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The Saturday before Barbara Bush died, South Africans filled a stadium for a memorial service to celebrate the life of Winnie Mandela. Looking back over the lives of the two women gives us some insight into social changes over the decades of their lives and issues society faces in the first decades of this new century.

Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush was 92 years old. Winnie Mandela was 81. Barbara Bush was born into wealth and grew only wealthier over the course of a lifetime during which she never worked for wages (working to raise six children is still hard work, although unpaid). Winnie Mandela was born to two underpaid, black school teachers in a society that legally restricted the amount of education black children were allowed. She ended up financially well off, but worked every day almost to the end to get what wealth she had.

While Winnie Mandela was raised in a country in which education for black children was legally limited, Barbara Bush was raised in a society that wished black children couldn't be educated at all. She went to high school at the all white Ashley Hall school for girls in South Carolina. Ashley Hall today still honors George Trenholm, slave owner and Secretary of the Treasury of the Confederate government as one of its great heros.

Winnie Mandela's mother died when Winnie was nine years old, and she was sent to be raised by relatives. Although South Africa restricted education for blacks, Winnie Mandela studied social work, and eventually earned a bachelor's degree in International Relations. Barbara Bush got into Smith College, but dropped out to marry George H.W. Bush, a son of one of Hitler's bankers.

When George Bush finished college, he set about building a career in the oil business, with the help of family banking money. Barbara Bush moved with him around the world, building the oil industry that would extract oil from third world countries, prop up despot governments to protect the oil industry's colonial interests, and support the growth of U.S. military expansion throughout the Cold War. She bore six children during these years, raising them with the help a wealthy oil matron could afford.

Even before she graduated from college, Winnie Mandela started her anti-apartheid activism. She worked as a social worker in legally segregated black facilities in legally segregated black areas. In 1957, she married Nelson Mandela, with whom she had two daughters before Nelson was imprisoned at Robben Island in 1963, where he would stay until 1990.

While raising her daughters as a single mother, Winnie Mandela was imprisoned for her anti-apartheid work. She was tortured. And she was forcefully banished to a small agricultural town far from her home and work. In 1969, she was put into solitary confinement in prison, where she would remain for 18 months. While Winnie Mandela was working to free black South Africans from apartheid, and being punished for it, Barbara Bush campaigned for her husband's election to the House of Representatives, and in 1966 moved to Washington D.C. as the wife of one of the men leading the charge to move the Republican Party to the more extreme right.

In Washington, Barbara Bush helped build her husband's career in the new Southern Strategy, trickle-down Reagan Republican Party. She set about creating an image for herself as a woman who was caring and concerned about problems affecting the world. She settled on "literacy" as a problem to give speeches about. And she spent decades talking about the need for better literacy, while campaigning for corporatist politicians who were pursuing policies to degrade or destroy public education.

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The corporate "liberal media" has always treated Barbara Bush as a saintly woman, wife of one president and mother of another. Polite to the "help" both at home and in the White House. She was praised for being "non-political," with scant mention of her active campaigning for candidates who had strident right-wing, corporatist and colonialist policies.

Winnie Mandela just didn't have the gentility of Barbara Bush. She didn't keep herself at home, away from controversy. She didn't always say the politick thing.

In contrast, while the corporate "liberal media" came around to liking Nelson Mandela, especially after he renounced violent revolution, they remained critical of Winne Mandela. Winnie Mandela just didn't have the gentility of Barbara Bush. She didn't keep herself at home, away from controversy. She didn't always say the politick thing.

When it came time to memorialize these two woman, the "liberal media" waxed eloquent over Barbara Bush's preeminence as an exemplar of how a first lady should behave in a political family and a society marching hard to the right. But they had a hard time ever finding good things to say about Winnie Mandela, and barely noticed the stadium full of people who came out to celebrate the progress away from apartheid that she helped achieve.

The "liberal media" was able to spot and report critically on Winnie Mandela's embrace of violence in the fight against violent repression of non-whites in South Africa. But they were unable to find any fault with Barbara Bush's embrace of politicians who advocated increasing police violence against non-whites in the U.S. Latin America, Saudi Arabia, etc.

Winnie Mandela spoke out against violent racial repression and she ended up beaten, tortured, exciled and imprisoned for her speeches Barbara Bush stayed silent about the mass slaughter of retreating Iraqi soldiers in her husband's colonial attack on that country. And she stayed silent as her son's administration launched warfare against the civilian populations of Iraq and other middle-east nations.

From all public appearances, Barbara Bush was a devoted, loving, supportive wife and mother. She cannot be faulted for her work in that realm. But she was devoted to the privileges of some people over others. She spoke out for and campaigned for politicians who legislated voter disfranchisement - aimed at non-whites and the poor. And she worked for politicians who encouraged the growth of police executions of unarmed black people.

tom hall

These two women represent an aspect of womanhood that the current women's movement has yet to engage with very seriously - the fact that women come with all the wide panoply of view that men have. People like to focus on those women who form groups like Black Lives Matter, or who administer, defend and campaign for Planned Parenthood, equal pay, more civilized family leave, etc. But there are also the Phyllis Schlafleys, Maggie Thatchers and Laura Ingrahams out there, striving to increase privileges and divisions. There are the Fox News bimbos, tugging at their miniskirts and trying to make a living reading what white male bosses put onto their teleprompters.

At least as important, there are black women, like those whose work put Doug Jones into the Senate, who are barely acknowledged by the "women's movement." For every well-quaffed A-list star who speaks about the need for positive change, fairer pay and more inclusive sets, there are thousands of women who get up every morning, feed and get their children ready for school before they go off to a full day's work, and then come home, take care of their families, and collapse into bed. Somehow some manage to squeeze in time to work on social issues, like Aurelia Browder and Claudette Colvin. Like Winnie Mandela, they do things that put their jobs, their earnings and their personal safety at risk, to work for positive change, fairer pay, and a more inclusive society.

For every black woman who lives that way, there is a Latina who does the same. As the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the United Farm Workers struggles remind us, real change is driven by the involvement of the oppressed more often than by aristocratic do-gooders. Women's rights organizers and people trying to build a Resist Movement against current Republican depravities (all of which Barbara Bush supported) would do well to figure out ways to include those whom they say they want to help.

Tom Hall

Tom Hall

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