Lessons from Bella

What We Can Learn from Bella Abzug


  • 1. Review questions and activities:  Bella’s career and the history and context of the times. (Download pdf)
    • i) List the various positions Bella Abzug held during her life.
    • ii) Where did Bella Abzug create change in public perceptions and policy?
    • iii) Track the history of the social movements Bella Abzug was involved in, particularly tracking the ways they overlap
      • (a) What were the major social movements of the last half of the 20th century?
      • (b) Track the chronology of the various movements in relationship with each other.
      • (c) Develop a chart showing overlapping personnel.
      • (d) How did the various movements inform other movements and in what ways did they compete with one another?
    • iv) What were the various forms of activism Bella Abzug used and their impact, looking at local, national, and international modes of action and strategies?
    • v) How did Bella Abzug manage the political and legislative process in New York City and in Congress?
    • vi) How did Bella Abzug mobilize international leaders as well as grass roots activists and manage the bureaucracy of the UN to make positive change?
    • vii) Analyze Bella Abzug’s leadership skills, her strengths and weaknesses, and how she used different leadership platforms.
    • viii) Chart the people who made the history by
      • (a) their positions or platforms for activism
      • (b) their relationships to various movements
      • (c) their relationships to Bella Abzug and her work
      • (d) their impact
    • ix) Using other resources, explore the career of some of the other leaders and activists highlighted in the book.
  • 2. Thought questions to challenge analytical thinking and internalization of the lessons of Bella Abzug’s career and life. (Download pdf)
    • i) What is success in activism? Where was Bella Abzug successful, and how did she and her colleagues succeed? What were their successful strategies?
    • ii) It’s all connected – What underlying forces and philosophies made Bella Abzug see beyond the boundaries of single issues and become a leader in so many social justice movements of her times? Was her activism in so many different causes positive or negative?
    • iii) Exerting power – What are the differences between working within the system and pushing from outside the system? What are the different strategies and skills you need? Where are they are the same, and how can we create synergy between the two types of action.
    • iv) Coalitions and Partnerships – What kinds of alliances did Bella Abzug build in order to achieve her goals? How did she create working relationships with a range of people?
    • v) How did Bella Abzug deal with set backs and failures, and how did she use her failures to move toward the next steps?
    • vi) The personal becomes political – How did Bella Abzug’s personal life inform her public life and vice-verse?
      • (a) Inspiration and motivation from her childhood, religion, and education.
      • (b) Martin Abzug: A model for the political spouse.
      • (c) Growing up with Bella Abzug: how Bella’s work affected her daughters.
      • (d) Bella Abzug’s circle of friends: the porous boundary between personal and professional
      • (e) The force of personality in public life – How did Bella Abzug’s personality serve her well, and how did she compensate for it when it did not?
      • (f) An ambitious woman - What allowed Bella Abzug to be upfront about her personal ambition? What was the relationship between her ambition, her commitment to social justice, and her ego? How did others react to her drive and assertiveness?
    • vii) Memory and Memoir – How do our individual memories collectively create the history of a period and shape our understandings of the people who drove that history? From voices in this book, can you conceive of alternative pictures of Bella Abzug from the ones this book draws? To what extent does the history we learn and teach reflect the varied and sometimes contradictory memories of those who lived through those times? How does ‘spin’ affect history?
    • viii) What in our society today would change the way a modern day Bella Abzug operates, and how would she have to adjust to be effective?
      • (a) Rise of the right wing and fundamentalism of all sorts
      • (b) Technology
      • (c) Changing demographics, and increasing multiplication and fragmentation of identity
  • 3. Related activities to enliven and illuminate the lessons:
    • i) Develop scripts to be performed using the characters and their words from the book.
    • ii) Create an oral history of a friend or family member by interviewing and compiling quotes about an episode in that person’s life that made a difference in their community.
    • iii) Develop an action plan to address a local issue that includes strategies Bella Abzug used.
    • iv) List 5 to 10 of the most significant issues facing us today, and analyze the ways they are interconnected.