Activists everywhere are used to hearing that their demands are unrealistic and unattainable. But bold and uncompromising thinking is what has driven progress in this country. A year ago, for example, the possibility of a Green New Deal seemed like a far-fetched dream. Now it’s one of the key issues driving the 2020 presidential election. That’s due in large part to the uncompromising advocacy of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) — the youngest congresswoman to ever serve in the House of Representatives — and Sunrise Movement activists from across the country.
AOC is just one example among the many female political leaders — including Stacey Abrams, Rashida Tlaib, Lucy McBath, Deb Haaland, and Ilhan Omar — who are reimagining American democracy by claiming their rightful space and power within it. All of these women are using their positions of power as members of government, political leaders, and candidates to change the political reality of our country for the better. These women are powerful, diverse, and perhaps more radical than in the generations before them. Their power and approach, however, builds on a long tradition of female leadership working within the system to disrupt it.
One of those pioneering female leaders is Eleanor Roosevelt, the longest-serving first lady, who was born 135 years ago today. She served alongside her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), during his 12 years in office.
The legacy of the Roosevelts is talked about a lot, whether in the language of the Green New Deal or grappling with the horrific reality of Japanese internment camps, but Eleanor’s advocacy and unique legacy are often overlooked or left out of conversations, especially about radical women who changed our country. She disagreed with internment and spoke publicly against it. She was a powerful, tireless advocate, and played a smart inside game to push forward an uncompromising vision of human rights, civil rights, and gender equality. For her time, and even compared to the legendary feminists of the 1960s and ’70s, Eleanor was radical. In 1914, the FBI even began tracking her because of her work with liberal groups; her file eventually grew to around 3,000 pages.