Thursday, May 28, 2015

Alice Goffman's powerful ethnographic study of a West Philadelphia neighborhood, On the Run : Fugitive Life in an American City



Anyone concerned about urban poverty and the hyper-policing of poor minority communities should read sociologist Alice Goffman's powerful ethnographic study of a West Philadelphia neighborhood, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. Goffman somehow gained the trust of young men in a poor African-American community and for 6 years lived in the community in order to document their lives. The power of the book lies in the details--the thick description of the lived experience of these young men and their families.

At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it; I thought I knew all about urban poverty and the consequences of excessive police surveillance in poor neighborhoods. I’ve read much of the literature and had my own horrendous experiences with racist police in the 1960’s.

So I thought I knew all about this, but I had never really understood the consequences for an entire community when the majority of residents either directly or indirectly have had some interaction with the criminal justice system. I hadn’t realized how frequently young men(and yes it's usually young men of color) were thrown back in jail for long stretches of time for relatively trivial parole violations, or for failure to pay fines—-thus criminalizing poverty itself. I hadn’t fully understood the corrosive effect on personal relationships when the police threaten the partners of these young men with loss of children, loss of housing if they do not inform on their partners.

There is one particularly powerful quote from the book which will stay with me. From a guard in a half-way house:

It’s a broken system. These men are locked up because they didn’t pay their court fees, or they got drunk and failed [their piss test]. They’ve been locked up since they were kids.. Then they come home to this shit[the halfway house], sleeping one on top of the other, no money, no clothes. And the rules they have to follow—nobody could follow those rules. It’s a tragedy. It’s a crime against God. Sometimes I think, in 50 years we are going to look back on this and, you know, that this was wrong. And everybody who supported this—their judgment will come.
The book has been widely praised by scholars such as Cornell West, Elijah Anderson, and Christopher Jencks, but it has also received criticism for reinforcing stereotypes. I too was troubled by this. Perhaps anticipating this criticism, Goffman includes a chapter in the book about young men who manage to lead law-abiding lives despite living in a crime ridden environment.

Nonetheless the focus on violent crime and dysfunctional families does risk perpetuating stereotypes and as Dwayne Betts wrote in Slate “By failing to develop her critique of mass incarceration, [Goffman] has written the kind of truncated account of black urban life that encourages outsiders to gawk. Law Professor James Forman, Jr. makes a similar point in his review of On the Run in the Atlantic: noting that "previous ethnographers have found that a minority of young black men in poor communities engage in violent crime, and that even fewer carry guns.”

Of course, one book can’t explore every aspect of a complicated problem. Goffman is not attempting to write a comprehensive history, but rather trying to give her readers some sense of what it's like to live in a community where excessive police surveillance permeates every aspect of life.

More recently, Law Professor Steven Lubet in his New Republicb article Did This Acclaimed Sociologist Drive the Getaway Car in a Murder Plot? The questionable ethics of Alice Goffman's On the Runcharges that Goffman “appears to have participated in a serious felony in the course of her field work—a circumstance that seems to have escaped the notice of her teachers, her mentors, her publishers, her admirers, and even her critics.”

I found the behavior Lubet considers a felony troubling, but hadn’t thought through the legal implications. I plan to re-read that section of the book. His critique does raise serious questions about Goffman’s judgment, but in no way diminishes the power of the book.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Jim Kenney for Mayor: We can't take this for granted!




When Jim Kenney jumped into the race, I got on board right away. I admired his willingness to take on tough issues—e.g. LGBT rights, decriminalization of marijuana-- before it was politically safe to do so.

Now four months later, after seeing the campaign he’s run, I’m more convinced than ever that he will be a great mayor.

At forum after forum, he’s demonstrated deep knowledge of city government and has put forth a platform that is carefully thought out, progressive and achievable.

A candidate’s campaign—particularly a campaign for executive office--gives us some inkling of the kind of administration he/she will run. And Jim Kenney has run a stellar campaign.

He has brought together the multi-racial, cross-class coalition that he will need both to win and to govern. I have never in my thirty plus years of involvement in Philadelphia grassroots politics seen the liberal/progressive community so united around a candidate. I no longer have to try to convince folks that Kenney is the best person for the job. Just about everyone I know has already come to that conclusion.

The only convincing left to do is make sure Kenney’s many supporters go to the polls. Yes, he’s ahead in the polls but we all know that the only poll that counts is the one on Election Day.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Maybe it takes a really hard winter to appreciate spring

Cercis Canadensis AKA Redbud


Maybe it takes a really hard winter to appreciate spring but I’ve been enjoying—intensely enjoying--every moment of the Spring of 2015.

Yes I lost a few plants, but the ones which survived are doing really, really well. My early blooming deciduous rhododendron—Cornell’s Pink—has never looked so good.
Cornell’s Pink rhododendron

And the daffodils when they finally arrived have been spectacular.



Ice Follies naturalizing all over my garden.

I’ve been spending all the time I can spare in my garden. Okay, maybe I’m behind schedule in my writing projects, but first things, first.


More photos to come!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jim Kenney for Mayor: For once progressives are not divided



Usually a primary season is fraught with tension. The progressive community is divided about which candidates merit our support and I often find myself on different sides from my good friends, the people I work with in issue groups. Not this time.

Given the broad support Jim Kenney has among progressives groups and organized labor, and given the cross racial, multi-ethnic coalition Jim Kenney has built, this feels more like a general election than a primary.

What a contrast with past mayoral primaries! The 2007 Mayor’s race was particularly painful. I was a strong supporter of Michael Nutter and some of my very best friends were backing Chaka Fattah. One good friend and I had to agree not to talk about the Mayor’s race until after the primary election.

The Clinton/ Obama race was another major problem for me. I was an early Obama supporter and also the president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women. Most NOW members were passionate Clinton supporters and viewed someone like me as traitor. Fortunately for me, some of our active Philadelphia NOW members were Obama supporters and there was not a whole lot of tension within the chapter.

But my connection with NOW did make me a target for Clinton supporters. One of my colleagues at the Community College of Philadelphia told me that if I continued to support Obama, I should resign as Philadelphia NOW president--I could be an Obama supporter or President of Philadelphia NOW, but not both. I didn’t resign, but I was acutely aware of the tension.

Another example was the 2014 gubernatorial race with progressives deeply divided—-some of us supporting Allyson Schwartz, others supporting Rob McCord, others supporting Tom Wolf. It was such a relief when the primary was over and we were all on the same side.

Of course, not everyone I’ve ever worked with or ever been allied with is supporting Jim Kenney in the 2015 mayoral race; however, I can’t recall a time when there was this much unanimity in a contested primary. Feminists /progressives generally agree on issues, but when it comes to deciding who is the best candidate to advance those issues, internecine warfare often breaks out.

Now I keep reminding my self—-don’t get complacent, this is still a hotly contested election. The TV ad wars have yet to begin. What has been a fairly civil election could get really ugly. But at least I’m not fighting with my good friends in NOW.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

I have snowdrops and crocus, but where are the daffodils??

t

I have snowdrops and crocus, but where are the daffodils??

I have been keeping garden notes since 1996 and this is the first spring that I have not had daffodils blooming by April 1. The earth may be warming, but that’s sure not the case in my garden. (I am not a climate change denier, just an impatient gardener.)

In 2013 which also had a cold miserable winter, at least by April 1 I had a few tete a tete daffodils (small bright yellow miniatures which are usually the first to bloom). In 2012, (in addition to snowdrops, crocus and tete a tete) I had ice follies daffodils, scilla , chionodoxa, anemone blanda, a few hyacinth, hellebores, and my forsythia and magnolia stellata were beginning. This was generally the pattern since I started keeping detailed records.

I am so impatient for the show to to begin!!!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lake Garda, Two days in Paradise;The Northern Italy diaries, Part III




This was our 3rd trip to the Italian Lake District; our previous trips to lake Maggiore and Lake Lugano were in the summer. The crowds were overwhelming, the narrow, winding streets clogged with traffic. In late September, the tourist season was almost over and the roads far less crowded.

This time we went to Lake Garda and happened to choose one of the most beautiful towns on the lake—-and one of the best hotels we've ever stayed in, Villa Giulia. The hotel is right on the shore of Lake Garda and our cottage opened up to a patio practically at the water’s edge. There were gorgeous flowers everywhere, especially purple bougainvillea that was growing all over Lake Garda.
And the hotel had its own parking lot! I think we were happier to see that parking lot than the spectacularly beautiful lake. (Driving in Italy does that to you.)

The first day we just chilled out by the lake.


On our second day we decided to drive around the entire lake. We didn’t realize how long it would take. Those narrow winding roads are a challenge and it was impossible to stop at all the little towns our guidebooks advised.

Although the west side of the lake is less developed than the east--and far more beautiful—there were towns on the east side like Bardolino that made the long drive around the lake definitely worth it. It’s famous for the red wine made there as well as for an 11th century Romanesque cathedral. Bardolino’s 11th century Romanesque church is one of the earliest examples of Romanesque architecture I’ve ever seen. And the church also has some astonishingly well-preserved 13th century frescoes—it was worth the long trek around the lake for this. We didn’t manage to fit in one of my must-see’s, Heller Garden in our circle of the lake but we did see it before we left town the next day. The Mediterranean Garden at Helller Garden

We’ve been to many Italian gardens—all very beautiful and well-designed, but usually a little bit unkempt. The Heller garden was weed free--no dead branches, no spent foliage and, like so many Italian gardens, there were fountains and waterfalls everywhere. We were very happy we made time for it.

We wished we had another day at Villa Giulia, but considering how expensive the wonderful hotel restaurant was, it was just as well we had to move on.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Verona’s Magical Old Town: The Northern Italy diaries, Part II

Piazza dei Signori
Gothic spires of the Scaliger Tombs

We now try to do no more than 2 hours driving per day, so we took several days to drive from Venice to Fiesole where we had rented an apartment. Our first stop was Verona.

We were there in the 1980’s and it was one of my all time favorite travel experiences. On a gorgeous summer night we heard La Gioconda in the open air theater in the old Roman amphitheater. It’s not my favorite opera but it was my all time favorite opera experience. The audience was so totally involved in the performance, shouting their approval when they liked what they heard and really shouting their disapproval when they did not. I had never seen such an engaged audience in my life.

This trip there was no time for the opera, but Verona was even more beautiful than I remembered. However, it has turned into a nightmare for drivers. Each time we have gone to Italy we’ve found that the traffic gets worse and worse. The number of cars on the road keeps increasing at a frightening pace and the infrastructure hasn’t kept up. The consequence is horrendous traffic gridlock and practically no parking spaces.

Also, GPS systems are not programmed for the narrow little lanes in the medieval warren of Verona’s old town. Finding our hotel literally took an entire afternoon. It was a charming small hotel but I wouldn’t recommend it as it is on a tiny, well-hidden street and there were no parking spaces within a ten block radius.

If we ever return to Verona, we now know how to do it--get a hotel that has parking on the periphery of old town, park the car for the duration of the stay and do everything on foot.

Verona has one of the most magical old towns in Italy and it was worth all the aggravation. I would love to go back and spend several days there just walking around the old town and hanging out on the many beautiful piazzas.

Friday, March 6, 2015

So happy to be back in Venice: The Northern Italy diaries, Part I




When we returned from our trip to Italy in October, I had so much garden work and election work to do that I decided to postpone posting my notes and photos, figuring that I’d really enjoy reliving this trip in the cold, miserable days of winter.

My husband and I both want to spend our last travel years in Europe; however, we're drawn to different parts of Europe. For Rick, it’s central and eastern Europe; for me it’s southern Europe. For his 70th birthday, we went to Krakow, Warsaw and Berlin. For mine this year, there was no question—it had to be Italy. This was our 8th trip to Italy together, including a six week trip during our magical, never to be forgotten 1999 sabbatical. But I’ll never get enough of Italy, never enough of Tuscany. This was our 4th trip to Tuscany and the plan initially was to fly into Milan, see some parts of Northern Italy we’ve never been to and then drive to Tuscany.

To our surprise we found out we could no longer get a direct flight from Philly to Milan. The only direct flight was to Venice. We had been to Venice 3 times before and I had reluctantly agreed that we had “done” Venice. I thought I was reconciled to never going to Venice again—after all we don’t have that many traveling years left and maybe 3 trips to Venice is enough.

But as soon as I learned the only way to fly direct to northern Italy was to go to Venice, I was ecstatically happy. I wasn’t as reconciled to never seeing Venice again as I had thought.

During our previous trips to Venice the weather was either hellishly hot and overcast or cold, gray and damp. This time in late September/ early October we had glorious weather. Venice has to be seen with brilliant sunshine—all those narrow dark streets opening up to sunlit squares, all that water reflecting dazzling bright blue skies.

We booked a hotel, Pensione Academia we had stayed in in the 90’s and really liked. Like the small once affordable—-but now crazily expensive-- hotels we used to book in Paris, the Academia was far more expensive than it had been in the 90’s--an increase way above the rate of inflation. But it was a birthday celebration, so we decided to splurge. Because we get tired more readily than we did in our early years traveling together, we make sure we get a hotel that‘s a good place for hanging out. The Academia with it’s lovely gardens is certainly a good hang-out place and both it and Venice is more magical than I remember.

Just like our first trip to Venice, my fondest memories are of having dinner at one of the cafes with outdoor tables along the Giudecca and taking an after dinner stroll on the banks of the canal.

Venice is an open air architectural museum and although I had some museums on my list, all I really wanted to do was walk around and take in the astonishing beauty.

I’m now hoping for one more trip to Venice.


photos by my friend Fran Gilmore who was also in Venice in October 2014

Saturday, February 28, 2015

After this miserable cold winter, I so enjoyed the Philadelphia Flower Show


After this miserable cold winter, I so enjoyed the Philadelphia Flower Show. I went to Friday afternoon’s Members’ Preview which was surprisingly uncrowded. (I have been to Members’ Previews that were more crowded than the regular Flower Show.)

My husband who has accompanied me to the Flower Show for many years, this year refused to go. He has always complained about the artificiality of the show—all those plants forced into bloom before their time, the exhibits with plants that never bloom at the same time in nature, now in bloom together at the Flower Show. For me, the artificiality is the point of it all and I love the idea that I can enjoy all these gorgeous flowers in the dead of winter.

I was a little worried when I heard that the theme this year was going to be “Celebrating the Movies," especially Disney movies, but to my relief the movie references were generally discreet and the focus was on the flowers.

There was a gorgeous display of scarlet tuberous begonias at the entrance to the show that made me rethink my decision to give up on tuberous begonias. I’ve never been able to keep them alive throughout the summer. But there’s nothing like a spectacular floral display to keep hope alive and I bought two tubers which just maybe will sprout pale salmon colored tuberous begonias.
tuberous begonias at entrance to the flower show

One of the great delights of the flower show is the shopping—-so many temptations for gardeners. When I passed a vendor selling spring bulbs, she reached out to me with an incredibly fragrant tuberose. I love the intoxicating fragrance of tuberose but have not had any success with them and had decided no more futile attempts to grow them. But this particular tuberose was so magical that I bought a large tuber and decided to give it one more try.

This is what I love about gardening, there’s always another season, another opportunity to try to get it right. It’s kind of like teaching—-always another semester, another shot—-until it’s over. Teaching is over for me, but I sure hope I have a few more gardening years left.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Democracy is Alive and well—in many Democratic Party County Committees in PA


I recently learned that in many (perhaps most) counties in Pennsylvania committeepeople vote on all endorsements in Democratic Primaries at regularly held county conventions open to the public. This is in sharp contrast to the Phila Democratic Party's down model where decisions are made by a small group, the Party Executive Committee, and ward leaders are expected to rubber stamp the decisions.

The Counties that hold nominating conventions include:

Montgomery County, held on Feb. 19, 2015.

Delaware County, to be held on Feb 22, 2015.

Bucks County, to be held on Feb. 28, 2015. According to a Bucks County committeeperson, a candidate must achieve 60% of the vote to get the endorsement. I don’t know if this is 60% of committeepeople present or if a quorum is required and then 60% of that number.

Chester County, held on Feb. 19, 2015. According to Chester County by laws, a candidate must achieve 55% of the vote to get the endorsement. I don’t know if this is 55% of committeepeople present or if a quorum is required and then 55% of that number.

Lancaster County, held on Feb. 19, 2015. Several committeepeople have reported that “The process is very tightly controlled from the top down.”

Westmoreland County. A member of the Westmoreland County Executive team: reports: “We have scrapped top down and at our Convention will first throw the decision for an open or closed vote to the entirety of the Committee. …Since taking office last June we have dedicated ourselves to opening up the Committee and have had some success. We are the Democratic Committee and we choose to adhere by the democratic definition. Is everything perfect? Of course not! Just means we have more work to do.”

In rural counties where Democrats are not strong, there are democratic endorsement processes other than a nominating convention(which might be difficult to pull off in a rural county).

Franklin County. The County Chair reports: “The County Committee votes to endorse local county candidates in the primary as a normal part of committee work… Our members endorse whomever they want for whatever races they want...and they are encouraged to say they are members of the County Committee, since they are elected and voters may want to know where they stand. Frankly, most local candidates do not want to be endorsed”

Monroe County. A committeeperson reports: We are lucky if we have any candidates for county row offices. In the past when the county committee did endorse someone in the primary it lead to bad feelings and people dropping out of the party, even at least one person becoming a Republican. We go through the motions of asking if committee members want to endorse but usually just endorse uncontested primary candidates.

What is an advantage is we have our Monroe County Progressive Democratic Club which can vote to endorse separate from the county committee. We can endorse the candidates with progressive ideals and it doesn't piss off other candidates or other committee persons.

There are counties which as a matter of policy do not endorse in primaries:

Adams County. The County Chair reports: We hold open primaries in our county with no endorsements. My understanding is many, many "red" counties do open primaries because, frankly, we don't want to alienate any of our members. It's already hard to recruit! Honestly, I credit this with our ability to keep peace in our family by letting all have their say and allowing all to support who they wish. I endorse, as does my vice-chair. Invariably we support different candidates (me: Obama, Sestak, McCord/ she Clinton, Spector, Wolf) and we get along perfectly. No "power" fighting.

Berks County: A committeeperson reports: “ In Berks, thankfully, we do not endorse, period. We have enough to fight about.”

There is considerable variation here but the common thread is a commitment to democracy: County Democratic Committees throughout Pennsylvania give a voice and a vote to committeepeople.

Lancaster County (like Philadelphia) may be an exception but at least in Lancaster County there is a convention; if enough people organize to change a top down process, the convention provides them with a vehicle for doing so.

Why do Philadelphia committeepeople put up with the current top down model? Possibly because many people (and that includes progressives) have learned to work within this system and may have a vested interest in perpetuating it.

I also sometimes detect a fear of democracy—-even from progressives—such as the comment made recently by a Philly progressive on the Philadelphia Democratic Committee Facebook page: “Democracy with a small d is not always better. If it undermines the effectiveness of a party organization, then it's definitely not better.” With a 36% turnout in the last general election, the Philadelphia Democratic Party is far from an effective organization! Our challenge is to reinvigorate a moribund organization, not to maintain our “effectiveness.”

The Philadelphia Democratic Party needs more people like the Westmoreland County Chair who describes her dedication to opening up the county committee: “We are the Democratic Committee and we choose to adhere by the democratic definition. Is everything perfect? Of course not! Just means we have more work to do.”

Granted, Philadelphia faces logistical obstacles that smaller counties do not—-both because of its size and because in so many wards committeepeople are place holders, rather than actively engaged committeepeople. But surely we can develop a model that more closely approximates the democratic policies and procedures of so many other PA counties.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Democracy is Alive and well—in the Montgomery County Democratic Party!



The Montgomery County Democratic Committee will hold its 2015 MCDC Nominating Convention on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 at 7:30 PM.

Montgomery County committeepeople have a vote on endorsements--unlike the Philadelphia Democratic Party where the Party Chair and other members of the executive committtee decide endorsements and expect ward leaders and committeepeople to rubber stamp their decisions.

Also the Montgomery County Nominating Convention is open to the public—unlike the Philadelphia Democratic Party where decisions are made behind closed doors.

In the Philadelphia Democratic Party rules, both the old rules and the 2014 rules posted at Philadelphia Democratic Committee Facebook group provide for a County Convention:
ARTICLE 4 County Convention
The County Convention shall consist of the officers of the County Committee, and County Committeemen from the various wards in the City and County of Philadelphia.
In my almost 3 decades as a Democratic committeeperson, I have no recollection of such a convention ever being held. But the rules provide for it, and I believe there is growing interest in holding one.

Recently more democratic activists have been questioning the lack of transparency and democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party. The Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus has the potential to become a real force in the Democratic Party and Joe Driscoll’s recent efforts to organize committeepeople through Philadelphia Democratic Committee Facebook group is another potential game changer.

And to paraphrase se the Social Forum folks, the Montgomery County Democrats have shown us-—another ward model is possible.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Jim Kenney for Mayor



The field for the Democratic nomination for mayor appears settled and for me the choice is clear—former councilman Jim Kenney. I’ve always liked Jim Kenney, an intelligent guy with good policy positions, who cares about ordinary Philadelphians, and who would probably be a very good mayor. He is the candidate mostly likely to build the broad based, cross-racial coalition necessary to win and to govern.

Jim Kenney has been out front on a range of progressive issues, a champion of LGBT rights before it was politically safe to do so. According to Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal”Kenney has been a friend of the LGBT community and its struggle for equality for over 25 years, and has sponsored, co-sponsored or supported every LGBT equality measure in Council for the last 23 years.” His recent achievements include the groundbreaking 2013 LGBT Equality Bill and the 2014 LGBT-specific hate crimes legislation.

Jim Kenney was among the first to envision Philadelphia as a global city and to see Philadelphia’s immigrant population as an asset. From Will Bunch’s recollections of Kenney over the years: "‘We as a city government must do everything we can to address our population loss, and increasing immigration is a critical step in the right direction,’ Kenney told an October 2000 City Council hearing that he'd called on the topic.” More recently Kenney has been commended by immigrant rights groups for his work to end immigrant detentions known as ICE holds.

Jim Kenney led the fight for the decriminalization of marijuana focusing on the racial disparities in the enforcement of drug laws and the tragic consequences of a criminal record for so many young people.

He has pledged to maintain and build upon Mayor Nutter's ethics reforms and he has advocated innovative ideas on planning/ land use issues.

Kenney acknowledges that he does not have a detailed plan for improving public education but he knows that adequate funding is a major part of the problem and rejects using taxpayer dollars to fund private schools as a solution. This is a critical time for public education with one of the leading candidates Anthony Williams on record in favor of a voucher system which would lead to further dismantling of our system of public education.

Working class Philly will have a powerful advocate in Mayor Kenney: From District 1199C President Henry Nicholas : "Jim Kenney has been a lifelong advocate for Philadelphia's working families. He comes from a union home as the son of firefighter and he's earned his own union card at age 17. Jim has worked to protect bargaining rights and has always been a straight talker and in his approach with labor."

Kenney is strong on progressive issues, but particularly for executive positions, it’s not just a matter having the right policies. Leadership ability matters and character matters. Kenney’s legislative successes demonstrate his leaderhship skills and everyone I know who knows Jim Kenney thinks he is a very decent human being. (Yes, the famous Kenney temper can be a cause for concern, and maybe some of his tweets are over the top.)

I got an insight into Jim Kenney’s character when my son was a student and assigned to interview a local elected official. My son reached out to just about every local official but none replied with the exception of Kenney. He spent over an hour with my son answering his questions. Kenney told him that he always tried to honor requests from students; he felt a responsibility to share what he knew about government with a younger generation. My son who is a real Kenney fan reminded me of this recently and it’s consistent with so much of what I have heard from those who have worked with him.

However, there’s no such thing as a candidate perfect in every way and I have some reservations about his candidacy based primarily on his political alliances. But as a good friend reminded me, Kenney is nobody’s puppet; his financial supporters are not likely to control him.

I had hoped to see a mayoral candidate concerned about the current state of the Philadelphia Democratic Party. The mayor could use the bully pulpit to argue it’s in the city’s interest to have a cleaner, more open Democratic party—both in terms of increased turnout and in terms of getting talented young people involved in the party. The Democratic Party must change if it is ever to attract young people who expect to have a vote and a voice at the ward level. Maybe it takes a “Nixon goes to China” leader to do this and maybe Jim Kenney might be that leader but I have seen nothing yet to suggest that he’s interested in reforming the Philadelphia Democratic party.

However, I do know Jim Kenney has the capacity to listen to those with different perspectives and that he is capable of questioning the status quo and open to new approaches.

I intend to do whatever I can to ensure he becomes mayor and encourage my friends and neighbors to support him.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The first flower of 2015!


When I trudged out to the garage today to get birdseed and a bag of icemelt, I got a wonderful surprise—-my witch hazel was in bloom! This really lifted my spirits—the start of the first serious snowfall of the year and first flower of the year on the same day.

Witch Hazel can start blooming any time from mid-January to mid February. It forces very quickly. The flowers of branches I broke today were barely in bloom, but after an hour or so indoors the shaggy yellow flowers had unfurled and I could indulge in that wonderfully astringent witch hazel fragrance. It helped a lot.

For lovers of witch hazel, Morris Arboretum has an extensive witchhazel collection with guided tours on the second Saturday of February and March. If only I had room in my garden for another witch hazel!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The theme of today’s Reclaim MLK Canpaign really resonated with me.



The theme of today’s Reclaim MLK Canpaign really resonated with me. The Martin Luther King “Day of Service” always struck me as a distortion of King’s legacy. I don’t mean to denigrate traditional service oriented volunteerism—it plays an important role in our society, but King’s legacy was primarily about social change, not individual charity.

I wanted to support a march that sought to reclaim King’s true legacy but I had that coming down with a cold feeling and wasn’t sure I wanted to drag my 70 year old body out into the cold. I thought with all the marches and demonstrations I’ve been to in my lifetime, maybe I deserve a break. Fortunately, my son encouraged me to go with him and I’m very glad I got it together to take a few aspirin and go.

It was a very diverse group of people – young and old, representative of Philly’s racial and ethnic mix. The young were the dominant group; there does appear to be a social movement developing among young people and it may have more staying power than the evanescent Occupy movement. Yes, Occupty did put income inequality on the front burner but it seems to have disappeared without much of a trace. Starting a conversation just isn’t enough.

I wish there had been more NOW signs at the event, but I'm afraid NOW doesn't resonate all that much with young folks.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Florence Cohen, Social Justice Activist and Committed Feminist



We lost Florence Cohen on January 10, 2014. Her obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer described her as a life-long civil rights and community activist. I would have added “and committed feminist.” Although the obituary cited her work as project director of the Pennsylvania Program for Women and Girl Offenders, her passionate commitment to women’s rights was not mentioned. (Granted, when a woman has had such a long and illustrious career as Florence Cohen’s, it’s difficult to include everything.)

I became aware of the role Florence Cohen played in the Philadelphia feminist movement when doing research for Feminism in Philadelphia, The Glory Years: Philadelphia NOW 1968-1982

A member of the National Organization for Women and the Philadelphia Women’s Political Caucus(PWPC), in the early 1970’s she was the organizational genius behind an effort spearheaded by PWPC to get more women invoved in local politics. This was an exciting time to be involved in grasrootos politics, as electoral politics and social movement politics were closely intertwined in Philadelphia in the '70’s. African-Americans (many of whom had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement)and feminists (usually under the banner of the Philadelphia Women’s Political Caucus) organized against the Democratic machine, fighting for inclusion and fair representation as elected officials and as Democratic Party ward leaders and committee persons.

Florence Cohen organized a series of political education workshops sponsored by PWPC which dealt with the basics of the political structure in preparation for the 1972 primary election. According to Cohen, “We have to get a new type of woman--an independent woman--involved in politics.” In a handout she prepared on the political structure, she defined what she meant by an “independent,” someone motivated by issues rather than by political allegiances and loyalties.

Florence was well aware of the distaste many feminists had for partisan politics; she challenged the attendees at a December 1971 political workshop to overcome their reluctance to get involved: “Politics is dirty but we MUST have a part of it. The machine will control parties to the extent that there is apathy, to the extent that we are disorganized. We must use our collective strength--women are 52% of the electorate.” She noted that in 1971 only 7 out of 66 Democratic ward leaders were women, but according to Cohen “none whom you’d call independent women.”

When Philadelphia NOW in 1998 and again in 2002 organized a series of workshops to encourage women to run for committeeperson, we thought we were doing something new and different. But unknown to us, Florence Cohen had spearheaded a much more successful effort 3 decades earlier.

I saw Florence for the last time in December 2013 when I spoke to a group of residents of the Watermark Retirement Community where Florence resided at that time. Although she was experiencing physical disabilities, her mind was as sharp as ever and her commitment to gender equity as strong as ever. The feminist community has lost a powerful advocate for women’s rights.