The Women’s Marches across America were so inspiring because they were so authentic, organized and attended by regular people, motivated to act by equal parts fear and hope. I saw so many friends and loved ones moved to direct action in the streets in Washington, New York and here in California, not because they were told that they should, but because they felt that they had to. That’s the kind of motivation from the heart that gives birth to movements that last.
In the most iconic political movie of my generation, a scrappy band of rag-tag resisters came together in their most desperate hour to resist a twisted ruler. Those “Star Wars” rebels ultimately destroyed the supposedly indestructible Death Star by working together — not because they wanted to, but because they felt they must. But the Rebel Alliance was not a leaderless mob. The character we all met as Princess Leia took huge risks that made that victory possible. Eventually, she was given a title that recognized what she had already become: General Leia Organa, organizer extraordinaire. When the world mourned Carrie Fisher recently, we gave her a special thanks for bringing that powerful leader to life on the silver screen.
This moment inspires me to recognize three amazing San Francisco women who are still with us, who became organizers not because they wanted to, but because they felt they must.
Ruth Gottstein, daughter of Coit Tower muralist Bernard Zakheim, was born and raised in San Francisco. As a girl, Ruth was riveted to scenes of resistance, like the 1934 San Francisco General Strike that shut down The City, searing in her mind the importance of fighting injustice. In the 1970s, Ruth founded progressive publishing house Volcano Press, which fearlessly printed groundbreaking books about domestic violence, family abuse and women’s health at a time when few publishers would touch these topics.
In recent years, Ruth has sounded the alarm about the awful neglect of Coit Tower and its historic murals by The City, which got the tower and the murals for free but treated them like little more than a cash cow. Ruth’s unafraid, moral voice ultimately motivated the voters of the whole city, and then its leaders, to fix Coit Tower and take a whole new approach to respecting the treasures we have there.
While Ruth has just officially retired from publishing, her activism continues unabated through her regular writing.
Jane Morrison has been involved in virtually every important San Francisco political campaign for half a century. Jane was born the year that the 19th Amendment, finally giving women the right to vote, was adopted.
After an extraordinary career in journalism, Jane became a tireless Democratic Party activist, dedicating herself to promoting candidates for public office as Chair of the Women’s Caucus of the California Democratic Party, Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and opening her home to dozens of causes and candidates since the 1950s. A photograph of Jane standing with President John F. Kennedy is featured prominently in her living room, vividly reminding visitors that our political history is long and varied, and the moment that we are currently in is only for now. Jane reminds us to keep working for tomorrow.
It was in Gerry Crowley’s living room that I attended my first San Francisco political organizing meeting, an early campaign strategy session in June of 2000 for Aaron Peskin. Gerry played a crucial role in that campaign as Aaron’s steady driver and guide through the complex landscape of daily (and nightly) political meetings that candidates for office in this town must navigate.
As a new person in the North Beach neighborhood, I received crucial advice and endless support from Gerry as I threw myself into managing that intense first “Peskin for Supervisor” campaign to a joyful victory on election night. Whether in her roles as President of Telegraph Hill Dwellers, elected member of the Democratic County Central Committee or leader of the Neighborhood Network, Gerry has always remained grounded in a political world full of chaos.
At this anxious moment for our city, state and nation, we, San Franciscans, are lucky to have women like these to look to as inspiring examples for how to handle troubled times. While they have done so much already, still today, Ruth, Jane and Gerry keep on marching.
Jon Golinger is an environmental attorney who lives in North Beach.