Monday, June 28, 2010

And now I'm reading...

I had never heard of this case, but it has come into my life in the past few weeks. I was reading (and now I can't remember why) Wikipedia about Bella Abzug and learned that as a young labor lawyer, she went to Mississippi in 1945 to help defend this man.

Then a friend of mine told me of a book he had bought his son full of diverse heroes and Bella Abzug was one of them. He asked if I had known of her, mentioned the Willie McGee case, and I said yes, I have.

Bella was a congressperson from NYC in the early 70s. She was a co-author of the Freedom of Information Act and oraganized the first world congress on breast cancer. A early feminist, she was the target of much ridicule because she wasn't "pretty" in the traditional sense... she was loud and spoke her mind and her nickname was Battling Bella.

One of her signature pieces was she would wear hats, often with flowers on them.

One day back during that time I was at some cookout at a colleague's home in the suburbs and it was outside and I was wearing a straw hat with flowers on it, and this one wife, who really was a witch, looking down her nose at the "working girls" from her lofty perch as someone's wife said to me, "Oh Pat, you look just like Bella Abzug."

I knew it was meant to hurt, but she was such a jerk, it didn't. I said, "Thank you. To be compared to Bella Abzug in any way is a great compliment to me." In other words, F you. And I meant it.

Years later, she was running for something else and was campaigning at my subway stop at 86th Street and there was a line of people who wanted to meet her, and I stood in line. I remember it was winter and I took off my gloves to shake her hand. She really was an amazing woman.

So fast forward, and now I am reading this book. The first night she arrived in Mississippi, the hotel would not honor her reservation, nor would any other hotel in town so she spent the first night sitting in a bathroom stall in the bus station because of threats from the Klan. Who wouldn't want to be compared to someone that brave?

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