As we move toward 2020 and a presidential election, what better time to look back at the fight it took for women to gain the right to vote — and how sectors of the American female population were overlooked, despite their contributions to the struggle. The show is structured by chronology and themes:
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It is true that Carrie navigated her ordeals within the confines of extreme privilege and Hollywood glamour, unlike the average person. Yet, the essence of her evolution and aspects of her struggles will be easily recognized to other women — especially of her generation.
Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge is author Sheila Weller’s newest addition to her body of work, which is often situated at the crossroads between women’s issues and cultural observation. In previous books, Weller examined several women through the prism of music and media. With her biography of Fisher, her subject is so outsized, it is the equivalent of a group portrait: The many facets of Carrie.
Who was she? The child of a Hollywood couple; inhabitor of the career-defining role of Princess Leia in “Star Wars”; actress and writer; friend to innumerable celebrities; daughter, mother, wife (married to Paul Simon); partner.
Yet, perhaps the one aspect of Carrie that would impact and influence everything — was being the genetic inheritor of a predisposition to drug addiction and bipolar disorder (both from her father). These two elements would have a tremendous bearing on her entire existence.
As Leo Tolstoy observed, “Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Carrie and her family lived out their dysfunction against the backdrop of screaming headlines splashed across tabloid newspapers. In 1959, her songster father, Eddie Fisher, dumped his MGM wholesome bride, Debbie Reynolds, for megastar and beauty, Elizabeth Taylor. The actions and lifestyles of actors and actresses were starting to be revealed in a vastly different way from the 1940s and 50s, when major studios were able to whitewash, spin, and cover up news that was detrimental to the image (and dollar value) of their stars.
Carrie would become part of the unraveling of 1950s American society (She was born in 1956.) when “Father Knew Best” and there was no alcoholism, drug use, homosexuality or decision-makers who weren’t white men. Rather, Carrie’s time would unfold against the backdrop of independent film, Woodstock, Vietnam, social upheaval, and the morphing roles of women.
It is true that Carrie navigated her ordeals within the confines of extreme privilege and Hollywood glamour, unlike the average person. Yet, the essence of her evolution and aspects of her struggles will be easily recognized to other women — especially of her generation. Her myriad insecurities, one of the continuous threads of her personal history, is what makes this telling of her life accessible to an audience beyond just her fans. Carrie perseverated about if she were pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough — and then as she aged…not young enough. It will ring an unwelcome bell.
Ultimately, after being attacked on Twitter for her appearance in “The Force Awakens” (2015), she was able to push back against the fat and age shamers. With her trademark incisiveness said acerbity, Carrie proclaimed, “Youth and beauty are not accomplishments. They’re the temporary, happy by-products of time or DNA.”
Carrie left high school at 15, and began her movie career two years later when she portrayed a Beverly Hills teenager in Warren Beatty’s “Shampoo.” Very few people are aware that she attended the prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama in London in 1974, before snagging the part of Princess Leia at 19. It was a role that would freeze her in time, like a specimen trapped in amber. There were benefits, but also plenty of liabilities. Some of her nuanced performances — in movies like “Hannah and her Sisters” and “When Harry Met Sally” — were overlooked. She also appeared very briefly on Broadway (when she was 26), replacing Amanda Plummer as the young nun in “Agnes of God.”
By her twenties, people were already recognizing Carrie’s rapier wit and originality. Simultaneously, Weller references those who spoke about her vulnerability and neediness. Carrie’s perpetual generosity to others, both monetary and emotional, was most probably part of her quest for love and approval — something she craved from both of her self-involved parents. Ironically, despite her own extensive litany of problems, she became a caretaker to both Debbie and Eddie as they grew older. With her mother, after years of competition and discord, they developed a co-dependent relationship (They had houses next door to each other.). With her father, who tapped her for money, made inappropriate remarks, and sometimes shared drugs with her, there remained an unfilled quest for a love that Carrie hoped would be realized.
When Carrie became a “writer who acted,” she moved into what would prove to be the most comfortable space for herself. Despite having a great singing voice, she wanted to completely differentiate herself from her parents. She penned numerous books, including “Postcards From the Edge” (It was made into a movie with Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.), and was a sought after script doctor.
At the age of 24, Carrie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She rejected that conclusion by doctors, and the option of taking lithium to balance her moods. In 1985, she was again diagnosed — with bipolar two. She was finally able to accept the information, specifically as an explanation for her behavior and extreme emotional swings. However, as Weller points out, the way that Carrie went about dealing with her circumstances was “in Carrie style — with the unofficial caveat that she didn’t have to follow treatment in an orthodox fashion.”
Carrie made a point of being open about her bipolar status, to share her experiences and destigmatize the condition. In an interview with Diane Sawyer in 2000, she stated flatly, “I am mentally ill. I can say that.” The following year, she agreed to be the cover story for Psychology Today.
I spoke with Weller by phone to dig into Carrie’s legacy — specifically to
“She had a big personality and a lot of honesty, about herself as well as others,” Weller told me. “Exaggerated emotion and intensity is more welcomed in men,” she said. Weller pointed to the example of actress Margot Kidder, who was “ridiculed,” and not treated with the same empathy as Robin Williams. “It’s harder for women to behave unconventionally,” she added.
Weller emphasized that even with Carrie’s “intense challenges, she remained productive.” That is evidenced in anecdotes about Carrie’s perpetual travels, performances, and writing.
“Carrie was a woman who was famous just for being herself,” pronounced Weller. “She broke boundaries. She understood that she had a disorder that didn’t have a cure. She used her honesty to help other women, and increasingly understood the importance of kindness.”
Weller’s biography illustrates the breadth and scope of Carrie’s difficult but full journey. She went through so much — from the emotional fallout of a famous and fractured family, to the procedure of electroconvulsive therapy [ECT] as a treatment. She always came out the other side…until she didn’t.
The book left me with feelings of sadness. But then I did something Carrie might have done. I rented “Postcards from the Edge” — and laughed along with her.
J Street has been on my radar since its inception. I interviewed founder Jeremy Ben-Ami in 2008, about Jews and the Obama candidacy. The organization has grown in size and influence since that time, and has offered an option for American Jews who do not identify with the status quo being put forth by many legacy Jewish organizations, nor the politics of AIPAC.
With two days of concurrent sessions, trainings, and plenaries, there was a myriad of topics to explore and not enough time to hear everything. I was surprised to run into an activist I know, who is Jewish, and an unwavering critic of Israel’s policies. She commented on the range and quality of the speakers.
Along with 4,000 other attendees, I heard the ideas of American Jews, Israelis, and Palestinians. Many of them I was very familiar with. Others, I was exposed to for the first time. Throughout the event, the anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre (October 27) loomed large.
Panels and Trainings
My Sunday began with a Primer on Occupation and Annexation. It was delivered by Frank Lowenstein, former Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations. It was both informative and discouraging. It also helped to explain why the Obama administration chose to abstain on United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334.
Next up was Fighting Antisemitism and its Weaponization in American Politics. It was moderated by Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of T’ruah. The room was packed.
A point of agreement I would hear frequently over the next 48 hours was the premise that “Progressives allow themselves to be divided and impacted by wedge strategies.” Another frequent iteration posited that white nationalism is a “reaction to the strengthening of democracy,” while Trump had “engaged and emboldened White Supremacists.”
Peter Beinart offered, “We don’t have a consensus of what is anti-Semitism.” Rabbi Jacobs underscored the need not to fall into the “trap of false equivalency,” particularly in regard to “legitimate criticism of Israel.” Maya Berry, from the Arab-American Institute, agreed that antisemitism needed to be called out from both the left and the right.
Questions raised included: If Zionism is a response to Jewish global history, how is it to be viewed through a current context? Can an individual be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic? It was mutually agreed by the panelists that an open discussion was needed about these matters, or as Berry remarked, “We have to rip off the Band-Aid and have a conversation.”
While mentally chewing over that dialogue, I proceeded to the room hosting the training session, Antisemitism, Racism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Progressive Understanding of Antisemitism. After a recent encounter with a local colleague who informed me that “Israel was a criminal state,” I was more than ready to learn some strategies.
Cherie Brown and April Baskin led the group in exercises for “coalition work when the Israel/Palestine conflict comes up.” Brown, who co-authored the pamphlet “Anti-Semitism: Why Is It Everyone’s Concern?” focused on the “need to stay in coalition.” She explained how antisemitism is used as a diversion to push groups that should be aligned, into isolation. Brown used the examples of the Women’s March, LGBTQ events, and the flap over the Black Lives Matter platform.
Baskin, a Jew of Color, who drolly referenced herself as a “professional Jew for the past 10 years,” drilled down on “seeing other parts of the Jewish community. (Jews of Color currently comprise 12 to 15 percent of American Jews.) She has been working across “lines of differences,” and elucidated that “brown people don’t see Jews as oppressed.”
Role-playing was enacted in order to observe reactions. It involved visualizing three concentric circles which included comfort, stretch, and panic. The difference between reactivity on an emotion scale (via triggers) versus an oppression scale was parsed. The person next to me (who was visibly Orthodox) shared his story about attending an anti-Trump rally where he was asked, “Are you a good Jew or a bad Jew?”
Guidance and direction embraced listening fully to others. “Compassionate accountability while understanding that history has brought each person to where they are,” and “Take it from the global statement to the personal,” were takeaways. Conclusion: “It’s not how long we want it to take, it’s how long it takes.”
Feeling empowered by new tools, my next session shifted to the work being done by Israelis — who have been pushing back against their country’s entrenched right-wing actors. Specifically, the work of the New Israel Fund, which presented an interview with Naomi Chazan .
Naomi Chazan: “Can one be overly critical of a country one loves?”
Naomi Chazan, Former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, as well as a previous president of the NIF, was interviewed by Libby Lenkinski. I had previously heard Chazan speak, via streamed events. A staunch feminist who doesn’t mince words, Chazan has addressed “the rise of gender segregation in public spaces,” and the need to “rehabilitate the basic norms of Israeli democracy.”
With dynamism and humor (“I’ve always been astounded that a bunch of Polish chicken farmers started a state.”), Chazan delivered a blueprint of what needs to be done. Much of what she said about Israel and Netanyahu was equally applicable to the America/Trump situation. She prefaced her comments with the rhetorical question, “Can one be overly critical of a country one loves?”
On the threat to Israeli democracy, Chazan underscored, “We are at a crossroads.” Drawing a picture of global illiberalism, neo-authoritarianism and populism, Chazan voiced her alarm concerning “democratic erosion.” This covered the degradation of civil and human rights (legislated inequality with the Nation-State Law), governmental checks and balances being undermined; weakening institutions with attacks on the media and the judiciary.
“This leads to the centralization of power,” said Chazan, “and creates hegemonic authority.” Qualifying that the backslide has been going on in Israel for a decade, Chazan signaled Netanyahu as the leader of that trajectory.
“It’s being done incrementally,” Chazan stated. “It’s meant to numb you. And when you finally wake and realize — it’s hard to reverse.” Chazan’s was adamant that the foundation of Israeli democracy had to be strengthened. “Polarization is the cancer of democratic society. We must find avenues to a shared society…while respecting separate identities.”
Chazan was unambiguous about the Occupation: “Jews should not rule over another people.” Attacked for her views by others with regularity, Chazan dismissed it with, “Just plough ahead. Don’t give up for a minute. If you don’t succeed, try another course.”
There were 5 contenders at the conference. Others delivered video statements. Bernie Sanders was clearly the crowd favorite. He began by announcing, “I am a Jew. I will be the first Jewish president of the United States.” He was unequivocal in his opinions. He warned against conflating criticism of Netanyahu’s Israeli government with antisemitism. He stated flatly, “What’s going on in Gaza is inhumane.” On the current American and Israeli leadership, Trump and Netanyahu, he received laugher and applause on the sentence: “One who’s going to be impeached, the other who’s going to jail.” Sanders also put forth the concept of a “global progressive movement.”
Pete Buttigieg was clear-cut on his views. He supports a two-state solution and no annexation; all funding must be compatible with U.S. law and policy. “You can be committed to a U.S.-Israel alliance without supporting a right-wing government,” he said. He wants to see America reestablish its role as an “honest broker.” On Gaza: “It cannot continue without an explosion.” He commented wryly, “The United States has to be engaging with nuance and good faith ¾ which is not a hallmark of the Trump administration.”
Other points delivered by candidates:
“Our Boys” — Art as Activism
The three creators (Hagai Levi, Joseph Cedar, Tawfik Abu Wael) of the HBO film, “Our Boys,” were present to discuss their movie, which dealt with the brutal revenge murder of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy in the aftermath of the tragic kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the summer of 2014. A gut-wrenching and nuanced look at the different elements of Israeli society, the movie was slammed by Netanyahu. In a quest to understand the hows and whys of the “price-tag” killing, Cedar affirmed that for him, the search was, “most importantly, to find the murderers in ourselves.”
Fida Nara, Co-Director of Mahapach-Taghir. An Arab-Palestinian, Nara was pressured not to take part in the conference. “Can Israel be just [fair] for the [Palestinian] 20 percent of the population? We need each other to make this change.”
Dr. Saeb-Erakat, Palestinian Chief Negotiator. Also discouraged from attending. “To quote Yitzah Rabin, ‘Without a future for Palestinians, there I no future for Israel.’ [A two-state solution] is the only option. Peace must be rooted in justice. It is doable. It is up to us. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is what we decide. We have no right to give up. I believe together we can make it.”
Nitzan Horowitz, Chairperson of Meretz, Knesset member. Openly gay. “We must ask in Israel and the United States, where do I stand on democratic values? It’s the same battle everywhere. The same forces. The same money. We have to do it together.”
The energy from J Street U leaders and college students was palpable. They are working on a Democratic Party Platform which will embrace “No annexation of the West Bank” and “No settlement expansion” planks. One of the group’s leaders pronounced to the crowd: “Political problems have political solutions. It’s about organized people, not organized money. It’s time to end a 52-year occupation. We are not disloyal to anyone.”
There were numerous exhibitors at the conference. Some are part of the ten-member New Progressive Israel Network” which is working on common aims. Below are groups that I found of particular interest:
Breaking The Silence: This organization was founded in 2004 by Israeli veterans who collect and publish the testimonies from soldier who have served in Gaza and the West Bank since the beginning of the Second Intifada. They offer lectures and also do tours in Hebron or Susiya and Area C. I picked up their pamphlet, “The South Hebron Hills,” a compilation of soldier testimonies from 2010-2016. It’s a must read.
Taghyeer (Change) Palestinian National Nonviolence Movement:
Working on the ground, the mission is to “build a grassroots movement through nonviolence in action to better Palestinian lives and forge a path to freedom.” Their founder, Ali Abu Awwad, wrote a letter to Trump in response to his actions regarding Jerusalem.
Partners for Progressive Israel: Their advocacy includes webinars with top speakers delving into on-the-ground topics, to inform audiences about the realities in Israel/Palestine. Civil rights and social justice for both peoples are the nucleus of their agenda. They organize trips to the area for those who want to learn about Israeli and Palestinian society.
Project Rozana: Their information caught my attention with the “Adopt a Driver” flyer. It is an initiative that supports Israeli and Palestinian volunteer drivers. They transport Palestinian youngsters who need to get from their homes, through checkpoints, to appointments at hospitals located in Israel for medical visits.
It can be too easy to throw up one’s hands, either in despair or resignation.
Both the United States and Israel are being subjected to the same playbook, which employs the global anti-democratic trend in government. The conference proved that there are plenty of people that don’t want this scenario. As Naomi Chazan said, “Despair is not a plan of action.”
It’s really about what each of us can do individually, as a link in the chain, to move forward on making a difference.
Photos: Marcia G. Yerman
The sun was strong. The music was loud and throbbing. There were dragonflies and butterflies hovering over the crowd — as if they too knew their lives depended on the Global Climate Strike.
Over a million students were excused from school in NYC and many joined the crowds that marched from Foley Square to Battery Park.
Along with high school students, there were young kids with their parents and older people who had probably been on the ground for the first Earth Day. It was a racially diverse group. Many were wearing shirts labeled with religious identifications, underscoring the moral call to engage in protective stewardship of the planet. There were members from numerous unions, connecting the dots between their work and the crisis at hand.
Signs were abundant. They ranged from serious (“Change Policies, Not Climate” and “Research Matters”) to humorous (“The Dinosaurs Thought They Had Time Too”). The spirit was cooperative, joyous, and ultimately — defiant.
The first person I spoke to at the media tent was Vic Barrett, who is one of the plaintiffs in the Juliana v. United States case. Barrett is first generation Garifuna, an Afro-indigenous tribe from Honduras. He attends the University of Wisconsin and is studying environmental and political science. Barrett told me that he has been working to bring youth and people of color into the climate movement since he was 14-years-old.
Moving over into the throng of people, I met and conversed
with 17-year-old Kimberly Sosa, who had come in from the Bronx. She told me her
reason for attending:
“I am here to support a strike for climate run by the youth like me, and to get a feeling of activism as I mature and choose who I want to be in life. My biggest concern is the life I will live when I am 30.”
Accompanied by his mother, 12-year-old Maxwell Kozar spoke with seriousness and intent. A vegan, Kozar said:
“I’m here because I’m an environmentalist and I care about how people treat the earth. There are other ways to make cars. The people on earth don’t want to make the right choices.”
The Peace Poets took the stage and performed. Before leaving the stage, they emphasized, “A one day strike will not change the system.”
Artemisa Xakriabá, an Indigenous Amazonian Youth Leader, and member of the Xakriabá people of Brazil’s Cerrado tropical savanna ecoregion, thanked the strikers for “their amazing strength.” She said:
“I am here as a young activist, like Greta. The Amazon suffers. There is also deforestation of Africa and Indonesia. We fight for our Mother Earth. We are fighting for our sacred territories. No more Indigenous blood spilled!”
Isabella Fallahi and Kevin Patel, youth activists from Zero Hour, spoke passionately about how their community in Indiana has been impacted by the state’s coal production. Asthma is a top illness for children in Indianapolis.
Repeatedly, presenters drilled down on key talking points:
Jaden and Willow Smith garnered a huge response from the audience. They sang “Icon” and “Summertime In Paris” for excited fans. Jaden said, “We’ve got to show people we care about this. The power of the people is more important than the people in power.” Willow encouraged the crowd with, “We can turn this thing around.”
The coalition between groups was pointed to as a pivotal moment and not an abstract idea.
Earth Guardians Youth Director, 19-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, stated, “We are building, regardless of who we are. And all of you are a part of this. This is our time.”
Rebeca Sabnam, a 16-year-old New York and Bangladeshi activist, and a Youth Advocate for Cafeteria Culture, which got Styrofoam banned from schools (and is now working on plastic bags), related the trauma being visited on Bangladesh. “The country is on the brink. As a low-level country, it is losing land mass. The poorest and most vulnerable have to move to slums.” Sabnam spoke about the implications for displaced women and children, who are then prey to sex traffickers. “These people matter,” she said. “We need action as big as the crisis.”
There was a moment of silence for those who had lost their lives in climate disasters.
Then it was time for Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old who spearheaded
#FridaysforFuture, and is being considered for a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. She is not afraid to speak truth to power, and on Capitol Hill, told both deniers and allies, “I know you’re trying, but just not hard enough.”
A chant of “Greta, Greta,” rippled through the crowd. She started her remarks with, “Hello, New York City.” To 250,000 people, Thunberg discussed the immense turnout around the world, believed to be four million in over 150 countries, and on all continents including Antarctica.
“This is the biggest
climate strike in history, and we should all be proud of ourselves because we
have done this together. We are not in school today. We have some adults who
skipped work. Because our house is on fire.
We are united behind the science…Our future is being taken away from us. We need to do this now…Everywhere I’ve been, the situation has been the same. Empty promises, lies, and inaction are the same. Nobody in power tells it like it is. They leave it to us, the children.”
Thunberg noted that when power brokers come to the United Nations, “the eyes of the world will be on them.”
Pulling no punches, she continued, “This is not for politicians to take selfies with us and to tell us what they will do. If no one else will take action, we will. We are a wave of change. This is what people power looks like. We will make the world leaders act. We can and we will.”
Throwing down the gauntlet, Thunberg warned:
“For those who are threatened, we have some very bad news for you. This is just the beginning. Change is coming.”
Everyone believed her. It was an amazing day.
Photos: Marcia G. Yerman
This article originally appeared on Moms Clean Air Force.
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