Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Name: Ira Sharenow

What He Does: Anti-tobacco activist

CLAIM TO FAME: Banned restaurant smoking in Madison, Wis.

Ira Sharenow rarely misses a city council meeting. Nicknamed the “21st alder” on Madison’s 20-seat council, the anti-tobacco activist serves his city in the self-appointed role of gadfly.

Sharenow spends up to 40 hours a week gathering information about the tobacco industry and its politics for journalists, legislators, and other activists. His diligence has paid off: In 1991, Sharenow successfully organized a smoking ban at the University of Wisconsin, where he is a graduate student; a year later, he was instrumental in getting a smoking ban in restaurants citywide.

“He’s the leading activist in the state of Wisconsin,” says Scott Brezinski, an intern pharmacist and former fellow student.

Not afraid to confront those in power, Sharenow meticulously documents tobacco industry contributions to Wisconsin politicians. He’s asked Gov. Tommy Thompson about tobacco ties at press conferences and on radio call-in shows. In 1993, Sharenow brought an ethics charge against a prominent Madison lobbyist for not disclosing that Philip Morris paid him to lobby against the restaurant smoking ban. (The ethics charge failed because Madison doesn’t require lobbyists to say who pays them.) Another tobacco lobbyist called Sharenow “dangerous and evil” after Sharenow claimed the lobbyist was worse than a mafia attorney for taking tobacco money.

Sharenow’s activism is so relentless that even some tobacco control groups are leery of him. One official at the American Heart Association once told Sharenow he caused more harm to the anti-tobacco movement than Philip Morris, because he won’t compromise. “He doesn’t give up,” agrees Sharenow supporter Jean MacCubbin, a Madison City Council alder.

Sharenow, who is allergic to smoke, became active because the head of his math department allowed smoking in the building. He took the fight all the way up to then-chancellor Donna Shalala, and won. Ever since, Sharenow has devoted himself to attending council meetings, pressuring politicians, and writing letters to the editor.

“Even when I’m doing the dishes,” Sharenow says, “I’m thinking about who to write letters to.”

Know of any people who are raising a bit of hell? E-mail hellraiser@motherjones.com

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate