Loretta Ross: Justice Feminist

Loretta J. Ross

Loretta J. Ross (Photo credit: now_photos)

“You can’t protect human rights,” says author, speaker and human rights activist Loretta Ross, “by violating the rights of someone else.”

Ross’ activism is focused partly on reproductive rights — which she is quick to explain include women’s health, access to birth control and contraception and more — but goes far beyond. “I believe in justice for all peoples of the world. I believe that human rights are the pathway to justice.” She once wrote, “If I had to choose one over-arching feminist label for myself, it would probably be as a ‘justice feminist’…”

I had known Ross only through coast-to-coast phone conversations during research for Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade several years ago. But she was in the Bay area recently, speaking to audiences at Mills College, Stanford University and elsewhere, and I was lucky enough to join a lunch hosted by Trust Women Silver Ribbon Campaign head Ellen Shaffer. Also there were Kelly Hammargren, of the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art, whose “Choice” exhibition will be part of a 4Choice 2013 celebration in December and January, and several other women’s rights activists. But it was Ross who held our attention.

As outlined in Perilous Times, Ross came to her activism through a lifetime of struggle that goes back to being raped at 14….. and continued through raising the child of that experience (a now-grown son, of whom she is tremendously proud.) Founder of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, she has worked for more than 40 years toward the goal of justice for women everywhere.

Ross has a pretty strong foundation for her passion: the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (She answers the argument against a woman’s right to choose by quoting Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal..  “Rights are for people born,” she notes; “not the unborn.”)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is quite a document. In case you’ve not spent a lot of time with it, here in brief are the first several Articles:

  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
  • Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status…

In other words, Justice. Loretta Ross intends to keep working for it.

Life begins… when? Come talk about it

Life begins… when? Come talk about it

 

Life begins… at conception? at birth? somewhere in between?

It’s not a question anyone can answer with absolute certainty, or a question likely ever to be agreed upon by everyone currently alive. But it’s a question many philosophers, theologians and — not always happily — politicians have been debating recently. And it’s a question sure to come up at the Commonwealth Club program Women at Risk: What’s Ahead For Reproductive Rights October 17th in San Francisco.

English: *Description: Scotty McLennan Author ...

31 December 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Scotty McLennan, the Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University (and model for Doonesbury‘s Dude of God) will be one of four panelists tackling this and other thorny — but pertinent — issues during the hour-long event. Here’s a bit of what McLennan has to say, excerpted from Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade:

“I’ll never forget the sight of each of my children emerging into the world blue and lifeless, being struck on the back by the doctor, taking their first breath, and becoming ruddy-colored as they began crying their way into life.” Those images, and a biblical reference to the “breath of life,” reinforce McLennan’s belief that “the Supreme Court got it right” in ruling that decisions about abortion should be left to the woman and her physician until the fetus might indeed be able to survive outside the womb.

McLennan also believes, as do I, that abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

It’s a critical issue a long way from being solved, either by Roe v Wade, or by those of us who are pro-choice, or by those who would ban abortion entirely in the belief that banning it would somehow make unwanted pregnancies never happen.

How about you? If you’re going to be in the San Francisco Bay Area on October 17th, join us at the Commonwealth Club. It’s going to be informative, engaging, useful — and a lively time.

The power of stories

Do stories really hold the key to the future?

For a storyteller, this is heady stuff. For Jonah Sachs, author of the newly released Winning the Story Wars, it’s serious stuff. The book’s subtitle is Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future and Sachs appeared recently as part of a Commonwealth Club panel, to explain why this is true. The panel was specifically considering environmental stories, part of the Club’s ongoing Climate One program. (The time series below, based on satellite data, shows the annual Arctic sea ice minimum since 1979. More about the Arctic below…)

This time series, based on satellite data, sho...

The panel, moderated by Climate One Founder/Director Greg Dalton, also featured documentary film maker and University of CA, Berkeley journalism professor Jon Else, and Stanford University research associate Carrie Armel

As a power-of-stories example, Sachs cited those of presidential candidates John Kerry and George W. Bush a few years ago. Kerry’s story (you can read a little more about it in Story Wars) managed to come across with a focus on Kerry as a good guy plus some unfortunately dry-sounding proposed programs. Bush and the Republicans managed to project a loftier story about saving the world. Whether you think the world was saved – or endangered – by the Bush presidency, we know whose story won. Sachs quotes James Carville, in Story Wars, as saying the Republicans had a narrative, the Democrats a litany. Litanies don’t seem destined to rule the future.

Moving into the evening’s topic, Sachs spoke about the long and difficult struggle of scientist James Hansen, who spent decades developing data – an impressive list of irrefutable facts – on climate change. Beginning in the early 1980s, Hansen published and promoted his data, certain that people would hear the facts and understand the need for change. Instead, there was mass denial. Hansen has since moved from scientific data to activism – and to the telling of stories in every public arena he can use.

Panel moderator Dalton brought up the story (image) of the polar bear on disappearing ice floes that came to represent climate change. Because not many Americans connect with polar bears; like litanies, the story was easy to ignore.

Is the globe warming? Will switching back to Republican policies save the world? This might be a good time to start telling stories that illuminate truth.

Jenna & Barbara Bush doing good? Building better global health? Believe it

Saying good things about anyone named Bush has not been a priority of this space. But an article by Sarah Adler that appeared in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, and a quick visit to the Global Health Corps Web site, suggest that the former first twins have found a way to turn their considerable name recognition and fund raising skills into an innovative program at work to improve health access and care in the U.S. and across the globe.

When first daughter Jenna Bush attended a Bay Area AIDS summit hosted by Google.org two years ago, some skeptics doubted it would amount to more than a photo op.

But they were wrong. In a conversation with a Google staffer and a Stanford AIDS activist at one session, she helped come up with a big idea: A plan to improve health care access in the poorest parts of the United States and the world. What may have seemed like a pie-in-the-sky plan has morphed into a nongovernmental organization with an impressive roster of donors and more than $1 million in funding. Few may have heard of the Global Health Corps, but as its influence grows, that is likely to change.

“So many ideas come up in group conversations that never get realized,” said corps founding director Dave Ryan, who at the time was the executive director for Face AIDS, a nonprofit group that helps Rwandans living with HIV. “But when we all got together, we saw there was something special that could happen.”

Having watched friends transition from college into careers through organizations like Teach for America, they wondered whether they could create a similar organization dedicated to health care.

“We felt like there should be a similar program for public health,” said Charlie Hale, who works in Google’s direct ad sales division and is one of the group’s co-founders.

They enlisted an eager group of socially conscious friends and secured $250,000 in seed money from Google.org. Jenna’s sister, Barbara Bush, became the president of the organization, after spending time working in Africa with UNICEF and the U.N. World Food Program.

Rather than plunging into provision of health care or supplies, GHC finds people with skills in supply chain, design and technology often learned outside of the health care field, and partners with public health organizations to fill such needs within the field. These tend not to be old fogeys over 30, either; it is twenty-somethings like themselves that GHC seeks to attract. They have thus far sent 22 fellows to 12 countries in East Africa and the U.S., and plan to send 36 new fellows out this year.

The organization has also formed partnerships with the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative, which is part of former President Bill Clinton’s global nongovernmental foundation, and Partners in Health, which was co-founded by Dr. Paul Farmer and has a large presence in Haiti.

The Global Health Corps has four staff members in New York and three volunteers in San Francisco and relies on group calls, e-mail and video conferencing at cafes, such as the recent session at Philz Coffee where Barbara Bush, Hale and Chief Financial Officer Jenny Miller exchanged updates.

The group has raised more than $1 million, and Hale said that while he’s aware that the group has more advantages than others, it also has a greater obligation to prove itself.

“Our contacts got us in the room, but at the end of the day, no one is going to significantly fund you unless you show that your good idea can work,” he said.

The Global Health Corps is accepting applications for fellowships in Burundi, Malawi, Tanzania and Rwanda, where Barbara Bush recently traveled to meet with the group’s fellows.

Boomers and beyonders need not apply. This is a new-grads generation thing. Working backwards from the Greatest Generation through the Depression-scarred and the super-achievers and the me-firsters and the whateverers, it is encouraging to see a new generation of energy and optimism deciding to take on global issues of real significance and need. Even if the decider is named Bush.

Opportunity, optimism in Global Health Corps.

Goldsworthy sculpture sends spirits soaring

Just when you think there is no good news, anywhere, any more, comes wordSpire sculpture this morning that Andy Goldworthy is considering a new sculpture in the Presidio National Park. His last work, Spire (left), created a monument to nature out of the trunks of 37 cypress trees. Like most of Goldsworthy’s works, Spire evokes a sense of reverence and peace. And, also like many others, it will eventually disappear as surrounding trees grow up to and past their silent neighbor.

The serenely beautiful film Rivers and Tides introduced many Americans to the creative Scottish sculptor a few years ago. My 40-something children loved it. Their teenage children loved it. Preschoolers love it. What’s not to love about Rivers and Tides? Goldsworthy art has a way of inching into your soul and making thinks okay. The new piece in the Presidio — that gorgeous chunk of land you and I now own — would be a band of eucalyptus branches snaking along 350 feet of Lover’s Lane, in the southeast corner of the 1,491-acre park. It may not leave the ground, but it still promises to soar.

Goldsworthy’s best known works in the San Francisco Bay area include his Stone River at Stanford, and Faultline at the de Young Museum

You’ve not met Andy Goldsworthy? Treat yourself. It’ll make your day.

Going to hell, or going to dance — hate group meets celebration

A small but extraordinarily vitriolic hate group out of Topeka, KS visited the San Francisco Bay Area this past week, picketing a variety of targets — anything Jewish, homosexual or supportive of same seems to do. It is, in fact, hard to find many people these folks don’t hate. You are welcome to check out their website — Westboro Baptist Church — it’s just not recommended after eating.They are headed to Dallas next.

Most people simply ignored them. But groups at several local high schools and at Stanford University took the occasion of being targeted for a little creative anti-hate-group celebrating, and some of these events are chronicled on the Not In Our Town site:

Hillel at Stanford University, one of the institutions targeted Jan. 29 by Westboro, invited the entire Stanford community to stand together Friday morning “for a peaceful gathering in celebration of our diversity and our unity,” according to the invitation they emailed to students and campus groups.

“We chose to use the incident as an opportunity to align the campus around shared values and issue a call to action,” said Adina Danzig Epelman, executive director of Hillel at Stanford. Students were instructed not to engage the Phelps family in any way, and to bring signs with positive rather than negative messages.

About 1000 students  representing dozens of campus organizations, or simply themselves, along with a number of faculty and staff, showed up at 8am for 45 minutes of musical celebration, including an unexpected bagpipe player who launched into “Amazing Grace” on the front steps of the Hillel building. It was, Epelman said, “a very broad gathering, representing the diversity of our campus.”

In a message of support earlier in the week, the Hindu and Muslim co-founders of Stanford F.A.I.T.H. wrote: “If we did not stand alongside Jews, gays and lesbians, or any other group that may be maligned this Friday, we would not be the Hindus and Muslims we strive to be.”

At San Francisco’s Lowell High School, another target, the handful of picketers were met by an exuberant horde of teenagers who seemed to agree with one sign proclaiming “We’re not going to hell, we’re going to dance.” My personal favorite sign read “Jesus had two Dads;” had he been around I suspect Jesus would have been dancing.

The only gloom, in fact, was on the faces of the young picketers. They looked more wistful than hateful. It’s easy to believe they would rather be dancing too.

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.