ahead of the majority, documentary, equal access, equality, film, film review, Hawaii, herstory, higher education, history, Japanese, Japanese internment, Kimberlee Bassford, news, patriot act, patsy mink, pbs, plantation, politician, politics, populist, racism, rady ananda, rendition, sex discrimination, title ix, torture, world war ii
April 26, 2009
By Rady Ananda
Outside the mainstream, edgy, ahead of her time, a champion for democratic principles, a Buddhist, Japanese American, populist, female politician is honored in the film, Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority. This 2008 film by Kimberlee Bassford will air on PBS in May. It is a must-see for anyone needing hope that some politicians stay true to their campaign promises.
Buddhist Daruma doll: Nankorobi Yaoki – If you fall down seven times, get up eight
“She imagined a country where race, ethnicity, or gender would not be a barrier to the exercise of talent.”
When a champion for progressive principles sets her mind to it, nothing but death can stop her. Kimberlee Bassford’s Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority provides a close study of one of the USA’s most revered politicians for egalitarian principles. PBS will air the 56-minute film several times in May. Among her stellar achievements, Mink claims title to being the first woman of color in Congress (1965-1977; 1990-2002).
Patsy Mink 1927-2002
When Mink returned to Congress in 1990, after a 13-year hiatus, she discovered most of her party had moved to the right. But, according to Elissa Gootman’s fact-saturated memoriam, “Representative Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii [said] ‘She never thought for a moment of not working with people who didn’t agree with her ideologically.’” 
Such sage advice can serve us well today as netrooters across the political spectrum continue to find common cause in restoring human rights and the U.S. Constitution, in rejecting corporate bailouts, and in demanding freedom to buy and eat safe food, raised in humane conditions and free of genetically modified organisms. 
Mink forewarned us in the new millennium that post-911 legislation “could be used to undermine civil rights,” Gootman writes. There’s no ‘can’ about it; it can and has. She knew from personal experience that the US government could, would and did violate human rights. She watched innocent Japanese-Americans be snatched and imprisoned by US authorities after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Her Japanese father was college educated, and worked on a Hawaii plantation as a land surveyor. His management position likely saved them from being named an Enemy of the State. Just in case, he burned all the family mementos from Japan.
1942 US internment camp for Japanese. H/T to Holiday for Everyday.
Experience and a clear mind would not ponder ‘could’ – instead, she probably thought the Patriot Act would“be used to undermine civil rights.” The distinction is subtle, but one not easily lost on the rare likes of Patsy Mink. She voted against the 2001 Patriot Act, among 67 Members of Congress.  Since only 13% of Congress upheld their oath to the Constitution on this vote, this fact alone is enough to focus on the remarkable life of a remarkable woman.
But what she will be most remembered for is even more spectacular and far-reaching in its effects. She equalized college entrance for women, many years after being denied admission to medical school based on her gender. She co-authored Title IX of the federal Education Amendments with Oregon rep, Edith Green. In 2002, on the 30th anniversary, Title IX was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
How many women college students today even know Patsy Mink’s name? The American Association of University Women will screen the film in June at its 2009 annual convention in St. Louis, Missouri. To this day, male coaches and athletic organizations continue to lobby to exclude sports from equal funding. Despite boys demanding the lion’s share of public funds, Title IX remains equal, and effective, to this day:
- Medical degrees awarded to women in 1972: 9%; in 2006: 49%.
- Law degrees awarded to women in 1972: 7%; in 2006: 48%.
- In Mink’s lifetime, the percent of women in Congress rose from 1 to 15 percent. 
Beyond Equal Access to Higher Education:
Mink fought government secrecy. She ran for US president on a platform that opposed the Viet Nam War. She openly disputed that US corporate interests outweighed the sovereignty of the Vietnamese. She fought for labor and health coverage. She fought to increase funding for education. She fought to save welfare amid tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Through her efforts, Hawaii was the first state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Patsy Mink shows footage of Republicans bashing welfare for the poorest, neediest members of US society – a goldmine of quotes for those wishing to highlight the hypocrisy of the corporate welfare state created by the recent bailouts.
Mink said, “What you endure is who you are…. Life doesn’t have to be this unfair,” a modern version of Frederick Douglas’ famous maxim: “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” She also affirmed her feminism by insisting that “Women’s rights are about fundamental justice.” We’re told, “She had no impatience for intolerance, and she had no patience for injustice.” Eighteen months after her death, the first pictures of Abu Ghraib surfaced.
“You must have, in any movement, people who are insistent and demanding,” comments Daniel K. Inouye, a Democratic Senator from Hawaii. Mink has been called cantankerous, difficult, morally superior, selfish and egotistical. If male, she would have been called strong-minded, goal-oriented, righteous and self-confident. No doubt, she generally annoyed the status quo. She publicly criticized the Democratic Party wondering “if politics is worth the individual’s loss of the right to criticize his party, and whether it is worth the sacrifice of principles.”
Mink often abandoned party loyalty for principled action, agitating for peace and equality. Her opposition to the Viet Nam war got her labeled as a left-wing pinko, disloyal, and unsympathetic to America. When Mink and Representative Bella Abzug met with South Vietnamese foreign minister, Madame Nguyen Thi Binh, the media called her Patsy “Pink.”
Congresswoman Patsy T. Mink (left), Mme. Nguyen Thi Binh, Foreign Minister of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam (center), and Congresswoman Bella Abzug (right) meeting outside of Paris, France, April 21, 1972. Library of Congress, Patsy T. Mink Papers, Manuscript Division. This photo also appears in the Patsy Mink film.
The Library of Congress notes of this famous meeting, “She and Congresswoman Bella Abzug traveled to Paris in April 1972, where they met with U.S. delegates, North Vietnamese officials, and Mme. Nguyen Thi Binh, foreign minister of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam. The three women discussed the need to resume the peace talks, treatment of American prisoners of war, and issues surrounding Vietnamese-American orphans.”
This meeting is well within a Congress Member’s normal fact-finding duties, despite the propaganda against her.
On the 30th anniversary of Title IX in 2002, the National Organization for Women honored Patsy Mink with the NOW Woman of Vision award. Mink affirmed, “Women have a tremendous responsibility to help shape the future of America, to help decide policies that will effect the course of our history.”
In August of 2002, she contracted chickenpox, followed by a lethal form of viral pneumonia. She died in September. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) wrote a tribute, saying in part:
“Congresswoman Patsy Mink was an aggressive fighter for what was best for citizens of the second district in Hawaii, as well as this nation as a whole. She was a tireless supporter of the Congressional Black Caucus. She was a disciplined and focused advocate for the voiceless. And she was my dear friend. As Heaven gains another angel, we in Congress mourn our unfortunate loss.”
Well-known and not-so-famous politicians, historians, staffers and journalists describe Mink and her ideology in the film, including Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey and Pat Schroeder. But take special note of a charming clip from the 1960s TV show, What’s My Line?, where a young William Shatner (Star Trek, Boston Legal) probes her background.
Bassford is a young, talented, and well-placed documentarian, winning several awards for Patsy Mink. She helped produce Unnatural Causes (2008), “a four-hour national PBS documentary series and public engagement campaign that looks at the socioeconomic and racial disparities in health.” In 2005, she produced another PBS series, The Meaning of Food, “which explores the social significance of food in the US.”
Those aged 12 and up will enjoy Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority, but it will likely best resonate with older students, as well as Progressives and history fans. Be sure to watch the PBS airing of this important film about a populist champion, taken all too soon. Her lesson is vital today: the individual matters; equality matters; peace matters; not race, gender or ethnicity.
 MSM messaging in 2002, when Mink died, characterizes the post-911 shift as ‘centrist,’ but let’s be honest here. BushCo and all who voted with him shredded the US Constitution in favor of never ending war and government invasion of everything imaginable, from our homes, phones and emails to other nations.
This is rather militaristic in a menacing sort of way. If political ideology can accurately be described in a linear fashion (which many of us dispute), then the shift is beyond centrist into the far right. The US political shift also included a rise in power of the Christian Taliban, a radical version of Christianity with a narrow, hierarchical worldview.
 President Obama seeks to implement a new legislative and administrative scheme of ‘Food Safety’ that will hyper-regulate small and medium sized farms out of business for the benefit of industrial farms run by mega-corporations. See Nicole Johnson’s expose, Food ‘Safety’ Bills Harmonize Agribusiness Practices in Service of Corporate Global Governance; Linn Cohen-Cole’s Solemn Walk through HR 875 and Marti Oakley’s War on Wisconsin Farms.
 Sole Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis). 15% of the House and 1% of the Senate, by voting against the 2001 Patriot Act (HR 3162), voted for the U.S. Constitution.
 In 2007, the percentage of women in Congress grew a point in five years, to 16.3%, per the National Foundation for Women Legislators.