Tom Broderick, an Oak Park activist who worked tirelessly for social justice, took his own life on Nov. 25, 2017 after a period of declining health.
Thomas James Broderick was born in Washington DC on March 17, 1952 to a single mother. He spent many summers as a child with his Uncle Byron, delighting in the museums and bookstores in Manhattan, and the beach at Fire Island. He was raised in a family that emphasized social justice, education, diversity and a love of culture.
After high school, Tom and a friend left the country to avoid being drafted in the Vietnam War, which they did not support. They traveled extensively through Africa "with little more than lint in their pockets," as friend Bob Roman noted. A few years later Tom traveled to Mexico and again lived cheaply where he could in small villages with families, where he collected art, embroideries and weavings that are still on the walls of his apartment.
His interest in photography drew him to Columbia College in Chicago in the 1970s, and later to the School of the Art Institute, where he created and collected artist books. No trip to New York was complete without a visit to the bookstore, Printed Matter, to add more artist books to his collection. He also began a job in printing as a "stripper" (which he enjoyed telling people) and he stayed in printing for the rest of his work life.
Tom is remembered for his love of cooking, his dinner parties that took hours as he prepared one course after another, his numerous potlucks, his love of time around the table with good food, good drink, good friends, good music, and rowdy conversation. He had a "free and energetic approach to life," said longtime friend Nicole Ferentz. He was irreverent, spoke his truth and loved to let the good times roll.
His interest in politics began early. On his bedroom dresser he kept a photo of himself at 10, when his mother took him to hear Martin Luther King at the March on Washington. He's holding a protest sign that reads, "We Are Marching for Freedom, Ours and Yours."
Tom worked tirelessly, creatively and joyfully on a broad range of progressive causes. He did so as a member of several organizations and in numerous coalitions. Perhaps his strongest interests were abolition of the death penalty, working people's rights to organize and live with dignity, and reproductive justice. The day he died he had finished a shift escorting clients at a downtown family planning clinic, which he had been doing several times a week for years, as a volunteer for Illinois Choice Action Team (ICAT).
Tom served on the board of the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty in its final years before abolition in 2011. He brought to this organization the faithfulness, passion, and support typical of his endorsement of an issue. Whoever said that showing up is 80% of life, surely had Tom in mind. He showed up for death row visits, board meetings, fundraisers, informational gatherings and celebrations.
His labor activism, carried out through the Oak Park Coalition for Truth and Justice (OPCTJ) and the Greater Oak Park branch of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), embraced support for striking workers and low wage workers. During the 10-year strike at Chicago's Congress Hotel, Tom was on the picket line with Congress Hotel workers on numerous occasions — and organized DSA members and others to support what was, at one time, the longest ongoing strike in the U.S. In 2007 he organized OPCTJ members in an informational picket at the local Burger King and McDonald's to get the companies to agree to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' demand for 1 penny additional pay for each pound of tomatoes. A few years later in 2012, he brought a bunch of Chicago DSA members to support a similar, also successful, campaign directed at Chipotle. In 2013, for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, he brought to Chicago's living wage demonstration "Slim," his papier maché skeleton. Slim noted, "Poverty wages are hard to live on."
He helped organize OPCTJ's and DSA's multi-year campaign to get the Oak Park Village Board to pass a Living Wage Ordinance, designing the button for it. That campaign began with an advisory referendum in 2008 and finally reached fruition, in combination with Fight for $15 efforts, in 2017 when the village board voted not to opt out of Cook County's Living Wage Ordinance. In 2011 he joined other Oak Parkers trekking to Madison in support of Wisconsin state workers.
Tom understood his causes in an international context. As part of his commitment to working people, he educated and agitated against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement — meeting with elected officials, attending demonstrations and collecting signatures at OPCTJ and DSA booths in Oak Park's annual Day In Our Village, the Logan Square Farmers' Market, or at Congressman Mike Quigley's Chicago office.
Needless to say, democratic socialist Tom campaigned enthusiastically for democratic socialist Bernie Sanders.
Tom regularly published "One View" opinion pieces and letters to the editor in Oak Park's Wednesday Journal.
He is remembered not just for his political work but also for his commitment to family, hospitality, great cooking, interesting art, sense of humor, and welcoming spirit.
He is survived by his son, Byron Broderick, and former wife, Diane Scott. They ask that contributions be made to the Illinois Choice Action Team (http://www.ilchoiceactionteam.org/donate/).
Written by Diane Scott, Bill Barclay, and Peg Strobel.
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