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A lifetime of political activism

By Adam de Jong

Nov. 2, 2006 9:00 p.m.

Adele Cannon studied chemistry at UCLA, but she has spent more
of her life focused on a ballot box than on Boyle’s law.

Cannon attended UCLA during World War II and is now the Peace
and Freedom candidate for California’s 30th District in the
U.S. Congress, running against a long-standing Democrat and a
26-year-old Republican taking his first crack at public office.

She’s running on a platform that calls for the immediate
withdrawal from the Iraq war, a single-payer health care system,
and a plan to double the minimum wage.

The 83-year-old describes President Bush as “deaf, dumb
and blind” and the Democratic Party as “spineless
sellouts.” She says her political hero is Paul Robeson, the
late black lawyer and political activist who was involved in the
Civil Rights Movement and might best be known to younger
generations as the baritone-voiced singer of “Ol’ Man

Cannon’s candidacy is just a footnote in the life of a
woman who has spent the last 60 years as a political activist for
the committed left.

Turning the corner of East 105 Street in Watts, one finds the
headquarters of Cannon’s congressional campaign. It is a
modest-sized home Cannon has lived in since 1947, and where she has
raised a biracial family with her second husband, O’Neil

In the living room sits a stack of certificates honoring the
Cannons for their humanitarian work in Los Angeles for the past
half century. There is a lifetime achievement plague that is
propped up by an “A+ grandpa” coffee mug.

The Cannon residence offers just a glimpse into the life of this
married couple that has been involved in Los Angeles’
political movement almost since its inception.

“With them, you really find good people,” said
Denese Cannon Lewis, O’Neil Cannon’s daughter.
“The whole family is so proud of everything they’ve

“You just have to be careful; you could spend two weeks in
their house just talking to them.”

Adele and O’Neil Cannon met in Los Angeles while
distributing leaflets for the Independent Progressive Party in
1947. They were part of a group of activists who campaigned for
Raymond Cox, who ran for U.S. Congress in California’s 50th
District in the 1950s as the state’s first black
congressional candidate.

The Cannons look back on the 1960s, as many leftist activists
do, as an era of great energy and hope that never quite met its
potential. They proudly championed Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam
War movements, but also lament the death of prominent progressive
leaders such as Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin
Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

“When (former President) Lyndon Johnson announced he
wouldn’t run for re-election (in 1968) we took that as a sign
we were making a difference,” Adele Cannon said. “When
Bobby (Kennedy) was killed that took a lot out of everyone. We
didn’t really recover from that.”

The 1970s and 1980s marked a period in which the Cannons’
activism became far more localized.

They said they had friends serving on school boards in Los
Angeles and repeatedly heard stories of high school teachers and
counselors recommending that black students should focus their
efforts on athletics rather than academics.

“In Watts, the only education people would get would be
how to hold a broom and a mop,” O’Neil Cannon said.

Noticing that Watts housed several trade schools but no
state-funded academic school, the Cannons were part of a group to
found Los Angeles Southwest Community College.

For the couple, it was a chance to give younger generations an
education O’Neil Cannon never received.

In 1986, the Cannons were part of a group of activists to open
the Paul Robeson Community Center, where Adele Cannon still serves
on the board as controller and O’Neil Cannon still works in
his office from 11 a.m to 3 p.m. every day.

After finishing her undergraduate degree and earning her CPA
from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and while
working as a full-time accountant, Adele Cannon served as the Peace
and Freedom Party’s State Treasurer for 16 years. She was
brought in to help the party stay afloat, but was surprised to find
how little money there was to spend.

“I had friends who brought me into the party and wanted me
to keep the books,” she said. “At the first meeting I
went to, there was $11 in the party’s account.”

She said Peace and Freedom Party leaders asked her to run in the
30th District to oppose Rep. Henry Waxman, even though his voting
record over his 32 years in office is one of the most liberal of
any congressman. Cannon agreed to run, getting the 40 signatures
needed from the party but doing little campaigning.

As she prepares for next week’s midterm elections, Cannon
knows her campaign is little more than a stab at getting a few
hundred votes based on principle.

She says her candidacy is more to offer what she called “a
clear alternative to the two major parties.”

“The Democrats and Republicans are pigs feeding out of the
same trough,” she said.

The Cannons reiterated that they became disillusioned with the
Democratic Party decades ago, but still voted for its presidential
and gubernatorial candidates in most elections.

For the past few years, Adele Cannon has worked part-time in an
accounting firm and spends several nights a week tutoring her
grandchildren in algebra. Never much of a deep sleeper, she said
she routinely stays up until the early hours of the morning reading
newspapers and political nonfiction.

After 60 years spent in politics, Cannon said she hasn’t
lost the drive to stay informed even as she has entered the
twilight of her life.

“It would be scary to just watch television and not pay
attention to the world around me, no matter how old I get,”
she said.

“The thing about growing old is that you don’t get
surprised as much by the horrible things going on in the
world,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean you
don’t care.”

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Adam de Jong
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