Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Duke City Activist Fought Injustice
By Paul Logan
Journal Staff Writer
Jeanne Gauna, a longtime Albuquerque activist and co-founder of the SouthWest Organizing Project, died Monday of cancer. She was 56.
Richard Moore, who helped create SWOP in 1980, described the slim, 4-foot-11 Gauna as funny, cheerful and seriously dedicated and committed to social justice issues.
"She really believed that if there were injustices in society, she was working to make those injustices just," he said. "It's a great loss."
Moore said SWOP was created to fill a void when other grassroots movements declined in the late 1970s. The organization works on issues that low-income and working-class people are faced with throughout New Mexico.
Michael Leon Guerrero said he and Gauna were the current SWOP co-directors.
She played "a huge role" in terms of defending the rights of poor communities and communities of color, he said.
"She was fiercely dedicated to what she did," Guerrero said.
He recalled that she questioned government tax breaks that the Intel plant received as well as water and pollution issues involving the computer chip maker.
"When we first started dealing with the Intel issues, people thought we were crazy," Guerrero said. "But now everybody questions industrial revenue bonds and the type of economic development that governments and communities bring to the state."
He credited her work for helping to cause "a major shift" in how people think about economic development.
Guerrero said most people thought of Gauna as a real tough lady, and she was.
"But she was also extremely compassionate," he said. "She'd go out of her way to help people. Extremely unselfish. She was the person you'd go to if you needed a friend."
Albuquerque attorney Eric Sirotkin defended Gauna in 2001 after she was arrested in a peace march for disobeying a police officer. Gauna, who never had been arrested before, was cleared of the charge. Then-Mayor Jim Baca took her side and said the police had overreacted.
Sirotkin called Gauna "a rare person" who took courageous stances and stood up for controversial causes in the name of human rights.
"Jeanne was always unafraid to speak her truth to power," he said. "As a model in times of increasing dissent, she is an inspiration to us all."
Her sons, Jason Gauna and Karlos Schmieder, said their mother spent her whole life fighting for peace and justice.
"She knew how to cut through all the bull and get to the point," Schmieder said. "People really gravitated to her sincerity."
Moore said Gauna was very committed to leadership development.
"Her contribution to SWOP and her contribution to the movement will continue in our work," he said. "Jeanne would expect that out of us."
A service will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday at Salazar & Sons Mortuary, 400 Third SW.
A community memorial is tentatively set for April 12.
Survivors include her husband, Eric Schmieder, and a daughter-in-law, Lynnette Gauna, both of Albuquerque.
Memorial donations may be made to SWOP, 211 10th SW, Albuquerque, NM 87102.