- Former activist with the Students for a Democratic Society
- Supported and participated in the 1968 and 1969 Chicago riots
- Helped establish the New American Movement, an organization devoted to the teachings of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, in the early 1970s
- Longtime friend, advisor, and political supporter of Valerie Jarrett, Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama
While Marilyn Katz studied sociology and political science at Tulane University and Northwestern University in the 1960s, she established herself as one of America’s leading campus radicals. She provided “security” for the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) activists who participated in the infamous street riots during the Democratic Party‘s 1968 national convention in Chicago. And during the “Days of Rage” riots (also in Chicago) of October 1969, Katz introduced protesters to a new type of projectile which they could use to attack the police: a cluster of nails that were sharpened at both ends and fastened in the center. Years later, Katz would insist that her “guerrilla nails” were merely “a defensive weapon” intended to prevent “possible bad behavior by the police.”
When SDS imploded in 1969, Bill Ayers – whom Katz had known since 1961 – helped create the terrorist Weather Underground from SDS’s ranks. In 1971-72, Katz led another SDS remnant to form the New American Movement (NAM), a combined Old Left-New Left organization that included some Communist Party USA members from the 1930s. Rabbi Michael Lerner was also among NAM’s early founders.
In 1975 Katz collaborated with socialist activist Art Larsen to write the “Draft of a Strategy for NAM Anti-Racist Organizing,” a document that stated: “Racism is the ideology that grew out of and reinforces the systematic and institutionalized oppression and super-exploitation of blacks, Chicanos, Latinos, native Americans, Asians and Puerto Ricans. The social, economic and political conditions of these people were created by U.S. capitalism and are enforced by both institutional racism and racism within the ranks of the working class.”
A prominent pro-abortion activist in the 1970s, Katz founded the Reproductive Rights National Network through NAM in 1977-78. One sympathetic author summed up this organization’s objectives as follows: “The long-term goal was to develop an ‘offensive movement’ [against the pro-life movement] that could fight for a more comprehensive set of demands as the conditions for ‘free choice,’ including child care, national health-care, high-quality education, and guaranteed income.”
In 1984 Katz founded MK Communications (MKC), a public-relations firm bearing her initials. Over the years, MKC’s clients have included such entities as the ACLU, Amnesty International, Chicagoans Against War & Injustice, Human Rights Watch, the Illinois Campaign for Choice, the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty, the socialist publication In These Times, the MacArthur Foundation, Mother Jones, the National Community Development Initiative (for the Rockefeller Foundation), United Auto Workers – Local 719, UNICEF, Project Vote, the Habitat Company, the Joyce Foundation, History Makers, and numerous City of Chicago accounts. Katz remains the president of MKC to this day.
Katz has long been a friend of such prominent leftists as Valerie Jarrett, Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama. She initially met Barack Obama in 1993 or ’94, while the latter was working at a law firm run by Judd Miner. The New York Times reports that Katz “gave [Obama] entry into another activist network: the foot soldiers of the white student and black power movements that [had] helped define Chicago in the 1960s.”
In the early to mid-1990s, Katz was a member of the pro-socialist New Party (to which Barack Obama also belonged) and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a Communist Party USA offshoot.
In 1996 Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, who had succeeded Harold Washington in that office seven years earlier, collaborated with Katz and the infamous Chicago Seven to do public-relations work for that year’s Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune’s John Kass reported that Daley, even as he laid off a thousand city workers, gave “Katz and other public-relations firms five-year contracts that could pay them as much as $5 million each.” As part of Katz’s work for the city, she wrote press releases for the Chicago Transit Authority, which was then headed by Valerie Jarrett.
In 2002 Katz and former SDS national secretary Carl Davidson founded Chicagoans Against the War in Iraq (CAWI). That same year, Katz and fellow radical Bettylu Saltzman collaborated to organize the October 2 antiwar demonstration where the little-known state senator Barack Obama delivered what became his most famous speech opposing the Iraq War. Characterizing the war as a “stupid” conflict orchestrated by Republican strategist Karl Rove to “distract” from the (by-then recovering) U.S. economy, this speech laid the groundwork for Obama’s rapid rise in Democratic Party ranks.
In 2003 Katz put her new organization to work for the Democratic Party. CAWI – which listed “allies” like MoveOn.org, Code Pink, International ANSWER, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and World Can’t Wait – trained some 200 people to register voters that year.
In 2004 Katz and Carl Davidson co-authored an article titled “From Protest to Politics,” urging radicals to support Democrat John Kerry for U.S. President. In that piece, Katz and Davidson agreed: “[I]t is true that the next president of the U.S. will represent one or another imperialist grouping … We should do this without illusions. The day after Bush’s defeat, the U.S. will still be an imperialist power.”
In 2005 Katz and Davidson co-published the book Stopping War, Seeking Justice: Essays in a Time of Empire.
In early November 2007, Katz spoke at a Movement for a Democratic Society “Convergence” in Chicago, along with such notables as Manning Marable, Mark Rudd, Mike James, Paul Buhle, Al Haber, Franklin Rosemont, Thomas Good, and Muhammad Ahmad. Also in attendance were Carl Davidson, Mike Klonsky, and Bill Ayers.
In 2008 as well, Katz was welcomed into the Obama presidential campaign, where she became a bundler for Obama and served as a member of his national finance committee. According to Public Citizen, Katz raised at least $50,000 for the Obama ’08 campaign.
In August 2008, Katz and her old SDS comrade Don Rose — who had mentored David Axelrod, another friend of Katz — met with a reporter from In These Times to discuss the 40th anniversary of the “Days of Rage” riots in Chicago. When asked if she had learned anything from the violence of ’68, Katz first (falsely) accused the FBI of having “assassinated” 28 Black Panthers in the 1960s and ’70s. She then depicted those mythical murders as “a wakeup call where we saw the underbelly of our own country.” Asked whether, “in this age of terrorism,” she regretted her past radical actions, Katz replied: “I regret nothing.” She did add, however: “I would have to say for me permanently, I would probably reject violence as a useful form of revolution.”
When Bill Ayers came under substantial media scrutiny in 2008 because of his longstanding ties to presidential candidate Barack Obama, Katz was one of several thousand college professors, students and academic staff who signed a statement of support for Ayers that October. The statement said: “We write to support our colleague Professor William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who is currently under determined and sustained political attack…. We, the undersigned, stand on the side of education as an enterprise devoted to human inquiry, enlightenment, and liberation. We oppose the demonization of Professor William Ayers.”
After Barack Obama’s election as president in 2008, Katz tried to convince disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich to appoint another of her friends, Valerie Jarrett, to Obama’s open U.S. Senate seat. The New York Timesdescribed Katz as “a friend” of Jarrett’s who encouraged the latter to step out of Obama’s shadow and “be the sun.” Katz tried to schedule lunch with Governor Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, to advocate for Jarrett’s appointment. When that failed to materialize, Katz (according to Rod Blagojevich) contacted the governor and told him that if he were to appoint Jarrett to the U.S. Senate, Obama’s people would help him raise money from their network of contributors across the United States. Federal investigators alleged that an unnamed individual suggested a three-way deal for Blagojevich to appoint Jarrett to the seat, take a position with the SEIU-affiliated “Change to Win” labor coalition, and then have President Obama bolster the organization. Ultimately, nothing came of Katz’s overture. Jarrett opted to stay in the White House, where she became part of the Obamas’ inner circle.
Katz in recent years has been an outspoken critic of Israel, claiming that most of the blame for the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict rests squarely with the Jewish state. In a blog post she wrote during the Operation Protective Edge conflict in July 2014, for instance, Katz briefly drew a moral equivalence between the acts of violence perpetrated by both sides, but then directed her most pointed criticisms exclusively toward Israel. Indeed, she lamented the “oppression, dispossession and injustice” that Israel had inflicted upon the Palestinians; claimed that Israel “cannot achieve its democratic promise nor have real security while it occupies the land of another in ways that brutalize both the occupier and the occupied”; complained that “the demonstration of ‘shock and awe’ that Gazans are experiencing is paid for by America, which since 1948 has provided Israel with more than $122 billion in funding, mostly as military assistance”; and concluded her piece by stating, “For us, as for the people of Israel, the choice before [us] is as simple as it is complex: End the occupation or endure endless war.”
In a March 2015 article which she wrote for In These Times, Katz portrayed the Palestinians as persecuted victims of intransigent Israeli brutality:
“As any one who has been to or works with Palestinians knows – even putting aside mass incarcerations, military raids and settler violence – life on the West Bank is difficult. Already crowded into a mere 40 percent of their former lands through the use of expropriations of land, homes and water; the building of barrier walls and restricted roads, Palestinians living on the West Bank face a web of Kafkaesque measures that circumscribe every part of life, from a byzantine ‘pass system’ for travel to Israel (and denial of use of its airport) to controls on what roads they can drive or walk on, if and when they can build a home, and whether they have access to water, the internet, or even modern wireless telephone service. It is these conditions that account for a 25 percent unemployment rate in the best educated Arab nation in the Middle East and are likely behind the fact that the an estimated 45,000 Palestinians left the West Bank and Gaza over the last four years in search of economic opportunity.”
For additional information on Marilyn Katz, click here.