experience, and style we invite in.  This does not mean that it will feel good or comfortable.  On the contrary, it will probably feel terrifying.”

In many ways political work was terrifying for Jennifer, because it meant so much to her and because she was a woman of deep feeling.  Jen took backlash hard; it was painful for her to be threatened, yelled at, dismissed, or maligned.  But the justice gained made these costs worth it enough to Jen that she pressed on, unyielding. Jen pressed on because of her big heart.  She was a woman of extraordinary sensitivity and compassion. Jen’s intellect came from her heart.  She saw the vulnerability in others without judgment.  And then she would act.

After leaving GEO, as a union member in the Education department, Jennifer continued to organize on campus, focusing on graduate student parents.  She also taught in the Women’s Studies department as adjunct faculty.  Jennifer continued her commitment to justice in the education field at Holyoke Community College and then in several positions at higher education institutions in New Jersey and New York City.  In 2004, Jennifer organized adjunct faculty at Hudson Valley Community College to fight for a fair contract, rank-and-file participation, and democracy within the union.

Jennifer also took her activism work to the international level.  When she was producer of the WBAI feminist radio program, Joy of Resistance, from 2004-2007, Jennifer became the voice of the Iraqi, Afghani, and Iranian women’s movements, organizing protests and actions in solidarity with these women, who suffered under both U.S. militarism and religious extremism.  Jennifer played a key role in helping establish a women’s shelter in Baghdad, Iraq for women who were victims of violence.

At the time of her death, Jennifer was exploring social action via film making.  She had begun a film documentary on early pioneers of the radical feminist movement; and in 2009 she produced the film, “PRIMETIME: Fighting Back against Foreclosure,” which premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

We list these accomplishments of Jen’s (and there are more) with great admiration and gratitude for her lasting call to action.  But most of all, Jennifer was a dear friend – always kind, big hearted and sparkling with intelligence and love.  We will forever miss her smile, her humanity and the solidarity we felt with her.

Sangeeta Rao, former GEO Secretary, 1997-98

Mahmood Ketabchi, former GEO President, 1997-98

Emilie Woodward, former GEO Office Coordinator, 1996-98

Please also see a tribute to Jennifer at the WBAI website (which includes a link to her obituary in the Daily Hampshire Gazette) :

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