So, you may have heard that Pres. Barack Obama (D) and VP Joe Biden (D) were re-elected to a 2nd term Tues. night, November 6th, 2012. But you may have missed the many OTHER victories for social justice in the USA. There were also some losses, as Pres. Obama himself has emphasized, progress comes in fits and starts and zig-zags rather than a straightline. This post is a summary of as many of the victories and losses as I can find so that we get some idea of the current “lay of the land” as we prepare for the next struggles. I list these in no order of priority, just as I remember them and find links:
- Women’s Rights won big. The new Congress in 2013 will have a record TWENTY (20) female U.S. Senators, up from 17 this time. On the one hand, this is pitiful. 1/5 of the U.S. Senate will be female when when women are 51% of the nation? When women have had the right to vote since 1920? Clearly, sexism is still alive and well in the USA. BUT, it is improvement: Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) mentions that when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) was just elected as the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in her own right. (Before then, widows of deceased Senators were appointed to serve out the remainders of their husbands’ terms–something that still happens.) Only 39 women have EVER served in the U.S. Senate since the body was created in 1789! The new Senate in 2013 will have 16 Democratic women [Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and the newly elected Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), & Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)]and 4 Republican women [Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) will be joined by Deb Fischer (R-NE), an ultra-conservative. Two other GOP women senators: Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), retired this year.] All 8 of the men running for House and Senate who opposed abortion even in cases of rape were DEFEATED. Women’s health, including the funding of Planned Parenthood, and coverage for contraception, were reaffirmed. Most of the men who ran and won as Democrats were also strongly committed to women’s rights. New Hampshire became the first state to have all female leaders: Electing Maggie Hassan as Governor (D-NH), and replacing two GOP men with Democratic women: Rep.-elect Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH-01)–reclaiming a seat she lost in 2010–and Rep.-elect Anne McKlane Kuster (D-NH-02). NH already had 2 female Senators: Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), neither of whom were up for reelection this year. For the first time, every state legislative body had at least one female member. After the 2010 mid-terms, Republicans launched a nationwide war on women’s rights, especially reproductive rights, with huge state legislative restrictions on abortion and attempts at restriction on contraception. However, equal pay for equal work, and other women’s rights were also under assault. The victories of Tues. did not completely reverse or end these assaults, but they did constitute a major rejection of this agenda. Women were key to the reelection of the president: with an 18% gender gap between the 2 candidates.
- LGBTQ Rights won several victories. The reelection of Pres. Obama means that the GOP threat to reintroduce “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into the military was rejected. In addition, marriage equality was legalized by ballot measure in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State, the first time marriage equality was implemented by popular vote. Further, Minnesota, though not yet affirming marriage equality, strongly defeated a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as “between one man and one woman,” again, the first time such a ballot measure in the U.S. was defeated at the ballot box rather than in the courts. In Iowa, an attempt to unseat one of the state’s Supreme Court judges who had ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2009 was defeated. In NY, Rep.-elect Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18) became the first openly gay man who is MARRIED with adopted children elected to Congress and the first openly gay Rep. from NY. Likewise, Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will be the first openly lesbian U.S. Senator. The re-election of President Obama also was the first time an incumbent president (and VP!) endorsed marriage equality, wrote marriage equality into the party platform, and campaigned on marriage equality–and WON re-election! That and several legislative victories at the state level means that more progress for LGBTQ folk is surely on the way because of Tuesday’s elections: Several more states will either enact marriage equality or civil union laws (usually an interim step toward full equality as voters see that the sky does not fall, but also that civil unions are still a form of 2nd class citizenship) between now and 2014. At the federal level, I expect a full court press to enact the Employee Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), preventing workplace discrimination against LGBTQ folk and either Congressional repeal or Supreme Court rejection of the ’90s-era “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which prevents same-sex married couples from receiving the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. The next 4 years could even see the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice who is openly a member of the LGBTQ community. Clearly, LGBTQ rights are on the march–a stunning turnaround from 2004, just 8 short years ago, when attacks on LGBTQ folk, and especially on marriage equality, was a winning strategy around the nation.
- Economic Justice. The gains here are more modest, but real. The reelection of Pres. Obama and an enlarged Democratic Senate means that Obamacare will be fully implemented, not repealed or watered down further, that GOP plans to voucherize Medicare, eliminate Medicaid, and privatize Social Security are off the table, as are deep cuts to social programs and education across the board. Michigan voters repealed their state’s “emergency manager” law which had allowed for corporate dictators to usurp the elected government of any city that faced fiscal difficulties (like something out of the “Robocop” movies–set in Detroit!). Voters in CA rejected an attempt to end all union participation in the political process (while allowing corporations to continue unabated). CA also voted to raise taxes on the rich and to a temporary sales tax increase, to fund education instead of facing more layoffs. As well, CA achieved a Democratic 2/3 supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, enabling it to overcome the infamous Prop. 13 , enacted in 1978, which reduced property taxes to pre-1975 levels and then required 2/3 of each House of the legislature to raise them for any reason–leading to CA’s epic budget woes. The new CA legislature will be able to forge a workable budget AND end Prop. 13 forever–a law which had allowed a tiny, tax-hating GOP minority, to rule the majority for decades. In San Antonio, voters approved a tiny sales tax increase to fund quality Pre-K education. Even in Texas, conventional wisdom to the contrary, Democrats CAN campaign and win on tax increases IF the public knows that they will fund worthwhile things. Voters in a few cities around the country also approved small increases in the minimum wage.
- Civil Liberties. Voters in FL killed an attempt to amend the state constitution to allow taxpayer support for religious institutions and activities (in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment). They also blocked attempts to ban use of public funds for abortions and contraception and blocked an attempt to block implementation of Obamacare in the state. They rejected legislature control over judges. Voters in Colorado and Washington State legalized cannabis and in MA authorized medical cannabis. Although it sets up potential conflict with federal law, it shows the end is in sight for the failed “war on drugs” and that a new, sane drug policy will emerge. Prohibition fails and regulation works.
- Diversity and inclusion. With the election of Sen.-elect Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Hawai’i sends the first Buddhist to the U.S. Senate. And with the election of Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) to Hirono’s old House seat, Hawai’i also sends Congress its first Hindu member–who plans to be sworn in on the Bhagavad-Gita. They join 2 Muslim members of Congress. Native Americans were key to the election of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) in North Dakota. Hispanic/Latino voters were a decisive factor in the reelection of Pres. Obama and several other races. Asian-Americans also made gains in representation. The days when old white men ruled everything are ending, something that fills many with fear. But those of us who have embraced inclusion and diversity since the Civil Rights movement welcome the coming rainbow society with open arms.
Losses on election day include: Cannabis legalization in Oregon and medical cannabis legalization in Arkansas. Michigan voters failed to guarantee the right to collective bargaining in the state constitution, although that right is still part of MI law. CA tried and failed to abolish the death penalty by ballot measure–with only 48% of the public approving. Death penalty abolition is making gains, but they are not uniform by any means.
There is clearly much work left to be done. But there is no denying that Tuesday night was a good night for social justice in the USA.
I’m behind on this blog. Among other things, I’ve promised a personal tribute to New Testament theologian Walter Wink, who died a few days ago. I’ll have to publish that on Sunday, I guess. A Facebook conversation with one of my nephews last night prompted this blog post–more than the heartbreaking passage of Amendment 1 in North Carolina (defining marriage as one man and one woman–thereby not only banning same-sex marriage, but also same-sex civil unions, domestic partner benefits and protections even for unmarried heterosexual couples, etc.) on Tuesday. It was also a greater prompt than Wednesday’s surprise announcement by President Obama that he has finished “evolving” and now fully supports marriage equality–both heart-stopping events for different reasons.
Last night, one of my nephews, a college student active in the LGBT rights group on the campus of Virginia Tech, and who came out last year while at university (although he started coming out at the end of high school), thanked me for my efforts as a straight ally. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve done all that much. Yes, I wrote a blog series on “LGBT Persons in the Church: The Case for Full Inclusion.” I’ve preached some sermons along this line in places where they’ve seldom heard a Christian support LGBT equality. I spoke against and voted “no” in 2000 when the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship voted to include a rule against hiring any personnel or endorsing any missionaries who were out, non-celibate lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgendered persons. (I think the CBF actually said, “practicing homosexuals,” but that language is misleading and I won’t use it.) When I returned home from that meeting, I recommended to our congregation (and they followed through) that we cease to be members of CBF and not contribute to their missions. I voted “yes,” in 2004 when the Alliance of Baptists, the small denomination to which I and my congregation belong, endorsed marriage equality. (The Alliance was already strongly on record for LGBT rights, including ordaining out LGBT persons for ministry and endorsing out LGBT missionaries. Several Alliance congregations had already performed same-sex weddings by 2004–some in states where these marriages would have legal recognition and some, like mine, where the state would not recognize what God’s people did in blessing covenantal unions.) After the 2004 elections resulted in 11 states, including KY where I live, writing discriminatory bans against same-sex marriage into their state constitutions, I urged my congregation (already a leader in LGBT equality fights–with many persons in our congregation well ahead of me in actions taken and leadership shown) to lift our flag higher by joining The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB), a network of gay-affirming Baptist congregations–mostly, but not entirely, in American Baptist circles. Since 2000, I have spoken and marched more on these kind of issues than before–but it is minor compared to other justice causes and very minor compared to what others have done. So, I’m not sure I deserve my nephew’s praise.
I take that praise as a goad to do more–to be more worthy of the title “straight ally” in the struggle for LGBT Equality. But whether I am a strong ally or a weak one, I didn’t really start out trying to be an ally in this movement whatsoever–and this is a good chance to state why I’ve become a straight ally (however weakly or poorly) and what led me, precisely as a Christian, to take such a stance.
First, I should say, that, although I never sought to be an ally in this struggle, nor did I seek to be an adversary or opponent, much less an LGBT enemy. I’m not saying that I didn’t grow up with homophobic and heterosexist prejudices–that would be nearly impossible in this culture. I don’t think there are any non-racist American whites–just recovering racists who struggle for racial justice while also seeking constantly to root out hidden racial prejudices and keep repenting and struggling toward greater sanctification in this area. I don’t believe there are any men in this or other patriarchal cultures who are completely non-sexist–just those of us who keep repenting of our sexism and keep struggling for sex and gender justice in home, church (synagogue, mosque, etc.), and society and seeking greater sanctification in our own lives. I must say the same thing regarding homophobia and heterosexism–I seek to be a recovering homophobe and recovering heterosexist. One of my hopes is that there can be generational progress as well as individual progress.
But even from childhood, I did try somewhat to swim upstream on these issues when I first became aware of them in the 1970s. The issue of marriage equality was nowhere on my radar, but I join my parents in opposing former Mouseketeer and orange juice saleswoman, Anita Bryant, in her hate-filled witch-hunt against gays in public schools who were supposedly “recruiting” because they couldn’t reproduce. My mother was furious that Bryant was using her fear-mongering as an excuse to get FL to vote against the Equal Rights Amendment (and this bait-and-switch was successful)–and, from this, we both learned that there is a profound connection between patriarchy and homophobia. I had one gay teacher (that I know) and he was amazing–the man who first made history important for me. I knew him to be a person of integrity who had no designs on anyone’s children–except to get them to fall in love with learning. By contrast, in those far off days, I knew several male teachers sleeping with high school girls and two female teachers sleeping with high school boys. The former were at risk of prison for statutory rape, but the same abuse of boys by adult women was only considered “contributing to the delinquency of a minor,” and there was little risk of prosecution in those days. Fathers of boys seduced by a female teacher would probably have patted the kid on the back and thanked the teacher for “making a man out of my boy.” (These attitudes seem archaic–but maybe not. We seem to be going backward in so many areas lately.) So, I early on opposed laws which singled out “homosexuals” for discrimination–the more so after an elderly Jewish couple whose lawn I mowed (Holocaust death camp survivors with numbers tattooed on their arms) told me about the “men of the pink triangle,” the gay men and suspected gay men whom Hitler rouned up and sent to death camps right along with the Jews.
But I didn’t have any openly gay friends in high school. In the 1970s, in Florida, few teens “came out.” I knew a few of those who did, but we were only aquaintances and, as they embodied many stereotypes, they made me uncomfortable. I squirmed around them even though I stopped those who tried bullying. My attitudes were mixed. In my late teens I became a born again evangelical Christian and so adopted the common evangelical view that “homosexual practice” is sinful. (It was a long time before I believed differently.) But I rejected as clearly unbiblical the view that such actions were worse than other sins and needed to be singled out for special condemnation. As a young, liberal, social justice activist (even then), it bothered me that more Christians were angry about the supposed growth of the “gay agenda” than were angry about poverty, war, capital punishment, racism, damage to the environment. Also, I had to sympathize at least a little bit with gays who were bullied. As a born again Christian, I was trying to be celibate until marriage–and in many circles this led people to suspect I was gay. I was also involved in theatre and chess, and was socially awkward around girls (even with 3–and later 4–sisters!). So, I know what it’s like to be called “faggot,” and “queer,” and even though I am heterosexual, I didn’t want others called such names, either. And I was sometimes the victim of violent bullying–and I knew that gays had it worse. So, my teen years were marked by very, very mixed feelings. I thought “homosexuals” were sinning, but I thought those harming them were guilty of greater sins.
When I briefly joined the U.S. Army at 17 (leaving as a conscientious objector), I discovered a small piece of what closeted gays have to endure in the military–and this was before even the “compromise” of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” much less the recent ability for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces. Even straight men in the military would act “hyper-masculine,” because anyone suspected of being gay would be beaten by gangs of their peers. Some even died and the military did little to investigate their deaths.
By the early 1980s, when finishing college and heading to seminary, I mostly wanted this “issue” to leave me alone. I wanted to help revive the older 19th C. evangelical tradition in which evangelism and mission went hand-in-hand with campaigns for social justice. I was and am an opponent of the Religious Right. But I knew that “evangelical” did not used to mean “political conservative.” In the 19th C., evangelicals–born again, on-fire, holy-rolling, revive-us-again, Jesus-loving, hard-preaching, GOSPEL living Protestant Christians–were often the leaders in such social struggles as: the abolition of slavery, women’s education and women’s right to vote, the end of child labor, prison reform, workers’ rights, including the rights of organized labor to organize and engage in collective bargaining, the rights of immigrants, racial justice, peacemaking and the abolition of war. Today, I would say that the struggle for LGBT equality fits seamlessly in that tradition, but as I headed off to seminary I couldn’t see how it fit. I read a few revisionist biblical interpretations but didn’t find them exegetically or hermeneutically credible and I was (and remain) committed to biblical authority in the church. I don’t mean “inerrancy,” which is a heresy from the late 19th and early 20th C., but the authority of the Word of God speaking in and through the human words of Holy Scripture in power and authority. I hold to that to this very day. I agreed that Christians should defend the civil rights of gays and lesbians versus those who wanted to deny employment and housing, etc., but I thought that those who wanted to ordain out and non-celibate gays and lesbians were simply jumping on a bandwagon. I wanted Christian social activism to flow seamlessly from the gospel and not be driven by whatever fad of political correctness came along–and that’s what I thought the “gay Christian” movement was. But I did not rest easy in this view. My conscience was guilty. I suspected that I was guilty of special pleading.
The AIDS epidemic complicated matters, to say the least. On the one hand, the attitude of the Religious Right that AIDS was God’s punishment for homosecual sins absolutely horrified me. How could anyone worship a God they believed was capable of such things??? And the illogic floored me, too. I knew that lesbians were the group least at risk of catching the HIV virus. Yet no conservative argued that this was a sign of God’s special approval of lesbianism. Yes, risky lifestyles, gay or straight, increased the risk of infection–which in the ’80s meant death, horrifying and 100%. There is a degree of self-punishment in passing one’s body around like pieces of baloney, regardless of whether one catches any diseases or not. Sexual addiction is self-degradating and sex outside of covenant love almost inevitably involves exploitation and abuse (things which are not easily avoided even with covenantal structures in place). And I could see that, socially, AIDS had much in common with leprosy in Scripture and that Jesus would expect the church to minister to AIDS victims in exactly the same way as He healed lepers. But AIDS linked sex and death very closely and this made it difficult for most people to think clearly–it made them, including me, to some extent, victims of fear.
I compartmentalized those feelings and concentrated on other areas–although I began meet gay and lesbian Christians who lived lives of discipleship and holiness that put mine to shame–and this was a chink in my armor. To my shame, I refused to seriously investigate the issues (biblical, psychological, theological, etc.) until after I was married. I remember–and am deeply embarrassed by this memory–that when I first went to the seminary library to check out every book I could on the many related LGBT subjects that I kept flashing my wedding ring in the air–subconsciously afraid that someone would think I might be gay. Why the fear? Why was I so insecure in my sexuality? It is not easy to confront such images in my past.
By the 1990s, I had “evolved,” sort of. I had joined a gay-affirming congregation. I had come to embrace one sexual ethic for everyone. I had come to endorse the ordination of out gays and lesbians, to advocate for full equality of LGBT persons in church and society. (It did take me longer to understand what “transgendered” meant and that Transgendered persons are not “homosexual” at all.) But I wasn’t very loud about it. I wanted to be hired to teach theology and ethics in evangelical contexts and I knew that being an out-front advocate of LGBT equality would make this difficult–and I knew that my degrees from evangelical institutions would make it unlikely that I would be hired by mainline Protestants who were more gay-friendly. I thought that if I simply had academic freedom to “teach all sides of the issues,” I could keep my integrity. I was very afraid that if my views on LGBT equality were known, I would lose influence on issues that were vitally important to me: peace and nonviolence, racial and gender justice, economic justice for the poor, etc. Others could take up the cause of justice for LGBT persons–none of us can do it all. I tread this path for most of the 1990s. But as more LGBT persons “came out” to me, I knew my silence was harming them–especially as American society seemed to become more homophobic and heterosexist than ever. By 2000, I decided that by virtue of being a married heterosexual white male with a Ph.D. in theological ethics, I had, ipso facto some social power–even if not very much because I was always at the bottom of the academic heirarchy. It finally dawned on me that I needed to take some risks on behalf of LGBT persons with less power, whose very lives could be at risk if they spoke out. Coming out as an ally might cost me some jobs (it has), but it likely would not lead to humiliation, eviction from home, family, or congregation, and not to legal charges or loss of life. All of that could be true for LGBT persons, whom I now knew included friends and at least one family member (one of my wife’s brothers).
The elections of 2004 pushed me, too. The Republican Party put bans against same-sex marriage as amendments into 11 state constitutions–and it was done simply to turn out more rightwing voters in order to “re”-elect George W. Bush president. What horrified me the most about this was that I knew that George W. Bush didn’t really care about this issue. Laura Bush is in favor of same-sex marriage. Dick Cheney’s daughter is an out lesbian. Thousands of lives of LGBT persons were harmed and they weren’t really the target–just an excuse to advance OTHER (equally bad, in my view) political agendas. That brought the men of the pink triangle back to my mind. And I couldn’t pretend that LGBT equality was a “lesser cause,” however worthy, than economic justice, racial or gender justice, or peace and nonviolence–all causes that were originally closer to my heart.
So, stumblingly, and fearfully, I became a straight ally. Since that time, the “issue” (and no person likes to be thought of as “an issue”) has become more personal for me. We Baptists don’t really have godparents, but my daughters’ unofficial godmother is lesbian. I have participated in the ordination of several out gay friends, now. And my daughters were flower girls at a lesbian wedding–in a state where this has no legal standing at all. Two brothers-in-law are out gays and one is a Presbyterian minister. And, about a year ago, as I said at the beginning, one of my nephews came out in his first year at university–and his mother, my sister, is a much more conservative evangelical Protestant than I am–a devotee of the Religious Right I have spent my adult life opposing. She’s been as supportive of her son as she knows how, but I have felt compelled to give more open support. My nephew’s “coming out,” (and becoming an activist) has subtly (without his asking at all) pushed me to do more–just as the thanks he gave me, which I don’t really deserve, pushes me to go further and risk more.
Even with setbacks like NC’s Amendment 1 (and NH, MD, MN, and Washington State may see similar rollbacks on election day in November), I’ve been thoroughly amazed at the rapid pace of progress since 2004. And my daughters’ generation cannot see what the fuss is about. I don’t mean to downplay the bullying in school, not at all, but their generation has known many more out gays and lesbians personally, adults and people of their own age, as well as far more celebrities than in my generation. (My mother’s generation didn’t realize Liberace was gay and my generation didn’t know Elton John was gay! We seriously had no gaydar at all.) I cannot explain to my daughters why Ellen deGeneris lost her 1990s sit-com by coming out of the closet. They grew up on Will and Grace and their favorite news anchor is openly lesbian Rachel Maddow. Polling shows that from Gen X onward even evangelicals are far more accepting of gays and lesbians than their elders. (Younger evangelicals are even MORE anti-abortion-for-any-reason than were those of my generation, so this change is NOT a result of simply going along with the wider culture.) And, although young people are leading the way, polling shows that ALL age groups, including the 65 and older (which is the most anti-gay) and all demographics, are becoming more accepting of LGBT equality–though at different rates. Frankly, I have more hope for social progress here than on other pressing concerns which seem to be moving the other direction. But it is no time for resting. As progress is made, those who are most homophobic and heterosexist, most fearful of change, are getting desperate. They are enacting laws they themselves predict will be overturned within 20 years–just to set back the changes as long as possible.
So this Christian straight ally, along with everyone else who cares about justice, has more work to do.
Today is the 101st International Women’s Day. Women have certainly made progress the world over in the last century, but the disheartening thing for this father of daughters is how far they still have to go–globally and here in the U.S.A. Britain’s newspaper, The Guardian has the hard data. Women are 51% of the global population, but there are only 2 countries where women have at least 50% of the national legislature: Andorra and Rwanda! The U.S. has never had a woman president or even nominee by a major political party. And both times that a major party nominated a female Vice Presidential candidate (Democrats nominated U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of NY as former VP Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984 and Republicans nominated Gov. Sarah Palin of AK as Sen. John McCain’s running mate in 2008)–24 years apart(!)–she was briefly a boost, but ultimately a drag on the ticket which led that party to defeat. Currently, there are only 17 countries where women are head of government, head of state, or both. The good news is that this is nearly double the situation in 2005. The bad news is that women are very poorly represented in government everywhere. The global average is only 19%. The Nordic countries do the best, with Sweden and Finland at 42% represenation in their respective parliaments. The United Kingdom, which has had one female Prime Minister (Margaret Thatcker, a Tory, from 1979-1990, the longest serving PM in British history), is currently a dismal 53rd in female representation in parliament. But the U.S. is even worse, 78th in percentage of women serving in Congress (either chamber).
This isn’t to deny the progress made in other areas. One third of the U.S. Supreme Court is now composed of female justices –which is still below many other countries. Canada, for instance, also has a 9-member Supreme Court, but 4 of them are female and one is the current Chief Justice. 3 of the last 4 U.S. Secretaries of State have been women. Women head more Fortune 500 companies than ever before, though still a minority. But the percentage of women in Congress actually DECREASED in 2010, for the first time in decades. And now we have a major candidate for U.S. president who believes that women should NOT be employed outside the home, but should stay home and homeschool the children. (As an individual choice that some make, I support this, where it is economically feasible. In a world where one income seldom keeps a family of four in even the lower middle class, however, this is unrealistic for the vast majority of families. And even where it is feasible, I support it only if it is something chosen equally by the couple, not something imposed by law or social pressure.) What’s next? Arguing that women be denied the right to vote? To drive cars (as in Saudi Arabia)? To own property in their own names?
Meaning no disrespect at all to the many men who champion the rights and wellbeing of women, but it seems to me that this lack of proportional representation is DIRECTLY related to the suppression of women’s rights globally and in the U.S. Would we seriously be debating whether or not insurance should cover birth control if the number of women in Congress (and state legislatures) represented their 51% of the population? Would anyone DREAM of having an all-male panel to debate the subject? Is there any way that the average pay for women would STILL be only 77% of male pay for the same job if women were even close to 50% of our state legislatures and Congress? Would sexual harassment penalties go unenforced or rape underreported if women were proportionally represented? Would misogyny be openly defended as “freedom of religion” or “free speech” if women were 51% of legislatures? I highly doubt it.
I am not putting women on a pedastal. I do not believe in their moral superiority. Alas, when they are elected, they seem to vote for wars and injustice as often as their male counterparts, more’s the pity. They can be just as blinded by race and class as men. Electing a woman for president will no more automatically usher in a golden age than electing the first African-American did. The system is rigged to keep the most progressive from ever getting that far, it seems. But the injustices that are heaped on women AS women would almost certainly decrease with greater representation BY women. And proportional representation is central to democracy. Electing more women to all levels of government is simply more just. That doesn’t make any woman X better as a candidate than any man Y. Character, platforms, etc. still make all the difference.
But women have had the right to vote in this nation since 1920. So, why are we still 78th in the world in female Congressional representation in 2012? We need more women in all levels of government and I hope both major parties in the U.S. nominate female candidates for president in 2016.
101 International Women’s Days. So far come, but, O, so far to go.
The cause of FDR’s presidential career was economic justice. FDR himself was born to wealth, but his experience with polio sensitized him to the suffering of others, especially the poor. Eleanor pushed Franklin on racial justice via strengthening civil rights protections, but FDR was cautious because he needed to keep Southern segregationists firmly in the New Deal Democratic coalition in order to have the large Congressional majorities that made the New Deal reforms possible. He was also semi-tone deaf to struggles for equality of the sexes despite his partnership with Eleanor–an equality in a White House couple not seen again until Jimmy & Rosealynn Carter and not surpassed until Bill and Hillary Clinton–and despite appointing the first female cabinet head. But on economic justice FDR was such a champion that other wealthy people called him “a traitor to his class.” In his last State of the Union, in 1944, Roosevelt was already dying and had to address Congress via radio from his bed rather than in person. In this speech, FDR outlined an agenda for a series of Constitutional Amendments that would form a “Second Bill of Rights” for American citizens. But Roosevelt died in office and, although Truman defended and attempted to expand the New Deal with the Square Deal, Republicans made comebacks and, after Truman desegregated the military, they cooperated with conservative Southern Democrats to make certain that no part of the “Second Bill of Rights” ever got a floor vote in either chamber of Congress. Meanwhile, much of that vision was incorporated into new constitutions in Europe and Japan–with input from Roosevelt appointees throughout the post-war world. This is one reason–before Cold War fever painted any effort at economic justice as a form of the dreaded COMMUNISM–that many other nations have leaped ahead of the U.S. in terms of economic justice.
As with FDR’s pre-war Four Freedoms, I believe that his 1944 “Second Bill of Rights” should inform any contemporary progressive/liberal agenda. It certainly informs my own vision. Below I excerpt that 1944 State of the Union speech with commentary on its applicability for today. Bold Face and Italics are my emphases. Notes in brackets [ ] are my commentary.
11 January 1944, State of the Union, Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
To the Congress:
This Nation in the past two years has become an active partner in the world’s greatest war against human slavery.
We have joined with like-minded people in order to defend ourselves in a world that has been gravely threatened with gangster rule.
But I do not think that any of us Americans can be content with mere survival. Sacrifices that we and our allies are making impose upon us all a sacred obligation to see to it that out of this war we and our children will gain something better than mere survival.
We are united in determination that this war shall not be followed by another interim which leads to new disaster- that we shall not repeat the tragic errors of ostrich isolationism—that we shall not repeat the excesses of the wild twenties when this Nation went for a joy ride on a roller coaster which ended in a tragic crash.
When Mr. Hull [Cordell Hull, a former Congressman and Senator from TN, FDR's Secretary of State, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the creation of the United Nations] went to Moscow in October, and when I went to Cairo and Teheran in November, we knew that we were in agreement with our allies in our common determination to fight and win this war. But there were many vital questions concerning the future peace, and they were discussed in an atmosphere of complete candor and harmony.
In the last war such discussions, such meetings, did not even begin until the shooting had stopped and the delegates began to assemble at the peace table. There had been no previous opportunities for man-to-man discussions which lead to meetings of minds. The result was a peace which was not a peace. That was a mistake which we are not repeating in this war.
The one supreme objective for the future, which we discussed for each Nation individually, and for all the United Nations, can be summed up in one word: Security.
And that means not only physical security which provides safety from attacks by aggressors. It means also economic security, social security, moral security—in a family of Nations. [FDR is planting the seeds of U.S. acceptance of a future United Nations. U.S. refusal to join the old Leagure of Nations was a major factor in its failure and U.S. isolationism was a major factor in the rise of fascism leading to WWII.]
In the plain down-to-earth talks that I had with the Generalissimo and Marshal Stalin and Prime Minister Churchill, it was abundantly clear that they are all most deeply interested in the resumption of peaceful progress by their own peoples—progress toward a better life. All our allies want freedom to develop their lands and resources, to build up industry, to increase education and individual opportunity, and to raise standards of living.
All our allies have learned by bitter experience that real development will not be possible if they are to be diverted from their purpose by repeated wars—or even threats of war.
China and Russia are truly united with Britain and America in recognition of this essential fact:
The best interests of each Nation, large and small, demand that all freedom-loving Nations shall join together in a just and durable system of peace. In the present world situation, evidenced by the actions of Germany, Italy, and Japan, unquestioned military control over disturbers of the peace is as necessary among Nations as it is among citizens in a community. And an equally basic essential to peace is a decent standard of living for all individual men and women and children in all Nations. Freedom from fear is eternally linked with freedom from want. [No external national security strategies which ignore economic justice at home or abroad is possible. Economic injustice is a major seed of instability and war. In our own day, poverty makes it easier for terrorists to recruit followers.]
There are people who burrow through our Nation like unseeing moles, and attempt to spread the suspicion that if other Nations are encouraged to raise their standards of living, our own American standard of living must of necessity be depressed.
The fact is the very contrary. It has been shown time and again that if the standard of living of any country goes up, so does its purchasing power- and that such a rise encourages a better standard of living in neighboring countries with whom it trades.
[Snip. FDR outlines the sacrifices needed to win the war and calls for unity and shared sacrifice.]
Therefore, in order to concentrate all our energies and resources on winning the war, and to maintain a fair and stable economy at home, I recommend that the Congress adopt:
(1) A realistic tax law—which will tax all unreasonable profits, both individual and corporate, and reduce the ultimate cost of the war to our sons and daughters. The tax bill now under consideration by the Congress does not begin to meet this test. [What a contrast to the gross irresponsibility of the Bush admin. which claimed that invading Iraq would "pay for itself" and which continued to cut taxes, especially on the wealthy, during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars--with costs now somewhere between $3 trillion and $4 trillion and Republicans STILL unwilling for the wealthy to pay their fair share! ]
(2) A continuation of the law for the renegotiation of war contracts—which will prevent exorbitant profits and assure fair prices to the Government. For two long years I have pleaded with the Congress to take undue profits out of war. [Whereas the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were viewed as opportunities for the Bush and Cheney families and their friends and allies to increase their wealth through sweetheart deals with corporations such as Haliburton and KBR in which they had huge interests!]
(3) A cost of food law—which will enable the Government (a) to place a reasonable floor under the prices the farmer may expect for his production; and (b) to place a ceiling on the prices a consumer will have to pay for the food he buys. This should apply to necessities only; and will require public funds to carry out. It will cost in appropriations about one percent of the present annual cost of the war.
(4) Early reenactment of. the stabilization statute of October, 1942. This expires June 30, 1944, and if it is not extended well in advance, the country might just as well expect price chaos by summer.
We cannot have stabilization by wishful thinking. We must take positive action to maintain the integrity of the American dollar.
(5) A national service law- which, for the duration of the war, will prevent strikes, and, with certain appropriate exceptions, will make available for war production or for any other essential services every able-bodied adult in this Nation.
These five measures together form a just and equitable whole. I would not recommend a national service law unless the other laws were passed to keep down the cost of living, to share equitably the burdens of taxation, to hold the stabilization line, and to prevent undue profits.
[snip FDR calls for national service whereas Bush told everyone following 9/11 that they should just go shopping. He then urged Congress to make it easier for military personnel to cast votes in U.S. elections even while deployed in war zones. ]
It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation [The right to employment commits the nation to a full-employment policy. Usually this is primarily done through private enterprise, but in recessions or depressions, government should be willing to hire the unemployed directly for meaningful national service--as in the New Deal programs of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which created much infrastructure, the Rural Electrification Project, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (the CCC) in which camps of young men planted trees, dug irrigation ditches, prevented run-off and soil erosion, etc. for stipends which often meant the difference between life and death for entire families. Contemporary adaptations might include federal and state governments hiring youth for summer work in cities painting roofs white to lower lower heat indices and save electricity.]
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation [Beyond minimum wages to a living wage, i.e., a salary that allows a family to live above poverty levels.]
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living [In FDR's day this was a call for price supports. It was a reminder that farmers entered depression in the 1920s, years before the 1929 Stock Market crash. In our day, I would think that this commits us to work for family farmers against agribusiness and for local, healthy food, over mass-produced with genetically modified seeds and hormone-injected cattle and the prison conditions of much livestock in factory farms. This hurts not only small farmers, but the health of the nation, and the ecology of the planet.]
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad. [We have far too many monopolies and semi-monopolies today. Even the founding philosopher of capitalism, Adam Smith, said that monopolies made free markets impossible.]
- The right of every family to a decent home.
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. [Healthcare must be viewed as a human right, not as a commodity sold to the highest bidder.]
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment. [This vision commits us to building a strong "social safety net" that includes adequate pensions for retirees, universal healthcare, and unemployment insurance, with job re-training and, where necessary, direct employment by the government.]
- The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.
One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis-recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.
The remaining paragraphs show that FDR did not envision each of these economic security rights as becoming Constitutional Amendments, although he did think they needed legislation enacted by Congress. But I think many of them should be enshrined in the Constitution itself:
- The right to employment. As a Constitutional right, this would force economic policies that care more about full employment than Wall St. profits.
- The right to a living wage. We would not have the huge income inequality of the 1% vs. the 99% today if we had living wage laws indexed to the cost of living. We would need to define a living wage as a wage or salary sufficient to keep a family above the poverty line.
- The right of farmers to adequate remuneration. I am uncertain whether this could be a Constitutional guarantee, but it should be part of the platform for any progressive political party and should lead to legislation and policies which prioritize family farmers above agribusiness.
- The right of businesses, large and small, to fair competition instead of facing monopolies. Again, I think what needs to be a Constitutional Amendment (especially in light of the stupidity of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. United States) is the clear statement that Corporations are not people and have only the rights guaranteed by their charters. But we need updated and strengthened anti-trust laws that break up monopolies from all these huge mega-mergers that drown out competition and produce “too big to fail” companies that either require taxpayer bailouts or whose fall harms large sections of the economy. “Too big to fail” must equal “too big to exist.”
- Housing as a Constitutional Right. This would require adequate amounts of low-income housing–and decent standards for that housing. Between the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of the Reagan-era, homelessness was rare in this country. When I was a teen in the 1970s, the “housing problem” was the problem of inadequate housing, of slums and shacks. Then came “Reaganomics” and an explosion of homelessness that grows worse each year. We must end the blight of homelessness in this country.
- Healthcare as a Constitutional Right. This would not demand a particular form of universal healthcare, but would remove it as a “for profit” enterprise.
- A strong social safety net need not be a Constitutional Amendment (although a Constitutional guarantee of adequate retirement pension would finally stop all efforts to privatize or poorly fund Social Security), but we must have strong laws for old age pensions, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, and the like.
- Education as a Constitutional Right. This would not rule out private schools or homeschooling (although all parents who choose to home school should have to pass the same teacher certification requirements as public school teachers), but it would mandate a STRONG, FULLY FINANCED public education system, for primary and secondary education. All who have the mental ability and desire to pursue college/secondary education should not be prevented by financial barriers. Education should be free and compulsory for primary and secondary levels and as close to free as possible for the college/university level.
As the U.S. hurtled down the path leading to its joining World WarII, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) outlined his goals for a post-war world order in a State of the Union speech to Congress called “The Four Freedoms.” Because FDR died before the war was over, this agenda was not implemented fully here in the U.S. Ironically, people from FDR’s administration wrote parts of many of the new constitutions in post-war Europe and Japan, so that Roosevelt’s vision was adopted (and sometimes improved) far more fully outside the U.S. than inside. I still find his vision compelling–an agenda that should form at least the core of any progressive/liberal platform.
Let me be clear: I am a Christian pacifist. I do not accept FDR’s assessment of the righteousness of America’s wars or their “necessity.” What I find compelling is vision of a post-war world order. I believe I can disagree with FDR on war, even war as a means to peace and security, and still agree with his vision.
I reproduce relevant excerpts of FDR’s Four Freedoms speech below and use bold face and italics to highlight the key dimensions of a progressive/liberal political platform. Delivered on 06 January 1941 to the Congress of the United States as the State of the Union.
The nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the things which have been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in America. Those things have toughened the fiber of our people, have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we make ready to protect.
Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.
The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:
Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.
The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.
These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.
Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples:
We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.
We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.
We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.
[Snip--FDR calls for personal sacrifice in the time of war, including paying higher taxes with the rich paying more than the poor. He also warns against war profiteering--and promises government crackdown on those who try it--completely the opposite of the way the Iraq War was made into get rich quick schemes for members of the Bush Administration and their allies.]
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
- The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
- The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
- The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world. [i.e., Freedom from Want is embodied in a just economic order in which all have enough and the gap between the rich and the poor is relatively small and it is fairly easy to move from one social class to another.]
- The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called “new order” of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.
Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions without the concentration camp or the quicklime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.
This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.
To that high concept there can be no end save victory.
Freedom of speech and expression.
Freedom of religious belief and practice.
Freedom from want (i.e., the presence of economic justice).
Freedom from fear (i.e., massive global arms reductions so that it is difficult if not impossible for any nation to invade another).
I don’t think that these goals, by themselves, constitute an adequate progressive/liberal political philosophy for the 21st C. But they are a good beginning and I would find any political vision or philosophy that did NOT include these four freedoms to be woefully inadequate.
In my next installment in this series, I will also draw from FDR–this time from his proposed “Second Bill of Rights.”
The Norwegian Nobel Committee (appointed, as mandated by Alfred Nobel’s will, by the Storting, or Norwegian Parliament) has announced that for 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize will be shared equally by three (3) women, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman, “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” The Nobel Peace Prize has often been shared by two individuals (or an individual and an organization), rarely by three individuals, and never by more than three individuals.
Each of these women has long been involved in nonviolent human rights struggle, especially for the rights, safety, and well-being of women and children. They have also pushed for women to be treated by nations and international organizations as equal participants in peacebuilding efforts, especially post-conflict peacebuilding. This goes against the long history of women and their concerns being ignored in the normal negotiating process that leads to peace treaties.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (1938-) is the current President of Liberia, the first woman to be democratically elected head of state of any African nation. A Harvard-educated economist, Sirleaf had served as Assistant Finance Minister in the administration of William Tolbert from 1972-1973. Later she was Finance Minister from 1979 to 1980, when the democratic government was overthrown in a coup d’etat by the dictator Samuel Doe. Sirleaf fled the country, one of only 4 members of Tolbert’s cabinet to escape execution, and took jobs with international agencies. She returned to Liberia and was placed under house arrest and had to flee again. At the outbreak of the first Liberian civil war in 1997, she initially supported insurgent leader Charles Taylor’s fight against the dictator Samuel Doe, but later repudiated and denounced him as his war crimes became public knowledge. A second Liberian war raged from 1999-2003. At the end of this, Sirleaf returned to Liberia, supported the transitional government’s de-armament process, the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee and efforts to heal returned child soldiers (who had been both victims and victimizers). She ran for President under the new constitution in 2005 and won. Two decades of civil war had left Liberia with no infrastructure, nearly universal unemployment, raging ethnic and tribal animosities, and mountains of debt. Sirleaf managed to get the international community to cancel almost all of Liberia’s debt and has encouraged international investment. Using Liberia mineral wealth, she has restored some of the infrastructure (most of the capital of Monrovia now has electricity and running water, again) and has helped to re-build schools and hospitals throughout the country. She signed into law a Freedom of Information Act, the first of its kind in Africa. But, Liberians, like Americans, think presidents can achieve miracles overnight so Sirleaf is nowhere near as popular at home as she is admired abroad. After all, unemployment remains about 80%! Also, though Sirleaf has waged battle against corruption, it has proven to be difficult to stamp out and several of her cabinet members have been fired for scandals. Further, many believe she should have worked more on reconciliation between ethnic groups and less on rebuilding the institutions of government and the nation’s infrastructure. So, Sirleaf is far from being assured of reelection next month (and she broke a 2005 campaign promise to serve only 1 term if elected). But whether or not she is reelected, the 72 year old Sirleaf is well-deserving of being a Nobel Peace Laureate.
Leymah Roberta Gbowee (b. 1972-) is known as “Liberia’s Peace Warrior.” A mother of six (6) children, Gbowee is a human rights and women’s rights campaigner. Born in central Liberia, she moved to the capital, Monrovia, at 17–just as the first Liberian Civil War broke out! She trained as trauma counselor and worked with the child soldiers of Charles Taylor’s rebel army. Surrounded by death and destruction, Gbowee realized that if the country were to ever have peace, it would have to be mothers who brought it–mothers tired of seeing their dreams for their children shattered by the horrors of war. Gbowee formed the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace in 2002. She organized the Christian and Muslim women of Liberia to pray together for peace and to engage in nonviolent demonstrations for an end to the civil war. Gbowee, a Lutheran Christian, spread her movement to the churches and mosques and they forced a meeting with then-president Charles Taylor, getting him to attend a peace conference held in Ghana in 2002. Together with fellow Lutheran woman Comfort Freeman, Gbowee founded Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), whose nonviolent actions finally brought an end to the Second Liberian War in 2003, the abdication and exile of Charles Taylor, and a transitional government that paved the way for democratic elections in 2005. Wearing white t-shirts (to symbolize peace), Gbowee and the women of WIPNET marched by the thousands throughout Liberia. They formed the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which has been used to spread the women’s peace movement to other African nations such as Sudan (now South Sudan) and Zimbabwe where the women are also using prayer and nonviolent tactics to petition for peace and human rights.
Tarwakkol Karmen (1979-), a Muslim feminist and human rights activist in Yemen, represents the Nobel Committee’s acknowledgement of the “Arab Spring.” She is a journalist by profession and has chafed for years under press restrictions in Yemen’s dictatorship. She is a senior member of al-Islah , the main opposition party in Yemen. In 2005 she founded Women Journalists Without Chains, an organization dedicated to democracy and freedom of the press. As soon as Tunisia’s nonviolent movement toppled its dictator, Karmen pushed for a similar movement in Yemen. Photos of her heroes (Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela) adorn her home. In a country wear most women are forced to wear all-black niqueb, or full head covering, Karmen wears an open-faced head scarf, usually white with flowers, as a symbol of women’s dignity and defiance to the dictator Salleh and the oppressive culture. She insists that Islam itself does not demand the niqeb, but that it is a sign of outmoded patriarchal culture, instead. She has pushed for laws against the wedding of women younger than 17 and against violence against women and children. Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, Karmen has led in march after march in Yemen’s capital, been arrested and beaten. Her life and the lives of her children have been threatened by the government, but she presses onward. To the nonviolent pro-democracy movement, Karmen is known as “The Mother of the Revolution,”–a revolution that is, at present, incomplete since Salleh clings to power by the use of massive violence against his own people–as he done for 33 years, now. Karmen and her fellow Yemeni nonviolent revolutionaries are undeterred. She has dedicated her Nobel Prize to the entire movement. (Many within the movement have proposed her for president in a post-Salleh Yemen, which would make her the first democratically-elected female leader in any Muslim-majority nation, if it happens.)
Largely because of its longevity and the large monetary awards accompanying it, the Nobel Peace Prize is the most widely recognized and prestigious peace prize –despite ambiguities in Alfred Nobel’s will and oddities in the Norwegian Nobel Committee that have led to some bizarre recipients (e.g., Teddy Roosevelt, Nicholas Murray Butler, Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, & Yitzhak Rabin) and even stranger omissions (e.g., Mohandas K. Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Dom Helder Camara, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J.). The committee has too often neglected women. Prior to this year, only 12 women have won the Nobel Peace Prize in its over 100 year history. But this year’s prizes are to be celebrated by all who believe in nonviolence, human rights, democracy, and the full equality of women. I look forward to watching the ceremonies in Oslo this December and reading their speeches and lectures. I pray continued success to these brave women and the movements they lead.
Here are a few of the women in postbellum American history I most admire–and have held up to my daughters as role models. All struggled to make the nation and the world a better place. Notice that although all are involved in social and political movements, only a very few are politicians in the traditional sense. This reflects my belief that while some are called to serve the common good through elected public office, there is no progress in social justice without grassroots activism–and that is often where one’s efforts are better spent. These are the kinds of women I hope my daughters–and their generation of American women–will adopt as role models.
- Jane Addams (1860-1935). Founder of modern social work and the settlement house movement. Leader in Progressive Era politics. Advocate for the poor, for women and children, for peace. Quaker, founder of Hull House in Chicago. Founder of Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF) and leader of global women’s movement against World War I. 2nd woman and first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Like many of her era, she was naive enough to think that if women got the right to vote, they would always vote against war and for peace and social justice. But better that than the cynical realpolitik of today’s “corporation woman.” For further reading: Louise W. Knight, Jane Addams: Spirit in Action (W.W. Norton & Co., 2010); Louise W. Knight, Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 2006); Peggy Caravantes, Waging Peace: The Story of Jane Addams (Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2004); Maurice Hamington, Embodied Care: Jane Addams, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Feminist Ethics (University of Illinois Press, 2004); Jean Bethke Elshtain, ed., The Jane Addams Reader (Basic Books, 2001).
- Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931). First woman and one of the first African-Americans to own and publish her own newspaper. Crusading journalist who documented lynching and led the campaign against lynching. Champion of rights for women and African-Americans. One of the founders of the NAACP, and a leader in the women’s suffrage movement. Correctly accused Frances Willard of the powerful Women’s Christian Temperance League of deliberately remaining silent about lynching and of using racial rhetoric that would increase white violence against African-Americans. Accused black leaders W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey of ignoring the plight of black women and of early feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton of ignoring or downplaying racism in order to win support for white women’s rights. Listed as one of the 100 most important African-Americans in U.S. history. For further reading: Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Collected Works of Ida B. Wells-Barnett (BiblioBazaar, 2007); Alfreda Duster, ed., Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells (University of Chicago Press, 1991); Bonnie Hinman, Eternal Vigilance: The Story of Ida B. Wells-Barnett (Morgan Reynalds Publishing, 2010).
- Alice Paul (1885-1977). Second generation American suffragist and feminist. Quaker activist and one of the most educated women of her generation. B.A., Swarthmore College; M.A., Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania; Ll.B., Washington College of Law; Ll.M., Doctor of Civil Laws, American University. An activist and leader in the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), Alice Paul led the campaign that secured the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (granting women the right to vote) in 1920–an amendment that pioneer suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, the Grimke sisters, and so many others, never lived to see. Paul’s controversial tactic was to protest the administration of Pres. Woodrow Wilson during the midst of World War I–and lead hunger strikes when thrown in prison. Alice Paul was the first person to picket the White House in 1916–exercising her 1st Amendment rights to assembly, speech, and petition and beginning an American protest tradition. After the 19th Amendment passed, Paul formed the National Women’s Party (NWP) and wrote the first draft of the Equal Rights Amendment (substantially unchanged in wording ever since) in 1923. The ERA passed the House of Representatives in the 1930s, but never made it out of the Senate until 1972. Congress had attached an artificial deadline of 1979 for the necessary ratification by 38 states–and only 35 ratified by the deadline. Reintroduced in every Congress since, the ERA has never again made it to the floor of either chamber of Congress–never mind to the states for ratification. Katherine Adams and Michael L. Keane, Alice Paul and the American Suffrage Campaign (University of Illinois Press, 2008); Christine A. Lunardini, From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Women’s Party, 1910-1928 (iUniverse.com, 2000); Mary Walton, A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot (Palgrave MacMillan, 2010). See also the DVD Iron-Jawed Angels with Hilary Swank as Alice Paul. (The title refers to the suffragists’ prison hunger strikes and the forced feedings that were the government response!)
- Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (1837-1930). Labor leader from the coal fields of West Virginia to the steel mills of Chicago to the garment makers of New York; campaigner against child labor and for free public education for the children of the poor; champion of equal pay for equal work; leader of thousands of strikes, sit-downs, work-slow downs, and other campaigns for workers’ rights. Called by conservative politicians “the most dangerous woman in America.” To attract attention to the cause of abolishing child labor, she once led a parade of 100 children from Washington, D.C. to President Teddy Roosevelt’s private home in Long Island, NY. Often imprisoned, she could shame men into fighting for justice who were afraid of prison. Her motto was “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!” Philip S. Foner, ed., Mother Jones Speaks: Speeches and Writings of a Working-Class Fighter (Pathfinder Press, 1983); Mother Jones, The Autobiography of Mother Jones, ed. Mary Field Parton with an Introduction by Clarence Darrow (Kessinger Reprints, 2010); Elliot Gorn, Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman In America (Hill and Wang, 2001). The left-liberal magazine Mother Jones is named in her honor.
- Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934) was the first woman to head a major Christian denomination. An American social reformer, educator, women’s rights activist, she was also a champion of missions, of the ordination of women (though never seeking such for herself), and of equality of women in family, church, and society. She lived most of her life in Rochester, NY where she was friends with the much older Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906). Montgomery graduated from Wellesley College in 1884 with a B.A. in Classics and a teaching certificate. Montgomery was such an excellent student of classical and Koine Greek that, in 1924, Judson Press (the American Baptist Publication Society) published Montgomery’s translation of the New Testament from Greek to English. She is, thus, the first woman to translate the New Testament and have that translation published professionally. (Coming on the year that the American Baptist Publication Society celebrated its first century of existence, for decades this NT was published as The Centenerary Translation. I made it a gift at the ordinations of women ministers, but, alas, it is no longer in print.) Working with Susan B. Anthony, Montgomery sucessfully lobbied the University of Rochester to open all its programs to women in 1900. She was elected to the Rochester city council and worked for reforms for women, children, and the poor. She opened colleges for women in Asia and went on world tours promoting women’s rights, women’s education, and missions. In 1921, Montgomery was elected president of the Northern Baptist Convention (now known as the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.), becoming the first woman to lead a major Christian denomination. For further reading, Kendal P. Mobley, Helen Barrett Montgomery: The Global Mission of Domestic Feminism (Baylor University Press, 2009).
- Emily Greene Balch(1867-1961). 2nd American woman (and 3rd woman overall) to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 for her long work with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Born to wealth in Jamaica Plain, MA, Emily grew up in a Unitarian family with dreams of education and women’s equality. She was one of the first graduates of Bryn Mawr College (B.A., sociology, 1896) and became a disciple of Jane Addams’ approach to social work–but wanted to add scientific discipline. When no U.S. university would admit women to Ph.D. programs, Balch went to Europe to finish her education, returning to the U.S. with a Ph.D. from the University of Berlin and became head of the sociology department at Wellesley College. She was co-founder of Boston’s first settlement house. A pacifist, who later converted from Unitarian to Quaker because of the commitment of Friends to nonviolence, Balch’s opposition to World War I was so public it led to her dismissal from the faculty–as the government tolerated no dissent. Balch became an editor for the left-liberal magazine, The Nation, joined the newly-formed WILPF and served as their International President. She worked for the League of Nations and kept urging the U.S. to join–convinced the isolationism of the U.S., coupled with the rise of fascism in Europe, would lead to another World War–and she was right. Often in the shadow of Jane Addams, Balch was the better scholar, better writer, and better organizer. Today, both Wellesley and Bryn Mawr have peace studies programs named in honor of Balch. Kristen E. Gwinn, Emily Greene Balch: The Long Road to Intenationalism (University of Illinois Press, 2010).
- Helen Keller (1880-1968) was the first deaf & blind person to earn a bachelor’s degree in the U.S. (Radcliffe College at age 24). Born in Tuscumbia, AL to an officer in the Confederate army, most Americans know only the story of Helen’s amazing education thanks to her teacher, Annie Sullivan. But Keller was an accomplished writer, political activist, and lecturer. She advocated for artifical birth control when this was very controversial. Keller was an outspoken member of the Socialist Party of America (not to be confused with the Socialist Party, USA) and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or “Wobblies”) and pacifist who fought for racial justice, women’s rights, peace, and other leftist causes. She was one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union and a strong supporter of Eugene Debs’ campaigns for the presidency as a Socialist. She met every U.S. president from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson. She was a Christian who eventually joined the odd sect founded by Emmanuel Swedenbourg. She was an early feminist and suffragist and worked against child laborer. She worked against the industrial conditions and poverty that encouraged blindness, including the poverty that drove women to prostitution where contracting syphillus often led to blindness for the woman or for any children she might have. Keller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S., by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. See Helen Keller, The Story of My Life: The Restored Edition, ed., James Berger (Modern Library, 2004).
- Jeannette Pickering Rankin (1880-1973), a progressive Republican (back when there were such), was the first woman elected to Congress (from Missoula, MT), in 1916, SIX YEARS before women had the vote nationwide. A lifelong pacifist, she was one of 50 House members to vote against U.S. entry into World War I–and correctly accused Pres. Woodrow Wilson (D) of breaking his campaign promise to keep the country out of war. She lost re-election in 1918, but was again elected on a progressive Republican and anti-war platform in 1940. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Americans quickly became pro-war and Rankin was the ONLY vote in Congress against entry in WWII. Rankin is thus the only member of the U.S. Congress to vote against both World Wars. This made her so unpopular that she declined to run for reelection in 1942. A founding Vice President of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Rankin was also a founding member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). In her post-Congressional career, Rankin visited India 7 times to study Gandhian principles of nonviolence, supported the Civil Rights movement, spoke out against the Korean War and nuclear weapons, and even led marches of women on the White House to oppose the Vietnam War. She died at the age of 92 of natural causes. In 1985, a statue of her was added to Congress. The Jeannette Rankin Foundation awards college/university scholarships to poor women. In 2004, an off-Broadway play of Rankin’s life was made called “A Single Woman.” In 2009, a film of the same name was released. For further reading, see Norma Smith, Jeanette Rankin: America’s Conscience (Missoula, MT: Montana Historical Society Press, 2002) and Gretchen Woelfe, Jeannette Rankin: Political Pioneer (Boyds Mills Press, 2007).
- Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987), the “Queen Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” born to former slaves in Charleston, SC, she grew up a sharecropper who fought a long battle for education in a state that did not provide any public education funds for African-Americans. She eventually earned a B.A. from Benedict College (Columbia, S.C.) and an M.A. from Hampton (Virginia) Institute (now Hampton University) and worked as a public school teacher in St. John’s Island, SC and later Columbia, SC. At St. John’s Island, Clark pioneered a method of adult education that would later serve her well with the “Freedom Schools” of the Civil Rights movement. When South Carolina passed a law in the 1950s that banned all public employees (including school teachers) from membership in the NAACP, Clark refused to give up her membership and was fired by the school board of Columbia, SC. She was hired by the progressive Highlander Folk School (now Highlander Research and Education Center) of Eastern Tennessee. At Highlander, Clark designed and led classes in education for social change for union and civil rights groups. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. both attended Clark’s classes as did Diane Nash and most of the leaders of the Nashville movement. Then Clark went to work for King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) designing the Citizenship Schools or Freedom Schools used to train African Americans to become registered voters across the South. Eventually, after South Carolina’s ban on NAACP membership was struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States, Clark successfully sued her old school board for wrongful termination and collected years of back wages. President Jimmy Carter presented her with a Living Legacy Award in 1979 and at her death in 1987, the SCLC honored her with a “Drum Major for Justice” Award.
- Ella Baker (1903-1986). Organizer and champion of civil rights, Ella Baker often worked behind the scenes because she didn’t believe in big showy leaders (like Martin Luther King, Jr.). She was fond of saying that “strong people don’t need strong leaders” and advocated far more democratic grassroots movements. She worked as Field Secretary for the NAACP from 1938-1953; developed the initial organization of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1957-1960), but soon left because she refused to show “proper deference” to the (all male) preachers who dominated SCLC; advised the students and helped them organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC–“Snick”) 1960-1966, but left when new leaders abandoned nonviolence and pushed out whites; worked with the Southern Conference Education Fund, 1962-1967 which worked to help Southern whites and Southern blacks work together on projects of justice. Baker was a proponent of “participatory democracy.” An intensely private person, many who worked side by side with her never knew “Miss Baker” was married for over twenty years. She left no diaries or memoirs. Her biographer, Barbara Ransby, calls Baker a “Freirein teacher, Gramscian intellectual, and radical humanist.” Baker’s legacy, like that of Paulo Freire, is to educate for liberation using a method of action/reflection/revised action. She was not an ivory tower intellectual, but, like the Italian Communist, Antonio Gramsci, lived and worked in solidarity with those she was helping to free themselves. Her “radical humanism” did not refer to a secular view of the world (she was a Christian who saw all the faults of the institutional churches and refused to worship ministers), but to her deep commitment to the dignity and worth of every human being. Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (University of North Carolina Press, 2003).
- Virginia Foster Durr (1903-1999) was a white daughter of Southern wealth who turned her back on the “Southern way of life” to become a champion of civil rights and the rights of working people. Her parents were not wealthy, but her father, a Presbyterian minister, did sacrifice so that Virginia would learn to be a “Southern lady,” schooled in social graces and accepting of segregation. However, since they also wanted her to be well educated, they sent her North–where she was exposed to other patterns than Southern segregation. She attended Wellesley College where the policy of “rotating tables” at meals taught her to eat with African-Americans as equals. Virginia initially protested the custom, but was told she could accept it or leave the school. She accepted it, learned to like it, shed her prejudices, and became friends with several African-American students. In her junior year, her family’s finances forced Virginia Foster to leave Wellesley and return to Alabama. There, at church, she met and fell in love with attorney Clifford Durr, whom she married in 1926. The Durrs moved to Washington, D.C. in 1931 so that Clifford could accept a position in the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a last-ditch effort by the Hoover administration to reverse the Great Depression. In 1933, Cliff Durr became part of the Roosevelt New Deal in several capacities, beginning with the Federal Communications Commission. Virginia also became involved in politcs, joining the Woman’s National Democratic Club and beginning a long quest to abolish the “poll tax,” which was used by Southern states to disenfranchise virtually all African-Americans and poor whites throughout the South. She was a founder of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare which tried to bring New Deal-inspired economic and social changes to the South. The SCHW folded in the 1950s because of charges by McCartheyites that it was funded by Communists and the Durrs themselves were often charged with being Communists or Communist-sympathizers. Virginia Durr was compelled to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC–abolished in the 197os) and stated only her name and that she was not a Communist, refusing to answer any other questions. Durr also helped to found the Southern Education Fund (SEF) and was Vice President of the National Campaign to Abolish the Poll Tax. By 1950, the Durrs had returned to Alabama, settled in Montgomery, where Clifford was one of the few white attorneys who would take civil rights cases. In 1954, Virginia Durr bailed out Rosa Parks after she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person on a city bus (thus, beginning the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the modern Civil Rights movement). Parks had sometimes been a seamstress for the Durrs. The Durrs house a was a de facto headquarters for civil rights activities throughout the 1950s and 1960s. After 1965, Virginia became convinced that, beyond race or sex, poverty was the biggest social problem and spent much of the rest of her life fighting that. Clifford Durr died in 1975 and Virginia died in 1999. Virginia Foster Durr, Outside the Magic Circle: The Autobiography of Virginia Foster Durr, ed. Hollinger F. Barnard (University of Alabama Press, 1990; orig. published, 1985); Patricia Sullivan, ed., Freedom Writer: Virginia Foster Durr’s Letters From the Civil Rights Years (Routledge Press, 2003; paperback ed., University of Georgia Press, 2006).
- Rachel Carson (1906-1964) was a marine biologist and environmentalist who helped to create the modern grassroots environmental movement, to ban the pesticide DDT, and to create the Environmental Protection Agency. We could use a Rachel Carson (or 10) today. See Rachel Carson, Under the Sea Wind (1944); The Sea Around Us (1951); The Edge of the Sea (1955); Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Mariner Books edition, 2002; Orig. Pub., 1962), the classic that launched the modern environmental movement; Lisa Sederis and Kathleen Dean Moore, eds., Rachel Carson: Legacy and Challenge (SUNY Series in Environmental Science and Ethics) (SUNY Press, 2006); Mark Lytle, Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement (New Narratives in American History) (Oxford University Press, 2007); Arlene R. Quaratiello, Rachel Carson: A Biography (Greenwood Press, 2004).
- Pauli Murray (1910-1985) was a fighter for civil rights and racial justice, women’s rights, and much else. She was a lawyer, writer, poet, teacher, and, later in life, an ordained Episcopal priest. Born in Baltimore, MD, Anna Pauline Murray lost her mother when she was but three (3) years old and moved to Durham, NC where she lived with her aunt (after whom she was named) and her maternal grandparents. A brilliant student, Pauli surmounted the obstacles of the segregated school system of NC to win a full scholarship to Hunter College in NYC. In NY, Pauli joined the NAACP and became active in the struggle for civil rights. She decided that she could do more as an attorney and in the South she knew so well, but in 1938 she was denied admission to the law school of the University of North Carolina on the basis of her race. Instead, she entered the law school of Howard University, an historic black university in Washington, D.C. whose law school was providing the NAACP Legal Defense Fund with its shock troops in the struggle to strike down segregation laws. At Howard, Murray experienced discrimination because of her sex, but still graduated as class valedictorian in 1944. Murray sought at an advanced law degree at Harvard University, but was again denied admission this time on the basis of her sex. Harvard’s loss was the University of California @ Berkeley’s gain as Murray earned a Master of Law degree at UC Berkeley’s Boaldt Law Center and was admitted to the California State Bar in 1946. In 1950, Murray published States Laws on Race and Color which catalogued the segregation laws and laws discriminatory against African-Americans, Native Americans, and other minorities in all 50 states–a work that the great Thurgood Marshall called “the Bible of the civil rights lawyer.” A contemporary and friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, Murray pushed the First Lady to act boldly for civil rights both during and after her husband’s presidency. Murray was part of several civil rights organizations and participated in nonviolent campaigns of direct action, but she was also highly critical of the sexism of the civil rights leadership. She helped the NAACP Legal Defense Fund map out its anti-segregation strategy that During her long career, Murray helped to found the National Organization for Women (NOW), taught law in the new African country of Ghana, was Professor of American Studies at Brandeis University (1968-1973), and was a founder of the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first legal journal to focus solely on the legal rights of women. Murray was the first African-American woman to earn a J.S.D. from the law school of Yale University and simultaneously earned a B.D. from Yale Divinity School and became the first African American woman to be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, U.S.A. She died of pancreatic cancer in 1985. After her death, her private papers revealed that she had long known she was a lesbian, but chose to remain celibate and closeted–leaving the struggle for GLBTQ rights for another generation. Pauli Murray, ed. States’ Laws on Race and Color (Studies in Southern Legal History) (University of Georgia Press, 1997; orig. pub., 1950); Pauli Murray, Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage (HarperCollins, 1987); Pauli Murray, Pauli Murray: Autobiography of a Black, Feminist, Activist, Lawyer (University of Tennessee Press, 1989); Pauli Murray,Pauli Murray: Selected Writings and Sermons, ed., Anthony Pinn (Orbis Books, 2006); Sarah Azaransky, The Dream is Freedom: Pauli Murray and American Democratic Freedom (Oxford University Press, 2011).
- Betty Friedan (1921-2006) was one of the major leaders of American Second Wave feminism of the 1960s and 1970s. (First Wave feminism occurred in the late 19th C. and early 20th C., culminating in the suffragist campaign for women’s right to vote, finally won in 1920.) Born Bettyé Naomi Goldstein in Peori, IL to middle class Jewish jewelry store owners, Friedan became active in Jewish and Marxist circles from a very early age, motivated by a strong sense of anger at injustice that flowed from her experience of anti-Semitism. A writer from her high school days, Friedan won an academic scholarship to the prestigious all women’s Smith College where she majored in psychology and graduated summa cum laude in 1942. She edited the campus newspaper and wrote numerous poems, some controversial because of their anti-war sentiments. In 1943, Friedan won a fellowship for graduate study in pyschology with the famous psychologist, Erik Erikson, at the University of California @ Berkeley, but her then-boyfriend pressured her to turn down a Ph.D. fellowship, ending Friedan’s career as an academic. She married theatre-producer Carl Friedan in 1947 and they had three (3) children, Emily, Daniel, and Jonathan, and Daniel has become a noted theoretical physicist. Carl Friedan sometimes beat Betty and they divorced in 1969. Betty had continued working after their marriage, especially as a freelance journalist for leftist newspapers and magazines. For her 1957 college reunion, Betty surveyed the post-grad experiences of women and found an enormous number felt “trapped” in the role of homemaker, “the problem for which there is no name.” She expanded the work to become The Feminine Mystique (1963), an examination of women’s roles in industrial societies. The book launched the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Friedan wrote 5 more books, all dealing with themes in femnism and most having autobiographical dimensions. She helped to found the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966 and served as its first president. Along with Pauli Murray, Friedan wrote NOW’s first mission statement. Under Friedan’s leadership, NOW successfully lobbied for passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and forced the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to stop ignoring claims of sexual discrimination. Less successfully, NOW lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment, national day care, and other limits. In 1970, on the 50th anniversary of the 19th Amendment (granting women the right to vote), Friedan organized “Women Strike for Equality,” a march and rally of 50,000 women in New York City—publicity from which greatly expanded the women’s movement. Although initially conflicted about the morality of abortion, Friedan became persuaded by pro-choice arguments that reproductive choice, including legal abortion, was necessary for women’s autonomy. She helped to found the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, which, after abortion bans were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1973 (Roe v. Wade), changed its name to the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), which continues today. (My own views about the morality and legality of abortion are ambivalent, but I want to paint Friedan as she was.) Friedan died of cancer in 2006. Her influence continues today. For futher reading, see, Betty Friedan, The Feminique Mystique (Norton, 2001; Orig. Pub., 1963); The Fountain of Age (Simon and Schuster, 2006); Life So Far: A Memoir (Simon and Schuster, 2006).
- Barbara Deming (1917-1984), raised a Quaker, became a nonviolent activist in the feminist, civil rights, peace, and gay rights movements. She also developed a theory of nonviolence that could be intellectually embraced by secular persons. An out lesbian since she was 17, Deming partnered with Mary Meigs from 1954 to 1972, and then lived with her partner, artist Jane Verlaine, at their Florida home from 1976 until Deming’s death in 1984. Deming was from privileged class and her father was a minor Republican politician in NYC, while her mother was an aspiring singer. Deming’s early education and high school years were spent in Quaker schools. She earned a B.A. in drama and literature from Bennington College (then an all-woman’s college) in Vermont in 1938 and an MFA in drama from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio in 1941. Although raised a Quaker, the Friends’ Peace Witness had apparently not “clicked” with Deming until a trip to India in 1959 led her to embrace the nonviolent philosophy of Mohandas K. Gandhi. From the 1960s until her death in 1985, Deming was both an activist and nonviolent theorist in numerous movements for justice, including the civil rights movement, women’s movement, anti-Vietnam War movement, anti-nuclear weapons movement, environmental movement, and the lesbian and gay rights movement. For further reading, see Jane Meyerding, ed., We Are All a Part of One Another: A Barbara Deming Reader (New Society Publishers, 1984); Martin Duberman, A Saving Remnant: The Radical Lives of Barbara Deming and David McReynolds (The New Press, 2011).
- Shirley Chisolm (1924-2005), was an African-American writer, educator, and politician. Born in Brooklyn to immigrant parents (her father was from British Guiana (now the independent African nation of Guyana) and her mother was from Barbados in the lesser Antilles of the Carribbean) as Shirley Anita St. Hill, Chisolm’s parents sent her to live with her grandmother in Christchurch, Barbados in order to receive a British style education through high school. She graduated with a B.A. from Brooklyn College in 1948 and an M.A. in elementary education from Columbia University in 1952. After working for day care centers and becoming heavily involved in the Civil Rights and women’s movements, Chisolm became the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1968, defeating liberal black Republican James Farmer (founder of the Congress of Racial Equality or CORE). In 1969, Chisholm was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and in 1972 became the first African American and first woman to run for President in the Democratic primaries (receiving 154 delegate votes at the 1972 Democratic National Convention), surviving 3 assassination attempts during the campaign! Showing the power of forgiveness, Chisolm visited her arch-rival, segregationist former Alabama Gov. George Wallace in the hospital after he was shot in May 1972. Throughout her time in Congress, Chisolm fought for higher minimum wages, for day care for the poor, for women’s rights and racial justice, against war and weapons programs, and for universal healthcare and improved public schools. Retiring from Congress in 1982, she returned to the classroom, lecturing in colleges and universities across the land. In 1993, Pres. Bill Clinton nominated her to become Ambassador to Jamaica, but failing health prevented her from serving. That same year, Chisolm was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She died in her home in Ormond Beach, Florida (where she had retired) of cancer in 2005.
- Anne McCarty Braden (1924-2006), a white woman from Louisville, KY and Anniston, AL who broke with the “Southern tradition” of her upbringing to become a strong social critic and a radical voice for racial and worker justice, for women’s rights, and for peace. Anne was born in Louisville and raised in rigidly segregated Anniston by a middle class family who thoroughly accepted segregation. Anne, a devout Episcopalian, never questioned segregation until her days as a student at Randolph-Macon’s Woman’s College (renamed Randolph College and co-ed since 2007) in Virginia. There, majoring in journalism, she began to make connections between racism, sexism, and fascism, but it was her early employment as a journalist in Birmingham, AL that truly radicalized her as she saw one justice system for the rich and white and another for the poor and black. She returned to Louisville, KY to work for the Louisville Times (now merged as part of the Louisville Times-Union) where she met and married Carl Braden, a much older journalist and radical labor activist. The Bradens were prominent in Henry Wallace’s presidential campaign of 1948 on the Progressive Party ticket and involved in the NAACP and the Southern Conference Educational Fund, but it was their involvement in challenging segregated housing that made them notorious throughout the U.S. Acquainted with an African-American family named the Wades, the Braden’s sold the Wades their house in white “East Louisville” and themselves moved across the tracks to black “West Louisville” in 1954–where they remained for the rest of their days. Furious with this direct challenge to segregated housing, the KKK dynamited the Wades’ house and they were run out of Louisville. Far from arresting the arsonists, Louisville prosecutors accused the Bradens of the crime and when those charges wouldn’t stick, convicted them of sedition–until the U.S. Supreme Court struck down individual state sedition laws (Pennsylvania v. Nelson 1956). The Bradens became field workers for the Southern Educational Fund and wrote for the radical Southern Patriot. Anne remained active in radical causes after Carl’s death in 1975. She was a member of the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and of the War Resisters’ League (WRL) and helped to found the National Alliance Against Racial and Political Repression in 1973. The national organization eventually disbanded, but the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression still meets in the Carl Braden Center (the former home of the Bradens) in West Louisville. Anne was active in numerous progressive and radical causes until the day she died. Long after the Civil Rights-era romance of “black and white together, we shall overcome” had faded in the U.S., Anne Braden insisted that racial justice was a cause that should be just as important to white people as to racial minorities–and repeatedly put her body on the line to prove. In 2004, only 2 years before her death, I was able to introduce Anne to my oldest daughter as we all marched against the Iraq war. See further, Anne Braden, The Wall Between (University of Tennessee Press, 1999; Orig. pub., 1964); Catherine Fosl, Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South (University Press of Kentucky, 2002).
- Helen Rodriguez-Trias, M.D. (1929-2001) was an activist for Puerto Rican independence, a pediatrician and campaigner for women and children’s health. She was the first Latina to become head of the American Public Health Association and a founding member of APHA’s Women’s Caucus. In her early years growing up in New York City, she faced so much racial prejudice that, even though she was smart and knew English, she was placed in a class of mentally handicapped children. It was only thanks to a perceptive teacher than she was re-classified and transferred to a class of gifted children. She earned her B.A. at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan and her M.D. at its medical school. She had deliberately chosen to return to PR for her tertiary education because of Puerto Rico’s generous scholarship programs. During her undergraduate and med school education Rodriguez became deeply involved as a student in the movement for Puerto Rican independence, though always through nonviolent means. After serving her internship and residency in PR, where she founded the first center for newborns in PR, she returned to NY and became involved in campaigns to stop forced sterilizations (usually practiced by doctors on poor women of color after they gave birth and without their knowledge or consent!), for greater access to artificial birth control by poor women, and in women’s and minorities health issues more generally. She taught on the medical school faculties at Fordham and Columbia universities and became head of the Dept. of Pediatrics at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. She worked to expand access to medical help for women and poor communities in the U.S., PR, throughout Central and South America, Asia, and Africa. In the 1980s, she became deeply involved in efforts to fight AIDS. In January 2001, in one of his last acts as U.S. President, Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizen’s Medal, the 2nd highest civilian medal in the U.S. Rodriquez-Trias died later that year of cancer. In 2002, APHA announced that it would create an award in the name of Rodriquez-Trias for those who advance the cause of women’s health.
- Dolores Huerta (1930-) is, along with her more famous male colleague, César Chavez (1927-1993), co-founder of the United Farmworkers (UFW) labor union of migrant farm workers. She is a pioneering leader of workers’ rights, immigrants’ rights, Latino rights, and women’s rights. A member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Huerta is best known as a community organizer and labor organizer. In 1965, Huerta led the UFW’s successful boycott of California grapes and wines until the growers signed a 3 year collective bargaining agreement with the workers in 1970–the first such victory in history. Arrested numerous times for nonviolent civil disobedience, Huerta has been active in peace and justice causes her entire adult life and serves on the boards of People for the American Way and the Feminist Majority Foundation. In Sept. 1988, when Huerta was engaged in lawful, peaceful, protest of the policies of then-President George H. W. Bush, she was severely beaten and injured by the San Francisco Police and later won a large lawsuit against the SFPD which she donated to the United Farm Workers. In 2006, Princeton University awarded her an honorary degree and in 2007, she was co-recipient of the International Peace Award of the Community of Christ International. She now heads the Dolores Huerta Foundation. See Mario T. Gomez, A Dolores Huerta Reader (University of New Mexico Press, 2008).
- Dorothy Foreman Cotton (1930-) is an African-American hero of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. She was born in Goldsboro, NC and lost her mother when only three (3) after which she and her siblings were raised by her father, tobacco factory worker George Cotton. Determined to get an education despite the obstacles of segregation and racism, Dorothy attended Shaw University in Raleigh, NC (a historic black university) where she supported herself by working as a housekeeper for the university president. When her employer became president of another historic black university, Virginia State College (now University)[Petersburg, VA], Dorothy transferred to Virginia State and graduated with a B.A. in English and Library Science. After graduation, Dorothy married George Cotton, whom she had met in college. She later earned an M.A. in Speech Therapy from Boston University in 1960. During this time, Cotton became deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement. For the next 12 years, Cotton became the Education Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the only female member of the Executive Council of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and one of his closest confidants. At SCLC Dorothy headed the Citizenship Education Project training the disenfranchised African American masses in political participation, voter registration, and nonviolent protest. In later years, Cotton was the Southern Regional Director of ACTION, the U.S. federal agency for volunteer programs. She also worked briefly for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. She then spent 10 years as the Director of Student Activities for Cornell University. Cotton was a founding member of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and a longtime member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and she has supported the struggles for women’s rights and for world peace. In retirement, Cotton has been a highly sought speaker whp seeks to educate younger generations on the history of nonviolent social struggle and on the philosophy of nonviolence.
- Diane Nash (1938-), a light-skinned African-American woman from Chicago (who won several integrated beauty contests in her youth) had experienced little open, obvious, racism before becoming a student in the South, first at Howard University (Washington, D.C.), then as a transfer student to Fisk University (Nashville, TN). It was in Nashville where Nash was introduced to the philosophy of Gandhian nonviolent direct action, thanks to workshops on the subject conducted by Jim Lawson, an African-American student at Vanderbilt University Divinity School (and, later, an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church), a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), and a longtime student of Gandhian nonviolence. Nash was initially skeptical, but after becoming convinced of the power of nonviolence, she became a major strategist and leader of the student wing of the Civil Rights movement. In 1960, Nash successfully led the Nashville Student Movement in desegregating the stores, lunchcounters, theatres, and public accomodations of Nashville through a textbook nonviolent campaign in which students were repeatedly beaten and arrested by police and in which Nash publicly confronted Mayor Ben West in polite-but-firm engagement–getting West to admit on camera that segregation was wrong and that the races should be able to live, work, pray, and eat together. (West was true to his word and it cost him reelection.) Nash went on to becoming a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC–“Snick”) and to coordinate the second stage of the Freedom Rides. She eventually joined the staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, leading its student wing until 1968. Nash was the primary strategist behind the successful desegregation campaign in Birmingham, AL (1963) and one of the key organizers of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. She coordinated the 1965 March from Selma, AL to the capital in Montgomery–a campaign which culminated in the successful passage of the Voting Rights Act. After 1968, Nash returned the Chicago, completed her interrupted education, became a teacher and stayed involved in struggles for justice in a quieter, less public, way. In late 2008, during the scandal of Illinois Gov. Blagojovich’s attempt to sell the U.S. Senate seat of Pres.-elect Barack Obama, Nash was suggested as an appointee who would be beyond reproach, but she declined. She remains committed to nonviolence as both a practical means of social struggle and a way of life. For further reading see, Lisa Mullins, Diane Nash: The Fire of the Civil Rights Movement (Barnhardt & Ashe, 2007); Lynne Olsen, Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970 (Scribner’s, 2002).
- Marian Wright Edelman (1939-) is the world famous founding president of the Children’s Defense Fund, and the foremost activist for the rights and welfare of children in the United States. Born and raised in Bennettsville, SC, Marian Wright’s father died when she was but 14 and his last words to her was to let nothing prevent her from getting an education. Heeding her father’s words, Wright earned her B.A. at Spelman College (Atlanta, GA), an historic African-American women’s liberal arts college, where she travelled the world on a Merrill Scholarship and spent a semester studying the USSR as a Lisle Fellow. At Spelman, Marian was deeply influenced by two teachers in the history and sociology department, Staughton Lynd, a Quaker and conscientious objector, who taught her the history and philosophy of nonviolence, and Howard Zinn, a Jewish socialist and WWII veteran who taught Marian to look at history from the “underside,” from the perspective of victims, the vulnerable and marginalized, and those who resisted the dominant forces in society. As a Spelman student, Marian became heavily involved in the nonviolent Civil Rights movement, participating in many nonviolent campaigns despite the disapproval of the Spelman administration of the day. After her arrest for civil disobedience, Marian decided to study law. She was admitted to Yale Law School (one of the earliest African-American and women students there) and earned her J.D. in 1963. She joined the staff of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Mississippi field office, where she became the first African-American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. During the 1964 “Freedom Summer” campaign, Marian not only represented arrested activists, but also helped to launch a local Head Start program. In 1967, Sen. Robert Kennedy (D-NY) toured the slums of the MS Delta region and Marian met and married a senior staff member, Peter Edelman. She moved to Washington, D.C., where Peter Edelman teaches at the law school of Georgetown University, and founded the Children’s Defense Fund as a citizen’s lobby on behalf of children, pushing for policies that enable and promote adoption, literacy and early education programs, improve foster care, improve child care, promote universal healthcare, family planning, and protect children who are disabled, neglected, homeless, or abused. As practically the only strong voice for the welfare of children in the United States, Marian Wright Edelman and the CDF have been nominated repeatedly for the Nobel Peace Prize. She is the recipient of numerous honors and awards including a MacArthur Genius Award (1985), Barnard College Medal of Distinction (1985); an honorary Doctor of Laws from Bates College (1986); the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism (1988); The Silver Buffalo Award from the Boy Scouts of America (1992); The International Peace Award of the Community of Christ (1995); The Heinz Award in the Human Condition (1996); and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2000). Wright has written several books including, Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change (Harvard University Press, 1986); The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours (HarperCollins, 1993); Guide My Feet: Prayers and Meditations on Loving and Working for Children (Beacon Press, 1995); Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors (Perenniel, 2000); I Can Make a Difference: A Treasury to Inspire Our Children (Amistad, 2005); The Sea is So Wide and My Boat is So Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation (Hyperion, 2008); Beatrice Seagal, Marian Wright Edelman: The Making of a Crusader (Simon and Schuster, 1995).
- Sally Ride (1951-) is a physicist and former NASA astronaut who in 1983 became the first U.S. woman (and then-youngest American) to enter space. The eldest child of Dale Burdell Ride and Carol Joyce Anderson Ride, Sally was born in Encino, CA and won a scholarship to the Westlake School for Girls (now the Harvard-Westlake School), a private, elite, prep school, in Los Angeles. At Westlake, Sally was a strong science student and a nationally ranked tennis player. She won a scholarship to Swarthmore College, but later transferred to Stanford University, where she earned her B.A. with a double major in English and physics. Continuing at Stanford, Ride earned an M.Sc. and Ph.D. in physics while doing research in astrophysics and free electron laser physics. One of 8,000 people to answer a newspaper advertisement for applicants in the space program, Ride joined NASA in 1978. She served in the ground based Capsule Communicator (CapCom) for the 2nd and 3rd space shuttle missions, Ride helped develop the shuttle’s robot arm. Ride was not the first woman in space, being preceded by 2 Soviet cosmonauts, Valentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982). However, as a crewmember on the space shuttle Challenger, Ride did become the first U.S. woman in space on 18 June 1983. She was a member of several more shuttle missions and was the first woman to use the robot arm and the first to retrieve a satellite in space. After the explosion of the Challenger in January 1986, Ride was appointed to the Presidential Commission investigating the accident and headed its operations section. She authored the report, Leadership and America’s Future in Space and founded NASA’s Office of Exploration. In 1987, Ride retired from NASA and joined the Center for International Security and Arms Control at Stanford University, leading efforts to end nuclear weapons around the world. In 1989, Ride became Professor of Physics at the University of Californa @ San Diego (UC-San Diego) and Director of the California Space Institute. In 2003, Ride was asked to serve on the commission investigating the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia. In 2001, Ride founded the company Sally Ride Science to develop and promote better science education programs for upper elementary school, middle school, and high school with a focus on encouraging children, especially girls, to pursue careers in science. In 2009, the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy created a Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee and invited Ride to be a member. Ride has received the National Space Society’s von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, the NASA Space Flight Medal (twice) and has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. She has written or co-written 6 books on space, aimed at children, with the goal of encouraging children to pursue careers in science. See Dr. Sally K. Ride (with Susan Okie), To Space and Back (HarperCollins, 1989); Sally Ride and Tom O’ Shaughnessy, The Mystery of Mars (Scholastic, 2000); Sally Ride and Tom O’Shaughnessy, Exploring Our Solar System (Crown Books, 2003); The Third Planet: Exploring the Earth From Space (Sally Ride Science, 2004); Sally Ride and Tom O’Shaughnessy, Voyager: An Adventure to the Edge of the Solar System (Sally Ride Science, 2005); Mission: Planet Earth: Our World and its Climate–And How Humans are Changing Them (Flashpoints, 2009) . See also, Tom Riddalls, Sally Ride: First American Woman in Space (Crabtree Publications, 2010).
- Medea Benjamin (1952-) is a U.S. political activist, who founded the Fair Trade advocacy group, Global Exchange., and, in 2002, co-founded the feminist peace group, Code Pink: Women for Peace. Born Susan Benjamin, and growing up a self-described “nice Jewish girl” on Long Island, NY Benjamin renamed herself “Medea” (after the character from Greek mythology) during her freshman year of college. Benjamin earned a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University, a Master of Public Health from Columbia University and an M. A. in Economics from the New School of Social Research. Her Jewish upbringing had molded Benjamin from an early age into someone concerned for the social justice for the poor, and her experiences of discrimination as both a woman and a Jew had reinforced this orientation. So, by her university days, Benjamin had committed herself to a life of activism for global human rights. She worked for 10 years in Latin America and Africa as an economist and nutritionist for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Swedish International Development and Cooperation Agency, and the Institute for Food and Development Policy (now known as Food First) . Benjamin spent four (4) years in Cuba and has written 3 books on the country. Out of these experiences, Benjamin became concerned that global trade policies unfairly harmed the poor. So, in 1988, together with her husband Kevin Dunaher, and Kirsten Moller, Benjamin founded the San Francisco-based company Global Exchange. Global Exchange is part of the growing grassroots movement that seeks to replace patterns of so-called “free trade” with one of “fair trade.” It markets products directly from Third World peasant farmers and artisans to people in the First World without “middle men” who run up costs. It also lobbies for trade deals that better help the poor and works for human rights directly and indirectly. In 2000, Benjamin ran for the U.S. Senate from California on the Green Party ticket. Basing her campaign on a platform for a living wage, improved education, and universal healthcare, Benjamin received 3% of the popular vote. She has since remained active in the Green Party (although she supported the Democrat John Kerry in ’04, saying that the need to stop the policies of George W. Bush was too great to risk splitting the vote in swing states as happened in 2000), and has also supported efforts by the Progressive Democrats of America. In October 2002, as the Bush administration pushed the nation to war, Medea Benjamin founded the anti-war feminist group Code Pink: Women for Peace. The name was meant in opposition to the Bush administration’s color coded “terrorism alerts.” Benjamin and Code Pink used very creative (and often amusing) forms of public protest and civil disobedience to rally public opinion against the Iraq War all through the Bush administration–and Benjamin and Code Pink have continued through the Obama administration to use similar tactics against the war in Afghanistan, for a two-state just peace in Palestine-Israel, for the end of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, for drastic reductions in military spending, and for policies that promote peace, justice, and human rights throughout the world. See further, Medea Benjamin, No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba Today (Grove Press, 1986); The Peace Corps and More: 225 Ways to Work, Study, and Travel Abroad (Global Exchange, 2003; orig. published, 1987); Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans, eds., How to Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism (New World Library, 2005).
- Amy Goodman (1957-), the final entry in this list, but by no means the least and by no means the last of the innumerable women here and around the globe working for a more just and peaceful world, is an investigative journalist, syndicated columnist, and independent, progressive broadcaster in radio and cable television, known most of all as the host of the radio and cable program, Democracy Now: The War and Peace Report. Born in Bay Shore, New York to Dr. George Goodman, an opthamologist, and Dorothy “Dorrie” Bock, Goodman went to public elementary and secondary schools, graduating from Bay Shore High School in 1975. A descendant of Hasidic rabbis and radical socialist parents, Goodman believes that every human being is called to make the world better than s/he found it. She graduated from Radcliffe College (from 1879-1999 a women’s liberal arts college which has now merged with Harvard University) in 1984 with a B.A. in Anthropology. Deciding against graduate school and an academic career, Goodman landed a job as producer for WBAI, an independent radio station in the Pacifica Radio network. Not content with simply producing, Goodman began a career as an investigative journalist, traveling to Indonesia in 1991 to cover the East Timor independence movement. While there, she and her fellow journalist, Allan Naim, were witnesses of the Santa Cruz Massacre of peaceful Timorese protesters by the Indonesian army. Witnessing that brutal act as journalists led the soldiers to attack Goodman and Naim and beat them badly. Since that time, Goodman has continued to be a risk taking investigative journalist exposing the crimes of the powerful–exposing Chevron’s role in the 1998 massacre of nonviolent Nigerian protesters by the Nigerian Army (a documentary that won the Polk Award), and being arrested and beaten by the New York City police (at Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s orders) in 2004 for covering the peaceful anti-war protests outside the Republican National Convention. She was also detained by Canadian border police for attempting to interview those negatively affected by Vancouver’s preparations for the 2009 Olympic Games. After she had been a producer for Pacifica Radio for 1o years, Goodman created her own radio, internet,and cable TV hour-long news show, Democracy Now: The War and Peace Report which focuses either on stories not being covered by mainstream U.S. media or on voices and perspectives being left out of stories others are covering in an “official way.” Goodman sees the role of journalism as checking those in power and holding up a critical mirror to society. Goodman has received numerous awards for her work, including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award (presented by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to journalists who cover human rights abuses or struggles for human rights), the George Polk Award (presented by Long Island University for investigative journalism that takes courageous risks). In 2001, Goodman turned down the Overeas Press Club Award in protest of the Club’s decision to honor Indonesia for better treatment of journalists despite Indonesia’s continued crackdown on East Timorese protesters. She also excoriated the Overseas Press Club for choosing not to ask critical questions of Keynote Speaker Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. In 2008, Goodman received the Right Livelihood Award in Sweden, one of the grassroots human rights and peace awards often called “the alternative Nobel Peace Prize.” She is the only journalist to be so honored, yet the Dean of Columbia University’s Annenberg School of Journalism insists that Goodman is no “editorialist” (as many cable “news” hosts are), but an advocacy journalist who sticks to the facts. In 2009, together with Glenn Greenwald, Goodman received from Ithaca College’s Park Center for Independent Media the first of its annual Izzy Awards, named for famed independent journalist I. F. Stone. Goodman was strongly critical of the Clinton and Bush administration records on human rights, peace, and social justice, and she continues to be a left-of-center critic of the Obama administration for only timidly and half-heartedly breaking with the policies of the Bush administration. It does not bother her that she is not the darling of the powerful in either political party. She sees the role of the journalist as always being an outsider who dares to speak truth to power. Knowing that this is decidedly NOT the way mainstream media in North America practice journalism, today, she consider’s Democracy Now a vehicle for “trickle up” journalism as neglected stories or perspectives broken on her program are often taken up later by other media. She has authored or co-authored (often with her brother, David Goodman, a reporter for Mother Jones) 4 books. See further, Amy Goodman and David Goodman, The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them (Hyperion Books, 2004); Amy Goodman and David Goodman, Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back (Hyperion Books, 2006); Amy Goodman and David Goodman, Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times (Hyperion Books, 2009); Amy Goodman, Breaking the Sound Barrier (Haymarket Books, 2009).
And so, my daughters, here are women of strength that I hope will be beacons for your own courageous journies. Of course, these are only U.S. heroines and you also need to know many brave voices of women justice seekers and peacemakers around the globe. I will give a later column listing 25 of them–doubtless aided in selection by feedback from readers–who will also, no doubt, point out U.S. women I overlooked. Stand up straight, my girls, and speak truth to power–women of courage and faith have been doing that AT LEAST since the days of Siphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives who lied boldly to Pharoah in order to save newborn Jewish boys from death (Exodus 1).
This is My Song– A hymn by Lloyd Stone
This is my song, O God of ALL the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar–and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land–and mine.
May truth and freedom come to every nation
May peace aboundwhere strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
A world united, righting every wrong.
A world united in its love for freedom,
Proclaiming peace together in one song.
Yes, Gentle Readers, I am following the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and throughout the Middle East VERY closely. But other than my prayers for the protesters, I don’t have anything blog-worthy to say. I always support people’s right to be free and always believe in nonviolence and always pray that toppling dictators will actually lead to liberal democracy rather than anarchy, failed states, new dictators, or theocracies. One never knows. Self-determination is messy. So, I offer my prayers and I wait to see, and I hope my govt. and others will not stand with the dictators but with the people. But I don’t fool myself into thinking that I have any insight into this that one cannot find better elsewhere. So, I will resist the urge to pontificate and simply continue to pray.
But the death penalty is a moral and legal issue that I have followed since my teens. I’ve written on it many times. So, I want to write a series of posts on the moral and legal dimensions of the death penalty. I will be making a case for abolition. Now, I am a pacifist and, as such, believe that lethal violence or deadly force is always and everywhere wrong, whether done by private individuals or the state. But I won’t be arguing the case on pacifist grounds. If one is pacifist, one already believes the death penalty to be wrong. So, I will be arguing against the death penalty in terms that should apply to those who believe violence is sometimes justifiable. I want to argue against the death penalty from several directions over the next month: Christian theological arguments; arguments from other faiths (since we live in a pluralistic democracy); arguments based on legal justice; arguments based on constitutional and international law; sociological arguments concerning what does and what does not lower violent crime rates; even economic arguments (loathe as I am morally to put a pricetag on human life) and the science that shows that we convict the innocent and have sent the innocent to death row. Because abolishing the death penalty is considered a “liberal” viewpoint and I am a political liberal (of sorts–a democratic socialist), I want to pay particular attention to conservative arguments against capital punishment, including the testimony of police officers, prison officials, and conservative political and religious leaders. I also want to pay close attention to victims of crime, especially the family members of murder victims.
Before doing any of that, however, I want to spend this first post in the series describing the geographical lay of the land, so to speak, in the U.S. My next post will map out the other countries which have the death penalty, those which have abolished it, and those which have it on the books, but have not executed anyone in a decade or more. Getting a sense of “where we are” in the world may help us see where we need to be going. Since I live in the United States, one of the few industrialized nations with the death penalty, I will start with a state by state analysis here. Note: I indicate the number of women on death row in states with the death penalty, not because I am sexist, but because both historically and currently there is more resistance to executing women than men. Governors and presidents used to grant clemencies routinely, without it being a sign of being “soft on crime,” but since the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 (Gregg v. Georgia) that executions could continue, few governors have been willing to grant clemency for fear of political consequences.
In alphabetical order, these are the states which do not have the death penalty:
- Alaska: Had executed only 12 people in it’s history (both as a territory and state) prior to the Supreme Court’s temporary ban on the death penalty in 1972 and did not seek to reinstate the death penalty after the ban was lifted in 1976, even though it is usually considered a conservative state. Only has 3.1 murders per 100,000 people per year.
- District of Columbia: (A federal city which has a greater population than Idaho and needs to become a state with full representation in Congress.) Had executed 118 people before 1972 and zero since, never seeking to reinstate the death penalty after 1976. Averages 24 murders per 100,000 people.
- Hawai’i: Had executed 49 people prior to 1972and none after 1976, not seeking to reinstate the death penalty. Averages 1.7 murders per 100,000 people (which is not the impression one would get watching Hawai’i Five-O).
- Iowa: 45 executions before 1972, zero since then, not seeking reinstatement of the death penalty.
- Massachussetts: Prior to 1972: 345 executions. After 1976: Zero. There have been a few attempts to reinstate the death penalty, but they have never garnered much popular support nor made it very far in the state legislature. 2.6 murders per 100,000 people.
- Maine: Prior to 1972: 20 executions. After 1976: Zero. 2 murders per 100,000 people.
- Michigan: Prior to 1972: 13 executions. After 1976: Zero. 6.3 murders per 100,000 people.
- Minnesota: Prior to 1972: 66 executions. After 1976: 1.4 murders per 100, 000 people.
- New Jersey: Prior to 1972: 361. After 1976: Zero. New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982 but did not execute anyone. In 2007, the New Jersey legislature abolished the death penalty. The governor then commuted the sentences of the 8 people on death row. Despite its reputation as a haven for organized crime, there are only 3.4 murders per 100,000 people in NJ.
- New Mexico: Prior to 1972: 73 executions. After 1976: 1. New Mexico reinstated the death penalty in 1979, but did seldom sentenced anyone to death and did not execute anyone until the year 2001. In that time, 4 innocent persons were freed from death row and 5 cases had enough doubts that a series of governors, both Republican and Democratic, granted clemency and commuted the sentences to life. In 2009, the New Mexewico legislature abolished the death penalty and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), signed the bill into law. Because the law was not retroactive, New Mexico still has 2 people on death row, but there is a campaign to urge the governor to commute their sentences. New Mexico has 8.7 murders per 100,000 people.
- New York: Prior to 1972: 1,130 executions. After 1976: 0. There was little desire for years in NY to reinstate the death penalty, but the rising crime rate of the 198os and early 1990s, led the legislature to reinstate the death penalty in 1995, although it could not be imposed for accessories to the crime, as in many states. It was seldom sought and juries seldom imposed it and no one had been executed. In 2004, the New York Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty violated the state constitution and it was struck down. There are 4 murders per 100,000 people in NY.
- North Dakota: Prior to 1972: 8 executions. After 1976: 0. The death penalty was never reinstated after 1976. Murder rate: 0.5 per 100,000 people.
- Rhode Island: Prior to 1972: 52 executions. After 1976: 0. The death penalty was never reinstated. There are 2.9 murders per 100,000 people in Rhode Island.
- Vermont: Prior to 1972: 26 executions. After 1976: o. The death penalty was never reinstated. There are 1.1 murders per 100,000 people.
- Wisconsin: Prior to 1972: 1 execution. After 1976: 0. The death penalty was never reinstated. There are 2.5 murders per 100,o00 people.
- West Virginia: Prior to 1972: 155 executions. After 1976: 0. There have been a few attempts to reinstate the death penalty in West Virginia, but they have not gotten very far. There are 3.3 murders per 100,000 people.
In alphabetical order, here are the states which have the death penalty:
- Alabama: Prior to 1972: 708 executions. After 1976: 50 executions. The death penalty was reinstated in 1976. There are currently 201 people on death row, including 5 women. 1 clemency was granted since 1976 and 6 innocent people freed from death row. The first execution after reinstatement was in 1982. There are 6.9 murders per 100,000 people.
- Arkansas: Prior to 1972: 478 executions. After 1976: 27. The death penalty law was reinstated in 1973, but could not go into effect until 1976. The first post-reinstatement execution was in 1990. There are currently 42 people on death row. One clemency has been granted and zero innocent people freed from death row. 6.2 murders per 100,000.
- Arizona: Prior to 1972: 104 executions. After 1976: 24. The death penalty was reinstated in 1973 but could not legally take effect until 1976. 135 people currently on death row, including 2 women. First execution after reinstatement was in 1992. 8 people freed from death row due to innocence. 0 clemencies granted. 5.8 murders per 100,000.
- California: Prior to 1972: 709 executions. After 1976: 13. The death penalty was reinstated in 1974 but could not legally take effect until 1976. First execution after reinstatement: 1992. Current death row population is 607 including 16 women. 3 innocent persons freed from death row; zero clemencies. 5.3 murders per 100,000 people.
- Colorado: Prior to 1972: 101 executions. Since 1976: 1 execution. The death penalty was reinstated in 1975 but could not legally take effect until after 1976. First (and only) execution since reinstatement: 1997. Current death row population: 3. Since abolition, Colorado seems to like the death penalty in theory more than practice, and even in theory support is waning. In 2010, the Colorado legislature fell just 2 votes shy of abolishing the death penalty. The governor, a devout Catholic who knows his church is against the death penalty, was seriously considering signing the bill if it passed. Murder rate per 100,000 is 3.5.
- Connecticut: Prior to 1972: 126 executions. Since 1976: 1 execution. The death penalty was reinstated in 1973, but could not take effect until 1976. Date of first (and only) execution since reinstatement: 1994. Current death row population: 10. In 2010, the CT state legislature narrowly abolished the death penalty, but the bill was vetoed by the governor and there was nowhere close to the votes to override her veto. CT legislators say they will try again. 3 murders per 100,000 people.
- Delaware: Prior to 1972: 62 executions. After 1976: 14 executions. Current death row population: 19. The death penalty was reinstated in 1974, but did not take effect legally until after 1976. First post-reinstatement execution: 1992. 4.6 murders per 100,000 people.
- Florida: Prior to 1972: 314 executions. After 1976: 69 executions. Current death row population: 398, including 2 women. First execution after reinstatement: 1979. Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 23. Number of clemencies: 6. There is an annual average of 5.5 murders per 100,000 people.
- Georgia: Prior to 1972: 950 executions. After 1976: 49 executions. Current death row population: 106, including 1 woman. Death penalty reinstated in 1973, but not legally effective until after 1976. First post-reinstatement execution: 1983. 5 innocent persons freed from death row. 7 clemencies granted. Note: Georgia may be thought to have some kind of special love affair with capital punishment since both the Supreme Court decision which state that state death penalties, as then written, were unconstitutional (Furman v. Georgia, 1972) and the decision which allowed states with new (and supposedly fairer/less arbitrary) death penalty statutes to resume executions (Gregg v. Georgia, 1976) were in response to Georgia cases. But it is clear that Georgia has sentenced to death and executed less than several other states.
- Idaho: Prior to 1972: 26 executions. After 1976: 1 execution. Current death row population: 17, including 1 woman. Death penalty reinstated in 1973, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution after reinstatement: 1994. 1.4 murders per 100,000 people. 1 innocent person freed from death row and 1 clemency granted. Like Colorado, Idaho seems to like the death penalty better in theory than practice.
- Illinois: Prior to 1972: 348 executions. After 1976: 12 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution after reinstatement: 1990. Current death row population: 15. Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 20. Number of clemencies granted 172. Note: In the late 1990s, a number of journalism students found major errors in Illinois’ death penalty including numerous cases where someone was on death row, but probably innocent. At the time, 1 more person had been freed from death row than had been executed. Reading the articles and noting the huge error-rate, then governor Ryan (R) in 2000 imposed a moratorium on executions and, just prior to leaving office in 2003, granted clemency to all prisoners on death row. That moratorium has not been lifted. The Illinois legislature first tried to overhaul the death penalty, but this year (2011) the legislature voted to abolish the death penalty. As of my current writing, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has not decided whether to sign or veto the bill to abolish.
- Indiana: Prior to 1972: 131 executions. After 1976: 20 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1973, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution since reinstatement: 1981. Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 2. Clemencies granted: 3. 4.8 murders per 100,000 people.
- Kansas: Prior to 1972; 57 executions. After 1976: zero. Death penalty reinstated in 1994. Current death row population: 10. Zero people freed from death row and zero clemencies granted. 4.2 murders per population. Note: Kansas only reinstated the death penalty during the 1990s–a decade which saw the largest public support for the death penalty since World War II. It still seems to like it more in theory than in practice since there have been no executions.
- Kentucky: Prior to 1972: 424 executions. After 1976: 3 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1975, but not legally effective until 1976. Current death row population, 35 including 1 woman. 1 innocent person freed from death row; 2 clemencies granted. 4.1 murders per 100,000 people.
- Louisiana: Prior to 1972: 632 executions. After 1976: 28 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1973, but not legally effective until 1976. Current death row population: 85 including 2 women. First execution after reinstatement: 1983. 8 innocent persons freed from death row and 2 clemencies granted. 11.8 murders per 100,000. Note: A study this year shows that in Louisiana, one is 97% more likely to receive death as a sentence for murder if the victim is white than if some other race. This should be mean that LA’s death penalty violates the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment.
- Maryland: Prior to 1972: 309 executions. After 1976: 5 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1975, but not legally effective until 1976. Death row population: 5. First execution after reinstatement: 1994. 1 innocent person freed from death row. 2 Clemencies. 7.7 murders per 100,000. Note: The current governor of MD, Martin O’Malley (D-MD), has continued to push the MD legislature to abolish the death penalty and has imposed a moratorium on executions until the death penalty is abolished. The MD legislature has so far responded by raising the standard of evidence of guilt in capital cases and with other barriers, all of which O’Malley has signed into law, but they have not yet abolished the death penalty. O’Malley continues to push for abolition.
- Missouri: Prior to 1972: 285 executions. After 1976: 67 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1975, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution after reinstatement: 1989. Current population of death row: 53. 3 innocent persons freed from death row. 3 clemencies granted. 6.4 murders per 100,000 people.
- Mississippi: Prior to 1972: 351 executions. After 1976: 13 execution. Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution after reinstatement: 1983. Current population of death row: 61 including 3 women. 3 innocent persons freed from death row. Zero clemencies granted. 6.4 persons murdered per 100,000.
- Montana: Prior to 1972: 71 executions. After 1976: 3 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution after reinstatement: 1995. Zero innocent persons freed from death row and 1 clemency. 2.9 murders per 100,000 people.
- Nebraska: Prior to 1972: 34. After 1976: 3. First execution after reinstatement: 1993. Current population of death row: 11. 1 innocent person freed from death row and 0 clemencies. 2.2 murders per 100,000 people. In 2009, the Nebraska legislature considered abolishing the death penalty, but the bill died in committee for that session. There has been an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty, but the state is considering its first execution since 1997.
- New Hampshire: Prior to 1972: 24 executions. After 1976: 0. Death penalty reinstated in 1991. Zero executions since reinstatement. Current death row population: 1. Zero innocent persons freed from death row and zero clemencies. 0.8 persons murdered per 100,000 people. In 2000, the NH legislature voted narrowly to abolish the death penalty, but Governor Shaheen (D) vetoed it and the legislature failed to override her veto. In 2009, the House voted again to abolish the death penalty, but the bill died in the Senate when Governor Lynch (D) promised to veto it. New Hampshire clearly does not like the death penalty, but reinstated it during the ’90s when the rising crime rate made it more popular than at any other time and is now finding it hard to eliminate again.
- Nevada: Prior to 1972: 61. After 1976: 12. Death penalty reinstated in 1973, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution after reinstatement: 1979. Current death row population: 77. Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 1. Clemencies granted: 1. 5.9 murders per 100,000.
- North Carolina: Prior to 1972: 782 executions. After 1976: 43. Death penalty reinstated in 1977. First execution after reinstatement: 1984. Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 8. Number of clemencies: 5. Current death row population: 167, including 4 women. 6.5 murders per 100,000 people.
- Ohio: Prior to 1972: 438 executions. After 1976: 40 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976. In 1978, the U. S. Supreme Court declared that Ohio’s new death penalty statute did not meet the constitutional requirements of Gregg v. Georgia (1976) and threw it out. 120 death row prisoners, including 4 women had their sentences commuted to life in prison. Ohio then drafted a death penalty statute that passed constitutional muster which went into effect in 1981. First execution after reinstatement: 1999. Current death row population: 168 including 2 women. Number of innocent persons freed from persons: 5. Number of clemencies: 12.
- Oklahoma: Prior to 1972: 132 executions. After 1976: 96 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1973, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution after reinstatement: 1990. Current death row population: 84, including 1 woman. 10 innocent persons freed from death row; 4 clemencies granted. 6.2 murders per 100,000 people.
- Oregon: Prior to 1972: 122 executions. After 1976: 2 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1978. First execution after reinstatement: 1996. Zero innocent persons freed from death row and zero clemencies granted. 2.2 murders per 100,000.
- Pennsylvania: Prior to 1972: 1040 executions. After 1976: 3 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution after reinstatement: 1995. Current death row population: 222, including 5 women. Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 6. Zero clemencies granted. 5.2 murders per 100,000 people.
- South Carolina: Prior to 1972: 641 executions. After 1976: 42 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution after reinstatement: 1985. Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 2. Clemencies granted: 0. 6.3 murders per 100,000 people.
- South Dakota: Prior to 1972: 15 executions. After 1976: 1 execution. Death penalty reinstated in 1979. First execution since reinstatement: 2007. South Dakota abolished the death penalty (hanging) in 1915, but reinstated it (electric chair) in 1933. 2.6 murders per 100,000 people. In 2010, South Dakota introduced legislation to abolish the death penalty, but it did not pass. The abolition of capital punishment is strongly supported by The Association of South Dakota Churches. The voters of South Dakota seem to like the death penalty more in theory than practice.
- Tennessee: Prior to 1972: 335 executions. After 1976: 6 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution since reinstatement: 2000. Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 2. Number of clemencies granted: 2. Current death row population: 90, including 2 women. 7.3 murders per 100,000. In 2007, Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) imposed a three month moratorium on executions while a committee proposed new rules for fairer implementation. But nonetheless, Bredesen felt compelled to commute a sentence from death to life without parole on 11 January 2011 because the crime did not seem to meet TN’s “aggravating circumstances” criteria.
- Texas: Prior to 1972: 755 executions. After 1976: 465 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution after reinstatement: 1982. Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 12. Number of clemencies granted: 2. Current death row population: 337, including 10 women. 5.4 murders per 100,000 people. Texas has executed more people since 1976 than any other state, more than twice that of the next highest execution state (Virginia), despite the fact that two states (California and Florida) have larger death row populations. The death penalty enjoys wide popular support in Texas, despite the fact that, when polled, most Texans reply that they think the state has probably executed innocent people. Unlike most states, Texas has been more aggressive in executing people since reinstatement than before 1972–and shows no signs of slowing down.
- Utah: Prior to 1972: 43 executions. After 1976: 7 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1974, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution since reinstatement: 1977. Zero persons freed from death row and zero clemencies granted. Current death row population: 10. 1.3 murders per 100,000 people.
- Virginia: Prior to 1972: 1,277 executions. After 1976: 108. Death penalty reinstated in 1975, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution after reinstatement: 1982. Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 1. Clemencies granted: 8. Current death row population: 15, including 2 women. 4.4 murders per 100,000.
- Washington: Prior to 1972: 105 executions. After 1976: 5 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1975, but not legally effective until 1976. First execution after reinstatement: 1993. Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 1. Clemencies granted: 0. Current death row population: 9. 2.7 murders per 100,000. Washington briefly abolished the death penalty in 1913, but reinstated it in 1919. The Washington voters seem to like the death penalty more in theory than in fact.
- Wyoming: Prior to 1972: 22 executions. After 1976: 1 execution. Death penalty reinstated in 1977. Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 0. Number of clemencies granted:0. Current death row poplation: 1. 2.4 murders per 100,000 people.
In addition to the states, the U.S. government also imposes the death penalty for several crimes and so does the U.S. military.
U.S. Federal Death Penalty: Prior to 1972: 340 executions. After 1976: 3 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1988. Expanded in the Omnibus Crime Act of 1994. First execution since reinstatement: 2001. Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 0. Clemencies granted: 1. Current death row population: 59, including 2 women. 5.7 murders per 100,000 people.
U.S. Military Death Penalty: Prior to 1972: 1,206 executions. After 1976: 0 executions. Death penalty reinstated in 1984. Zero executions since reinstatement. Number of innocent persons freed from death row: 0; Clemencies granted: 0. Current death row population: 8.
Saturday, 15 January, was the anniversary of of the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of my personal heroes and one of the largest influences on my theological ethics. (Indeed, one-third of my Ph.D. dissertation dealt with King’s life and work and I have written several articles on King. Moreover, even when not cited, King’s life and work is often in the background of my writing and my preaching. I say this not in an uncritical fashion: I find some influences on King (Wieman, Tillich) to be unhelpful; I find King–like his mentors in American theological liberalism–to be too dismissive of influences which would have greatly aided his work, like that of Karl Barth and the Biblical Theology Movement; And I find some aspects of King’s moral practices, especially his serial adulteries, to undermine his witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. All our heroes have feet of clay and we should not hide their frailties, shortcomings, misdirections, or even sins. )
Since today in the United States is the national holiday in King’s honor, many are writing reflections on his life and work. Many of these are terribly wrongheaded, such as the claim by a Pentagon lawyer that King would support the current U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan! (For an excellent rebuttal to this absurdity, see Cynthia Nielsen’s reflections on King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church in NYC one year to the day before his death.) The infamous American short-term memory and lack of historical consciousness, combined with a deliberate tendency to “tame” King and others who challenge the status quo, have led to a reduction in which King’s Dream is viewed only as ending racial segregation, so that the election of Barack Obama to the presidency is the fulfillment of King’s Dream or even that King, a self-declared democratic socialist who died marching with and for garbage collectors, should be an icon for Glenn Beck and the rightwing, libertarian “Tea Party” movement!
Every year at this time we distort King and twist his legacy in the name of celebrating it. Mostly, we do it by showing carefully edited snippets of the 1963 “I Have a Dream” Speech and presenting King as the “great Dreamer” of racial harmony without ever carefully examinging his thought–leaving out completely his solidarity with the poor and strong critique of U.S. capitalism (his demand for a Living Wage for all citizens, his admiration for the democratic socialism of Norway, his acceptance of Marx’s critique of capitalism even as he rejected Marxist materialism and historical determinism, and, most of all, his attempt to forge a multi-racial, multi-cultural “Poor People’s Movement” which would radically reshape U.S. society), along with his commitment to gospel nonviolence and his absolute opposition to imperialist militarism, not least the imperialist militarism of the United States. Most of those born since King’s death in 1968 have no idea that he referred to the U.S. government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” something I fully believe he would find equally true today. For these reasons, I am among those who would like to see a 5 year halt in talking about the “I Have a Dream” speech– and to reorient our reflections on King to his later, more radical, speeches and writings. (In this, I recommend especially a pamphlet put out by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and written by former Executive Director, Gary Percesepe, Seeing Beyond the Dream Speech. )
In 1967, King published Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, his last book before his death. (His final book, also very germane to our times, The Trumpet of Conscience, was published posthumously.) I think Where Do We Go From Here? is among the least read of King’s writings, some of the most radical of his reflections, and the most useful for our own context in the early 21st C.–since we have not faced squarely the problems King was dealing with, even since. I take one section from that wonderful book for these reflections: The concept of the “World House,” a term less familiar to us than King’s characterization of the Kingdom of God (being born into the world) as “the Beloved Community.”
King tells a parable that he read somewhere: A divided and long-separated family find that the head of this clan has died and they have all inherited a mansion. The catch: They cannot sell it, but must live in the house, putting away their differences and learning to live together. King turns this story into an allegory: All humanity is the separated and estranged (even warring) family. God, though far from dead, is the Parent who had given humanity a House. The World, the planet Earth, is the House and humanity must learn to live in it together, sharing its resources, working for its upkeep (rather than ecologically destroying it), and learning to live together as one family. We want to divide into warring nations or tribes. We want to be concerned only for our own racial or ethnic or language group or only for our own religious group. (Expanding beyond King’s view in 1967, we want to be concerned only for those of our own sex, our own sexual orientation, or our own gender identity, too.) We want to be concerned only for those of our own economic class (or, to claim that there are no classes, that anyone can become wealthy, that the wealthy have earned their riches and should not be asked to share them–even if the rest of us have to bail them out from their own foolishness–or to claim that the interests of the wealthy naturally “trickle down” to help the rest of us–NONE of which is supported by a shred of evidence) and let those who are weaker or more vulnerable fall by the wayside.
In all these ways and more, we deny that we are one family. King insists (with his own/my own Biblical tradition) that this is false. We are all children of God. The World House is ALL our home–and we have NO CHOICE but to learn to live in it together–or we destroy both ourselves and the World House.
I suggest that this vision of King’s in 1967 is more relevant than ever, today. Our refusal to care for God’s beloved earth ecologically is leading to greater species extinction than at any time since the end of the Age of Dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. Even as it may be too late to save the polar ice caps, nations and oil companies are foolishly racing to drill for oil in the Arctic circle (because nothing could possibly go wrong in THAT scenario!). Water is used profligately in Europe and North America while it becomes increasingly scarce for the poor of the Two Thirds World. Americans are increasingly obese while Hunger and Poverty stalk the globe. People kill in the name of religion or politics or ideology or land. We enact policies to make the top 1% ever more obscenely wealthy while poor multiply and Middle Classes vanish. We treat healthcare as a commodity to be bought and sold rather than a human right and when a law is passed that mildly reforms this obscenity (still largely trusting the great god Free Market, the largest idol of the West), we call it government tyrrany. We have billions for the War Machine, but schools go starving for funds and when teachers and parents complain, the reply is that “education cannot be solved by throwing money at the problem” (something we never say about either the Military Industrial Complex or Money Powers of Wall Street). The views of teachers are dismissed as “bleatings of a teacher’s union” and parents’ pleas are dismissed with the claim that the parents–often working 2-3 jobs to make ends meet–should educate their children themselves–either privately or by homeschooling (regardless of means or whether said parent has enough education to make that feasible). In a reverse Robin Hood society, we constantly steal from the poor to give ever more to the obscenely wealthy–who then claim they are “overtaxed” when paying a smaller percentage than at any time in the last 50 years!
Against this whole mess, Dr. King presents the vision of the World House. We are not primarily Black or White or Brown, we are family. We are not primarily rich or poor, but family. We are not first Americans or Vietnamese (or Iraqis or Afghans), but one family. We are not first Muslims or Buddhists or Jews or Christians (Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox, Liberal or Evangelical), but a family sharing a World House. If we see ourselves in that light–as one family sharing one World House–then both our personal actions, the actions of our organizations (churches, synagogues, mosques, temples; businesses and corporations; political parties), and the public policies of our various nations and governments, must CHANGE to reflect that reality. In place of fearful militarism, we must enact Common Security. In place of hoarding, the equitable distribution of resources–so that all are fed and have shelter and adequate medical care. In place of the exploitation of the earth and our family members, we must live sustainably.
It’s not an easy vision to enact. To live this way will be a huge struggle. Perhaps this is why this World House has been so ignored. But if this World House allegory correctly displays our real context as humans on this third rock from the sun–as I believe it does–then we MUST struggle to live accordingly. If, in our individual, corporate, and political lives we struggle to live out this vision–then we will truly be honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.–and, beyond him, honoring the God he strove to follow.