In previous issues, both online and in print,On The Issues Magazine has interviewed and written about many women whose passionate commitment to freedom and justice has motivated them to risk personal safety and even their very lives. They are from many countries and different backgrounds, and their examples continue to challenge others to live lives that make a difference.
J’Accuse! by Laura Flanders, Spring 1995
Laura Flanders reports on a daring meeting in Port-au-Prince to gather testimony against military rapists in 1995 after the return of President Aristide to Haiti.
“Despite the risks, the women testified in detail, describing their attackers, streets, dates, times of day. Some had been raped in front of their children, some alone; some in their own homes, some in abandoned shacks. Some had been forced to submit in order to protect their kids. Geraldine told her story, angry but confident that change was on its way. The woman in the kerchief told hers: she hadn’t been political, she said, but everyone knew she supported Aristide, ‘because I talked about him all the time.’ The last testimony came from a fifteen-year-old with the family name of ‘Darling’-a tiny, stick-boned child clutching a piece of chalk in her right hand. Her mother, big eyes welling in a smooth, walnut-colored face, leaned towards her, hands reaching out for her daughter’s. By the end, both mother and daughter, and also translator, reporter, and all the women from MADRE were in tears. The tragedy of the tale was one thing; more moving even than the stories was the women’s courage to talk.”
The Fire This Time: When Pro-life Means Death by Mary Lou Greenberg, Summer 1998
The day after a Birmingham, Alabama, abortion clinic was bombed, killing a guard on the spot and shattering nurse Emily Lyons’ body with serious wounds, Mary Lou Greenberg traveled to the scene. She describes the courage and heroism of abortion providers and clinic escorts in the face of harassment, physical injury and even death to give women reproductive choice.
“At an outdoor press conference exactly one week after the bombing, Jeff Lyons, the 41-year-old husband of the injured nurse, spoke for us all. ‘I just want to tell whoever did this,’ he said defiantly, pointing to the clinic, ‘it didn’t work!’ [Clinic owner] Diane Derzis announced proudly that the clinic was open again, and with a full staff — there had not been one resignation, and another nurse had come forward to fill in for Emily Lyons. A sign in the window boldly proclaimed: ‘This clinic stays open!’
A Sacrificial Light: Self-Immolation in Tajrish Square, Iran by Martha Shelley, Fall 1994.
Martha Shelley tells the dramatic story of a woman who sacrificed herself consciously and deliberately to protest conditions in her country. Homa Darabi, M.D. gave her life in 1994 to protest the oppressive Islamic Republic of Iran.
“Dr. Darabi stopped her car and walked to the center of the plaza. It was 3:00 p.m. Passersby stopped, frozen, as she tore off her headscarf and emptied the gasoline can on her head. She began to shout at the top of her lungs, and her voice rang out over the noise of the traffic, over the wailing of the loudspeakers. ‘Death to oppression! Long live liberty!’ Then she lit a match.”
In more recent years, Iranian women inside the country and in exile have organized powerful and growing opposition against repressive Islamic theocracy. In Iranian Women Mark 30 Years of Struggle to Reclaim Our Lives, Spring 2009, Sussan G., a woman who has remained courageous and steadfast for 30 years in her commitment to freedom for Iranian women, told her story, with the assistance of women’s health pioneer Carol Downer.
“In 1982, my husband was arrested. Next, they came for my mother, and then for me, and then my father. We were thrown into the same prison that the Shah used for those who dissented from his rule. My husband was executed. I was sentenced to ten years in prison because I told them I was not religious and I wouldn’t pray. From my cell, where I was kept in solitary, I could hear the cries of people who were being tortured. I recognized my father’s voice.”
In Ireland: For Irish Feminists: Activism =Imprisonment, Strip Search and Death by Betsy Swart, Winter 1992
Betsy Swart interviewed activist Bernadette Devlin McAlisky about the murder of Sheena Campbell, a feminist and fighter for human rights in Northern Ireland. Mcalisky.
“You see, targets like Sheena are very carefully chosen. They are chosen to represent a whole class of people who hadn’t been shot previously. The media continues to talk about ‘random sectarian killings,’ but there is nothing random about them: Sheena was chosen for a number of reasons. Politically, she represented the new Republican woman — a bright, working-class woman who, as a mature student, was going back into education. Sheena represented a new depth in the struggle. Her career signified that after 25 years — instead of getting tired — the movement was producing a new breed of woman — one who is a single parent, an activist, and a soon-to be attorney. Obviously, this is not what the British had in mind at all!”
Women in Black: Weekly Vigils Against the Israeli Occupation by Bill Strubbe, Summer 1990.
“Women in Black” describes the dedication and commitment of Israeli women determined to stand with Palestinian resistance.
“As busy traffic careens around the women standing in the heat of the midday sun, many drivers honk their horns and hurl obscenities: ‘Go home, sluts!’ ‘You traitor bitches!’ The women, trained not to react, absorb the painful verbal blows, determined, in their own small way, to be a continuing reminder to their fellow citizens and the world that not all Jewish Israelis condone the suppression of the Palestinian intifada by their government.”
The Greening of the World: An Exclusive Interview by Merle Hoffman with Petra Kelly, founder of the West German Green Party and Anti Nuclear Activist, Vol. 9, 1988.
Toward the end of a wide-ranging interview, Merle Hoffman asks, “How do you continue? What keeps you going?” Kelly replies: “I have many moments where I more or less fold up, moments when my head says stop but my heart keeps going. My belief is that people can be basically good and that they will change if they receive all relevant information and if they can be empowered to resist. This has to begin on the personal level and then move to the political. Another strong belief has always been that if you want to reach your goal you can never let yourself be distracted. You must always go forward. You have to go to the end of your road.”
Margaret Sanger: Militant Pragmatist Visionary by Lawrence Lader, Spring 1990.
Abortion activist Lawrence Lader paints a vivid portrait of birth control pioneer, Margaret Sanger. “Her tactics were drastic and flamboyant. Refusing to wait for the slow process of education and legislative reform, she openly broke Federal and state laws against contraception and courted arrest. Her policy was not to chip away at walls of oppression but to batter them down…Her strength seemed to come from her conception of herself as a spokesperson for American women. ‘I wanted to express their longings, ambitions and thwarted lives,’ she said.”