Look at the photo, her last one, taken a couple weeks ago. A few days before she died.
There’s a message for you there. And it’s way bigger than the IMPEACH TRUMP T-shirt she’s wearing.
What message? It begins in Chicago. 1920s. Her dad, Grandpa Alex, was a milkman, schlepping milk cans by horse-drawn cart.
At the time, a kid could get into the movies for ten cents; and her mother gave her the dime to go every week. For 10 weeks straight, my mother went to the movies, but didn’t go in. For 10 weeks she saved the ten cents, and looked for a warm place in the Chicago snow to wait for her brothers and sisters to come out of the theater.
Until she had a dollar to get her mom a birthday present.
In 1943, during World War II, Gladys Palast was the first woman to enlist in the US Coast Guard.
I wish I could say Mom signed up to lick Hitler. But, truth is, she did it to get out of a wedding engagement to Lou Wishman — because she was really in love with my father.
That year they got married before he was shipped to the Philippines.
But don’t get me wrong: My mother was a super-patriot. Mom liked to wear goofy red, white and blue outfits for public events.
In the military, my mother became a fashion model, showing off their new Chanel dress suit uniforms — then a Chorus line girl for Sid Caesar’s USO show.
She loved showbiz. But she didn’t want to be in movies or in theaters. She thought life gives you plenty of opportunities to make you a star, a star in the lives of the people you know.
Not that she didn’t have her 15 minutes of fame now and again.
In 1988, Mom was a delegate to the Democratic Party Convention in Atlanta. But the maids and janitors at the Atlanta Marriott were on strike. My mother donned her red-white-and-blue outfit, added a mop and bucket – dressed union pickets with the same outfits — and challenged the Democrats not to cross the picket line. It put her and her mop on the cover of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
This wasn’t noblesse oblige for the poor little janitors and maids. These people were Mom’s people. Her mother, was a maid her entire life.
But Mom’s main political cause was her children.
She’d do anything to get us a break. She loved our simple tract house – next to the city dump and sewerage plant. But she wanted us to do better — the wish of every good parent, and she was the best parent.
She just wanted my sister and me to be successful — to perform on a bigger stage.
(She got a little carried away with that. Well, that’s what therapy is for.)
In her campaign to give my sister and me an edge, Mom lied to get us into the Wilshire Boulevard Temple—where all the Hollywood hotshots went.
We didn’t have the money for it, which was true. But then she added that my father, who sold furniture, had been laid off. Which was a lie. A lie told to a rabbi. I’m sure he knew it, but he let us in anyway.
My mother worked in our school cafeteria—and that was the limit of her cooking expertise. Hot dogs and cans of creamed corn.
Then, at the age of 47, when we left for college, mom enrolled in college herself. It took her ten years, but at the age of 57, she moved from the cafeteria to the classroom as a teacher — so she could love some more children.
And what this teacher taught me more than anything, is to love your children and teach them to love THEIR children, and eventually with all these children loving their children and all their children spreading this love, the world is transformed. The world can be healed.
She also knew you can’t love children and hate their teachers, as politicians do. She organized the first teacher’s assistant’s union in Los Angeles – now part of the SEIU.
Look at the photo. Her message. It’s more than the Impeach Trump T-shirt she’s showing – it’s her big-ass smile through the oxygen tubes. No anger, no bitterness, no despair; up to the last, optimistic, sure that perseverance can defeat cruelty.
Her motto was, “Make noise, make trouble and make a difference — YOU CAN DO ANYTHING.”
I knew that once Mom put on that T-shirt, Trump didn’t stand a chance.
The Jewish religion is a tough religion, difficult, because we don’t have a heaven or hell. We don’t get another life on a cloud somewhere.
But we do have an Afterlife. We live on in the memories of those we loved, those we touched and affected.
And this: I happen to believe that years from now, centuries from now, when her name and my name and all our names have been forgotten, I know that someone will be protesting for justice for those who have less and hurt more.
They won’t know it but there will be a crazy lady in red, white and blue with a mop and a bucket marching beside them.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
Before turning to journalism as an investigative reporter for The Guardian and BBC Television, Greg Palast was an investigator of fraud and racketeering for governments and labor unions worldwide. Known as the reporter who exposed how Katherine Harris and Jeb Bush purged thousands of Black voters from Florida rolls to steal the 2000 election for George Bush, Palast has written four New York Times bestsellers, including Armed Madhouse, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, now a major non-fiction movie. The post-election update of the movie, subtitled The Case of the Stole Election, has just been released on Amazon — and can be streamed for FREE by Prime members!
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