Author Guest Post: Paula Friedman

The Rescuer’s Path by Paula Friedman
ISBN 978-1935514886
200 pages
Plain View Press (February 1, 2012)

“Exciting, physically vivid, and romantic,” 
Ursula K. Le Guin, National Book Award, author

Last night my mother called to urge me to watch Hardball with Chris Matthews because he was covering The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the contraceptive coverage rule. This hearing was conducted by an all male panel which was astonishing since the discussion centered around whether or not birth control for women would (or should) be covered under healthcare plans. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California who boycotted the hearing, called the event “a sham” and declared women were being treated as chattel. Eleanore Holmes a District of Columbia Democrat walked out of the hearing in disgust.

It just goes to show you, we have not really “come a long way, baby.” There are still social justice battles to fight – and in this, an election year, it is more important than ever for citizens to sit up and pay attention. Women may have once fought (and won) the battle for some gender rights, but if yesterday’s hearing was any indication, it is not safe to just sit back and bask in the glory of past victories. And that is one reason why I jumped at the chance to have Paula Friedman guest post on my blog today.

Paula Friedman’s honors include Pushcart Prize nominations and New Millenium Writings, OSPA, and other awards and honors, as well as Centrum and Soapstone residencies and fellowships. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous print and online literary magazines and anthologies. Her novel The Rescuer’s Path was published this month by Plain View Press and a poetry chapbook, Time and Other Details, appeared in 2006.

Paula Friedman teaches fiction and memoir writing in Hood River, Oregon, and edits books for university and trade presses. She founded and managed the collective literary magazine The Open Cell and has run poetry readings and writers workshops in the Bay Area, Paris, and elsewhere, and has recently compiled an anthology of West Coast Jewish women’s poetry. Active in peace and justice issues, she received the 2006 award of the Columbia River Fellowship for Peace.

Today she is guest posting about her path as a social protester in the 1960’s versus the movements of today such as ‘occupy wall street.’ Now in her seventies, Ms. Friedman is still active in the social-political change movement. Learn more about Friedman and her work by visiting the author’s website.

On the Movement Trail

 © Paula Friedman

We were the first Cold War generation. It was a time, you know, when little girls had to be round, with golden curls, and there was no place for differences; like any other dark or skinny girl, I stood alone, “unpopular.” And the groping sexual ploys of frightened college boys, a few years later, hardly aided my self-esteem.

Like so many of us, I turned inward in uncertainties for some time, falling into forced self-destructiveness. And, while Eisenhower and then Kennedy confronted Russia over who could blow us higher, we young women—even those of us too philosophically sophisticated to swallow popular Freudian-isms—were swallowed by the variations that implied we just weren’t “womanly enough.” No matter how often we’d step into a shower, toss our Village sandals underneath some fellow’s bed, roll on antiperspirants, we had to keep on thinking (even as we waited for our world to suddenly collapse), “Whatever goes wrong comes basically from what is wrong in me.” And that “something wrong,” we had learned to misunderstand, must be something very basic indeed—some twist or dearth in our feelings or sexuality. Only “success,” only “happiness,” could prove our maturation (along with the required vaginal, mutual orgasm); only resigned “adaptation” could prove our “capacity to really love.”

Understand: few of us see it differently. Of course we questioned many, many areas, but our adult, designated role lay in first questioning our own wholeness, believing “I must change what’s wrong in me before I can—truly—judge, live, love” (let alone challenge man or State).

Thus, as the gates opened onto “Sixties” antiwar-counterculture Berkeley, I was “occupied” with seeking to change my “self.” And then, by some miracle, one summer night in 1965 I opened my door and followed not only a dark-eyed, foreign, revolutionary man but also the Movement into the crucial struggle for new ways of knowing, wider paths of love.

Within a year, in the nonviolent demonstrations at the gates of Port Chicago, a Bay Area weapons base, I learned what it is to risk one’s life for unknown people, what it is to hear one’s lover say “I need you” and to understand it is all right to long for this very need, the need for one’s love—all right to give and need. I learned what it is to be one with a beloved, with a community, with the child inside, and to trust one’s love to struggle through barricades.

So many of us in those few years flung off the huge weight of Cold War shames, suspicions, limits we had been taught to consider “ours.” Unfortunately, many of us, even as we fought to birth new consciousness, could not see that it was not selfishness, but simply love, to dare to raise a child alone. Of course, by the mid-1970s, with the Women’s Movement firm, many understood that a child could do just fine (other than economically) without a two-parent home, but in the late 1960s, when my first child was born and I gave him in adoption, we did not yet see this. Nor how it would be to not know of one’s child’s well being until—if fortunate—the child, grown up, would find one.

Social-political change remains part of my life. Since the Movement, I’ve worked on alternative newspapers, run collective literary magazines, struggled for reproductive freedom, for adoption reform, for affordable housing, against war and injustice. I definitely support Occupy as the unexpected, necessary Movement for today. Like the looming Bomb of the Fifties and Sixties, the patriarchic, hierarchic economic structure can—unless brought to light and stopped—destroy us all.

You see there’s no end to the trail once one steps out on it—the Movement trail, the struggle to heal, to birth, to renew the world.


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    • Barbara Ward on February 18, 2012 at 18:16

    She bares her soul that we might benefit. Powerful piece. Our daughters and grand-daughters can learn if they are open to do so. I have confidence that they will, and we will not lose what was so long in coming. They need us to be there for them… share what we went through for women’s rights and freedoms. History does indeed tend to repeat itself. “We shall overcome!”

      • Wendy on February 25, 2012 at 18:05

      I agree, Mom (Barbara!) – but then, you knew that, right!?!? *smiles*

  1. I want to thank you, Caribousmom, for this opportunity to guest-blog on your extraordinary site–and also for giving recognition to the connections of our “Sixties” struggles with today’s urgent confrontation with a dangerous right wing already 20 years in the ascendancy. As Barbara Ward, in her so very kind–and important–post here implies, if we continue today’s struggle, *we shall overcome* indeed.

      • Wendy on February 25, 2012 at 18:06

      Paula: Thank you SO much for coming on my blog and guest posting. This was a wonderful post and I hope that it motivates people to get out and do something!!

  2. Wow, this is powerful. It is about the best and worst of a movement and what we each can learn from walking the path of change. We need more people like her. I like the idea of a movement now, but the Occupy movement seems to lack direction or a message.

    But then at the same time, I think, is there message WE ARE HERE and YOU CAN’T IGNORE US? I would like to see these movements translate into votes for people looking to go inside and infuse change throughout the government system and the financial system…to make change happen, not just talk about it. And yes, I know I need to do more than simply educate myself and make the votes I think are right.

    Great post and a lot to think about and discuss…that hearing on contraception was a farce and Santorum is espousing more of that gibberish about women and pre-screenings and how all of it will lead to more abortions, etc. UGH

      • Wendy on February 25, 2012 at 18:07

      Serena: I agree – I think some of the protests in the 60s had better focus than the Occupy movement – but I do think it is important just to have voices heard. And I totally agree re: Santorum and his ilk. They are a scary group…and we need to make our voices count this year.

  3. I think we need to do electoral work, Occupy the streets work, respond against the Santorums and all the other chauvinists–so many ways to struggle. And we must. I’d agree that Occupy’s message (that of many of the Occupy groups) is We Are Here, You Can’t Ignore Us! and that 1% owning as much as 99% is wrong and deadly. Maybe main thing is, however we struggle, not to turn on those who struggle differently?

      • Wendy on March 9, 2012 at 21:24

      Paula: Sorry your comment somehow got “over filtered” by my spam detector! Anyway – thanks for coming back and adding to the discussion. I agree – we need to support each other. As a woman, I especially feel that my rights are being threatened…and we need to be loud and politically involved so that the wrong people don’t get into office and set back the clock. There is also such a huge discrepancy between the very rich and the middle class and poor. There are those people who want the rich to continue to have the voice in this country…so in terms of the Occupy movement, I agree that it is important the 99% let their voices be heard.

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