Canada will be a poorer place without Norma Scarborough

I dedicated my last book Ten Thousand Roses: The Making of a Feminist Revolution to Norma Scarborough, a fierce and committed pro-choice fighter and an unlikely friend to me.  Norma died last week, as she lived, making her own decisions.   She had been in paliative care long enough and refused to take any more medication.  Her daughter let me know but the day I was supposed to visit and say good-bye I was felled by food poisoning so this will have to be my good bye.  

Norma was the kind of woman who made the women's movement what it was.  As a mother of four living in the suburbs, women's liberation couldn't come soon enough for her.  "The women in my suburban neighbourhood had nothing to do with feminism, " she told me in an interview.  "When I got involved in CARAL (Canadian Abortion Rights Action League)I was isolating myself from that group.  So I brought some of them to meetings.  I would take four or five people from my bridge club, and they were really interested and excited by the idea."  But the hardline lefties at the meeting "scared the shit" out of Norma's friends but not Norma, she kept coming.

"I began to realize very quickly that the way they looked at the world was more realistic than the way I looked at the world.  It was a huge experience for me.  It helped to wreck by marriage.  My husband married me thinking I would be like his mother.  I completely changed in midstream and he didn't know what the hell to do about it.  I am sure there were thousands of men who got hit the same way with women who went into the women's movement," she told me.

Knowing Norma was a huge experience for me.  I felt pretty superior to these middle class women in CARAL at the time. (Norma was a school secretary, alot more working class than I was)  I was in OCAC, an in your face, on the streets pro-choice group. CARAL was the lobby and fundraising group.  When the Catholic Church organized rallies every day in front of the clinic, OCAC decided we had to organize a counter rally even if we couldn't out mobilize them.  CARAL opposed the idea thinking it would show weakness instead of strength.    Norma called me the night before the final decision and yelled at me for what seemed like an hour.  (She always denied that) The next day we decided to go ahead anyway.  Once we had decided, CARAL and Norma pulled out all the stops to build that demonstration.  It was the issue that was important to them and however angry they were at OCAC and me, they were not going to allow that demonstration to be a failure.

It was the turning point in the struggle with some 15,000 overflowing Queen's Park in a rally for choice.  And I learned a valuable lesson about what dedication to a cause really meant.  

Norma's courage really astonished me.  She faced even more harassment than I did in that sometimes violent struggle but never wavered.  "I personally got a letter that appeared to have human feces in it....On the subway a man and woman who look straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting blocked me from getting off at my station and said, "Baby killer, baby killer, baby killer."  Finally a couple of people noticed what was happening and pulled the alarm and a security person came and got me out."   She also had a death threat posted to her apartment door. 

Norma's honesty, courage and commitment was what the women's movement was all about.  I was a radical with no husband and children when the women's movement started.  I didn't have to give up anything to be part of it.  Norma did.  Every woman in Canada owes her a debt of gratitude. The dedication reads "To Norma Scarborough and all the unsung heroes of the women's movement."  Thanks Norma, we'll miss you.  


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