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At the End, Betty Friedan Broadened her Vision

Friday, March 29, 2013

Betty Friedan's parting words: "We didn't challenge the system enough." She helped start the women's revolution but came to realize--along with many of us--that the problem everyone faced was economic predators.

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Betty Friedan's parting words: "We didn't challenge the system enough." She helped start the women's revolution but came to realize--along with many of us--that the problem everyone faced was economic predators.




Lady Gaga performs in Vancouver, Canada
NOW Founder and President Betty Friedan (second from left) chats with other women's rights activists in 1968.

Credit: Acc. 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives.

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(WOMENSENEWS)--It was Labor Day weekend 2005 at the Sag Harbor, Long Island, cottage of Betty Friedan five months before her death.

I'd met Friedan in mid-1969 at a small gathering of the National Organization for Women (NOW) at the Upper West Side apartment of Dolores Alexander, a reporter for Newsday. (At that time, all gatherings of NOW were small!)

Friedan was the national president of NOW and one of its founders. When she discovered I was a journalist, she asked me to be NOW's public relations vice president. A major NOW focus was ending discrimination against women in employment. I thought that was central to changing the status of women. So I agreed.

I ran the PR operation out of my studio apartment, cranking out press releases from a ditto machine stashed in the closet. During this period, I got to know Friedan well as I consulted with her on how to promote NOW's goals. At a national convention in 1970, I was elected a NOW vice president and served a year-and-a-half term.

After my involvement in NOW, I returned to journalism and began writing about other issues, though the focus was always social justice. In the 1980s, I visited developing countries and wrote about their movements for democratization. It was an eye-opener for me when oppositionists in the Philippines, Haiti and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) told me that the dictators (Ferdinand Marcos, Francois Duvalier and Mobutu Sese Seko) had stolen the country's wealth and parked it in Swiss banks.

I learned that Switzerland was an offshore secrecy jurisdiction that welcomed dictators, corporations and a variety of crooks and tax cheaters who set up secret bank accounts and fake shell companies to launder their ill-gotten loot and profits. As a writer, I started focusing on that issue in 1997.

Continuous Curiosity

When I saw Friedan in Sag Harbor that September of 2005, we talked for hours. Ever intellectually curious, she wanted to know what I was working on, and I explained in detail the offshore bank and corporate secrecy system that helped drug traffickers and other criminals laundering their booty, abetted rich individuals and corporations cheating on their taxes and assisted international corporations sucking money out of developing countries.

Since Friedan had worked as a writer for the United Electrical Workers Union newspaper, UE News, she had a good grasp of the toxic power often exercised by corporate interests. She was fascinated by what I had told her and asked a lot of questions.

At the end of the conversation, Friedan was thoughtful. Finally, she commented: "We didn't challenge the system enough."

Of course, I knew what she meant. It wasn't about male and female. The "system" was the economic system that allows powerful money interests to grind down the rest of us.

Martin Luther King Jr., who spent his life fighting discrimination, at the end also understood, as he prepared to march with striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., that what we are struggling against is an economic system that allows the 1 percent to dominate and exploit the majority.

Challenging Corruption

If Friedan had lived longer, I imagine she'd have focused her attention on challenging America's corrupt economic system.

She'd have likely raised her voice against the massive corruption by the big banks and banksters, who with the cooperation of Republican and Democratic treasury and justice officials have had their losing casino bets paid for with public money and their criminal accountability ignored -- they are too big to jail -- while mortgage lenders continue to cheat homeowners with scam foreclosures.

She'd have been concerned about a tax system that allows major corporations such as Microsoft and Google to launder their profits by setting up shell corporations in tax havens and pretending – with the approval of the IRS and Congress – that billions of dollars of profits created here were earned there.

She'd have opposed the system that allows billionaire hedge fund executives to declare -- with the approval of the IRS and Congress -- that the income they earn from the investments of clients should be taxed as their own investment income at 20 percent instead of the 39.6 percent paid on high personal incomes.

The corporation and hedge fund executives contribute to members of Congress, and they get what they pay for.

She'd have cared about the cuts in health, nutrition and education programs carried out by states across the country that are also the victims of the bankster-induced economic collapse and rampant tax evasion. She'd have opposed threats to Social Security and Medicaid, all supported by political interests who don't want a dollar cut from military budgets.

Friedan started a revolution, true. But towards the end of her life, she knew, as so many of us in the women's movement also recognized, that her vision was not broad enough and that the revolution had far to go.

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