Home / News / Taking Liberties / Remembering Fighting Ed Garvey

Remembering Fighting Ed Garvey

Feb. 28, 2017
Google plus Linkedin Pinterest

When Ed Garvey died last week, national and state obituaries focused on Ed as a force in progressive Wisconsin politics and as the first executive director of the NFL players’ union fighting to give professional athletes control over their own lives and careers.

It might not rank up there with battling millionaire team owners over free agency or Ed’s statewide races against Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson and U.S. Sen. Bob Kasten, but I’ve always wanted to tell people what Garvey did for journalism in Milwaukee without ever receiving any credit for it. 

I got to see it close up in the late ’90s, when Ed talked me into taking on the job of professionalizing a progressive but wildly undisciplined editorial staff as editor of Milwaukee’s struggling alternative newspaper, the Shepherd Express.

Until then, I didn’t realize Garvey, a Madison political figure, had any connection at all to the Shepherd, founded a decade and a half earlier by politically active college kids. 

Few others ever did. But I quickly learned that Milwaukee’s progressive alternative voice wouldn’t have been published some weeks without Ed paying for it. 

Ed not only became the largest investor and board chairman, but also convinced close political associates—progressive attorneys and journalists in Milwaukee and Madison—to purchase stock to keep the newspaper afloat.

That didn’t mean the weekly newspaper wasn’t still on the brink of blowing apart at any moment.

Literally within weeks after becoming editor, I found myself in the middle of a bizarre coup, a counterfeit stockholder revolt led by a former advertising manager trying to wrest control from Ed and other investors who were merely keeping the newspaper alive.

I should explain. Ed and his fellow stockholders acquired stock the old-fashioned way, by investing money. Some current and former employees had received stock in lieu of pay when there was little around. 

Also, the ad manager was “former” because I had to fire him for trying to organize the same sort of rebellion from within. 

I realized the stone craziness Ed had gotten me into when I returned from lunch a few weeks later. The fired ad manager and a group of former employees were in my office. They said they’d held a stockholders meeting to name the former ad manager as publisher and themselves as the board of directors to replace Ed and the real board.

They were nice enough to tell me I could remain as editor, but the new publisher handed me a new job description since I would be reporting to him. So we called the police and had them thrown out. 

Later I joked I was disappointed MPD didn’t commit any police brutality or conduct any cavity searches. They simply ordered the group to leave and sue if they really thought they had a right to run the place. That gave the Garvey law firm more pro-bono legal work. 

Now it’s just a funny story with a happy ending. Ed later brought in another progressive ally, economist and former state Rep. Louis Fortis, to professionalize the newspaper’s business operation. Fortis liked it so much he bought out other stockholders to become publisher and editor. The perpetually endangered weekly finally achieved financial stability.

Ed saw the importance of creating a strong alternative local media. That need has increased with outside ownership of the Journal Sentinel reducing staff and coverage.

A Grassroots Vision of Populist Politics

Ed’s grassroots vision of populist politics—real populism aimed at improving the lives of working people, not preying on racism and bigotry to turn working people against each other—is increasingly exactly what we need today.

Ed was part of a national network of progressive activists I met working with him, including Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Jim Hightower from Texas. They were fighting for campaign finance reform before Citizens United billionaires began determining the results of our elections.

One of my favorite memories of Ed came at the board of directors meeting where I realized the ad director had to go.

I told Ed later I recognized the fighting words that escalated everything. It was when the ad director, who’d repeatedly insulted Ed’s integrity, said, “You know, Ed, I really like you.”

That did it. They were both up out of their chairs and in each other’s faces. Stepping outside was loudly discussed. I somehow verbally talked both of them down without having to step in between the newspaper’s principal stockholder and an insufferable twerp. 

Many people who run for public office thrive on ego-stroking flattery. When a Russian dictator blows in Donald Trump’s ear, Trump will follow him anywhere. But Ed had an extremely low tolerance for insincere sucking up.

It wasn’t a good idea to tell Fighting Ed Garvey you liked him unless you really did. But that was never any problem for all of us who knew and appreciated everything Ed Garvey fought for throughout his life. 


Would white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan pose the same threat they do now if a mainstream Republican were president instead of Donald Trump?

Getting poll results. Please wait...