In Memory of Louis LaFortune, Compassionate Peace Activist

“Louis was a teacher who was fiercely dedicated to justice. He was always supportive and involved in our community work and campaigns.” -Jenn Laskin

[ Louis LaFortune, a volunteer with Guitars not Guns and many other causes, plays guitar at a peace rally on August 2, 2015 in front of the Collateral Damage statue in Santa Cruz to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Photo by Alex Darocy. ]

Louis LaFortune, known to many as Louie LaFortune, passed away unexpectedly on the morning of March 13, 2016 at his family home in Live Oak, a small community nestled between Santa Cruz and Capitola. Register-Pajaronian reports that he died in his home after suffering heart trouble. His family states that he passed quickly without pain or discomfort. Louis’s untimely passing, at the young age of 64, was a sad shock for his family and wide circle of friends.

Louie was a popular teacher at New School, a small high school for at-risk students in Watsonville. Before launching his second career as a teacher — the first was as an auto mechanic — he was a long-standing and dedicated member of the Free Radio Santa Cruz collective, also known as Freak Radio and FRSC.

In 2003, Louie created the Resistance and Renewal program on FRSC, a listener supported and unlicensed “pirate” radio station broadcasting from Santa Cruz since 1995. To the greater community, he was a major advocate of the station, however more importantly Louie often served as a mediator within the dynamic collective when disagreements arose or personalities conflicted.

Louie’s dedication to Free Radio Santa Cruz can not be overstated. There was very little glamour in the selfless act of providing an on-air platform for people to discuss social and political issues. As a programmer for FRSC, Louie was a volunteer responsible for paying monthly dues of roughly $25 as well as sharing in the work and responsibilities of running the station.

On September 29, 2004, a year after Louie joined the collective, FRSC was raided, for it’s first and only time, by Federal Communications Commission agents and armed US Marshals. In response to this jarring event, Louie did not choose to walk away from the collective, rather he helped to promote a huge FRSC benefit event at the Rio Theatre featuring legendary folk musician Utah Phillips in concert with Keith Greeninger and Faith Petric, along with the bootstomping sounds of The Devil Makes Three. Louie gave his time to the community by hosting Resistance and Renewal every Friday night from 6:30-8pm.

Hundreds of people came out to the Rio Theater on January 24, 2005. The event featured talks by Ralph Nader, Matt Gonzalez, and Todd Landis. Local Green Party organizer, Louis Lafortune, MCd the show. Photo by Matt Fitt.
Hundreds of people came out to the Rio Theater on January 24, 2005. The event featured talks by Ralph Nader, Matt Gonzalez, and Todd Landis. Local Green Party organizer, Louis Lafortune, MCd the show. Photo by Matt Fitt.

He leveraged his radio skills and became a host of Voices from the Village on Community Television of Santa Cruz County. During California’s draught in November 2015, Louie’s guests included the manager of Soquel Water District to discuss the complex topic of local groundwater storage and use.

I caught myself just before writing that Louie was “a passionate fighter for social justice.” But those words are not accurate. Words, and how they are conveyed, meant a lot to Louie. At a 2007 Peace and Unity March in Watsonville, Louie wore a shirt declaring, “Don’t Fight for Peace, Stand for Peace.” Louis LaFortune stood for peace.

The Resistance and Renewal program on FRSC had a theme song, I Ain’t Marching Anymore, an anti-war ballad by Phil Ochs which Louie played each show. The song, a scathing critic of the US military from a soldier’s perspective, became an anthem of the peace movement during the Vietnam War.

Lyrics of I Ain’t Marching Anymore by Phil Ochs include:

For I’ve killed my share of Indians
In a thousand different fights
I was there at the Little Big Horn
I heard many men lying, I saw many more dying
But I ain’t marching anymore

It’s always the old to lead us to the war
It’s always the young to fall
Now look at all we’ve won with the saber and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all

For I stole California from the Mexican land
Fought in the bloody Civil War
Yes, I even killed my brothers
And so many others
But I ain’t marching anymore

Now the labor leader’s screamin’
When they close the missile plants
United Fruit screams at the Cuban shore
Call it, Peace, or call it, Treason
Call it, Love, or call it, Reason
But I ain’t marching anymore
No, I ain’t marching anymore

Memories of Louis LaFortune

There are numerous postings in the archives of Santa Cruz Indymedia covering demonstrations that Louie participated in and helped to organize, an interview he conducted on the airwaves of FRSC with Ralph Schoenman on the origins of the crisis in Iran, as well as an episode of Voices from the Village where Louie moderated a debate with the Mayor of Santa Cruz about the City’s notorious “sleeping ban.” The YouTube account for Ken Knobler includes a trove of Voices from the Village recordings, including an interview with UC Santa Cruz students arrested for participating in a blockade of Highway 1 to protest University tuition hikes and police violence.

As news spread that Louie had passed away, his family and many friends shared lots of memories, as well as some photos, on social media. The following represents a small sample of those memories.

Louis and Nancy LaFortune celebrated 35 years of marriage.
Louis and Nancy LaFortune celebrated 35 years of marriage.

Louie’s daughter Chloe: He was the smartest most compassionate man I have ever known. He was my biggest supporter, cheerleader and confidant. He thought the world of my brother and I, and I will forever strive to continue to make him proud. My life will forever be different without his light and life in it. It breaks my heart my daughter will never know his brilliance and patience.

Christine LaFortune: My brother, Louis, died suddenly yesterday, March 13. He was the best brother ever, and I and my sisters told him so nearly every time we spoke. So many people will miss him.

Bob Downing: Susan and I are heart-broken. Louis was a great friend: big-hearted, principled, and endlessly fun company. He was the instigator of many of my fondest memories of California, and his voice and his advice on many subjects ring clearly and permanently in my head. Not many people go from being an auto mechanic to a teacher in their 50s, but Louis was an organic intellectual who, like the scholar in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, “would gladly learn and gladly teach.” We’ve lost a comrade, a confidant, and an inspiration. Too soon, Louis. Too goddamn soon.

Paul Ortiz: Louis, I am going to miss you so much! Sheila and I are distraught, having heard the news this evening. A great and compassionate man, who will never be forgotten. We just made a donation to Free Radio Santa Cruz in his honor. Some of my fondest California memories involve being interviewed by Louis about the struggles of oppressed people.

Tomas Alejo: It is sad to hear about the passing of our friend Louis LaFortune. You were always a strong, humble and courageous ally of the Watsonville community. From teaching our youth at the New School to supporting the many rallies of the Watsonville Brown Berets. You will be missed brother.

Robert Duran: I had the pleasure of working with him at Free Radio Santa Cruz years ago. He was an honest and very REAL human being and a good friend. He supported just about every social justice event in town. What a life he lived. Rest in peace Louie.

Jenn Laskin: Louis was a teacher who was fiercely dedicated to justice. He was always supportive and involved in our community work and campaigns. He inspired me to believe in the Green Party and the power of third parties in general. RIP Louis!!! You will be so missed.

Itzaa Govea: May you fly with the angels. Thank you for being the great, hard working, happiest teacher you always were at our New School.

You are welcome and encouraged to contribute to this article by sharing your memories of our friend, Louis LaFortune, in the comment section below.

Celebrate the Life of Louis LaFortune

Please join us as we celebrate and remember the life of Louis LaFortune.

• Saturday March 26th
• 2pm-4pm
• The Santa Cruz Grange Hall Santa Cruz Live Oak Grange
–1900 17th Ave

All are welcome to come join us for an afternoon of family, friends, stories and songs.

We hope you can join us as we remember his spirit and light he brought to our community and our lives.

With love,
Nancy, Lex & Chloe

Photos of Louis LaFortune

Author: Bradley Allen

Bradley Allen is a reporter and photographer in the Monterey Bay Area, and a collective member of the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center (Indybay). Follow him on social media: @BradleySA.

11 thoughts on “In Memory of Louis LaFortune, Compassionate Peace Activist”

  1. Dana and I were saddened to learn of Louie’s sudden passing.
    We will remember Louie for his passion and dedication to peace with justice.
    He stood for peace always and I will carry fond memories of his lead role with
    Free Radio Santa Cruz and his work with Community Television. Our thoughts are with Nancy and all the family at this most difficult time. Senator Bill Monning and Dr. Dana Kent VIVA LOUIE LA FORTUNE!!!!!!!!!

  2. Ditto all of the many evocative comments of affection and respect for Louie. I enjoyed his enthusiastic chairing of the People’s Democratic Club, meetings at his home, and marching and marching and marching. And then Louie announced he was reregistering Green! HE WAS LEAVING MY PRECIOUS DEMOCRATIC PARTY. But, you know, there was no rancor or hostility with that transition; Louie was just as happy and friendly, just as physically affectionate, (world-class hugger), just as present with those he’d left behind. The Democrats was the only place I stopped seeing Louie, for he was everywhere else, wasn’t he! We shall have to sign up twenty or thirty of us to volunteer, in rotation, to try, try to fill the void. Vaya con Dios, dear friend.

  3. Louie was always there, and so will always be.

    There are those who struggle for a day and they are good. There are those who struggle for a year and they are better. There are those who struggle many years, and they are better still. But there are those who struggle all their lives: These are the indispensable ones.
    – Bertolt Brecht

  4. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story of who he was to help us manage the sad and tragic news Bradley. I’m tore up over this, Louis was my good friend and mentor, a comrade of the Brown Berets and all oppressed peoples, and a damn good TV show host. We were both part of Free Radio Santa Cruz for years and often on Friday nights I used to happily listen to him ramble on about whatever social justice topic was on his mind at the time. I was proud to call him a friend and ally. He was all the things people have said here and more. I always felt supported by Louis in all my my projects and jobs and was a better person for having gotten to work with him. It was him that invited me to my first meeting of the Santa Cruz Peace Coalition (In the downstairs bookstore of the old RCNV building; It was my first time there!) and they invited me perform some of my radical political slam poetry at the HUGE march in SC from the Courthouse to the Mission plaza for a large rally on Feb 15 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq. It was the largest audience I’ve ever performed to and the thunderous applause after my poem inspired me to keep up the peace work and poetry. Louis helped make that happen…. He always did stuff like that. That’s just who he was. Such a caring individual that just wanted to connect people with opportunities and see the people around him do well.

    I just talked yesterday with Nancy, his wife, and as you mentioned above she told me they are planning a memorial on Saturday March 26 from 2-4pm at the Live Oak Green Grange. Everyone please spread the word far and wide to his community so we can properly celebrate and send off our comrade in hardcore down for the cause style. She was understandably very tore up and sad and really hoped for a large turn out at the memorial. I told her Louis was loved by many and had helped and touched so many people and we’d be sure to pack the house. Please help do your part to show Nancy how much we all loved her husband.

    In celebration of a life well lived.
    Companero Louis Lafortune PRESENTE!

    Thanks again Bradley,
    Sandino

  5. It was an honor to serve with Louis in the Green Party leadership in the Ralph Nader days when he described himself as a “recovering Democrat.” He had an incredibly quick mind and was ready to share his piercing political analysis on any topic you could name. I could count on learning something every time I was with him. His students were so fortunate that he changed careers and became a teacher. Louis was one of the most warm-hearted people I have ever know.

    A note on his name: he told me he went with the French pronunciation of Louis, so let’s not change the spelling.

  6. What a tragic and sudden loss for our community. He was indispensable and one of the few in our community who showed up tirelessly, time after time, for peace, justice, to confront racial, social and economic injustice. He sang Buffy St. Marie’s song, “Universal Soldier,” which was one of last times I saw Louis. He was at the DeSal water celebration where he invited me to speak at New School, which I did over the years. I worked alongside him at Free Radio, and Community TV and in countless marches over many years. His beautiful red and yellow Santa Cruz peace flags could be spotted from afar. My deepest condolences go out to Nancy and his immediate family. His immense presence is sorely missed by so many. May his drive for justice live in us all. With love, Ann Simonton

  7. Louis was one of my most favorite and loved people ever – not only his clear and passionate leftwing values, and his abiltity and willingness to act on those!, but also his sweet, caring, loving, and generous nature………he was totally able to allow his heart and emotions out in public, to let the tears flow, and his sorrow and sadness show, something that we need so much these days from our men and our boys……. and that he modeled so deeply, with such fierceness and beauty

    In his memory, may we encourage all our men and boys to feel so deeply and show it so strongly………
    And may there someday be a lasting justice and peace, everywhere!
    Viva Louis!

    with great love and respect
    Sherry Conable

  8. Louis LaFortune ah what fortune the community found in his great love! He is such a great spirit and friend, I am so grateful we were together the last time I came to town. Carol and I met nancy and he at the Palomar before seeing the Michael Moore movie. We jammed at a neighbors house for lunch walked the dogs on the beach went to a pArk and had a scrumptious breakfast! The day he passed I was at the state teachers convention- we are union brothers- and I got to the mic and played “Voting Blues” the David Winters’ song he so graciously performed at his tribute in April!
    Such wonderful ness is he!
    “I want to vote against racism
    I want to vote against rape
    I want to vote against people going hungry
    I want to vote against crimes of hate
    I want to vote against big corporations
    I want to vote against Nazis and the KKK
    I vote when they tell me I vote every year
    I’m tired of voting for the lessor of two evils and
    I want to make it clear
    I will vote for One Big Union
    I will vote for peace
    I will vote for jobs & justice
    I will vote to make health care free
    I will vote for women’s right to chose
    I will vote for a worker’s right to vote
    And I will vote for the right to vote Against All the Injusice I see!

    Thank you brothers!

    Jimmy Kelly

  9. I was so saddened to hear of Louie’s passing and my heart goes out to Nancy and the family.
    Louie was so supportive, caring and passionate. Charlie loved him so. Louie was a gift to us all. His beautiful spirit lives on.

  10. I was in San Luis Obispo visiting family and unable to attend the celebration of Louie’s well lived life.
    But I remember when he first joined the PVFT teacher’s family and what a positive addition he was with a light that was bright in the New School tradition. Louie’s talent and progressive ideas made members stretch and rise to a greater level with higher hopes. He made everyone examine reality, think outside the box, and challenge status quo assumptions, behaviors and concepts. His greatness touched many.
    – Lowell Hurst

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