I noticed a couple of weeks ago that Phyllis Schiafly died, founder of the Stop ERA movement and later the Eagle Forum, an institution dedicated to keeping women in the home. She was a firebrand who seldom stayed at home, herself, but opened every public forum by thanking her husband for “letting me come here.” (“The conservative activist,” The Week, Sept 16, 2016 pg. 35.) The phrase galled feminists and she knew it.
I doubt Phyllis saw much of her husband as she was always on the road after graduating from Radcliffe College. Concerned the passage of the ERA would lead to same-sex marriage, women in the military and females joining men in the work place, she argued her goal was to defend “the real rights of women, the right to be in the home as a wife and mother.” (Ibid pg. 35.)
One wonders how Phyllis could be so certain about the rights of women when the freedom she enjoyed was unlike the limited horizons she proposed for others of her sex. In hindsight, we see how deeply flawed her vision was, just as we see that her efforts to prevent AID’s education in the public schools was a monumental ignorance.
Phyllis Schiafly will go down in history as the firebrand for the conservative agenda. Hillary Clinton takes a different path. A graduate of Wellesley College, she studied the impact of radical movements in a society, doing her senior thesis on Saul Alinsky, a social activist. While Hillary agrees with him that society needs a way to vent its discontent, she disagrees with his thesis that the system could be changed only from the outside. She prefers working from the inside. And rather than express a “them/ us” mentally, she strives for inclusiveness. (Ibid pg 37.)
For good, and sometimes ill, firebrands can be an instrument for change. But before building a fire, a person needs to know the terrain, what will be cleansed by the flames and what will be endangered or destroyed by it. We have seen the ultimate price cultures pay when they are led by firebrands – the rivers of blood, the death and destruction that can follow. Democracy dies in a society where survival of the fittest rules. It dies when neighbors turn on neighbors.
We have a choice in this election. We can heed the siren call of our discontents. How easy that always seems at first. How satisfying. But, too often, evil out lives the good and it takes years, decades to restore a society.
In this election, let us stop listening to the chants of breast beating warriors. Let us choose to extend our hands to one another rather than our fists. In this election, let us remember we need leaders who can make peace as well as war.