Feminism and left politics
Drawn to radical feminism and leftist politics she joined Cell 16 (founded in 1968) in 1969 to work with Betsy Warrior, Roxanne Dunbar, Dana Densmore, Jayne West and others who were providing ground-breaking feminist analyses. Abby Rockefeller and Jayne West joined other members of Cell 16 in promoting self-defense for women and became skilled in karate. They set up a Tae Kwon Do studio in Boston and taught hundreds of women who, in turn, taught other women, becoming pioneers in self-defense for women. This effort was initiated in response to the frequent, if unremarked, street harassment and sexual assaults women were subjected to during this era. After reading the literature of Cell 16, especially the initial "Journals of Female Liberation", Abby Rockefeller decided to join them. One of the articles she contributed to the Journals of Female Liberation was Sex: The Basis of Sexism, which posited male desire to access and control female sexuality for their own ends as a driving force in sexism. After being infiltrated by Trotskyites and F.B.I. agents, Cell 16 disassociated from its splinter group Female Liberation, which was providing a front for Trotskyist recruiting of aspiring feminists. Members of Cell 16 then continued feminist work in their original group and as individual activists. She was drawn to Marxism and was an ardent admirer of Fidel Castro and a late 1960s/early 1970s radical feminist who briefly belonged to the organization Female Liberation Front (not to be confused with a much later group called Female Liberation run by the Trotskyite SWP) before it changed its name to Cell 16.
Not only was Abby a feminist whose subtle ways of doing things differently changed a prominent US family, but she was also a non acknowledged civil rights activist in her own home. She taught her children that color was not something we the people can change or make, and people should not be treated differently because of that fact.
"It is to the everlasting disgrace of the United States that horrible lynchings and brutal race riots frequently occur in our midst. The social ostracism of the Jews is less barbaric, but ... causes cruel injustice ... I long to have our family stand firmly for what is best and highest in life ... If you older boys will do it the younger will follow." (PBS)
Despite her class background, Abby was subjected to many of the stinging barbs other women are subjected to. For instance, as a young girl she was told that although women did most of the cooking in the world only men could be great chefs. In her own relationships with men she often encountered the same sexist attitudes when they expressed an underlying trivialization or contempt for women’s aspirations - no matter the man’s class or race. Her feminism was not some dilettante's passing fad, but arose from an analysis of her lived experience. Some, mistakenly misreading her commitment to justice as vulnerability, tried to exploit her for her name or money.
Founding of Clivus Multrum, Inc.
More recently Abby Rockefeller has written extensively about the ineffectiveness of conventional sewage treatment and its destructive effect on water and the environment. She is also a proponent of alternative methods in dealing with human excreta, specifically by using the clivus multrum model of composting toilet rather than the conventional flush toilet.
- The Harvard Crimson: Feminist Says Physical Desire Is Cause of Female Oppression By Hollis Gorman. http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1975/1/16/feminist-says-physical-desire-is-cause/January 16, 1975
- Humanities & Social Sciences Online. Ruth Rosen. The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America. New York and London: Penguin, 2000. The FBI was apparently able to recruit informers to attend meetings and report back to the FBI with ease. Bureau files contain summaries of feminist meetings with such subversive aims as, "They wanted equal opportunities that men have in work and in society" (p. 242).
- The Other Woman, a Toronto-based feminist newspaper with cross-Canada circulation “Infiltration of the Women's Movement by the LSA/YS” Issue: Nov.-Dec. 1973.
- LIFE MAGAZINE, AN 'OPPRESSED MAJORITY' DEMANDS ITS RIGHTS, The cause of women's equality draws a growing number of active-and angry-female militants, 1969 by SARA DAVIDSON, http://www.maryellenmark.com/text/magazines/life/905W-000-004.html
- Echols, Alice, Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America: 1967–1975 (Minneapolis, Minn.: Univ. of Minn. Press, 1989 (ISBN 0-8166-1787-2)), pp. 158 (& perhaps n. 106), 163 & nn. 132–133, & 211 & n. 37 (author then visiting asst. prof. history, Univ. of Ariz. at Tucson).
- Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections.
- "American Experience: TV's Most-watched History Series." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 07 May 2013.
- Conversations with Cell 16, Schlesinger Library, Harvard University
- Rockefeller, Abby A. (1997). "Civilization & Sludge: Notes on the History of the Management of Human Excreta". Current World Leaders (Organic Consumers Association) 39 (6). Retrieved 2012-12-28.
- "Clivus Multrum, Inc.: Manufacturer of Composting Toilets and Greywater Systems since 1973". Clivusmultrum.com. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
- McKay, Jeff (2003). "Crapshoot: The Gamble with Our Wastes". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2012-12-28.