Remembering Molly Ivins
This is a series of tributes to Molly Ivins, a writer of passion and principle and a longtime friend of the magazine. Also, listen to Molly Ivins's last interview with Laura Flanders on RadioNation.
Anthony D. Romero
executive director, American Civil Liberties Union
I was personally and deeply saddened by the death of legendary journalist and columnist Molly Ivins, who passed away on January 31 after a long battle with cancer.
Molly was a much-loved member of the ACLU family, a steadfast supporter of civil liberties, and I had the highest respect for her staunch commitment to the protection of individual freedoms. Her cutting wit, remarkable intellect and down-home wisdom will be terribly missed by everyone at the ACLU.
Molly, in her ever-folksy style, used her recent columns to point out how the Bush Administration, in the name of national security and patriotism, has curtailed Americans' constitutional rights and usurped excessive power. In a July 2005 column, she wrote: "We suffer the worst attack on this country since Pearl Harbor, and the Bush administration sends the FBI after the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU exists to protect every citizen's rights as defined in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of the United States. The ACLU works solely through the legal system: It does not advocate violence, terrorism or any other damn thing except the Bill of Rights. Since when is that extremist?... We are living in a time when our government is investigating an organization that stands for the highest and best American ideals."
In an interview for a documentary on the ACLU, Molly commented on the ACLU's unrelenting persistence in defending religious liberty: "That principle," she said, "is so important that it's worth being a pain in the ass about. And that's what the ACLU is." Ironically, the New York Times wouldn't let us print that quote in Molly's death announcement because of the word "ass." I'm sure Molly would have laughed out loud.
Molly believed so strongly about defending our freedoms and our liberties, even--or perhaps especially--if it meant raising hell or being a pain in the ass, that she named the ACLU in her will, and she encouraged others to do the same. "I am writing to you on the cheerful topic of croaking," she began a 2004 letter to ACLU members. "Think about the hell the ACLU can raise with your money. They'll be out there beating those in power over the head with the Bill of Rights when we all lie a-moldering. I can't think of anything I'd rather do with my worldly goods than fund folks who will be a pain in the ass to whatever powers come to be."
I first met Molly at a wine-tasting fundraiser in New York for LGBT issues. Throughout the meal, we would each move around to different tables. I had the misfortune of following Molly around the entire night, which meant that I was always less funny and at each table the wine glasses were already empty.
My favorite memory of Molly was in Texas--Molly's home state. It was my first year on the job as executive director of the ACLU, and Molly was the keynote speaker at our staff conference that year. After addressing the crowd, she invited everyone back to her home. Hundreds of people took her up on that offer, piling into her backyard. She shared stories, made us laugh and then opened up the floor to anyone who wanted to share a story, sing a song, recite a poem or do whatever else they pleased.
As a hopeless romantic, the only words I knew by heart were the lines from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo first laid eyes on his true love:
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear....
Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night."
I knew then, as I recited Shakespeare's words while looking into Molly's eyes--the Juliet to my gay Romeo--that surely for earth she was too dear.
"I don't have any children," Molly wrote, "so I've decided to claim all the future freedom-fighters and hell-raisers as my kin. I figure freedom and justice beat having your name in marble any day. Besides, if there is another life after this one, think how much we'll get to laugh watching it all.... We may not be able to take it with us, but we can still fight for freedom after we're gone."
Sadly, our dear Molly--who taught our torches to burn bright--is gone. We miss her terribly, but surely she is still fighting for freedom, and I hope that she is laughing--watching us raise hell.