Sunday, March 29, 2020

A beautiful article in the New York Times about Grace's friends Eva Kollisch
and Naomi Replansky.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Washer Women in El Salvador!

The Bread and Puppet "Washer Women" were initially part of
a tribute to Grace Paley and the activism of women against
nuclear war in the 1980s,  This year a troupe of puppeteers
went to El Salvador as part of a Central American tour. The
sign says: We are not indifferent to the violence against women.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Charlotte Brown Refused to Leave

Charlotte Brown was from a prominent African-American family in San Francisco, California when she refused a conductor’s demand that she remove herself from a streetcar because “colored persons were not allowed to ride.” This was on April 17, 1863, nearly a hundred years before Rosa Parks challenged public streetcar segregation in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954.
In 1863, San Francisco had the largest Black population in the state of California. It was the era of California Gold Rush that drew many entrepreneurs to its western shore. African-American migrants to the region were faced with a social climate that included a prohibition against the public vote. They could not ride public transportation, nor could they use the public library. Like other African-Americans across the nation, they could only attend segregated public schools.
On April 17, 1863, Brown had a doctor’s appointment that was the reason for her boarding the Omnibus Railroad streetcar. She walked onto the horse-drawn streetcar and took a seat midway in the car. The conductor walked down the aisle to collect passenger tickets. Brown wrote that she “handed him my ticket and he refused to take it. He said that colored persons were not allowed to ride.” Instead of accepting the ticket, the conductor demanded that Brown remove herself from the streetcar. When Brown refused, she was forcibly removed by the streetcar attendant.
Charlotte Brown’s father, an owner of a livery service, helped protect fugitive slaves seeking freedom in California. He encouraged her to fight this treatment in court. That same year, a law had been passed in the California legislature that allowed African-Americans to testify in cases involving whites. Brown’s father would bring a lawsuit on her behalf in a California court.
The Omnibus Railroad argued that its streetcar conductor was justified for his action because racial segregation was necessary to protect European American women and children who might be “fearful or repulsed” by sitting alongside an African-American. This argument was unsuccessful. The judge sided with Brown, but the damage award was only 5 cent — reimbursement of the cost of the streetcar fare.
Only days after this court judgment, another Omnibus streetcar conductor forced Charlotte Brown and her father from a streetcar. Another lawsuit ensued. In 1864, Judge C. C. Pratt of the 12th District Court ruled that San Francisco streetcar segregation was illegal, stating in his opinion: “It has been already quite too long tolerated by the dominant race to see with indifference the Negro or mulatto treated as a brute, insulted, wronged, enslaved, made to wear a yoke, to tremble before white men, to serve him as a tool, to hold property and life at his will, to surrender to him his intellect and conscience, and to seal his lips and belie his thought through dread of the white man’s power.”
Brown was awarded $500 from the jury in this second civil rights case. Without the support of the 14th Amendment — which was not in existence at the time — Charlotte Brown challenged racial discrimination. She took a stand against racial injustice on the streets of San Francisco, fueling a long tradition of civil rights activism among African-American women.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

From Pam McAllister: Tribute to Ona Simaite


Nothing remains of the Great Library of Alexandria in Egypt, where thousands of irreplaceable papyrus scrolls were turned to ash after a series of Roman conquests.
Illustration of the torching of the Great Library of Alexandria

Nalanda, a major repository of Buddhist knowledge and other ancient writings in India, was first ransacked by invading Huns and then destroyed in 1193 by invading Turks. (Good news, it reopened in 2014.
Christian Crusaders destroyed the Imperial Library of Constantinople in 1204.
In 1258, the House of Wisdom (Nizamiyah) was burned to the ground in Baghdad during a Mongol invasion. Thousands of books were thrown into the Tigris River, turning the water inky black.
A Franciscan monk ordered the burning of all ancient Mayan texts, during the Spanish conquest of the Yucatán in 1562.
The British burned down the Royal Library of the Kings of Burma in 1885.
Japanese soldiers in WWII destroyed numerous libraries throughout China.
The Khmer Rouge ravaged the National Library of Cambodia in the 1970s.
In the 1980s, Indira Gandhi gave the order to destroy the Sikh Reference Library in Punjab.
During the Siege of Sarajevo, in 1992, the Bosnian Serb Army gutted the National Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
And just last year, a library was destroyed in Tripoli when 80,000 books and rare manuscripts went up in flames at the hands of Islamic extremists.
And this is only a partial list. Warring humans of all stripes destroy libraries.


Crowded street in the Vilna Ghetto
Crowded street in the Vilna Ghetto

Is it any wonder that librarians are sometimes called upon to be brave, speak against censorship, or come to the aid of books and book lovers?
Ona Šimaitė (1894-1970) was stocky and drab. No one gave her a second look, not even the SS guards at the gates of the Vilna Ghetto. Šimaitė used this to her advantage.
A librarian at Vilnius University in the capital of Lithuania, she repeatedly ventured into the walled ghetto on the pretext of collecting overdue books. The Jews who were corralled there lived on top of each other, until they were escorted in small groups out into the woods to be massacred.

The Nazis smirked at Šimaitė, fussing over a few books. After all, they regularly burned great heaps of books and, in 1941, looted and destroyed the world’s largest library of Jewish learning, the Strashun Library, a landmark in Vilna.
Under her lumpy coat, Šimaitė smuggled in food, medicine, money, and counterfeit documents. She carried out letters, precious manuscripts, rare books, and, at least once, a young woman.
In 1944, she was found out, arrested, and tortured, hung upside down and questioned for days, the soles of her feet burned with hot irons. She survived the war, but never regained her health. Nor did she write much about her heroic actions. Instead, she wrote letters, often twenty a day, to other survivors, offering comfort and encouragement. Her story of quiet courage has only recently been pieced together.



“In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was ‘Read!.’” That’s what Alia Muhammad Baqer (Baker) told a reporter for The New York Times.
Baqer was the chief librarian of the Central Library in Basra, Iraq when the Bush administration led a coalition of nations into the Iraq War. The stated mission was to find weapons of mass destruction and end Saddam Hussein’s rule.

Illustration by Jeanette Winter from “The Librarian of Basra”
Illustration by Jeanette Winter from "The Librarian of Basra"

As talk of war increased, the governor moved his offices into the library and mounted machine guns on the roof. Baqer worried that this made the library a target for invading armies.
When the governor refused permission for the books to be moved to another location, Baqer took the law into her own hands. No one noticed when she left work with her handbag stuffed full of books, others hidden under her shawl. She loaded them into her car, then returned for more, walking quietly past government officials too busy to notice.
Once home, her husband helped her stack the books in a closet. Over the course of several days, she brought home enough books to fill every closet, the guest room, and hallways.
As British forces approached, looters went wild. They got into the library and took everything they could put their hands on — staplers, coffee machines, tables, lamps, chairs. They took everything but the books.

When bombs began to fall, Baqer organized the library staff and book-loving neighbors. Together, they passed books out of the library, over a wall, and into the restaurant of a friend. They worked until midnight and promised to return in the morning.
That night, however, the library was hit. All the remaining books were destroyed in a fire that leveled the building. Terrified, in tears, and exhausted, Baqer had a stroke and was rushed to the hospital. Fortunately, she recovered enough to oversee the distribution of the books to temporary shelters. Her efforts saved 30,000 books.
Though she continued to grieve all the books not saved, Baqer looked ahead to the day when the people of Basra could live in peace and walk through the doors of a fully restored library full of books.


Ona Šimaitė
Ona Šimaitė and the Vilnius Ghetto: An Unwritten Memoir” by Julija Sukys, Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences, Summer, 2008.
Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Simaite by Julija Sukys, University of Nebraska Press, 2012 (a remarkable book about the challenges of researching the life of a quietly courageous woman)

Nazi Book Burning (9:41 mins) Short documentary by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Alia Muhammad Baqer (Baker)
After the War: The Librarian; Books Spirited to Safety Before Iraq Library Fire” by Shaila K. Dwan, The New York Times, July 27, 2003
25-Alia-BOOKIraqi Librarian Saved 30,000 Books During 2003 Invasion” in Al Arabiya News, March 17, 2013
25-Librarian-Book-CoverAlia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq written and illustrated by Mark Alan Stamaty (graphic novel), 2004, Knopf Books for Young Readers.
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter (picture book) 2005, Harcourt, Inc.

The Librarian of Basra, a picture book by Jeanette Winter, read aloud by Diane Santiago, with sound effects. (4:45 mins)


25-Reach-OutFor more about the Reach Out and Read program which aims to increase early childhood literacy, go to this website:

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Happy Birthday Grace

Grace and Karl Bissinger WRL Leaders

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Grace and David McReynolds

From Pam MacAlister:
At Judson Memorial Church today I joined many friends to celebrate the life of DAVID MCREYNOLDS (1929-2018). A gay radical pacifist, socialist, champion of peace, David had a passion for cats, community, plants (bromeliads), music, photography, cooking, life. I knew him to be gentle, generous, insightful. At his request, the program began with a recording of Bessie Smith singing “You’ve Been a Good Ole Wagon” (but you done broke down) and ended with Beethoven’s “9th” (Ode to Joy). Tears flowed freely as we stood to remember a life well lived. (Photo: David walking beside Grace Paley in a 1960s antiwar protest in D.C.)

Friday, November 23, 2018

22 November, 2018 (Unceded Coast Salish Territories) — Several more pipeline opponents were sentenced to jail today, and 85-year old Joanne Manley, the oldest Protector jailed for blockading construction on the now stalled Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project, received a fine of $2,000 and 14 days of house arrest.
“Facing 14 days in jail frightens me, but a climate catastrophe frightens me more,” said Manley, before her sentencing. “The Trans Mountain Pipeline and tanker project will be the final nail in the coffin for BC’s beloved Orcas, our Southern Resident whales. If there’s an oil spill like what happened to Newfoundland last week, Vancouver harbour and our coastal waters will be poisoned. I made a decision to do whatever I could to stop the pipeline – for every child and grandchild, for the Orcas, and for this planet.”
While the Crown recommended a 30-day conditional sentence of house arrest and a $2,000 fine,  defence counsel Robert Janes asked for a conditional sentence of 7 to 14 days of house arrest based on mitigating factors like health. Judge Affleck then sentenced Manley to a conditional sentence of 14 days of house arrest and a $2,000 fine to be paid by January 31, 2019.
Ronald Berezan, Jo Ann Murray, and Judith Rees-Thomas were sentenced today to 7 days in jail and taken into custody immediately. Danika Dinsmore was also given a conditional sentence of 7 days home detention and 150 hours of community service due to mitigating factors. All four Protectors were arrested May 18.
Earlier today, two defendants were in court on an application to recuse Judge Affleck due to bias. No ruling was made, as the judge reserved judgment.
Government of Canada corporation Trans Mountain is also taking an active role in persecuting pipeline opponents. Tomorrow, defendants Lini Hutchings and Reverend Laurel Dykstra face sentencing for 7 days in jail on civil contempt charges, as well as Trans Mountain’s legal costs. The Crown corporation has not revealed the total amount it is seeking to cover legal costs. These charges were previously dropped by prosecution and Kinder Morgan, but Trans Mountain Corporation opted to pick up the suit after the Government of Canada purchased the pipeline and tanker project.
Donations to support Protectors can be made to the Stop KM Legal Fund:

Monday, November 19, 2018

Why One Jewish Woman Supports the Women's March

by Jennifer Friedlin

When Rev. Louis Farrakhan calls Jews termites, I feel disgusted.
When someone says you cannot be a progressive and a Zionist, I get livid.
When someone tells me I should walk away from the Women’s March, I could not disagree more.
I am a Jewish Israeli-American woman. I know that words can lead to deadly outcomes. I know that leadership matters and that people who can draw crowds can also plant seeds of destruction.

However, I am also an activist who has sat in a police wagon with Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour and listened to fellow leader Tamika Mallory speak eloquent truths to crowds of protesters. I have nodded along with their words and grew convinced that the raw power and passion generated by the march could affect real change.
So I felt deeply divided as I read about Alyssa Milano’s and Debra Messing’s decision to distance themselves from the march because of Sarsour’s and Mallory’s ties to Farrakhan and their own alleged anti-Semitic statements, respectively.
On face value how could Jewish women stand by anyone who aligns herself with those who represent hateful ideas? But I am convinced the march, and particularly the women of color who lead it, did just that when they decided to spawn this movement.
As a white Jewish woman, I have come to understand that even as I was learning about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, I was benefitting from systemic racism. My parents may not have been able to buy a home in Garden City, L.I., where anti-Semitic policies excluded Jews, but they were welcomed in Roslyn, where they got a mortgage and built equity in a way not afforded to people of color. My prestigious high school tracked kids based on the color of their skin.
In college things did not improve. My Ivy League university was filled with kids who openly said black students only got in because of affirmative action. There were just a couple of non-white students in my graduate journalism program. I have never had a boss of color.
I may have worked hard to get where I am, but any obstacles and barriers I faced reflected gender bias, not my status as a white Jew in New York.
I believe I am still racist and that, if you are white, you probably are, too. We have been indoctrinated with biased messages our whole lives and it will take a great deal of proactive work to purge them.
I think Sarsour and Mallory know this. And yet, they still took the helm of a movement made up largely of women just like me, who tend to storm into spaces to run the show. The leadership likely found common ground through tough conversations that involved listening as much as talking. Whether or not you are white and Jewish, we should all do the same.
As we do, we would be wise to remember that people with little hope are likely to look to those offering something they desperately need. Can anyone blame a Gazan for turning to Hamas, which offers humanitarian support even as it launches rockets into Israel?
Can anyone blame Mallory for taking succor in the Nation of Islam, which embraced her after her son’s father was murdered?
Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, why not focus on Mallory’s condemnations of hate and Sarsour’s raising of tens of thousands of dollars for Jewish victims of anti-Semitism, including the Pittsburgh community? Why not bring concerns to the Women’s March before shunning it?
If we decide to walk away now, and the Women’s March and its gains fizzle, we will only have ourselves to blame.
Friedlin is a marketing executive in New York.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Blackberry Eating

by Galway Kinnell

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Remembering Bob Nichols

The original idea for making a blog about Grace was the idea
of her partner Bob Nichols. I came across this lovely bit about
the revision of the design of Washington Square Park. (Bob calls it
the revenge).