Barbara Lee’s memoir won’t be boring

The autobiography of Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland — “Renegade for Peace and Justice: Congresswoman Barbara Lee Speaks for Me” — will hit the shelves late next month, and according to an item posted last week at Roll Call, it’s gonna be a doozy:

Most memoirs by Members of Congress are safe, tepid retellings of hardscrabble upbringings (here’s looking at you, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) or glossing-over of troubled pasts (hiya, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay).

Not so the candid new book by Rep. Barbara Lee, which delves into raw emotional territory from the California Democrat’s past, including a secret marriage, a clandestine abortion, an abusive marriage and even an LSD trip forced upon her by her violent ex-husband. In “Renegade for Peace & Justice,” Lee chronicles not just her legislative accomplishments, but her darker moments as well.

The earlier chapters of her life provide the most fodder on that front: She describes marrying her boyfriend while in high school and keeping the marriage a secret; her first teen pregnancy ended in miscarriage and the second in an abortion administered in Mexico. She divorced her first husband and ended up in an abusive second marriage to a man who not only beat her violently but administered LSD to her, telling it was a pill to calm her.

Still, the story ends with triumph, and Lee remembers her career in the House and the support, both public and private, that she’s gotten for her controversial stance as the sole Member of Congress who voted against the use of force after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Abortion, abuse, acid — not your average political memoir, to be sure. Lee, 62, has never been one to shy away from saying things that might rub people the wrong way if she believes it’s true and right. But a few former staffers already have told me they’re surprised by what they’ve seen in the blurb — Lee has tended to play her personal history close to the vest, they said, and so they’re now eager to read the book as well.

The synopsis provided by the publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, says:

Barbara Lee’s willingness to stand on principle earned her unsolicited international attention when she was the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution giving President George Bush virtually unlimited authority to wage war against nations he personally deemed capable of terrorism. Some praised her vote as heroic and inspirational, others called for her death. But this was not her only profile in courage. In addition to being one of Congress’ most vocal opponents to the war in Iraq, Lee has been a leader in promoting policies that foster international peace, security, and human rights. Her principled stands include disavowing the doctrine of preemptive war, offering legislation to create a cabinet level Department of Peace, and leading the bipartisan effort in Congress to end the ongoing genocide in the Darfur.

But this autobiography is about more than politics. In this candid and self-effacing book, Lee chronicles the challenges she overcame to break the cycle of multi-generational domestic violence, and her rise from being a young, single mother of two to being one of the most progressive, respected voices in Congress. Renegade for Peace and Justice dispels the myth that all members of Congress have led gilded, charmed lives. In this book you’ll learn about the work of Congress in the days that followed September 11, 2001, and you’ll also be inspired by the story of an African American woman, who rose from segregation and public assistance to become a member of Congress with a deep commitment to peace and improving the lives of the underprivileged.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.