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Taking Up the Banner for Women Everywhere

Causes: Beata Pozniak is trying to get the same kind of recognition for International Women's

 © Carolyn Cole/LA TIMES.
All Rights Reserved.

Day here as she remembers from her childhood in Poland.

It was one of many periods of rage and chaos in Poland, and lives were being swept away by tides of political turmoil. With no way to chart a course, Beata Pozniak, with the willingness of a child, raised sail and awaited the wind of dreams.

They carried her first to England with her parents, then back to Gdansk with only her mother and, finally, alone to America. It has been an incredible journey that has taken her to stage and film; to the founding of a performance art company, Theatre Discordia; to sculpture and painting; and--in all endeavors--to poetry.

"I sometimes feel like a sailor," she says, "going from port to port, seeing what there is to learn and explore, then moving on."

She left Poland wanting to distance herself from politics, but the winds would not allow it. In 1991, the year before she became a U.S. citizen, Pozniak embarked on a mission to bring national recognition to March 8, International Women's Day.

Tonight at an event hosted by Pozniak, Finnish journalist Bitte Westerlund and her husband, Finland's Consul General Jorn Donner, at their Bel-Air home, representatives of government, entertainment and youth will honor accomplishments and address issues of concern to women worldwide.

As a child in Poland, Pozniak says, she remembers March 8 as a day when boys would present young girls with cards and flowers, symbols of respect. There would be stories in the media and discussions in the classrooms about women's history.

She was surprised when she came to the United States in 1988 to discover that the day went largely unnoticed. Pozniak lobbied for and eventually received proclamations from then-Mayor Tom Bradley and Gov. Pete Wilson and has since made her way up the chain of command.

She wrote to U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who in 1994 helped sponsor a bill calling for official recognition of the day. In February, Waters wrote a letter to President Clinton requesting a proclamation.

The wind has carried Pozniak in many different directions, but it blows especially strong in the direction of freedom and justice. She is driven by memories of midnight, Dec. 13, 1981. The cold was made more bitter by the lingering heaviness of teargas, by the tanks and police filling the streets. When martial law was imposed, Pozniak was a student at the Film School in Lodz and a supporter of Solidarity.

"The police would stop you on the streets and say, "Show me your hands." If they were even a little dirty, you would be imprisoned because it meant you were throwing stones."

In the darkest of memories she remembers the death of a strong, gentle priest, Father Jerzy Popieluszko, the man who gave her the required documentation to live in Warsaw, the theatrical hub of Poland. Popieluszko, a charismatic Solidarity supporter, was murdered for his convictions in 1984.

In 1988, Pozniak came to Los Angeles to attend the American Film Institute Film Festival, representing "Chronicles of Love Affairs," which she had starred in but had never seen. The wind never blew again toward Poland.

She landed the part of Marina Oswald in Oliver Stone's "JFK," and while filming in Dallas was reunited with her father, a surgeon, whom she hadn't seen since the 1970s, when he refused to return with his family to Poland from England. It was too late, she says, for him to be her father, but he agreed to sponsor her so she could become an American and pursue acting. Pozniak has since appeared in "Melrose Place" and "Mad About You."

Her work for International Women's Day has focused on honoring women in all walks of life, including Native American Doris Leader Charge, who consulted for and performed in "Dances With Wolves."

International Women's Day has been recognized around the world since 1913, when it was founded in Copenhagen. Pozniak, a Los Angeles resident, is forming the U.S. Committee for International Women's Day.

She hopes the day soon will be recognized in schools, where she learned about women's rights and where young dreams await the wind.

Los Angeles Times, by Duane Noriyuki, TIMES STAFF WRITER

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