An Interview with Torie Osborn
by Charlotte Kramon
There was hardly a morning in the 1960s when young Torie Osborn didn’t spring out of bed, eager to conquer the challenges facing her generation. Today, the lifelong activist and nonprofit organizer persists as an invigorating force to modern social justice movements. There’s a lot to learn from Torie.
As a teenager in Philadelphia, he spent her weekends marching the streets and vocalizing her rage over the Vietnam War. When she wasn’t marching, she was absorbed in a nonfiction book or magazine. As a lesbian, she didn’t care to partake in the conversations girls around her were having about boys. Activism was the best outlet for her passion for confronting injustice face-to-face.
Because passion was an innate part of Osborn’s character, she grew up in an excellent time period. During her teenage years, the country was erupting with turmoil through the civil rights movement, and later, women’s liberation, environmentalism, and lgbtq+ movements. Politics was integrated into elements of culture, especially music, that people experienced daily. “My generation was rebelling, expanding, wearing blue jeans, and toppling the structures of authority all over the place,” Torie declares. “We were rewriting all the rules.”
I took away three key lessons from Torie that I am certain will embolden anyone interested in social change:
1. Political power is key
Torie’s generation changed people’s minds by inducing feminism, lbtq rights, environmentalism and civil rights. But, they bypassed the only force with the ability to implement legal change: the government.
Because the politicians who brought about the Vietnam war were liberal democrats, Torie’s generation was skeptical of politics. The people whose ideas were changed by social movements did not occupy Washington DC. “We did not entrench our ideas in policy. We didn’t [promote social justice] in a way the permanently put the country in a progressive direction,” she reflects.
As a result, Torie describes the conservative takeover as moving further and further towards the right, which she characterizes as the true resistance. Torie believes that the social justice left has been mischaracterized as the resistance, when in reality, they are the revolution.
As much as conservatives want to claim patriotism, the left cannot ignore it if they want to succeed. A true patriot accepts America’s dark sides and believes the country can grow into something positive through action. Torie points to WAVE, who succeeded in turning Orange County Blue by rooting themselves in a patriotic vision.
The conservatives are resistant to the revolution of social change, and they have political control right now. It is in the hands of our generation to swap that.
2. Balance is essential, no matter how radical you are
Anger is a natural human reaction to injustice, and too often, female anger is recognized as female insanity. Anger is a positive force that mandates positive change. However, anger loses its effectiveness when it becomes a source of close-minded rage.
Torie has always made an effort to prevent her circle from being closed-off to most viewpoints. Part of this is done through honoring anger but controlling it. This way, it does not become a “wildfire” of rage that drives people away.
There’s the Steinem approach which opposes anger, and the other extreme embodied by feminist Andrea Dworkin. Torie remembers seeing her speak in San Francisco using rage with limited effectiveness. “She was so angry, I could see the red energy coming out of her eyes and face and mouth,” she remembers. “I don’t remember a word she said. There was something mesmerizing about it, but there was also something destructive.”
Ultimately, Torie believes women need to own their anger, because we all have it and women have not been allowed to use it enough. Just don’t forget to keep anger balanced-after all, the goal is to get our message across.
3. If you’re meant to be an activist, you will be an activist.
While Torie was lucky to grow up in a time bursting with fresh social movements, her character easily interlocked with activism. She describes being mesmerized as she watched feminist Kate Millett declare, ““It’s not ‘penis envy” women suffer from - it’s ‘penis power envy’. Men have all the power! We don’t wish we were men. We wish we shared power with them. !”
Pursuing societal engagement is becoming far less exclusive. Today, people have embraced integration of all forms. White feminists can also fight for anti-racism-the two forms of activism are far from being mutually exclusive. A melting pot of liberal identities fighting for a cause is far more forceful than they are individually!
Another set of opportunities exists in the nonprofit sector. Social work can be a full-time job or you can end your week engrossed in activity at a nonprofit that suits your interests. When it comes to work and social activities, activism does not have to be all-or-nothing. Follow your intuition, Torie advises, and the pieces of life will settle into place exactly as they were meant to. “The most important thing for an activist to know is that you can live your whole life as an activist,” Torie says.