It’s been an extraordinary year since we announced the campaign to exonerate my grandmother in our spring 2016 newsletter. The article here details the effort’s many accomplishments, including garnering petition signatures from almost 60,000 people across the country and around the world!
In addition to the artists, public intellectuals, elected officials and other high profile individuals who lent their support to the exoneration effort, I was grateful for the thousands of poignant communications we received from people who got involved. The solidarity, sympathy and fierce commitment to continuing to fight for justice expressed in these letters and emails was especially moving to me as the campaign came to a head in President Obama’s final days in office.
January 2017 was an overwhelming month. On the 12th, I lost my last remaining grand- parent, who died at age 99 and a half after a long illness. Less than a week later, with two days remaining in Obama’s term, I watched in the gallery as my sister argued her first case before the Supreme Court.
In an ironic twist of fate, the case was defending the rights of Muslim men rounded up on immigration violations and detained indefinitely in the aftermath of 9/11. My sister’s clients were seeking to sue not just the correction officers and warden responsible for the horrendous violations of their rights, but also officials at the highest level of government who put the policy in place.
During that trip to DC, I celebrated with my family when we learned that Oscar López Rivera and Chelsea Manning’s sentences had been commuted. But I also struggled with the disappointment of President Obama leaving office without responding to our request to exonerate my grandmother, and failing to free Leonard Peltier and other political prisoners still trapped behind bars.
All of this happened, of course, against the backdrop of the presidential election results. Trump campaigned and won by promoting racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, homophobia, support for torture and–in a grim echo of some of the abuses of my grandmother’s case–the call for government killings of family members of suspected terrorists. The policies already implemented by the new administration pose a grave threat to us all, and place many of the activist families we support in even greater jeopardy. In the face of increased repression, they need to know we stand with them.
I am worried about what the next few years will bring. Many who contacted us during the exoneration effort shared their first-hand memories of my grandparents’ trial and execution, and how their lives were forever affected. Others, like students we heard from in West Virginia and Wyoming, were born decades later but described how our current political climate reminds them of those dark days of the 1950s.
Yet ultimately, I am encouraged and inspired by what the campaign to exonerate my grandmother achieved, and grateful for the love and support my family and I received personally. In their final letter to my dad and uncle just hours before their execution, my grandparents wrote that they, “were comforted in the sure knowledge that others would carry on after us.” The campaign to exonerate Ethel Rosenberg has proved my grandparents were right to believe that after they were gone, others would continue to resist repression and fight for justice. We should all consider that a victory of which we can be proud.