Activism and Hope

I am back on Block Island. The Block Island Peace Project is happening, continuing, and attendance is good. [Scroll down on the Library website] Coincidentally my friend Jane Baumann, mother of our Library Director Kristin, told us about a great Program called I’ve Got a Song. I have just been to it, learned a lot of US history I had previously just heard about, the quite horrible and frightening McCarthy era of the 1950s, and also heard some wonderful and inspiring singing. [It did remind me of some of the injustice and fear in Northern Ireland, I confess I cried.] And I stood up during the last song, “Stand Up”. Do listen to Nancy Hood singing “My Loved One” [below] written for the Rosenberg’s who were arrested as soviet spies and executed during that time. Be prepared to cry.  [Whether or not the Rosenbergs were guilty or witch-hunted, the song speaks for all who are hounded by cultural scaremongering, division and paranoia.]

In the program Nancy describes her childhood in a family under threat because of her parents’ political beliefs, her father was a communist, and also a pacifist. The guitarist Barry Brown accompanies her and narrates the history. Together, they tell an affirming story, full of the nastiness that has been and still is, but filled with love, hope and generosity. It helps me remember that all over the world, always, there are people who do struggle against injustice, and work for peace, equality, and rights for all. It is also just over two weeks ago that I was in Edinburgh and listening to Rowena Arshad’s inaugural lecture: “Scotland: The challenge of realising inclusive education when it comes to ‘race’.” Rowena and I were colleagues before I retired, and in all those years of work on what is now called “Social Justice” [we started out as Equal Opportunities if I remember right] we often talked about  standing up, or speaking up, or just showing somehow that we believe we all matter. We also thought and discussed how to do it, not unnecessarily endangering oneself, or one’s family, job and income. How do we stay as safe as possible, even in difficult situations, or scary ones. Keep alert, be open to the good sides of everyone, find a friend, use a union, recognize the context you are in, and how others might see you, etc. I have found myself acting more and more often, as one never knows what sort of situation will arise.


Yes, really. I was simply minding my own business walking down Clerk Street, when a group just in front of me erupted on to the pavement shouting and yelling. I saw a long-haired woman screaming, and there were two men, one a biggish tough looking man in a dark jacket, the other wearing a pristine white Adidas zippered jacket who was tall and lean. I think they came out from Hill Place, and there were a lot of other people around as there is a bus stop near, just beside the Lidl store. Having recently been energised by Rowena’s lecture and the Peace Project, faster than I can write, I remembered all the “rules of engagement” and as they went through my head, at that moment the man in the dark jacket hooked his leg behind Adidas man’s knee and they both went down on the road into Hill Place, the dark man on top, ready to punch. I went within a yard of them and said something I don’t remember, like. “Stop that, that won’t sort anything, get up … “ I was feeling absolutely nuts, and ready to run, but at the same time totally aware that I was the only person who could do this. I had the shock value of stepping up AND the non-threatening appearance. To them, I would be a “wee biddy”, a granny, only just over 5 foot tall, a bit plump, grey hair, and the ‘teacher’ voice, not screaming, just saying. IT WORKED. The dark jacket guy halted, looking at me, puzzled. The Adidas man was equally surprised, but was released, and got his feet under him, and as he struggled up another woman I had not seen before stepped out from the crowd around and grabbed his adidas hood. She obviously knew him, and she sort of frog-marched him away. He kept turning back to the screaming woman, who might have been the cause of it all, but how would I know the back story, demanding “I jist wan my claes”. [For the non-scot reader, that is “I just want my clothes”]. The dark guy kept a menacing attitude, but was standing back, though the screaming woman would have egged him on to continue the fight if he would. The hood holding woman was terrific, she kept talking Adidas man down, and took him off over the street towards Nicolson Square. And everyone, including me, went about their business. Excitement over. But, I think I did it, made the space for hood-holding woman to defuse Adidas man and get him out of it.

I am telling this partly for me, the adrenalin was up, so it is therapy, but mainly I want to share my gratitude that feels like the kind of gratitude that Nancy Hood was showing in her program. If I had not had the parents I had, if I had not been working for years, thinking strategies, getting involved, above all learning how to see a context as wholly as possible, especially how others will see me, I would not have known how to step out and say “Stop That”. But I did know how, and I hope Adidas man got his clothes back, and I hope screaming woman found someone who helped her hysterics. At least, none of them killed each other. And, it was Scotland, no guns.

How or when US will learn … that is another story. I did not know how frightening a place it was during the McCarthy era. It is becoming scary again, and injustice exists in far too many ways. I hope everyone will try to stand up now, in whatever way they can. It’s not always dramatic, though even the small ways are testing, make one a bit scared of consequences. What is amazing, is that one learns, and keeps on learning, and that feels really really good.

4 thoughts on “Activism and Hope

  1. Go Elspeth !!!

    Good for you.

    Well done.

    VERY well done indeed.

    Your intervention took courage, nerves of steel and conviction.

    So proud of you.

    Best love,




  2. Oh Elspeth, I am delighted you went to hear Nancy. She has an important story to tell, especially right now. I was Ubering yesterday and thinking of you and wanting to call you to make sure you got to the program, but I had folks in the car almost continuously
    and never reached out. Hope she was well received.
    And, how interesting that you didn’t tell me about your bravery during all the hours we talked about your trip when you returned. Right on and kudos to you my brave friend. See you soon


    1. I didn’t talk about the fight-stopping, hadn’t even told Neill when I arrived down at his flat. I thought I would upset people [I was hiding my upset?] then Nancy’s talk and hearing about her father, just made it possible it say what had happened to me and what I did, even though a small event on a street is nothing like having to stand up for beliefs against McCarthyism. Thank you so much for being part of how Nancy Hood came to BI.


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