Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Shirley Chisholm / Revisited


Shirley Chisholm

Take Root Media's republication of Shirley Chisholm's "Unbought and Unbossed" will be out in early January and it's both an instructive and enjoyable reminder of a time when activists consulted their hearts and minds more than PR advisors. Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American woman to elected to Congress. She served for 7 terms, beginning in 1969, and spoke out for civil rights, women's rights, the poor and against the Vietnam War. She was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women, the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women's Political Caucus, and in 1972 ran for president.

Chisholm took on Washington almost from the first day she arrived from New York City. Assigned to the rural development and forestry subcommittee of the Agriculture Committee, she called up Speaker Jon McCormack to complain. Said McCormack, "Mrs. Chisholm, this is the way it is. You have to be a good soldier." When she tried to confront the matter on the floor, more senior members were repeatedly recognized, until she went down to the well in front of the podium and just stood there until she was allowed to talk. Said one sympathetic male colleague afterwards, "You've committed political suicide." She eventually ended up on the veterans committee thanks to the chair from Texas, Olin Teague, who said he'd be delighted to have her. Chisholm considered it a victory given that in her district there were a lot more veterans than trees.

She would become a major figure in the battle for the rights of women and blacks. And she understood the subtleties of how that battle was fought. At one point she writes, "The liberals in the House strongly resemble liberals I have known through the last two decades in the civil rights conflict. When it comes time to show on which side they will be counted, they suddenly excuse themselves." And she understood that a lot of black politicians were the same.

Anyone involved in activism today should read this book not just for the story about a wonderful woman, but for the style and tone of someone who really knew how to help bring change.


12/07/2009 | Comments []

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