Kevin Spidel – PDA Memorial Tribute

Mar 4, 2020

By Bryan Buchan – Progressive Democrats of America

 

Kevin Spidel, a life long political and community organizer and social activist, a former Campaign Director for Amnesty International, former National Field Director for Kucinich for President, and co-founder and former National Deputy Director of Progressive Democrats of America has passed away.

Kevin Spidel was a young passionate progressive activist with a kind gentle heart.  He was often behind the scenes in progressive politics, building movements, coaching activists and doing the heavy lifting of uniting progressives and building coalitions to sustain and grow the PDA Inside/Outside strategy, our moniker and approach to political organizing within PDA.

Kevin began his political career working field operations for Amnesty International in 1995, organizing  and training Arizona and southern California AIUSA chapters on and off college campuses.  In the late 1990s till the early 2000s Kevin was entrenched in local Arizona races and social justice issues.  It was during this time be began organizing for Dennis Kucinich’s presidential run.  He had helped build a large coalition of progressive activists in Arizona, all supporting Dennis’ campaign.  His effective organizing propelled him to become the National Field Director for Dennis Kucinich’s campaign, in 2003-2004. 

Returning home to Phoenix in 2004, he harnessed the momentum of many disenfranchised activists from the Kucinich, Dean, Sharpton and Mosley-Brown campaigns.  Together, Kevin with his first wife, Michele White, continued to build upon this coalition of progressives, and created “Progressive Vote”.  Soon after, Kevin and Michele partnered with the legendary progressive champion, Tim Carpenter, and with the help of many of our PDA founding members, created the PDA Inside/Outside strategy.  This strategy formally united the “street-heat” of Progressive Vote activists with progressive beltway activists and lobbyists that birthed “Progressive Democrats of America”. 

In 2006 Kevin left PDA to return to Amnesty International, became a campaign director focused on their global “Denounce Torture” and national “American I Believe In” campaigns.  Kevin later left politics and in 2007 began a rewarding career in digital marketing.  As always, Kevin continued his passioned focus for coaching others, and lifting them up, this time to get a start in this very new (at the time) exciting field.  During this time he was the founding Director for Product Development and & Marketing for Gannett Local and Director of Social Marketing and Co-Founder and Director of Agency Services for Voice Media Group in Phoenix Arizona.

Kevin’s personality, passion, and creativity however is best conveyed by one of his good friends, and PDA’s friend, William Rivers Pitt, from TruthOut.  Will met and worked alongside of Kevin during the transition, between the end of Kucinich’s presidential campaign, and the birth of PDA.  Will offered to write a short but poignant tribute that best captures who Kevin was, beyond his resume and achievements.  Below is that tribute from Will.  If you would like to offer your own memory and tribute to Kevin, please do so by commenting below.  RIP Brother Spidel.

– Bryan Buchan

I met Kevin in a red Dennis Kucinich campaign van that crisscrossed the corn fields and caucus sites of Iowa. After I joined the campaign, he taught me about what is required in constructing an effective grass-roots movement. It is no overstatement to say that at least some of the energy being enjoyed today by the Bernie Sanders campaign can be traced back to that van, that campaign, and to Kevin. The organization he helped found with that energy, Progressive Democrats of America, was another beneficiary of that energy, and is to this day.

Kevin and I crossed paths a wonderful number of times after that, most comically in California. We stayed overnight with activist friends, and bedded down in the tiny guest house in back of the main house. Those who know Kevin will understand when I say his snoring was the equivalent of an earthquake attempting to copulate with one of those machines they use to mix cans of paint (bless you, brother, but it’s true). I basically had to break into the main house to find a couch to crash on, else I would have been sleeping in the yard.

On that trip, Kevin schooled me on the deep intricacies and complications involved in establishing a humane and effective immigration policy. He laid out details and nuances that I had never considered, and which plague the immigration debate to this day. Kevin’s intellect could bend the light. I was always learning from him, and was always a better person when we parted.

The geographical distance between us did not permit as much time together as I would have liked, but we were always in touch … and I was always comforted in the knowledge that, whatever was happening in the world, Kevin was out there working to make it better for us all in whatever way he could within reach of his arm. Our motto together was “Kill the Buddha”. The meaning for us was hard-earned simplicity: Leaders are good, and sometimes great, but it is the street heat that makes change happen. You are the one you’ve been waiting for, and need no sage to point the way. Kevin lived that every day. It is a formidable, worthy legacy we must all strive to achieve. We are lesser without him.

-William Rivers Pitt

11 Comments

  1. Mike Hersh

    Kevin was an inspiring, highly-intelligent, caring leader with a great sense of humor. We will miss him dearly.

    Reply
  2. John Friedrich

    So sad to learn that Kevin has passed. We met in the Kucinich campaign in IA in 2003-4, and I was impressed with Kevin’s commitment to the movement, to what was important, to doing the work without ego, for the right reasons. A big loss to the world. RIP, brother Kevin.

    Reply
  3. Jim Clarke

    I will forever associate Kevin, Tim Carpenter and Dennis Kucinich together as comrades in arms (non-violent of course). With much sadness that Kevin and Tim are gone too early but not forgotten. And glad to see that Dennis is again active. RIP my friend.

    Reply
  4. Irene OBrien

    A life devoted to fighting the good fight. Bravo. Rest in Peace.

    Reply
  5. Peggy S. Collins

    I didn’t know that this young and heart-motivated man was making my life more just as he was making other’s lives more just. Thank you Kevin.

    Reply
  6. Steve Cobble

    Without Kevin Spidel’s creative mind and his organizing skills, there might never have been a PDA. In particular, Kevin had the good sense to talk about his idea with the late, great Tom Carpenter first, and PDA was soon off and running. We all owe Kevin big time for his early vision. He was a good man. And I will always remember Kevin trying to fit all his stuff plus himself into one of those tiny Honda hybrid cars 15 years ago, after a PDA gathering at Mimi Kennedy’s house…

    Reply
  7. Joe Libertelli

    I think I first met Kevin at the 2004 Democratic Convention and worked with him and Tim Carpenter, Steve Cobble, Bruce Taub and Michele White and others in the run up to the convention and in the years that followed. I always thought our paths would cross again – and I’m very, very sorry to learn that they will not.

    Reply
  8. Judy Whitehouse

    Tributes well-deserved for a visionary who least acted as one in the early days of PDA. I’m glad I had the chance to meet him.

    Reply
  9. Olivia Arnold

    Kevin is my husband’s cousin and did nothing but spread joy and love. We have a gaping hole left where he was.

    Reply
  10. Ron Henry

    I have known Kevin since 2001 and we kept in touch throughout the years. The last time I was with Kevin was in January and he was his usual self, gregarious, passionate, a huge smile. We both enjoyed getting to know a new friend as well and the conversations that brought. Whenever we got together, it would always be to catch up, hoist a few and talk about our hopes for the Country along with conversations about our families. He was so proud of his sister and others in his family. He missed people lost and we talked about them as well. We spoke of Buddha and Tao and life in general. We talked about old times, the Seesmic years, campaigns, being in and out of politics. We talked about Bernie. I was able to tell him that he was the one who had convinced me to change many of my points of view, all for the better. He was an amazing man, his fire burned hot and he was always seeking peace above all. I’m truly going to miss him.

    Reply

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