Housewife Theory of History?

I’m not much for the title, but this article brings up something important for all of us to remember, especially when feeling discouraged:

We are governed mostly by elite men, quite a lot of them seemingly dead, and everything in our culture encourages us to regard these rulers not just as the central but the sole source of power. But history is changed again and again by people who are supposedly powerless, including the women veiled by the dismissive moniker housewife.

When Kristen Breitweiser, Patty Casazza, Lorie Van Auken, and Mindy Kleinberg, widows of men killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center, started doing research and demanding answers from elected representatives, they gave rise to the 9/11 Commission. Nicknamed the Jersey Girls, they became experts on national security and terrorism. A year after the towers collapsed, one of them spoke forcefully to Congress about what had really happened. A year and a half after that, the 9/11 Commission issued the official verdict that there were no ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. By that time, the Jersey Girls were campaigning against Bush’s re-election.

They didn’t win that one, but they won’t go away, any more than the Seattle-area mothers of mentally disabled children did when they ran into roadblock after roadblock to getting their children public school educations and other basic rights. Those three mothers, Evelyn Chapman, Katie Dolan, and Jane Taggart, went, as my friend Susan Schwartzenberg says in her forthcoming book, Becoming Citizens: Family Life and the Politics of Disability, “from outraged mothers to sophisticated activists utilizing a well-honed network of politicians, labor leaders, legislators, judges and the media.” In 1971, Washington State passed the law that paved the way for the national Education for All Act of 1975, renamed the IDEA–Individuals with Disabilities Education Act–in 1990.

…This might be the secret of the housewife theory of history: These women take the qualities that are supposed to render them irrelevant and use them defiantly as well as strategically. Starting with what they love, they cut straight through the quicksand of motives and purposes to point out that harm has been done and should be stopped. In some sense, they depoliticize politics, which is what makes them so politically potent.

The personal is political, and sometimes the personal is our greatest political weapon.


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