Battling Bella: The Protest Politics of Bella Abzug
Bella Abzug's promotion of women's and gay rights, universal childcare, green energy, and more provoked not only fierce opposition from Republicans but a split within her own party. The story of this notorious, galvanizing force in the Democrats' "New Politics" insurgency is a biography for our times.
Before Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren, or Hillary Clinton, there was New York's Bella Abzug. With a fiery rhetorical style forged in the 1960s antiwar movement, Abzug vigorously promoted gender parity, economic justice, and the need to "bring Congress back to the people."
The 1970 congressional election season saw Abzug, in her trademark broad-brimmed hats, campaigning on the slogan "This Woman's Place Is in the House--the House of Representatives." Having won her seat, she advanced the feminist agenda in ways big and small, from gaining full access for congresswomen to the House swimming pool to cofounding the National Women's Political Caucus to putting the title "Ms." into the political lexicon. Beyond women's rights, "Sister Bella" promoted gay rights, privacy rights, and human rights, and pushed legislation relating to urban, environmental, and foreign affairs.
Her stint in Congress lasted just six years--it ended when she decided to seek the Democrats' 1976 New York Senate nomination, a race she lost to Daniel Patrick Moynihan by less than 1 percent. Their primary contest, while gendered, was also an ideological struggle for the heart of the Democratic Party. Abzug's protest politics had helped for a time to shift the center of politics to the left, but her progressive positions also fueled a backlash from conservatives who thought change was going too far.
This deeply researched political biography highlights how, as 1960s radicalism moved protest into electoral politics, Abzug drew fire from establishment politicians across the political spectrum--but also inspired a generation of women.
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In telling Abzug's story, Leandra Zarnow gives us a cogent re-evaluation of how progressive social moments brought their energy and ideas into the Democratic Party and the Congress during the 1960s and 1970s. Readers struggling against the current subversion of freedom and democracy in the U.S. and abroad will find in 'Battling Bella' a member of the resistance worthy of rediscovery.--Jane Sherron De Hart, author of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life
This riveting biography could not be more timely. Bella Abzug's career provides a crucial link in the histories of radicalism, feminism, and electoral politics from the 1930s to the 1990s. Through deep research, thorough historical grounding, and a lively writing style, Zarnow has produced a compelling account of a powerful female politician who fought for peace, racial justice, and gender equality.--Estelle B. Freedman, author of No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women
Bella Abzug speaks to our times from this well-wrought biography by historian Leandra Zarnow. Abzug knew progressive change is a not a sprint but a lifetime struggle in which racial and gender equity, economic justice, and peace belong together. From the hard times of the red scare to the glory days of left liberalism in the 1960s and '70s and right through the reaction that followed, she marshaled grassroots energy to embolden her liberal colleagues with her signature flair, modeling the kind of courage we so need now.--Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America
Zarnow sketches a vibrant picture of Abzug's tumultuous era and draws apt comparisons between her firebrand subject and the latest crop of progressive congresswomen.--Publishers Weekly (09/11/2019)
A compelling portrait of a woman who pursued her goals with a single-minded intensity that is inspiring, perhaps all the more so owing to the focus on Abzug's home life and marriage, which was equal in a way that is unusual even today...A fascinating ride through some of the fastest-paced politics of the 1960s with a larger-than-life character.--Kirkus Reviews (09/13/2019)
Reading about how the mostly female volunteers steamrollered the traditional New York Democratic machine, feel free to think of [Abzug] as a middle-aged, Jewish, Vietnam-era version of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. That would please Zarnow, who sees a whole lot of similarities between our era and the 1970s, when Democratic progressives were going head-to-head against establishment moderates for control of the party's agenda.-- (12/03/2019)
Every bit as vigorous and truth-telling as its subject, U.S. congresswoman and invaluable public gadfly Bella Abzug, who argued loudly and persuasively for gender equality, environmental common sense, gay rights, and a generally more compassionate public sector. It's a first-rate political biography.-- (11/14/2019)
Engagingly written, Battling Bella places Abzug firmly in the context of her time--the contentious politics of the 1970s--as well as positions her as a trailblazer whose brash style anticipated the personality-driven culture of the 21st century...With her big hats and her beaming smile and her short temper and her blunt honesty, she becomes in Zarnow's handling an intensely admirable flesh-and-blood character.--Christian Science Monitor (01/08/2020)
[Should] be required reading for every freshman. Every politician. Every woman and, of course, every man...A tightly focused story about the political contributions of Abzug, who devoted her life to making American society less sexist and racist. It is a story that, in its selflessness and heroism, is unimaginable today...Zarnow offers such a rich history.-- (03/28/2020)