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).
Can a Christian be a patriot? I suppose that depends on the definitions of “Christian” and “patriot.” If “Christian” refers to Constantinian Christians, that is, those who, since the Emperor Constantine conquered the Roman Empire “in the sign of the cross,” have assumed that there can be Christian rulers, then there appears to be no problem. Constantinian Christians show their patriotism by supporting the Christian emperor or king or queen or the “Christian nation” with the elected “Christian leaders” of the “correct” political party that God has chosen. But this perspective took the way of Jesus Christ, a way of nonviolence, economic sharing, mutual servanthood and equality, and love of enemies which spread by evangelism and martyrdom and turned it into a religion of domination, economic competition, hoarding, hatred and killing of the enemies of the state–which spreads by military conquest and coerced conversions. After the break-up of Medieval “Christendom” into modern nation states, Constantinian Christians were often drafted into wars with other “Christian nations.” Thus, they showed their patriotism by placing loyalty to the state above loyalty to Christ or to the Body of Christ and killed fellow believers in the name of God.
I am not a Constantinian Christian. I consider Constantine’s distortion to be a heresy that has haunted Christianity for over 16 centuries, now. I belong to that strand of nonviolent Christianity that was there from the beginnings of the Jesus movement and dominated for the first 3 & 1/2 centuries of church history, was recovered by some monastic movements (e.g., the Franciscans) and some Medieval sects (e.g., the Unitas Fratrum) and the Anabaptists, Quakers, Dunkers/Brethren, some Baptists, many early Pentecostals. For this kind of Christian, the question of “patriotism” is far more problematic.
For the nonviolent Christian, one’s primary loyalty is to God in Christ; one’s “national loyalty” is to the Kingdom or Rule of God. One sees God’s redeeming work in history as primarily working through the Church, scattered among ALL nations. There are NO “Christian nations,” although there may be nations with large numbers of Christians whose history and culture has been influenced by Christian values.
Having “pledged allegiance” to the Kingdom/Rule of God in baptism, the non-Constantinian Christian cannot give ultimate loyalty to any earthly flag, republic, or government. But is the Christian forbidden to have any feelings of affection for her homeland? I don’t think this necessarily follows. Jesus wept over Jerusalem for killing the prophets and not knowing the “things which make for peace.” Matt. 23:36-38; Luke 13:33-35. Although well aware of Rome’s injustices (crucifying Christ and eventually executing many of the apostles), the Apostle Paul seemed proud of his Roman citizenship and did not hesitate to make use of it in getting a hearing for the gospel.
I sincerely doubt that Christians are forbidden from cheering on their national teams in the Olympic games or from being proud of the best of their nation’s history and accomplishments. I love the U.S.A. and cherish my citizenship and the best of our history, legal system, struggles for justice, our accomplishments in many areas. But no Christian (that is, no non-Constantinian Christian) can have an uncritical love of country or any form of national chauvenism, much less any jingoistic nationalism. One has to acknowledge that every nation (most definitely including the U.S.A.) also has its national sins and many shortcomings. The U.S., for instance, began as a contradiction in terms–a group of English colonies protesting unjust treatment by the mother country while simultaneously practicing far worse injustices against the indigenous peoples (so-called “Indians”) and slaves brought over from Africa. Our beloved Constitution which set us up as a democratic republic, simultaneously engraved race-based slavery into the heart of the nation’s laws–and it took a terrible civil war and occupation of the rebellious Southern states before the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution could dissolve our slaveocracy and rebuild the republic on a more moral basis. Even then, women were denied the right to vote until 1920 and, to this day, there is no guarantee of equal rights for women. We all-but-exterminated the Native Americans in expanding the nation Westward and most of what we call the Southwest was land stolen from Mexico in an illegal war never approved by Congress. It wasn’t until the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that the legal basis for segregation (approved by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896) was overturned and it took the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, especially the victories resulting in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the U.S. version of legal apartheid was dissolved.
The U.S. has also committed crimes against other nations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia–often backing tyrannies and dictatorships instead of democratic movements because of a narrowly perceived national interest. The U.S. lags behind many nations in legal protections for the accused, in abolishing the death penalty, in prison reform, in universal healthcare, in education of all citizens, and many other areas. We have much to learn from the mistakes and the successes of others.
If one’s definition of patriotism includes this kind of critical love which hopes for the best for one’s nation and wants to see it repent and do better, then, in this limited sense, I think even a non-Constantinian Christian may be a patriot. But if by patriotism one means that one must always think one’s nation is “number one,” and “exceptional,” and that international law is only for other nations, or that one’s nation is justified in hurting other nations–either economically or militarily, then no non-Constantinian Christian may be a that kind of “patriot.” Nor may a Christian believe that “our freedoms” are given to us by military might–because freedom in the gospel has a different meaning than the individualistic egoism of our national self-centeredness and because as Christians we reject the way of the sword for the way of suffering love. Military service to a nation state is forbidden for those who part of the “army that sheds no blood” as the Church Father Clement of Alexandria described the universal Church. We lay down arms and take up our crosses and follow Jesus. As Lee Camp suggests in Mere Discipleship, Christian disciples do not make for “good Americans” (or good Britishers, good Germans, good Brazilians, good Zimbabweans, good New Zealanders, good Japanese, etc.). Doubtless the Sarah Palins and Michelle Bachmans would call this perspective treason. So be it.
Christians need a cosmopolitan viewpoint and need to be in solidarity with the oppressed all over the world. If the gospel is true, then those of us united in Christ have more in common with fellow Christians in nations designated as “enemy” by our respective governments than we do with the non-Christian fellow citizens of our nation. That’s not to mean that we should see those non-Christians as enemies, either. They, too, are created in God’s image and Christ died for them, too. All people are either fellow disciples or potential fellow disciples–so we may neither hate nor kill anyone.
I’ll cheer on the U.S. in the Olympic games. I’ll celebrate what is good in our nation’s history and laws–and that we gave the world baseball, of course. But if “patriotism” means celebrating war or defying international law or putting down other peoples so as to feel good about ourselves–or if “patriotism” means putting loyalty to one’s nation above loyalty to God’s in-breaking Rule (with its VERY different value system), then count me out. My religion forbids it.
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.