Karen Bradley, Director of Graduate Studies in Dance at the University of Maryland, is a long-time activist, choreographer, and performance artist. She is currently writing a book on the movement theorist Rudolf Laban, and researches and writes about movement analysis, arts education, and progressive politics. Christine Yort is a graduate student in decorative arts at the Smithsonian Institute’s demanding program and a full-time single mom. The vivacious pair spoke to me about their views on what’s happening in George Bush’s America and what "two moms on Capitol Hill," as they call themselves, have done to make their voices heard.
Lila Rajiva: When did you and Karen first become activists and what made you do it?
Karen Bradley: I have been an activist for over 35 years, beginning with the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam War actions. What made me do it? Ongoing injustice and a concern for the future of the planet.
Christine Yort: I became active when Bush was elected. I went online, wrote letters, signed petitions, and began to read and educate myself. I'd worked as a Weight Watchers leader in a number of government agencies and seen dramatic changes in the culture. People were frightened and tense, and feared for their jobs.
LR: What was the first event you set up?
Karen: We did the planning for the Filibuster event that was ultimately canceled at the last minute. From doing that, we set up a team of concerned citizens who would become proficient at setting up such events in DC. We also ran the Cindy Sheehan vigil at the White House, in concert with Camp Casey. We also worked with a number of groups on events like the September 24 mobilization and the vigils in front of the White House for the 2,000th soldier killed in Iraq.
LR: Tell me about the two events coming up that you are putting together in DC, on the 7th, and the one you are helping with for the State of the Union.
Karen: The event on the 7th is an Out of Iraq Town Meeting, one of almost 100 such events across the country; it’s an educational event: a community discussion about the War in Iraq. We are doing it at Busboys and Poets, in DC, a gathering place for progressives, and we have a variety of speakers who will do short presentations and then conduct a question-and-answer session. Cliff Kindy from the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) will be speaking. Members of the CPT will hold a public fast and witness as they wait for a meeting with President Bush. CPT confirmed on 29 November that the four human rights workers missing in Baghdad on 26 November -- Tom Fox, Norman Kember, Jim Loney, and Harmeet Singh Soodan -- are part of their organization. CPT has been in Iraq since October 2002, helping to call attention to detainee abuses and end the occupation and militarization of the country.
The “State of the Union/State of Emergency” is an event we are helping with, not conducting. It’s going to be a great event, an opportunity for many people to express outrage and concern about the Bush regime, the lies we are being told, and the urgency of the situation we face right now. We are going to be beating drums and upping the noise to drown out the lies coming out of the White House.
LR: What do your friends and family think about this?
Karen: My kids are proud of us and they’ve joined in some of the events. My friends thank me for what I do, but I wish they would participate more. In this country, we often forget that it’s important to be our own engine. Democracy asks a lot of us, and we have to step up to the plate.
Christine: My parents and siblings are very supportive. Whenever I doubt if I am strong enough to really do something, I give one of them a call; they all believe in me. I think my son is happy he doesn’t live here in DC. He lives in Virginia and can watch from a safe distance. Deep down he is proud that I stand up for what I think is right, but at the same time, at 16 years old, anything your mother does is an embarrassment.
LR: How have the authorities responded to your events? Have you been harassed in any way or monitored?
Karen: Not harassed; one assumes we are monitored. I hope they're monitoring my dance history lectures and my yoga classes. It would be good for them.
Christine: Establishing a relationship with the police is important. Learning what the regulations are and how they are interpreted takes time. My experience has been that the police are here to protect me, and my right to free speech. When we have treated the police with respect, we have received the same. It’s our intention to plan, safe successful events by working with, not against the law enforcement community.
That said, it's unfortunate that Karen and I are both monitored. I've given my phone number and email address to law officers and would welcome their calls. We don’t have any secrets. However, the current political climate has a level of fear of potential terrorism that is being abused to monitor political activists.
We are two mothers worried about the world our sons will grow into. We want a world of peace, freedom and personal rights -- the world we grew up believing was possible. We are working toward this within the law, working with the law enforcement and yet we are, to some anyway, the enemy.
My father can't tell his mother about my work. His father spent time in a German concentration camp for speaking against the Nazis. To my grandmother, it’s unimaginable that one would just speak their mind without worrying about the consequences. Even though they lost everything to come here so we could have personal freedoms and the right to speak freely, she still would never dream of doing what I do.
Karen: I’m mighty pissed that I have to do this again, 35 years later. Every time I walk by the Vietnam War Memorial, I think, "We never learn."
LR: What is your biggest concern right now about the state of the union?
Karen: I’m concerned that we’re hardly a union of anything right now. The loss of civil rights, voting, agency, choices, health care, education, jobs.
People feel they have no choices. That is not a democracy.
Christine: That we are approaching a police state.
LR: What do you have to say to other activists and moms out there?
Karen: Come on over here! Our kids are depending on us. It’s their future, their planet. Speaking up and stepping up is not hard and everyone has something to contribute.
Christine: Figure out what you do well and what you like to do, and apply that to the problems you see.
LR: Thanks to both of you and for those who would like to know more about how two working moms are getting their message out and how to join them, here is the URL to Democracy Cell Project where Karen is an affiliate: www.democracycellproject.net/
And hear Cliff Kindy at Busboys and Poets (14th and V Street, Washington, D.C.), 4-7pm: www.busboysandpoets.com.
The CPT vigil will run Friday, January 6, beginning at 9 AM and ending Sunday, January 9, at Noon at Lafayette Square and White House Sidewalk. For more information, see: www.cpt.org.
And, in the interests of full disclosure, I will be speaking there as well.
Lila Rajiva is a freelance writer in Baltimore, and the author of the must-read book The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the US Media (Monthly Review Press, 2005) She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright (c) 2005 by Lila Rajiva
Other Articles by Lila Rajiva
Operation Romeo: Lessons on Terror Laws from “Injun” Country