I have spent the last week celebrating the life of Freda Rosen, a revolutionary who passed away Tuesday morning July 17. In keeping with Freda, it was not something I did alone. We did it together - we being the powerful community Freda created and developed her entire lifetime, a community that includes, in no small part, May First/People Link.
I met Freda through MFPL co-founder Josue Guillen. Together we participated in Freda’s Social Justice Leadership Group, which met every couple months to discuss and build our leadership within our organizations. Josue, who had been meeting with Freda’s social therapy groups pushed me to join those as well, which I did a little over 2 years ago. And wow - what an impact, not only on me personally, but on the work I did everyone in my life, including May First/People Link. In particular - her insights about how groups work, how to challenge individualism, and, more than anything, how to give continue to transform my life and influence my work.
I was trying to describe that impact when I read a beautiful piece Nancy Swartz wrote on the same topic and decided to repost what she wrote instead. Thanks Nancy for such a wonderful description!
I just want to take a moment to pay homage to someone who has passed on from this earth corporeally, but who has left a strong imprint in presence, dare I say - in spirit. I hesitate to say a “in spirit,” because she’s is not a person who goes for religious symbolism or language of religion, but taken out of it’s religious context - her spirit lives on. Freda Rosen. She doesn’t have much use for religion or morality, but Freda is one of the most humane people I’ve ever met. And if “good” weren’t such a moral term, I’d say she’s a good person. She is caring and but does not get clouded by emotions. She is so practical in her observations in a way that can be almost infuriating if you find yourself quite emotional about the topic at hand, or if the observation she makes cuts close to home. Freda has a sniper’s eye for reading a situation and knowing exactly what the power dymanic is and what is going on. She can even tell you how to manipulate it and shift the power, if that is possible. But she doesn’t always tell you that. Freda is not interested in teaching people how to manipulate, she is interested in “development” as she put it. She wants people to grow, and be powerful and live their lives fully and engaged. Or at least that’s how I understand it. And though she does not go for the language of morality, I’ll have to say in superhero terms - she uses her powers for good and not evil.
Freda practices social therapy which has a complicated reputation due to some shady folks and self-appointed messiah-types associated with it. But she has a real gift for social therapy, and when she went on her own to practice, many people went with her. I found Freda when I was pretty young. While at the time I had political awareness and was already a combat-boot wearing dyke performance artist who thought I was “political,” it’s Freda who really politicized me. Freda taught me the politics of everyday life. And she only ever wants me to be powerful, much as I fought her on that - wanting to have things my way and still be powerful. Sometimes the two didn’t quite mesh - having it my way and being powerful, and she tried to tell me that, even if I was a bit hard-headed about listening. I’ve become a little less hard-headed about that - thanks to Freda. She does not believe in institutions. They aren’t good for development in her view. So her therapy is very different from traditional “psychotherapy” which is quite institutional. To be a bit reductive - psychotherapy assumes that you are fucked up, and if you fix your “problems” you’ll be ok, whereas Freda’s social therapy recognizes that the world is fucked up, racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic, anti-semitic, classist and she wants to help people be powerful given thata**s the world we live in. She’s like “ya, it’s that way, but what do you want to do given that’s the situation.” She is just practical about it. She has no use for the chip on the shoulder thing. She doesn’t judge it; she just doesn’t think it’s useful. Pro-active rather than reactive is how she encourages people to be. She has helped people transform their lives and do amazing things that will change the world for the better. She’s loves success, and though she comes from Communist roots, she is happy to see folks making money. She believes in living well as one can. I stopped going to Freda’s group a while back, but have stayed in touch and re-connected with group recently. I feel sad that Freda’s physical life is ending at a relatively young age. I guess I figured she’d be sitting in that chair on the upper west side leading group well into her 70’s. But she lives in the present and leaves her mark here and in the future. Freda recognizes that a relationship continues after someone’s death and so in honor of my relationship with her, I wanted to give a shout out to her work, a step toward keeping it alive. She’d like that.