Happy Wednesday! Every Wednesday Feminist Confessions is going to highlight a woman who has changed history. We want to remember and celebrate both the unrecognized and the famous women who sacrificed to help both women and men, made historical advances in their…
“I have asked some of my black brothers - this, the way things are, or the conditions I am fighting for in which the full range of family planning services is freely available to women of all classes and colors, starting with effective contraception and extending to safe, legal, termination of undesired pregnancies, at a price they can afford?”—Shirley Chisholm, Unbought and Unbossed
“No matter what men, think abortion is a fact of life. Women will have them; they always have and always will. Are they going to have good ones or bad ones? Will the good ones be reserved for the rich while poor women have to go to quacks? Why don’t we talk real problems instead of phony ones?”—Shirley Chisholm, Unbought and Unbossed
“As I stood on the steps and started to speak, I thought about the Civil War. Nearby, as everywhere in the South, there was a statue of a Confederate soldier. Moss hung from the branches. The day was hot. The rifle the statue was holding seemed almost to be pointing at me. A feeling came over me about the courthouse, a place of fear for blacks for a hundred years, where white justice had been dealt to them. “I never thought I would see a black person speaking from the courthouse steps,” one old black man told me later. When I talked about the need for coming together, the crowd responded with mixed emotions, some with laugher and some with tears.”—Shirley Chisholm, The Good Fight, writing about her experience in the 1972 Florida Primary during her run for the Democratic nomination.
"Pogrebin: When we put a woman on the cover—a real person—she had to be a worthy real person, not a Hollywood beauty. We had Helen Gahagan Douglas [congresswoman, 1945–51], Shirley Chisholm [first black woman in Congress], Bella Abzug [congresswoman, 1971–77]. These were our cover girls.”
Shirley Chisholm Project in the Journal of Women's History!
Barbara Winslow, Project Director of the Shirley Chisholm Project, recently had an article published in the Journal of Women’s History. The article details her efforts to preserve Chisholm’s legacy through an archive project.
"When I began the Shirley Chisholm Project in 2005, I was not prepared for the lack of memory about her life and work. At Brooklyn College, almost half of our Women’s Studies affiliate faculty did not know she had been a student at the college; a handful did not even know who she was. Equally discouraging, Brooklyn College students, many of whom who benefited from the SEEK program did not know of her. Even during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, where an African American male, Barack Obama, and a white woman, Hillary Clinton, ran a hotly contested race, one where issues of gender and race were fiercely and bitterly debated, there was no mention of Chisholm. Very few pundits referenced Chisholm’s historic campaign as opening the door for Barack Obama (or Hillary Clinton). That Chisholm was so erased from historical memory among women’s studies faculty, Brooklyn college students, her former constituents, as well as the mainstream media was shocking and depressing. These incidents set me to thinking about why it was that Chisholm was not better known and remembered?"
The National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) is a national bipartisan grassroots organization dedicated to recruiting, training, and supporting women who seek elected and appointed offices. The NWPC is forty years old! Established July 10, 1972 at the height of the women’s movement in the U.S., Shirley Chisholm, along with Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, were four of its founding mothers. The NWPC established three main issues: reproductive freedom, affordable childcare, and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Also important are addressing male–female income disparity in the United States and diversity at the decision-making levels.
Gloria Steinem, in a speech given at Brooklyn College on Shirley Chisholm Day November 2008, credits Chisholm for being an inspiration for women at all levels. Steinem also remembered that it was Chisholm who suggested, “that she rethink her wardrobe” when attending national political gatherings. Steinem, whose sartorial style was blue jeans, black turtle necks and aviator glasses, listened to Chisholm’s advice and wore a dress to the NWPC founding meeting. You can read and hear Steinem’s speech by going to http://shirleychisholmproject.brooklyn.cuny.edu/The_Shirley_Chisholm_Project/Gloria_Steinem.html
When Chisholm ran for the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency of the United States, individual members of the NWPC supported her presidential bid. Freidan and Steinem ran as Chisholm delegates, but later supported George McGovern who won the presidential nomination. In her memoir of her presidential run, The Good Fight, she noted that the strongest support from NWPC members were the African American and Latina women, such as Fannie Lous Hamer, Lupe Anguaino, Gwen Cherry and Carol Taylor. She even won the support from a few Republican women members of the NWPC.
The National Women’s Political Caucus organizes campaign workshops across the country to teach the nuts and bolts of running a successful candidacy at all levels of government. The Caucus Political Planning Committee vets women candidates for endorsement and the political action committee raises money to support endorsed candidates with campaign contributions. The Caucus also offers workshops on political appointments and collaborates with other women’s political organizations to promote good women candidates for gubernatorial and presidential appointments to key posts within the government.
Chisholm, Steinem, Abzug and former Democratic Party Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro all spoke at the twentieth Gala celebration of the NWPC. There will be a fortieth celebration as well as annual convention in Washington D.C. at the end of July. Contact the NWPC at http://www.nwpc.org/
"A lot of people tried to confuse what was going on with the people in the Latin community, the people in the black community, and SDS. And the Rainbow Conspiracy is what they used to call it. Any time they would see Felipe Luciano and his people from the Young Lords and the people who were trying to get the Black Panthers organized in New York—I didn’t get to know those people as thoroughly as I might have, but they were all down in the Village. They used to have handouts and they were trying to do fundraisers and stuff so they could do things for the community. I never joined any of those organizations, because once you join one of the organizations, it made you enemies with somebody else. You start arguing back and forth and you’ve wasted your energy that you could be using and you’re both trying to do something for the community. Which is why I stayed out of most organizations. I wanted to be available to all of them. I played for Shirley Chisholm, I played for Ken Gibson—I played for anybody who was trying to do something positive for black people, just count me in and I’ll be there.” Gil Scott-Heron
“Congresswoman Chisholm is heroine and role model to millions of people across our nation, including me. I can think of few better ways to commemorate her impressive career as a public servant and trailblazer than by having the U.S. Postal Service issue this stamp.” Congresswoman Barbara Lee
"It is well to remember how long it takes to break down gender stereotypes. It wasn’t Boomer women who were the trailblazers of the women’s movement. It was the women of the generation before them, the so-called Silent Generation, who broke out of the conformity of their 1950s girlhoods and took hostile fire in the early days of feminism but stuck to their guns. Women like Nancy Pelosi and Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug, all women of the House when most Americans still believed their rightful place was in the home.”
The Shirley Chisholm Project of Brooklyn Women’s Activism mourns the loss of Manning Marable, public intellectual, life long activist, scholar, mentor and friend. Much has been written about his incomparable contributions to the understanding of African American life and politics. He was one of the first supporters of the Shirley Chisholm Project. In November 2006 Manning was the keynote speaker at the conference called, “Researching New York, 2006: Perspectives on Empire State History”, at SUNY Albany, New York,” sponsored by the New York State Department of Humanities. He read a chapter from his book on Malcolm X. Later we met to discuss the ideas behind the Chisholm Project and he spent a great deal of time giving wonderful advice, suggestions and support. He promised that once his book came out, he could help even more, but the book had to take center stage for the moment. Devastated as we are over the loss of Manning Marable, we must also be so thankful that we had so many years of his brilliant mind and outstanding political leadership.
The Borough of Brooklyn honors Brooklyn women activists
On Thursday, March 24, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Deputy Borough President Yvonne Graham hosted the annual Women’s Herstory Induction Ceremony and Reception at Brooklyn Borough Hall. The event honors women in Brooklyn who have excelled in the arts, sciences, business and public service.
“Brooklyn has shown the world what strong, independent women can accomplish and how much they can do when given the tools to reach the zenith of their God-given ability,” said BP Markowitz. “Because when women are held back, when women are not free to pursue their dreams, all of humankind suffers. The potential of a better world—a world of peace—eludes us as long as there is even one nation in the world where women are not free. Each of today’s honorees is an example of how women can soar.”
“Along with continuing to fight for the issues that are important to all women—from education and equal pay to legislative representation and keeping younger women connected to the issues—another issue that should top our agenda is health care,” said Deputy BP Graham. “Recent legislative assaults threaten to eliminate health care for millions of women and girls who need it most. By denying federal funds for preventive services like cervical cancer screenings, breast exams, routing checkups, blood work and other basic reproductive health services, legislators are sending the signal loud and clear that they don’t really care about low-income, uninsured women and families as well as those suffering from the current economic downtown.”
This year’s honorees:
The Lucy Burns Activist Award (named for the Brooklynite who helped spearhead the suffrage movement) was awarded to Michelle Neugebauer, executive director of the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation.
Safiya Bandele, director of the Women’s Center at Medgar Evers College, received the Shirley Chisholm Leadership Award, named for the Brooklynite who was the first black woman to win a seat in Congress and run for President of the United States.
The Emily Roebling Stewardship Award, named for the woman who served as one of the chief engineers for the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, went to Martha Kamber, executive director of the YWCA of Brooklyn, Third Avenue.
Nancy Umanoff, executive director of the Mark Morris Dance Group, accepted the Betty Smith Arts Award, named for the author of the classic novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
The Lady Deborah Moody Founders Award, named for the woman who founded Gravesend and became the only woman to found a permanent settlement in early colonial America, was awarded to Malaak Compton-Rock, founder of the Angel Rock Project.
Dr. Linda A. Brady, president & CEO of Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, was awarded the Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Humanitarian Award, named for the first black woman to be licensed as a doctor in the state of New York. Congratulations sisters. Shirley Chisholm would be proud.
"Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez, invoking Brooklyn’s late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, said that “an esteemed, diverse and historic group of women is being honored today. They are true angels of change, and inspire hope and opportunity for tomorrow’s women.’"
"I remember squeezing in with my mother behind the curtain of the polling booth, pulling the rod to clear the voting levers, and watching her write in her choice for president: an African-American woman. Even though we knew that Chisholm couldn’t win, the pride I felt in showing our support for such a leader was palpable."
Shirley Chisholm and the Congressional Black Caucus
The Congressional Black Caucus is celebrating its fortieth birthday. In 1960, as more African Americans began to get elected to the House of Representatives, there was a growing need for a formal organization to represent the interests of the Black community in Congress. In January 1969, a “Democratic Select Committee,” was founded by Shirley Chisholm, Louis Stokes of Ohio, William Clay of Missouri and Charles Diggs, who was the first African American elected to the House from Michigan and went to become its first chair, serving from 1969-1971. In 1970, Black lawmakers—then banded together under the Democratic Select Committee—had requested a meeting with President Richard Nixon to issue a set of policy recommendations. They were denied. In response, the newly formed caucus boycotted Nixon’s 1971 State of the Union Address. By March, the president agreed to see them. This organization was renamed the Congressional Black Caucus in February 1971 on the motion of Charles Rangel of New York. Other founding Caucus members were William Clay Sr., John Conyers, Michigan, Ronald Dellums, California, Augustus F. Hawkins, Illinois, Ralph Metcalfe,Illinois, Parren Mitchell, Maryland, Robert Nix, Pennsylvania, Louis Stokes, and Washington D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy. Today there are 41 CBC delegates; 15 are women (2 non-voting). In its forty year history there have been 6 women chairs. The Caucus’ goals are to positively influence “the course of events pertinent to African-Americans and others of similar experience and situation,” and “achieving greater equity for persons of African descent in the design and content of domestic and international programs and services,” and its priorities are to close achievement gaps in education, assure quality health care, focus on employment and economic security, ensure justice, retirement security, increase welfare funds and a more just foreign policy. One can clearly see Shirley Chisholm’s influence on the CBC’s stated goals. While Chisholm may have been one of its founding members as well as its first woman member, the Caucus did not support her candidacy for the presidency in 1972. The CBC’s political influence was greatest at the height of the civil rights, black freedom and women’s movements. In the past 35 years, with the right wing assault on the gains made by the civil , women’s , workers, environmental and health care rights movements have taken its toll on the CBC’ effectiveness. How the caucus responds to the nation’s current challenges – attacks on public sector unions, public education, in particular public school teachers, destruction of the environment, involvement in three wars, to name just a few, will determine the CBC’s future as an effective voice in Congress.
Shirley Chisholm speaking at the founding convention of the National Women’s Political Caucus. Also present, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Betty Friedan.
Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. This year, 2011 is the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the National Women’s Political Caucus, a multipartisan, multicultural, grassroots organization dedicated to increasing women’s participation in politics and creating a power base designed to achieve equality for all women. Shirley Chisholm was one of NWPC’s founders and would agree with the comments in the NWPC’s first blog:
"We must acknowledge that the United State’s position in the world with regard to women’s rights is not what it should be.”
The United States is a country that holds at the crux of its democracy the notion of fair and equal representation for all citizens. Despite the image of America as a country devoted to social mobility and equality, the reality is that we are a county with serious socio-economic, racial, and gender disparities. This schism is underscored by the lack of women’s representation in American government and business.
Women make up about 51% of the American population and to fairly represent the people, women should hold about half of the elected seats in the House of Representatives (218 seats). In actuality, women currently hold 71 of those seats, or 16.3%. When women run for open seats, they often win – and as male incumbents retire, women make gains, but it’s a slow process.
The United States is ranked 72nd in the international community for its lack of women’s political leadership. Disturbingly, this puts us behind countries like Afghanistan (31st), Iraq (40th), and even Pakistan (51st). We have been outpaced by republics, communist governments, and monarchies."
Indeed as Shirley Chisholm pointed once stated, “Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to society just because that talent wears a skirt.”
Shirley Chisholm’s words, written in 1970 in her autobiography Unbought and Unbossed ring true after forty plus years:
“For years to come, most men will jeer at the women’s liberation groups that are springing up. But they will someday realize that countless women, including their own wives and especially their daughters, silently applaud the liberation groups and share their goals, even if they are unable to rebel openly. American women are beginning to respond to our oppression. While most of us are not yet revolutionaries, the time is coming when we will be. The world must be taught that, to use the words of Women’s Liberation activist Robin Morgan, “Women are not inherently passive or peaceful. We’re not inherently anything but human. And like every other oppressed people rising up today, we’re out for our freedom by any means necessary.”
If Shirley Chisholm were alive today she would be applauding the heroic revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt, the dedicated activists in Wisconsin, Ohio, those people who took to the streets to defend Planned Parenthood. Chisholm would have been in Madison, in the State House championing the rights of workers to bargain collectively as well as to fight back against the relentless assault on the men and—overwhelmingly—women who teach the nation’s children. She would be using both her activist and legislative skills to defend women’s reproductive health, and fight against the growing impoverishment of the American people.
So on this International Women’s Day, let’s give thought to Chisholm’s demands for women’s liberation; “The law cannot for the major part of the job of winning equality for women. Women must do it themselves. They must become revolutionaries.”
March is women’s history month. Its history and celebration came out of the struggles of the women’s movement. In the late 1960’s radical women’s liberation activists “discovered” that March 8th had been designated by the Second Socialist International to be International Woman’s Day, a socialist holiday celebrating the struggle of working women. Throughout the United States women began organizing marches, conferences and other celebratory events on or around March 8. At the same time many of these women, undergraduate and graduate students or newly hired professors dismayed that there was nothing about women in the college and schools’ curriculum. In 1978, a group of activists in California initiated a “Women’s History Week” to address this deplorable situation. The response in California was enthusiastic and as word spread, women initiated similar celebrations.
In February 1980 President Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th 1980 as National Women’s History Week. By 1986, 14 states had already declared March as Women’s History Month. This momentum and state-by-state action was used as the rational to lobby Congress to declare the entire month of March 1987 as National Women’s History Month. In 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. A special Presidential Proclamation is issued every year which honors the extraordinary achievements of American women. Women’s history is a woman’s right.
And thinking about women’s rights, last week the US House of Representatives passed the most sweeping anti-woman legislation in decades. The bill which defunds Planned Parenthood is mainly an attack on poor women and women of color denying funds not only for reproductive health but for infant and children’s health and welfare. The right in their usual and vicious hypocrisy claims that they are concerned about women of color being victimized by abortion and family planning. Let’s not forget that Shirley Chisholm was a founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL Pro-Choice America) a supporter of a woman’s right to abortion, access to contraception and to a national health care program.
Last Saturday, in New York City Planned Parenthood held a huge rally to defend reproductive rights. Yvette Clarke, Representative from Shirley Chisholm’s district gave a rousing and inspiring speech. Commenting on H.R. 1 in her own blog, Congresswoman Clarke pointed out,
"This attack on women’s health care is indicative of a culture than infantilizes or criminalizes women for being female. A visceral example of this culture is the billboard recently put up, and subsequently taken down. As a black woman from Brooklyn, with a rich Caribbean heritage, I was deeply offended to see this ad put up."
Indeed following in Chisholm’s footsteps as a supporter of women’s health, she went on to say, “I tell my own story, and I say to all women—we cannot let the voice of ignorance have the last word.”
February 1 marks the beginning of Black History Month. Pioneered almost single handedly by the historian Carter G. Woodson (1875 -1950) in 1926 who designated the second week in February, Negro History Week to mark the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. The week was expanded to a month in 1976 as part of the nation’s Bi-centennial commemoration. Dr. Woodson, the second African American to earn a PhD at Harvard was both an educator and activist who devoted his life to historical research. He worked to preserve the history of African Americans and accumulated a collection of thousands of artifacts and publications. He noted that African American contributions “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.” Race prejudice, he concluded, “is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind” In 1915 he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and in 1916, The Journal of Negro History. Of the 19 scholarly books he authored, the best known work, which is still read today is The Mis-education of the Negro(1933). One issue that could resonate with Shirley Chisholm was Woodson’s reflections on West Indian/African American relations and in particular the importance of education. Woodson summarized that “the West Indian Negro is free.” He observed that West Indian societies had been more successful at properly dedicating the necessary amounts of time and resources needed to educate and genuinely emancipate people. Woodson approved of efforts by West Indians to include materials related to Black history and culture into their school curricula. PS23 in Brooklyn is named after Carter J Woodson.
So let’s remember Carter J. Woodson, and celebrate Black History month in our schools colleges, community centers, places of worship and in our hearts and minds..