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Longtime political activist Jean Hardisty dies
by Tracy Baim, Windy City Times
2015-03-16

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Jean V. Hardisty, 69, has passed away March 16 at her Somerville, Massachusetts home after a recurrence of lymphoma, according to her colleagues at Political Research Associates (PRA), a social justice, right-wing watch group she founded in 1981 in Chicago under the name Midwest Research.

PRA has been a critical voice in fighting the American right wing. Hardisty wrote dozens of papers and gave countless speeches on the conservative movement. She also testified in the court fight over Colorado's homophobic Amendment 2, among her other work on legislative issues.

"She understood that the right wing was a potent movement with the goal of building institutional power," said Chip Berlet, former senior analyst at PRA.

"She helped us see the right as a complex set of actors and institutions and not just as cartoons," noted Urvashi Vaid, long-time activist in the LGBT movement.

"She was a prophet," added Gloria Steinem, co- founder of Ms. Magazine, about Dr. Hardisty's prescient work on the right.

Hardisty, who was inducted into Chicago's Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1995, has an extensive list of accomplishments starting during her Chicago days when she co-founded the city's first shelter for battered women and co-founded and was board president for the Crossroads Fund.

In a 2008 interview for the Chicago Gay History Project, Hardisty said she became a self-identified lesbian "when I finally stopped denying that I was a lesbian. And the way that I could do that was because of the women's movement. I was married when I was about 23, to a very nice man … but he said to me at one point, you know if you are lesbian, you need to go and be lesbian."

Hardisty, born June 18, 1945, grew up in what she described as a "genteel, white, upper- middle class southern family" in Washington, D.C. and later on a farm in rural Maryland. She received a bachelor's in art history from Northwestern University in 1967, followed by master's degrees in political science from the University of Southern California and from Northwestern, and a 1976 Ph.D. in political science from Northwestern.

She was director of a 1977 Summer Institute on Africa at Colgate University and from 1976 to 1980 taught at Colgate, Northwestern, and Lake Forest College.

Hardisty was a founder of the Chicago Abused Women Coalition in 1978. As a board member of Women United for a Better Chicago, she advocated establishment of a Mayor's Advisory Commission on Women's Affairs and in 1987 drafted Bread and Roses … a Woman's Platform for Chicago. This platform included pushing for an ordinance against sexual-orientation discrimination, public education to reduce AIDS risk, and sensitization of police to domestic violence in same-sex households.

Hardisty also put her own money where her activism was. She supported many LGBT and progressive individuals, organizations and cultural projects. She also focused a lot of her support on organizations fighting for political justice in Central America, including the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador and the Caribbean Basin Working Group.

As noted in her Hall of Fame bio, she served as a consultant in 1980 and 1981 to the Reproductive Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois's Roger Baldwin Foundation, where she wrote A Speaker's Manual on Abortion.

She also served on boards of the Illinois Justice Foundation, the Ms. Foundation for Women, the Center for Democratic Renewal (formerly the National Anti-Klan Network), the D.C.-based Center for Women Policy Studies, Grassroots International, Women's Community Cancer Project, the North American Congress on Latin America, and the Reclaiming Diversity Project of the Council for Research on Women. She was a consultant for 10 years to the Women Donors Network.

Her many awards included ones from the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, Citizens Alert, and the Boston Women's Fund. In 2010, she was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by Community Change, Inc., a Boston-based anti-racism organization.

Longtime Chicago activist and writer Marie J. Kuda remembered Hardisty's personality.

"What I'll remember most about Jean, over and above her myriad accomplishments that prompted me to nominate her for the G/L HOF, was her sense of fun," Kuda said. "From watching old Jeanette MacDonald movies of the 1930s to dozens of practical jokes; I remember the first time I visited her in Somerville the toilet paper roll blared loud music when I tried to discretely tend to business. In the 1980s, my then partner and I visited Jean in a hospital in Nebraska where she was getting a blood or bone marrow transplant—we had to dress in masks so as not to further compromise her immune system. Jean greeted us in Groucho Marx regalia, we burst into laughter, immediately at ease. She was a truly generous gentlewoman and will be greatly missed."

Former Chicagoan John Chester also sent reflections on working with Hardisty.

"I met Jean as a fellow founding board member of the Crossroads Fund," he said. "She was in the process of coming out then. Jean was passionate about promoting good social change but she did it in a rather quiet, thoughtful manner. Jean was very bright and well used her brain in figuring out how to get positive things done. And done the way they should be handled.

"Jean was the first big donor to OPEN/PAC, which was Illinois's first political action committee solely devoted to supporting politicians who supported the LGBT community in Springfield. Her donation allowed us be far more generous to our friends then we otherwise would have been able. She and I met and went over the main donors of the members of the Illinois legislature. Her work had been to research the far right and how they operated. This in turn let those of us who were working in Springfield know who our hard enemies were and who we might be able to reach.

"Although Jean was one of the heiresses who launched the Crossroads Fund, Jean was totally down to earth and an easy person with whom to spend time. Jean was a real intellectual. Jean authored a book, that unfortunately was not read by Democratic strategists, which clearly illustrated how the far right was utilizing significantly changing dynamics in the modern world and how the far right was using this to manipulate the working class by praying on their fears … think Reagan Democrats.

"Jean was a thoroughly good person who helped make the world a better place for us all and will be missed."

PRA stated about Hardisty: "It is with a heavy heart that we share the news that PRA's founder and President Emerita, Jean V. Hardisty, passed away early Monday morning. A cancer survivor [her first diagnosis came in 1989], Jean was contending with a recurrence of lymphoma that proved surprisingly aggressive. She was home and surrounded by family at the time of her death.

"Jean was a force in the lives of all who knew her. A visionary, she anticipated many of the political and economic shifts the country has endured over the past several decades. Undaunted by the implications of her insights, she dedicated herself tirelessly—and with uncommon skill, humor, and compassion—to the cause of social justice. She was a friend, mentor, colleague, and inspiration to us, and to countless people and organizations."

In PRA's 10-year anniversary report in 1991, four years after the agency moved from Chicago to the Boston area, Hardisty wrote that the agency had grown and had a major impact, but at the same time, "Each year has been more depressing and alarming that the last. In the early 1980s, it was possible to distinguish the right wing from the 'mainstream.' The right wing was the dangerous fringe, it represented the openly anti-social, the blatantly narrow protectors of the 'status quo ante'. Throughout the 1980s we saw the fringe move into the mainstream, enjoying victory after victory, until now right-wing extremists appear regularly on television talk shows. … The right-wing agenda has become the mainstream agenda.

"At PRA we are in the business of turning over rocks and peering beneath them. It is difficult, frustrating, and sometimes saddening work. … Working at PRA, I at least have the comfort of feeling the work we do is useful and necessary, and that the information, analysis, and networking we provide makes a difference in the ability of those who are fighting progressive battles to develop better strategy and more informed planning."

One example of PRA's impact in Chicago was the work of Chip Berlet, who spent many years studying Lyndon LaRouche and was thus prepared to inform the media and activists when several LaRouche candidates won primary races in 1986.

In 1999 Hardisty's book, Mobilizing Resentment, Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers, was published by Beacon Press.

In an interview given a few years ago on the occasion of Political Research Associates' 30th anniversary, Hardisty said: "I am grateful to live in 'challenging times' and glad that I did not spend my life on the sidelines as the country has been ravaged by right-wing ideology, the Right's devious tactics, and the mobilization of religion for political purposes."

Dr. Hardisty is survived by Peggy Barrett, her spouse of 16 years; two stepchildren Roben Kleene (Jen Liu) and Katherine Uttech (Joseph); a granddaughter Abigail Jean Uttech; her brother, John Hardisty (Merrily); niece Christine Eldreth (Myles and grandniece, Clare) and nephew Kirk Hardsity (Kelly); and a wide circle of friends.

In the weeks before her death, Hardisty, her deft humor ever intact, said she wanted to die "the way Jackie Onassis did: be with family and friends and then just go." She managed to die just that way."We sit, we talk, we laugh," read a card she once sent to a friend. Her official obituary stated: "She was a storyteller, a champagne drinker, and a lover of life. … All of us who loved her will carry on her legacy."

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to The Highlander Center, 1959 Highlander Way, New Market, TN 37820, 865-933-3443, highlandercenter.org or to the Boston Women's Fund, 14 Beacon Street, Suite 805, Boston, MA 02108, 617-725-0035 bostonwomensfund.org .

Hardisty was interviewed for the Chicago Gay History website in 2007. See chicagogayhistory.org/biography.html for her video interview.


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