Today's Featured Biography
Judith VAN ALLEN
Judith Van Allen
I became a socialist in my sophomore year at Stanford in 1959, when I joined the student Socialist Caucus, and it has just gone on from there. I was a political science grad student at UC Berkeley in the 1960s, active in campus politics from the moment I sat down in front of that police car in Sproul Plaza at the beginning of the Free Speech Movement in the fall of 1964.
I went to Georgia in the summer and fall of 1965 as a civil rights worker, and then did civil liberties education at a Columbia University institute. Back at Berkeley from 1966, I was active in the anti-war movement, the student movement and various protests, including in support of Third World Studies and of Angela Davis.
From the mid-60s to mid-70s I was married to Gene Marine, West Coast correspondent for The Nation, later a Senior Editor at Ramparts magazine. As a grad student, I studied political theory and African politics. In 1969 I joined the Womenís Liberation Movement and almost dropped out of grad school, but decided to stay and agitate for womenís studies.
I was a founding mother of African womenís studies in the US, starting in 1972 with an article on a 1929 anti-colonial Nigerian Womenís War, and also started doing African liberation support work, mostly with the Liberation Support Movement, for SWAPO in Namibia and FRELIMO in Mozambique, later focusing on anti-apartheid organizing.
I also taught at UCBerkeley, San Francisco State, San Jose State and UCDavis, did research for a Marxist think tank, and published socialist feminist articles on African women and on the feminization of poverty in the US. In the late 1970s I joined the East Bay Socialist School Collective, and, in 1982, Democratic Socialists of America.
In 1984 I moved to Ithaca, NY, to teach politics at Ithaca College, and joined the DSA National Executive Committee. I went as a delegate to the 1986 Socialist International in Lima, Peru, a meeting of the various social democratic, labor and socialist government leaders from Europe, where Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) was trying to bomb our hotel, and then went to Sandinista Nicaragua for a peaceful month.
I left Ithaca College to move to Botswana in January 1987, and for two years worked there with the ANC, running a safe house for Mkonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the ANC, and also working as part of a collective that got anti-apartheid publications out of South Africa and sent them to supportive book stores and groups in the North. I also worked with and did research on the Botswana womenís movement.
Returning to Ithaca in 1989, I worked for five years as the director of a county alternatives to incarceration non-profit, and then returned to academia after marrying Ben Nichols, the ďsocialist mayor of Ithaca.Ē Since 1995 Iíve been a research fellow at the Institute for African Development at Cornell, doing research and writing on womenís political movements in Botswana and South Africa, as well as helping to provide support for those organizations. I visit both countries fairly regularly. A few years after Ben died in 2007, I got together with an old friend, Al George, and we were married in April 2014. He has just this month retired from Cornell after 50 years teaching aerospace, mechanical and systems engineering and 28 years developing and supervising a highly successful FSAE racing car team project.
My daughter Adrian Van Allen, after graduating from Sarah Lawrence College and doing mastersí degrees at the California College of Arts and Crafts, worked at The Exploratorium in San Francisco for almost a decade, designing floor exhibits and then online interactive websites for adult science education, as well as pursuing her own work as an artist. She began work on a Ph.D. in anthropology at UC Berkeley a few years ago on an NSF fellowship, and this year is doing doctoral research on a fellowship at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. She has also been a Fellow at the American Academy of Rome, in design. Her husband, Will Francis, is a software systems designer.
Iíve currently returned as co-convenor of the African Studies Association Womenís Caucus (which I helped found in the early 1970s), in order to help reorganize and modernize the organization. Iím co-editing a special issue of the African Studies Association journal, The African Studies Review, on women and gender, and have an article in it on the complexities of using womenís rights law to combat gender violence. Iím writing a textbook on African women, power and politics to be published by Rowman and Littlefield, and have a longer term project with the founding members of the Botswana womenís movement, Emang Basadi! (Stand Up, Women!), to do a collective history of their movement.
I live in a wonderful house on the shore of Lake Cayuga, surrounded by trees, gorges, and wildlife, all visible from my study window as I write this. My life has been a great adventure, and today it is good to be where I am, doing what I am doing, still committed after all these years to trying to make life better for others in the world and raise a little hell along the way.
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