It's Been 40 Years

A simple internet search…. Juanita Bartnett. That’s how I got here. Juanita is my grandmother; My extravagant, unstoppable, endlessly intelligent grandmother. She wore heels into her 80s, and still wears the sparkliest ensembles you’ve ever seen. There really isn’t a time in my life where I look back and don’t remember feeling a special bond with this woman. She is one of two people (my husband being the other) that has truly understood me. I mean literally understood me. We speak the same language when it feels like no one else understands me. When I was five, I remember spending special days with her, both of us in matching Jellies exploring dollar stores. In middle school, my bedroom was a mini replica of her house, filled to the brim with Chinese antiques and leopard print pillows. We would spend what felt like hours scouring the internet for different anarchy websites, and discussing all the things we wish were different around us. In college, she helped me with all of my political assignments. Sometimes that also meant talking me off of a ledge when I’d get overwhelmed with rage (something she still does to this day). When I was in my teens, she moved to Las Vegas and lived just outside of the strip, in her sixties, like a badass. Not only has she been a rock for me, she’s lived her life with the intent of helping others. In the 80s, she was the director of an abortion clinic in Arizona. She owned a financial advising firm in the 70s, and was the executive director of Aid to Adoption of Special Kids.

But today I’d like you to hear a very specific story; One that dates back to 40 years ago this year. Sadly, it is all too familiar. Feeling particularly upset about 45 one morning, it prompted David and I to do a google search with my grandmother’s name. We came across a website with historical archives, and on that site, standing tall and proud, is an image of Juanita Bartnett, taken by Chicago Sun Times photographer Don Bierman. My grandmother worked on the congressional campaign for a man named Philip Crane. You may already know his name, as he was a republican member of the United States House of Representatives from 1969 until 2005. At the time, he was running for the office of President of the United States. My grandmother worked on his campaign from 1969 through 1972. A few years later, she came forward with information regarding her personal experiences with the man running for the highest office in the country. We obviously purchased the photo, and as soon as it arrived I brought it over to my grandmother’s house and had her tell me the story again. I recorded her incredible words, and I really hope you listen. For anyone who feels as tired as we do, this is for you.

*Update: After I published this blogpost, Juanita’s daughter, Michelle, contacted Janet Langhart Cohen (the women who conducted the interview on Good Morning New York) and sent her the link. Janet’s response was as follows: "Hello Michelle. How happily surprised I was to hear from you and see the video of your beautiful mother, Juanita many years ago about her charges against Phil Crane. I recall that incident very well and back then it was considered a no no to speak bad truths against powerful men. Your mother was very brave, a hero to today’s #metoo generation. You and your daughter should be very proud of her, as so many women, myself included are grateful for her enduring courage. Please give her my best and tell her thanks and that I think she is still beautiful. The last 40 years have been kind. Wishing you both all the best, Janet Langhart Cohen.