In Memory of Louis LaFortune, Compassionate Peace Activist

[ 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