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Remembering Martha Gellhorn – posted 11/11/2019

November 11, 2019 1 comment

Not too long ago, I wrote about Dorothy Thompson, a journalist who warned early about the danger of fascism in the 1930’s. She tirelessly wrote about the German Nazis at a time when their threat was downplayed and underestimated.

I might have created the impression that Thompson was alone in her heroic efforts to expose the horrors of fascism. That was certainly not the case.

Along with Thompson, I would mention Martha Gellhorn, a reporter, novelist, and war correspondent who deserves far more recognition than she has ever received.

Gellhorn was a type of journalist we almost never see now. Fueled by a sense of outrage at injustice done to everyday working people, Gellhorn repeatedly travelled to war zones and covered conflicts for 60 years. She especially covered the victims of war. She was more likely to be interviewing bombing victims than generals or heads of state.

Gellhorn’s career had an unusual trajectory. She dropped out of Bryn Mawr College where she was bored as a student. She moved to Paris and started a journalism career working for the New Republic and a Hearst paper. In 1934, she returned to the United States where she got a job working for Harry Hopkins, head of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration under FDR.

In her new capacity, she travelled through Southern states and interviewed all kinds of people. It was the Great Depression. She was horrified by the poverty, sickness and malnutrition she found and she wrote about it. Hopkins forwarded her reports to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Mrs. Roosevelt was so impressed she invited Gellhorn to the White House for a visit. That was the start of what proved to be an important relationship in the lives of both women. Martha and Eleanor became fast friends. The Roosevelts invited Gellhorn to live in the White House which she did for a while. Mrs. Roosevelt became a close confidante and advisor.

As a journalist, Gellhorn had a desire to be where the action was. She had returned to St. Louis, her hometown, to write novels but she was drawn to Spain and the Spanish Civil War. She wrote:

“We knew, we just knew, that Spain was the place to stop fascism. This was it. It was one of those moments in history when there was no doubt.”

Gellhorn’s Spanish reporting was a high point in her journalism career. She wrote for Collier’s Weekly. The contending forces of democracy and fascism were lining up in an epic confrontation that proved to be a prelude of World War II. The Republican government fought against the fascist forces of General Fransisco Franco. The Australian writer, John Pilger said this about Gellhorn:

“I first understood the importance of the struggle in Spain from Martha Gellhorn. Martha, who was one of my oldest friends, is remembered as one of the greatest war correspondents and especially for her dispatches from Spain during the civil war. In November 1938 she wrote:

In Barcelona, it was perfect bombing weather. The cafes along the Ramblas were crowded.There was nothing much to drink: a sweet fizzy poison called orangeade and a horrible liquid supposed to be sherry. There was, of course, nothing to eat. Everyone was out, enjoying the cold afternoon sunlight. No bombers had come for at least two hours. The flower stalls look bright and pretty along the promenade. “The flowers are all sold, Senores. For the funerals of those killed in the eleven o’clock bombing, poor souls.” It had been a clear and cold day all yesterday… “What beautiful weather,” a woman said and she stood, holding her shawl around her, staring at the sky. “A catastrophe,” she said. Everyone listened for the sirens all the time, and when we saw the bombers, they were like tiny silver bullets, moving forever up, across the sky.”

Time and again, Gellhorn saw the human cost of those bombers and the misery inflicted on unarmed civilians. She used to invoke a Tolstoy quote that ‘governments are a collection of men who do violence to the rest of us’.

She was a premature anti-fascist. Recognizing the danger early, she saw that World War II would be a necessary war. In the late 1930’s her position was not widely held. In that era, there was plenty of confusion, lies and deceit obscuring the fascist threat. She wrote:

“Journalism is education for me. The readers, if any, may get some education too but the big profit is mine. Writing is payment for the chance to look and learn.”

During World War II, Gellhorn ignored American military restrictions on female war correspondents, stowing away on a hospital ship to gain a first-hand account of the Allied invasion of France in 1944. She reported from the beaches of Normandy in a nurse’s uniform. She spent the rest of the war filing from various front lines. She said she never knew if she was going to be alive the next day and that was immensely interesting.

At the end of the war, Gellhorn went to Dachau with the liberation troops and described it as a “circle of hell”. She wrote:

“Behind the wire and the electric fence, the skeletons sat in the sun and scratched themselves for lice. They have no age and no faces; they all look alike and like nothing you will ever see if you are lucky.”

Gellhorn’s biographer, Caroline Moorehead, wrote that exposure to Dachau changed Gellhorn in a profound, despairing way. She lost her belief that truth, justice, and kindness always prevail in the end. It was her dark side education. She said. “I’ll never forgive the Germans. Never. Never.”

Although her later career history is less well known, Gellhorn continued traveling to war zones and reporting, working for the Atlantic. She covered the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Vietnam war, the civil wars in Central America and the U.S. invasion of Panama.

To the extent that Gellhorn is now remembered, it seems to be mostly because of her short-lived marriage to Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway dedicated his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls to Gellhorn. There was a 2012 movie, Hemingway and Gellhorn, where she was played by Nicole Kidman. Gellhorn resented being known as Hemingway’s ex-wife.

Gellhorn lived to see Mandela address a multiracial parliament in Cape Town. Suffering from ovarian cancer, she took her own life in London on February 15, 1998.

The writer Victoria Glendenning, a friend, said Gellhorn was “a woman who was afraid of nothing and nobody. Though she held her convictions with passion, she had no self-conceit.” Since 1999, there has been a Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism for exposing what Gellhorn called “official drivel”. That seems fitting. We might want to ask why a writer of her stature remains so little known now.

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Shady and Blue – Fall 2019 – posted 11/8/2019

November 8, 2019 1 comment
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Where is the antisemitism coming from? – posted 11/2/2019

November 2, 2019 1 comment

These are uneasy times for American Jews. After Charlottesville and after the Pittsburgh and Poway, California synagogue shootings, it does seem like there has been some kind of resurgence of antisemitism. The degree of the resurgence remains unclear.

I had never thought I would see armed guards screening worshipers as they enter American synagogues.

On November 1, federal authorities arrested Richard Holzer, a self-described skinhead and former Ku Klux Klan member, who was accused of plotting to blow up a synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado. On Facebook, Holzer had written that Jews “need to die” and that they were a “cancer”. He had previously posted a video of himself urinating on a temple.

Holzer’s plot was quickly followed by another story about the alt right leader, Richard Spencer. Milo Yiannopolis, his alt right colleague and apparently ex-comrade, leaked an audio recording of Spencer from the day after the Charlottesville march. The recording has Spencer ranting about “little f—— kikes. They get ruled by people like me”.

The Anti-Defamation League recorded 1,879 antisemitic incidents nationally in 2018, with incidents ranging from vandalism to harassment. Of these antisemitic incidents, 1,794 were classified as “right wing (anti-government, white supremacist or other)”.

In 2019, the main danger to Jewish people comes from the far Right. It is not now nor has it ever come from the Left. Certainly there have been episodes of insensitivity or wrong-headed comments on the Left but there is no comparability. The numbers alone are very clear.

The increasing antisemitism goes along with an international trend reflected in right wing authoritarian governments and movements. Trump, Orban, Bolsanaro, Duterte and others of that ilk thrive on fear of the stranger, anti-intellectualism, and hateful rhetoric. Anti-semitism is one element in that toxic stew.

I think the shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway also persuasively show the role of online communities in radicalizing antisemitic bigots to engage in acts of violence. Neo-nazi and white supremacist websites have generated and continue to generate a surprising amount of traffic.

With the most disturbed racists and antisemites, there is a pattern of the true believer authoring an online manifesto explaining and attempting to justify his actions before he goes on a deadly shooting rampage. Their ideology is a key factor in understanding why they murder. Over the last ten years, white supremacists have been responsible for more homicides than any other extremist group in America.

The role of President Trump in all this must be mentioned and considered. It is no accident that he is a favorite of neo-nazis and the alt-right. They re-tweet him all the time and Trump returns the favor. Trump has served as an inspiration to far right extremists. He has continuously messaged the far Right that he is their guy.

Cesar Sayoc, the now-convicted Florida pipe bomber, illustrates the point. He was the guy who prepared pipe bombs for multiple Democratic leaders and people he considered political enemies. His bombs never went off and he was captured by police. Sayoc is a kind of fruit off a poisonous tree. You have to wonder how many other Sayocs are out there.

Consider Trump’s comments in August when he described Jewish Americans who vote for Democrats as showing “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty”. This was the second time this year that Trump invoked the antisemitic trope about dual loyalty. In April, before an audience of Jewish Republicans, he referred to Benjamin Netanyahu as “your prime minister”.

The dual loyalty trope has a long history. Trump is playing with the false association that the loyalty of American Jews is primarily to Israel. The antisemitic trope is that Jews are not loyal to their home countries; rather, they are infiltrators and outsiders.

I immediately thought of the Dreyfus Affair when Alfred Dreyfus was wrongly accused of betraying France. The common thread in the trope is that Jews harbor secret loyalty to some other, not us at home. The accusations against George Soros are very much in this same vein. Antisemites call Soros a “globalist” which effectively places him in the outsider category.

I think Trump’s attacks on Congressman Adam Schiff as “Shifty Schiff” are antisemitic. Schiff is Jewish. He is also chair of the House Intelligence Committee. In light of the impeachment probe, Trump has his reasons for fearing Schiff. Nevertheless, the way he has chosen to criticize Schiff is revealing. Trump has said:

“We don’t call him Shifty Schiff for nothing. He’s a shifty, dishonest guy.”

Trump had previously called Schiff “little pencil-neck”. Here he is playing on stereotypes of Jews as shady and unscrupulous. Think Shylock.

On October 2, Trump’s son, Don Jr. tweeted:

“And for those who don’t know who Adam Schiff is, he is not just a radical liberal, he is someone who has been hand-picked and supported by George Soros”.

Don Jr. went on to call Schiff a “Soros puppet”. While the Trump modus operandi is sliming opposition, Don Jr. has zero grounds to make the Soros accusation. Here Don Jr. is playing the antisemitic boogeyman card, throwing a bone to the irrational haters and conspiracy mongers in the Trump base.

Since 2016, the Trump campaign has played a cagey game with the use of antisemitism. Pepe the frog was a regular campaign meme. In July 2016, Trump tweeted out an image of the star of David, Hillary Clinton and piles of money. Shortly before the election, Trump used George Soros, Janet Yellen, and Lloyd Blankfein in his closing campaign ad.

Clearly, if Trump thinks that antisemitism can advance his interests, he is using it. It takes major league chutzpah to use antisemitism while accusing your opponents of being antisemites. Trump has certainly done this with the Squad, particularly Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, all women of color.

Trump’s accusations, especially against Omar, have been hateful smears. The pattern is well-established: find a quote about Israel, cherry pick a phrase or a quote, and make blatantly false accusations of antisemitism. Then get pro-Trump media outlets to pile on.

The real reason for these accusations of antisemitism is that Trump and the Republicans have lost the Jewish vote so badly. In the 2018 mid-term elections, 79% of American Jews voted for Democratic candidates with just 17% voting for Trump’s Republican Party. Next to African-Americans, American Jews have been the most loyal Democratic voting bloc.

Trump is weaponizing false accusations of antisemitism in an effort to peal away Jewish voters from the Democrats. Such political machinations minimize and trivialize real antisemitism.

Also, Trump absolutely refuses to call out the racism and antisemitism in his base. Witness the neo-nazis in Charlottesville who were “very fine people”. If Trump wanted to be taken seriously as someone who genuinely opposes antisemitism and racism, he would denounce it among his own supporters. I think we will be waiting a long time for that to happen because it won’t happen.

It needs to be said that no nation state is beyond criticism. Like all nation states, Israel needs to be criticized. I personally think the Netanyahu government has been a disaster for Israel and for the Jewish people. Part of the problem has been Israel’s failure to recognize the human rights of the Palestinian people. Jewish racism against Palestinians has been a disgrace and a shame. Given the history of the Jewish people, we should know better about all kinds of racism.

As an American Jew, I find accusations of disloyalty offensive. In the United States and in Israel, there are Jewish people with a wide range of political views on every issue. People need to vote their conscience. The last thing we need is President Trump or any other authority, acting as arbiter, dictating how we vote and passing judgment.

American antisemitism is coming from the same deep well that has long brought us racism, white supremacy and xenophobia. It is the same deep well that perpetrated the genocide against Native Americans, enslaved generations of African Americans and has cursed our history.

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Franklin Pierce and Slavery – posted 10/20/2019

October 20, 2019 1 comment

In writing about the New York Times 1619 Project and slavery, I made a notable error. As pointed out by Concord Monitor reader, William Judd, I had included New Hampshire’s only president, Franklin Pierce, on a list of presidents who owned slaves. He did not.

As someone who attended Franklin Pierce Law Center and as someone who has been to the Pierce Homestead in Hillsborough, I became curious about Pierce and the slavery question. There is not much good quality information readily available about Pierce.

I had previously read that a consensus of historians generally ranked him as one of our worst presidents. While it is true that Franklin Pierce did not own slaves, I think it is fair to say his slavery views and his handling of slavery-related issues were beyond abysmal.

Pierce hated abolitionists. It was a defining passion for him. Pierce was a Democrat and in that era before the Civil War, the Democrats were the political party generally aligned with pro-slavery interests. Although he was a Northerner, he had Southern-type principles.

When an Anti-Slavery Society formed in New Hampshire in 1835, Pierce wrote to a friend:

“One thing must be perfectly apparent to every intelligent man. This abolition movement must be crushed or there is an end to the Union.”

Before the Civil War, the country was incredibly divided over the slavery question. Pierce was a compromise presidential candidate in 1852. Democrats correctly believed Pierce would have national appeal since he was loyal to the Union but with a pro-Southern ideology. Pierce was the most pro-slavery New England politician.

Pierce won the Democratic nomination on the forty-ninth ballot at the 1852 Convention. He upset James Buchanan who had been expected to be the nominee. Senator William King of Alabama became Pierce’s Vice-President. Senator King’s family was the largest slaveholding family in Alabama.

After the 1852 Convention, New Hampshire Congressman Edmund Burke wrote to Pierce:

“I think we did right in putting King on the ticket. You know he is Buchanan’s bosom friend and thus a great and powerful interest is conciliated….The slave states will fall into our laps like ripe apples.”

At his inauguration in 1853, Pierce had this to say about slavery:

“I believe that involuntary servitude, as it exists in different States of this Confederacy, is recognized by the Constitution. I believe that it stands, like any other admitted right, and that the States where it exists are entitled to efficient remedies to enforce the constitutional provisions.”

Jefferson Davis, later the president of the Confederacy, was one of Pierce’s best friends. After his 1852 election to the presidency, Pierce made Jefferson Davis his secretary of war.

A crucial issue for Pierce was the expansion of slavery into the western territories beyond what was then the United States. Kansas and Nebraska were two places that were in play.The Compromise of 1820 had previously banned slavery north of the 36 degree 30” parallel, excluding Missouri. The South wanted to overturn that compromise.

There was a continuing battle between slave and free states that was reflected in the Compromise of 1850. Pierce was pushed by Senator Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and other Southern interests to weigh in on the side of the South. Pierce did so when he signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, a highly consequential piece of legislation that repealed the Missouri Compromise.

Both pro- and anti-slavery advocates poured into Kansas, leading to violent political confrontation in what became known as “Bleeding Kansas”. Probably no act of Congress divided the nation as much, heading the United States toward Civil War.

Pierce became unpopular in the aftermath of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Democrats moved on from him, making James Buchanan the party’s presidential nominee in 1856. Pierce was generally seen as someone who advocated for the pro-slavery states.

It needs to be mentioned that as president, Pierce enforced the Fugitive Slave Act. When an escaped slave named Anthony Burns was seized in Boston, President Pierce dispatched federal troops to enforce Burns’ return to Virginia. That show of force backfired and turned many New Englanders against slavery, so much so, that a multi-racial crowd of abolitionists attacked the court in Boston where Burns was being held and tried to free him. Pierce became hated for his role in this affair.

After his tenure as president, Pierce became a harsh critic of President Lincoln. When Lincoln was assassinated, a mob gathered outside Pierce’s home in Concord demanding to know why Pierce had not raised a flag as a public mourning gesture. Pierce was able to talk the mob down.

Pierce had been a very successful trial lawyer in Concord in the 1840’s. Before he became President, he had a long record of public service, including Speaker of the House in the New Hampshire Legislature, Congressman and Senator.

Although on domestic policy, Pierce had inflamed conflict, he had tried to unite the country with a very aggressive program of imperialism and foreign expansion. He had sought to annex Hawaii and purchase Cuba. Many abolitionists believed though that he wanted to acquire new territory for slavery.

Pierce suffered deep tragedies in his life, including the death of his three children. His eleven year old son Benny died in a horrible train accident in Andover Ma right before Pierce became president. Both he and his wife were there.

Pierce had a serious alcohol problem. He persisted in drinking even though his physical condition was deteriorating. He died in 1869 of cirrhosis of the liver. None of his family members were present. In his last years he had expressed support for Andrew Johnson’s version of Reconstruction and he applauded Johnson’s acquittal after he was impeached.

While to his credit, Pierce was not a slaveholder, I submit there is almost nothing there to feel good about. He was from New Hampshire but fundamentally he was a slavery collaborator.

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A case for the Green New Deal – posted 10/14/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 10/24/2019

October 14, 2019 Leave a comment

One thing that separates the 2020 presidential race from past contests is our more dire state of climate emergency. The evidence is right in front of our eyes: the wildfires in Los Angeles, the superstorms like Hurricane Dorian and Maria, the burning of the Amazon rain forest and the melting of Greenland’s ice shelf.

Due to Greta Thunberg, the Sunrise movement, and writers like Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein, we are much more aware that our times are anything but normal.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported that if countries want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius this century, they have to halve global emissions by 2030, become carbon-neutral by 2050 and go carbon-negative thereafter. That is a daunting challenge by any measure.

While most Democrats agree climate change is a major concern and they also agree the United States needs to zero out its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, presidential candidates’ plans about combatting climate change vary dramatically. Most of the Democrats have modest proposals and, in my opinion, pay climate change lip service. Many say they support the concept of a Green New Deal but few address the enormous funding required.

Part of the problem is the too-moderate bent of the Democratic party establishment. For so long they have sold small change as an adequate response to a wide range of problems including climate, economic inequality, lack of universal health coverage, mass incarceration and institutional racism.

During the Clinton era, that approach was best summed up by the term “triangulation”. Be a moderate Democrat but act like a centrist Republican. Too many Democrats have remained wedded to that approach. It actually allowed Trump to run against the Democrats as a status quo party.

Problem is though, when you face an emergency like climate change, small change does not cut it. The scientific community is telling us we have less than 11 years to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels. We could be facing uninhabitability for much of the planet and a Mad Max-like dystopia.

Fortunately, not all Democrats have signed on to a minimalist platform. The progressive wing of the party led by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have endorsed a more full-bodied version of the Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal is both an outlook and a political program. It is inspired by the vision of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who in the face of the Great Depression advanced a New Deal in the 1930’s. In spite of significant opposition, especially from the business community, the New Deal launched a massive transformation that included jobs, relief programs, and infrastructure.

The Green New Deal aims for a similar transformation to avert climate catastrophe and to create millions of new jobs. Some of the component parts include:

  • reaching 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030 and complete decarbonization by 2050
  • leading the international fight to reduce emissions throughout the world by rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and working to enforce aggressive climate reduction goals
  • rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure including the nation’s water systems so that we can better deal with floods, hurricanes, and wildfires
  • preserving our public lands and reinstating the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program that conserved wilderness
  • creating 20 million good-paying jobs in steel and auto manufacturing, construction, energy efficiency retrofitting, and renewable power plants
  • holding the fossil fuel industry accountable, making them pay for their pollution and the damage they have caused
  • helping workers in the fossil fuel industry transition to new work and careers
  • Incentivizing farmers to develop ecologically regenerative farming systems that sharply reduce emissions

Obviously in a proposal of this magnitude, questions abound. How this plan will be paid for is a totally legitimate question. As is the question of how it will get passed considering present opposition.

Green New Deal sponsors acknowledge the size of the price tag but they articulate a plan for payment. The plan generates money from different sources: revenue from selling energy via power marketing authorities, income taxes from the new jobs created, and money related to reducing military spending connected to protecting oil shipping lanes.

When opponents complain about the cost, the best response is consideration of the the cost of doing nothing. You can pick your doomsday scenario.

I think the biggest obstacle to the Green New Deal is the enormous cynicism and defeatism that exists about the state of the planet. Also there is huge cynicism about whether the system here can be changed to push through needed, radical changes. Our government has operated like a paralysis machine.

We can count on Green New Deal opponents to spread fear of an austere future and a too big federal government. That is predictable.

Overcoming the legacy of inaction and passivity is still on the agenda. The scientific knowledge about climate change has been out there for 30 or 40 years and we have not responded.

Naomi Klein put it this way:

“…I have been trying to figure out what is interfering with humanity’s basic survival instinct – why so many of us aren’t acting like our house is on fire when it so clearly is.”

A great place to start in learning about the Green New Deal is to read the full text of Congress’ Green New Deal Resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in February 2019.

As we consider the Democratic presidential candidates, I think a critical distinction to consider is each candidate’s Green New Deal position, if they have one. I would ask these questions: Does the candidate put dollars behind his/her proposal? How comprehensive is the plan? How deep does it go? Is it bold enough?

The extreme weather and climate disasters we face are a national emergency. We need to start acting like it.

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Lisa Baird, 10 Years Later – posted 10/6/2019

October 6, 2019 7 comments

This October marks ten years since my sister Lisa died. I often think about her. To say Lisa was a warm presence does not do her justice. She could fire up any room. Her sense of empathy was off the charts. Even with all her own hardships, she was always very concerned about the people around her. That included her clients as well as family and friends.

When someone dies, it is hard to appreciate the magnitude of the loss. Lisa’s loss shattered and splintered my family. She had held family together. I often think if she had not died how different events would have played out. I have no doubt that family togetherness would have been much more maintained.

It is funny how a charismatic person can have that power to stop potentially warring family factions from warring.

I have many wonderful memories of Lise that go back to early childhood. Although she was two years younger than me, she was a mentor. She often advised me, literally telling me what to say in all kinds of situations. She could have been a script writer. She had an opinion on everything. When younger, she would often come in to my bedroom, do homework and fall asleep on one of my twin beds. We talked non-stop for years. In the era before texting, she was a big phone-caller.

Lise was an early bird, never a night owl. She always had a wide circle of friends. She introduced me to many of her girl friends and I dated some of them. She used to joke that I was “stealing” her friends.

Lise was pretty athletic. I mostly remember her horseback riding and her swimming. She won awards at Camp Red Wing, riding English. She was always a strong swimmer. She did laps and could go for a couple miles. She used to go for long distance swims around Atlantic City with her friend Joyce Abrams.

Lise and I had bobbing contests in the pool at the Longport Seaview in Longport, NJ, when my parents had a place there. I always beat her and she would be pissed off in a good-natured way. She would say, “Boo-boo, you cheated” if she had an angle to argue.

Lise was not usually at a loss for words. She was a talker and her verbal skills were quite remarkable. The fact that she became a lawyer was quite appropriate.

She was a leader. Starting in school, she routinely got elected class president or Student Council president. During her years in the October League, she was district organizer in Philadelphia. Carl Davidson, a pretty famous radical in his own right, described Lisa as a “legendary organizer” in Philadelphia.

Lisa was politically precocious, figuring out capitalism at age 16. As a teenager, she went to meetings of Philadelphia Resistance, a draft resistance organization. At Baldwin School, Lisa locked horns with the head of the school, Ms. Cross. Lisa fought for minority scholarships at a time when the school was overwhelmingly white.

The school did not appreciate Lisa’s efforts. Although she was a fine student, Ms Cross blackballed her. Cross privately contacted all the colleges where Lisa applied, said she had “mental issues” and went on to describe my parents as “hippies” which was beyond laughable.

Lisa got accepted at none of the colleges where she had applied. That was mysterious because Lise was a very good student and I think it is fair to say she was widely liked by other students. My parents found out about the blackballing years later.

Lisa moved to Cambridge Ma after high school with her boyfriend Rusty Conroy. They had met on an American Friends Service Committee summer project on the Northern Cheyenne Indian reservation in Lame Deer, Montana. Rusty was Lisa’s first boyfriend and they remained great friends, always.

Lisa decided to go to college at the University of Texas in Austin. Austin was a very happy time in Lisa’s life. Political organizing became a passion for her. Since Lise never did anything the easy way, she did not finish at UT. She eventually moved back to Philadelphia and eventually finished her undergraduate work at Temple. Along the way, she learned Spanish.

In 1982, Lisa decided to go to law school. Her legal career was diverse. She started off working for Lehigh Valley Legal Services, worked as a staff attorney for Philadelphia City Council, then worked for HIAS and eventually she went into private practice. She had her own office on Cherry Street in Philadelphia.

In thinking about her lawyering career, I think of how much was lost when she died. She specialized in immigration law, representing clients who faced deportation or had asylum claims. Her advocacy skills are desperately needed now.

The synagogue shooter in Pittsburgh was angry at HIAS and that was where Lisa worked for some time. Lisa actually played an important role in pushing HIAS to represent clients from all over the world. HIAS had a past history of representing Russian Jews. Lise represented Ugandan child soldiers, women who were victims of female genital mutilation, Vietnamese boat people, and Chinese and Japanese restaurant workers, among others.

I know Lisa would have been in the thick of the fight against Trump’s immigration policies. She was a warrior. Walking around Philadelphia with Lisa was a trip. She knew so many people and had so many clients. Clients would always be coming up to Lise and saying things like, “Ms. Lee-ze, we will pay you.” Lise was a terrible bill collector. She needed a paralegal and a secretary and she functioned much better when she had one.

Considering her breast cancer, her productivity remained amazing. She did not let cancer slow her down that much until the end. After she died, my mom received a lovely card from the Immigration Court in Philadelphia signed by the judges and staff. The Court appreciated Lisa’s passion and excellence as an advocate. She fought hard for all her clients.

I think of the words of the lawyer, Gerry Spence, which fit Lisa:

“Lawyers should be chosen because they can demonstrate a history rich in human traits, the ability to care, the courage to fight, the will to win, a concern for the human condition, a passion for justice and simple uncompromising honesty. These are the traits of the lawyer.”

Lise brought the same dedication and passion to her role as a parent that she did to her lawyering. She was absolutely devoted to Molly and Lou. They were central in her life. I think all critical decisions she made, she made with her children in mind.

Lisa’s death left a gaping hole in my life that can never be filled. The sibling relationship is so special because you share a lifetime experience. No one else has that same kind of shared knowledge and experience.

When my parents died in their eighties, I at least felt like they were able to live long and good lives. I do not feel the same way about Lise. Her death was not in the natural order of things. She died at 56. I still miss her terribly.

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More Dogs – posted 10/4/2019

October 5, 2019 1 comment
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