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How to Be a Disruptive Patriot

Let’s be honest: the Fourth of July is a fun holiday, what with the hamburgers, the watermelons, the fireworks, and the summer camps, but I’m guessing that many of us are not super enthused about celebrating the land of the free and the home of the brave this year, given the current garbage fire of American politics and the dark truths that said garbage fire has revealed about the priorities and mores of our nation.

But patriotism does not equal jingoism. It doesn’t mean Instagramming fireworks and wearing American flag sunglasses; it doesn’t mean blindly supporting any and all aspects of the American system and any and all policies enacted by the American government. Patriotism means loud and defiant criticism of systematic injustices in America. It means speaking out against the broken or immoral aspects of our country. It means holding our country, and our political leaders, accountable to the ideals on which we were founded.That’s why, this Fourth of July, we want you to take a few moments to read about five Jewish women whose patriotism took the form of brave and constructive critique of the American system.

Rose Schneiderman

Rose Schneiderman (1882-1972)

In the early 20th century, life for a worker in the United States was dangerous, dirty and poorly compensated. Workers toiled long hours for low pay, and enjoyed few protections in an unregulated workforce; female workers saw even lower compensation and weaker protections. Rose Schneiderman, a Polish-Jewish immigrant and a factory worker, saw these injustices, and throughout the course of her career, helped transform the life of the average American worker. She was involved in leadership roles with female labor organizing groups for decades, notably organizing the Uprising of the 20,000, a large-scale strike of shirtwaist makers in New York in 1909. She called for state regulations of the workplace and encouraged equal-pay laws to address the wage disparity between male and female workers; in 1933, she assumed a position on FDR’s National Labor Advisory Board, where she continued to fight for equal pay for female workers and advocated for social security for domestic workers. Schneiderman’s truism, that women workers need bread as well as roses, has reverberated down through the decades; her tireless advocacy for her fellow working-class women reverberates in American society today.

The wage gap between male and female workers still persists; read up on a group that’s fighting to end it.

Roberta Galler, 1962

Roberta Galler (1936-2014)

One way that black Americans’ rights have always been oppressed is through disenfranchisement policies, either on or off the books. This voter suppression was one of the main issues targeted by Civil Rights activists in the 1960s who were trying to end decades of oppression of black Americans in the South. One such activist was Roberta Galler, a University of Chicago student who helped take depositions from black Mississippians who had been prevented from voting in the 1964 Congressional election. These more than 600 depositions proved that the results of that election were unconstitutional; because many black residents were barred from voting; the results did not reflect the majority opinion of voters in the state. By participating in this integral aspect of the Civil Rights movement, Galler helped challenge the systemic prejudice that still oppresses black Americans Unfortunately, racist voter suppression is not a relic of the past. Read up on the unconstitutional gerrymandering that jeopardizes fair elections these days.

Barbara Boxer

Barbara Boxer (1940–)

Is it fair to put a politician on a list of outspoken radicals? After all, a career in politics typically seems antithetical to truly revolutionary change. However, we need people working inside the system standing up for what’s right just as much as we need people outside leaning on the system and pressuring it to change. Barbara Boxer, a former senator for California, is a prime example of a politician who has fought injustices, both new and entrenched, in the course of her career. As a representative in the 1980s, Boxer was an outspoken feminist, fighting for abortion rights and leading the charge in 1991 to reopen Senate hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas in light of Anita Hill’s testimony that Thomas had sexual harassed her. As a senator, she was one of only fourteen to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and she was outspoken against the Iraq War in 2002. Boxer is a reminder that politicians don’t have to degrade themselves to the status quo, and instead can continue to advocate for positive change and a progressive America. Curious what’s going on with this issue today? Read up on Kamala Harris, who holds the seat Boxer once occupied and who has fought for issues such as the Affordable Care Act and for criminal justice reform.

Leslie Feinberg

 Leslie Feinberg (1949-2014)

Leslie Feinberg was a working-class lesbian and transgender activist whose writings were groundbreaking, revealing the systemic discrimination and horrific, state-sponsored violence visited upon LGBTQ Americans in the mid-twentieth century. Feinberg is perhaps best known for her novel Stone Butch Blues, a story of a working-class gender-fluid lesbian coming of age in Buffalo, New York. Feinberg was also editor of the Workers World newspaper, for which she wrote articles detailing LGBTQ issues. She was a passionate activist on behalf of women, LGBTQ people, and the disabled. Feinberg’s work remains a source of inspiration to LGBTQ people today, and she’s also a reminder to all of us of the power of an individual standing up and publicizing the suffering that the state both explicitly and implicitly condones. Find out more about LGBTQ rights today over at Keshet.

Alicia Garza

Alicia Garza (1981–)

In 2013, vigilante George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. When labor and LGBT activist Alicia Garza heard that news, she decided she’d had enough of our criminal justice system’s systematic failure to protect people of color. She posted a love letter to black Americans on Facebook, an affirmation that those lives and bodies matter; she ended her post with the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” Her friend turned it into the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, and the rest is history. Garza co-founded the organization Black Lives Matter, an international protest movement against violence and systematic racism. In the years since the organization’s founding, case after case of unjust killings of black Americans has lit up the news cycle. Black Lives Matter ensured that these murders aren’t ignored or dismissed, through measures such as the Say Her Name campaign, which fosters awareness of black female victims of police brutality. America, both past and present, is riddled with injustices against workers, women, people of color, and LGBT people, perpetrated either through neglect or explicitly by arms of the state.

These five women are reminders that the most patriotic action you can take is to stand up and challenge those injustices when you see them. Not sure where to start? This Fourth of July, Congress is on vacation, but we’re still thinking about the Senate healthcare bill that would strip insurance from millions of Americans. In between waving sparklers and slicing into that watermelon, why not track down your senator or representative at a parade or town celebration and ask him or her to vote no on this bill? What better way to celebrate the Fourth than by fighting for your vision for a greater, more progressive, more just America?

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Parade of Suffragists, July 4, 1910
Full image
A float holding suffragists on the "safe and sane" July 4th, 1910. This public service programming sought to bring down the number of deaths and injuries during 4th of July-related events and activities.
A woman holds a banner reading "Woman's cause." The front of the float reads "Woman's cause is man's cause."

Courtesy of Chicago Historical Society.
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How to cite this page

Cataneo, Emily. "How to Be a Disruptive Patriot." 3 July 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 26, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/how-to-be-disruptive-patriot>.

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Margaret Bergmann Lambert, the Jewish high jumper excluded from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, has died in Queens. https://t.co/dQNsmiq9et