Friends remember Joe Louis Wildman
April 7, 2021 — Joe Louis Wildman, a longtime union organizer and Democratic activist, died Sunday, not long after retiring. He was the Secretary Treasurer of the North Bay Labor Council, an SEIU representative, and a business agent with operating Engineers Local #3. He was also Treasurer for the Inland Mendocino Democratic Club, and the owner of the Sprinter van that served as the club’s mobile headquarters during the pandemic.
Raul Gardea is an organizer with SEIU Local 2015. He lost a valuable mentor, one who was steeped in the dynamics of rural politics and encouraged him to go to grad school to get a degree from the University of Massachusetts in union activism.
“He was an incredible resource, someone full of so much knowledge and history of county politics, and the history of the Mendocino County labor movement. It’s not easy to find a lot of the information unless you find someone who lived it,” Gardea says. “Joe was someone who had a lot of ideals without ideology.”
Val Muchowski, a longtime Democratic activist, worked alongside Wildman for twenty years. “Joe started off as a Green, so we were kind of on different teams for a while,” she recalled. “But then he became a Democrat, and a very active Democrat. He worked for years as a labor representative, and he had a keen wit and a cutting humor, which made him very fun to work with.” She described him as “very effective,” and told a story about how Wildman decided to drum up some money for the Democratic Party by inviting Fiona Ma, the California State Treasurer, to an event at Black Oak Coffee in Ukiah. “I said, sure, let’s do it, if we can,” Muchowski said. “We raised $3,000 for Democrats at that time. That was pretty good, with less than 100 people in the room,” she concluded.
Gardea added that Wildman, who had been counting down the days to his retirement, spent more time than ever at the union hall as a volunteer. “In the last several weeks, I saw him more than I ever had before...I think he was doing more work as a volunteer, I saw him more after he decided he was no longer going to work.”
Before he died, Wildman had a chance to work on a historic campaign to elect two Democratic senators in Georgia. On December 10, he talked to Annie Esposito and Steve Scalmanini for Corporations and Democracy, about driving the mobile headquarters to Atlanta.
“You know, everyone acts like driving a long time is hard, but it’s no harder than sitting on your couch,” he told his hosts. “I put a lot of strain on my right ankle. That’s about it. Everything else is sitting in the chair, watching the states go by.”
Gardea says no one can fill Wildman’s shoes. “We’re going to have a recall election sometime later this year, and we’re not going to have that voice, grumbling about it but still doing the work, preventing bad stuff from happening in our state.”
There will be a political rally supporting AB 1400, guaranteed healthcare for all on April 17, starting at noon in the Low Gap parking lot in Ukiah and wending its way to Alex Thomas Plaza. It’s what Wildman would have been working on now, and references to him are sure to abound. The Raging Grannies will sing “I dreamed I saw Joe Wildman,” and local democratic leaders will speak.
A few weeks before he died, Wildman wrote a poem that now seems prophetic:
I am walking backward in time and slimming down, now wearing clothes that haven't fit in years. They are no more out of style now than they ever were.
I am walking backward in time getting stronger with each step and closer to where we last diverged. I hope you'll join me now and walk me closer to when we met. To when I first walked you home.
I am walking backward in time, but you cannot walk me back into the womb. You can, I hope, walk with me, back until I am no more. It is, I hope, your turn to walk with me the rest of the way. To walk me, slowly, all the way home.