JWA's Greatest Hits: Meet Steampunk Emma Goldman
One of my favorite aspects about being Jewish is mixing tradition with the present. Miriam Rosenberg Roček has found the ideal way to incorporate a classic, Jewish feminist icon from the 19th century with her modern day activism as Steampunk Emma Goldman.
With her glasses, armband, and hairpins, Steampunk Emma Goldman has everything she needs to take on the current economic, labor and human crises. She explains to her audience how after being exiled from America, she uses a time travel device to help those who need revolution today.
For those unfamiliar, "steampunk" is a literary sub-genre often associated with science fiction and fantasy that incorporates Victorian era ideals with fantastical steam-powered devices like engines and airships and accessories including goggles and gears. Today, steampunk is an increasingly popular subculture with its own music, conventions, and fashion aesthetic.
Roček first started dressing in a steampunk fashion five years ago. She enjoyed making jewelry and tinkering with pieces that would become her look. But as much as Roček enjoyed steampunk role-playing and felt enriched by its historical tradition, she didn’t see the celebration of activists. Many steampunk “figures” are scientists so Roček decided to draw on her own inspiration and create a character with whom she could identify.
“One of the problems with focusing on the oppression of the 19th century is that it actually removes from the conversation the accomplishments of countless women, immigrants, people of color, workers, and other marginalized groups,” said Roček. “It's all well and good to admit that rich white men were at fault, but focusing on them as villains does a disservice to the people who fought against them. They deserve recognition. Emma Goldman deserves it more than most; she managed to be right about a lot of things that most of her contemporaries were wrong about.”
As Steampunk Emma Goldman, Roček has organized labor rallies. At the most recent Steampunk World Faire, she gave a speech about the threats to labor organizing in the current political climate. There was even a counter protest of well-dressed gentleman to denounce labor rights of workers. “This is engaging in politics in a fun way,” she said.
Roček grew up as a fourth-generation Jewish atheist. Though she briefly wanted a Bat Mitzvah, she grew up secular. She was also raised feminist; her parents kept copies of Ms. Magazine in the bathroom. “It actually took me a while to realize that being a feminist was unusual or that the ideas were something that genuinely needed to be fought for,” said Roček. “It was only really post-college that I think I began to take it truly seriously, because it was only then that I realized how much was at stake.”
“I basically take any issue that Emma Goldman and I would have agreed on and create an event out of it,” said Roček about her latest rally on LGBT rights. “Emma Goldman was an advocate of LGBT rights, even though she herself was not queer.” For this event, Roček got up on a flatbed truck—there was no stage—and spoke about what it was like to be gay or trans in Emma Goldman’s time.
“There was a 19th Century gay community that was hidden in plain sight. There were drag balls but people could be arrested for dressing as the opposite gender at the balls.”
So what’s next for Steampunk Emma Goldman? Possibly an immigration reform or reproductive rights rally. Or maybe an exploration of Emma Goldman’s religious identity: “Emma Goldman was a Jewish atheist like me. I’d like to see some kind of atheist event.” According to her Facebook page, Steampunk Emma Goldman may soon make an appearance at the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City.
This month, Roček is starting her own blog focusing on activists of the 19th century. Make sure to check it out! And for those of you in New York, be sure to look out for upcoming performances and rallies featuring the one and only Steampunk Emma Goldman!
How to cite this page
Rafey, Kate. "JWA's Greatest Hits: Meet Steampunk Emma Goldman." 3 October 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 26, 2015) <http://jwa.org/blog/meet-steampunk-emma-goldman>.