anna brones

writer + artist + producer

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Winona LaDuke

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“Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit.

Power is in your soul. It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you.

Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.”

-Winona LaDuke (b. 1959)

Environmentalist, economist, writer, politician, and activist Winona LaDuke has devoted her life to protecting indigenous lands and ways of life, working on sustainable development, climate-change mitigation efforts, and environmental justice.

LaDuke was born in Los Angeles to a mother of European and Jewish descent and a father from the Gaa-waabaabiganikaag reservation in Minnesota, also known as the White Earth Indian Reservation of the Ojibwe nation. Raised between California and Oregon, LaDuke attended Harvard University and earned a degree in rural economic development. While at Harvard, she met Jimmy Durham, a renowned Native American activist, who sparked her interest in and lifelong commitment to indigenous rights. At eighteen, she became the youngest woman to speak to the United Nations about Native American concerns.

After graduating from Harvard, LaDuke moved to the White Earth reservation. While working as the principal of the reservation high school, she completed a long-distance master’s degree in community economic development from Antioch University. Her work quickly became consumed with land rights, and she became involved with a lawsuit to recover lands that were promised to the Anishinaabeg people by an 1867 federal treaty.

While the case was eventually dismissed, LaDuke went on to found the White Earth Land Recovery Project, an organization whose work centers around land recovery and whose mission is dedicated to “preserving and restoring traditional practices of land stewardship, language fluency, community development, and strengthening our spiritual and cultural heritage.” In 2003 the organization won the International Slow Food Award for Biodiversity, honoring its work to protect wild rice from patenting and genetic engineering. Together with the folk-rock duo the Indigo Girls, LaDuke also founded Honor the Earth to raise awareness of native environmental issues through the arts, media, and sharing indigenous wisdom.

LaDuke’s work showcases the intersection of land and culture, showing that social and environmental rights are inextricably linked. An advocate for food sovereignty, LaDuke grows a variety of foods on her land on the White Earth Indian Reservation, including traditional species of corn and rice. She recently expressed her support for regenerative agriculture with the addition of industrial hemp.

LaDuke has written several books, including Recovering the Sacred, All Our Relations, and the novel Last Standing Woman. An outspoken activist for indigenous and environmental rights, she ran as the vice presidential candidate with Ralph Nader for the Green Party in both 1996 and 2000. Her tireless work and advocacy have earned her many awards, including Ms. Magazine‘s Woman of the Year, and she was nominated by Time magazine as one of the country’s fifty most promising leaders under the age of forty. In 2008 LaDuke was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Winona LaDuke is one of three women from the Women’s Wisdom Project series to be featured in a new article in the TEND issue of Taproot magazine. The other two are Margaret Murie and Jane Addams. I am honored to have contributed to this issue, and encourage you to check out this great publication that’s independent and ad-free. You can order a copy of the TEND issue here.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

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Written by Anna Brones

April 26, 2019 at 08:47

Clara Lemlich Shavelson

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“I had fire in my mouth.”

-Clara Lemlich Shavelson (1886-1982)

Fire sparks revolution, and while the fiery anger of women is so often suppressed, scoffed at, and used against them, it is that fire that has created longlasting change. As Rebecca Traister writes in her book Good and Mad, “… in the fury of women lies the power to change the world.”

Clara Lemlich Shavelson is a prime example of that fire, a women who at the age of 23, sparked an entire labor movement. In 1909 Shavelson stood before a crowd of garment workers, announcing in Yiddish, “I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in general terms. I move that we go on a general strike!” Her call ignited the many women, who just like her, were suffering under terrible conditions; eleven-hour workdays, six days a week, for starting wages of $3 a week.

The call led to the Uprising of the 20,000, an extensive strike by mostly immigrant women garment workers which eventually led to safer workplaces, shorter workdays and higher wages. It also caused factories to recognize the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. But not everyone heeded the womens’ calls; at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory male union negotiators refused to listen to the striking women’s concerns, nor put them into practice. A year later, a fire in the factory killed 146 workers.

Of that day, Shavelson later shared this account:

We were all gathered at Cooper Union, you know there on Lafayette and 8th street. And all the workers from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and Leiserson Company were there. We all listened to leading figures of the American Labor Movement and Socialist leaders of the Lower East Side speak to us. You know, they just made me so mad because they talked in such general terms about the need for solidarity and preparedness and all that. well, you know, just then I asked for the opportunity to speak and I demanded action. I remember I said that I had been listening to all the speakers, and I had no further patience for talk. I am a working girl, I said, and one of those striking against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities. What we are here for is to decide whether or not to strike. And finally I offered a resolution that a general strike be declared. I was just saying what all the workers were thinking, but they were just too afraid to say. And so we all walked out of the factories two days later.

Born Clara Lemlich in Gorodok, Ukraine in 1886, Shavelson had come to the United States at the age of 16, her family fleeing poverty and the Russian government’s anti-Semitism. While her parents had forbidden her to speak Russian or bring Russian books into the household, the headstrong girl studied the language in secret and dove into the world of letters. By the time she landed in the U.S. she was already a committed revolutionary. Like many other immigrants, she found work in textile-manufacturing, but kept fueling her revolutionary roots: after long workdays, she would go to the local library to read Russian classics and study Marxist theory.

Her fiery spirit is documented in Triangle: The Fire That Changed America:

“A men’s-only strike was doomed to fail, she insisted. A walkout must include the female workers. “Ah—then I had fire in my mouth!” Lemlich remembered years later. She moved people by sheer passion. “What did I know about trade unionism? Audacity—that was all I had. Audacity!”

While blacklisted from garment shops after the 1909 strike, Shavelson continued her work, shifting her focus to the suffrage movement. This led to a long life of activism and organizing, eventually marrying Joe Shavelson, a printer’s union activist. The couple had three children, and Shavelson was known for bringing the children with her to Socialist  meetings.

Her work and passion for a better world continued to the end of her life. Shavelson was profiled last year in The New York Times‘ ongoing series of overlooked obituaries, and it held this anecdote, which I think sums up a lifelong fiery spirit:

Near the end of her life, she moved into the Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles, where she organized the nurses and orderlies, according to “Common Sense.”“How much worse could these conditions get?” Shavelson, then 83, asked hesitant staffers before they successfully unionized. “You’d be crazy not to join a union.”.”

May we all embrace our fire and channel it into good.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.