Glenn Schaller, whose grassroots work touched nearly every aspect of local progressive politics for the past four decades throughout California, died Oct. 30 in his Santa Cruz home.
He was 66.
His friends and family say that, despite his work on high-profile issues such as leading multiple campaigns or battling Proposition 8—the 2008 law that banned gay marriage—Schaller strove to stay out of the spotlight, maintaining that notoriety was not the reason for his work.
So, what was the reason?
“A quest for justice,” said Sen. John Laird—Schaller ran Laird’s campaign for Santa Cruz City Council in the 1980s. “That was just it all the way. If you ever talked to him, if he was ever surprised by anything, it was that somebody might not be doing their best in the quest for justice, and that just drove him all along the way.”
Born in East Northport, N.Y., Schaller was raised by politically active Republican parents who taught their kids the importance of civic duty by having them stuff envelopes or bring lunch to the people in the polling places, his sister Merrie Scaller said.
While his older siblings did anti-war work in their universities in the 70s, Schaller joined another brother and his family on a cross-country road trip in a converted school bus.
“He wandered around all over the place and ended up in Santa Cruz and fell in love with it,” Merrie Schaller said. “That was 1976.”
It was here that Schaller followed his first passion, studying early childhood education and embarking on a 25-year career in education.
In the meantime, he was involved in housing issues such as rent control with the Housing Advisory Committee. He was a founding member of the Community Credit Union and worked as a coordinator with Santa Cruz Action Network.
Glen was perhaps best known for his work supporting the LGBTQ+ community. His involvement earned him a proclamation in 1987 from Santa Cruz Mayor Jane Weed, Merrie Schaller said.
“He has been an ally to so many communities, and a mentor to a whole lot of people,” she said. “I am really proud of my little brother.”
It is not clear how Scaller died. He suffered from both congestive heart failure and diabetes, although neither has been linked conclusively to his death, his sister said.
What is clear, however, is that Glen Schaller was often so wrapped up in his community that he neglected his health, she said.
“Sometimes we get all involved with the public work and we don’t take care of ourselves or each other as well as we should,” she said.
Cabrillo College Trustee Adam Spickler, the first transgender man elected to public office in Santa Cruz County, said that Glen Schaller’s work extended to teaching other straight and cicgender people how to be allies for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Glen was just phenomenal, and he showed up in those ways politically, which really mattered at a time when things were really challenging for our community, in the 80s, in the 90s,” Spickler said.
Schaller led the statewide drive against Prop 8, which passed with 52% of the statewide vote, but was later declared unconstitutional.
He was also adept at recruiting young people who were upset about Prop. 8, but didn’t know how to get involved, Spickler said.
“Glen was masterful at pulling and drawing in youth,” he said. “And helping them understand that this was part of the larger fight for LGBTQ equality.”
Schaller put his skills and knowledge to use in the latter part of his career as a political organizer with the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council.
“He was a great strategist, a big thinker and had a good core compass,” said Executive Director Cesar Lara. “Glen was a tireless advocate for community issues, he made a big impact not just in the County of Santa Cruz but in the Central Coast.”
In a post on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, Rep. Jimmy Panetta said that Schaller “didn’t just preach solidarity, he lived it.”
“You could always count on Glen to be on the frontlines for workers, working families, and equality,” Panetta said. “In his passing, our community has lost someone who knew that we can and must continue to do better for one another.”