Danny Fetonte, lifelong activist, passed away peacefully on October 23, 2022, surrounded by his family. Danny was born in 1950, in New York City. He met and married Barbara Fetonte in Buffalo, New York. A celebration of his life was held November 12th at the Texas AFL-CIO auditorium. Stories of Danny’s skills as a union organizer, and his leadership and mentoring role within the Communication Workers of America (CWA) were shared with a standing-room-only crowd. Video interviews shed light on Danny’s family background, his immense devotion to family and friends, and his perseverance. Until his final days, Danny could be found on picket lines protesting against Austin’s association with the Fayette County Coal plant and distributing yard signs for candidates.
In 2015, Bernie Sanders said he would come to Austin if Danny could get a union hall and 200 people. Danny got the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers’ union hall and over 500 people crammed into the hall to hear Bernie Sanders not long before Sanders announced that he would run for president. Danny’s younger son, Tony, shared Danny’s unique approach to correcting bad behavior. Rather than being grounded, Tony said, he might be required to read a book by Howard Fast and write a report.
Anne Lewis, a longtime friend of the Fetonte family and a union sister with the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU/CWA 6186) wrote this poem for the celebration of Danny’s life and read it on November 12, 2022.
Butterflies roost among the acorns
It’s too cold for them to fly
Mist lies heavy on flat ground
Weeds lit by dewdrops In a rising sun.
The dayshift men and women in work clothes,
swinging lunch buckets,
walk towards factory gates and mine portal.
On Saturdays, union halls fill.
The wages they pay us are a shame
Every war’s a rich man’s game.
We learned from the workers who sang
“I don’t want your millions mister,”
organized during a great depression
went on strike during a World War.
Joe believed revolution would happen in 1974.
He reached out a communist newspaper at the gate.
His fellow workers held him down
and broke his fingers.
Joe went on to become a hospital administrator.
Danny became a union organizer.
Nothing to lose but our chains and a world to gain.
The good ones were old when we were young.
They are as gone as peasants
who plowed with mules.
Country of consumption and hedge funds
Highways and development; capital flight.
The fish grows bigger with the telling
but never beyond the reach of our arms
complexity of truth,
lies that express true desire.
Charlie barks in the yard.
Danny laughs when he talks about company hostility,
He says of the boss, “There was a gigantic wall
between him and the people,
And he never understood there was a wall.”
Danny’s serious when he talks about the workers’
kindness to him and his family.
“People just stuck, refused to give up.”
Danny says, “You have to figure out a way
for the boss to save face.”
The clock doesn’t stop after a win.
The kitchen cabinets are plastered with snapshots,
There’s Barbara, Mickey, and Tony smiling
Bernie’s hand shoves towards the camera
Obama and Biden on the campaign trail
the Jobs with Justice march in Nacogdoches
Mickey’s childhood painting of a flower
hangs on the wall.
Put the manager’s face in a bowl of beans
but don’t get yourself fired.
Danny wanted us all to have a little bit of power.
Button board of demonstrations
Danny reaches out a hand to a stranger
Asks a sister for a smooch
Smiles at a child dragged along.
Danny and Barbara stop by our house without calling
Danny has something for everyone to do.
Their relationships are tied with loyalty
Street wisdom of comrade, friend, and family.
In a world filled with common sense and good will,
Danny deserves to be remembered with tenderness.
We never get used to death.
I wake up sobbing, go through the names
Try to figure out who it is this particular morning.
How do we mourn our dead
without making them
Alive again like Joe Hill
Jesus resurrected after the cross.
Danny never postured about the past.
He lived in the opportunities of organizing,
Looking towards the future,
Analyzing mistakes, practicing his art.
When water turns to dust
the choices are sudden and limited.
“People don’t mind fighting
but they’re sick of losing.”
I dream I am on a float in a Day of the Dead parade
pulled by workers arm in arm across a wide city street.
I climb the ladder to a high platform
I look through Danny’s eyes into the full distance.
Held up by a multitude of arms
Unafraid of any fall from grace.
I celebrate our endless victory.
We do the work,
This is our home
Linking arms in solidarity
We will never be alone.
[Anne Lewis is an award-winning documentary filmmaker. She serves on the executive board of the Texas State Employees Union TSEU-CWA 6186 and teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.]