Celebrating Women’s Equality

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaking to a Women's Equality Day crowd in San Francisco

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaking to a Women’s Equality Day crowd in San Francisco

This is for all those who missed the party:

Women’s Equality Day quietly came and went recently, not quite 100 years after passage of the Nineteenth Amendment – the law that said women were equally entitled, along with men, to the right to vote. Since ratification of that groundbreaking law – women should make choices just as men do?! – an assortment of other rights have been won. But equality? Not quite.

It was the indomitable U.S. Representative “Battling Bella” Abzug who figured that all those rights – won and yet to be won – should have their own day. The New York Democrat introduced legislation establishing Women’s Equality Day, to be observed annually on August 26th in commemoration of the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment. A lot of other indomitable women, notably Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her suffragette friends Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, laid the groundwork for the women’s movement.

Fast forward to Women’s Equality Day, 2014. In his official proclamation, President Obama mentioned “all those decades spent organizing, protesting, and agitating,” and took the occasion to list (in the proclamation) a few of the things that his administration has indeed accomplished to advance women’s equality.

But in commemorative events such as the one this writer attended in San Francisco with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, there was a lot of talk about areas in which women are still not quite equal. Pelosi’s focus, she explains, is a three-pronged “Middle Class Jumpstart,” aimed at achieving equal pay for equal work, paid sick leave, and quality affordable healthcare – actions that would unquestionably boost equality for (and the lives of) women in the U.S.

What those ferocious ancestors of ours like Abzug and Anthony were fighting for was not just equality but justice. There’s not much justice if you’re a single mom having to send a sick child to school because you can’t afford to lose a day’s pay or manage a trip to the doctor. Nor is there much justice if that day’s pay is 10% less than men on the same job are getting.

There’s also not much justice for women in non-metropolitan areas who seek abortion services. Ninety-seven per cent of them have to travel long distances, navigate a maze of medically unnecessary restrictions and often also struggle through hostile protesters – assuming they can find the time and money to do this.

Are such issues – reproductive rights – equality issues? It’s hard to feel equal – to the men who don’t face these issues, or to people with more money and power than you — if you are a woman in any of the situations cited above. And given the strength of the conservatives who want to tip the scales ever farther downward, it’s hard to feel optimistic.

But Pelosi and her “Middle Class Jumpstart” plans, reproductive justice groups like NARAL, Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation (to name just a few) and women’s rights organizations of every sort are hard at work trying to keep the scales from tipping farther against U.S. women. Bella Abzug would be proud.

It’s not too early to start planning for Women’s Equality Day 2015.

Peace Day quietly came & went

Dove peace

Dove peace (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In case you missed it, the International Day of Peace was celebrated recently. Its official date was September 21, and the word is there were “festivals, concerts, a global Peace Wave with moments of silence at noon in every time zone, and much more.” But I think the word wasn’t spoken very loudly.

In 1981, when Peace Day was unanimously and officially established by the United Nations, there were plenty of signs it might not easily gain traction. Ronald Reagan was inaugurated — which brought us that “peace through strength” business, demonstrated by bombing Libya and selling arms to Iran for the Contras. President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in Egypt and a few months later Israel annexed the Golan Heights. It’s been pretty much downhill ever since.

Still, Peace Day ought to have its day. In areas where it does get celebrated there’s a lot of dancing in the streets, lighting of candles in windows and — most peaceful of all if you ask me — moments of silence. It’s hard to commit violence when you’re keeping quiet. Or, for that matter, if you’re dancing in the streets instead of blowing up things.

I think we shouldn’t give up on Peace Day. We now have the word from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saying he has some interest in peace, and our President Obama saying the U.S. would like peace, and maybe Iranian-American relations would be a good place to start. Mr. Obama admitted right off that Peace Day wasn’t always historically possible. “The idea that nations and peoples could come together in peace to solve their disputes and advance a common prosperity seemed unimaginable” before the U.N. came into being, were his exact words.

In his address to the U.N. (quoted above) Mr. Obama zipped through an extensive list of warlike actions and circumstances in which the U.S. as well as just about every other country on earth has hardly seemed bent on achieving peace of any sort. But I do like his closing paragraph:

“I know what side of history I want to the United States of America to be on,” our president said.  Essentially, the side that maintains freedom and equality for all. “That is why we look to the future not with fear, but with hope.  And that’s why we remain convinced that this community of nations can deliver a more peaceful, prosperous and just world to the next generation.”

So let’s hear it for Peace Day. Even if it’s not yet quite gotten its day.

Churchill & the power of words

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the Unite...

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and from 1951 to 1955. Deutsch: Winston Churchill, 1940 bis 1945 sowie 1951 bis 1955 Premier des Vereinigten Königreichs und Literaturnobelpreisträger des Jahres 1953. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

President Obama reportedly has 15 million+ Twitter followers. Romney folks got a bunch of their own with the fake Bill Clinton tweets caper. But anything tweets and sound bites can do, oratory could do better. Oh, for a Winston Churchill today.

Winston Churchill would absolutely never have tweeted.

What he did do with the English language is illuminated in a fascinating exhibition that opened on my birthday – thanks, Churchill Centre – at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan. Get there if you can.

Churchill: The Power of Words, includes some sixty-five documents, artifacts, and recordings, ranging from edited typescripts of his speeches to his Nobel Medal and Citation to endearingly personal notes exchanged with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Among the most moving features of the exhibition is a small room where broadcasts that   Churchill made between 1938 and 1941 are heard while a screen shows video clips and his own annotated notes.

It’s hard to pick a favorite from among the treasure trove of documents, but the collection detailing his unhappy days at St. George School, to which he was sent off when not quite 8 years old, is a start. Notes the hated headmaster: “Winston is troublesome, his conduct exceedingly bad; he cannot be trusted to behave himself anywhere.” But he got good grades in history.

The Roosevelt/Churchill friendship shines through in exchanged notes, such as when FDR delightedly heard Churchill had visited the U.S. as a baby. Churchill wrote back that no, he’d been here first when he was 28, “too big for my baby carriage.” To which FDR cabled back, “Some baby.”

Also included in the exhibition is the doctor’s prescription for “medicinal alcohol” when Churchill was hospitalized after being struck by a car in New York during Prohibition; FDR’s telegram to Churchill on D-Day; and the handwritten note from King George VI about FDR’s death: “My dear Winston; I cannot tell you how sad I am…”

In addition to the oratory that shaped history, the words in The Power of Words are mischievous, poignant, revealing and heart-wrenching.

They just wouldn’t be the same in a tweet.

The fears behind Arizona immigration law

If immigration reform has been on the back burner, despite President Obama’s campaign promises to tackle the issue, the May Day marchers hope to move it back to the front, and turn up the heat. They turned out in New York — 5,000+ in Manhattan’s Foley Square, in Los Angeles — fired up by singer Gloria Estefan and Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony, and here in San Francisco — where the basic fears raised by Arizona’s new law were evident. SB 1070, signed by Governor Jan Brewer last week, makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally.

The (San Francisco) march, part of the annual worldwide May Day workers’ rights demonstrations, stretched four to five blocks and ended at City Hall, where members of the conservative Tea Party and local Golden Gate Minutemen held a counter-protest.

Jim Homer, a business manager for Local 216 of the Laborers International Union of North America, whose 100-member group led the march, said many fellow construction laborers fear Arizona’s SB1070 will spread to California and create cultural hostility toward foreign-born workers.

“The immigration system is set up to blame the workers who come here,” Homer said. “There needs to be reform of the immigration laws that put more focus on the employers and their responsibilities, not just on the people who come to this country to make a living.”

The two primary sides to the immigration issue were in sharp focus on the west coast:

(W)orkers and immigrants at the San Francisco march – and others like it in Oakland and San Jose – said the law will give police the right to check for immigration papers of any brown-skinned citizens.

At the Civic Center counter-protest, Elizabeth Kelly, an Alameda resident who supports the Golden Gate Minutemen, said she also wants immigration reform. The Minutemen are a local branch of the controversial national group that voluntarily patrols the border, trying to stop undocumented immigrants from entering the country.

“Close the border,” she said. “I want to see them go back. That’d be my immigration reform.”

The Golden Gate Minutemen, whose Web site features some scary stuff (May Day! May Day! Invaders Coming!) is part of the fear factor for a number of recent immigrant — some legal, some not — friends of mine. “They’re not going to ask questions first, they’re going to send you to jail or out of the country, and ask questions later,” said one.

Most reports say Obama won’t do much beyond tightening border control in the near future. A lot more is needed. Until we get real reform, including some reasonable guest worker provisions and amnesty for those who have proved themselves good citizens already, we’re going to continue to be a nation not just of immigrants, but of fear. Not a very comfortable social system for anyone.

Big S.F. protest of Arizona immigration law.

One immigrant's plight v Arizona law

My friend Maria is among the fairly good-sized community of illegal immigrants living in San Francisco. She works hard, buys local, supports her church and her daughter’s school, adds a lot to the city and state economy and functions in every way as a model citizen except she doesn’t pay income taxes. She would like to pay those taxes, but over the years that she’s been here she has not found an opening to apply for citizenship.

Once I asked Maria about her car, a nice one on which she paid hefty sales taxes but which, of course, she drives without a license.”I just drive very, very carefully,” she said, “and keep everything perfect with the car. If you’re stopped, maybe for a turn light being out, it’s $1,000 minimum.”

“A thousand dollars?” I said; “you’re kidding.”

“They impound your car. You have to find someone with a valid license, get them to go get your car for you, plus paying the fine and all the fees.” Maria said this in a quiet voice while I exhaled.

Now, if Maria is stopped in Arizona she will simply be sent home. And this makes very little sense to me. President Obama said the Arizona law threatens “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

He also said that he is monitoring the Arizona bill for civil rights and other implications.

“If we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country,” Mr. Obama said.

In his remarks, the president didn’t offer a timetable for trying to pursue an overhaul of immigration laws in Congress.

Something seems not only unfair but un-American about making it legal for Maria to be summarily sent home after a traffic stop. Or some other kind of stop, no matter how vehemently everyone insists that racial profiling will never happen. We welcome Maria and her family in — after all, we need their labor if we’re going to eat strawberries — but once they’ve proven themselves solid citizen potential we throw them out.  Maria has cousins who were migrant workers although she herself has always been a small step up the ladder from that back-breaking job.

Admittedly, illegal immigrants come here for less than good-citizen motives. Certainly we must protect our boundaries. Arizona’s abuse-inviting law does not seem the right way to fix our immigration policies.

Obama Slams Arizona’s Immigration Bill – The Caucus Blog – NYTimes.com.

After Tax Day: A Tax Savings Tool

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, via her intermittent e-mail list, sends this little Tax Day gift message:

Congress and the President have worked together to enact an array of broad-based tax cuts for working and middle-class families and small business owners — ending an era of Republican tax breaks focused only on the wealthy. All totaled, the 111th Congress has enacted more than $800 billion in tax cuts, in the Recovery Act, health insurance reform, and other job-creating tax incentives for American business.

The Recovery Act, which has saved or created more than 2.5 million jobs through March 2010, includes 25 tax cuts you may be eligible for.

Followed by a fairly stern reminder that you’re on your own for filing the right forms and obeying the law, the Recovery Act folks offer a tool to start you on your way:

The Recovery Act Tax Savings Tool is intended to help taxpayers determine their potential eligibility for various tax benefits available under American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Go for it. A little recovery never hurt anybody.

Recovery Act Tax Savings Tool | The White House.

Obama on community colleges — & one teacher's response

Some of us, still believers, admit our expectations of Barack Obama might have been too high. And it may go both ways. Anna Tuttle Villegas, a teacher at San Joachim Delta College for 35 years, wonders if expectations of what community colleges can deliver are a little muddy themselves. Villegas, whose literary distinction — award-winning poetry, fiction, essays — would have supported a far more prestigious career choice had she not been dedicated to those community college students he has in mind, ventured a response to the President’s address:

Nobody, absolutely nobody, appreciates better than a community college teacher the transformative effect education can have on the quality of life of her students. As our president explained last night in the preface to his promise to revitalize the nation’s community colleges, “the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education.”

Amen.

The president’s enlistment of me in the federal plan to make college accessible to more students inspired my own new year thought.

College students agelessly enter and depart classrooms year after year, never growing older. Sure, their hair color changes from day-glo green to hi lites and low lites, their musical tastes boomerang from reggae to screamo, and their pants grow shorter and tighter and then longer and looser and sometimes fall off. Beneath superficial alterations in fashion, college students remain forever youthful, making their teachers, witnesses to an endless parade of youth, especially vulnerable to the conclusion that it is our outlook — and not that of our charges — which has been fundamentally corrupted by the passage of time.

When I went to college almost forty years ago, the expectations of academic culture were fairly clear. Instructors and professors were generally assumed to have, if not greater innate intelligence at the moment of instruction, then at least greater skill and knowledge than their wards.

Times have changed. Villegas (herself educated at U.C. Santa Barbara and Stanford)  suggests that expectations brought by students themselves are murky, and roles of instructors and learners often confused. She gives some anecdotal evidence of how and why the “one-size-fits-all approach to community college enrollment” may call for re-examination of expectations laid on colleges and teachers both:

Years ago, a student encounter introduced me to what is now commonly recognized as the Joe Wilson school of public discourse. Upon being informed that spotty attendance may have played a pivotal role in the student’s bewilderment (Was it really Wednesday? There was a paper due? And who was I, anyway, expecting him to be in possession of a course syllabus?), this particular student threw down his weighty backpack and proclaimed me an “f-ing bitch.” Several times.

That school marms sometimes do turn into f-ing bitches shouldn’t surprise anyone. But the frequency with which contemporary students feel the need to remind us of the fact, colloquial dialect and all, should.

Back in the day when one-on-one conferencing was hip, I recall explaining to a bright and sassy young woman how sentence fragments, not advisable in college essays, were marring her otherwise insightful writing.

She didn’t buy it. Hand on cocked hip, very Mae West, she growled at me: “What if I don’t think it’s a sentence fragment?”

Indeed.

Villegas concludes her essay with a quote from Robert Frost: “Now when I am old my teachers are the young.”

Now I am old. What the young teach me is that many students fail to approach their college studies with the respect for learning essential to our college model.At the risk of being an f-ing bitch yet again, I want President Obama to consider that before we commit to sending even more students to community colleges, we should decide what exactly it is we expect of them.

Anna Tuttle Villegas: College to Go.