By: J. Pierce
In June of 2015, the Phoenix IWW and many others mourned the loss and celebrated the life of William Krist, Bill Krist, Krazy Bill, KB. He was a friend, mentor, and grand-fatherly figure to many of us.
KB was the old man of the IWW in Arizona. Having been signed up by Aaron in 2000, KB was the only continuous, paid-up IWW member in Phoenix from 2000 until his death in 2015. He would pay his dues in January for the whole year, every year, and wore an IWW Centenary button or member pin on his hat every day. KB was a model member in many ways: unwavering loyalty to the organization and our historic mission, and always a positive influence.
For 15 years, KB would come to Branch meetings and offer what he could to the projects the IWW was working on. From organizing grocery workers at Gentle Strength co-op, to supporting the Roofers Union’s organizing efforts in the exclusive suburbs; from distributing Worker’s Rights Cards, to supporting immigrant workers against racist attacks by the terrorist leaders of “Dumbfuckistan” – KB was there. Bill would often thank us personally for the work we did for the union. Later on as his health deteriorated, he couldn’t march and picket like he wanted, but he would come and sit in his car or drive his electric scooter if he felt up for it.
Krazy Bill felt a visceral connection to Arizona’s centuries old class struggle – the harvest hands, miners, and laundresses vs. the trusts, the bankers, and the sheriffs. He especially identified with the 2,000 mostly Mexican and immigrant miners who were rounded up at gun point and deported from the Arizona mining towns of Bisbee and Jerome in 1917. This historic attack on the IWW and the working class was a focal point for KB’s radical education of younger fellow workers, as he took us down to Bisbee to commune with history at FW James Brew’s grave.
KB grew up in Phoenix, a dusty little town as he remembered it in the 50s and 60s. His parents owned the Krist Café, which he often referenced in his many tall tales of the early days of the Valley. He spent most of his working life in toxic waste water treatment in Phoenix but evidently worked as a factory worker in Cleveland, Ohio when he was younger. The plant that KB retired from at 52, originally Garrett Turbine Engine Company, is one of half a dozen companies near Sky Harbor airport, including Motorola and Honeywell, responsible for several toxic EPA National Priority List Superfund sites that are decades in the lawsuits and clean up.
Apart from his life as a working stiff, Bill enjoyed camping and hunting in the desert. At 18, KB went to gold pan in the Superstition Mountains, working a small gold mine by himself. He later told a few of us, “That’s when I lost all contact with civilization.” This is from where Bill traced his non-conformity with conventions of cleanliness and tidiness, which as Bill got older, was the source of many problems, not the least of which was livable housing.
KB flouted the expectations of the ‘bourgeois fucks’ and their society in many ways, especially with his “unique, radical, and often politically-incorrect sense of humor” as Charles referred to it. At the memorial, Dean reminded us of KB’s views on cigarettes: “Smoke ‘em if ya gotta ‘em! If ya don’t got any, I’ll lend ya some. If you’re pregnant, better get another one, ‘cause you’re smoking for two.” Bill claimed to own “dozens” of guns, and his neighbor shared a story about how KB enjoyed watering his lawn and his award-winning vegetable garden with a loaded pistol drooping from the pocket of his gym shorts. Evidently he did shoot his foot one of those times and then drove himself to the hospital, likely in one of his huge 1970s hoopties. As for his love of burgers, Stacy remembered KB’s amorous advocacy of eating flesh while often providing vegan treats so as to include everyone.
Although having married 3 or 4 times, KB’s destiny as a ‘ladies man’ never did materialize the way he might have liked. Yet his admiration for women, both as a feminist and as a romantic, was evident to all. As confidant to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, man, woman, and everything outside and in-between, KB offered relationship advice when he thought it useful, but mainly his humble reflections. Looking back on what might have gone wrong with his past loves, he concluded simply, “The only thing they had in common was me.”
One of Bill’s two sons, Josh (the other one being Jesse), reported in the memorial program, Bill “was charged with Conspiracy to Overthrow the U.S. Government by Violent Means in 1976, an experience that made him realize that those who have power often abuse it. He was distressed that his beloved, sleepy hometown had been taken over by remorseless developers and suspect politicians. He spent his retirement as an activist, and was a regular participant and organizer of protests against injustice.”
Factory work gave KB his life-long class struggle intensity and along the way he pledged his fidelity to anarchism. He insisted that the Phoenix GMB does and always shall run on consensus: “it’s in the charter.” He was one of the anchors of the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition (PAC), which functioned as a beehive for uncompromising political resistance to the growing neo-fascism in Arizona. The IWW functioned as the “class struggle” pie slice in PAC with Earth First!, Food Not Bombs, Cop Watch, and others who shared mutual members.
Although he was a spirited feminist and an astute economic and scientific thinker, KB didn’t go in for jargon and posturing. His most effective weapon for making the world a better place was his smile. Fara and Jakobe noted KB’s welcoming presence and its effect on all of us, saying, “There was no one who didn’t like KB. He was involved in so many groups and friends with so many activists, yet he never talked shit… But he did love the latest gossip.” His friendliness toward everyone – activists, neighbors, restaurant and grocery store workers, passers-by while picketing – and his skill at building unity in the movement is something that the Left could take a lesson from, Fara said.
Bill Krist was one of a kind and will be remembered in many ways. Elizabeth said she is going to miss lunch dates with KB at his numerous (secret) cheap and delicious restaurants. Charles reminded us of Joe Hill’s admonition: “Don’t mourn, organize!” and will undoubtedly think of KB every time he blows his nose on the American flag snot rag that KB bequeathed to him. Aaron, Matt, and I all wrote poems of a sort, separately, in tribute to KB’s “generous heart, keen intellect, libertine spirit, and free-range feet,” as Aaron put it. And his son Josh noted that one of KB’s “few regrets would be dying before Arpaio was in DOJ custody.”
Although he might laugh, scoff, or curse at the idea of being canonized “Saint KB” or knighted “Sir William Krist” (and surely he’s reading his copy of the Industrial Winged-Atheist, livid that I’m the one who wrote his obituary), we’d all be content if KB found his place in some Anarchist Hall of Fame somewhere. But I suppose he’ll have to be satisfied with the honorific title: Fellow Worker Bill.
This article was originally posted to Life Long Wobbly and a chintzy little version was begrudgingly published in the Industrial Worker in 2015.