Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chronicles of Ovarian Fortitude: I

I've decided to begin a weekly series entitled "Chronicles of Ovarian Fortitude." What I hope to do with these weekly posts is to lift up the names of inspiring women who've made a change in the world. I want to honor some women who you've never heard of, and also give tribute to a few of the greats who must always be remembered. Hopefully this will be inspiring reading for you, because I find that I am never quite as energized as when I consider the great and positive work of some of the most humble and wise women who have come before me.

I'd like to begin with Helen Thomas. Born August 4, 1920 in Winchester, Kentucky, she was raised in Detroit at a time when she and her family faced discrimination for their Arabic ethnicity. Helen served on the White House Press Corps for almost sixty years and covered U.S. presidents Eisenhower through Obama. She completes the phrase "First Woman to...." in many respects. She has also written several books including her memoir and a children's book.

What's most remarkable about this woman is that she asked the toughest questions of the highest ranking leaders of this country for almost sixty years. She was dedicated to getting real answers and to keeping people informed. A legend in terms of the White House Press Corps, she was referred to as 'the Dean.' Throughout her career and her life she has been a beacon of boldness... of Ovarian Fortitude. Earlier this month, Thomas was forced to retire after receiving violent backlash for some comments she made in an interview. I take a risk in writing what I'm about to write, but I'll choose to be encouraged by this intrepid woman. On May 27th Rabbi David Nesenoff asked Helen Thomas, "Any comments on Israel?" She answered, "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine." She went on to explain that the people of Palestine, who have lived there for centuries, are being occupied.

I can see how the entire interview could be read as abrasive, particularly to the Jewish population in Israel/Palestine; however, I think that Thomas speaks truthfully and rightly. The U.S. has been politically and militaristically aligned with Israel since WWII, but I argue that this country has turned a blind and even dismissive eye to the injustice and ethnocide committed by the Israeli leadership for over half of a century. It's also important to keep in mind that in almost every other country in the world, Helen Thomas' bold statement about Israelis in Palestine would be lauded and acclaimed. BUT this is the United States of America and diseased, poorly informed, and desperate media ignites and explodes comments like Thomas' and she was forced to retire and apologize for her words. I include her apology here, because like Helen Thomas, I understand the experience of speaking too caustically up front and I understand that it's sometimes important to clarify your truest hopes and impulses. She said, "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

I'd just like to say that I believe that speaking out and speaking honestly as Helen Thomas did for her entire life is an appropriate approach to peace and conflict resolution. Even in the final moments of her career, this woman was still informing the country about important world news. The final message we can take from this? Listen to opposing view points and seek to understand their meaning; then we can work together to foster tolerance and mutual respect, and eventually peace.

Thank you Helen Thomas for your dauntless quest for answers,

Your student and your sister in social justice


I heard about Helen on the June 8 "Democracy Now!" podcast and I read more about her life on these sites:

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