Questions by Kevin S. Giles. Answers by Jeanmarie (Simpson) Bishop.
You are an artist and an activist. Tell us more.
I’m working a regular job – doing admin for a LLC that does home care to people with disabilities, particularly elders. My activism has gone underground. Nobody there knows me or my background. It’s very disorienting. I’ve changed my name, when I reunited from my long-lost husband, so they won’t find me with a quick Google search. And I’m not talking about my past, because who cares? My activism has gone micro. Every little minute, each interaction, everyone one at a time.
You’ve said that learning about Jeannette Rankin was a life-changing event. What happened, and how did it affect your creative work?
When I met Jeannette, it was about a year post 9/11. We had been bombing Afghanistan for a year. I felt lost and helpless. When I stumbled across her, on the Carnegie Hall website, it was as if she stepped right out of the monitor and sat down with me. I gobbled up as much information about her as I could find in the next few hours and ordered your book from Amazon (I found a used one that was already quite beat up – it had been previously LOVED). I knew she was the character I had been waiting for all my life. I felt she was the reason I was an actor and a writer. Everything I cared about synthesized in that moment. It changed the trajectory of my life.
When you’ve acted the role of Jeannette Rankin, what do you feel?
I feel a kind of authority surging through my veins. I feel a sense of justice and righteousness that is simply unparalleled. She stands up for me and for everyone who cares about the real meaning of the phrase, “crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”
Rankin believed that women, when they won the right to vote, would stop war. What’s your reaction to that?
Well, they didn’t. WE didn’t. Our mothers and grandmothers didn’t. Because, as Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, “Women kiss the chains that bind them.” Women buy into the system — look at Hillary Clinton. She’s no dove. Far from it. Because she can’t be, if she wants to be elected. A friend and I had an exchange on Facebook the other day. We’ve both met Mrs. Clinton. I said, “I have met her, too…. I liked her a lot, and asked her to consider being more of a dove. She looked at me, with respect and weary sadness in her eyes. She thanked me for my peace activism and said that if more people were like me, she could be more of a dove. I understood her then, but I really, really, REALLY understand her now. It’s heartbreaking.”
Rankin died in 1973 after 60 years of political activism. What would she say about today’s political climate?
I think she’d be disgusted and dumbfounded. I think she’d be on her land in Georgia, growing fruits and vegetables and feeding her neighbors. She loved Ralph Nader, and I think she would have been terribly disappointed at the way things went down in 2000, how he was blamed for losing the election and all the ugliness and long years of war that followed. She knew what it was to be vilified and then shunned, as he has been. I think the circus we’re living now, the media frenzy and unbelievable cacophony with this reality buffoon running for president against a former First Lady and US Senator – I mean, Shakespeare never even tried to write any that ridiculously outlandish — I think this freak show would have her shaking her head and baking lemon meringue pies for homeless children. What’s the future for pacifists in our country? Oh, my. What’s the future? We’ve gone the way of so many quixotic movements. We’ve created circular firing squads, we’ve eaten ourselves alive. I think we’re all so lost and feel so hopeless that we’re looking for diversion and maybe just hoping to die with some meat on our bones. I think we’re all shaking our heads and wondering where all the flowers have gone — and why Bernie didn’t rise up and why he’s not a dove, anyhow.
I’m clearly not the person to ask. Maybe a young pacifist will know. I’m yearning to hear anything that gets my mind off the grim view I see from where I’m sitting right now. A world where fear is celebrated and love is a cheap, packaged bag of trinkets sold on ebay.
Do you have a favorite Jeannette Rankin quote?
Oh, I’ve got a million of them. But I always come back to the simple wisdom: “You can no more win a war than you can win and earthquake.”
Kevin S. Giles is an American journalist and author whose books have roots in his native western Montana. He published One Woman Against War in October 2016. Two other books take place in his hometown of Deer Lodge: a novel, “Summer of the Black Chevy” (2015) and the nonfiction work, “Jerry’s Riot: The True Story of Montana’s 1959 Prison Disturbance.” (2005)