Ask almost any older person and you’ll hear, “The world is going to hell and I’m glad I lived in the best of times.” But for four 100-year-old activists who were honored in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 9, 2016, they have a different story. Having lived from horses and buggies to space crafts out of the solar system, all four exclaimed their only real hope for the future — and it involves an empowered the United Nations.
Minnie Frew was born in 1914 and has been a vegetarian since age 16, because of her love of animals, which “have feelings too. Even my father said on the farm we weren’t treating animals quite as gently as we could. If we treat animals well, we will treat humans well too.”
She remembers the price of war. “The first World War was one people talked a lot about in the teens and ’20s. They were still recovering and thinking about how high the price of butter was.”
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Her thoughts on the UN? “I think that’s the hope of the world right now. I have a lot of hope.”
Richard Franz started fighting for a better world after World War II. “I was inspired by my Lutheranism. I was taught to not to kill anybody and then found myself training for two months to do just the opposite.”
Why does he support the United Nations? “Because that’s the one hope, no matter all the negative history of attacks in this country. It is the only hope for the world. For all young people, keep working for the peace of the world through the UN.”
What has kept him fighting for a better world? “Working with other persons for the same objectives. I met all these people — some very prominent. It was a privilege knowing them.”
Charlotte Bleistein was one of Wisconsin’s first female lawyers and practiced until just a few years ago.
What causes were most dear to her heart? “All of them, because the world has so many problems.”
Why was she moved to act? “I’ve just always done it; it was my nature.”
What does she think of the UN? “I think they’re doing a wonderful job and hope they can continue. I hope the other countries cooperate with them. They’re facing the whole world’s problems and the world has problems like we’ve never seen before.” And her advice to those who will follow? “Join good organizations and be as active as you can.”
The “youngster” of the four, Joan Robertson, was born in between her mother’s suffragette and antiwar marching100 years ago in Chicago, so “I got the activism bug by genetics or osmosis.” In her lifetime, she has fought mainly for equal housing and women’s rights.
Her best memories as an activist? “All the wonderful people that we’ve met over the years, both here and in other countries.”
Joan’s thoughts on the UN? “I think the UN is our only salvation, to tell the truth — at least in our contemporary and near-future life. They do many wonderful things now — they have many successes, but they also have failures that a lot of people harp on. I think we should all work very hard to educate the public through the United Nations Association as to the importance and viability of a world peace through the UN — a world control of wars, hunger, poverty, everything — and then investigate and study the efforts that are being made today by various organizations for reform so it has more efficacy and power to make people understand that it can work.”
Why does she keep up the good fight? “I think the very fact that we all see how destructive and horrible and inhumane war is — how it leads to more poverty. It leads to terrible privation in the areas stricken by war. I don’t think anybody can turn away from these instant pictures that we get of what is happening in the world today. It has been happening for years, but now we really have it close up.”
Joan’s advice? “I think it’s everybody’s duty — I really think that it’s a duty of every person in the world, but mainly in the US because we’re so fortunate, except for the terrible civil war and some of the other wars that the imperialists among us have started. But the Second World War of course impressed us all terrifically with the devastation and horror and the deaths. And then, of course, along came Korea, Vietnam and all the rest — and Iraq. Inexcusable. Those things are not to be forgiven or forgotten, but they are to be remembered in history. I think history is the most important thing we can get across to people. Study the errors of the past and learn from them and go on and hope. There’s nothing like hope for the future.”
Is Joan optimistic or pessimistic about our future? “Oh, I’m very optimistic. I think there is absolutely no reason for anybody to say with cynicism, ‘Oh, it’s always been this way; it’s always going to be this way; there always will be wars; there always will be corruption.’ It’s ridiculous! To see the progress that mankind has made over these centuries has been remarkable. Especially with the remarkable technology of today, we can make advances that people couldn’t dream of in the way of civil society and civility toward each other and decency in the world and cooperation among nations. There’s no question in my mind. It’s going to come and it certainly won’t be in my lifetime, but it will be in your lifetimes or beyond you and the generations to follow, if they work at it.”
And with a last wink, she smiled and said, “But you have to fight for it.”