Activist Video Archive

Preserving progressive, multicultural voices of Los Angeles area activists and philanthropists.

Preserving progressive, multicultural voices of Los Angeles area activists and philanthropists.

Bill Zimmerman

Part One

Part Two

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Part Four

Bill Zimmerman earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and taught briefly there and at Brooklyn College. In the early 1960’s, a trip to Greenwood, Mississippi, in support of civil rights activists brought him face to face with systematic racism and set him on an activist life.
Against U.S. intervention in Vietnam from the outset, Bill organized students in opposition to the war and the draft. He gave up a fruitful career in scientific research on brain function when he realized he could not control how the U.S. government and military would utilize his findings.

As an activist in the early 1970’s, Bill helped lead the Indochina Peace Campaign and Medical Aid for Indochina. In 1973, he organized the airlift of food that broke the FBI siege at Wounded Knee, which was occupied by the American Indian Movement. He is the author of Troublemaker: A Memoir from the Front Lines of the Sixties, which chronicles those events. In response to the wars in Central America, Bill was the founder and Chairman (1981-1993) of Medical Aid for El Salvador, an international humanitarian relief organization.  

Bill Zimmerman is now one of the nation’s most experienced political media consultants. In the 1980’s, he specialized in candidate races, creating advertising for U.S. Senate races in California, Colorado and Pennsylvania, gubernatorial races in Florida, Arizona and New Mexico, Congressional races in Illinois, Maryland and Connecticut, and mayoral races in New York and Chicago. His successful clients included Sen. Tim Wirth, Sen. Gary Hart, Gov. Toney Anaya, Mayor Harold Washington and Reps. Lane Evans and Sam Gejdenson.  

In 1988, Bill shifted his focus to ballot initiatives, providing both advertising services and campaign management. He managed the 1988 campaign on behalf of California’s Proposition 103, which won despite opposition expenditures of $99 million. The initiative established the state’s first rate regulation for automobile insurance, and created the new statewide office of Insurance Commissioner.  

Since then, Bill’s company, Zimmerman & Markman, has won historic initiative victories, including passage of the nation’s first physician-assisted suicide law in Oregon in 1994 and the nation’s first medical marijuana law in California in 1996. Between 1996 and 2008, working with the Drug Policy Alliance, Bill managed 17 ballot initiatives in 10 states that attempted to reform various aspects of our nation’s failed drug laws. Thirteen of the 17 were victorious.

In 2000, Bill managed California’s successful Proposition 36 campaign providing treatment instead of incarceration for many nonviolent drug possession offenders. Since then, 35,000 offenders are diverted from jail annually, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions per year.  In 2004, Bill managed California’s Proposition 63, which created a 1% surtax on income over $1 million and uses the resulting annual revenues of $1 billion for community mental health programs benefiting the homeless and at-risk school children.

Between 2002 and 2008, Bill was a strategic communications consultant to  Zimmerman & Markman created’s initial advertising against the war in Iraq. In 2004, Bill managed’s $23 million campaign to defeat George Bush, while Zimmerman & Markman created virtually all of the advertising used in that effort.  In 2006, Bill coordinated the “Caught Red-Handed” advertising campaign produced by that helped Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives.            

Besides his memoir, Troublemaker, Bill has written two other books, and numerous magazine articles and newspaper op-ed pieces on politics, elections, and foreign and public policy. Bill has won CLIO and Pollie Awards for his political advertising. He is married to Joan Andersson with whom he fathered two children, Nico Zimmerman and Emma Andersson.

“Everything that is tearing us down today will become a memory, and this memory will be shared as an anecdote or a story or a poem or a play or a warning. It will be shared with another human being, who will then understand that he is not alone in his sadness. This is why we show up for others and tell our tales and listen to others. The great congregation meets daily, and you are someone’s angel today.”

-Tennessee Williams/Interview with James Grissom

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