Author Archives: Eleanor J. Bader

The Lilith Blog

May 16, 2018 by

Leslie Cagan’s Half-Century of Activism

When Brooklyn for Peace named community organizer Leslie Cagan one of three Pathfinder for Peace award winners in late 2017, it was both in recognition of, and in gratitude for, Cagan’s more than 50 years of social justice activism. Whether pushing for action on climate change, peace, LGBTQ equality, feminism, reproductive choice, or fighting racism, Cagan’s voice, presence, and expertise have long been visible. 

Cagan has worn a lot of hats over the years. Among them, she was the interim board chair at the Pacifica radio network in the late 1990s; was National Coordinator of United for Peace and Justice from 2002-2009; and either coordinated or played a leadership role in some of the largest demonstrations in American history—for nuclear disarmament in 1982; for LGBTQ rights in 1987; against the war in Iraq in 2003; and for climate action in 2014.

Opening comments from Leslie Cagan, a leader in the Peoples Climate Movement NY - Peoples Climate Movement 2018 Kick-off event is a city-wide organizing meeting on learning how you can get more involved in climate campaigns. Followed by brief updates on the exciting work of several campaigns and breaking groups focused on how we can strengthen and expand climate action in New York City and NY State, as well as nationally. (Photo by Erik McGregor)

Opening comments from Leslie Cagan, a leader in the Peoples Climate Movement NY – Peoples Climate Movement 2018 Kick-off event is a city-wide organizing meeting on learning how you can get more involved in climate campaigns. Followed by brief updates on the exciting work of several campaigns and breaking groups focused on how we can strengthen and expand climate action in New York City and NY State, as well as nationally. (Photo by Erik McGregor)

She is presently involved with the Peoples Climate Movement (PCM)—NYC, as well as PCM nationally, and is part of an effort challenging the corporate saturation and over-policing of the Heritage of Pride parade held annually in NYC to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall rebellion. 

Cagan recently spoke to Eleanor J. Bader about her history, ongoing work, and the personal challenges of caring for life partner Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, who has advanced Parkinson’s Disease.

Eleanor J. Bader: Let’s start with your personal history. When did you become involved in progressive political activism?

Leslie Cagan: I grew up in the Bronx, in a Jewish, leftist community. My parents were hardcore activists. I have an older brother and a younger sister and family outings growing up would often involve going to a demonstration. My grandmother was active in the textile workers union so I guess you can say that politics has always been in my blood. Their example was important and impacted all of us. Both of my siblings are activists.  (more…)

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The Lilith Blog

April 23, 2018 by

Meet the Feminist Rabbi Confronting Portland’s “Alt-Right” in the Streets

Rabbi Ariel Stone sounds the shofar at a gathering of the Interfaith Clergy Resistance last August.

Rabbi Ariel Stone sounds the shofar at a gathering of the Portland Interfaith Clergy Resistance last August.

Despite its reputation as an environmentally conscious, progressive Mecca, in actual fact, the Pacific Northwest has a sordid racial history.

For example, from 1857 to 1927, there was a prohibition on African Americans entering Oregon, and while the policy was reportedly inconsistently enforced, the fact that it was included in the state Bill of Rights sent a clear message to would-be settlers of color. Not surprisingly, Portland remains the whitest big city in the U.S. of A.

For some Oregonians, this is exactly as it should be, and they are mobilizing supporters of a racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic worldview. The goal? To build all-white ethno-settlements in Idaho, Oregon, Washington state, and western Montana.

Their groups include True Cascadia, which bills itself as “white, proud, and unapologetic.” Supporters have postered numerous areas of the “beaver state,” and declared their intention of “securing the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

And they’re not all talk. In May 2017, 35-year-old white supremacist Jeremy Christian fatally stabbed two men who were defending a pair of girls against racist and anti-Muslim taunts aboard a Portland MAX train.

This is, of course, horrifying. But as you’d expect, many people on Oregon and throughout the Pacific Northwest oppose the alt-right and numerous anti-racist groups which have formed, among them, The Cascadian Coalition Against Hate, Cascadian Anti-White Supremacy, and the Portland Interfaith Clergy Resistance.

Rabbi Ariel Stone of Portland’s Congregation Shir Tikvah is the convener of the Clergy Resistance. She recently spoke to Eleanor J. Bader about the political climate in Oregon, the work of the Clergy Resistance, and the challenges of organizing in Trumpian times.

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The Lilith Blog

March 26, 2018 by

This Writer-Attorney Is Fighting to Get Rid of the Tampon Tax

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf at the Coney Island Polar Bear Swim.

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf at the Coney Island Polar Bear Swim.

Every January 1st, writer-attorney Jennifer Weiss-Wolf jumps into the Atlantic Ocean in a ritual sponsored by Brooklyn’s Coney Island Polar Bear Club. “The camaraderie is almost inexplicable,” she writes in the Introduction to Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity (Arcade Publishing, 2017). “People think it’s crazy. And maybe it is. But it’s actually a very proactive, symbolic way to set an intention and direction for the remaining 364 days of the year.”

Such plans, of course, are all well and good, at least until serendipity enters the mix.

To wit: Three years ago, a few hours after Weiss-Wolf’s 2015 New Year’s Day plunge, she found her gaze turning in an unexpected direction. The reason? An email seeking donations of tampons and sanitary pads for distribution at a local food pantry.

“I was immediately captivated and curious—and honestly, even mildly ashamed, that I’d never, ever, considered this before,” she wrote. “A self-aware, self-professed feminist, I’d marched on Washington, volunteered as a rape crisis advocate and abortion clinic escort, and worked professionally as a lawyer and writer for social justice organizations. How had I managed to completely overlook this most basic issue?”

That question precipitated an avalanche of others and, in short order, Weiss-Wolf was investigating why millions of women throughout the world—in places like Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nepal, Uganda and the United States of America—often lack access to an adequate supply of pads and tampons.  

Weiss-Wolf sat down with Eleanor J. Bader to discuss her work on a cold, mid-March Monday. The interview took place in Weiss-Wolf’s office at the Brennan Center for Justice, where she is Vice President for Development.

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The Lilith Blog

March 12, 2018 by

Sandinistas and the Upper West Side

Members of the Women's Network feed children in Tipitapa, Nicaragua. The Women's Network is run by Nicaraguan women and is aiming to become self-sustaining—and not rely on international donations.

Members of the Women’s Network provide meals for children in Tipitapa, Nicaragua. The Women’s Network is run by Nicaraguan women and aims to not rely on international donations.

For more than 30 years, social justice activist Donna Katzin has participated in a Sister City project that links Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Tipitapa, Nicaragua. The relationship has primarily involved raising money for programs that help impoverished children eat at least one nutritious meal per day. It’s a daunting undertaking, since between 25 and 30 percent of the country’s residents live on a daily income of less than two U.S. dollars.

Even more challenging, Katzin and Tipitapa Partners understand that Nicaragua’s feeding centers need to reduce their reliance on international largesse. This is why they are working with the newly formed Women’s Network/Red de Mujeres to establish a sustainable model that will feed and educate Nicaragua’s most vulnerable children into the foreseeable future.

Katzin, one of three volunteer co-chairs of Tipitapa Partners, spoke to Eleanor J. Bader from her office at Shared Interest, a New York City-based organization that helps small enterprises and emerging farms combat unemployment and poverty in Mozambique, South Africa, and Swaziland. She had just returned from a five-day trip to Tipitapa.

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The Lilith Blog

February 22, 2018 by

Meet a “Tomato Rabbi” Fasting Against Sexual Harassment

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster holds a megaphone as she stands outside a protest of Wendy's.

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster holds a megaphone while protesting Wendy’s.

Six-and- a-half years ago, in fall 2011, a group of 17 rabbis traveled to Immokalee, Florida, to meet with the women and men who work in the area’s tomato fields and hear, first-hand, about their ongoing campaign to win justice and respect from the growers who employ them. Since then, 10 delegations—of rabbis, cantors, and lay religious leaders—have visited Immokalee. The trips were sponsored by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and participants have become staunch supporters of efforts by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ to improve wages and end the sexual exploitation and harassment of female farmworkers.

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, Director of Programs at T’ruah and a longtime supporter of the CIW, spoke to Eleanor J. Bader about the Coalition’s upcoming “Freedom Fast;” her decision to participate in the five-day, liquids-only, hunger strike; and the Jewish imperative to support human rights.

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The Lilith Blog

February 21, 2018 by

Why Dozens Are Fasting To Get Wendy’s To Address Sexual Harassment

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 1.40.35 PMFrom March 11th to 15th, Lupe Gonzalo, a leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, will be on a liquids-only “Freedom Fast.” The goal? To pressure Wendy’s, the only major fast food restaurant chain to refuse to adopt regulations to protect farmworkers from sexual harassment, wage theft, and other unfair labor practices in the tomato fields of southwest Florida. Gonzalo will be joined by dozens of workers and their families, as well as allies from diverse religious and secular communities, all of them united in demanding respect for the workers who plant our crops and harvest our fruits and vegetables.

The protest will take place at the Park Avenue office of Nelson Peltz, Wendy’s board chair and a founding partner of Trian Fund Management, a New York City-based investment fund. According to Forbes Magazine, the 74-year-old Peltz has a net worth of $1.51 billion; in addition to Wendy’s, he is at present on the boards of Proctor & Gamble, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Sysco Systems.

To date, he has refused to negotiate with—or even meet—members of the CIW or supporters of the organization.

Gonzalo recently spoke with Eleanor J. Bader about the CIW, the upcoming hunger strike, and the progress that has been made since the Coalition was founded in 1993.

Patricia Cipollitti, National Co-coordinator of the Alliance for Fair Food, a consumer group, provided Spanish-to-English translation for the 90-minute interview.

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The Lilith Blog

December 26, 2017 by

Meet the Jewish Lesbian Feminist Who Goes Undercover to Report on the Alt-Right

Donna goat curry

When award-winning journalist Donna Minkowitz (author of Ferocious Romance: What My Encounters with the Right Taught Me about Sex, God and Fury and Growing up Golem: How I Survived My Mother, Brooklyn and Some Really Bad Dates) attended a conference sponsored by the innocuously-named American Renaissance organization last summer, she knew she would be rubbing elbows with leaders of the alt-right. The three-day confab, held a few weeks before the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, took place in a Tennessee state park and drew approximately 300 people, 90 percent of them male and all of them white.

Minkowitz, a self-described “secular, Jewish, lesbian feminist and leftist,” told Eleanor J. Bader about covering the event for Political Research Associates, an independently-funded social justice think tank based in Somerville, Massachusetts. She also spoke about her earlier interactions with conservative organizations.


The Lilith Blog

November 27, 2017 by

Changing the Lives of Women in Prison: An Interview with Merle Hoffman

Photo credit: Vanessa Valenti

A photo of Merle Hoffman, founder and CEO of the Choices Women’s Medical Center. Photo credit: Vanessa Valenti

When the Rose M. Singer Center opened on New York City’s Rikers Island in 1988, it was touted as a “state of the art” facility where women prisoners would get training in the culinary arts, horticulture and sewing. According to the Center’s official history, the new center was expected to provide the correction facility’s staff with a chance to implement innovative programs—with an emphasis on vocational skill-building—that would lead to jobs when the women were released. In addition, the Center boasted of creating the nation’s first jail-based nursery, where new mothers and their babies could spend time together.

Fast-forward three decades. While the nursery remains open, few other innovations remain. In fact, many of the 800-plus women housed in the medium security prison have multiple gripes—from the food, to the boredom they experience, to the lack of access to medical and mental-health care.

Merle Hoffman, founder and CEO of the Choices Women’s Medical Center, heard these complaints and, with several clinic staff, recently went into the prison and met with some of the women who are incarcerated there.

She spoke with Eleanor J. Bader about what they found, and what they hope to do to ameliorate these difficulties.

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The Lilith Blog

October 26, 2017 by

America’s Home Care Crisis—And the Filmmaker Trying to Change It

When Deirdre Fishel—director of CARE, a highly-lauded documentary about the growing home care crisis in the United States—was an undergraduate at Brown, she saw a film called We Will Not Be Moved. The movie addressed gentrification in Cincinnati, Ohio, and as she watched the footage, Fishel says that she became enraged that developers wanted to displace long-term residents to make way for the construction of high-end housing. In short order, Fishel found an internship in Cincinnati and spent a semester renovating housing for low-income people.

It was 1982 and serendipitously, she says, she met Tony Heriza, the filmmaker who directed We Will Not Be Moved. “He became my mentor,” Fishel told Lilith reporter Eleanor J. Bader. “We’ve had a long history together and thanks to him, I became dedicated to using film as an organizing tool.” Heriza was the producer of CARE, Fishel’s fourth film. (Earlier works include Risk; Still Doing It: The Intimate Lives of Women Over 65; and Sperm Donor X.)

Fishel and Bader recently spoke in Fishel’s light-filled Brooklyn kitchen.

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The Lilith Blog

October 25, 2017 by

Bhopal Dance: The 2017 Novel With Political Lessons from a 1984 Catastrophe

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 4.51.28 PMWhen Jennifer Natalya Fink was in her first semester of college, she says that two events made her feel as if the end of the world was imminent. The first was the November, 1984, re-election of Ronald Reagan. The second was an explosion of a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, that began on December 2 that year, and spewed 30 tons of the highly-toxic gas methyl isocyanate into the air. Thirty-three years later, Bhopal remains the worst industrial disaster in world history.

Fink’s latest novel, Bhopal Dance, explores this environmental calamity through the eyes of three young North Americans, one man and two women, who want to see Union Carbide prosecuted for poisoning thousands. The three are intimately involved—as lovers and as political comrades—and their strategic plan to avenge the deaths can be seen as both a call to arms and a cautionary tale. Winner of the 2017 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize by FC2/University of Alabama Press, Bhopal Dance will be released in March 2018.

Fink recently met with Eleanor J., Bader to discuss the book, her fourth. (Her other books include BURN, V, and The Mikvah Queen, which won the Dana Award and was nominated for both a National Jewish Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.) Over tea, coffee, and bagels, their conversation touched on a wide range of topics: The ongoing need for non-violent activism to promote social justice, living as a secular Jew, and juggling writing, parenting, and teaching.

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