A 1995 profile in the Chicago Tribune entitled “Here Comes Trouble”, attempted to explain what made Shel Trapp tick:
“What keeps Trapp going is an irrepressible, restless anger. ‘I wake up in the morning and I’m angry. I’m angry that people are getting screwed over by other people. There isn’t a helluva lot that doesn’t make me angry,’ he says.”
That’s the caricature of Shel Trapp. Everything he said seemed to be martial. He urged us to get our troops together and go hit our enemy. He used Hannibal’s battles as metaphors for trainings and Hagar the Horrible cartoons to illustrate his column on organizing in the old N.P.A. newspaper Disclosure.
He was more than that. He was angry, he fought and trained others to fight–but there was a reason. Shel’s deepest concerns were about the dignity of people and the irrepressible strength of the human spirit. He couldn’t abide having people’s dignity trampled on by the careless and the clueless. Shel also had an unswerving belief in the ability of people to work together to restore their dignity–no matter the odds or the foe.
The war stories are fun. Just remember, when you remember the cussing, chain smoking, two-fisted drinking hellraiser, the man who helped strike fear into slumlords, fatcat bankers and faceless government bureaucrats across the nation, you are also remembering an old softy. A man who cared for people and believed in their ability to improve their lives. Shel Trapp taught me and countless others the nuts and bolts of organizing for social change. Even more importantly, Trapp’s life and his work taught us all to understand why we must organize.