Last Thursday my phone rang, it was the kind of call that stops you in your tracks. Kevin Bock had died. Kevin was my friend and cohort in the labor movement. I’m deeply saddened by his death and as I try to come to terms with our loss I find myself examining my own mortality and, for lack of a better term, legacy. In wondering what I’ll leave behind, I am reminded of what Kevin leaves all of us with.
If you’re reading this and you’re in Montana as an active member of the labor movement, you probably knew Kevin or would know him if you saw him. Kevin lived a typical Montana life. He had roots in Butte and Anaconda, grew up during a time when Montana’s resource industry was falling apart, served proudly in the military, carried that ethic of public service on as a state employee and absolutely loved his family. And Kevin loved the union.
I met Kevin almost ten years ago when he started showing up at union meetings and asking questions to better understand what the union did. He was unhappy with the direction of things and what he felt was a passive approach to leadership within his own local. He was also bothered by apathy of the members. Kevin carefully watched, learned and then started to move ahead by getting elected to the board of his local union. He again took the time to learn and understand the process. He also began to ‘agitate’ for change. If you knew Kevin, you know this came naturally for him. Over time Kevin became the President of his local and was also elected as Secretary Treasurer of MEA-MFT. None of these are small feats nor are they easy roles to play.
Kevin was more than willing to admit that he was a Republican. He was also willing to admit that as he learned more about the work of the union and the people we represent that he understood there was a lot more to being a Republican or a Democrat. Kevin’s political leanings became that of ‘what’s good for the worker and the union’. Kevin became the union member we seek, he viewed politics with his union membership first and his ideology second. He also questioned the union and its leadership politically when he didn’t agree. Kevin unintentionally reminded me that it’s good to be questioned and pushed out of a comfort zone often. It’s a good thing to reexamine what we are doing to be sure we are on the right path and not the path of ‘because it’s what we’ve always done’.
What I am most reminded of in Kevin’s death is that I won’t get to see Kevin at every training, meeting, convention, rally, picnic or gathering of union folks. That’s a short list, but read it again. Kevin showed up. I’ll say it again, Kevin showed up. As simple as it sounds, it’s not. He believed in showing up, organizing, mobilize and agitating. Kevin’s local has more than 400 members. Imagine if one fifth of his local followed his lead and showed up. Imagine if one fifth of every local followed Kevin’s lead. Knowing him as well as I did, that is the legacy Kevin would want us all to live out in his honor.
I was truly stymied when I was told Kevin died. It was a heavy blow that caused me to remind myself to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. When I think of death I think of what I would want my family and friends to do; gather, laugh, drink, and celebrate what I hope will be a life well lived, no tears. I asked myself what Kevin would want me to do. It’s an easy answer. Kevin would tell us all to show up, bring a union sister or brother, learn, organize, mobilize and agitate. Kevin would remind us of what Joe Hill told us to do- ‘Don’t spend time mourning, Organize!’
Kevin, my dear brother, I will miss you. May your soul drift easy to the places you love, yes Kevin I know, Disneyland. May your spirit remain here with me, with us, your inspiration is much needed as we carry out the work of the union.
Executive Director, Montana Public Employees Association
Vice President, Montana AFL-CIO