In Memoriam: Leah Roland
written by Jessica Roland
There are not enough words to describe my mother, Leah Roland, who she was as a person and all she did politically. My mother was that rare advocate who managed to act both locally and nationally. I think she would like me to say that her activism began early. She loved literature and language, but academics took a backseat to politics. She was an organizer and member of socialist student groups in high school and in college. She first participated in national politics during the 1948 presidential election, working to get Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party candidate, the Democratic nomination. Perhaps if she had been old enough to vote he would have won. It is no surprise that I was out canvassing for Bill Bradley in his bid to become the U.S. Senator from N.J. at age 11 and that my daughter was making calls for Bernie alongside her grandmother in 2016 and 2020. I credit my mother and my father for my political engagement and activism, as do my siblings, but I will never live up to my role models.
Leah marched for civil rights numerous years in numerous states, too many I think she would say. She saved clippings from the Paul Robeson concert she attended in Peekskill in 1949. She was one of the concert-goers hit by rocks by protesters of the peaceful Pro-Civil Rights, Pro-Union concert. Her last March on Washington was in 2018. She was powerfully moved by the anti-gun violence movement spearheaded by students who organized the March for our Lives.
She marched and wrote and called- believing that elected officials need to work for the voters and be held accountable for their actions; worker’s rights, anti-HUAC, civil rights, women’s rights, anti-war, pro-choice, LGBTQ+, pro-immigration and sanctuary, environmental action, health care for all… a fierce voice, an eloquent writer and speaker, a mega-phone for social justice.
Many of you have said that my mother Leah was ahead of her time. In many ways that is true: As a female first generation college graduate, as a woman and a Jew in the workplace, as a wife in an egalitarian marriage, and as a working mother. But I think she would also want me to say that she wasn’t politically ahead of her time. She was informed by the socialist and communist ideas of her era. She found her way to Union Square for International Worker’s Day many, many years ago. What she had that was so remarkable was stamina. Don’t call her liberal… she was a progressive and a lefty who never stopped fighting.
She took great pleasure and pride in being a member of the LAA. Participating with not just the next generation, but generations brought such joy to her later years in Leonia. I always thought my mother was the most astounding combination of pragmatic and optimistic. She was thrilled and honored to offer ideas and guidance, to watch all of you organize and show up, to engage your children as she engaged hers, to rally and demand and advocate. It helped her sustain her strong beliefs that politics can be heartbreakingly cyclical, but people will step forward and we must never give up. As she said at the beautiful event you organized for International Women’s Day, we must stand on each other’s shoulders and keep fighting the good fight. We, her children, grandchildren, and extended family, will miss our mother, our matriarch, desperately. It helps tremendously that her legacy lives on in so many.