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Photo Credit: Nina Barnett

On the wall of my bedroom, there is a photograph of Emma Goldman sitting at her desk, pen in hand and spectacles in place, writing with great concentration. In front of her, there is a tall vase of flowers.

I think the image says a lot about a woman who believed each person was entitled to all five senses and the freedom to enjoy them, and was damned if she would let any outside force-- governmental, marital, or even revolutionary--restrict or diminish that freedom.

She has a larger-than-life quality that is still reflected in her historical descriptions:

"anarchist and feminist...opponent of established authority, war, and totalitarian government...espoused atheism, free speech, and freedom from sexual inhibition...arrested for violating a law that forbade giving out information about contraceptives...wrote one of the first serious critiques of the Soviet system..."

But she also understood the importance of seemingly small things, the right to music and dancing, the need for loving kindness, the importance of beauty in a revolutionary's life, the power of listening. She often stayed with prostitutes and shop girls during her travels, and she measured progress by the status of the lowliest worker. After witnessing the loss of personal freedoms in post-revolutionary Russia, she lost her tolerance for violent and repressive means to peaceful and free ends.

For me, keeping Emma Goldman's memory alive is a daily lesson in balance as a goal: between acting with certainty and admitting uncertainty; between collective action and uniqueness; between empathy and self-respect; between hard work and a flower.

Gloria Steinem


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