Molly Ivins: Raise Some Hell

By Christine Cupaiuolo |

I was so saddened to see that Molly Ivins has died. I knew this week she was very ill from the breast cancer she has fought for years, but she was such a huge and important force that her death still comes as a surprise.

Just today I came across this post at The Latest Obsession that served as a reminder of how Ivins always cut through the crap and left readers feeling smarter and more politically engaged (and often enraged) than they might have been five minutes earlier.

As any reader of Ivins knows, she was very much against the U.S. war in Iraq. Her final column, “Stand Up Against the Surge,” is available here. “We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders,” wrote Ivins. “And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous.”

Her longtime editor and friend, Anthony Zurcher, has already posted a very moving tribute that reads in part:

Shortly after becoming editor of Molly Ivins’ syndicated column, I learned one of my most important jobs was to tell her newspaper clients that, yes, Molly meant to write it that way. We called her linguistic peculiarities “Molly-isms.” Administration officials were “Bushies,” government was in fact spelled “guvment,” business was “bidness.” And if someone was “madder than a peach orchard boar,” well, he was quite mad indeed.

Of course, having grown up in Texas, all of this made sense to me. But to newspaper editors in Seattle, Chicago, Detroit and beyond — Yankee land, as Molly would say — her folksy language could be a mystery. “That’s just Molly being Molly,” I would explain and leave it at that.

But there was more to Molly Ivins than insightful political commentary packaged in an aw-shucks Southern charm. In the coming days, much will be made of Molly’s contributions to the liberal cause, how important she was as an authentic female voice on opinion pages across the country, her passionate and eloquent defense of the poorest and the weakest among us against the corruption of the most powerful, and the joy she took in celebrating the uniqueness of American culture — and all of this is true. But more than that, Molly Ivins was a woman who loved and cared deeply for the world around her. And her warm and generous spirit was apparent in all her words and deeds.

The Berkeley Daily Planet, a newspaper in Berkeley, Calif., yesterday announced the launch of the “Molly Ivins Festschrift.”

A festschrift is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a volume of writings by different authors presented as a tribute or memorial especially to a scholar.” Academics are wont to create festschrifts on the occasion of a revered colleague’s 60th birthday, for example. Molly’s already 62, but no time like the present to catch up with what we should have done two years ago. And we might call it festschrift if we could reliably remember how to spell or pronounce that German word, but let’s just call it the Molly Ivins Tribute Project.

The idea is that her colleagues in the opinionated part of the journalistic world should take over her campaign while she’s sick, creating a deluge of columns about what’s wrong with Bush’s war and what should be done to set things right. It would be nice if a lot of these columns could be funny, since skewering serious subjects with humor is what Molly does best, but that’s not required.

Here at the Berkeley Daily Planet we’ve set up a special mailbox to receive the offerings, tribute@berkeleydailyplanet.com. We’ll publish them as they come in, at least one every day if possible, in our Internet edition, berkeleydailyplanet.com. We’d like them to be contributed free of copyright, so that any publication, print or online, can take them off the web and re-circulate them to their own readers. The best ones we’ll also run in our Tuesday and Friday printed papers. A good length would be 600-800 words, which would work for most publications. And of course, columnists under contract should just write pieces to run in their regular outlets.

Readers, please take on the job of forwarding this call for contributions to any good columnist you read regularly, and to any publications which might circulate the results.

Let’s hope it continues; it’s a terrific way to celebrate the legacy of a woman who will always be remembered for her salty words and the power of her pen.

When I married, we used books by our favorite authors instead of numbers to identify the guest tables. Those sitting at the table with Ivins’ “Nothin’ But Good Times Ahead” were delighted with their luck. I will miss her dearly.

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