Webster’s dictionary describes Saint: “A very virtuous person.” My late friend Rita Buell sure as heck fit that description. She was a Saint. Why? If you could see Rita, you would see this diminutive, pixie like 70 something bundle of love and devotion, who was always there for progressive activism. Rita and I became very close friends, what we called street corner friends. for over three years, each and every Tuesday afternoon, during rush hour. With a handful of others, we would stand holding our signs in protest of the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq. We stood on that same street corner calling for an end to the insane and foolish defense spending policies of both political parties. Rita wanted Bush and Co. held responsible for not only the invasion and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, but for the use of torture. Illegal and again immoral. To watch Rita, barely five feet tall, with her strong resemblance to the late Judy Garland, smiling and waving at the passing cars… Such magnificence of purpose!
Rita Buell was a nurse and mother of four back home in Springfield, Ohio, when she first became an activist during the late 1960s. She admired Martin Luther King Jr., and the Civil Rights demonstrators. So she too became one. Soon after, she became an activist for ending the Vietnam War. Rita made as many enemies where she lived in Springfield as she did friends. It meant very little to this highly devoted and conscious lady. When I met her, five years ago, at a Kucinich For President meeting, I admired the fact that Rita always carried such a wonderful and radiant smile. Even while standing , during the early street corner protests of 2004, when many neighbors of ours supported the Bush-Cheney invasion and occupations, Rita never let the naysayers and nasty ones affect her attitude. She would just smile and wave her peace sign back to them.
Rita Buell did not tell many on the corner about her health problems. She had the late stages of emphysema, and had tremendous difficulty breathing. Yet, she showed up each and every week, driving that old jalopy of hers, adorned with a myriad of progressive bumper stickers. She always arrived before me, and I was the organizer. Many times Rita would implore others from the corner to come visit my cafe business, and have a bite to eat with her. She always supported a friend. And friends we were. I recall a change in Rita’s attitude, after the 2006 mid term elections, when the Democrats regained the Congress. Rita was a lifelong Democrat, never straying. Even when progressives like this writer jumped onto the 2000 Nader bandwagon, Rita would not follow suit. She voted Democrat, even if she had to “bite her lip” at times. Well, when the Democrats took back the Congress in ’06, and decided to not pursue investigations on the run-up to our attack on Iraq, Rita got pissed off ! I had never seen her like that. She got more angrier when the Democrats refused to filibuster the Alito and Roberts nominations to the Supreme Court. Finally, when the Democrats refused to investigate the torture of detainees, holding those who ordered it accountable, my dear friend Rita really exploded! ” Philip,” she told me a month or two before she passed away: “I will rather see those lousy Republicans win office than vote again for these cowardly, hypocritical Democrats! Shame on them!” Yet, never did Rita have any disdain for those Democrats like herself who stood out on the street corner with us. Her ire was for the leaders of the party, both in Washington, in Tallahassee, and right here in Volusia County…. The ones who were AWOL for so long on most national progressive issues.
One wonders how my dear friend Saint Rita, gone from us over two years ago, would have felt if she watched our President speak the other night. Or how she would react to what the Congress is doing regarding health care reform, or the bailing out of corrupt and greedy Wall Street concerns…. Or the increased military funding for the illegal occupations of two sovereign nations. I knew Rita Buell well, and all I can suggest is that she would be standing with us each week on that corner, allied to no one but the Truth! Happy birthday, dear Rita! ( December 4, 1929 )