Jonathan Ogden (1970-2014)
By Jaime Mejia
Jonathan Ogden – socialist, unionist and former member of the ISO and Socialist Alternative died of a sudden stroke in his New Farm home sometime between 6 and 10 February 2014.
I have known Jonathan, or Jono as we used to call him affectionately, since I began my political life in Australia with the International Socialist Organisation in 1993. At personal level, more than a comrade and friend, he was like a brother to me. Here I will share some memories of my friend and comrade.
I arrived in Australia in 1991 just before the collapse of the Soviet Union. After its collapse, I was trying to find an answer to why it happened. Then, during the orientation week at Griffith University in 1993, I saw an ISO stall. I bought a magazine and the concept that the Soviet Union was a state capitalist society sounded convincing to me. That’s where I first met Jonathan.
I started coming to rallies and Jonathan was always helping at the ISO stalls. In those days, socialists were not allowed to have stall in the Queen St Mall. I got involved in the campaign of free speech in the Mall. I saw when he was arrested for calling an undercover cop “undercover pig”. Despite of the humorous effect of his words he had an impact on many bystanders. Of course, he was not the only one who was arrested. But when people saw the police using so much brutality against those activists including Jonathan, they started yelling “Free speech on the mall!”. Eventually, the Brisbane City Council changed its policy allowing socialist organizations have stalls in that place. His little contribution and sacrifice helped lead to the eventual concession of free speech in the mall. This legacy lives on.
I also began attending ISO meetings and eventually joined a few months after my first contact with them. Jonathan was rather a very quiet guy. But looks can deceive. He knew a lot about the history of the labour movement and was well informed. I quit the ISO in 1997, but Jono stayed active.
A few years later, during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, I saw him at a Socialist Alternative stall. I became politically active again just before the invasion. I became more involved with his new group and it was during that period we became close friends. I cannot remember how it all started, perhaps there was the link of our common past with the ISO. We enjoyed talking a lot about our old days with the ISO and those comrades back then.
In 2004 there were inner tensions in the Brisbane Branch of Socialist Alternative that led to a split. I was away on a holiday when this happened. Most members joined what was briefly known as Socialist Action Group. Only 5 members remained with Socialist Alternative and began the task of rebuilding the branch. He was one of them.
I was doing my PhD, fully depending on my parents financially, which prevented me from getting more involved in political activity. I spent long periods of inactivity due to my studies and other personal circumstances. He came to visit me regularly and kept me informed of what was going on with Socialist Alternative. He was never pushing me to get more involved, but tried to persuade me without insisting too much. He was very patient with me and it was thanks to him that I got involved again.
Jono began working at Cochlear, an anti-union company. He single-handedly began the Herculean task of drawing people towards the union and organizing them for better pay and conditions at work. Taking into consideration the culture at his workplace, he was very successful.
He was well-read and could talk about any topic, not just politics. Marxism was his passion and he was very knowledgeable of the topics that were being discussed at his organization’s meetings and reading groups. He also had a well-supplied personal library and was fond of films. He eventually quit political activity altogether due to his personal circumstances and some disagreements with the organization.
At a personal level, I will never forget the debt of gratitude I have with him. When I needed a place to stay, he let me stay at his place for a few months.
He always invited me to his Christmas parties organized by the company he worked with. I enjoyed having him at my place for dinner as well. When we used to go partying, I was always the risk-taker and he was the moral conscience.
Last time I saw him was on the weekend before he died. He came to my place, had dinner, watched a movie and had a little chat. He used to spend the weekends helping his mother, cleaning up her place so she could sell the house and move to a more comfortable place. He went back to his mother’s that night. He always looked after her. I never expected the shocking news two weeks later.
In moments like this I like remembering the property of light that despite the fact that many stars we see in the night died out millions of years ago their light still shines. In a like manner, people become immortal when they leave their mark in our lives. He was such a person. More than comrade and a friend, he was a brother to me.
Farewell my brother. We will sadly miss you but continue to fight for the ideals you stood for.