My Friend Crush on Emma Goldman

Altered photograph picturing Emma Goldman with author Noam Green.

There is a certain type of girl our parents always told us to stay away from when we were younger; she was often described as bad news, or as bound to corrupt our innocent souls. Always getting herself into trouble, she's the type of girl who the adults detest and the kids idolize. My parents taught me something along the same lines, except I didn’t really have friends when I was younger so it was a non-issue. I’d like to think that in an alternate universe though, notorious anarchist Emma Goldman would be that girl who lived around the corner from me and whose presence in my life would make my parents’ hearts break out in palpitations. I can just picture it: Emma Goldman, clad in a (p)leather jacket, pulling up to my house and whisking me away to a protest or to an anarchist poetry reading.

We would be the best of buddies. I’d make her a mixtape and she’d give me a diatribe on the faults of the prison system. I’d make her a friendship bracelet and she’d practice her speeches vilifying capitalism on me. I’d write her a poem and she’d disclose to me her plans to assassinate financier and fierce union opponent, Henry Clay Frick. I’d bemoan the defunding of Planned Parenthood and she’d bemoan being arrested over illegally distributing information about birth control.

Our friendship would work because we have a lot in common, but also because we differ in many ways. Grounded in similar values, we would be able to have meaningful, varied conversations about our activism, yet not get bored of hearing the same opinion repeated over and over again. Our differences would spice things up and ensure that we would never run out of things to discuss.

Over the course of her life, Emma Goldman was lionized as a free-thinking “rebel woman,” and she sure earned it. Whether through her fiery speeches which incited countless riots, or her acts of anti-government conspiracy, Emma was seen as a threat to national security. Arrested and imprisoned on multiple occasions, her criminal record bore the scars of her political disobedience. In comparison to someone as volatile and impassioned as Emma, I’m a bowl of vanilla pudding. Although I haven’t ventured far from the path designated to me as a young, Jewish woman in the tri-state area, I’d like to think that some of my actions are reminiscent of Emma’s revolutionary historical legacy. Albeit on a much smaller scale, my acts of disobedience, such as protesting harmful decisions made by my town’s Board of Education, staging rallies at my school with my peers, or facilitating discussions among my friends about taboo social issues, are all on par with Emma Goldman’s anarchist activity.

Emma and I do happen to share certain philosophies regarding human rights, equality, and the faults of government, but I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily a positive thing. It would benefit our fictional companionship, but it also indicates that many of the issues Emma addressed over one hundred years ago are still prominent today. Emma wrote and lectured on such issues as gender politics, mass incarceration, freedom of speech, sexual freedom, militarism, and capitalism—all of which are still prevalent issues in today’s society. So yes, we’d be able to have an amicable conversation over coffee, but the thought is bittersweet. It is also important to note that these issues have transformed considerably in scope and in impact since Emma Goldman wrote about them. As a result, I’d imagine that while we hold the same core beliefs, they would be distinctly nuanced. My perception of the world is a lot smaller than Emma’s, thanks to globalization and technology, which obviously alters my perspective. An example of this is our views on the struggle for women’s reproductive rights. Emma Goldman fought to disseminate information about birth control to her audiences while lecturing all over the United States at a time when it was a taboo subject. On the other hand, my focus is more on improving high school sex education and providing individuals with affordable access to reproductive health care, including birth control options that are far more advanced than those of the early 20th century. This illustrates that we’d be on the same page regarding the majority of these issues, but our attention might be focused on different areas as determined by the context in which we address them.

I could see Emma and I disagreeing about many things, but also learning from our differences. For example, while I might not agree with anarchy as a course of action, I would try to place myself in her position of feeling confined by government control. I could easily picture us getting caught up in a discussion about the moral implications of the tactical use of violence, and debating whether or not revolutionary ends justify violent means. Or maybe we would engage in a debate about the nature of religion and whether or not it is possible to be both religious and autonomous.  All the while, our bond would be enhanced by our shared principles, ones that I’d argue and she’d vehemently deny, sprout from the Jewish historical experience. It is hard to form a dimensional perception of a person from a biography, and I must acknowledge that I have created an ideal Emma Goldman in my mind, but I’d like to think that we’d get along in reality. Our drastically different life experiences would give us differing worldviews; despite this though, I believe that true, fictional friendship transcends place and time—I can have a friend crush on whoever I please, dead or alive.

Emma + Noam = BFFs 4 LIFE (and death)

This article was also published on Teen Voices at Women's eNews.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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How to cite this page

Green, Noam. "My Friend Crush on Emma Goldman." 23 November 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 5, 2023) <>.

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