Lillian Lifflander, committed L.E.S. activist, dies at 96

Lillian Lifflander last year during a video interview about her lifetime of activism.
Lillian Lifflander last year in a video interview about her lifetime of activism.

Lillian Lifflander, a member of Coalition for a District Alternative, or CoDA, and a lifelong activist who worked in the labor, peace and justice movements, died at the end of last month. She was 96.

She lived in the Seward Park co-ops.

Her friends and comrades recalled Lifflander as “one of the Lower East Side’s most notorious activists” and “a generally much-loved rabble-rouser.”

She was born Lillian Rosenberg in 1919 on the Lower East Side. She graduated from Washington Irving High School and Vassar College. She went on to work for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (the “U.E.”) in 1940.

After the U.E., she served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II, as part of the united front against fascism.

She was a founding member of the Lower East Side Mobilization for Peace Action (LEMPA), an organization active against the Vietnam War and in favor of social justice on the Lower East Side, addressing issues such as fair and affordable housing and community control of the schools.

More recently, she was also active in the fight to end U.S. occupation of Vieques, Puerto Rico, camping out on the beach at Vieques and later being arrested in front of the United Nations.

In a video interview by Toby Emmer in April 20, 2015, Lifflander was asked what she was most proud of.

“All the times I was arrested,” she replied. “Most of the time there was no question that we were in violation of the law. .. The law was wrong.”

Lifflander added she especially enjoyed participating in the Vieques protests because, as she put, “You were on the ‘up team.’ ”

She was also among the Granny Peace Brigade members arrested in March 2009 for protesting President Obama’s military policies in Iraq; the pacifist seniors tried to enlist at the Times Square Army recruiting station.

She was a member of CoDA, a leading East Village and Lower East Side Democratic political organization.

In addition to her activism, Lifflander embarked on an acting career while in her early 80s. She started as an extra and later became a member of the Screen Actors Guild, playing speaking parts in movies, including “Enchanted” and “New Year’s Eve.”

Lifflander is survived by two daughters, two grandchildren and a 1-year-old great grandson, for whom she continued to struggle for a just and safe world.

There will be a remembrance gathering for Lillian Lifflander in the community room at 264 East Broadway on Tues., Sept. 13, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

At the end of the video interview, Lifflander offers her parting advice to activists: “Grab a sign — and get on line.”

Correction: This obituary originally was bylined by Katharine Wolpe. It came from the Coalition for a District Alternative (CoDA) and Wolpe forwarded it to The Villager, but she did not write it.