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Remembering Bella Abzug: Beacon of Progressive Politics

New York, N.Y. After surviving the stinging defeat of George McGovern [The Luce Index score: 91] in 1972, I attempted not to be disillusioned. Although only twelve, I decided to seek out individuals who I thought could better America. From the covers of magazines, Bella Abzug [The Luce Index score: 96] caught my attention. We were even born on the same day – July 24. I wrote to her as any twelve-year-old should do – and she wrote back! Or, I know now, at least her staff did. Enclosing the wonderful personally autographed photograph below. This may have been the motivation I needed to stay involved with Progressive politics.

Bella co-authored the Equal Rights Amendment and introduced the first federal gay rights bill.

Bella Abzug was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. Born on July 24, 1920, in the Bronx, New York, she grew up in a working-class Jewish family. Her parents, Russian immigrants, instilled in her the values of hard work, education, and social justice. Bella’s father owned a butcher shop, and her mother was a homemaker who later took on more work to support the family after her husband passed away.

This early exposure to the challenges of working-class life undoubtedly shaped Bella’s lifelong commitment to fighting for the underprivileged and marginalized.

Bella Abzug’s academic journey was as remarkable as her political career. She attended Hunter College, where she graduated with a degree in political science, and then went on to Columbia Law School.

At a time when few women entered the legal profession, Bella’s determination and intellect set her apart. She became a labor lawyer, representing unions and workers’ rights, and later expanded her practice to include civil rights and civil liberties cases.

Bella’s entry into politics was fueled by her deep-seated belief in justice and equality. In 1970, she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, representing New York’s 19th congressional district. Her campaign slogan, “This Woman’s Place is in the House—the House of Representatives,” was both a clever play on words and a bold statement of her feminist ideals.

Bella won the election, becoming one of the first women to serve in Congress, and quickly established herself as a formidable force.

During her three terms in Congress, Bella Abzug championed a wide range of progressive causes. She was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, environmental protection, and peace. Bella co-authored the Equal Rights Amendment and introduced the first federal gay rights bill. She also played a crucial role in the passage of landmark legislation such as Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in education, and the Privacy Act, which protects individuals’ personal information.

After devastating defeat of George McGovern in 1972, his personally autographed photograph may have been the motivation I needed to stay involved with Progressive politics.

Bella’s activism extended beyond her legislative work. She was a prominent figure in the women’s movement, helping to organize the Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970 and co-founding the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. Bella’s bold, unapologetic style and her signature wide-brimmed hats made her a recognizable and influential figure in American politics.

My encounter with Bella Abzug, even if through a letter written by her staff, left a lasting impression on me. Her commitment to justice and equality resonated deeply with my own burgeoning political beliefs. Receiving her autographed photograph felt like a personal endorsement of my involvement in progressive politics. It was a moment that solidified my resolve to stay engaged and fight for the values Bella so passionately defended.

Bella Abzug’s legacy continues to inspire new generations of activists and leaders. Her life’s work laid the groundwork for many of the advances in women’s rights, civil rights, and environmental protection that we see today. Her courage to speak out against injustice and her unwavering commitment to her principles serve as a beacon for those who strive to create a better world.

Fifty years later, I had the incredible opportunity to meet Bella’s daughter, Liz Abzug, who heads the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute (BALI). The Institute is dedicated to empowering young women and men to become leaders in their communities, continuing Bella’s legacy of advocacy and public service. Meeting Liz was a profoundly moving experience. It felt like coming full circle, connecting my early inspiration from Bella to the ongoing work of nurturing future leaders.

Liz and Bella Abzug – women crusaders to uplift humanity through political leadership.

Liz Abzug’s work with BALI embodies the spirit of her mother’s activism

The Institute offers programs that equip young people with the skills and confidence to take on leadership roles, promoting gender equality and social justice. Through mentorship, education, and hands-on experience, BALI helps young leaders develop the tools they need to advocate for themselves and others, much like Bella did throughout her life.

Reflecting on Bella Abzug’s impact, I am struck by the enduring relevance of her message. In a world still grappling with issues of inequality and injustice, her fearless advocacy serves as a powerful reminder that progress is possible when we have the courage to speak out and fight for what is right. Bella’s life and work remind us that change is driven by those who dare to challenge the status quo and envision a better future.

Bella Abzug’s journey from a working-class background to a prominent political figure is a testament to the power of perseverance and conviction. Her legacy lives on not only in the legislative achievements and social movements she helped shape but also in the countless individuals she inspired, including myself. Bella’s influence on my own political engagement underscores the importance of role models in shaping our aspirations and actions.

Leadership is not about personal gain but making positive impact on world

As I continue to support and advocate for progressive causes, I carry with me the lessons learned from Bella Abzug’s life and work. Her example teaches us that leadership is not about personal gain but about making a positive impact on the world. Bella’s dedication to justice, equality, and peace serves as a guiding light for all who seek to create meaningful change.

Meeting Liz Abzug and learning about the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute reinforced my belief in the importance of nurturing future generations of leaders. By equipping young people with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to advocate for themselves and their communities, we can honor Bella’s legacy and continue her work towards a more just and equitable society.

In conclusion, Bella Abzug’s legacy is a powerful reminder of the impact one individual can have on the world. Her fearless advocacy, legislative achievements, and dedication to social justice continue to inspire and guide us. As we honor her memory and continue her work, we ensure that the values she fought for remain at the forefront of our collective efforts to build a better future.

Meeting Liz Abzug and seeing the continuation of Bella’s mission through the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute has been a profoundly rewarding experience. It is a testament to the enduring power of Bella’s legacy and a hopeful reminder that, with dedication and courage, we can all contribute to creating a more just and equitable world.

#BellaAbzug #ProgressivePolitics #WomensRights #SocialJustice #Leadership #BALI #LegacyOfLeadership #Inspiration #Equality #Advocacy

Remembering Bella Abzug: A Beacon of Progressive Politics (May 24, 2024)

Jim Luce
Jim Luce
Raising, Supporting & Educating Young Global Leaders through Orphans International Worldwide (, the J. Luce Foundation (, and The Stewardship Report ( Jim is also founder and president of the New York Global Leaders Lions Club.


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