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A Performance of Women’s Resistance

The excerpts below were performed as part of the Opening Preview of Pictures of Resistance: The Wartime Photographs of Jewish Partisan Faye Schulman to celebrate and recognize women who fight for justice through resistance. The pieces were performed by youth from First Stage as seen above; from left to right: Mathilde Prosen-Oldani, Selma Rivera and Chantae Miller.

Faye Schulman, A Partisan’s Memoir, 1995, page 84 – 85

“At dusk on August 13, 1942, the ghetto was quiet. Another day of hunger, beatings and hard labour was coming to a close. In our house, nobody was asleep yet. Again I was called to take my camera and go to Gestapo headquarters. It had become almost routine for me to be ordered to go to the Ortkommandature to take pictures. This time, however, it was different. When I arrived, I was told to leave the camera and go home.

Now I was worried. I wondered why they would make me leave the camera. Without it, I would not be needed anymore. The camera was my life.  For a picture, I could occasionally get a piece of bread. What would I do now? I cried all the way back to the ghetto.

When I came home, my family looked at me. ‘What happened? Why are you crying?’ my mother asked. I answered, ‘They took my camera away.’

My mother put her hand on my shoulder and tried to comfort me. ‘Why are you crying over a camera?’ she implored. ‘Look at all we’ve lost. We’ve lost our house, our clothes, jewelry, fur coats, gold, silver and our freedom. The camera is nothing by comparison.’

A few hours later, another Nazi officer walked in.  I knew him; he had brought me several black-and-white portraits of his family to tint, a job which I had not yet completed. He asked me to return his pictures to him immediately; he had changed his mind. He knew very well his true reason for retrieving the photographs, but he didn’t say a word. He just took his pictures and left.

From these events, I had a premonition of the tragedy that was about to occur. Again and again I repeated, ‘They took my camera. The officer took his wife’s pictures.  What does this mean?’ No one else in my family realized the ominous significance of these events. The Nazis knew that the next morning was to be our last.”

Faye Schulman, A Partisan’s Memoir, 1995, page 99

“Was I tough enough to withstand these living conditions? Would I be strong enough to keep up with the partisans on a mission? Most were trained to fight and used to living under these conditions.  I closed my eyes and prayed, ‘Oh God! Give me the strength and the courage to confront all this, and give me life and health to be able to do my work.’

I was grateful to be alive and realized how lucky I was to be among the partisans, away from the murdering Nazis. I knew that many Jewish girls would be happy to be in my place. The circle of my life had turned. No more slavery, no more eyes looking down on me, no more threats. Though my life was still in danger, I felt human again. Physical and emotional pain loomed, as did hunger, suffering and the primitiveness of our existence. But I was alive. I would have to learn to adapt.

A gun was in my hand now. I would learn to shoot, to aim at the enemy. Now, if the enemy pointed his gun on me, I could shoot back. I had the opportunity to avenge the blood of my mother, my father, my sisters, my brother, and my sister’s two children. I was not afraid of being killed. Responsible only for myself, I no longer had much to lose except for my life.”

Harriet Ann Jacobs, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” published in Three Narratives of Slavery, ca 1880, page 223

“Thirty or forty nurses were there, of a great variety of nations. Some of the ladies had colored waiting-maids and coachmen, but I was the only nurse tinged with the blood of Africa. When the tea bell rang, I took little Mary and followed the other nurses. Supper was served in a long hall. A young man, who had the ordering of things, took the circuit of the table two or three times, and finally pointed me to a seat at the lower end of it. As there was but one chair, I sat down and took the child in my lap. Whereupon the young man came to me and said, in the blandest manner possible, ‘Will you please to seat the little girl in the chair, and stand behind it and feed her? After they have done, you will be shown to the kitchen, where you will have a good supper.’

This was the climax! I found it hard to preserve my self-control, when I looked round, and saw women who were nurses, as I was, and only one shade lighter in complexion, eyeing me with a defiant look, as if my presence were a contamination. However, I said nothing. I quietly took the child in my arms, went to our room, and refused to go to the table again. Mr. Bruce ordered meals to be sent to the room for little Mary and I. This answered for a few days; but the waiters of the establishment were white, and they soon began to complain, saying they were not hired to wait on Negros. The landlord requested Mr. Bruce to send me down to my meals, because his servants rebelled against bringing them up, and the colored servants of other boarders were dissatisfied because all were not treated alike.

My answer was that the colored servants ought to be dissatisfied with themselves, for not having too much self-respect to submit to such treatment; that there was no justification for difference of treatment. I staid a month after this, and finding I was resolved to stand up for my rights, they concluded to treat me well. Let every colored man and woman do this, and eventually we shall cease to be trampled under foot by our oppressors.”

Helen Keller, Helen Keller, Her Socialist Years: Writings and Speeches, ca 1910, page 64 – 65

“Women insist on their ‘divine rights,’ ‘immutable rights,’ ‘inalienable rights.’ These phrases are not so sensible as one might wish. When one comes to think of it, there are no such things as divine, immutable, or inalienable rights. Rights are things we get when we are strong enough to make good our claim to them. Men spent hundreds of years and did much hard fighting to get the rights they now call divine, immutable, and inalienable. Today women are demanding rights that tomorrow nobody will be foolhardy enough to question. Anyone that reads intelligently knows that some of our old ideas are up a tree, and that traditions are scurrying away before the advance of their everlasting enemy, the questioning mind of a new age. It is time to take a good look at human affairs in the light of new conditions and new ideas, and the tradition that man is the natural master of the destiny of the race is one of the first to suffer investigation.

The dullest can see that a good many things are wrong with the world. It is old-fashioned, running into ruts. We lack intelligent direction and control. We are not getting the most out of our opportunities and advantages. We must make over the scheme of life, and new tools are needed for the work. Perhaps one of the chief reasons for the present chaotic condition of things is that the world has been trying to get along with only half of itself. Everywhere we see running to waste woman-force that should be utilized in making the world a more decent home for humanity. Let us see how the votes of women will help solve the problem of living wisely and well.

When women vote men will no longer be compelled to guess at their desires – and guess wrong. Women will be able to protect themselves from man-made laws that are antagonistic to their interests. Some persons like to imagine that man’s chivalrous nature will constrain him to act humanely toward women and protect her rights. Some men do protect some women. We demand that all women have the right to protect themselves and relieve man of this feudal responsibility.”

Sophie Scholl, At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl, correspondence dated between 1921-1943, page 255

“But I can’t feel wholeheartedly happy. I’m never free for a moment, day or night, from the depressing and unremitting state of uncertainty in which we live these days, which precludes any carefree plans for the morrow and casts a shadow over all the days to come. When will we finally be relieved of the compulsion to focus all our energy and attention on things that aren’t worth lifting one’s little finger for?  Every word has to be examined from every angle before its uttered, to see if it carries a hint of ambiguity. Faith in other people has been forcibly ousted by mistrust and caution. It’s exhausting – disheartening too, sometimes. But, no, I won’t let anything dishearten me. Trivialities like these can never master me while I’m in possession of other, unassailable joys. Strength flows into me when I think of them, and I’d like to address a word of encouragement to all who are similarly afflicted.”

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, written between 1942-1944, page 250 – 251

“Unless you write yourself, you can’t know how wonderful it is; I always use to bemoan the fact that I couldn’t draw, but now I’m overjoyed that at least I can write. And if I don’t have the talent to write books or newspaper articles, I can always write for myself. But I want to achieve more than that. I can’t imagine having to live like Mother, Mrs. Van Daan and all the women who go about their work and are then forgotten. I need to have something besides a husband and children to devote myself to. I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s inside me. When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived. But, and that’s a big question, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?”

Denice Frohman, Women of Resistance Poems, “A Woman’s Place,” 2018

“I heard a woman becomes herself the first time she speaks without permission
Then, every word out of her mouth a riot
Say, beautiful and point to the map of your body
Say, brave and wear your skin like a gown or a suit
Say, hero and cast yourself in the lead role
When a girl pronounces her own name there is glory
When a woman tells her own story she lives forever
All the women I know are perennials – marigolds, daffodils, soft things that refuse to die
I don’t come from anything tamed or willing
I come from soil flossed with barbed wire
Meaning, abuela would cuss you out, with the same breath, she kissed, you with, her blood
A wild river
My mother, doesn’t rely on instruction manuals
Or men, nor does she equate the two
Can fix anything if you get out of her way
Says the best technology is her own two hands
But once I dreamed I had no teeth, just a mouth, to hold, other people’s, things
If this poem is the only thing that survives me
Tell them I grew a new tongue
Tell them I built me a throne
Tell them when we discovered life on another planet, it was a woman and she had built a bridge, not a border
Got God and named gravity after herself.”

Sandra Beasley, Women of Resistance Poems, “Kiss Me,” 2018

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg sits in the nineteenth row of my heart while onstage, a woman has been conscribed to the shape of a shrew. The actress has forty-carat eyes, an aquiline nose; her shoulders slight, her waist small enough. She is spanked over our hero’s knee and I am laughing – everyone is laughing – except the conductor, who must steady his baton, and the house manager, who has seen it before, and the actors directed instead to be aghast, agape, gawking, agog, whatever Cole Porter rhymes with dismayed, and Ginsburg, who adjusts the pearl clipped to her ear. She curls the program in her lap. This is tiring, attending theaters of the heart. She doesn’t relish it as Sandra Day O’Connor did, sipping champagne at the intermission of Porgy & Bess. The gangsters soft-shoe, reminded us to brush up on our Shakespeare. The actress sings ‘I am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple.’ Soon, Kate will be tamed. That’s how we know the ending is happy.”

Gloria Anzaldúa, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to 3rd World Women Writers,” Anzaldúa’s Feminist Anthology, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, drafted in 1979, page 74

“Why am I compelled to write? Because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me.  By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and hunger. I write to record what others erase when I speak, to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you. To become more intimate with myself and you. To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve autonomy. To dispel the myths that I am a mad prophet or a poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit. To show that I can and that I will write, never mind their admonitions to the contrary. And I will write about the unmentionables, never mind the outraged gasp of the censor and the audience. Finally, I write because I’m scared of writing but I’m more scared of not writing. Why should I try to justify why I write? Do I need to justify being Chicana, being woman? You might as well ask me to try to justify why I’m alive.”

Address to the Jury by Emma Goldman [Anti-Conscription Trial, New York City, July 9, 1917]

Gentlemen of the jury, we respect your patriotism. We would not, if we could, have you change its meaning for yourself. But may there not be different kinds of patriotism as there are different kinds of liberty? I for one cannot believe that love of one’s country must needs consist in blindness to its social faults, to deafness to its social discords, of inarticulation to its social wrongs. Neither can I believe that the mere accident of birth in a certain country or the mere scrap of a citizen’s paper constitutes the love of country.

I know many people–I am one of them–who were not born here, nor have they applied for citizenship, and who yet love America with deeper passion and greater intensity than many natives whose patriotism manifests itself by pulling, kicking, and insulting those who do not rise when the national anthem is played. Our patriotism is that of the man who loves a woman with open eyes. He is enchanted by her beauty, yet he sees her faults. So we, too, who know America, love her beauty, her richness, her great possibilities; we love her mountains, her canyons, her forests, her Niagara, and her deserts–above all do we love the people that have produced her wealth, her artists who have created beauty, her great apostles who dream and work for liberty–but with the same passionate emotion we hate her superficiality, her cant, her corruption, her mad, unscrupulous worship at the altar of the Golden Calf.

We say that if America has entered the war to make the world safe for democracy, she must first make democracy safe in America. How else is the world to take America seriously, when democracy at home is daily being outraged, free speech suppressed, peaceable assemblies broken up by overbearing and brutal gangsters in uniform; when free press is curtailed and every independent opinion gagged. Verily, poor as we are in democracy, how can we give of it to the world? We further say that a democracy conceived in the military servitude of the masses, in their economic enslavement, and nurtured in their tears and blood, is not democracy at all. It is despotism–the cumulative result of a chain of abuses which, according to that dangerous document, the Declaration of Independence, the people have the right to overthrow.

Excerpts from Malala Yousafzai’s Speech at the United Nations Headquarters [New York, July 12, 2013]

“I have found that people describe me in many different ways.
Some people call me the girl who was shot by the Taliban.
And some, the girl who fought for her rights.
Some people, call me a “Nobel Laureate” now.

As far as I know, I am just a committed and stubborn person who wants to see every child getting quality education, who wants equal rights for women and who wants peace in every corner of the world.

Education is one of the blessings of life-and one of its necessities. That has been my experience during the 17 years life. In my home in Swat Valley, in the north of Pakistan, I always loved school and learning new things. I remember when my friends and I would decorate our hands with henna for special occasions. Instead of drawing flowers and patterns we would paint our hands with mathematical formulas and equations.

We had a thirst for education because our future was right there in that classroom. We would sit and read and learn together. We loved to wear neat and tidy school uniforms and we would sit there with big dreams in our eyes. We wanted to make our parents proud and prove that we could excel in our studies and achieve things, which some people think only boys can.

Things did not remain the same. When I was ten, Swat, which was a place of beauty and tourism, suddenly changed into a place of terrorism. More than 400 schools were destroyed.  Girls were stopped from going to school. Women were flogged. Innocent people were killed. We all suffered. And our beautiful dreams turned into nightmares.

Education went from being a right to being a crime.

But when my world suddenly changed, my priorities changed too.

I had two options, one was to remain silent and wait to be killed. And the second was to speak up and then be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.

The terrorists tried to stop us and attacked me and my friends on 9th October 2012, but their bullets could not win.

We survived. And since that day, our voices have only grown louder.
I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not.
It is the story of many girls.

Today, I tell their stories too. I have brought with me to Oslo, some of my sisters, who share this story, friends from Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. My brave sisters Shazia and Kainat Riaz who were also shot that day in Swat with me. They went through a tragic trauma too. Also my sister Kainat Somro from Pakistan who suffered extreme violence and abuse, even her brother was killed, but she did not succumb.

And there are girls with me, who I have met during my Malala Fund campaign, who are now like my sisters, my courageous 16 year old sister Mezon from Syria, who now lives in Jordan in a refugee camp and goes from tent to tent helping girls and boys to learn. And my sister Amina, from the North of Nigeria, where Boko Haram threatens and kidnaps girls, simply for wanting to go to school.

Though I appear as one girl, one person, who is 5 foot 2 inches tall, if you include my high heels. I am not a lone voice, I am many.

I am Shazia.
I am Kainat Riaz.
I am Kainat Somro.
I am Mezon.
I am Amina. I am those 66 million girls who are out of school.

My great hope is that this will be the last time we must fight for the education of our children. We want everyone to unite to support us in our campaign so that we can solve this once and for all.

Like I said, we have already taken many steps in the right direction. Now is the time to take a leap.

It is not time to tell the leaders to realize how important education is – they already know it – their own children are in good schools. Now it is time to call them to take action.

We ask the world leaders to unite and make education their top priority.

Some will say this is impractical, or too expensive, or too hard.  Or even impossible.  But it is time the world thinks bigger.

Dear brothers and sisters, the so-called world of adults may understand it, but we children don’t. Why is it that countries which we call “strong” are so powerful in creating wars but so weak in bringing peace? Why is it that giving guns is so easy but giving books is so hard? Why is it that making tanks is so easy, but building schools is so difficult?

As we are living in the modern age, the 21st century and we all believe that nothing is impossible. We can reach the moon and maybe soon will land on Mars. Then, in this, the 21st century, we must be determined that our dream of quality education for all will also come true.

So let us bring equality, justice and peace for all. Not just the politicians and the world leaders, we all need to contribute.  Me. You. It is our duty.

So we must work … and not wait.
I call upon my fellow children to stand up around the world.
Dear sisters and brothers, let us become the first generation to decide to be the last.
The empty classrooms, the lost childhoods, wasted potential-let these things end with us.
Let this be the last time that a boy or a girl spends their childhood in a factory.
Let this be the last time that a girl gets forced into early child marriage.
Let this be the last time that an innocent child loses their life in war.
Let this be the last time that a classroom remains empty.
Let this be the last time that a girl is told education is a crime and not a right.
Let this be the last time that a child remains out of school.
Let us begin this ending.
Let this end with us.
And let us build a better future right here, right now.”

Maya Angelou, “And Still I Rise,” published in And Still I Rise: Maya Angelou’s Third Volume of Poetry, 1978

“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.”