Trim Bissell

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Trim Bissell (1942 - 2002)

"Trim was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of a radical woman whose political convictions inspired his own. After getting a college degree in English, Trim taught at Wayne State University (Detroit) and Oberlin College (Ohio) in the mid-1960s. His indignation at the U.S. government's involvement in Vietnam and at the pervasive racism he was implicated in as a white man persuaded him to leave his teaching career to join what he always termed the "armed resistance" — and others called the Weathermen, the most radical branch of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) — in the late 1960s along with his first wife, Judith. They went to Seattle, where they were arrested while preparing to attack a building used by the University of Washington ROTC. Recounting the story decades later, Trim, whose extraordinary gentleness made the notion of his committing acts of violence almost inconceivable, confessed that he was probably not ideally cut out for such activities.

"Trim and Judith jumped bail with the approval of Trim's parents, who had put up their house as collateral. Fugitive life soon put an end to the marriage, but Trim continued to live underground for 17 years, one of the longest stretches of any of the militants of the ‘60s. He settled in Eugene, Oregon, took the name Terrence Jackson, got a second college degree and a masters degree, and worked as a physical therapist. He was also an active sculptor and painter, working for 20 years in partnership with Rich Klopfer.

"The story of his arrest in 1987 always ended an evening of Trim's stories: the FBI agent in charge of his case and who arrested him turned out to be a participant in Trim's annual folk-dancing retreat. Until the arrest, Trim never knew he was in the FBI, and the agent never knew his real name wasn't Terrence. The agent testified as a character witness on Trim's behalf; when he retired, he requested that his retirement gift be one of Trim's sculptures.

"Trim plotted a careful defense, complete with a media strategy, with a top-notch lawyer to whom he was still making monthly payments last year. As a result he served just two years in a minimum-security prison; had he been tried in 1970 he almost certainly would have been sentenced to 25 years. While in jail he married Ruth Evan, who knew him in high school and contacted him after reading about his arrest to offer to care for his dog.

"After his release in 1989, Trim continued to resist the lure of political activism for a few years. By 1994, however, he was working with the Central America solidarity movement, and specifically with the Committee in Solidarity with the Central American People (CISCAP) in Eugene. Trim proposed the creation of Campaign for Labor Rights (CLR) as a project of the Nicaragua Network, as a response to the emergence of free trade zones and maquiladoras as mainstays of the Central American economy. Often called "sweatshops," the factories CLR focused on were the leading edge of corporate globalization in some of the poorest countries of the Western Hemisphere.

"Trim's indefatigible energy and clear vision helped CLR grow exponentially since its founding in 1995. It eventually became a full project of the Alliance for Global Justice, and a well-known and well-respected part of the international movement for workers' rights.

"Trim joined the Steering Committee of the 50 Years Is Enough Network in 1998 and served on it until his illness forced him to retire. His unstinting creativity and sense of urgency encouraged his colleagues at 50 Years to aim higher and think more creatively about the opportunities to create meaningful change. He worked most closely with 50 Years in early 2000, when he energetically led the effort to find a broad range of contributors for a booklet — "False Profits: Who Wins, Who Loses When the IMF, World Bank, and WTO Come to Town" — which we printed 20,000 copies of to use in educating activists in advance of the April 2000 demonstrations at the IMF/World Bank spring meetings ("A16").

"Trim was diagnosed with brain cancer in the fall of 2000, and died in Eugene on June 15 at the age of 60. He is survived by Ruth and by CLR." [1]

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  1. Trim Bissell, 50 Years Is Enough, accessed June 20, 2008.