Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Putin wants Mariupol, but Mariupol doesn't want Putin

The Battle of Mariupol, almost 2 years ago. Death and destruction, which the world ignored. 
Mariupol at peace. Luba and Starobelsk friends took me to Berdyansk, just down the road from Mariupol, for a great holiday on the Sea of Azov. I argued to PC headquarters that this trip away from my site was for "cultural immersion," and it really was that.
"...Mariupol is a tempting target for the leaderships of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’. . . .seizing Mariupol would be an important step to make a frozen separatist-occupied Donbas economically viable. Mariupol is the port through which much of the steel and other industrial products of the Donbas are exported. Mariupol is also key if the Russians desire a land bridge to Crimea. While taking the land bridge would be doable for the Russian army, holding it would prove costly. It would mean occupying a strip of territory 300 kilometers long, territory that has not shown great sympathy for the separatists or the idea of ‘Novorossiya.’ The Russian army would have to garrison the territory to fend off almost certain partisan attacks." Brookings Institute, March 2015
Loyal to Ukraine, Mariupol continues to protest
 Russian aggression. The war's taken its toll..
Mariupol is back in the news, though the ongoing war in Ukraine, the ongoing killing and destruction, the every day battles and skirmages, the daily death toll, have been on the media back burner for a while now. Putin's war no longer makes the headlines, unless the story has to do with the Trump campaign and traitors like Paul Manafort helping Putin take over Crimea and the Donbas. Ukraine is suffering, mightily, weeping in pain, and the world seems not to care.

Back to Mariupol on the Sea of Azov and access to the strategic Black Sea. Back to Russia's unmitigated and unstopped war in Ukraine, a country now encircled by heavily armed Russian troops that can strike anywhere, anytime, and do. The Minsk agreement is a sham and has been a sham from the beginning, with the obscene and brutal destruction of Debaltseve, the strategic link between Lugansk and Donetsk.  The western nations talk a lot, but actions speak louder than words, and no action makes any words meaningless.

Unless there is a will and a way to stop Putin's aggression, there is no end in sight. It's a sad commentary on international uselessness and helplessness in the face of illegal aggression that breaks accepted international treaties and the sanctity of international borders.

Battle of Mariupol. War photos
from Yahoo images,

 and they are disturbing.
The Brookings Institute predicted that if Mariupol came under renewed Russian attack, sanctions would not only continue but increase.  I hope so. A meeting with Putin is taking place now, in Crimea of all places. The image sickens me. So far nothing has halted Putin's sending in more mercenaries, arms, and heavy weapons of destruction.  How does this illegal aggression continue? Why isn't Putin arrested and tried before a Hague tribunal? If Putin was stopped, the war would stop. The destruction, the mass graves, the laying waste to human lives and human habitats, is all Putin's responsibility.  Supplying the BUK that took down MH-17 is his responsibility.  It's his war.

The Battle of Mariupol. Senseless destruction, and a gruesome mass grave. 
That photo shocked me. I don't think the world was paying much attention, 
unaware of how invasive and tragic this battle was (yahoo images).
Mariupol has put up brave resistance, and will continue to do so.  But how can it stop the Russian military giant? It's David and Goliath.  It doesn't matter if the war drums beat loudly or softly, if the Russian forces are in attack mode or about to be in attack mode, if Putin changes his mind or not.  The presence of so many troops and weapons, the threats of violence, are ever-present, ever-unsettling. Imagine living under these threats day in and day out.

The people of Mariupol remain loyal to Ukraine, and they let that be known time and again.  It's hard to think that a crooked referendum could install a Russian- backed regime there, a regime that knows only how to be at war, not how to govern, as demonstrated in the Donbas.  Mariupol does not want and will never welcome the Russian-supported brutal anarchy, the break down of civil society, that now dominate southern Lugansk and Donetsk oblasts.

Olga at Starobelsk war protest
"Every day you hear that a soldier(s) was killed, and if you imagine that that soldier was given just one life and was also somebody's son, father, uncle, husband, friend, it is becoming so hard to bear," wrote my dear friend Marat, who lives in Kiev. "So the war is near even though the fighting is far, and it affects all aspects of our lives."

How can we allow such violence to continue, the killing fields of eastern Ukraine? How can we succumb to Putin's manipulation, lies and stealth? I hope the US and EU nations will not allow or sanction further aggression into other parts of Ukraine, and that includes Starobelsk, the village where I served with the Peace Corps and have friends living under the same threats as the brave citizens of Mariupol.  "The stress is unbearable at times," my friend Olga writes, echoing Marat's sadness. "We do all we can to live normally, one day at a time. We are proud Ukrainians, and we are strong. But our hearts are broken; we weep in fear and in silence. Does anyone hear our cries?"

Just looking at a map, with the great Russian bear dominating that part of the world, and the tiny eastern European countries like Ukraine on its western border, makes you wonder how Putin can view Ukraine or any former Soviet republic as a threat. No country wants to attack Russia, no country threatens its borders. NATO is scared to death to start a war with Russia, so is the US and EU nations.  There might be a little saber-rattling, even a lot of noise, but no one wants war with Russia. And no eastern European country has the military might of the Russian giant. The war in Ukraine is all about Putin's aggression and war games, with disatrous consequences for the world.  

It's the little guys vs. the big guys, an underdog against a superpower, David vs. Goliath.  It took a while to get here, to descend to this level of  war and destruction. Donbas destroyed. Crimea occupied. Rule of Law toppled.  This CNN graph tells the story. It's a few years old, but not much has changed. It makes me weep.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

America the Beautiful: Our National Parks, Our Crowning Glory

Awesome Bryce Canyon National Park, one of five
National parks in Utah, visited with my brother
 Loren and friend Bill several years ago. 
The smallest agencies of our national government are, in my mind, some of the very best agencies of all. These include the United States Peace Corps, the National Endowment for the Humanities and, yes, the National Park Service.  Just think how much we could do for our country and our planet if these agencies received the funding they deserved!
Yosemite, one of naturalist John Muir's stunning legacies.
California has 9 National Parks, the most of any state.
This month we celebrate the 100th year of the creation of the National Park Service (NPS) in the Department of the Interior in 1916.  While World War I raged in Europe, the US Congress passed the act creating the NPS, and President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law.  Today, with politics, gun violence, and terrorism as the ongoing backdrop, along with dangerous changes to our global environment, we celebrate America's greatest natural resources.

Our National Parks encompass the glorious natural beauty of our country, from sea to shining sea. They have been called by pioneer naturalists like John Muir "our national cathedrals," counterpoints to the built environment and monuments of old Europe, open and accessible to one and all.
Zion National Park, which I'm so glad I visited with
my brother Loren. Incredible beauty.
I have visited several parks but hardly all of them. They are high on my travel list. They awe and inspire. They open our eyes to the incredible beauty of America and of our planet. They preserve nature's diversity, native fauna and flora, ecological processes, free-flowing waters, geology in its raw eloquence. They are exemplars of Earth's complexity, as well as scenic wonderlands.  (National Geographic, "The Power of Parks, January 2016).
At the Grand Canyon, cold but awestruck
by its vastness, ancient geology, layered beauty.
Love this North Carolina Park.
The National Park Service preserves and maintains 59 National Parks.  It also oversees hundreds of natural history sites such as battefields like Gettysburg, forts, seashores, scenic rivers, historic grave sites and other significant places that are recognized as national historic landmarks.

Jon Jarvis, the current director of the NPS, says that his agency's purpose is to tell America's story as well as protect our natural environment and natural historic places. "If not us, who else? It's our job."

Maybe our next president will jump on the National Parks bandwagon and advocate for huge budget increases, and a new Congress will approve it. This would be the best birthday gift of all! NPS could continue to update and upgrade the parks, support deferred maintenance, including damage being done by climate change, and improve the amenities that draw us into the parks. The lodges themselves are magnificent historic structures, built over the years on some of the most beautiful land in the world. And National Park Service rangers, and we need many more, are among the best teachers and quardians of these natural resources on earth.

Yes, our federal government's smallest agencies give us the biggest bang for the buck.  What's more important than preserving our natural environment (NPS), promoting civic discourse (NEH), and fostering peaceful relations in the world (Peace Corps)?  Let's put our money where our deepest values lie. Let's celebrate our National Parks in a big way!

http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/about/ for Ken Burn's documentary on our National Parks.

National Geographic, "The Power of Parks," January 2016.



Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Shandong Province, China, home of my 'Conversation Partner'

China today.
The ancient and the modern in Jing'na exist side-by-side.
Image from Chinese Culture and Education Center in Spartanburg, SC.
Fenghua Xu, from northern China, is my "conversation partner" through the faith-based nonprofit international program Water for Ishmael in Toledo.  This outreach program is a way to help foreign students, new immigrants, and refugees who are studying English to practice with native speakers. It's also a wonderful way to promote cultural exchange.

Fenghua's English is excellent, so we learn from each other.  We meet weekly, explore different sites around town, share gifts, and talk about wide-ranging subjects. Fenghua has a PhD in a science field, as does her husband, a post-doctorate fellow in physical chemistry at the University of Toledo. Our university is noted for its diverse student body and its attraction to many students from abroad, a majority from the Middle East, many from China and the Far East. Fenghua is now pregnant with their first child, a happy occasion.
Elissa with her conversation
partner Negin, from Iran,
and Fenghua at TMA

Fenghua knows more about the USA than I know about China.  I find this to be true wherever I am in the world, by the way. People in other countries study American history, study our language, and are curious about who we are, how we live, and especially our popular culture. They follow us on TV and on the internet, no doubt getting all kinds of mixed messages.  There's a curiosity about America. I remember conversations in Ukraine about the first time most people were able to watch American TV, after 1991. "Pow, America popped out at us!" a young counselor at Sosnovy summer camp outside of Starobelsk said to me, international hip hop music blaring loudly in the background. For many, I was the first real American they had ever met.

Fenghua is from Shandong(山东province on the northeast coast of China, situated on the Bohai Sea to the North and the Yellow (Huanghe) River to the south. It's about halfway between Beijing and Shanghai.

Jinai (wikimedia image) 

The history of Shandong goes back to before 6500 BC. It embraces layers upon layers of cities, provinces, and dynasties. This complex layered mosaic of cultural, economic and political threads continued up to 1945-1949, when the People's Republic of China was created. Another layer was added to the mosaic and continues into the present.

Shandong Coastal Vineyards 
(wikimedia/Alan Korol)
Shandong is one of the most populous provinces in China (there are 22 provinces), with almost 96,000,000 people. Jinai is the province's economic and cultural hub. The modern cities of Quindao, Wechai, and Yantai dominate the coastline. They are surrounded by vast vineyards that provide almost 50% of China's wine, the Tuscany of China. Fenhghua added that Quindao is known for its beer, Wochai for its many Korean companies, and Yantai for its university.

The Confucious Temple, Qufu
I did some online research to learn more and read that Shandong province "is a major cultural and religious center for three religions: Taoism, Chinese Buddhism, and Confucianism....Mount Tai is a revered Taoism site; Jinai, the provincial capital, is a Buddhist site; the city of Qufu is the birthplace of Confucious."  I asked Fenghua about this. She shook her head. No this is not the way we view these places. Not at all.  China is a secular society, she noted, and these are different philosophies and not foremost, not like religion in the West, more like guides to daily life for some people but certainly not all. The Chinese view Mount Tai not as a Taoism site but as a recreation and vacation destination known for its beauty and mountain climbing. Jinai is noted for many things, but Buddhism is the least of them. Yes, Qufu is the birthplace of Confucious, but it is not in any sense a religious shrine.

It seems that my research offered more a tourist's point of view than a native's insight, and it made Fenghua uncomfortable.  Maybe I was on conflicted ground here, so I backed off and asked her how she would describe her country. She hesitated. She talked about geography, environment, and regional variations, which she said are vast. Life is different in the mountains, in the plains, in the northern desert region, on the coast, she explained.  Cuisine is very different from one place to another.  So is language.  The Chinese value education and study very hard to get into universities, which are highly competitive and require passing a difficult multi-day exam called the "gaokao." Students spend their young lives preparing for this test.  The high school years are exceedingly intense since test scores determine whether or not students will go to university.   Fenghua praised this educational system.

So my first Chinese lesson ended. I realized the huge cultural differences between us, an eye-opener in itself.  I must admit the views and images I have in my head about China are one-sided and limited, and even outdated.  Life is an adventure and we learn as we go, I thought to myself. The Water for Ishmael program is a good reminder of this.
Mount Tai, China
I think of China this way....
....But it's actually more this way today!  Quindao skyline 2016 (wikimedia image)

There's a restaurant called Shandong in Portland, Oregon,
which specializes in northern Chinese cuisine. Fenghua
says northern cooking is different from southern cooking,
like regional variations here in the US, in Italy, or anywhere in the world actually.
This is Pork Soup Shao Loong Bao from the Shandong restaurant menu.
Fenghua made me a similar dish.  Delicious! 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Young Ukrainians Step up for Open World Program

A new group of young Ukrainian professionals is in Northwest, Ohio, for  an Open World Program focusing on NGO management, building partnerships, developing resources, and empowering the people they serve. The Ukrainians will have opportunities to learn about local government as well as the daily lives of Americans through staying with host families and visiting various sites.  They will participate in social service and cultural programs; visit local and regional nonprofits and faith-based organizations such as Cherry Street mission; visit Port Clinton to learn about the Ottawa County Court House, United Way and Sutton Center; enjoy a day on Lake Erie and at Cedar Point; and spend time exploring and sharing. It's what these kinds of cultural exchanges are all about. Meanwhile, we will also learn from them, and increase our understanding of other cultures.

Our guests are:
*Yevhenii Olehovych Bondarets, from Kiev, who works with internally displaced refugees fleeing the war in eastern Ukraine.
*Oleksandra (Sasha) Kolomiichuk, from Zhytomyr, an instructor and student at Ivano Franco State University and volunteer with at-risk children, AIDs/HIV prevention, and stopping human trafficking.  Rep. Marcy Kaptur was thrilled to learn her parents are beekeepers!
*Lina Mykhailovska, a restoration artist at the Lviv Historic Museum, deputy editor of a Legal Protection League newspaper, dedicated to promoting Rule of Law and civil society.
*Kateryna Ivanivna Lovinska, from Burtyn, who works with various projects established by our US Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, helping to manage and distribute humanitarian shipments and support public-private partnership projects to help the needy, educate children, and build sustainable agricultural projects.
*Alla Pavlivna Salatska, mayor of the rural villages of Kotiurzhyntsi, Blydni, and Cherniivka, under the Polonne City Council Unified Territory. She focuses on economc development, social services, addressing the need for jobs, fixing roads, improving the quality of life in small villages.
*Tamara Zykova is the facilitator of this delegation, as she was for the group from Burtyn and Starobilsk two years ago. She works with the American program Save Ukraine Now in Kiev, and is a long-time partner for a host of humanitarian, educational and professional programs.  She is a great friend of Open World, which is an extraordinary Library of Congress and US Congress international exchange and professional development program.

I was happy to meet this latest group of Ukrainians at a welcoming lunch at the Toledo Hungarian Club this past Sunday, sponsored by the Great Lakes Consortium for Training and Development (GLC).  The GLC, under the indefatiguable leadership of Elizabeth Balint, organizes and manages Open World programs here in the Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan region. Viktoriya Maryamova is her hardworking assistant. The program is administered by World Services of LaCrosse, Inc.

At Life Revitalization Center(l-r):Yev Bondarets,
 Lina Mykhailovska, Tamara, Kateryna
Lovinska, CEO Liz Simon, Alla Salatska,
and Oleksandra Kolomiichuk
I also joined the lively group at the Cherry Street Mission's Life Revitalization Center, a multi-purpose program for the homeless and needy. Liz Simon, the CEO, talked about the range of services, partnerships, resources, and opportunities the center offers. Impressive! The group then went to serve lunch and meet people at
the Mission, eager to volunteer and to help out.  After lunch, they headed to Shared Lives Studio and Gallery in downtown Toledo, a beautiful art space filled with the beautiful work, in every medium, of artists with developmental disabilities. A major interest of the Open World delegation is how to generate income to sustain your NGO's mission and goals. Shared Lives is a great model.

Olga Shostachuk, left, interpreter par excellence,
who travels here from Cleveland, and Alla and Tamara   
Rep. Marcy Kaptur with
Sasha, whose parents are
Our Ukrainian visitors started their cultural exchange journey with a bang and have a busy week ahead of them, learning about local government, agricultural organizations and projects, cultural NGOs like Common Space, and having meetings and exchanges with Bill Hilt of the World Affairs Council, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Toledo City Councilmember Peter Uvjagi, and more dedicated nonprofit leaders.
With Rep.Marcy Kaptur (far right) at the Hungarian Club
Kudos to all of them, to Elizabeth and the GLC, to Tamara and translator Olga, to Rep. Marcy Kaptur and Open World, and to the latest Ukrainian delegation for their commitment to building a strong Ukraine and a peaceful world.  These young professionals are the future of Ukraine.

Some of the members of an Open World delegation
from western Ukraine, Nov. 2012
An Open World delegation from Burtyn, thanks to the work of Marcy Kaptur, 
and from Starobelsk in far-eastern Ukraine where I served with the Peace Corps, Nov. 2014.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My friend Teddy: "I Still Have Words in Me"

My friend Teddy was laying in a hospital bed, looking frail and pale. I was worried. Her lovely sons, Andrew and Matthew, were taking turns coming into town from Chicago and Toronto. Teddy and I were reminiscing when I heard her whisper, rather firmly, "I still have words in me."

I looked at her in amazement. "How powerful that message is," I said to her.  

Yes, we elder women do, indeed, still have words in us. Our bodies may be getting weaker, but our voices are strong.  Our words can fill almost any space or any void existing. We have lots of stories to tell. 

The voices of women have, historically, been muted and hidden, in the shadows of American history. Teaching American women's history for some 20 years taught me this.  Women's voices, if they are sought out and heard, are replete with substance and meaning, about being, working, achieving, struggling againt the odds, seeking rights, autonomy, and equality. Women's voices constitute a major theme in the story of America becoming, of making progress toward our ideals.  I think of Lucy Stone, the Grimke sisters, Margaret Fuller, Sojourner Truth, Stanton and Anthony, Alice Paul and Carrie Catt, 20th-century reformers like Jane Addams and Eleanor Roosevelt, and the muted voices of ordinary women.   

With Teddy at Barnes and Noble, 
a favorite place, images of Faulkner and Fitzgerald
appropriately behind us. 
Teddy has a bit of all of them in her, a strong commitment to fairness and justice, freedom from abuse and fear, rights and opportunities for all, honoring the experiences and points of view of women across race, class and ethnicity.  

She brought her voice to the work she loved most--teaching.  Teddy was a great teacher, thoughtful in the subjects she chose and pioneering in her methods. She believed fervently, still does, in teaching reading, thinking  and writing. Lots of writing. She loved teaching students at Rogers how to express their thoughts in words. She had a way of eliciting the most honest voices on paper from all her students. "They can write, and starting very young," she says emphatically, remembering the work of several students in her classes, and of particular students, as if it were yesterday.  She remembers the literature she taught, too, from the poetry of Gerald Manley Hopkins to one of her favorite stories, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.  "There are universal themes to explore, and kids get it!" 

At Barnes and Noble, To Kill
a Mockingbird
poster, which
moved Teddy. 
As a K-12 supervisor for the Lucas County Office of Education, with her MA degree in hand, she supported the educational programs at Whitmer, Washington and Jefferson Junior Highs, and ten elementary schools. She designed and presented inservices on the teaching of writing for Washington Local elementary, junior high and high school teachers, as well as for the K-12 Language Arts Committee. She was proud of the county-wide inservice training she provided on the writing process, writing across the curricuulm, and grantwriting. 

She calls reading and writing "the warp and woof" of each other.  "There's no way to form the tapestry of literacy without combining reading with writing," she tells me in elegant prose.  In the classroom and as a curriculm specialist, Teddy's teaching helped countless students and teachers perform at their highest level.  Her voice made a difference.  

Teddy continued her commitment to the "warp and woof" of education after she retired. She tutored young children in literacy programs, sponsored by the Toledo Public Library, at the Toledo Day Nursery downtown.  She knew children's literature and gladly shared it with the children.  She served on the founding committee of Bethany House, the long-term shelter for abused women and their children run by the Sisters of St. Francis since 1984. She stood firm on the importance of having a long-term shelter to give women the time they needed to get on their feet.  She volunteered for Women Helping Woman, a program at St. Mary's Church for women working hard to pass the GED.  "They were exceptionally bright women," she recalls, with great fondness. 
At the Old West End Festival a few years ago.
Teddy talking to an old neighbor friend. 

We walked up and down Robinwood, 
the street where we lived.

Now we share the new chapters in our lives. Our children are grown and our grandchildren are thriving. We go to the Toledo Museum of Art, attend lectures at the Franciscan Center at Lourdes college, go to movies and art events, and attend the Toledo International Film Festival (TIFF). We lived on Robinwood Avenue when we were young mothers, and enjoy going to the Old West End Festival. We share a great admiration for Pope Francis, the freshness of his views, his openness to others, his love of our planet and its people everywhere. "Who are we to judge," he reminded us, and we talk about the transcendent application of this wisdom. 

Teddy is also a keen observer of our political life, a passionate democrat and Democrat, informed and thoughtful.  When we approach the subject of the 2016 presidential campaign and the descent into demagoguery, so fraught with emotion, she says these thoughts cross her mind: "Deliver us from evil" from the Lord's Prayer, and "treason."    

"Treason?" I ask. Okay,  we are talking about the Republican frontrunner whose name we can't even say.

"Yes, treason," Teddy answers.  "Because that ignominious egoist, cruel beyond belief, is betraying his country.  He is betraying the trust that we have in our leaders to defend America and to behave with dignity.  His name-calling, his impugning the character of people who are critics or that his fragile ego perceives as critics, is slanderous and treasonous."  

Wow, I think to myself. I think Teddy is on to something. There is something treasonous and blasphemous about the way he slanders the other candidates and people he doesn't like.  

"Maybe Trump should be arrested," I suggest.  Teddy lights up.  "Good idea, Fran!"  We're on the same page, even when we rant. Teddy keeps me on my toes. 

"I still have words in me," she says.  That's for sure! The wisdom of age, and of the ages.  A reminder that elder women have their own special ways of seeing the world, and lots of stories to tell.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Women and Politics: A Reminder from the Suffrage Movement

"To get the word 'male' in effect out of the Constitution [put into the 14th Amendment giving former slaves the right to vote] cost the women of the country 52 years of pauseless campaign....During that time women were forced to conduct 56 campaign of referendum to male voters; 480 campaigns to get Legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; 47 campaigns to get State costitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into state constitutions; 277 campaigns to get State party conventions to include woman suffrage planks in party platforms, and 19 campaign with 19 successive Congresses." Carrie Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1920
Catt's lucid and stunning summary doesn't even touch on the relentless public education efforts in every state across the land and in Washington, DC that accompanied these campaigns.  After all, women had to beg men to give them the vote. It doesn't include the marches and parades, the picketing, the letter writing, the organizational meetings, the strategy meetings, the lobbying, incessant state and federal lobbying, year after year after year.  Setbacks and small victories, one on top of the other. Ceaseless, relentless work for social change.  Anyone who has done such political work knows how hard it is, knows the blood, sweat and tears it takes.  But winning the right to vote, the basic human right of citizens in a democracy, was only the beginning.
Women's Suffrage Parade, Washington, DC, 1915 (Library of Congress photo)
Alice Paul and the National Women's Party picket the White House, a radical strategy at the time, borrowed from England (yahoo image).  Meanwhile, Carrie Catt and the National suffrage association lobbied President Wilson to support suffrage. They eventually got him on board, a way to support  the WWI war effort.
After the last state ratified the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution in August 1920, seventy-two years after the Seneca Falls Convention first put women's rights and women's suffrage on the American political agenda, Carrie Catt, the brilliant strategist who led the arduous battle, shared what she had learned about the political process.

She was at the final "Victory" convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the last convention before this venerable organization became the League of Women Voters, an "educational" and "nonpartisan" organization that, ironically, did not threaten male privilege.

Catt leads one of the dozens of
Woman Suffrage Parades
held in DC.
Catt stood elegantly at the podium, the battle scars of the struggle etched on her face. She must have felt like Stanton and Anthony, her intrepid predecessors, who somehow kept her on her feet, urged her on. The spirits of Lucy Stone, the Grimke Sisters, Sojourner Truth, the pioneers, filled the room. Catt bowed to the thunderous applause, then raised her voice.  She talked about the campaigns, the Congressional work, the battles in every state, and then she issued a warning. "Do not get diverted from the place where political power is dispensed." It was the warning of a weary but wiser warrior: We won a battle, but the war goes on.

Mrs. Catt had learned, the hard way, how politics works.  "Going to big political dinners, where you will be welcomed, is not enough," she went on. "You need to stay the course,  you need to get to the center."
"If you stay long enough," she said, "keeping your eyes open, you will discover a little denser group, which we might call the umbra of the political party.  You won't be so welcome there as at those big dinners. Those are the people who are planning the platforms and picking out the candidates, and doing the work which you and the men voters will be expected to sanction at the polls.  You won't be so welcome there, but that is the place to be."
She went on, sharing her knowledge of the political process, emphasizing how the system worked and what it would take "to make women's vote count."
"And if you stay there long enough and are active enough, you will see something else--the real thing in the center, with the door locked tight, and you will have a long hard fight before you get behind that door, for there is the engine that moves the wheels of your party machinery....If you really want women's vote to count, make your way there.
It has taken women another 96 years to make their way there, to get to the "umbra" and the "engine room" of the political process.

And now that women have forged their way to the center, step by step, election after election, now that women have achieved some political power in the once all-male bastian of politics, time has stopped.  Are we at the end of the journey for equal rights and opportunities for women? Are we ready for a woman president?

The answer, sadly is "no."  It is still a battle.

Now powerful women are suspect. Part of the corrupt system.  Attacked on the right and left. Not letting men in.  Favoring one candidate over another.  Imagine. How could they? Oh my god, playing politics.

This presidential campaign has, indeed, tapped into a reservoir of racism, as Jimmy Carter recently said, and I would add a reservoir of patriarchy and anti-feminism, too, verging on hatred of women's power.  It is taking its toll.

Now, the politicos. the presidential candidates on the right and left, their followers and many pundits, argue that it's time for principle to take precedence over pragmatism, time for ideals of some sort to take precedence over  working for a qualified woman presidential candidate, a women who has been through battles of her own, vilified, hammered, kicked back, hounded, demonized beyond recognition.

Now it's time for reform that excludes powerful women from the top. Time to get rid of Debbie Wasserman-Shultz.  Time to move Hillary to the sidelines.  Time for male politicians to do their thing, as if women have not been the moving force behind ALL reform movements in our country since the beginning. Yes, women, who have led all major reform efforts, their contributions seldom acknowledged in our history books.

Now breaking the highest glass ceiling of all, we are scolded, should take a back seat to the economic and social reform that our country needs.  As if a woman president at the helm would not take on that fight. As if it would be better to have a man leading any such effort. Stanton and Anthony and Catt must be turning over in their graves.

"It might help," Flexner concluded, "if we remember more often not only the lonely vigils of Washington at Valley Force and Lincoln in the White House, but the doubts and fears that racked Angelina Grimke when she spoke out about slavery and even the seemingly intrepid Elizabeth Cady Stanton when she got up to make her first public speech in the tiny Wesleyan chapel in Seneca Falls in 1848.  Perhaps in learning more of the long journey to equal rights and justice, up to our present time, we can face our own future with more courage and wisdom, and greater hope."

Main source: Eleanor Flexner's Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States (Harvard press, 1996 edition; first published 1959).  I wish every citizen would read it, from beginning to end, word for word.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Remembering My brother Loren

My brother Loren died six years ago today, suddenly, of a heart attack, on his last hike along the Aucilla River in northwest Florida.  I was about as far away as I could be, in eastern Ukraine.  My sister Andy, who also lived in Tallahassee, had to bear the brunt of the shock alone; two nice policemen appeared at her door in the late afternoon of 22 May 2010, bearing the news.  She collapsed in disbelief.  I got a phone call early the next morning, and I collapsed too, in shock. The Peace Corps, thank goodness, I don't know how, got me out of Starobelsk, via a 22-hour overnight train from Lugansk to Kiev, and onto a flight from Kiev to Frankfurt to Atlanta to Tallahassee, the longest and saddest journey I have ever taken.  I was beside myself in grief, a grief that lingers to this day.

Loren believed there were no ends in nature, only beginnings. He wanted us to believe that and I've been trying, with limited success. I want to get a bear hug from him. I want to hear him tell me about his new beginning, if there really is such a thing.

Loren fought all his life to understand and grapple with "a problem that had no name."  He finally learned, when he was in his 50s, after many misses and mis-diagnoses, that he had Asperger's Sydrome; it brought some relief, as well as new meaning and purpose  to his life.  He wrote about it in his autobiography, An Asperger Journey: From Hell to Hope. We were so proud of him.  The book came out three months after his death, as a "memorial edition." It seemed so unfair that Loren was not with us to celebrate his story, to bathe in the accolades he so richly deserved.  Still, as some friends said, he would be glad the book helped so many others who live with their own Asperger journey.  

Loren, Andy and me in Amsterdam
Sometimes I think I hear him say, "Fran, it's okay. I'm okay." I get this feeling that he is above the fray, beyond pain and suffering, free to be one with nature, the Goddess, the angels of peace and justice.

But how I wish he were here, especially now, with all the stuff going on in our country and the world.  Loren would have been fully engaged in the politics and geopolitics of our time. I'm not quite sure where he would come down, but I'm sure he would rant against the incivility of the rhetoric, the jackels' attacks on President Obama, the anger and hatred being whipped up by extremists, the rising demagoguery.  The cult of Trump on the right, the cult of Bernie on the left, along with vicious Hillary bashing  in between, to the point this brilliant, compassionate, accomplished woman is unrecognizable.

Loren had a special perspective on life that, once I saw it and grasped it, I cherished. That's what I miss most of all. That's what I will always miss.
Loren with sister Andy in Athens, GA, on dear family friend Coe Coe's deck (he might also be with Loren somewhere).  It was a stop on a road trip up North to Rochester, New York, where we grew up.  Loren always considered Rochester "home." He loved the natural beauty, the indigenous culture of the Iriquois, and it's women's history.   Andy says over and over, "I'm so glad Loren and I took this trip together." They visited our beautIful house on 301 Landing Road South, too. Loren's wearing a t-shirt he bought in Costa Rica on a trip he and I took together. These trips mean so much now, sustain us. Loren was always an adventurer. It took him all day to travel from Tallahassee to St. Pete to visit me, because he stopped at nature reserves and parks along the way.