When Molly Rush received a letter from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s office in October, she thought it was a response to one of her complaints.
Instead, the Dormont activist found she was the recipient of the Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania award from the governor for her years spent working for social betterment.
At first, she said, she didn’t know how to take it.
“I was really so ambivalent and so upset about what I thought might happen at that event,” she said. “I didn’t know any of the women. I thought, ‘How can I accept this award?’”
As it turned out, everyone at the event had heard of Rush—whether for her activism or for her 1980 arrest and subsequent conviction for her involvement in a protest. Many people told her how much they admired her work, and Rush said it was an honor to be in their company.
“They wouldn’t have given it to me if they didn’t know I was a convicted felon,” she said, laughing. “I’m sure they knew that.”
Aside from the jail stint, Rush’s life has been relatively calm. But her work with human rights, social and economic issues has been anything but quiet.
Rush has been an activist for nearly 50 years and almost all of her work has been in the Pittsburgh area.
Her activism started in 1963, when she was asked to join the Catholic Interracial Council. A few years later, she wrote to her brother—who was in Vietnam—to tell him she was marching against the war.
“I said, ‘Eddie, I’m marching against the war and I wanted you to hear it from me first,” she said. “He wrote back and said, ‘Keep marching.’”
Rush is a cofounder of the Thomas Merton Center, which works toward peace and social justice in several ways. She served as a staff organizer at the center from 1974 to 2005 and now serves as a board member, but her days as an organizer were her favorite, she said.
“I’ve met some wonderful people,” she said. “I’d say that’s the most important thing that’s happened in my life. Meeting some of these people and finding out about issues.”
Welfare rights, women’s rights, hunger, prison reform and racial and gender inequality all are issues Rush has worked to educate people about and bring reform. She’s worked with Hunger Action Coalition, Just Harvest, the Citizens Budget Campaign and the Occupy Pittsburgh movement.
Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and the Pittsburgh chapter of Amnesty International were the brainchildren of Thomas Merton Center members.
“It’s the initiative of a lot of our members and board people and staff people that really got a lot of work going,” she said. “It wasn’t me. It was the initiative of so many people.”
Distinguished Daughters isn’t Rush’s only award. She received the Catholic Interracial Council’s John LaFarge Award in 1979, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Coalition Award in 1990, the Fannie Lou Hamer Award from Women for Racial & Economic Equality in 1994, the Mother Jones Award from the PA Labor History Society in 2003, the YWCA Tribute to Women award in 2003 and the Just Harvest Award in 2004.
The National Catholic Reporter included her in its 100 Peacemakers of the 20th Century list, and Pittsburgh Magazine named her one of the “Pittsburghers of the 20th Century.”
Rush’s goal—and that of many people she works with—is to educate people about social and economic issues, and to do so peacefully.
She said a lot of people don’t like what she’s done. She also said persistence pays off.
“I have seen tremendous change,” Rush said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
As a further honor for her acomplishments, Rush also was chosen for Huffington Post's Greatest Person of the Day for Wednesday, Dec. 14.