LIZ ABZUG: MY MOTHER’S LEGACY

Bella’s daughter Liz tells us how she’s continuing her mother’s legacy and shaping a new generation of women leaders through the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute.

Aired on November 5, 2019 and November 27, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> BATTLING BELLA ABZUG WAS A NEW YORK POLITICAL ICON IN THE '70s WHO IN HER POLITICAL CAREER AS MEMBER OF CONGRESS, AS WELL AS IN HER PERSONAL LIFE, WAS A PIONEER WHO FOUGHT FOR THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN INSPIRING A NEW GENERATION TO TAKE UP LEADERSHIP ROLES.

20 YEARS AFTER BELLA ABZUG PASSING, HER LAWYER LIZ HAS CONTINUED HER VISION THROUGH HER NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION, THE BELLA ABZUG LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE WHERE YOUNG WOMEN AND GIRLS GO THROUGH FREE COURSES, WORKSHOPS, AND TRAINING IN PREPARATION FOR BECOMING FUTURE LEADERS.

JOINING ME TO TALK ABOUT HER ORGANIZATION, HER MISSION, AND HER MOTHER'S LEGACY, IS FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE BELLA ABZUG LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE, LIZ ABZUG.

NICE TO HAVE YOU HERE.

NICE TO BE HERE.

AS I SAID, I HAD INTERVIEWED 84 MOM YEARS AND YEARS AGO.

IT'S A NICE CLOSING OF THE CIRCLE TO CHAT WITH YOU ALSO.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THE INSTITUTE.

WHAT WAS THE IDEA BEHIND IT?

I WANTED TO MAKE A LIVING LEGACY, FIRST OF ALL, TO MY MOTHER'S LIFE AND HER WORK AS A CIVIL RIGHTS LAWYER, AS A POLITICIAN, AS A CONGRESSWOMAN, AND ONE OF THE LEADING FEMINISTS OF THE 20th CENTURY LEADERS.

ALSO MY OWN WORK AS A LAWYER, PROFESSOR, FEMINIST ACTIVIST IN ALL MY ADULT LIFE.

I WANTED TO SAY, WE NEED TO PASS THIS ON TO THE CURRENT AND NEXT GENERATION OF YOUNG WOMEN AND GIRLS SO THAT THEY CAN GRAB THE MANTLE OF LEADERSHIP AND FINISH THE UNFINISHED BUSINESS TO ACHIEVE FULL GENDER EQUALITY.

THIS MIGHT SOUND A FAIRLY SIMPLICITY QUESTION, AND I DON'T KNOW IF THERE'S A SIMPLE ANSWER.

OFTENTIMES PEOPLE SAY, WOMEN OUTNUMBER MEN IN COLLEGES NOW, YET WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE LEADERSHIP ROLES YOU'RE NOT SEEING THAT SAME TYPE OF RELATIONSHIP.

WHY?

THE DISPARITY IS REALLY GREAT.

WHAT I FEEL IS THAT -- AND THAT'S WHY WE FORMED THE BELLA AN ZUG LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE, WOMEN AND YOUNG GIRLS FEEL SO CULTURALLY STEREOTYPED THAT THEY HAVE TO NOT BE AGGRESSIVE, NOT BE AMBITIOUS, NOT GO TO THE TOP, NOT SIT AT THE CENTRAL PARTS OF THE TABLE.

WHAT WE NEED TO DO, THERE'S REALLY A PROBLEM IN THE FACT THAT THERE'S STILL A SELF-ESTEEM PROBLEM, THERE'S STILL A FAILURE TO SAY, BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE, BASED ON MY TALENT, I CAN GET AND ASSUME THE TOP LEADERSHIP POSITIONS IN EVERY SECTOR.

SO THEREFORE WHY WOULD THAT BE, WHEN YOU HAVE SOME OF THE MOST ACCOMPLISHED WOMEN, NOT ONLY IN MEDICAL SCHOOL, LAW SCHOOL, MORE THAN MEN IN LAW SCHOOL.

THE ONLY AREA WE'RE FLAGGING A LITTLE BEHIND IS IN ENGINEERING.

WHY WOULD THAT BE, THEN?

THAT'S BECAUSE THERE'S STILL THIS STEREOTYPE OF THE WAY SOCIETY VIEWS YOUNG WOMEN AGAINST YOUNG MEN, AND THAT YOUNG WOMEN HAVE INCORPORATED THAT INTO THEIR PSYCHES AGAINST THEIR BEST INTERESTS.

AND SO WHAT WE'RE TRYING TO DO IS UNWIND THAT.

AS A FATHER OF A DAUGHTER, AND WE'VE TALKED BEFORE, MY DAUGHTER FORTUNATELY HAS DONE MARVELOUSLY.

CANCER SURGEON, ATHLETE IN COLLEGE.

I WOULD SEE GIRLS AROUND HER THINKING, YOU'RE SMART, YOU'RE TALENTED, WHY WOULDN'T YOU STEP UP ALSO?

WHAT DO YOU DO NOW AT THE INSTITUTE THAT HELPS YOUNG WOMEN TO DO THAT?

FIRST I WANT TO SAY ONE THING ABOUT THAT.

I'M A PROFESSOR AT BARNARD COLLEGE, A WOMEN'S COLLEGE AND COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, URBAN STUDIES.

IN ALL THE YEARS I'VE BEEN TEACHING I WILL HAVE GIRLS RAISE THEIR HANDS AND APOLOGIZE FOR ASKING QUESTIONS, RIT PALLIZED APOLOGY.

BOYS WILL NEVER DO THAT, I HAVE YET TO SEE A GUY DO THAT.

AT THE INSTITUTE WHAT WE DO IS WE -- COMBINATION OF LEADERSHIP SKILLS.

HOW TO MAKE A PUBLIC SPEECH.

HOW TO DEBATE.

WE ARE AN UNUSUAL ORGANIZATION IN THIS COUNTRY, WE BRING TOGETHER LEADERSHIP SKILLS, SELF-ESTEEM, ADVOCACY, DEBATE.

WE SHOWGIRLS WHO HAVE NEVER DEBATED, WHO WHO WERE ON DEBATE TEAMS, MIDDLE SCHOOL, HIGH SCHOOL, COLLEGE, FROM THE TRI-STATE AREA AND ACROSS IS COUNTRY, HOW YOU GRAB THESE TECHNIQUES SO THAT ANY KID, YOUNG WOMAN GOING FORWARD, WHETHER HIGH SCHOOL, COLLEGE, REALLY FEELS A SENSE OF STRENGTH AND EMPOWERMENT.

AND THAT THEY CAN'T BE TALKED DOWN TO, AND THAT THEY CAN INTELLECTUALIZE AND ARTICULATE THE SOCIAL MOST CRITICAL ISSUES TODAY.

IT'S INTERESTING BECAUSE I'VE SEEN AN EVOLUTION.

MAYBE YOU ARE SEEING ALSO.

I'VE BEEN TEACHING AT YALE, A SEMINAR NOW FOR TEN YEARS, AND I HAVE MARVELOUS STUDENTS.

GREAT KIDS.

I'M SURE YOU SEE THE SAME.

SAME THING.

I'M SEEING, FIRST OF ALL, MORE WOMEN IN MY SEMINAR THAN MEN, ROUTINELY.

THAT'S CORRECT.

150 TO 250 APPLICATIONS EACH YEAR, THEN THERE'S A SELECTION PROCESS.

AND YOU'RE SEEING THE WOMEN MUCH MORE ASSERTIVE I'M SURE THAN YOU SAW IN YOUR TEACHING CAREER EARLIER.

SO HOW ARE YOU THEN SELECTING THE YOUNG WOMEN FOR THE INSTITUTE?

WHERE ARE YOU LOOKING TO FIND THEM?

OKAY, WE TRAIN GIRLS FROM NEW YORK CITY -- WHEN I FORMED B.A.L.I. IT WAS TO TARGET BRILLIANT OR UNDERSERVED, DISADVANTAGED GIRLS, FIRST-GENERATION IMMIGRANTS, YOUNG WOMEN OF COLOR, ALL COLORS, OF COURSE.

NOW WE TRAIN IN ALL THE FIVE BOROUGHS PLUS NEW JERSEY, LONG ISLAND, WESTCHESTER, KIDS FROM THE COUNTRY.

THEY APPLY, WE INTERVIEW EVERY APPLICANT, WE PRIDE OURSELVES ON THE AMAZING DIVERSITY NOT ONLY OF OUR KIDS BUT OF THE TRAINERS THAT I HAVE WORKING THERE.

THAT'S IMPORTANT.

IT'S VERY IMPORTANT.

AND FURTHERMORE, WE DO SOMETHING VERY UNIQUE.

BECAUSE I'M A PROFESSOR, I DECIDED TO TRY THIS.

TRAIN MIDDLE SCHOOL, HIGH SCHOOL, COLLEGE TOGETHER IN THE SAME TRAINING CLASS.

WHY TOGETHER?

MOST PEOPLE WOULD THINK, THEY'RE DIFFERENT AGES, DIFFERENT INTERESTS, KEEP THEM APART.

NO, WE TRAIN TO THE HIGHEST LEVEL.

I TELL MY TRAINERS, I TELL MY STAFF.

WHY THAT IS, THE COLLEGE GIRLS MENTOR THE HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS.

HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS MENTOR THE GIRLS WHO ARE GOING TO HIGH SCHOOL.

GREAT APPROACH.

THEREFORE IT'S PEER MENTORING.

SO THAT THE ENVIRONMENT IS SAFE AND CHALLENGING AND SELF-ESTEEM BUILDING.

AND SAFE FOR YOUNG WOMEN TO SHARE THEIR CONCERNS, THEIR AGONIES, THEIR ECSTASIES, VIOLENCE MANY EXPERIENCE IN THEIR HOMES, AND WE HELP THEM GET BEYOND IT.

IT SOUNDS LIKE A FABULOUS INSTITUTE, FABULOUS WORK.

I CAN'T IMAGINE A BETTER LEGACY FOR YOUR MOM THAN THE INSTITUTE.

I THANK YOU.

GOOD LUCK AND CONGRATULATIONS.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH, THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

TAKE CARE.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

WNET

© WNET All Rights Reserved.

825 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10019