Will was one of our original board members and always will remain on the Global Justice Ecology Board
Willard Marshall Miller
August 29, 1940 - March 31, 2005
Compiled by Anne Petermann and Orin Langelle
Published in the Vermont Guardian
Willard "Will" Miller, Emeritus Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Vermont, succumbed to lung cancer on March 31 at the age of 64. Images of his hero, the legendary Che Guevara, had always surrounded Will as he worked tirelessly for revolutionary social change. Che's famous quote, "the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love," was apt for Will, whose love of humanity and the earth led him to dedicate his life to the uplifting of the oppressed. A Karl Marx quote on Will's website reads, "Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it!"
Will was a revolutionary who fought for academic and political freedom, and the rights of the working class and all inhabitants of the earth who suffer from economic inequities and prejudices. Will understood the connections between politics, war, economics and ecology.
Ann Lipsitt, Will's life partner of 25 years remembers him, "Will set a courageous example in speaking truth to power. Given his extensive knowledge of the workings and ramifications of capitalism and imperialism, he could have become pessimistic, but he showed boundless optimism. With his powerful voice, he was unwavering in the struggle against war and for social justice. He was never afraid to speak his mind, put words into action or place himself 'on-the-line' whether before the university trustees, on a picket line, at a barricade or in a congressional office. Will consistently adhered to his strong principles of social justice, progressive reform, and belief in the power of education to effect change. Will gave us a call to action and a vision of a more just society."
Will dropped out of high school to join the army on his 17th birthday. He carried out electronic surveillance missions directed at forces in eastern Europe from 1958 - 1961, an experience he described as highly politicizing. He earned his GED in the Army and passed an exam exempting him from freshman year of college. At the University of Illinois, he received his B.A. in 1966, M.A. in 1968, and Ph.D. in 1969 all in the field of philosophy.
Will began his career at UVM in 1969, teaching courses in the philosophy of education, Marxism, radical ecology, and utopian societies, among other topics. Over his 35-year teaching career, Will taught thousands and spoke at numerous demonstrations and rallies. He was an active member of the John Dewey Society, the Society for the Philosophical Study of Marxism, and the Radical Philosophy Association.
Will was the sole survivor of a purge of radical philosophers at UVM in 1970. Among those purged was noted scholar and activist Michael Parenti. Parenti points out that while Will was not purged, he continued to be punished for his radical views, "Though he was a popular teacher and published author...he was denied promotion and remained an assistant professor for 35 years with a salary frozen for most of that time at below that of a first-year instructor at UVM. In a word, the treatment accorded him by some administrators and his department chair has been vindictive, petty, and shameful. Given his abilities, I can only conclude that such mistreatment has been politically motivated."
In response to his treatment at the hands of the University, Will set up a web page, which posts the salaries of UVM's administrators and faculty (www.uvm.edu/~wmiller/).
Author, activist, and UVM employee Ron Jacobs comments on Will's union activity, "a few years ago, the faculty at UVM began a successful drive to unionize. Will was an essential part of that campaign, just as he had been in every union campaign at the university since his hiring. Only four or five years before, he and I were celebrating the victory in a staff union drive at UVM that heralded in the second union in the university's history. Will's presence, organizing ability and fervor, and his encyclopedic historical knowledge were instrumental in the success of this campaign-a campaign that provided a voice to the most exploited segment of UVM's workforce."
He was faculty advisor to many of the radical student organizations at UVM including the Radical Student Union, Union of Concerned Students, The Gadfly student newspaper, and SPARC (Student Political Awareness and Responsibility Collective). He was tireless in his activism and there were few progressive events that didn't include his incisive, passionate and articulate addresses.
Ashley Smith, of the International Socialist Organization remembered one of Will's Vietnam resistance stories, " It was the famous march to shut down DC when tens of thousands of activists engaged in civil disobedience throughout the city [Mayday, 1971]. Will joined hundreds of Vermonters to blockade one of the bridges from Alexandria into DC. The army ordered a group of mainly black paratroopers that had just returned from Vietnam to affix bayonets to their weapons and attack the activists. The black paratroopers refused the order and joined the demonstration. In that moment, Will said he got a glimpse of what a socialist revolution would look like in the U.S."
In Will's own words from his web site:
"Remember elections didn't end the Vietnam War! It was a mass movement of people--students, teachers, parents and children, civil rights activists, union members, anti-war veterans from Vietnam and other periods of recent imperial history, acts of refusal by draft resisters and rebellion by active duty soldiers and finally the continued resistance of the Vietnamese Independence movement. For more than 30 years the Vietnamese fought the imperialism of France, Japan, France again (with U.S. financing) and finally--after preventing an election that Ho Chi Minh would have won overwhelmingly--the 10 year U.S. war on Vietnam was pre-emptively started. Before it was over more than 3 million Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians were dead as well as nearly 60,000 Americans. Never again!!!
His powerful articulation of U.S. imperialism and its roots won him many admirers. One of Will's students was so moved that he donated an inheritance that was used to found the Green Mountain Fund for Popular Struggle in 1989. Over the next 13 years, the foundation contributed $750,000 to support radical social change and environmental efforts in Vermont. Many organizations received their very first grants from the Green Mountain Fund, whose principles of unity state, " The Green Mountain Fund is committed to revolutionary transformation toward a socialist-feminist society. This society requires the elimination of all oppression... and their basis in patriarchal, capitalist and imperialist structures."
Outside of the University, Will worked as an activist in Vermont Veterans for Peace, Burlington Area Draft and Military Counseling, Vermont Cuba Committee, Haymarket People's Fund, Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, Network Opposed to Depleted Uranium Weapons and was on the board of Global Justice Ecology Project.
We mourn the loss of this sweet, gentle, generous, compassionate human being with a big heart and boundless faith in the goodness of people. He left us a legacy of inspiration -- not to be discouraged but to keep fighting the atrocious ideologies related to war.
Will is survived by his wife, Ann Lipsitt, his sister, Barbara Knight of Sebastopol, CA, his in-laws, Lew and Edna Lipsitt of Providence, RI and many, many dear friends and comrades.
You can visit www.willmiller.org to read and write about how Will's life and words have touched so many.
A memorial service was held April 24, 2005 in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Burlington.
Tax-deductible donations can be made to the Will Miller Social Justice Lecture Series, established in his honor. Checks should be made out to Ann Lipsitt, at 10 Machia Hill Road, Westford, VT 05494, designated for the Lecture Fund.
WILL MILLER, PRESENTE!
Anne Petermann and Orin Langelle are Co-directors of the Global Justice Ecology Project and were close friends and comrades of Will.
Contact Will at:Will Miller