The Common Cause family and hundreds of our colleagues in progressive organizations across the country are stunned and grieving today over the loss of a dear friend, co-worker, and longtime leader in the fight for democracy reform, Donna Parson. Donna died early Tuesday at Mt. Sinai hospital in New York of complications stemming from heart surgery last week.
Donna’s work to protect the environment and advance racial and economic justice spanned five decades. Friends described her today as unwavering in her devotion to the causes she embraced but recalled most vividly how she served as a friend and mentor to several generations of other activists.
Common Cause President Miles Rapoport, a friend and colleague for more than 30 years, called Donna “an integral and indispensable part of every team I have been a part of since 1980. Her deep commitment to justice and democracy, combined with superb organizing instincts and exceptional emotional intelligence were an extraordinary contribution. I will miss her every day.”
Before Rapoport persuaded her to join Common Cause earlier this year, Donna worked with him for more than a decade at Demos, a progressive policy research and advocacy organization based in New York.
“I am in tears. I feel a part of me is now missing – as I suspect the same is now felt by the many, many friends whom Donna touched and loved,” said Marc Caplan, a longtime friend and associate of Donna’s now serving as Special Advisor to Common Cause on democracy issues. “In each part of her amazing life – as an environmental advocate, citizen organizer and leader, political campaign manager and senior staffer for citizen advocacy groups -- she maintained a host of friends, who will never forget Donna and how she touched our lives.”
Like many others – “troublemakers,” Donna smilingly called them -- Wendy Fields, Common Cause’s Vice President for Campaigns and Strategic partnerships, was drawn into political and social activism by Donna’s example. On Tuesday, Fields found herself typing out a final letter to her friend of 25 years. “I always felt you knew that I could do things I never dreamed of, and of course dear Donna as always you were right… You can never have enough girlfriends, but now I am one short, but so much richer,” she wrote.
Similar tributes were circulating on an email chain of Donna’s friends across the country.
A graduate of the University of Michigan, Donna’s career was centered in her home state of Connecticut. As a young mother in a rural part of the state during the 1970s, she helped organize a successful movement to stop an extension of Interstate Highway 84 through an environmentally sensitive area. Later, she joined with environmental activists to pass a “bottle bill,” legislation requiring consumers to pay a small deposit on beverage containers; the money is refunded when the empty cans and bottles are returned.
Donna went on to work for the Sierra Club and then for the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, where she succeeded Rapoport as director in 1984. She also was a former Executive Director of the Northeast Citizen Action Resource Center, and managed successful congressional campaigns for former U.S. Rep. Sam Gejdenson and an unsuccessful bid by Rapoport in 1998. She spent two years as field director for Public Campaign before joining up with Rapoport again at Demos.
Donna is survived by two daughters, Joanna and Jennifer. John Parson died in 1998. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Office: Common Cause National