The lively voice of lifelong revolutionary Erica Rae was stilled far too soon when she died from cancer on Feb. 1. Erica made many contributions to News and Letters Committees in activities and writing—as youth, woman, and educator. These contributions were not separated from her devotion to teaching young students in both English and Spanish, as she drew out the best from them.
Erica was born in West Virginia to coal miner father Andy Phillips and Olga Domanski, both of whom were active members of News and Letters Committees. Andy worked in the mine and wrote passionately about the horrible working conditions in the mines and the miners’ revolts, while Olga Domanski was secretary to Raya Dunayevskaya for over a quarter century.
Raised in Detroit, as a pre-teen Erica famously turned down an invitation to join the newly-formed Women’s Liberation-News and Letters Committee because their meetings conflicted with Lassie on TV, but shortly afterward she was sharing Marxist-Humanism with the youth in revolt at Cass Tech High School—an activity she continued when she attended Wayne State University (WSU).
Her critique of the limits of solidarity among youth at WSU meetings on women betrayed by leaders of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and on the gunning down of Kent State students on May 4, 1970, while downplaying the murders of Black students at Jackson State on the same day, remain relevant to the movement today. Likewise, Erica countered the narrow agenda of organizers of an abortion rights rally in Chicago in 1989 with: “Anything short of total freedom will fail in the end.”
In addition to maintaining communication with Spanish-speaking revolutionaries in the U.S. and Latin America, including reporting directly from Mexico City in
1992, Erica wrote two essays for News & Letters with ongoing impact. “Needed: debate on education in era of cutbacks” in 2011 laid out the obstacles to teachers and students regaining control of education in Chicago. The very next year the Chicago Federation of Teachers, under new rank-and-file leadership, addressed that problem with a strike that became a beacon for insurgent teachers and workers nationwide.
“Women, youth, and education in revolutionary Paris” demonstrated that the 1871 Paris Commune, 114 years later, still had more aspects to illuminate what revolution demands.
In addition to Erica’s writings and extensive public speaking, we will miss the comrade who loved music passionately and sang with the North Shore Choral Society and who cheerfully worked alongside us for revolution for her whole life.