Autobiography

Chapter 8

Gloria Steinhem Said

Gloria Steinem said:
“The truth will set you free, but first, It will piss you off.“

Every Monday I took the bus to Crenshaw Blvd., spending my time admiring the colorful Lantana in the front yards. They made rich-colored bushes: some crimson red, others white and pink. This plant won my heart.

Once I was at the Women’s Center, I called back the people who had contacted us. Then, staffers gave me chores to do... like filing. Not my forte. I always had to run my mind over the rote of abc, in Hungarian, which wasn’t always the same as the English abc. But I quickly thought about Joyce, our secret FBI informant, who was coming in at ten am. I would just ask her to file; she was good at it.

She loved working with our little group. We never mentioned to her that we knew who she was; we didn’t want to blow the opportunity to have a dedicated worker in our midst. We just didn’t invite her to staff meetings. She did get to type up the minutes, however. That was enough.

Almost every month we had to protest something. It wasn’t our plan, but life happened. My very first demonstration was against discrimination involving two women who had held hands in a nearby restaurant. I don’t recall the name of the place. That chain is no more. The two women were not even lovers. They were childhood friends, and they placed one hand over the other’s hand. It wasn’t even real hand-holding with romantic intentions. Still, the staff at this foodie place couldn’t tolerate two women not fighting or trashing each other, but holding hands.

Our entire staff of 25 went out for coffee to this place, and held hands. And so did I. There was a hush of silence falling briefly on the restaurant. The staff realized we were everywhere: in every booth, and on every chair. Then, one of the servers stopped at our table to take our order. I ordered a cup of coffee, with a slice of apple pie... ice cream on top. One by one, we ordered, and waited for their reaction. They served us. I got my pie slice and the ice cream, on top.

Our communal action was successful. We had made our point. That afternoon would remain in the minds of the servers. They would not deny women service again, because we had fought back.

This was the first time that I went on the line for lesbians. I wasn’t even a conscious lesbian then. But I had held hands with a girl... and I'd liked it.

There was another demonstration for abortion rights. This was an old battle. I marched with a lady who was in her seventies, and got arrested a lot. She was fighting for the right to her own body as a tax paying citizen. I marched because this was outrageous. How dare males make laws against our right to control our own bodies. They shroud their hatred of women in their much-rewritten religion, which was composed by clerks, approved, and paid for by a gay King James.

My faithful dog, Ilona, was with me. She was a beautiful silver Shepard: smart, and protective toward me. And we marched for abortion rights, because it was the right thing to do. I had never needed an abortion. I used birth control. Gave life to two sons. But I had already seen what happened to the very young women who were molested by their family members. They were clueless and destitute. They needed an abortion, just to begin their own lives. A 14-15 year old can conceive, but cannot think through the pregnancy with no help. So this was for the young.

When we got arrested, Ilona was taken to the doggie jail. I was taken to the women’s jail. I got out the same night, because our group bailed us all out. Ilona had to spend a night in jail. My heart was broken for her. All she had ever known was kindness... I hoped they would not allow her to get hurt.

Our entire abortion activist group showed up early in the morning to fetch her home. Ilona was not harmed, and we, victoriously returned to the Center. Those were the days.

I have one more story. Joan and I once heard about a woman loosing her job as an accountant for wearing a pantsuit. It was a big problem. The woman's work-space was hidden in the back, away from all others, because she handled the financial books. The whole firing of her was an assault on her personal choice of clothing. Back then, pantsuits were not yet accepted.

We couldn’t find anybody else to come along with us to stage a demonstration. But by now we knew how to engage the media. Joan sent out the press release (the background on the issue). We showed up. The camera was set up, pointing at the front of the business. I can't remember what it was called now. Joan and I grabbed our signs, and started marching back and forth. Realizing that this wasn’t much of a demonstration, on a whim, I took off my coat, and just marched in my T shirt. Joan did the same. Then at one point, we switched coats, and put on a hat, so we looked like several people walking up and down with our signs. The media people were in on it, and made sure we were not in the shot when we improvised into different outfits to fool the cameras. The wonderful reward came at the end of the day, as we watched the six o’clock news, and saw how well we had managed the visuals. There was a definite sense of empowerment, which I had never experienced before. Actually, doing the fighting back was great fun. Going to jail was also fun, because we were there with all of our friends, and not alone. When we were released, we had a party, and stimulated each other’s minds to think of more ideas, more steps we could take.

But already one thing was very clear, as long as the media was on our side, we had coverage. That was one great thing about living in Hollywood.

Today, a lot of the media belongs to the same corporation with all the money and influence. They have bought the News, and they can kill stories, and stifle interest in women’s issues. I am glad I caught the best decade in the last century, living in L.A.

Copyright © 2018 by Zsuzsanna Budapest

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