¡Bert Muhly Presente!
by Orin Langelle, Co-director/Strategist for Global Justice Ecology Project
Note: Bert Muhly passed from this Earth on December 16, 2011. He was 88 years old. Bert was a friend, colleague and comrade to Global Justice Ecology Project since its inception and prior when both Anne Petermann and Orin Langelle worked with different organizations. And the same can be said of his surviving wife, Lois. Bert and Lois were married 65 years and lived in Santa Cruz, CA for the past 50. The staff and board of GJEP send their sincere condolences to the Muhly family.-The GJEP Team
On July 19, 1979 I was in the Florida Keys when I heard the news that the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, FSLN) overthrew the US backed Anastasio Somoza regime in Nicaragua. ¡Viva Nicaragua Libre! I didn’t know it at the time, but that day and revolution led me to the Nicaragua Network and subsequently to Nicaragua many times in the 1990s thru the early 2000s (even though the Sandinistas lost governance of Nicaragua by then through a counter-revolutionary “Contra” war sponsored by the US). I doubt if I would have ever met Bert Muhly if it wasn’t for the Sandinistas.
I’m not sure when I first met Bert and Lois. It could have been in Vermont one year when the Nicaragua Network had a National Leadership meeting on a cold and rainy weekend at Wheelock Farm. It could have been in Washington, DC where Nicaragua Network has its national office or it could have been in Santa Cruz at another Nicaragua Network event. Sometimes it’s easier for me to remember the circumstances instead of the exact place where an event happened.
Wherever it was, meeting Bert was an event. Bert seemed larger than life in many ways. And Bert liked to talk a lot. I remember Lois nudging him several times at meetings, giving him a ‘please shut up Bert’ look. When I started to know Bert, it was evident that he was fired with compassion and revolutionary love.
Santa Cruz Sentinel: Muhly traveled more than two dozen times to Nicaragua, including once to deliver a donated ambulance to Santa Cruz’s sister city of Jinotepe. He was strongly opposed to the Contra movement of the 1980s, which was backed by President Ronald Reagan’s administration to battle the Sandanistas after an overthrow of the country’s dictator.
Our friendship grew over the years and both Anne Petrmann and I had the pleasure of staying at Bert and Lois’ house several times. It was a political house. There was no way it could not have been. Bert had been active in local politics since he and Lois moved to Santa Cruz and for years served on it’s City Council before he became vice mayor and then mayor. To many people in California, Bert was known as “The Red Mayor of Santa Cruz.” Bert was proud to be known for that he once told me. He was also proud when he showed me a photograph of him shaking hands with an elderly gentleman. He asked me if I knew who the man was or where the photo was taken. I didn’t. Bert said, “The photo was taken in Cuba and the man was Che Guevara’s father.”
Many Sandinistas and supporters passed through the Muhly home over the years. Bert and Lois organized numerous Nicaragua Network national meetings in Santa Cruz. I never heard anyone complain when it was decided the meetings would be in Santa Cruz. Yes, there was the business of the network to discuss, but Bert, Lois and their friends knew how to throw a fiesta during the evenings.
I even had a photo show at the Muhly’s during one of the Nica Net meetings. The front part of the house had my traveling Corporate Globalization vs Global Justice Guerrilla Photo Exhibit [archived web page] one evening in the latter part of 2004. On another evening during the meetings, we showed a ten-minute promo video of A Silent Forest: The Growing Threat, Genetically Engineered Trees. That promo, narrated by Dr. David Suzuki, was shown weeks later in Buenos Aires, Argentina at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Bert and Lois along with Three Americas (more later), Steve Leinau from Earth Links and Raindancer Media‘s Ed Schehl produced the award winning A Silent Forest video that is still being shown today. Global Justice Ecology Project was the expert consultant for the video.
Genetically engineered trees and crops were some of the latest egregious schemes that Bert wanted to stop. Bert was always concerned about the Earth we live on and what ‘development’ means.
Santa Cruz Sentinel: The former UC Santa Cruz and San Jose State University professor was remembered…as a passionate and diligent activist who, as part of the vanguard of California environmentalists in the 1960s, contributed to legislation that created the powerful Coastal Commission that now governs development along 1,100 miles of the state’s shoreline.
Muhly was an instructor in the environmental studies program at UC Santa Cruz and later the graduate planning program at San Jose State University, for a total of 19 years. He retired from San Jose State as professor emeritus in 1989 but maintained an active voice in local land use issues.
Bert was the co-founder of Three Americas which had its roots in the Santa Cruz Coalition for Nicaragua. Bert told me that he and others, while Nicaragua and its peoples would always be in their hearts, felt that it was time to look at all of the Americas, as the problems of globalization, militarism, Indigenous Peoples’ struggles and all of the ills of Capitalism continue to worsen and impact peoples and the environment throughout the Hemisphere.
The accomplishments of Three Americas are too numerous to go into detail, but they include work with coffee cooperatives in Guatemala, land rights issues with the Rama Indigenous Peoples in Nicaragua, and many more projects.
I know those who met and worked with Bert are honored to have been in his presence. I know I am. The last time I saw Bert was in February of last year. Anne Petermann and I had lunch with Bert and Lois at their home. Bert was as committed and determined as ever to the struggle. He bombarded us with a long list of projects that needed to be done and ideas to fulfill to make the world a better place for all–now it’s up to us to carry on.
Earth Links: Bert Muhly’s Legacy
As an original member of the Santa Cruz Coalition for Nicaragua, and then founding board member of Three Americas, Inc., Bert Muhly personified the spirit of people-to-people exchanges, which reach across great distances to bind together those who would protect our environment and our most vulnerable citizens. This work is a wonderful example of what a few committed individuals can accomplish, even against long odds, when they work together.
¡Bert Muhly Presente!