The Rescuer’s Path by Paula Friedman
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.