Remembering Ruth Sheridan

My anarchist mentor Ruth Sheridan died on January 11, 2020, in Anchorage. The friendship and comradeship that she and I sustained over three decades, based in shared politics and deep love, profoundly shaped my life. Whenever I talk about sticking around in struggle, I invoke Ruth. I’m including here a short contribution I wrote for the celebration of her life at the Unitarian Church in Anchorage on what would have been her 102nd birthday, January 25, 2020.

Ruth and me in Anchorage in 2014. Photo by Andrea Dewees.

I first encountered Ruth Sheridan in 1991, when I was thirteen years old. One of my teachers at Steller Secondary School had invited her to come speak about her experiences of labor organizing and social justice activism. I was immediately captivated by her description of the Industrial Workers of the World, and this contributed to me seeking to learn more about the history of radical social movements.

In the following years, I came to know Ruth better through her involvement with Alaskans Concerned About Latin America (ACALA). I encountered her at public events and was moved by how welcoming she was. When I contributed an article to the ACALA newsletter (the first time I had ever published anything), her positive feedback motivated me to do more.

Based on these experiences, I formally asked Ruth to serve as my mentor, in 1994, in helping me to prepare to teach a course to fellow students at Steller on anarchism. Her advice was invaluable. But what was more significant was the friendship we developed. Ruth brought so much respect and interest toward my ideas and questions, and I came to see her as an incredible resource of knowledge and experience.

I moved away from Anchorage in 1995 and I have only lived in Alaska for three yearlong stints since then. However, this never prevented Ruth and me from maintaining a lively friendship. While I completed a PhD on social movement history in California, she provided consistent encouragement. She and I also re-united at activist events in the Lower 48, and I made a point of spending time with her during all of my annual visits to Alaska. She always eagerly asked for my reports on activist efforts outside of Alaska, and I always looked forward to hearing her updates about politics in Alaska. We never ran out of topics to discuss.

Ruth Sheridan is my model for aging and sticking around in struggle for social transformation. She had boundless energy, an insatiable interest in ideas and history, a deep commitment to social justice and mutual aid, and profound care and respect for people without concern for status or power. She taught me how, as the Spanish anarchists used to say, to carry a new world in my heart.

Ruth with my very first copy of Another Politics, which I dedicated to her.

2 thoughts on “Remembering Ruth Sheridan

  1. Chris, when you connected me with Ruth, she wrote me to say, “I’ve been fighting capitalism and social injustice since the 1930s. I think we’ll get along.” Ruth was a dear friend and support to me at a time when I needed it most. She watched my body transform during chemotherapy and never hesitated to tell me that I looked like shit. She was refreshingly honest. Ruth never spoke of the past. I yearned for her old stories, but she was focused on the present and all peoples rising up to liberate themselves. Ruth died at nearly 102. In her 90s, she was still climbing on the kitchen counter to reach her dishes. (I held my breath — and tongue — as Ruth did not want to be treated like an old lady). I loved watching Ruth smile, laugh, and sit in exquisite delight of simple pleasures, (like watching babies play or sitting in the sun by the Knik River). She was acutely aware of injustice, yet she was able to maintain an inner peace and appreciation of the beauty in the world. In one her holiday letters, Ruth wrote “I love Thanksgiving because it is one of the only days that everybody seems to get enough to eat.” Ruth, you were a joyful and beautiful gift to the world. And I’m really going to miss you.

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