By Terri Burke, ACLU of Texas Executive Director
We missed Liz Carpenter’s memorial service. The ACLU of Texas was observing Final Friday in Philadelphia. Given our proximity to Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and the occasion, Liz probably would have approved.
Our Final Friday party was a night to remember one of our other leading ladies, another true Texas daughter of the revolution.
The Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, starring a spot-on Kathleen Turner, opened in Philadelphia last week. Some 30 to 40 fellow Texans were there to relive another time in our history as chronicled by our saucy, native pundit laureate.
Playwrights Allison and Margaret Engel smartly interweave the life of the private Molly with that of the social and political commentator whose words were considered scriptural by her followers and thought by her detractors to be proof of the country’s demise and the liberal bent of all the newspapers that published them. As Molly’s co-author and long-time friend, Lou Dubose said, “The sisters Engel avoided caricature and cliché, and managed to capture the complexity that was Molly. Kathleen Turner avoided impersonation, although at times she seemed to be channeling Molly.’’
Kathleen Turner and the Engel sisters gave us a night of laughter, tears, and memories. Could we ever forget Texas house Speaker Gib Lewis, whose speech patterns Molly dubbed Gibberish. (New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, sitting next to me, asked, “Did he really talk that way?”) “Molly” onstage reminded us that she had coined the name “Shrub” for another famous Texan. She reflected on one more of our revolutionary daughters, the friend she called “Annie,” Gov. Ann Richards. And there were the tales once again of Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock.
Within the first 15 minutes, it was as if Molly with her whiskey-laden voice was back. Betsy Moon, Molly’s longtime “Chief of Stuff” who also attended, said, “This portrait of Molly moved me to tears and laughter, as if I were once again in her presence.”
Those of us who cherish the Constitution were moved all over again by her words. She reminded us that our history has been one long fight to add groups to the protections in that Constitution who should have been included in the first place. Why do we let extremists take words like “freedom,” and “liberty” from us? Why do we stand still when they stake their claim to prayer and God? Why do we allow people who are unburdened by any sense of history to hijack the word “patriot” and claim the Fourth of July as their own?
In 2004, explaining why, after her bequests to her family, she left the remainder of her estate to the ACLU and the Texas Observer, Molly wrote, “Looking down the road at the future of freedom, you know they’re going to need help…very few of our constitutional freedoms are tamper-proof. Our reproductive rights are on the chopping block, the line between church and state grows ever thinner…our right to free speech…have been curbed in the name of security.about that bequest
Yes, it seemed as if little has changed, and we could have been observing Final Friday with her in Austin. Yet there we were celebrating Molly, and remembering Ann and Liz. I suspect the three of them may have been sitting together on a cloud of angels, joining in the party, smiling at the irony of our location. Of course, they probably were disappointed that we didn’t try to sneak past the guards and ring the hell out of the Liberty Bell. We thought about it.