Activism issue of On The Issues Magazine; Fall 2011
Speaking out, raising banners, uploading ideas - new & old activists are stepping up. On The Issues Magazine Fall 2011 explores progressive & feminist inspiration.

Related Stories: Many Faces of Activism in On the Issues Magazine


From its first appearance in 1983, On the Issues Magazine has been a publication of activism, as well as analysis and commentary. That’s only fitting since from the era of Ronald Reagan to that of Barack Obama, there has been no respite from the need for raised voices and determined acts.

In 1989, publisher Merle Hoffman interviewed and Patricia Golan profiled U.S. political prisoner Susan Rosenberg in America’s Most Dangerous Woman?. Rosenberg was serving a 58-year sentence for the possession of arms and explosives -- a sentence more than 10 times the national average for such offenses. (In 2001 after 16 years in prison and 12 years after the story ran in On The Issues Magazine, Rosenberg’s sentence was commuted by then-President Bill Clinton.)

Rosenberg told Hoffman about her political background and motivation: "I feel fortunate that I became part of a movement when I was in my early teens. There was a sense that you could really change something. I guess I could say that I fell in love with the idea that people could control their own destinies, free of serious class, racial and sexual differences. I think the other political prisoners involved in my case came out of this period of intensive activity against the government. One of the most important things about us is an identification with the oppressed. I feel as if I never could stop learning from oppressed peoples."

Hoffman described her own step forward as an activist in the very first editorial of On The Issues Magazine, when, as the founder of Choices Women’s Medical Center, she heard about a Congressman’s ugly anti-abortion push in Washington D.C. Politicized by Hyde, she described her response to hearing about the passage by Congress of a provision that denied Medicaid funding for abortions. “By 1976, I had been involved with abortion for 5 years, involved with the bottom line of abortion...women! But now it was time to talk about it. In fact, it was time to fight for it. Those women from whom Henry Hyde would callously cut off abortion rights were my women, my patients... people I lived with every day. These women were what CHOICES was all about!"

Whatever the issue, women have been on the front lines of activism, and On The Issues Magazine has carried their stories.

One of those women was Gillian Murphy who told her story in How I set sail from Tahiti to stop the bomb in Summer 1996. “Bit by bit the action scenario is pulling together. Early in the morning of the day we expect the first test, we will launch our inflatables from the Rainbow Warrior, which will then attempt to sail in herself. A few people will go on the atoll and try to hide; the rest of us will float within the lagoon in our inflatables, trying to stay free as long as we can… The issue is clear. There should be no nuclear bombs tested. By being here, we have a good chance to stop them. The public outcry alone ought to be enough. If all this is not enough, what would be?"

Brenda and Wanda Henson rejected the fears of friends who said it was too dangerous and stood down the threats of shotgun-wielding enemies to establish a lesbian retreat in the heart of Mississippi in the early ‘90s, something they described in Spring 1997 in How the Spirit Moves: “The land feels enchanted by the loving energy brought here by the thousands of volunteers who've worked with us. The land feels clean, washed by the tears of those who lived through those first two years of fear on the land. The land feels blessed by all the prayers, rituals and gatherings in the name of our protection on the land. And most importantly, the land now feels safe for those who are interested in coming to volunteer, visit, do an internship, do a class project, or whatever you can.

Karen Bell, with her husband Bill, became an activist against laws requiring parental consent or notification for teens seeking abortions, after their 17-year-old daughter, Becky, died from the results of an illegal abortion in 1988. They lived in Indiana, a state with parental consent laws, and Becky didn’t want to tell her parents because she didn’t want to “disappoint them." Karen and Bill told their story to Mary Lou Greenberg in Fall 1988 in Another American Tragedy, The Death of Becky Bell.

On the Issues has also featured now-historic interviews with well-known women advocates and activists:

The Greening of the World: An Exclusive Interview with Petra Kelly, Founder of the West German Green Party and Anti Nuclear Activist by Merle Hoffman, Vol 9, 1988.

A Conversation with Earth First! Activist Judi Bari by Christine Keyser, Summer 1991.

Always in Your Face, Flo Kennedy, An Activist Forever by Beverly Lowy, Spring 1993.

Some of our activist authors have drawn inspiration as well as practical lessons from activists in the past:

Gloria Feldt, past president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wrote Convictions to Action: Lessons from Margaret Sanger, in Winter 2010: “Here are eight leadership lessons I have learned from Margaret Sanger’s life and work. “1- All worthwhile accomplishments start with a vision. Not a small, incremental vision, but a bold, audacious, flaming red, bigger than yourself vision."

Maame-Mensima Horne, in Black Abortion: Breaking the Silence, November 2009, described how today’s African-American activists stand on a proud history. Loretta Ross, she wrote, explained “in depth how black women were involved in reproductive activism from the late 1800s to current times. The truth is black women have a long history dating back to pre-slavery of using birth control. During slavery, black women used their knowledge of herbal abortives as a means to resist the inhumane conditions. Black women organized to get birth control into the black communities; they organized against sterilization abuse and continue to organize against reproductive oppression."

Adrien Hilton, in Lessons from Redstockings: A Movement Goes for What It Wants, May 2009, discussed the struggle for abortion and concluded, “A movement of women pushing and fighting for this change that I benefit from is far more exciting and powerful to me than Supreme Court justices laying down the law. This history makes me want to get involved. And it makes me understand better the power of the union of women to advance our rights and win full liberation."

No review – however brief as this one is – of articles about activists and activism would be complete without noting the tremendous power of art to move and motivate. Art. Rage. Us, Fighting breast cancer through art is a moving portfolio of artistic creations by women with breast cancer that appeared in winter 1999.

Finally, Arlene Goldbard, writes of Three Habits of the Heart and Mind To Spark Cultural Awakening in Spring 2010: "There can be no better preparation for the full exercise of deep and meaningful citizenship than entering into the realm of art. This way of learning has never been needed more. As we face economic crisis, political polarization, epidemic fear and disappointment, we need the resilience that sustains communities in times of crisis. This is always rooted in culture, in the tales of persistence and social imagination that inspire people to a sense of possibility even in the hardest times. Artists expand social imagination, helping us envision the transformations we hope to bring about, stimulating our thoughts and feelings toward the new attitudes and ideas that can drive recovery and nurture a sustainable society."

Also see: Patient Power - The Reluctant Revolution by Merle Hoffman in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

Also see: No Stopping: From Pom-Poms to Saving Women's Bodies by Carol Downer in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

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