Tag : politics

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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April 2, 2019 by

Women Shake Things Up in a Major Statehouse

For decades, women in New York facing heartbreaking medical issues in the later months of pregnancy had to fly to other states for terminations, thanks to outdated abortion laws. This January, after years of lobbying, activism and voting, that finally changed.

In the November 2018 elections, New York’s legislature saw a very similar outcome to the national results: progressive women storming the gates of the state capital in Albany. Since that change of power, New York State is already a model for passing certain kinds of legislation with particular importance to women. The women legislators—veteran and newbie alike—wasted no time focusing on issues like abortion and maternal mortality.

In particular, shortly after the first 2019 legislative session opened, a landmark Reproductive Health Act was passed, codifying Roe in the state law, after years of being stalled by a Republican state senate. Ditto for a long-awaited Child Victims’ Act, which had long been kept from moving forward thanks to a toxic combination of Catholic church and ultra-Orthodox lawmakers whose communities did not want allegations of long-ago child sexual abuse in their schools and houses of worship to surface.

Anna Kaplan. Photo by Joan Roth

Anna Kaplan. Photo by Joan Roth

Several Jewish women were newly elected to this state legislature in the 2018 midterm, joining prominent Jewish female state legislators with years of experience. Their presence, plus the Democratic-majority senate, had major influence in passing these bills and others that followed.

If Roe fails to survive the conservative U.S. Supreme Court, New York’s strong support for abortion rights and reproductive justice will make the state a beacon in a dark, misogynistic universe—which helps explain the backlash that the Reproductive Health Act has received from conservatives who have lied and cried “infanticide.” The reality is different. Now, later abortions—recommended only in dire medical circumstances for mother or fetus—will be available in New York State, allowing women to receive that heartbreaking, personal care at home instead of enduring out-of-state travel.

“Today we turn the page,” said Senator Liz Krueger when the bill passed. Krueger has represented New York City’s Upper East Side since 2002, and has been lining up the ducks for this moment for 10 years in Albany.

Krueger is a powerhouse, chairing the Senate finance committee, among other roles, and a new position of influence in the fight to legalize cannabis in the state; her involvement in that issue, she told Lilith, was spurred by her longstanding concern about unjust incarcerations. 

Julia Salazar. Photo by Joan Roth.

Julia Salazar. Photo by Joan Roth.

“Every issue is a women’s issue,” she said. “So it’s better to have more women at the table. Income issues have a disproportionate effect on women at both ends of the age spectrum—from young single mothers to older widows living on one income.”

Krueger’s tireless work was applauded by a large crowd at a Town Hall rally in Manhattan in February. One of the enthusiastic participants and sign-holders announced that “Liz Krueger is a rock star!”

As is the tradition, Krueger told Lilith in an interview in her Manhattan district office, a new senator is given a promising bill to sponsor, so that she or he will have an early success. In keeping with this tradition, Krueger says she invited newly elected senator Julia Salazar to sponsor a sister bill to the Reproductive Health Act—the Contraceptive Coverage Act, which makes it mandatory for insurance to cover birth control.

Salazar herself was making waves before she won November’s primary as a young, self-identified socialist candidate who upset longtime incumbent Martin Dilan. She won a convincing victory in gentrifying North Brooklyn, despite an onslaught of negative publicity that included serious questions raised about how accurately she has represented herself and her family and religious background (she identifies as Jewish and Colombian). The fracas was so confusing it required an “explainer” on the website Vox. But Salazar’s resounding victory—and focus on issues from abortion to local, thorny tenant-landlord conflicts, to decriminalizing sex work—has meant that the debate swirling around her these days is back in the policy realm. And she’s staying true to her roots, rhetorically speaking: “Don’t forget that International Women’s Day was started by anti-capitalist socialist feminist organizers,” she reminded supporters on Instagram in March.

Linda Rosenthal. Photo by Joan Roth.

Linda Rosenthal. Photo by Joan Roth.

Also standing with Krueger and defending the R.H.A. is Senator Anna Kaplan (n.e Anna Monahemi) a Persian-Jewish-American politician from Great Neck, New York. “It was vital that abortion be taken out of penal code and put into health code because that’s what it is—healthcare,” she told Lilith. Now the New York State Senator for the 7th district, on Long Island, Kaplan was born in Tabriz, Iran. When the Islamic Revolution swept that country, her parents sent her to the United States for safety. Fostered first by a family in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles, she eventually settled in Great Neck, a Long Island community with a large Persian Jewish population.

But though her electoral victory was solid, Kaplan told Lilith, her home community didn’t rally around her. The reason, some women in the community told Lilith, was that “she is both a Democrat and a woman.”

“That hurt a lot,” said Kaplan. “That my own community gave so little support.” Nonetheless, she swept to victory in November, and is focusing on education—which is core to her values as a Jew and an immigrant. “To me, in this country, public schools level the playing field,” she told Lilith. “I am a product of a public school, and so are my children.”

Along with Krueger, Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, who represents NYC’s Upper West Side, is a strong progressive figure in New York politics. A fixture at city protests and events for years, she is poised to take action on issues big and small—recently working on everything from rent control to animal welfare to raising the statewide smoking and vaping age to 21. She’s been passionate about fair elections as well as menstrual equality—even hosting a tampon-a-thon at her office to collect sanitary supplies for local shelters.

For many years now, conservative men have dominated state legislatures around the country—which explains in part why so many bills that chisel away at Roe, state by state, restriction by restriction, have been passed since 2011. The importance of having strong women at the state level can’t be overstated—from issues like gun violence and abortion to fairer taxation, transit, childcare and housing and, of course, tampons. The women of the New York State legislature are targeting the maternal mortality crisis next.

Women’s lives can be directly and immediately improved when other women are in the halls of power. “It’s nice to come to the office in majority because you can actually get things done,” Kaplan told Lilith.

 Joan Roth is Lilith’s staff photographer. Shira Gorelick is a freelance writer and photographer.

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January 10, 2019 by

After the Concession Speech

While the media spotlight has, deservedly, focused on the winners of November’s mid-term elections, it would be ecologically foolhardy to turn all our attention away from the Jewish women who were defeated. Their races elicited new political donations, attracted legions of first-time volunteer canvassers and ratcheted up political awareness in their communities. Plus, this rising of the women brought into public consciousness an array of social issues often dormant in male-only races: reproductive justice, literacy, gun control, student debt, food insecurity, lgbt rights, disability activism, and more.

These are concerns that need to stay on the front burner (note domestic images when we speak of women!) so that candidates who did win seats in Congress will enact urgently needed legislation.

What are the ex-candidates planning, now that the balloons have been deflated, the microphones silenced and the spotlights switched off?

They are calling it the “women’s wave.” In 2018, perhaps spurred by misogyny in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, perhaps simply because it was time, a recordbreaking number of women ran for election— for governorships, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

All year long, photographer Joan Roth has been on the road with these inspiring candidates, snapping pictures as they shook hands, chatted with constituents, and stood at the podium for rallies and fundraisers.

But the noise couldn’t answer the question of whether all these candidates would actually storm the traditionally male halls of power in Washington. Tensions were high before the hotly contested midterm elections in November. Would the polls be wrong again, as they were two years ago? This time, though, the wave turned out to be real, as predicted, both blue—bringing Democratic control to the House— and female. In fact, this January, the U.S. House of Representatives seats an unprecedented number of women, at least 90.

In addition to quite a few new wins for Jewish women in much-watched contests—including rising stars like Representative-Elect Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Senator-Elect Jacky Rosen of Nevada and local race winners Alma Hernandez (in Tucson) and Julia Salazar (Brooklyn), the election night saw major firsts. Democrats Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids became the first Native American women elected to the House, while Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib became the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Openly LGBT and bisexual candidates also were elected in record numbers. It felt almost overwhelming, all the barriers broken down, as the checkmarks on election night kept popping up next to female faces.

But not every woman who ran a dynamic campaign and got media attention ended up the victor. Some of the hardest-fought races ended up with the woman candidate facing defeat at the polls, including in primaries where some of the Jewish women we followed met challengers with more name recognition, more funding, more endorsements, the power of incumbency or deeper ties to the district. A Republican Jewish woman, Lena Epstein of Michigan, even found herself embroiled in a national controversy, while other promising candidates faced steep uphills in gerrymandered districts.

Studies and anecdotal evidence both show that men who fail at an initial attempt are more likely to stay in the game and make a second attempt at elected office down the road. Lilith is now asking: Will women do the same? Will they continue to amass support and pursue activism and politics, or did the women’s wave simply pass them by? Lilith caught up with several of them soon after the election to listen in on their future plans.

We don’t want to lose these women, or their fundraising, their new supporters, their energy, their good ideas for change and the way they inspired other women.

“I hope with more women running more women will see it is a viable path, and it is realistic,” says Ellen Lipton, who lost her race for a House seat in Michigan. “They don’t have to wait for the right time. They should just do it. I hope we have reached the tipping point. It shouldn’t be an anomaly. We’re 50 percent of the population, it shouldn’t be any question anymore.”

Shira Goodman, who lost her primary race in Pennsylvania, agrees.“People get inspired, they like seeing candidates who look like them and sound like them and understand what it is to be working and raising kids and volunteering and caring about all those issues at the same time,” Goodman told Lilith. “Hopefully these races will inspire other people to run, get involved or even vote for the first time.”

LAUREN BAER, FL

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BAER, A PROGRESSIVE, lesbian candidate who ran for Congress in Florida’s 18th District, lost to Republican Brian Mast. Michael Pincus, a 15-year-old volunteer who joined Baer’s campaign after seeing her speak at a March for Our Lives event, wrote about the sadness of election night in Teen Vogue. “[Baer’s] campaign watch party concluded with her hugging each of us and giving out personal thankyous for our hard work. She reminded us that the fight is not over, but I felt crushed, heartbroken, and hopeless.” Still, Pincus wrote that young readers should “bother the hell out of politicians who still don’t stand up for what we, the youth, believe.”

Though Baer’s race was a loss for Democrats in a disappointing night for the state party, Florida’s passage of Amendment 4 will restore voting rights in the state to over a million people with felony chargers, the majority of whom are black men.

LENA EPSTEIN, MIL1004551

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EPSTEIN, A REPUBLICAN running for Congress in Michigan’s 11th district, told Lilith in an interview during the summer of 2018 that she and Ivanka Trump had a lot in common: “We’re both wives and mothers and we love the Jewish community, we both love Donald Trump.”

Epstein’s race, which she lost to Democrat Haley Stevens, attracted national scrutiny in the home stretch, when a rally appearance with Mike Pence after the Tree of Life massacre included a socalled “Messianic Rabbi” who had been defrocked. He began a prayer for the Jewish community of Pittsburgh by blessing the biblical forefathers, and Jesus. Epstein’s embrace of Trumpism, in addition to the rally, upset Jews across the U.S., including a group from her hometown who ran an open letter in a Detroit paper telling Jewish voters to support “any other candidate.”

In a statement released over Twitter, Epstein, who is the first Republican in her family, defended the choice, stating, “I invited the prayer because we must unite as a nation—while embracing our religious differences—in the aftermath of Pennsylvania.”

BEVERLY GOLDSTEIN, OH

REPUBLICAN BEVERLY Goldstein lost Ohio’s 11th congressional district election to incumbent Democrat Marcia Fudge, receiving only 18% of the vote.

On the issues and tone, race was in essence a rerun of the 2016 election with different votes, in which Fudge defeated Goldstein with over 80% of the vote. Goldstein, whose Twitter bio lists her identities as a Trump supporter, daughter of a Holocaust survivor, and Navy wife, tweeted that “I’d have been a great congresswoman.”

Cleveland-based Goldstein, whose post-election plans not to run again were shared with Lilith via her husband and campaign manager, Michael, made adult literacy one of the hallmark planks on her platform. This time around. Donald Trump was not as visible in his support for her as he had been in her previous campaign. Beverly explains, her husband says, that though the president did support women’s races in Ohio, it was only those women who were movers and shakers and destined to win; he did not go overboard on her behalf because she was running in a heavily Democratic district, which the Republican party had long written off.

SHIRA GOODMAN, PAL1200700

“I THINK IT’S A tough process,” says Goodman, a gun-control advocate who lost her congressional primary in Pennsylvania. “Depending where you run, you have to raise a lot of money, and that’s hard. And some of the political maneuvering can be disheartening. I’m sure other women like me heard ‘You have to pay your dues, you have to run for something else first’.”

Goodman lost her primary—to Madeleine Dean, who then won the congressional seat—and decided that her work was best done where she had started: as an activist against gun violence. Still, she’s glad she ran. “My career was in public service, and I felt qualified for the job I ran for, not for someone else’s idea of what that job was.” And there were some unexpected upsides: “It made me a better fundraiser for the work I’m doing now.”

Within days of the election, Goodman was back at work at her desk as the executive director of CeaseFirePA, a gun-control group. “The election was Tuesday, Friday there was a shooting,” she says.

Sadly, shootings in her state, including the murders at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, have meant that she’s been busy organizing a grieving community and teaching them about the scourge of gun violence in so many people’s lives every day. “I ran [for office] to see if that was a way to fight for the issues I care about, and it wasn’t meant to be, but I’m still fighting,” she says.

SARA JACOBS, CA

JACOBS, 29, WAS one of the youngest candidates to seek a congressional seat in 2018, and this garnered her attention. Throughout her campaign Jacobs was celebrated in women’s magazines and blogs as a hip choice, a former Hillary Clinton foreign policy advisor fluent in Millennial lingo. The New Yorker wrote, “Her platform is cast toward younger voters; she supports net neutrality, pardons for nonviolent marijuana offenses, and universal Medicare. She wants to cap childcare costs at ten per cent of earned income and expand funding for Pell grants to allow for debt-free college. Many of these projects are ambitious and expensive. ‘I think we’re going to win back the House, so we’ll be able to pass quite a lot of legislation,’ she explained.

Jacobs went academic after her primary loss; she is now a Scholar in Residence at the Joan B. Kroc Institute of Peace and Justice of the University of San Diego, with a focus on 21st century governance and institutional reform challenges. In her concession speech, Jacobs emphasized the success of her competitive primary campaign in getting Democratic excitement to ramp up, leading her district to have “the largest turnout in any congressional race in all of Southern California.”

NAOMI LEVIN, NYL1001948

THOUGH REPUBLICAN Naomi Levin lost her congressional race to Jerrold Nadler in New York City—incumbent Nadler received 81.1% of the vote, much of it coming from Brooklyn’s Jewish Borough Park neighborhood—“I am so incredibly proud of what we were able to accomplish,” she wrote in an email to supporters. “I came to a gun fight armed only with a pocket knife, but we got almost HALF of the Brooklyn vote nonetheless (45%). And we won Borough Park in a landslide with 73%.”

It seems Levin’s post-election life hasn’t been too rough: in her concession post on Facebook, Levin mentioned gratitude for her “great career as a software engineer,” and in under two weeks from the election, she says she got engaged. “I never thought I’d run for public office. I agreed to take on this race because I love my country and I care about the people in my district,” she said.

Levin, the Millennial daughter of Jewish immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, has said she believes many of Trump’s policies and actions are “very positive and very beneficial” to America.

ELLEN LIPTON, MI2L1004916

AS A PRIMARY challenger in Michigan, Lipton’s chance of winning her house race was “pretty damn difficult,” she says now. She was facing Democrat Andy Levin (son of 40-year incumbent Carl Levin), who emerged victorious in the summer primaries. His name recognition made her path to victory tough even before she started, but she felt proud that, still, “a woman running always changes the tenor of each and every race,” bringing issues like equity in education funding, which was a signature issue during her time in the State legislature. “To me it was important we talk about education, healthcare,” she said. “Women keep bringing the issues to the table when they run.”

After the primary, Lipton stayed involved, working on the campaigns of other prominent women, including Gretchen Whitmer, who won her race for governor of Michigan. Now Lipton plans to stay politically involved, working first on the transition team for Whitmer drafting education policy. She told Lilith that when people offer condolences on her own race she responds, “I decided to run for office for the possibility, not just the win.” She notes that running is a public service, not a means towards ego gratification. “I advise women: don’t run to find fulfillment,” she said. “Sometimes, a candidate runs just to put her toe in the water. She might not win, but think of how many women she is inspiring.”

Statistics show that women need to be asked three times to run before they consider it, so Lipton jokes that on the campaign trail for herself and others, when she met women who seemed motivated, she would say “consider this your first ask.” “Every woman has it in them to be a change agent,” Lipton says.

KATHY MANNING, NC

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IN NORTH CAROLINA’S 13th District, Democrat Kathy Manning (a former Jewish Federations of North America chair) lost to incumbent Representative Ted Budd, in what was considered the most competitive congressional race in the state, and possibly one of the most competitive in the country; Trump made two visits to Charlotte, during which he rallied crowds for Budd. It was a crushing loss, but when it was announced Manning told her supporters, “We must keep in mind that our effort took this gerrymandered district from a likely Republican win to a toss-up in a matter of months…. People who have never been politically active before got deeply involved.”

Offering her own wisdom about moving forward after a defeat, Manning’s daughter, Jenny Kaplan, wrote in an impassioned piece published in Glamour, “At the first signs of a loss [on election night], I felt both wired and deeply saddened. Enter Kathy Manning. She arrived at the watch party without any sign of tears. She embraced person after person with love and gratitude for the hard work…. She asked about other women…running throughout the country, and she was happy to hear so many of her peers won.” Kaplan concluded by saying that her mother’s effect on her generation mattered: “The way she acted when faced with defeat stoked a full-on fire of activism— not just within me, but within people across the North Carolina’s Thirteenth District and across the country.”

LIZ WATSON, INL1003319

IN AN INDIANA district that went for Trump in 2016, Democrat Liz Watson ambitiously ran for a congressional seat against Rep. Trey Hollingsworth; he won with 59.4% of the vote. In her Facebook concession post, Watson wrote, “we have too many leaders who are doing everything they can to divide us and make us fear each other…. We see opportunistic politicians who demonize immigrants, women, people with disabilities, people of different religions, people of color and our LGBTQ friends, family and neighbors, so that people vote based on fear instead of love.” Watson encouraged her supporters to continue to engage with politics, work on future campaigns, and even run for office themselves.

 Additional reporting by Noa Kattler Kupetz and Elana Rebitzer

All photographs by Joan Roth

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The Lilith Blog

December 17, 2018 by

How High School English Class Turned Me Into a Feminist

 This article was originally published on Jewish Women, Amplified, the blog of the Jewish Women’s Archive, and was written as part of the Rising Voices Fellowship.

The transition from eighth grade to freshman year is a rough one. Especially if you’re going from a small Jewish school to a large public school and especially if most of your friends are going to other schools and especially if you have the notoriously difficult English teacher™ (yes, you know the one).

Going into English class, I was scared out of my mind. I had no idea how to handle the level of work (both in terms of quality and quantity), and my teacher’s infamous reputation didn’t help calm my nerves in the slightest. My goal at the beginning of the year in English was to do my best, complete the work, and hopefully get good grades.

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The Lilith Blog

July 14, 2017 by

This Website Helps Progressive Female Candidates Run for Office

Eliza Cussen was on her way to see “Wonder Woman”, and listening to an episode of her favorite podcast, “Call Your Girlfriend.” This one focused on women in politics (or the lack thereof). Like many would in this situation, she was wondering: what can I do?

Right then, she decided to create what is now Project Sheila, an organization dedicated to helping female politicians launch campaign websites. Cussen has been interested in web design for most of her life, and was working as a digital communications specialist when she had the idea. She saw that although she did not have significant funds to donate to campaigns, she could use her expertise to help in another way. She put out a call to friends in her network, asking if anyone needed help with web design, and received several requests right away. Around three weeks later, Project Sheila went live.

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