So the next generation—get out there! Don’t let it die with us! I mean, we’re… we’re old and disappearing! We need young people to get out and pitch in.
“I think in my former life I was a black lesbian.” When Susan Waldman said these words to me, she was laughing a little at her own joke. I, on the other hand, wondered if there was some merit to what she said. The 78-year-old straight, white woman fought for same-sex marriage decades before its legalization in 2015 and advocated for the goals of Black Lives Matter years before the movement began. To put it simply, she is a feminist.
Susan Waldman is a longtime member of the National Organization for Women, and she has the resume to prove it. Currently, she serves as Vice President of Fundraising for the Morris County Chapter of NOW, but she has held every position save for Treasurer during her time with the organization. Susan has also held positions at the state level, serving as Vice President of Administration, Task Force Review Chair, and a candidate interviewer for the Political Action Committee. And NOW is just a drop in the bucket of Susan’s history of activism.
So how does one woman become such a prominent figure in creating change and advocating for a better future? By starting as a failed Chemistry major. When Susan started college at the University of Toledo with no background in advocacy or interest in political and social reform, she planned to study chemistry. She hit a roadblock after transferring to Brandeis University and began struggling academically. “That first year there was very traumatic for me,” she recalls. “My grandfather died right at the beginning of the year, and then I found out that the course I was taking, Organic Chemistry, was the hardest class at Brandeis.” She eventually graduated college with a degree in English instead, which has proved to be particularly useful for her activism work.
Amongst her many accomplishments in writing, Susan has been published several times in local newspapers, starting with her first letter to the editor back in 1974. In 1997, she became an Opinion Shaper for the Daily Record, writing four feminist opinion columns, the first of which was called ‘Boys will be Boys: We Shouldn’t Let Them.’ Even the New York Times featured a piece by Susan called ‘One Woman’s Odyssey.’ Through the various positions she has held in activist organizations, Susan has been quoted in local papers too. Susan currently writes her chapter’s monthly newsletter.
Susan has been an active member of many advocacy organizations, including the Democratic Party of Morristown, the Coalition Against Human Trafficking, the Human Relations Commission, and the Black and Latino Action Committee, just to name a few. She has been to protests as far as Washington, D.C., including a protest against a male-led religious group called the Promise Keepers, who argued vehemently against women’s rights in the ’90s.
Susan is particularly proud of testifying at hearings for meaningful issues such as equal marriage. She has received many awards for her work in the community, such as the Phenomenal Woman Award by the Neighborhood House and the Woman of Principal Award of Morristown. When asked what initially prompted her to get involved with women’s rights, Susan gave a very simple answer that nonetheless spoke volumes: abortion. “I had no reasons to make that my issue,” she admitted, “…but I just felt really strongly that women should decide.” Susan has spent the better part of a lifetime fighting for and protecting a woman’s right to choose. She is the mother of an adopted son herself, and she even recalls her own mother was once offered an abortion by her employer while pregnant with Susan.
At 78, Susan is still incredibly active in advocating for reproductive rights, civil rights, equal pay, and the Equal Rights Amendment. Most recently, she was offered an outreach position with the Coalition Against Human Trafficking, which would involve working with organizations such as the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. Susan confesses it will be a stressful job, but she has a hard time saying no to these things. She and a fellow activist friend often joke about starting a Volunteers Anonymous group to cope with the mental toll that comes with undertaking such important work for the community.
All jokes aside, Susan admits that it can be depressing to focus on the state of the world and how much further work needs to be done. Still, she remains optimistic for the future, knowing how much we can accomplish together in the coming years due to the path she and countless other women have paved. To this day, Susan is a feminist, activist, and genuinely wonderful human being. She is an inspiration to us all.
Read the full transcript of the interview here.
Vishwa is currently a senior in high school and a staunch feminist. When she is not writing long emails after finding names on a website (which earned her an internship with the NOW New Jersey PAC), she keeps busy working on local campaigns, being active in student government clubs and interning at a legislative office.
Watch Humanist Legacy – a monologue performance based on this project.
Susan Waldman considers herself as the unlikely feminist. Though she does not remember when she joined NOW, she is a long-time active member of the organization. She was Vice President of Administration of the State Chapter from 1999 to 2006. At the local chapter level she has helped every position other than treasurer of the Morris County chapter. She became involved with the local Democratic party as an elected Committee Member, helping with voter outreach in 1992 for Bill Clinton’s campaign. She has participated in many rallies and organized many events. For ten years, from 1995-2005, she joined in a counter protest movement called Peaceful Presence, meeting every Friday outside the abortion clinic connected to the Morristown Hospital. For her many organizing efforts, she received a “Phenomenal Woman” award.