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. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mostar, Bosnia, and the Scars of Balkanization: "When Will We Ever Learn?"

The Balkans: So many scars of war under such beauty.  The Old Bridge (Stari Most) in Mostar, Bosnia,a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, it was destroyed during the  vicious 1990s Bosnian War and recently restored. Yahoo image.
My friend Jud (we were Peace Corps Volunteers in Ukraine together) just completed a Peace Corps Response tour of duty in Macedonia and is now on what he calls a "Balkan Odyssey."  He is visiting a historic part of southeastern Europe that was formerly the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFEY). He sends fascinating blogs with lots of stories (http://juddolphin.blogspot.com), then I run to learn more online.

Put together after World War II, Yugoslavia included six socialist republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. In addition, it included two autonomous provinces within Serbia: Kosova and Vojvodina. Orthodox Bosnian Serbs, Muslim Bosniacs, and Catholic Croats were thus brought together under one roof. The spoils of war.  This melange of ethnic cultures and religions was governed by Joseph Tito, who initially sided with Russia, then broke with Stalin and pursued a policy of neutrality. Somehow or another, under Tito's dictatorship, the various ethnic groups hung together in a precarious but workable balance.

After Tito died, all hell broke loose.  Virulent ethnic nationalism reared its ugly head, and Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia deliberately aimed to destroy Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign state. A vicious war followed, shocking the world with ethnic cleansing, brutal civilian murders, and the systematic mass rape of women.  I remember being baffled and horrified at the time.

Mostar was a battlefield. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was the scene of unfathomable tragedy, which we watched on TV in horror, like a reality show. "Sarajevo was inexplicable: a medieval-like seige in late 20th century Europe, its citizens locked in as Serbs fired cannons at schools, libraries and hospitals, while snipers took aim at people gathering water or attending funerals. Over 44 months, more than 11,000 people were killed and 50,000 wounded." So NPR reported 20 years after the war, in remembrance, the shock as vivid as if it were yesterday.

On top of Sarajevo, there was Srebrenica, a supposedly UN-protected enclave, where the Serbs, under Zdranko Tolimir, slaughtered over 8,300 mostly Bosnian Muslim men a nd boys, and systematically abused and raped thousands of women, children and the elderly. Unspeakable horror.  The worst genocide since WWII.

Thus did a "violent fragmentation" transform the Balkans again from 1991-1995. The term "balkanization," its origin during WWI, took on heightened meaning, and more tragedy.

A bullet-riddled Mostar building,
Getty image. 
The genocide of the Muslims, the mass murders, the mass graves, and the deportation of more than 2 million people eventually led to war crime tribunals in the Hague that brought some Serbs to trial and prison. The scars of genocide and humanitarian disaster, however, run deep and everlasting, like Stalin's enforced deportation of the Tatars from Crimea in 1944, embodied recently in Jamala's award-winning Eurovision song.

Is the end in sight? The vicious nationalism that brought insane "balkanization" and insane catastrophe beyond human understanding in the late 20th century and into the 21st century? With the same damned predictable outcome of all such wars everywhere up to the present since time immemorial?

Nope. No end in sight.  Old wounds are raw, new wounds are exposed, tragedy hovers. The Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, Europe, even here in the US.

Memories of 38,200 civilian casualties, mostly from the Bosnian Muslim ethnic group, and the deaths of some 58,000 soldiers, don't just go away. Gruesome images from Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Mostar, still haunt us, like Jud's photos of bullet-ridden buildings, the graveyards, the reminder from Mostar: "Don't Forget."  But people do forget, and the powerful images and memories don't stop the violence.

That's why it was so disturbing to read that the explosive aftermath of the Balkan war erupted again this weekend, May 14, 2016, in Banja Luka, a Serb enclave in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  The enclave is one of those hybrid creations forged in the Dayton, Ohio, peace treaty that ended the war. The treaty was signed in Paris in 1995, but it seems the necessary compromises to stop the violence did not end Serbian nationalism or the rage and hatred that spell the Balkans.

Milorad Dodik, the macho president of the Bosnia Serb Republic (Republika Srpska), wants "independence" from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and he has his followers. Most Serbs of Banja Luka , however, joined by their Bosnian neighbors, are content to leave well enough alone. No more war. No more ethnic cleansing.  Both sides of the Serbian population came out to protest on May 14. Only a strong military presence prevented bloodshed.

The inhumane, stupid divisions, the senseless violence, the "balkanization" of states into smaller and insecure ethnic enclaves that hate each other, goes on and on.  When will human beings, who are the same everywhere, whose similarities are vastly greater than their differences, learn to get along? When will we ever learn?

Where have all the flowers gone 
     by Pete Seeger, sung by Peter, Paul and Mary (1962)


Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young girls gone?
Gone for husbands everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Where have all the husbands gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the husbands gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the husbands gone?
Gone for soldiers everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to flowers, everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Some articles
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/bosnian-serbs-rally-for-and-against-government-in-banja-luka/2016/05/14/b6eb2b86-19c3-11e6-971a-dadf9ab18869_story.html?postshare=3291463231937343&tid=ss_fb

Ivo Banac, Branka Magae, Bojan Bujiic, and V Domany Hardy, "The Bosnian Catastrophe," NY Review of Books, August 1993.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Sarajevo

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosnian_genocide

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/bosnia-w
ar-crimes-the-rapes-went-on-day-and-night-robert-fisk-in-mostar-gathers-detailed-evidence-of-1471656.html

http://endgenocide.org/learn/past-genocides/the-bosnian-war-and-srebrenica-genocide/

http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/07/20-years-since-the-srebrenica-massacre/398135/

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/25/world/europe/radovan-karadzic-verdict.html?_r=0

http://alphahistory.com/worldwar1/balkans/  The start of it all, the years leading up to WWI and its aftermath, leading to WWII.

http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/balkan/20_260_1.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_of_Slobodan_Milo%C5%A1evi%C4%87