Molly, I hardly knew ye.
The untimely death of Molly Ivins last week, after a long battle with breast cancer, has provoked a surge of impassioned eulogies -- yes, that would be the appropriate use of the term "surge."
Ivins was first and foremost a journalist, in the highest and best sense of the word. She spent the time, did the digging. She had a remarkable gift for words, a command of English coupled with her flamboyant Texas wit. She directed her reportorial skill at the powerful, holding to account the elected and the self-appointed. She first questioned authority, then skewered it.
I had the good fortune to meet Molly, but on too few occasions. I went to Austin, Texas, for the 50th anniversary celebration of The Texas Observer, the plucky, progressive news magazine that was Molly's journalistic home for so long. Texas' former governor, Ann Richards, was there. Richards, a Democrat, was not immune to Molly's practiced barbs. The governor said of the writer:
"I know it's been a shock to all of us, but over the last 10 or 15 years our girl Molly Ivins has learned to dress, run a comb through her hair now and then and give a fairly decent speech. A truly remarkable woman who goes around America making speeches and telling lies about me. And I welcome her attentions any time. May God bless this woman who has more survivor blood in her veins than anyone I have ever known."
Richards preceded Molly in death by cancer by just a few months.
Molly's legacy rings out, clarion calls to action from the beyond. After she was diagnosed with cancer in 1999, she implored her readers: "Get. The. Damn. Mammogram. Now." The American Cancer Society predicts that there will be more than 40,000 breast cancer deaths in the U.S. in 2007. Death rates are declining, although detection and survival rates are lower for women of color. Improvements can be attributed in part to women following Molly's advice: "Get. The. Damn. Mammogram. Now."
In her final column, titled "Stand Up Against the Surge," Molly wrote:
"We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. ... We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, 'Stop it, now!' "
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Her hallmark was to call it as she saw it, and on Iraq she was clear: "It is not a matter of whether we will lose or we are losing. We have lost." She took Sen. John McCain to task for supporting the "surge." The coordinated acts of civil disobedience at his Senate offices in Washington, D.C., and in Arizona on Feb. 5 were a fitting tribute to Molly. Meanwhile, houston.indymedia.org announced the formation of The Molly Ivins Brigade, to protest the war with pots and pans.
I asked Molly about The Texas Observer. "As we watch the concentration of ownership of mass media," she said, "it's more and more important to keep these little independent voices alive. I think that's where the hope of journalism lies."
Fighting cancer. Fighting to stop the war. Fighting fiercely to protect independent media institutions such as The Texas Observer. Molly, while I hardly knew ye, we know you by your good works. Molly has died, but the fight goes on. She asked that donations be made to the non-profit Texas Observer, texasobserver.org. In this time of the Clear Channeling of America, it is pennies well spent.
The final performer at The Texas Observer anniversary event was the venerable Willie Nelson, whose sonorous voice and trenchant lyrics have become synonymous with Texas. He sang:
"Fly on, fly on past the speed of sound ...
Leave me if you need to
I will still remember
Angel flying too close to the ground."
Molly has made her sound in the world. Now it's up to us to bang those pots and pans.