Profile of an Activist: Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg

By Metta Spencer | 1986-02-01 12:00:00

MY HOST IN Montréal WAS telling us at dinner about his day. He'd participated in a human rights demonstration and had met an interesting woman named Dorothy.

"Oh, I thought Dorothy Rosenberg was out of town. I'll call her tonight," I said.

Flabbergasted, he asked how I knew it was Dorothy Rosenberg.

"Because she's everywhere," I re plied. And of course, it had been she. Whether it's a human rights event, or one about the environment, energy, feminism, or peace, one comes to expect Dorothy to be there. If the disarmament movement had an annual trophy for activism, she'd win it every time.

No, on second thought, she'd probably refuse it every time as a typically male idea. A staunch feminist, she claims we are victims of "patriarchal values": She blames most of the world's evils -- hierarchy, militarism, and competitiveness -- on patriarchy. Women's values, she thinks, are nicer and could make short work of the planet's worst problems if given a chance.

Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg is probably Canada's only free-lance professional peacenik. Her income comes largely from her film consultations and speaking engagements. She used to talk mostly about environmentally appropriate energy, but now most invitations are for talks about disarmament. Each presentation is impeccably researched and tailored to the interests of that specific audience. She never refuses an invitation because of the smallness of honorarium, but until January, when she began working part-time for the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, she did depend on the income from lecturing. And she may have done more to educate the public about the nuclear danger than anyone else in Canada. She's eclectic and can walk fast, so she's all over the place. We at Peace Magazine call her almost every month to get listings for The Peace Calendar, and her notebook alone sometimes fills a column of print. She carries a big cloth satchel full of goodies -- clippings, books, flyers, photographs, addresses -- and throughout every conversation pulls out a few items to offer. Dorothy is for ever adding new projects to the array that she is already promoting, which makes her an incomparable reference service and a node in every social reformer's network. Every month we send her magazines to give away as a promotion and every day she crams a few into that bag to thrust upon people.

Her stamina seems to be a function of her determined loyalty: She just won't notice anything negative about anyone she likes, and that automatically includes most women.

But not necessarily all men. Last year she and I sat together while Premier Pawley was addressing a Winnipeg peace gathering. Dorothy scrunched down in her seat, scowling and muttering to me as he talked. Pawley, whose heart is unquestionably in the right place so far as peace activists are concerned, is a male in a position of power, a combination of circumstances which Dorothy views with suspicion.

Forever pointing out gender imbalances on speakers' lists and committees, she rounds up women and gets them to demand equal time, generally with success. Men just don't notice that they've left women off, and they rarely resist any organized demand for parity.

Dorothy likes to talk about other activists and their doings, rarely about herself. When pumping her for biographical facts, I had to become severe at times, interrupting her and forcing her back onto the historical account, for she kept straying off topic. I got this much from her She lived in Detroit and Cleveland while her two children were babies and her (now ex-) husband was doing postgraduate work in medicine. A few days a week she'd help out at a child care center for poor children, and that created contacts for her with other social reformers, including Benjamin Spock. When she returned to Montréal a few years later, she joined Voice of Women, which had gained public attention by collecting baby teeth to show the Strontium 90 fallout from atmospheric testing. She was soon involved in environmental issues, such as that concerning the James Bay Project.

A physiotherapist by training, Dorothy Rosenberg participated in creating the local branch of Physicians for Social Responsibility--which in Montréal is called the "Health Professionals for Nuclear Responsibility" and to which she was therefore eligible for membership. She'd seen a videotape of Helen Caldicott and, greatly impressed by her effectiveness as a speaker, invited her to come to Montréal, where Terry Nash met her and arranged with the National Film Board tb produee Caldicott's award winning If You Love This Planet.

Later Dorothy assumed many of the responsibilities for organizing work "'This is Canadian and this is Russian'. It all goes in together. So some Canadian uranium is going into their nuclear weapons".

"See, this whole dichotomy, this myth of the enemy, is exploded when you ask the right questions. And one of the right questions is: If they are our mortal enemy, what are we doing trading with them? When I tell this to students, they become very bewildered. By giving this kind of information, the level of discussion enters a new plateau because it forces them to revise their assumptions about 'the enemy'."

Aware that Dorothy has probably given more talks than any other activist, I asked her whether she had noticed any changes in her audiences-- particularly the student-aged groups.

"Some adults and occasionally young people are hawks. I'm seeing less of it in the young people. I see more apathy in certain young people. On the other hand, our members of SAGE -- 'Students Against Global Extinction' -- go out to schools and show films and give talks. Those fantastic kids are doing their homework and dealing with the issues. And for adults and educators, conferences on peace and security have become the 'in thing.' Lots of teachers have been teaching peace studies without articulating it. Nonviolent conflict resolution, and anti-racist, anti sexist, anti-militaristic stuff, with art projects and literature. One teacher, for example, told me she doesn't do peace studies, but it turned out that she'd made her classroom into a military-toy free zone and had talked to the pupils about not having toys of violence.

"The Alberta Teachers' Federation has produced a wonderful magazine. I jumped for joy when I saw it. What was happening in Alberta in the last few years -- The cruise testing! By the way, with all our concern about Star Wars, we're overlooking the cruise, which is being tested again. We should be hopping up and down about it."

And with that, the indefatigable Dorothy glanced at her watch and departed hurriedly for her next appointment, lugging her cloth satchel. If your group would like to contact her, phone her home in Montréal: 514/738-3663

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1986

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1986, page 10. Some rights reserved.

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