New Bella Abzug Play a Timely Antidote to Trump’s Toxic Masculinity

As Play Opens Bella's Daughter Liz Endorses Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren & Says She is "Just Like Bella"

Bella Bellathe new off-Broadway play about the indomitable 1970’s congressional titan Bella Abzug, feels timely and significant in this, the season of Donald Trump’s impeachment.

In early 1972, Bella made history because, as Hillary Clinton wrote in a Facebook post that coincided with the play’s opening on October 22, “In the midst of a crisis in our democracy with eerie parallels to our current moment, Bella Abzug was the first member of the U.S. House of Representatives to speak out in favor of impeaching President Nixon.”

“At the time, Clinton wrote,  “I never pictured myself running for office. Bella inspired me because she was one of the few women who was in the thick of political and policy decisions.”

Bella Bella, a savvy one-person play, written and starring a simply dressed Harvey Fierstein as the powerhouse New York Congresswoman, uses Bella’s speeches and writing to describe the political vision of a trailblazer who was a pioneering crusader for racial justice, women, lesbian and gay rights, and an end to the Vietnam war.

Nixon, Bella reflects in the play, “wastes billions of tax payer dollars dropping Napalm on innocent Vietnamese but child-care is fiscally irresponsible. And that brings us to that paragon of boys club corruption – Gerald Ford – and the glory of Watergate. Years of investigations, hearings, trials…Dragging the truth out of those traitors detail by detail… All to prove that no one, not even the President of the  United States, is above the law.”

As we approach the exciting possibility of Elizabeth Warren as our first woman President, the words of Bella Abzug illuminate the advantages of sending the “old boys club” government packing. Shortly before Trump was elected three years ago, I wrote a column for the Huffington Post titled, “Trump Manifests Everything Wrong with American Men and Shames Our Gender.” From my perspective as a post-feminist man, raised as a child of the sixties by a liberated artist mother in Bella’s district of downtown Manhattan, I called Trump “the living, fire-breathing, fear-evoking, hate-mongering, violence-threatening, sexist, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, avaricious, insecure, intolerant, egomaniacal, bombastic, braggadocios, greedy sexual harassing manifestation of everything that is wrong with American men.”

Bella, Bella gets right to the core of why our nation would benefit by replacing a Chief Executive who embodies toxic masculinity with one that engenders the caring, compassionate values of a matriarchy.  “No one’s looking to replace   the male white elite with a female white elite,” Bella says in the play.

“The goal is to transform, not transfer. Women have to change the nature of  power and not let power change the nature of women.”

“Men see things as they are,” Fierstein’s Bella explains. “But women consider possibilities. We negotiate. We cross party lines looking for answers. Men  will tell you that there’s no peace without security while women understand there’s no security without  peace.”

It was my friend Liz Abzug, Bella’s daughter, who first approached Harvey Fierstein, the Tony Award winning writer of  Torch Song Trilogy and La Cage Aux Folles,  to create a play about her mother. The pair approached a number of well-known actresses, including Patti LuPone and Better Midler, to play Bella, but when they were too busy, Fierstein and Liz Abzug realized that Fierstein himself, without make-up or costume, could handle the part—and he does so convincingly and eloquently.

Liz, the founder of the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute, a 15-year old girls  and young women’s empowerment organization  (whose Board of Directors I serve on), believes that Fierstein and Bella share a strong sense of humor and witty charm. This humor makes the poignant politics of Bella Bella’s 85 minutes move quickly, with gems like this anecdote. “So I applied to Harvard (Law School). Hey, if I was going to be this mythical creature, a female Jewish lawyer, I’d better be flashing some fancy bona fides. So I wrote them a nice  letter.  And they wrote me a nice letter back,  ‘We don’t accept women.’ There’s a lot packed into that sentence.”

“If my mother was alive today,”  Liz Abzug says, “she would have been there right away calling for Trump’s impeachment. This year Elizabeth Warren called for impeachment early on. She has intelligence, guts and the strength to say, ‘this is what we need to do for honest government!’  Warren calls it as she sees it, with intelligence, guts and vision, just like Bella!”

Bella’s daughter Liz Abzug with Hillary & Bill Clinton at opening of Bella Bella

 

Jonathan Greenberg

The founder and Editor of the Sonoma County Independent, Greenberg is an investigative financial journalist with 40 years of experience with national publications. Greenberg also serves as founder and Executive Director of Informing to Empower, the parent non-profit of both the Sonoma Independent and the Maui Independent. Greenberg has won awards from the Greater Bay Journalism Awards for the past four years on behalf of the Sonoma Independent, starting with his coverage of the closing of County library cutbacks, and then the struggle to reopen Palm Drive Hospital. Jonathan Greenberg recently wrote three of the most widely-read exposes about Trump’s career ever published on the Washington Post. Jonathan was the notorious Forbes 400 reporter who taped two long Trump calls in 1984 in which he pretended to be the fictitious John Baron. His Post expose about this, with audio here, has been the subject of monologues on Colbert, the Daily Show and Seth Meyer’s A Closer Look. Jonathan has appeared live on a dozen top news shows, including Chris Cuomo’s CNN Good Day and most recently on CNN’s prime time Upfront with Erin Burnett to expose Trump’s latest lies. Jonathan was a Web 1.0 pioneer, founding Gist Communications in 1996, an Internet company that competed successfully with TV Guide Online. In 1997, Gist was one of just 14 websites in the world to be named a winner of the First Annual Webby Awards in San Francisco. Jonathan’s professional career began as a fact checker at Forbes Magazine, where he advanced to the role of the lead reporter in creating the first Forbes 400 listing of wealthy Americans, as recounted in this recent article for Forbes’ 100th anniversary issue and more extensively in this biography of Malcolm Forbes. Jonathan has been an investigative financial and political journalist for such national publications as The Washington Post, The New York Times, New York Magazine, Mother Jones, Forbes, Town & Country, Money, GQ, Manhattan,Inc., The New Republic, and Alternet. From 2011 through 2017, Jonathan was a blogger for the Huffington Post, where his narrative-transforming reporting and analysis about subjects like Bernie Sanders, Monsanto and Native Hawaiian water protectors achieved some of the widest readership of any HuffPost writer on these subjects. Jonathan’s nearly 40 years of professional media and reporting experience has been enhanced by a Yale Law School Masters Degree fellowship program, from which he graduated with honors in First Amendment Law from internationally renowned attorney Floyd Abrams and then Yale University President Benno Schmidt. Jonathan is the author of the critically acclaimed biography Staking A Claim: Jake Simmons and the Making of an African-American Oil Dynasty, which a Washington Post Book World front page review called, “a rare biography that challenges the readers senses in the same the way science fiction does.” In 1992, he edited Buying America Back: Economic Choices for the 1990′s, an anthology of 45 progressive solution-oriented essays called by Publisher’s Weekly, “An immensely important resource for policymakers, community activists, and everyone concerned with building a more humane future.”
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