Beloved Mission Activist dies at 45
As was obvious to anyone who really got to know him, one of Eric's primary connectors to that wider, crisis-filled world of politics and culture was something seemingly apolitical: soccer.
"His politics were like his soccer playing," explained Eric's uncle, Edgar, who formed an important part of the Sagastume soccer dynasty in late 20th century San Francisco. "When Eric played, he was cool, but tenacious, hard working. He trained meticulously and never gave up. Eric was fond of saying how he "learned about the politics in different countries—Croatia, Greece, Mexico, El Salvador, England, all kinds—from playing in the San Francisco (soccer) leagues. You learned international relations and neighborhood politics at the same time."
Such a schooling made Eric a ferocious ally of Central American revolutionary movements including the URNG in Guatemala, Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and the FMLN in El Salvador. These same commitments also served him well as a leader in the Venceremos Brigade to Cuba, where he met Fidel Castro, famously causing the Cuban leader to become nostalgic when asked about his memories of meeting Malcolm X in Harlem. Later, in 2002, he met with Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. They talked about everything from 21st century socialism to baseball. Beaming with the pride that only a lifelong—not fair weather—fan can display, Eric swore that Chávez was a huge fan of the San Francisco Giants.
The eclectic internationalism Eric envisioned and embodied was always two-way. He always strived towards reciprocity. Through Grassroots Global Justice and his work at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre (Brazil), Eric sought to bring to the international stage the struggles of working class San Franciscans: day laborers, the homeless, people with HIV, and undocumented immigrants.
Eric's journey reflected that of his mentor and dear friend, the legendary Bill Sorro (who himself died of cancer four years ago this very week). Both Bill and Eric were revolutionaries largely unsatisfied with the traditional rhetoric and disarming anger of the left. "We don't struggle because we hate, we do so because we love. Yes, we may hate oppression but in the end we are fighting for something, we fight out of a place of love." Eric never wavered in this.
Eric was a jazz man. A saxophone player, he believed in the art of improvisation and experimentation. At a time when the left was floundering, Eric brought a musical spirit to the necessary work of strengthening dialogue, analysis, and education in the community. He co-founded the Center for Political Education (San Francisco's equivalent of the legendary Brecht Forum), which has served since 1998 as a catalyst for more effective organizing and as a space to build bridges.
Eric understood the centrality of compassionate bridge-building to political success. And like one of his heroes, Monseñor Oscar Romero, he will in his death rise again in his people. For Oscar Grande, a young community organizer with PODER, a Mission-based Latino environmental and economic justice organization, "Eric was instrumental in bringing radical politics and a visionary spirit to Mission politics," said Grande.
Eric's involvement in city politics was less about winning elections and electoral power than about the process of teaching the community how to deal with the powers that be. "He was about 'let's re-write the laws and get rid of the bums at City Hall so we can get the things our community needs: housing, open space and recreation opportunities at the material level,'" Grande said. But, according to Grande, who describes Eric as an "older bro/mentor," Eric's greatest contribution was spiritual.