R.I.P. Shel Trapp: Organizer, Mentor, Hellraiser


Obituaries for Trapp in the Chicago Tribune and in the Chicago Sun-Times

Dear Showdown in America and NPA Family,

I am deeply saddened to announce that our co-founder and agitator-extraordinaire, Shel Trapp, passed away from complications with pneumonia yesterday. He was 75. He leaves behind his loving family, wife Anne, daughter Kathy, son Rollie, son-in-law Dennis, daugter-in-law Becky and 4 beautiful grandchildren, Chloe, Ben, Jake and Ellen.

We all have the honor and responsibility of being part of National People’s Action, a rare organization in America. There is no other entity in this country that has had the guts to consistently and directly confront corporate and political elites in the way that NPA has. The courage and fight that it takes to do hard-hitting direct action is part of our DNA, deeply engrained in the culture of National People’s Action. And without question, this DNA can be traced back to a preacher turned organizer named Shel Trapp.

One of the organizational values of NPA is “To push beyond the edge of what’s possible.” For Trapp, that meant pushing beyond our own personal edge, beyond what was comfortable. We often call this being fearless, but Trapp would tell us it is not about being without fear, but actually having the guts to push beyond those fears. That’s why he saw direct action as such a powerful tactic – because it not only transforms relations of power, but also transforms the human spirit.

Trapp had the unique ability to see something inside each of us that we didn’t see in ourselves. And through this insight, and his ability and willingness to agitate, he helped untold organizers and community leaders brush past insecurities, cultural norms, or whatever was standing in our way of tapping into our fullest potential.

Joe Hill, the great labor agitator and songwriter, wrote before his execution in 1915, “Don’t mourn for me, but organize.” I know Trapp would say the same thing to us now. Our economy and our democracy are in rough shape. People are hurting and looking for hope. We can best bring people hope, and honor Trapp, by actualizing a favorite quote of his – “In the face of injustice there is only one correct response, ATTACK.”

Nothing would make him happier than knowing his passing prompted each of us to move more people to engage in powerful direct action at this tenuous moment in our nation’s history. As I write this, the Alliance to Develop Power is doing just that – paying a surprise visit to the American Bankers Association Convention in Boston. Somewhere Trapp is smiling.

In solidarity,

George Goehl
Executive Director
National People’s Action

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