Katrina vanden Heuvel on the battle for paid sick days, Elana Leopold on the fight against Pam Geller’s Islamaphobic ads, Sarah Woolf on the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the editors congratulate Katha for her National Magazine Award nomination


A VICTORY FOR PAID SICK LEAVE: The fight for paid sick leave is picking up steam. The latest—and sweetest—victory comes from New York City, where Democratic City Council Speaker and mayoral front-runner Christine Quinn has been refusing to bring a paid sick leave bill to a vote—for three straight years.

Some thirty-nine of fifty-one council members—a clear majority—supported a bill that would have required businesses with more than five employees to offer five days of paid sick leave per year. Roughly three-quarters of New Yorkers (including 60 percent of Republicans) said they would go even further and require employers to provide a full seven days. Yet Quinn, courting the city’s pro-business elite—and accepting $370,000 in campaign contributions from the bill’s opponents—held out, insisting she was protecting small business.

And so, as has been the case with every successful campaign for paid sick leave, people organized. Gloria Steinem sent Quinn a strongly worded letter signed by some 200 prominent women, from former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger to Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon. Unions came out in force, along with leaders in the black and Latino communities and prominent philanthropists like Jennifer Buffett. Groups from the Community Service Society to the Working Families Party put forward winning intellectual arguments and political strategies. And the netroots—especially younger feminists—galvanized around the issue.

The powerful grassroots effort made paid sick leave the central issue in the Democratic mayoral primary, and ultimately Quinn’s position as the only Democratic candidate opposed to the bill became a major liability. In late March, Quinn relented and agreed to a compromise measure requiring businesses with at least fifteen employees to provide five days of paid sick leave annually.

It’s not a perfect bill, but it’s proof of the power of everyday people whose cause is fairness and common sense. And now, with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and others calling for a federal Healthy Families Act that would establish national sick day standards, this movement has a chance to sweep the entire country. America’s reached a tipping point—and we’re sick of waiting.   KATRINA vanden HEUVEL

BEATING BIGOTS AT THEIR OWN GAME: Last July, a federal judge ruled that the First Amendment requires the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to allow the display of ads—bankrolled by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and Pamela Geller—pushing an incendiary message. “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man,” the ads read. “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” The posters first appeared on city subway platforms and later spread to Washington, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago and San Francisco. But rather than stopping their fight against the Islamophobic ads following the court’s ruling, groups across the country have decided to flex their own First Amendment muscle.

In Chicago, the local branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is taking back the word “jihad” and using it to highlight the daily lives and struggles of American Muslims with messages like “My Jihad is to stay fit despite my busy schedule,” and “My Jihad is to build friendships across the aisle.” Each poster asks, “What’s yours?”

In San Francisco, the MTA decided to run official apologies alongside the anti-Islam ads and then went a step further, donating all revenue from the AFDI ads to the Human Rights Commission.

Most recently, in New York, the Talk Back to Hate Campaign raised over $10,000 from small donors—enough to run ads in four high-traffic subway stations. Founded by Akiva Freidlin, the group describes itself as “regular people who talk back to hate directed at Muslims, or anyone else.” As if to prove its success, Geller subsequently launched her own appeal on Indiegogo—a crowdsourcing platform that allows users to promote their campaigns in order to rally supporters and raise funds.   ELANA LEOPOLD

HISTORY LESSONS: April 19 marks the seventieth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the most famous instance of organized Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. The Warsaw Ghetto, established in October 1940, held 400,000 Jews (30 percent of Warsaw’s population) in a 1.3-square-mile open-air prison encircled by a ten-foot wall. By the end of 1942, only an estimated 60,000 Jews remained: the majority had been sent to death camps, and the rest “resettled” in forced labor camps.

A month of armed insurrection began on Passover eve, 1943, when SS troops surrounded the ghetto to deport the remaining occupants. They were beaten back by some 750 Jewish militants, armed with homemade bombs, pistols and stolen machine guns. The rebels’ victory was short-lived, however, and the uprising ended on May 16 with the destruction of the Great Synagogue. Most of the rebels were killed. Only an estimated 11,500 of Warsaw’s Jews survived the Holocaust.

The uprising’s heroes were political youth group members as young as 13. The 500 members of the Jewish Combat Organization were communists and socialists, many hailing from the anti-Zionist “Bund.” The remaining 250 fighters belonged to the right-wing Zionist Jewish Military Union. The complex political origins of the ghetto’s uprising make for “contested sites of memory for groups of all political persuasions,” says Michael Rothberg, director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies initiative at the University of Illinois.

The memory of the Warsaw Ghetto has inspired comparisons to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, which, for Rothberg, has mixed value. Although it “brings increased attention to the unjust suffering of Palestinians,” he says, “it also may suggest the dire and unwarranted conclusion that no political solution is possible.”   SARAH WOOLF

MORE KUDOS TO KATHA: Congratulations to our own Katha Pollitt for her richly deserved National Magazine Award nomination in the “Columns and Commentary” category. It is especially fitting that she should be recognized in a year that finally sees women predominating in several categories. Katha was nominated for three columns from 2012: “Protect Pregnant Women: Free Bei Bei Shuai” (March 26), “Ann Romney, Working Woman?” (May 7) and “Blasphemy Is Good for You” (October 15). May the best woman win!   THE EDITORS

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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