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Aging With Attitude: Activist Frances Goldin

“There’s nothing that young people can do that a senior can’t, even if you might need a wheelchair…. As a matter of fact, because you’re older, it’s even more important that you’re part of the struggle.”

Frances Goldin has been arrested 10 times during her lifetime.

She even tried to get arrested during Occupy Wall Street, but the cops refused to arrest her. The sign she was holding said, “I’m 87 and mad as hell.” This year, her signs say, “I’m 92.”

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Mostly, Goldin is known for her signs that say, “I adore my Lesbian Daughters. Keep Them Safe.” She has raised one of these signs at every New York City Pride Parade — and at parades in other cities — for the past 30 years. 

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Goldin in San Francisco, 1989

Goldin was born in Queens and lived in an anti-semitic neighborhood, where  her Jewish family was sometimes targeted for lighting Shabbos candles on Friday night. At 20, she married Morris Goldin and says he was the one who taught her about “radical politics.” The couple moved to the Lower East Side and found Nirvana.

The LES has been her community ever since. We caught up with Goldin via email shortly before the general election to ask her about being an enthusiastic activist in the public’s eye for such a long time. 

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What are some of the reactions you’ve gotten from your sign over the years?

I don’t stand a minute without people rushing over to hug me and kiss me. It’s four hours of weeping and emotions. When people come over and say, “Will you call my mother?” I say “Sure.” And I call the mothers and say, “You don’t know what you’re missing. Your son/daughter is yearning for your love. You’re denying yourself that love.” I tell them to go to a PFLAG meeting.  “There is a wonderful organization, PFLAG,  Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and it’s free and you can go to a meeting and just listen. It will help you so much. They have meetings all over.”

I was at the parade one year, and there were two guys standing in back of me and they said, “Where’s your hat? It’s too sunny, you need a hat.” So they went across the street into a fancy restaurant and got two fancy linen napkins and made a hat out of them, and put the hat on my head. They met at the parade and fell in love there, and now they are my dear friends. I see them regularly.

What did your daughters think of the sign? Did you tell them you were making it? 

No, I didn’t think I needed anyone’s permission. I’ve been picketing and demonstrating all my life. I didn’t need permission to stand up for gay rights. I have these two incredible, wonderful daughters who are both lesbians and are both radical, and both of them are involved in anti-war activities, and lesbian organizations, and they are chips off the old block. It makes me very happy that they appreciate my values.  

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Goldin and her daughters in 1994 for the 25th anniversary of Stonewall

Tell us about some of the political activities you’ve been involved in over the years.

I was involved with the tenant council to help people fight rent increases, make sure their apartments were free from violations and give them information about their rights as tenants.

I was a member of the American Labor Party when Henry Wallace ran for President. My husband was his Manhattan campaign manager. Once, we organized a campaign to protest the price of milk — we mailed hundreds of half-gallon milk cartons to City Hall with a message on each milk carton. We were involved in a lot of activities.

In 1958, Robert Moses proposed that the city tear down all the low rent tenements and build co-op housing for people who could walk to their jobs on Wall Street. A group of us had a meeting and formed an organization called the Cooper Square Community Development Committee. We created the Alternate Plan for Cooper Square, which would enable tenants to stay in their houses. That took 58 years, and last year all the people who live on 3rd and 4th streets have become owners of their apartments and will pay low rents for the next 200 years, so their great, great, grandchildren will have a place to live that’s affordable for the rest of their lives. That struggle took tons of meetings, demonstrations, picket lines, sleep-ins at City Hall, whatever we had to do to keep our neighborhood intact and affordable.

I was involved in anti-war demonstrations, consumer rights, actions against the Vietnam war. I was involved in the Civil Rights struggle for integration.

Ever since Mumia Abu-Jamal was falsely arrested for killing a cop, I have been involved in an international campaign to free him. I’ve had seven of his books published, all of which are still in print. There was a large demonstration in Philadelphia at the Liberty Bell to free Mumia, which resulted in massive arrests, of which I was one. One of my main projects in life has been to free this innocent journalist.

Occupy was such a wonderful movement. I found it incredibly stimulating, because it was all of these dedicated young people who used the media to highlight the issue of economic inequality. They set up a camp, and they had a soup kitchen and fed anyone who was hungry. I am a proud member of the 99 percent.

Can you tell us about the Goldin Agency?

For 20 years I worked for a literary agent and learned the business. When the owner died. I took over the agency for three years. I decided that if it was going to be my agency, I wanted to get authors who wrote books that changed the world. I didn’t see any point if I couldn’t make the agency part of the movement. So in 1977, when I was 53 years old, I started the Frances Goldin Literary Agency. My blurb said, “I don’t handle anything racist, sexist, homophobic, or pornographic,” and because of that description I ended up with authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Adrienne Rich and other radical thinkers who are writing books that make the world a better place. I worked at my agency until I was almost 90 years old.

Where is one place in the world or a march or protest you would like to take your sign to that you haven’t yet?  

I’ve always wanted to take it to Puerto Rico. 

How much have things changed since your first Pride parch? Did the parade seem any different this year in the wake of the Orlando shooting ?

I think all the activity has brought people out of the closet. People who were quiet about their sexual orientation have learned that people all over the world are demonstrating for LGBT rights and as a result, the movements have not only grown but they appear in places where they never did before. Churches have become involved, and organizations that never previously took stands on this issue have learned that they cannot stay out of the struggle. There was a huge difference the year that Gay Marriage was federally legalized; it was such a wildly celebratory parade. 

What is the biggest advancement in technology you’ve seen in your lifetime?

The idea that you can talk to someone in another location on your computer and see them, that’s amazing.

What is some advice you wish you could tell your 20 year old self?

I like the life I led. I don’t know that I would change it. I did what I wanted to do and I’m not sorry. 

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What does aging with attitude mean to you?

To treat older people differently is such a mistake. Because they’re old, because maybe they use a cane or need help walking, doesn’t mean they are any less human. People should let people do what they can do and not try to help them when they don’t need help. They should encourage them to do whatever they can and only give help if it’s asked for. When someone says “I’m 80 years young” that’s ridiculous. I’m 92 and I’m proud of being my age. When someone doesn’t want to tell their age I think they’re denying themselves a good part of their life.

Do you have advice for seniors who want to become more active politically? 

There’s nothing that young people can do that a senior can’t do, even if you do it slower, or you might need a cane or a wheelchair. It doesn’t mean you can’t attend demonstrations or protest. As a matter of fact, because you’re older, it makes it even more important that you’re part of the struggle. 

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