a14 – Aaron Aarons – 1940 – 2024

Aaron Aarons — a perennial member of the Berkeley radical direct action scene — died January 19. In lieu of a formal obituary, here are some reflections:

I met Aaron through Campaign Against Apartheid when I moved here in 1986. I knew him as a regular — a presence at many protests and meetings. Aaron called into KPFA and KQED to bring the radical viewpoint and you would instantly recognize his New York accent. He had a hilarious show on pirate radio station Free Radio Berkeley in which he often mostly argued with his co-host, Dean. 

Aaron hung out at Long Haul so often that he was an agenda item at meetings. I never knew for sure, but I got the feeling he was a 1960s veteran who had stuck with the radical scene permanently. Turns out he was arrested in 1960 for being part of a group that used rowboats and a canoe to block the launch of a nuclear missile-armed submarine! Aaron sometimes rubbed others the wrong way by being argumentative and long-winded at meetings, but I never doubted his sincerity or his commitment to a better world. — jesse


We lose friends, family, and lovers, but the harder losses to explain are the minor characters whose appearance — and disappearance — in our lives and scenes is still profound. 

We rarely know more than one part, and one period, of their lives. No doubt Aaron Aarons was once a handsome, shy kid in Brooklyn, rather than the irate, contrite elder wingnut familiar to those of us at Slingshot.

I remember him fondly from the Long Haul Sunday night dinners, where he sat next to me for years without acknowledging my presence except for occasionally asking me to pass the salt. (Activist dinners are never short of adversity, personality, and complaints, which Aaron provided easily, but salt is worth its weight in gold.) 

Aaron’s thorny grumpiness delighted me, and put me at ease. He was a whetstone we could grind against, or a rhino at the zoo to tease. His exaggerated role allowed us to hone our own acts and feel at ease. Thank heavens for elders because they give us a chance to be kids. 

I remember his disgust at one of my found t-shirts; the obscure acronymed group it called for freeing was, according to the all-knowing Aaron Aarons, a biker gang. But I also recall his joy at finding one of his own T-shirts that had fresh relevance: “Bush” with a swastika for the “S,” which he proudly dug out after the disastrous election of George the Second. “Good as new,” said Aaron, with something like a smile. — Aaron Cometbus


Besides Long Haul, Aaron was a frequent face at La Peña for all events cultural & political. You would also be sure to see him at any of the political lectures around town whether it was a DIY activist space or institutional. He would often take the mic during Q&A to pursue a point that went after capitalism.

Aaron was at every protest well into his old age when marching and rioting stays in the body longer. 

He cared passionately for international struggles. For Palestinian rights. He was anti-war. He was vigilant about police abuse. In many ways the things taken seriously now he was neck deep in. His engagement was not only attending protests and public talks but in keeping records that traced events as they happened. [He donated his papers to Long Haul.]

Aaron was into a broad range of cultural things intersecting with the radical community. An avid reader whose book collection was hungrily sought after, he also invested deeply in the alternative press and even the mainstream press. He attended dance performances, plays, repertoire films. He danced at Ashkenaz with its blend of world music. A diehard Peace and Freedom Party member attending meetings and helping to shape its progressive agenda. A tenant organizer for 40+ years living in the flatlands of Berkeley watching the rents shoot into the stratosphere. Being able to live and resist here due to rent control and disability checks. It was hard to see any trace of a day job on his hands. The kind of activist threat ignited when not watered down chasing the capitalist dream. 

He was into computers as early as the 1970’s. Traveled to Mexico and kept up with culture and politics of that region. He spoke and wrote in Spanish. 

Born in NY. (From Queens? Brooklyn?) In the early 1960’s while in college he started his own radical publication that got him into trouble with the school (expelled?). He moved to Berkeley in the early 1970’s. —Eggplant

There’s a lot missing in what we know about Aaron — Presente!