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Tag : activism

January 16, 2020 by

Making America Smart Again

I LIVE PART-TIME IN RURAL MICHIGAN. While helping me pull weeds in the summer before the 2016 presidential election, a friend of mine, a non-college- educated white woman, told me that the increase in her health insurance premium under the Affordable Care Act would make her more likely to vote for the Republican candidate. (This was before Donald Trump was nominated. I have not asked her how she voted.) Her health insurance premium had been significantly less under the old system when she could purchase an individual plan with a high but manageable deductible. According to her, no similar plan was offered in Michigan after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

There was no mistaking her sense of hurt. She talked about how much she was suffering, even though she worked hard and was a responsible employer and employee. She shared how unfair she thought it was that, even with these qualities, she was still suffering.

Several months later, I talked with my friend’s aunt, also not college-educated, about the job situation in our area of rural Michigan. “There are no jobs here,” she told me, as we discussed the fact that there once were many more in manufacturing, for instance at nearby Whirlpool, which has moved much of its manufacturing abroad.

These two smart women identified two policy arenas of life-saving importance to every woman: health care and jobs. I don’t know how they voted in 2016, but I do know this: they want the same economic security that I, a college-educated woman, do.

No woman needs a formal education to understand the advantages of being a self-interested voter, but every woman deserves as compelling a case as possible for her consideration.

In the Chicago Tribune, Renee Elliott, who lost her job at the Indianapolis Carrier factory that Donald Trump promised to save, wrote:

Last month, despite Trump’s promise, Carrier laid off another 215 employees and shifted their work to Mexico. I lost my job. As a result, I’m losing my health insurance, my retirement benefits and quite possibly my home…. I feel betrayed, angry and forgotten— and I’m not alone…. Even though working people like me helped put Trump in the White House, the truth is that he’s done nothing to keep his promises to save American jobs.

The action I propose here is to make America think again, which starts with finding ways to educate voters about why it is important to vote in their self-interest.

The remedy here is educating every voter about the importance to her own life of supporting candidates who propose economic policies that advance economic security for every woman, even when other policy proposals may be distasteful.

Rebecca Sive, who has taught politics at the University of Chicago and founded one of the nation’s first women’s centers, is an advocate for women’s political power and public leadership.

From Vote Her In by Rebecca Sive, copyright 2020, Midway Press.

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November 5, 2019 by

When Life Imitates Your Own Art

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Picture this: you get an email inviting you to be on a panel at a university symposium about Jewish feminism. It challenges you to reflect back on the last 50 years and look to the future. It will be held at the university you graduated from, and you’re invited to speak about the early women’s movement at that university.

In fact, I was that invitee, and I was delighted. Some of the other invited speakers are feminist activists I know and love; others are women I’ve heard about, read, and admired from afar.

I was also worried. Most of the other invited speakers are more “Jewish” than I am, more observant and more attentive to religion and spirituality. Most of the other speakers are professors and I’ve never been an academic. I’m a novelist. But I was deeply involved in the early days of the second wave of feminism in Ann Arbor in 1968 through 1971. I have pondered those days a lot, and I do have some thoughts to share.

I accepted the invitation. The more I learned about the content of the symposium, the more excited I became. Not only because the content was so interesting, and maybe I can go home again, but also because it somehow feels very familiar, almost a déjà vu.

And then it hit me. I wrote this scenario. As fiction. It’s part of my next novel, under contract with my publisher and scheduled for publication in just a few months.

Of course, it’s not exactly the same thing. In the novel there are two sisters, Jewish activists who graduated this same university. At an anti-war demonstration in—yes, 1968—the sisters try to stop mounted police from beating protestors, and they cause serious harm to a police officer. One sister has a baby and will do anything to stay out of prison. The other sister wants a political trial. Profound family and political conflict ensue. And many years later, one of the sisters is invited back to that same university to speak at a conference on the antiwar and feminist activism of the late 1960’s.

To write that section of the novel, I had once before returned to Ann Arbor, to do research. I had wandered back and forth across the University of Michigan’s core, that quadrangle crisscrossed by “The Diag,” had noticed the changes worn by the decades, changes Rosa noted in the novel:

Rosa untangled the misshapen scarf Emma had knit her for Chanukah the year she was released from prison, and wound it twice around her neck. She walked across the Diag toward the Engineering Arch. It could be a mistake, returning to the university, but she was intensely curious to see Ann Arbor again. Allen had urged her to accept the conference invitation, saying you didn’t often get a chance to return as a hero to a place you left in the back of a police van. The campus looked so different now, ringed by chain bookstores and yuppie coffeehouses. The expansive windows of the Fishbowl were bricked up. The Diag looked small.

My real-life experience returning to the university for this conference, in the spring of 2019, was both similar and different from Rosa’s fictional one. Rosa returned alone to the university; her family and friends were long gone and her bridge burned. In contrast, my participation in the symposium was a delight of connections, both old and new. The reality of “Jewish Feminisms, American Visions: Perspectives from 50 Years of Activism,” turned out to be even more exciting than the anticipation. Panels ranged from mine on the early days of the women’s liberation movement in this university city, to #Metoo in the Jewish community, to Jewish lesbians and Jews of color, to perspectives on Israel today. The presenters and the ensuing discussions were inclusive and thoughtful, mind-stretching and hopeful. There were many differences among symposium participants, differences in age, generation, gender and sexual identification, race and ethnicity, spiritual practice and political positions. But I felt almost no friction or fractures based on those differences. Yet I worried that my story, my experience, was too different from those of the other speakers.

I spent hours writing my short talk, trying to condense three intense years into five minutes. Like Rosa, Ann Arbor had been my place of political coming-of-age, as I became involved in Students for a Democratic Society, the women’s movement, reproductive rights, the 1970 Black Action Movement strike, and other anti-racism work. But it was more than that, I told the symposium audience. I moved to Ann Arbor to live with my boyfriend, Robby Meeropol.

My first night in town, lying on his mattress in the communal house where he lived with other SDS members, Robby told me his secret, speaking the words he had never spoken aloud before.

He told me that he was the younger son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

Learning about the Rosenberg case over the five decades since that night, as archival material has become available, has profoundly affected my identity as an activist and a Jew. The rulers murdered Robby’s parents, just as other rulers had exterminated our extended families in Europe. And they could come for us.

I was shaking when I sat down. Shaking too as I understood that for me, as for the fictional Rosa, the years-ago events in Ann Arbor had been life-changing. Revisiting the landscape where they took place, especially in the company of my new sisterhood of Jewish feminists, moved me in profound ways.

Writers often mine our own histories to enrich our fiction. It’s not often that we dig into our own novels and the narratives of our made-up characters to excavate a deeper reflection of a real-life experience. For me, on that campus, it happened.

Ellen Meeropol’s fourth novel, Her Sister’s Tattoo, will be published in 2020 by Red Hen Press. Her previous novels are Kinship of Clover, On Hurricane Island, and House Arrest, and her dramatic program telling the story of the Rosenberg Fund for Children was produced in New York in 2013 featuring Eve Ensler, Angela Davis and Cotter Smith.

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The Lilith Blog

July 15, 2019 by

Belladonna Founder Rachel Levitsky on Poetry, Politics, and What Comes Next

Rachel Levitsky calls herself a “lesbian, commie, poet, and polemicist who makes things.” And she does: Levitsky has written three full-length books and nine chapbooks herself, teaches undergraduates, and is the founder of the Belladonna Collaborative, a 20-year-old feminist avant-garde literary salon and publisher of experimental, multi-gendered, and linguistically bold titles.

Among Belladonna’s releases are award-winning texts from writers including LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs (Whiting Award) and Beth Murray, whose posthumous book of poems, Cancer Angel, won the 2016 California Book Award. Levitsky sat down with Eleanor J. Bader in Belladonna’s office.

Eleanor J. Bader: Have you always been a poet?

Rachel Levitsky: When I was a child my dad told me not to be a poet. Writing poetry was not an occupation in the Levitsky consciousness. I did not come out as a poet until 1994.

LevitskyEJB: Do you know why your father had this attitude?

RL: My parents seemed to value invisibility. My mother had been born in Germany and came to the US as a toddler in December 1939. Her uncle survived Auschwitz, but no one in my family was willing to talk about any of this and I always wanted to know more.

EJB: Is this why you became interested in history?

RL: Maybe. I was a history major as an undergraduate at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Albany and got a Master’s in American Social History. My focus was labor. My thesis looked at the way the cigar industry in Binghamton, NY became segregated by gender.

EJB: But you chose to pursue activism.

RL: I wasn’t interested in pursuing further academic study in History. I plunged into activism in New York City, joining ACT-UP and WHAM!—Women’s Health Action and Mobilization.

My job at the time was with the Home Program of the Bond Street Homeless Center run by Catholic Charities. Every night, five of us would load into a van and drive around Brooklyn trying to convince mentally-ill, chemically-addicted people to come to the Center’s drop-in program.

I did this work in 1991 and 1992, until I got a job teaching adult basic education classes for the Consortium of Worker Education (CWE), an educational organization that serves union members. In 1993-94 I taught English in Mexico. When I came back to the US, I returned to the CWE and eventually got a full-time job running an English as a Second Language program at the Painters and Finishers Apprenticeship program in Long Island City.

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July 9, 2019 by

“Can I Borrow Your Wheelchair?”

“A culminating moment for me was when one of the resident advisors in my dorm—an able-bodied woman—asked if she could borrow my wheelchair for a simulation during Disability Awareness Week. Of course, I said no. I was so frustrated that the university saw disability as a problem to be fixed. I was also the first student who used a wheelchair to be enrolled in the Honors College. The building had a ramp, but not automatic doors, and there was no easy way for me to get to the lounge or computer areas. Some of the professors held events in their homes and I was never able to go. I felt as though I was always throwing a wrench into their erudite plans. I was not mistreated, but they were unprepared for a physically disabled student. It was a complete lack of recognition that dealing with disabilities involves complex and nuanced solutions.”

Disability rights activist Emily Ladau on “How to Make Feminism Include Everyone,” an interview with ELEANOR J. BADER, The Lilith Blog, March 2019.

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April 2, 2019 by

Honoring Monica Lewinsky

In what’s likely an all-time first for a Jewish women’s organization, Project Kesher, which brings Jewish and feminist connections to women in the Former Soviet Union and beyond, decided to honor Monica Lewinsky with the Kol Isha award at their 30th anniversary gala in April.

Lewinsky’s current anti-bullying activism resonates deeply with the work of Project Kesher, Karyn Gershon, the organization’s executive director, told Lilith. Lewinsky may appear at first an unlikely honoree; more than 20 years ago she was vilified as a thoughtless White House intern who could have brought down Bill Clinton’s presidency. Now, her TED talk on “The Price of Shame” has been viewed 13 million times. Her narrative is especially important right now, and she has re-emerged as an activist and advocate with the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. This year many women react along the lines of “I was dismissive of her at the time. And now I am ashamed.”

In 2018, Lewinsky wrote in Vanity Fair, “Isolation is such a powerful tool to the subjugator…. One of the most inspiring aspects of this newly energized movement is the sheer number of women who have spoken up in support of one another.” 

Gershon, describing on the Lilith Blog the relevance of Monica Lewinsky’s work, quoted Vlada Nedak, Project Kesher leader from Kriviy Rih, Ukraine: “Women are inhibited by shame, whether it is discussing our periods, breast cancer, postpartum depression, or gender violence. We have to reclaim our voices if we are going to make change.”

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April 2, 2019 by

Raised on Intersectionality, What’s a Teen to Do?

“And” is the most important word in the English language. It’s the linguistic equivalent of coalition building. It can build on an existing sentence, and more importantly, it can glue opposing truths together in one sentence, allowing messy realities to coexist. I’m Jewish and bisexual and feminist and Zionist, and I support Palestinian human rights, and I believe Black Lives Matter. All of these identities are central to who I am, and no single one undermines the other.

It makes sense, then, that over the course of my high school career, I fell in love with the concept of intersectionality. I attended Seeds of Peace International Camp where I engaged in raw and emotional dialogue with Palestinian and Israeli teens, and thought critically about my community’s role in oppressing Palestinians. I learned about Zionism with nuance in my “Dual-Narratives of the Middle East” history class. I attend a high school named after Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschelwhich celebrates his commitment to Civil Rights and his work alongside Dr. King. I learned and wrote about Jewish Feminist history with the Jewish Women’s Archive. I used my 11th grade research project to explore the role of Black women in the feminist and Civil Rights Movements. These combined influences forced me to see the necessity of a theory for social organizing that embraces the plurality, the “and-ness” of an identity.

Yet, in the wake of this year’s controversies, this word that has for so long made me feel visible is now being misinterpreted to erase me. Jewish writers write articles accusing me of anti-Semitism for supporting the Women’s March and intersectional feminism despite anti-Semitism in the movement. Feminist writers accuse me of phony allyship for foregrounding anti- Semitism. Each of these groups wants me to privilege one identity over the other, but intersectionality taught me that this was not only unnecessary, but impossible.

Although the recent controversy has felt painful and personal, I will continue to participate in movements like the Women’s March. Rather than taking myself out of the conversation, I will bring my full self to the table, Judaism, Zionism, and all. Maybe intersectionality is too long and complicated a word. Why use seventeen letters when you only need three? I’m Jewish and bisexual and Feminist and Zionist, and I support Palestinian human rights, and I believe Black Lives Matter. And I know better than to choose one over the other.

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The Lilith Blog

March 22, 2019 by

Disability Rights Activist Emily Ladau on How to Make Feminism Include Everyone

While sipping tea in a funky, independently owned café in Babylon, New York, disability justice activist-writer Emily Ladau suddenly makes an unexpected confession: “I have a fraught relationship with feminism,” she says.

It’s not ideological. 

Ladau is pro-choice, pro-ERA, pro-LGBTQ equality, and supports equal pay for work of equal value. But as someone who uses a wheelchair, she has frequently felt excluded. “I don’t think feminists who are not disabled identify with me, even though I identify with them,” she explains. “Feminist groups often ignore the fact that disability intersects with every other marginalized identity.”

Changing this—not just within the women’s movement but in the world at large—is Ladau’s passion and, as editor of Rooted in Rights (rootedinrights.org), she and other writers work tirelessly to expose—and push back against—the many ways in which the disabled are belittled, condescended to and all too often completely ignored.

Ladau and Lilith’s Eleanor J. Bader met in late February to discuss how she became an outspoken advocate and educator.

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The Lilith Blog

July 18, 2018 by

Ten Inspiring Quotes to Get You Through Dark Days

In today’s world of constant crisis, self-care pays dividends. Here are 10 quotes from Jewish women whom we love that should give you hope, inspire you to action, and spur us all to think differently about compassion.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 3.57.26 PM“The history of progress is written in the blood of men and women who have dared to espouse an unpopular cause, as, for instance, the black man’s right to his body, or woman’s right to her soul.” – Emma Goldman

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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

June 18, 2014 by

The Poem that Went Viral, and the Woman Behind It

 Anna Binkovitz, 21, is a proficient slam poet and author of a published chapbook, The Love Hypothetic. At a national slam poetry competition in March, Anna performed a poem called “Asking For It” that addresses a refrain perpetually directed against rape victims: that by dressing provocatively, they invite sexual predation.

The poem invites viewers to “a strange world in which all of us…can only express our wants and needs through our clothing” – a dystopian, darkly comic imagining, in which nudity—during bathing, changing, or even childbirth—always signifies wanting sex.

 

Last week, the poem went viral—at 400,000 YouTube views and counting—after news blog Upworthy reposted a video of Binkovitz’s performance; Jezebel and the Huffington Post, among others, marked it as an important contribution to a heated cultural conversation about consent. So Lilith’s Malka Editorial Fellow, Talia Lavin, took the opportunity to have a conversation with the outspoken poet, rape survivor, and activist.

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