Leslie Cagan’s Half-Century of Activism
When Brooklyn for Peace named community organizer Leslie Cagan one of three Pathfinder for Peace award winners in late 2017, it was both in recognition of, and in gratitude for, Cagan’s more than 50 years of social justice activism. Whether pushing for action on climate change, peace, LGBTQ equality, feminism, reproductive choice, or fighting racism, Cagan’s voice, presence, and expertise have long been visible.
Cagan has worn a lot of hats over the years. Among them, she was the interim board chair at the Pacifica radio network in the late 1990s; was National Coordinator of United for Peace and Justice from 2002-2009; and either coordinated or played a leadership role in some of the largest demonstrations in American history—for nuclear disarmament in 1982; for LGBTQ rights in 1987; against the war in Iraq in 2003; and for climate action in 2014.
She is presently involved with the Peoples Climate Movement (PCM)—NYC, as well as PCM nationally, and is part of an effort challenging the corporate saturation and over-policing of the Heritage of Pride parade held annually in NYC to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall rebellion.
Cagan recently spoke to Eleanor J. Bader about her history, ongoing work, and the personal challenges of caring for life partner Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, who has advanced Parkinson’s Disease.
Eleanor J. Bader: Let’s start with your personal history. When did you become involved in progressive political activism?
Leslie Cagan: I grew up in the Bronx, in a Jewish, leftist community. My parents were hardcore activists. I have an older brother and a younger sister and family outings growing up would often involve going to a demonstration. My grandmother was active in the textile workers union so I guess you can say that politics has always been in my blood. Their example was important and impacted all of us. Both of my siblings are activists.