One Year Ago Today

On September 28, 2015 (which would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday) Members of the New York City Council issued a proclamation which declared the U.S. government, “wrongfully executed Ethel Rosenberg.” The proclamation concluded, “now therefore BE IT KNOWN: That we, the undersigned Members of the New York City Council, honor the life and memory of Ethel Rosenberg in observance of the 100th anniversary of her birth.”

In addition, the Manhattan Borough President bestowed a remarkable honor of her own on Ethel, proclaiming, “I, Gale A. Brewer, do hereby recognize the injustice suffered by Ethel Rosenberg and her family, and on the occasion of her 100th birthday on Monday, September 28th, 2015, proclaim ‘Ethel Rosenberg Day of Justice in the Borough of Manhattan.’” (You can read the proclamations here and here.)

It was an extraordinary experience to stand with three generations of my family on the steps of City Hall while New York City politicians honored my grandmother’s actions, decried her execution, apologized for the wrong done to our family, and announced a day in her honor. I was amazed at what my father and uncle had accomplished after years of working with many others to make the proclamations a reality.

Everywhere I turned, I saw someone else for whom the day had special meaning: the director of the National Committee to Reopen the Rosenberg Case, a civil liberties attorney who worked with my sister, a family friend from my youth, and a contemporary of my grandparents who marched to try to stop the executions and took me aside to say she was there in memory of her husband, who died before he saw this remarkable result of their years of protest.

Despite how improbable that day seemed even a year before, I am still astonished by how much more we have accomplished in the last twelve months. The overwhelming positive response to the proclamations inspired my father and uncle to launch an effort (run by the Rosenberg Fund for Children) to petition President Obama to exonerate Ethel by proclaiming that her conviction was unjust and her execution was wrongful. You can add your name to the petition at www.rfc.org/ethel.

Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Holly Near, Ed Asner, Eve Ensler, Lynne Stewart and Ralph Poynter, John Sayles, Dave Zirin, and more than 10,000 other concerned people around the world have signed the petition. They support this campaign not only because we now know the government understood Ethel was not a spy but manufactured a case against her anyway but also because we’re all witnessing a horrifying resurgence of the same kind of attacks that McCarthy and the FBI engaged in - only now, they’re aimed at Muslims, immigrants, and transgender people; as well as Black Lives Matter organizers, environmental activists, and others challenging our broken system.

As President Obama said this June about anti-Muslim hate speech, “We've gone through moments in our history when we acted out of fear—and we came to regret it.  We've seen our government mistreat our fellow citizens.  And it has been a shameful part of our history.” We agree with the President and hope he will join New York Council Members, the Manhattan Borough President and thousands of others and proclaim that Ethel Rosenberg’s conviction was unjust and her execution was wrongful.

On what would have been my grandmother’s 101st birthday and the anniversary of the original proclamations, please help us Exonerate Ethel by sharing this blog via email or social media.

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