Vivian Rothstein was introduced to activism through the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. She was a Mississippi Freedom Summer volunteer in 1965 and later an SDS community organizer in Chicago working to build “an interracial movement of the poor”.
Vivian participated in the 1967 Bratislava conference organized by Liberation Magazine which brought 45 diverse American peace activists together with representatives of North Vietnam and the insurgents in South Vietnam represented by the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG). Subsequently she and 6 other conference participants traveled to North Vietnam to witness the impact of U.S. bombing. The delegation, headed by Tom Hayden, spent 17 days visiting bombed sites including schools, villages, and hospitals and learned how the North Vietnamese mobilized its citizenry to survive the onslaught.
Upon returning to the U.S. Vivian spoke widely to audiences in the Midwest sharing what she had seen in North Vietnam. She helped to organize the Jeannette Rankin Brigade in January, 1968, the first women’s national march against the Vietnam War in Washington D.C. as well as subsequent meetings between American and Vietnamese women to build mutual understanding.
Vivian also helped to co-found one of the first independent women's liberation organizations, the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, modeled in part on the Vietnamese Women's Union. CWLU brought together and in many cases initiated numerous women's projects including the Liberation School for Women, JANE abortion counselling services, a rap hotline, Womankind newspaper, the Chicago Graphics Collective, rape hotline, and many other local efforts.
From 1974 Vivian staffed the AFSC Middle East Peace Education Program of the American Friends Service Committee in Denver Colorado and starting in 1978 worked for Planned Parenthood of North Carolina on the statewide Coalition for Choice.
From 1982-87 she served as Community Liaison Officer with the progressive government of Santa Monica, California and then for 10 years staffed the nonprofit Ocean Park Community Center which provides shelters and services for homeless men and women, battered women and their children and runaway youth.
In 1994 Vivian returned to Vietnam on a women’s delegation coordinated with the Vietnamese Women’s Union to press for normalized relations between the U.S. and Vietnam and to learn about the role of the Vietnamese Women’s Union in educating and training women for leadership. She donated her anti-Vietnam War posters to the Women’s Museum in Hanoi.
Starting in 1998 Vivian begam wprlomg with the hotel workers union, UNITE HERE and the L.A. Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), working to lift standards for low wage workers in Los Angeles.