Sunday, August 15, 2010

From Linda Stein

Copelon as Photographer
By Linda Stein

Rhonda's "Blue Refugees" (2008)
We all know Rhonda as a scholar of law, an expert in facts and history leading to her goal of respect and justice for all.

But I want to address her creative side, the one that led to her love for the arts and for photography in particular.

She and I became closer as friends as we poured over the myriad photographs Rhonda took. She had studied photography and thrilled to the textures and silhouettes in nature. She made a series of photographs she called Refugees.

I remember sitting with Rhonda one day at the computer on her dining room table in Sag Harbor. My partner, Helen, was sitting across from us, deeply engrossed in her own scholarly reading and writing, while I and Rhonda, as ill as she was, carefully analyzed each of the photographs she had taken. She wanted my opinion.

We decided which ones should be kept in the online folder, which should be cropped or deleted—a process done together in Rhonda's inimitable manner: slowly, carefully, with perfectionism and attention to every detail (and that, of course, meant EVERY detail). "No, let's go back to that other picture… I think we could make it better… well, maybe we were wrong to eliminate the one seven shots ago… we should put it back into our selected group… wait, let’s give that other one more thought.”

For hours, until my brain was pretty fogged out and my eyes could see little more, Rhonda continued to relish in her photographic creations, and we continued to select, crop and delete.

Finally this sick woman, though badgered by chemo and weakened (one would have thought) by pain and medications, finally took pity on me, as she saw that my eyes must have closed for some seconds. And with compassion and an energy that indicated she could have gone on and on and on, Rhonda Copelon said “Ahh, you must be tired, Linda. Let’s stop for now. Go rest and we’ll get back to it another time.”

Thursday, August 12, 2010

From the Jewish Women's Archive, USA

We Remember Rhonda Copelon, Feminist Human Rights Lawyer, Scholar, Teacher, 1944 – 2010

The Jewish Women's Archive has created a page in tribute to Rhonda which incorporates memories from her friends Charlotte Bunch and Anni Cammett and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. When the page went live, Ellen Rothman, deputy director of the archive, wrote: "Rhonda Copelon, presente!"

Saturday, August 7, 2010

From her 'Algerian friends'

Excerpted from the tributes the Society of American Law Teachers 2009 annual awards program when Rhonda received the M. Shanara Gilbert Human Rights Award

Dear Rhonda,

We would like to add our voices to those who are honoring you with the M. Shanara Gilbert Human Rights Award. We thank you, dear friend and comrade, who supported us personally, publicly, and legally, at a time when you were nearly alone in doing so. We thank you for defying the conventional wisdom - including among the major human rights organizations – by defending the victims of fundamentalist armed groups. We thank you in advance for continuing this struggle with us in the years to come, until we achieve justice...

From your Algerian friends.

Chère Rhonda,

Nous tenons à nous associer à l’hommage public qui t’est rendu avec ce prix. Merci à toi, notre amie et camarade de combat, qui nous a soutenues, à la fois personnellement, publiquement, et légalement, en un temps où tu étais seule à le faire. Merci à toi qui n’as pas hésité à braver l’opinion dominante - y compris celle des principales organisations de droits humains – en défendant les victimes des groupes armés intégristes. Nous te remercions aussi d’avance de bien vouloir continuer ce combat à nos côtés dans les années à venir, jusqu’à la justice finale...

Tes amies algériennes

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

From Kathy Engel

Rhonda was pure energy. Metaphysical, cellular, biodynamic, daring, loving, genius shaking up kickass energy. We know what she did in the world. What can't be measured are the ripples and waves into other times and corners of the planet.

The vastness of human life she affected with her audacious, brilliant, persistent, imaginative drive for justice. And that justice, in Rhonda's world, was joyous and engaged.

The last time I saw Rhonda was not at a rally or a meeting or a fundaiser. It turned out she was the Millstone Road, Sag Harbor neighbor of another dear friend, the singer/songwriter Terry Winchell, who was having a yard sale. I think it was late fall 2009, a bit chilly but not too cold to be out at a yard sale. In true Rhonda form she was thrilled to discover the connection, told Terry we must all get together for dinner, and tried on several cool clothing items. She was terribly thin and clearly struggling but absolutely glowing at the same time. She asked me about my family in detail, as always, with eager generosity, someone who really wanted to know.

I first met Rhonda around 1980 when she was a staff attorney at CCR and I was working with Blanche Cook and others at the Fund For Open Information and Accountability. I had already known about her groundbreaking work and met her through Vivian Stromberg. I think, as I look back over the years, what amazes me most about Rhonda is her constant curiosity, readiness to tread into new waters, broaden, deepen, reach farther. I never remember her moaning about the state of the world, just working too hard, and also living, talking, traveling, asking, pushing.

When I was the director of MADRE in the early 80's, she brought a delegation of women she had led to Nicaragua, to meet with me. Now I think of the humility of this experienced older (than I was!) leader coming to talk to this pipsqueak! She was thoughtful, open, probing, deeply respectful of our approach to the work, ready to cross borders and open channels.

Shortly after her first bout with cancer I was walking down the street in Bridgehampton with the poet Sonia Sanchez. I hear this voice calling out: "Kathy Kathy." I looked back and thought I saw a child. Then looking again I saw it was Rhonda in a hat, no hair, thin, and full of the verve and delight that defined her.

I'm so grateful to have known her, followed her, benefited from her glorious work and being. I'm grateful for my daughters and their friends and my students. For all of us.

Pure energy.

Kathy Engel
August 2010