Bella Abzug

On Why Her Family Came To New York:
This was a place of opportunity and a place to be able to be free; there was a lot of anti-Semitism in Russia at that time and there were lots of edicts and promulgations when my grandfather came here that were directed against Jews in Russia. This was obviously early 1900s, pre-Stalin and pre-Communism, so there was a czar that reigned. And it was a new sense of freedom; they could practice their religion; they could say what they wanted to say without being afraid of being either attacked by the authority or by organized peasants who were often unleashed, and unleashed their dogs, on Jews, who were the victims of great persecution. So coming here with the openness, the democracy, with opportunity, and having rights to do all kinds of business if you wanted to was a very, very important thing . . . People feel that this is a place they'll be accepted and they'll be able to function and work and raise their kids and that it's a democracy. Many people come from countries where there is very little freedom, little democracy, lots of persecution, and very little opportunity. All of those are factors that cause people to come here.

On New York As A Progressive City:
I think that New York is still considered to be a more forward-thinking city than other cities in the country -- including others on the east coast . . . There is a greater sense of fundamental freedom and justice and thoughts of liberty and equality in this city than probably any other place in the world . . . In the midst of confusion there's this strong beat of living -- people really living and people really struggling and people overcoming and people surviving. That's our great contribution: that we can do that in this city against overwhelming odds.

On Politics:
I come from the reform movement -- if there is such a movement in the Democratic Party. It has reflected a lot about New York that is interesting, and that reflected the need to have people get some jobs done that were not being done. Very often strong political figures were able to get jobs done, even though we may not like the paths that they took. Boss Tweed was a Boss and he did just that. At the same time he corrupted the institution and we're left with that, plus Tammany Hall -- we've continued that tradition until we finally developed a reform movement in this city, which was theoretically against patronage and having politicians being paid off for being just politicians in addition to their salaries. That was for a while a very effective movement because it was a strong movement which had the voice of the people behind it. It was a movement that opposed the war in Vietnam, that fought for child care, fought for economic and social improvement conditions, fought for transportation and for schools, and for support for the elderly and so on.

Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
(1920-1998) Bella Abzug was an attorney, author, lecturer, news commentator, and former U.S. Representative from New York. She was a lifelong activist in support of civil rights, equal rights for women, and disarmament, and in 1970 she became the first woman elected to Congress on a women's rights platform. In 1990, she co-founded an international advocacy network called the Women's Environment and Development Organization which represented the culmination of her lifelong career as public activist and stateswoman.