by Larry Hildes, longtime NLG member from Bellingham, WA
On the early morning of March 10, I lost my wife, my work partner, my political comrade, my partner in a hundred ways I can name and at least as many that there are no words for. We were married just short of 20 years and worked together fulltime for the last 18 of those. These are my not quite organized thoughts about what made her special.
When I met Karen, she was recently back from attending the 4th UN World Conference on Women in Beijing and overflowed with the experience and with several weeks of being surrounded by powerful women, warriors all.
The attraction was immediate, but it took a while to sort things out—as anyone who knows us knows, we are and were very strong personalities. But we grew towards each other.
In December 1998, I went to visit Karen in West Virginia where she had moved back to in order to spend some quality time with her mother. We discovered how much we missed each other and got engaged six months later at the top of a mountain in the Cumberland Gap, and got married a year after that in and old growth Redwood grove in Northern California.
In 2002, I brought her to the NLG Law for the People Convention in Pasadena, and it was love at first sight. She plunged into work in various committees and projects and built lifetime close friendships just being who she was.
Earlier that same year, we started working together full-time. She had ended up in corporate HR and was in a labor negotiation when the President on the Teamsters local across the table walked up to her on a break and said, “It’s clear you want to be on our side.”
She quit her job a month or two later and we began a very long partnership. She brought her background as a journalist and training in investigating incidents, as well as her master’s degree in Counseling to our practice along with her empathy, passion for justice, and brilliant, analytical mind.
As a legal worker, we insisted that she participate as an equal in case strategy meetings. She able to think outside the box in a way that us lawyers were not.
Our clients and colleagues absolutely loved her and requested her as a speaker on many occasions for various events as she had an ability to explain the law and conduct know-your-rights trainings in a way that was clearly understandable and approachable, yet comprehensive.
Most people who know her assumed she was a lawyer, and her skills were those of an outstanding attorney as is true of Guild legal workers. She made our work much better in a hundred different ways, and she loved the class implications of being a legal worker.
She steered our practice into sexual harassment cases and into representing environmental activists as much as possible as those were her priorities and we understood their value.
Karen loved to travel and never failed to connect with the radicals and activists everywhere. She lived and breathed international solidarity. She built relationships wherever we went. That was true back here as well.
When we began representation of Leonard Peltier and went to visit him at Coleman, FL, they immediately connected. They saw a kindred spirit in each other. The day after she died, while locked down, Leonard somehow managed to persuade a corrections officer to give him computer access long enough to send me a condolence email. He described her as his sister warrior, and a better description of Karen I cannot imagine.
Whatever else I accomplish in my life, there is nothing that will equal the accomplishment of being the person Karen loved and chose to spend her life with.
She made me promise to keep up the fight and to never give up, and I battle on an continue to engage in the struggle in her name.
Karen, my beloved, my sister warrior. Rest in Power and in Love.
Editor’s Note: To support Larry, who continues his commitment to movement work, and to honor Karen’s memory, contributions can be made to this GoFundMe, originally established as Karen’s medical fund: www.gofundme.com/f/support-karen-weill-and-larry-hildes