Innovation Ecosystem

The next generation of rabble rousers

A tradition of speaking out, from great grandmother to grandmother to daughter to granddaughter

Photo courtesy of Toby Simon

Lizzie Simon with her two daughters, Shirley and Ray.

Photo courtesy of Toby Simon

Toby Simon with Ray and Shirley.

By Toby Simon
Posted 1/21/19
In the age of Donald Trump, the use of the word “unconscionable” takes on new meaning every day.
Did you know that the House version of the Reproductive Health Care Act, filed by State Rep. Edith Ajello [the Senate version was filled by Sen. Gayle Goldin], has more than 39 co-sponsors, more than half of the 75 members of the R.I. House of Representatives? How will the health insurance plans in Rhode Island respond to a federal judge’s overturning of the Trump administration’s efforts to restrict contraception? What are the remedies for the dismal rate of women dying during childbirth in the U.S.? What does the data suggest regarding maternal depression and its impact on future health outcomes? What is the connection between domestic violence and sexual abuse and substance use disorders?
In Michigan, former Republican Gov. John Engler, who was brought in to serve as interim president of Michigan State University, was forced to resign immediately after criticizing victims of sexual assault by Larry Nassar, saying the victims were “enjoying the spotlight.”
In Massachusetts, two first-year women lawmakers plan to reintroduce a bill that would require an independent committee to investigate instances of sexual harassment on Beacon Hill, following an incident where Rep. Paul McMurtry was alleged to have grabbed an incoming lawmaker’s backside at an orientation cocktail reception in December of 2018.
In Providence, Rachael Rene was brutally stabbed and murdered by her boyfriend, in the first domestic violence homicide victim of 2019. Rene’s eight-month old baby was at home at the time of the murder.
In Washington, D.C., the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services admitted that thousands of children had been separated from their families at the border, beginning in 2017, by the Trump administration, even before the “zero tolerance” policy was announced in April of 2018.

PROVIDENCE – I come from a long line of women rabble rousers, agitators, warriors and rebels.

My grandmother Bella immigrated to the U.S. from Poland in the early 1900s. She and my grandfather were among the first Jewish families to settle in Huntington, Long Island, where they started the first synagogue.

Bella worked outside the home in the family dry goods store, leaving three young daughters at home. Those daughters, including my mother, went to college during the Great Depression, joining the ranks of social workers, teachers and writers following their graduation.

They also all became involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, picketing businesses that wouldn’t serve African Americans and demonstrating weekly for human rights. One of my aunts walked across the United States at age 60 to protest poverty.

All of Bella’s granddaughters are currently social justice warriors, as are most of Bella’s grandsons. All of us are politically engaged and definitely progressive.

Now, the baton has been passed to one of Bella’s great granddaughters.

When my daughter was eight years old, I brought her to see Geraldine Ferraro speak in Rhode Island, explaining the significance of the first woman vice presidential candidate.

When she was nine, she insisted on auditioning for the role of Tiny Tim at Trinity Rep’s “A Christmas Carol” rather than the role of Cratchit’s daughter. She got the role, breaking the gender barrier at Trinity.

She went with me when she was 13 to attend the first Women’s March in Washington, D.C., in 1989, an incredibly powerful event. In high school she started a Gay/Straight Alliance, which didn’t have the support of her school, but she persevered, seeking Brown students to help launch the Alliance.

Recently I was in New York City helping my daughter with her little girls. On a Saturday morning two months ago, we decided to take Ray, three and a half, and baby sister Shirley, to the Guggenheim Museum to see the [Swedish artist] Hilma af Klint exhibit [if you have the opportunity, do go]. Ray was in the umbrella stroller pushed by her mother. I had Shirley strapped to me in the Ergo Baby, which is her absolute happy place.

En route to the subway we approached the local Planned Parenthood clinic on Bleecker Street. Every Saturday there is one woman with her photos, protesting a woman’s right to choose. She shows up religiously.

However, on this particular Saturday, we saw more than a hundred Right to Lifers plus at least a dozen police officers. Across the street from them was a very small group of counter protesters. As we got closer to the large group, my daughter told me she was really fed up with them and was going to tell them how she felt.

So she pushed the stroller over to the Right to Life group. I decided I would join the small group and sing familiar protest songs with them, which baby Shirley seemed to enjoy.

With Ray in the stroller next to her, my daughter stood within inches of the first row of the Right to Life group. Using her very best stage voice, she addressed the crowd. And she knew how to project. As a child actor she appeared in many Trinity Rep productions as well as other regional theater productions.

She basically lit in to the crowd. She told them what she thought of their antics, their attacks on reproductive freedom, their hubris about women’s autonomy and their bodies, and that they should care more about the children in cages at the borders. They pretty much kept on praying during her rant and didn’t make eye contact with her. But they definitely heard her.

The police officers stood very close to my daughter and seemed genuinely interested in her comments. Some of them were even smiling. My daughter ended her comments with this: “And you need to know that what you’re doing to women in this country is unconscionable.”

With that last statement, she pushed the stroller away and headed for the subway. Shirley and I caught up with her as we approached the stairs leading to the subway station. Ray climbed out of her stroller to walk down the steps. And, as she was walking down the steps, she kept repeating: “It’s unconscionable. It’s unconscionable. It’s unconscionable.”

The baton has also been passed to Bella’s great great granddaughter.

Toby Simon is a frequent contributor to ConvergenceRI.


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

© | subscribe | contact us | report problem | About | Advertise

powered by creative circle media solutions

Join the conversation

Want to get ConvergenceRI
in your inbox every Monday?

Type of subscription (choose one):

We will contact you with subscription details.

Thank you for subscribing!

We will contact you shortly with subscription details.