Two Strong Women Making Waves

By Becky O'Malley
Friday March 07, 2014 - 12:53:00 PM

In honor of International Women’s Day, March 8, and Women’s History Month let’s celebrate the life and work of a couple of heroines who are still working on their place in history, Sister Megan Rice and Ohio State Senator Nina Turner.

First, Sister Megan, of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, is the 84-year-old nun who’s just been sentenced to three years in jail because she took part in a break-in at the facility where the U.S. stores most of its weapons-grade uranium. She and her two companions wanted to call attention to what they perceived as violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a world agreement supposed to control the spread of nuclear weapons.

I’m particularly proud of Sister Megan because the nuns of the SHCJ taught me in high school in Pasadena. In those days all of our teachers were women, almost all of them nuns. It was a great privilege to learn by their example that women were fully capable of running things, could even tackle subjects like chemistry and math which girls at co-ed schools sometimes were led to believe to be too hard, better left to the boys.

Looking online to learn more about Sister Megan, who might have been one of my teachers, I was amazed to learn that instead she’d spent 40 years in Africa teaching science to African girls. I was impressed by the pictures of the SHCJ sisters in Africa, now almost all of them native to Africa, with just a few of European descent sprinkled among them. They not only run schools, but work in organic agriculture, health, and other diverse fields.

There’s a petition in circulation asking President Obama to pardon Megan Rice and her two co-conspirator peace activists, or to limit their sentences to time served. But I can’t help imagining what a fertile field a women’s prison would be for Sister Megan’s activism and her experience as an educator—she’d be teaching truth there at government expense. Before she was sentenced, she asked the court to send her to jail, so she may have some plans…

What women like Megan Rice show us is that if something needs to be done and no one seems to be doing it, just get moving. The influence of a single determined woman can be enormous.

Another kind of heroine has recently come to my attention, one whose strength is instead working within the system to get things done. Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, who has represented a Cleveland district in the Ohio legislature for many years, is now running for Ohio Secretary of State in an attempt to end the Republican domination of that office which has resulted in numerous attempts to keep Democrats, especially African-Americans, from voting. The latest outrage, says Katrina Van Den Heuvel: “Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State John Husted moved to restrict early-voting hours in the Buckeye State, eliminating early voting on Sundays and weekday nights.”

Turner’s campaign to end voter suppression in Ohio was profiled by Van Den Heuvel in The Nation: Why This Woman Should Be Ohio’s Next Secretary of State. You can also see her appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show 

Nina Turner plans to make a flying visit to California to raise money at the end of March. I’ve been asked to join a committee to plan a fundraiser for her on March 29th, and I imagine this is something most Northern California women (and even men) can happily get behind. We may have our differences when it comes to local issues, but when it’s a question of stopping right-wing attempts to prevent minority voting in Ohio we can easily agree that we don’t like that kind of behavior. 

We’re seeking more working committee members and honorary co-sponsors. If you’d like to get involved, or if you’d just like to come to the event to meet Senator Turner and/or contribute to her campaign, email me at bomalley@berkeleydailyplanet.com and I’ll put you in touch with the right people.