The Socialist Party of California lost a hero this past month when longtime activist and adviser to the Socialist Party in California, particularly the resurgent Los Angeles local, Emil Berkanovic passed due to complications from a stroke.
I know I should be writing about Emil’s vast achievements throughout the course of his life. He was Professor Emeritus at UCLA’s School of Public Health from 1971 until 2008. The thing is, in the time that I’ve known, and come to truly love, Emil Berkanovic, I know very little about Emil’s record of achievement. I suppose that makes a lot of sense.
Emil wanted to know what I thought. Emil wanted to know what things were like for the rest of the SP in California. Meeting Emil was somewhat shocking, because the guy asked questions. The kinds of questions that seem to be in short order these days. He wanted to know how you were feeling. He wanted to know if you were getting enough rest. It fucking hurts to say this, but I think that Emil believed in the people he was surrounding himself with in this newly re-formed Socialist Party in California. And he’s gone.
Emil would probably punch me if I knew I was writing about him like this, but the truth of the matter is, Emil meant more to me than I probably expressed to him. Emil was more than the seventy something year old white-haired professor who would show up to meetings and protests with his cane, having been hobbled by a previous stroke. He was more than the guy who answered the phone saying “I hate this goddamned iphone”, only to accidentally hang up on me before I got a word in. (This happened nearly every time I called him.) He was more than the guy who got teary when I talked to him about the joy of being an uncle for the first time. I felt like Emil wanted the best life possible for my little niece. You see, there was no small talk with Emil. People mattered to Emil, plain and simple. To be honest, I had seen Emil get teary on more than one occasion when hearing of the plight of another. The pain was personal.
I asked Emil if had ever been concerned about his public reputation as a professor, having aligned himself to fight for socialist and humanitarian causes. (Not the most popular position to take, if you haven’t noticed.) Emil said to me, “How can you ask me that?” While I was embarrassed and somewhat ashamed at the time, I know now how I could have asked Emil that. Because Emil wasn’t like anyone that I had met in thirty-six years. When it came to the well-being of others, there wasn’t a personal price that Emil wasn’t willing to pay. I’ve heard that sort of sentiment expressed before, but I don’t know that I had ever seen it in the flesh. I’d do anything right now to get one more chance to just stand next to him, to be in the presence of another whose primary concern wasn’t how he’d fare. Emil had that thing, you know? To me, Emil was what socialism is all about. He was pure. He was decent. And while he was certainly a hearty guy who enjoyed living life with gusto, he always made sense.
Emil was already to step up and fight for the welfare of others, and he didn’t care if he got the recognition that many aspire to when engaging in the fight for justice and equality. He cared about the justice and equality part. I love that guy and I miss him terribly. I know all who have had the chance to spend even a few minutes with Emil feel as I do. While these past few days have been a real bitch, it’s not lost on us in California how lucky we’ve been to share an embrace with Emil Berkanovic.
We’ll continue the fight, buddy.
I’ve never met anyone like Emil. When he came to the L.A. Local’s first meeting, I instantly knew he was a guy who had fought for socialism for decades — and who was still filled with fire. He quickly became a mentor to Mimi and me, giving us invaluable guidance on organizing, recruiting and staying true to the socialist mission. His insight to what worked and what didn’t during his days at Berkeley and afterwards helped shape the L.A. Local.
Although Emil had achieved a lot — personally and for socialism — he wasn’t one to brag. In fact, the opposite was true. Emil personified the phrase “We, not me.” He was a rare man, indeed.
In fact, it’s Emil the man who I’ll always hold close to my heart — the guy who laughed at our lewd jokes and even cracked his own; the man who said, “What for? You already have one!” when I told him I was considering doing another masters; the man who warned me “You know that smoking causes wrinkles!” when I’d light up; the man who did what so few people do anymore — listened.
I already miss Emil terribly. He was more of a mentor, a comrade, a friend in the short time I knew him than most people I’ve known all my life. …
Thank you, Emil, for what you did for me, for the party, for the people. We’ll do whatever we can to keep the fight going.
A few weeks ago, I met with Emil Berkanvic at his home in Los Angeles, and he shared his excitement about helping to build the Socialist Party membership in California. Comrade Emil said he could give little physical support; however, he was willing to work with many of the new members to offer encouragement and support.
I have known Emil for several years, and during that time, I had not seen Emil display such excitement as we talked briefly about building the Socialist Party in California. During the 15 minutes we spoke in his front yard, all he could think about was ways to build the party.
Emil expressed the importance of getting the youth involved to help reach the future generation of socialists, and quickly, Justin Simons came to his mind. Emil had a spark in his eye when he thought of Justin, saying “We need 10 members like Justin in the party; he’s just a ball of fire.”
I will miss Emil for many reasons and I being a socialist for 15 years, Emil was able to give me encouragement and guidance in an area of my life that I have true devotion. I hope that I can help carry the torch that produced the flame that was continuously burning in the heart of our Comrade Emil Berkanovic that will always help to enlighten our direction. We will prove worthy of the faith that Comrade Emil had in us as we continue to fulfill his vision.
Emil will be missed. Every time I went to Los Angeles, he was there with his cane, fighting, just like the rest of us. I didn’t know him too well, but I will say that I learned very quickly (at my first meeting) that when Emil spoke it was wise to listen. The last time I saw him, he was drinking a beer with the other comrades and enjoying himself. He was very friendly. When I heard that Emil had passed away, I could not help but remember a quote from Joe Hill who said, “Don’t mourn for me. Organize!” I have no doubt that Emil would say the same.
I was so sorry to hear about Emil’s death. He was a tireless warrior for the struggle of working people and all those oppressed by the capitalist system. He’ll be deeply missed.
I only met Emil twice, both times at L.A. Local meetings. I was very impressed with his history of activism and his readiness and willingness to still perform any action or task that would grow the Party and the struggle here in Cali.