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← The Revolutionary Life of Emma Goldman #OrdinaryWomen

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Showing Revision 2 created 09/10/2016 by Ebony Adams.

  1. Years before her critics dubbed her
  2. one of the most dangerous people in America,
  3. a young woman named Emma Goldman
  4. found herself at a dance.
  5. Although she was a political activist
  6. attending the event to gain support for her cause,
  7. she also just loved dancing --
  8. so much so that one of her allies took her aside
  9. to criticize her for being frivolous and undignified.
  10. After all, should a serious activist
  11. be seen having so much fun?
  12. Furious at the interruption,
  13. Goldman told the young man
  14. to mind his own business,
  15. because the liberty she fought for
  16. was not about the "denial of life and joy."
  17. Instead, she said,
  18. "I want freedom,
  19. the right to self-expression,
  20. everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things."
  21. For Goldman, a revolution without dancing
  22. was not a revolution worth having.
  23. She was born in 1869 to Jewish parents
  24. in the Russian Empire and raised by a
  25. distant mother and an abusive father
  26. who tried to force her to marry at age 15.
  27. When she refused, he threw her French
  28. grammar book in the fire, saying,
  29. "Girls do not have to learn much!
  30. All a Jewish daughter needs to know
  31. is how to prepare gefullte fish,
  32. cut noodles fine, and give the man
  33. plenty of children."
  34. There are few women in her era who would defy
  35. that idea of womanhood quite as much
  36. as Emma Goldman.
  37. When she was 16, she escaped her father
  38. by emigrating to the United States,
  39. where she discovered her true calling:
  40. a political rebel and a fiery orator who would spend
  41. her entire life calling for revolution.
  42. She was horrified by the tragic story
  43. of several labor activists who were executed
  44. in Chicago, and found herself drawn to the labor
  45. movement and eventually to anarchism.
  46. Contrary to what that word might suggest,
  47. Goldman's philosophy was not about
  48. disorder and chaos.
  49. It was about personal freedom
  50. and rejecting institutions she believed
  51. were repressive:
  52. government, religion, war,
  53. business interests,
  54. and even marriage.
  55. Although she did end up marrying several times
  56. out of convenience or for citizenship,
  57. Goldman rejected traditional notions of marriage
  58. and chose never to have children.
  59. Goldman quickly became one of the most
  60. famous radical figures in America,
  61. whose power with words was sometimes
  62. referred to as a "sledgehammer."
  63. She traveled across the country
  64. speaking so passionately that the famed reporter,
  65. Nellie Bly,
  66. would dub her a "little Joan of Arc."
  67. Over the years, Goldman was sent to prison
  68. for her ideas several times,
  69. once for promoting birth control,
  70. once for discouraging men from registering
  71. for the draft, and once for
  72. telling unemployed workers to "take bread"
  73. from the wealthy if they were deprived
  74. of work and food.
  75. Despite her support for female independence,
  76. she often found herself at odds with suffragists,
  77. believing it less important to get women the vote
  78. in systems she viewed as oppressive
  79. than to dismantle them entirely.
  80. Emma said, "the right to vote, or equal civil rights,
  81. may be good demands, but true emancipation
  82. begins neither at the polls nor in courts."
  83. She said, "it begins in woman's soul."
  84. She believed that women needed to reject
  85. the sexist rules of societies and governments
  86. and assert their right to make decisions
  87. about their lives and their bodies.
  88. Only that, said Goldman, would truly
  89. set women free.
  90. Although she was heterosexual,
  91. Goldman was one of the earliest
  92. American advocates for gay rights,
  93. as well as birth control
  94. and the sexual freedom of women.
  95. "I demand the independence of woman;
  96. her right to support herself;
  97. to live for herself;
  98. to love whomever she pleases,
  99. or as many as she pleases," she wrote.
  100. "I demand freedom for both sexes,
  101. freedom of action, freedom in love,
  102. and freedom in motherhood."
  103. Many of her ideas about gender, sex, and sexuality
  104. would be considered controversial even today--
  105. and in the late 1800s,
  106. they were positively shocking.
  107. Goldman was a thorn in the side of
  108. American authorities for many years.
  109. In 1919, they finally declared
  110. her American citizenship invalid,
  111. and deported her back to Russia,
  112. which had recently had
  113. a people's revolution of its own.
  114. But what she found in the aftermath
  115. was not the utopia of her dreams,
  116. but rather another repressive regime
  117. willing to crush the rights of its own citizens.
  118. After meeting with Lenin himself,
  119. she became deeply disillusioned
  120. with the new, communist government.
  121. So she traveled abroad speaking out about
  122. the oppressiveness of the Soviets,
  123. which alienated many of her allies
  124. and got her ejected from both
  125. Sweden and Germany.
  126. When she finally returned to America in 1934
  127. (with the permission
  128. of the Roosevelt administration)
  129. Goldman was a grandmotherly figure in her 60s,
  130. but just as stubborn and outspoken
  131. as she'd ever been.
  132. On her final U.S. speaking tour,
  133. her speeches rallied against
  134. the fascism of Hitler's Germany
  135. and the communism of Stalin's Russia,
  136. angering people on the right and the left.
  137. Even old age could not dampen
  138. her revolutionary spirit;
  139. at 67, she traveled to Barcelona
  140. to support workers and anarchists
  141. who had risen up against fascism
  142. during the Spanish Civil War.
  143. She called them a "shining example"
  144. to the rest of the world,
  145. and told an audience of 10,000 that
  146. "your ideal has been my ideal for 45 years,
  147. and it will remain to my last breath."
  148. At the end of her life,
  149. when the goals of her cause seemed more
  150. unpopular and further away
  151. from reality than ever,
  152. Goldman never wavered in her beliefs,
  153. even when the price was deportation,
  154. threats of violence, and prison terms.
  155. She hoped that her example could light the way
  156. for future generations as well.
  157. As she wrote to a friend and former lover
  158. years before her death,
  159. "someday, sometime long after we're gone,
  160. liberty may again raise its proud head.
  161. It is up to us to blaze its way --
  162. dim as our torch may seem today --
  163. it is still the one flame."
  164. Throughout her life, Goldman had a knack
  165. for infuriating both friends and foes,
  166. but would never compromise her convictions
  167. or the way she lived to please either of them.
  168. "A trail of bonfires marked Goldman's
  169. rampage through life,"
  170. wrote one historian, and indeed,
  171. Goldman was willing to burn almost any bridge
  172. in the name of her truth.
  173. As she once said
  174. (when a young man tried to stop her from dancing)
  175. she would never stop fighting for a world
  176. where liberty was the birthright
  177. of every human being,
  178. and where women could
  179. live, love, and dance
  180. as freely as they wanted.