Cody honored as Roosevelt Activist
Lifelong Rhinelander resident and activist Jackie Cody was recently honored by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin at its 13th annual Eleanor Roosevelt Tribute held in Madison. Cody, a retired Rhinelander elementary school teacher, won the 2011 Grassroots Activist Award for her tireless community organizing efforts.
Cody is the second honoree from the Northwoods. Vilas County resident Kay Hoff, who attended the ceremony in support of Cody, received the award in 2009.
While nationally, political participation is on the upswing in response to attacks on workers’ rights, growing income disparity, and the influence of money in politics, Cody is not a newcomer. In fact, she can’t remember when politics wasn’t part of her life.
As the youngest of seven children sitting around the family dinner table, politics was always part of the conversation. Acting for the common good rather than for self-interest was an expectation.
Events along the way shaped Cody’s brand of activism. Most significantly, she became a teacher, and she married Pete Cody who, when they met, was already involved in union work.
“He has been my greatest teacher,” she said. “He’s given me the space, love and support I need.”
During her career, Cody served as president of the Rhinelander Teachers’ Association and president of the Northern Tier UniServ, the umbrella organization for teacher and support staff unions throughout northern Wisconsin.
In retirement, Cody is still committed to education. She, along with Father Dean Einerson, pastor of St. Augustine Episcopal Church, founded Northwoods Grass Roots Labor Activists. Once a month they sponsor presentations related to labor that are open to the public. A March film festival on working women is also in the works.
Although Cody may be best known for union activities, she has never confined her energies to labor issues. In fact, one of her fondest achievements, as a member of the Oneida County Biking and Walking Trails Council, was getting a sidewalk on Lincoln Street, a Rhinelander business thoroughfare. She viewed the lack of a sidewalk as unfair to less affluent individuals without automobiles. “People had to walk on a dirt path,” Cody said. “It was important to give them equal access.”
Inspiration, for Cody, has come from many sources. Her work at The Table, a community meal project sponsored by St. Augustine Episcopal Church, where Cody is a member, has reinforced her belief in the inherent dignity of all people. The success and energy of young women with whom she works on the Tobacco Free Coalition is another source of inspiration. “They were given what seemed like an impossible task and made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” she said. “I’m really proud of them.”
“Jackie’s faith in the power of average, hardworking people to make a difference is personally inspiring to me,” said Congresswoman and U.S. Senatorial candidate Tammy Baldwin. “We need someone to fight for Wisconsin’s middle class; the men, women, and children who need their voices to be heard and to be put ahead of big corporations.”
The introduction of Governor Scott Walker’s anti-public worker legislation last winter struck at the heart of Cody’s beliefs. Since then she has been instrumental in organizing workers’ rights rallies in Rhinelander, Minocqua, and Eagle River. From now until the Presidential election next November, Cody is committed to working on recall and election efforts.
“No one can out work or out organize Jackie,” said State Senator Jim Holperin, who prevailed this past summer in his recall election. Cody was a key leader and organizer in his campaign.
Over the years, Cody has had her detractors. “Someone once told me, ‘You don’t have enough class to represent us,'” she said. Cody takes criticism in stride. When your favorite slogan is “Organize, Agitate, and Educate,” criticism is an expected by-product. Cody has toughness and perseverance in spades. But, those who know her best understand that she has compassion in equal measure.
In accepting her award, Cody issued a challenge to the women in the audience reminiscent of Eleanor Roosevelt herself. “Don’t forget you are a woman capable of more than you think,” she said.
The former first lady serves as a model, not only to Cody, but to generations of women. “I could not at any age be content to take my place in a corner by the fireside and simply look on,” Eleanor Roosevelt famously said.
Neither could Jackie Cody.