Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Newly Revitalized Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus

The Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus (PDPC) was formed in Fall, 2010. For me, the inspiration was the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus which was born at the PA Democratic State Committee meeting in June, 2010. I eagerly signed up as one of the founding members and started thinking about how to go about this in Philadelphia.

Later that summer something happened which brought home to me (and quite a few others) that there was an urgent need for a Democratic Progressive Caucus in Philadelphia. Thanks to Holly Otterbein’s July 8, 2010 City Paper article “When Elections Don't Matter: The city Democratic Party doesn't always care what voters think” we learned that the Philadelphia Democratic Party had refused to seat Tracey Gordon, a duly elected committee person, thus allowing a ward committee to overturn the results of an election. If those of us who were committee people and thus representatives of the Democratic Party in our neighborhoods didn’t speak out, we would be complicit.

The Gordon case was the catalyst for the formation of the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to resolve this issue with Philadelphia Democratic City Committee, it was clear we had to take legal action. Attorney Irv Ackelsberg was willing to take Tracey Gordon’s case pro bono; we raised money for court costs and achieved a partial victory. The Party seated Gordon although she had to immediately resign as she had been appointed Deputy City Commissioner and was prohibited from involvement in partisan politics. Without the threat of legal action, it is unlikely Gordon would have been seated.

We also raised the issue at PA State Committee and came close to getting the 2/3 majority necessary to pass an amendment to the State Committee bylaws which would make such a miscarriage of justice much less likely.

After taking the Gordon case as far as we could go, PDPC ran out of steam. It’s much easier to organize support for an individual who has been treated unjustly than it is to organize around abstract principles of democracy and transparency. However, by supporting Tracey Gordon and bringing her case to the attention of State Committee, by developing a model of what a democratic, transparent ward should look like, PDPC made some progress.

Perhaps most important, by bringing together committeepeople from wards around the city, PDPC challenged the Party culture which sees each ward as its own little fiefdom with committeepeople having a voice only through the all-powerful ward leader. In response to being told, “It’s none of your business what happens in other wards,” our answer was that undemocratic practices and low-turnout in the 40th ward hurt us all. (Tracey Gordon ran for committeeperson to try to increase the dismal turnout in her ward)

By 2014, the caucus had dwindled to a small group of mostly elderly folks. It was clear that we would never succeed in making the Philadelphia Democratic Party more democratic, more transparent unless we attracted young people to assume leadership of the caucus and take it to the next level.

PDPC has recently elected a dynamic new leadership team, many of whom are currently Democratic committeepeople and thus well positioned to speak in their capacity as elected members of the Democratic Party. The first general meeting of PDPC under its new leadership team occurred on August 19 and was attended by over 30 people, most in their 20’s and early thirties and involved in local politics as Democratic commiteepersons and campaign workers. The meeting was devoted to plans for an ambitious voter registration campaign and a GOTV campaign to elect Tom Wolf as our next governor. The leadership hopes to build membership through these campaigns and be a real force in the 2015 municipal elections. PDPC also intends to be presence at the upcoming Pennsylvania State committee meeting in Philadelphia on September 12 and 13.

It is gratifying to see this revitalized PDPC with a group of young enthusiastic activists and an ambitious agenda for 2014, 2015 and beyond!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The year without hydrangeas

Hydrangea Macrophylla
in bloom in my garden in 2013

Well, it hasn’t exactly been a year without hydrangeas. Some of my lace caps and my oakleaf made it. But this year, the hydrangeas I love the most (hydrangea macrophylla AKA mopheads) were nowhere to be seen in the gardens of the Delaware valley.

It was not only the hydrangeas in my own garden which I sorely missed. I loved seeing all the gorgeous blooms in gardens all over my neighborhood. Northwest Philadelphia is a beautiful place overflowing with mature trees and flowering shrubs and I hadn’t realized how much I enjoyed seeing all the hydrangeas in the neighborhood gardens--both those well-tended and those seriously neglected. Once established hydrangeas will bloom forever—unless they’re subjected to a brutal bud-blasting winter such as the winter of 2014.

But in gardening for every disappointment there is always a consolation. Usually the oakleafs start out bright white, fade to pale pink and then turn brown—usually sometime in early to mid-July. This year, probably due to all the rainfall, the oakleaf panicles are still pink.
Oakleaf hydrangea, 2014

And the late blooming hydrangeas which tend to be very hardy are starting to bloom

Tardive hydrangea,2014

But we gardeners are always looking towards the next season and next year I hope to see Nikko Blue again. Two years without my beloved mopheads would be too cruel.
Nikko blue blooming in 2013

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Marking the centennial for World War I: Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion

The centennial for World War I (August 4 1914) inspired Rick and me to watch Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion which explores the experiences of French prisoners of war in German prison camps during WW I. Generally viewed as one of the great anti-war films ever made, it was on my long list of great books never read, great films/ plays never seen.

The German aristocrat who runs the camp bonds with an imprisoned French aristocrat. For the German officer, class loyalty counts almost as much as nationality and he laments a world in which the old aristocracy is declining. The French officer is more open to the new social order he expects to come in the aftermath of WWI; he increasingly comes to respect soldiers from backgrounds different from his own—a working class Parisian and a wealthy Jewish soldier.

This description of soldiers overcoming class barriers / ethnic prejudices in the cauldron of WW I may sound a little too formulaic, almost trite, but that’s not how we experienced it when viewing the film. It’s totally absorbing, moving--a film I’ll remember and intend to watch again. I’m sure there are subtleties/ nuances I missed the first time around.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gardening for Fragrance: Nothing Tops Casa Blanca!

Casa Blanca

For me, the high point of the garden season is mid to late July when the oriental lilies bloom. The most spectacular of all is Casa Blanca with its intoxicating fragrance.

Sometimes I think I garden for fragrance. This is something you cannot buy at the florist shops which sell mostly fragrance-free flowers. Granted the oriental lilies sold by florists are often fragrant but they can’t begin to compare to the over-powering scent of Casa Blanca in the garden

Sadly, the evil groundhog which has destroyed my phlox has also chomped away at some of my oriental lilies, but fortunately he left some for me. If he destroyed all my Casa Blanca lilies I’d be out there with a shotgun!

Anybody have any ideas for getting rid of groundhogs??

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Foliage matters or how I learned to love Astilbe.

Bridal Veil Astilbe

When I first started gardening I was infatuated with brightly colored, showy flowers. The garden I inherited was filled with phlox which were spectacular for the first few weeks of their long season of bloom. Then came the spider mite and the powdery mildew and my phlox-filled garden became a garden filled with diseased foliage.

But despite the phlox problem, I kept falling for the showy flowers— e.g., the cherry red flowers of monarda which really brighten up a gloomy corner but soon become a mass of ratty foliage covered with powdery mildew or the spectacular flowers of hollyhocks which inevitably succumb to hideous rust.

It took me a long time to accept the fact that the flowers of my perennials last for a short time, but the foliage hangs around the entire season. Now I have banished monarda and hollyhocks and greatly reduced the phlox. An evil groundhog is also destroying my phlox and I am slowly replacing them with plants with graceful foliage like Astilbe.

Among the many advantages of Astilbe: they bloom in deep shade, require little care, are easily divided so that you can increase your stock very quickly. They also have a long season of bloom with varieties which bloom in early June, mid-June early July and mid-July. The very first is Bridal Veil pictured above. Its bright white plumes brighten up dark corners of the garden, and instead of turning horribly ugly on it is way out like so many perennial flowers, Bridal Veil fades gracefully to a cream color before turning brown late in the season.

Ostrich Plume blooms in mid-June with bright pink plumes fading to pale pink before turning brown. But even when it has turned brown, the delicate plumes still have ornamental value and even persist through the winter.
Ostrich Plume Astilbe

The later blooming varieties generally have fuzzy foliage unlike the lacy foliage of bridal veil and ostrich plume and they tend to be deeper colors. For the edge of border where low plants are needed, there’s Astilbe Chinensis Pumila which stats blooming in early July:
Astilbe Chinensis Pumila

For spots where larger flowers are needed there’s the spectacular Astilbe Chinensis Purple Candles which grows to about 3 feet tall and blooms in early to mid-July:
Astilbe Chinensis Purple Candles

The last astilbe to bloom in my garden is just beginning now. It's a plant I bought last fall so I don’t quite know what to expect. It looks like the plumes will be pale pink and the foliage is the most beautiful of all with finely cut leaves and not a speck of powdery mildew.

Astilbe is now at the top of my list for most useful plants. I’ll never fall in love with it the way I have with my oriental lilies, but I sure do appreciate its virtues.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Yucca can bloom in deepest, darkest shade!

We have been gardening on his plot of land for 22 years. Many years ago a yucca plan tucked away in a dark corner of our garden bloomed. It was a one-time event and we never expected to see the yucca again—after all they’re supposed to be sun-lovers.

It was too big to move, so we just accepted it as a foliage plant--and the foliage is impressive. But for some unaccountable reason, this year the yucca decided to bloom.

The conditions haven’t changed; it’s still in deep shade. So how account for this? Anyone out there with an explanation?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Survivors: Oakleaf Hydrangea and Blue Billow Lacecap Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea

My summer garden relies heavily on hydrangeas. About 10 years ago, Rick and I decided to prepare for old age gardening by moving away from labor intensive perennials and putting in more shrubs and ornamental trees. We planted lots of hollies for the winter; quince, early blooming rhododendron and redbud for early spring: lilacs, azaleas for mid-spring; rhododendron and Mt. Laurel for late Spring; and for summer crape myrtle and hydrangea—lots and lots of hydrangea.

This has been a sad year for hydrangea lovers; many of our beloved hydrangeas are just little green clumps with no blooms. Although most died back, they are sprouting new leaves from the base. Mophead hydrangeas bloom on old wood (now lifeless sticks), so no flowers this year. They will live to bloom another day—that is if we haven’t moved into a new climate pattern of severe winters like last year’s.

However, there are some hydrangea that can withstand severe winters—oakleaf hydrangea ( pictured above) which has gigantic fragrant white blooms, spectacular deep purple fall foliage and very showy bark for winter interest.

Many of the lace caps are also very hardy and Blue Billow Lacecap is putting on its usual show and making the bees very happy.
Blue Lacecap Hydrangea

Then there’s Endless Summer which is supposed to bloom on new wood (that is woody stems generated this year) and thus can bloom when the old wood is damaged by severe winters. So far no sign of bloom on Endless Summer, but I haven’t given up hope.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Block Island is Magical in June

Rick and I have been to Block Island many times—we’ve lost count of how many. We have always gone in the summer (July and August and in early September). The beaches were covered with rugosoa roses, festooned with rose hips rather than flowers. We’ve wondered what the island is like when the rugosas are in bloom. This year we found out.

And it’s not just the rugosas with their wonderful fragrance; there were other gorgeous wildflowers we had not seen on Block Island before. Another advantage: weather in the 70’s with low humidity. True we did get rainy days, but we had several days which were glorious.

And although Block Island beaches are never crowded in June, on weekdays we had the beaches practically to ourselves. And all the beaches are open, with none of the beach access problems we encountered in Martha’s Vineyard where the public beaches were disappointing and beach access was severely restricted. The mega mansions took up large stretches of precious beach.

Another advantage of Block Island in June: you can walk into any restaurant without a reservation—-generally not the case in July and August. For a tiny little island, Block Island has quite a few very good restaurants. Our favorites: Atlantic Inn, Manisses, Winfield’s, Eli’s, and newcomer, the Surf Hotel.

Some of these advantages (no crowds, reduced rental prices) apply to September and we certainly enjoyed our September vacation on Block Island, but the flowers in June have decided it for us. From now on we go in June!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Remembering Karen DeCrow

I was not involved in NOW in the mid-1970's and never had the opportunity to meet Karen DeCrow,but I learned a great deal about her when doing research for my book Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982. The obituaries in the NYT in the Huffington Post did not convey her radical vision. She was a pioneer in bringing what we now call an intersectional approach to the feminist movement. From the section on the 1975 national NOW conference in Philadelphia described in Feminism in Philadelphia:

In her keynote address Karen DeCrow declared:

“This is not a woman’s movement; this is a people’s movement.” She made a public apology to lesbians and gays noting that “our failure has been in not seeing the unbreakable connection between sexual stereotyping and fear of gay people.” She also made an apology to women and men of color, pledging that NOW must use its resources to fight against racism in America, and affirming “this is not a white organization." (p.205)

The “Majority Caucus” which DeCrow led adopted a new slogan reflecting its vision for NOW:

The Majority Caucus adopted the slogan, “Out of theMainstream, into the Revolution.” This was quite a departure from the Statement of Purpose adopted at the first NOW conference in 1966: “The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.” In sharp contrast, national NOW President Karen DeCrow stated in 1975: “Most feminists have concluded that it is time for our aspirations and our actions to go out of the mainstream and into the revolution. To emerge from trying to get a piece of the pie which is tasteless and unfulfilling at best—to changing the very fabric of life for women and men and children alike." (p.200)

The new slogan disappeared at some point after the end of Karen DeCrow’s presidency. From Feminism in Philadelphia:
Interestingly, NOW went from its 1966 founding statement, “to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society” to its 1975 slogan “out of the mainstream into the revolution” to the1979 assertion thatwomen are part of a “new mainstream.” With the backlash against feminismgrowing stronger, framing feminism as a “revolution” was probably not the best rhetorical move.(p.295)

Karen DeCrow was ahead of her time; I think her radical vision would resonate with many young feminists today.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A good year for peonies! For hydrangeas not so much

Fernleaf peony

I thought this might be a good year for peonies. They’re reputed to like cold winters and those gorgeous peonies we saw in Russia certainly suggested a connection between frigid winters and spectacular peony blooms.

The peony season began with the early blooming delicate fern leaf peony followed by the most spectacular of all, the non-herbaceous peonies commonly known as tree peonies.
pink tree peony

My favorite combination is a bright white that I planted next to a deep burgundy tree peony.

Tree peonies may have the showiest flowers but they are certainly the most evanescent, lasting at most a couple of days.

Then the herbaceous peonies which combine gorgeous blooms with fragrance to die for—although unfortunately some of the new varieties have weak to non-existent fragrance

a very fragrant herbaceous peony blooming right now in my garden.

My husband deeply regrets that when his father sold his house and moved into assistant living that he didn’t dig up the astonishingly fragrant peonies which bloomed in that garden as far back as he can remember.

The cold weather that may have been responsible for a very good year for peonies was certainly responsible for the hydrangea disaster—-not just in my garden but all over the Delaware valley. My oak leaf and some lace caps have buds, but the mop head hydrangeas didn’t make it. I will really miss them.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Coping with the post-election blues

I’m usually depressed after an election. The candidates I support often don’t make it. This year my major disappointment was down ballot. I was reconciled to the idea of Tom Wolfe’s winning the gubernatorial race and I expect he will be a strong general election candidate.

However, I saw this election as an opportunity to elect several seriously good candidates to the state legislature and most of them lost. Sure, it was very disappointing but I don’t see this as the worst night for progressives in recent memory.

There is a real case to be made that the glass is half-full. Many good candidates lose their first run for office. The first run raises their profile and gives them an opportunity to hone their skills as campaigners. Young progressives like Brian Gralnick, Emily Rodriguez, Jared Solomon, and Billy Smith will in all probability run for public office again. These candidates are not going away.

As Emily Rodriguez put it in an email to her supporters:
That was the question my neighbors kept asking when I left my house yesterday, the morning after the election: "I voted for you, Miss Emily. Did you win?"

Not at the polls, but everywhere else we went, it's a resounding yes.

We ran a great campaign defined by integrity and respect, and we can all be proud of the seeds of hope that were planted in North Philadelphia.

To every voter, volunteer, donor, and cheerleader, thank you. Thank you, Karen. Thank you for your support, your encouragement, and for being there with me and my team throughout this journey.

Until next time, if you need me I'll be out in the community doing the same work I would have done if elected, equipped with new knowledge and new ideas, thanks to this race. I'd call that a win.
We need to support talented young progressives—even if we expect they won’t win the first time. I knew that Emily Rodriguez and Brian Gralnick (and others) were long shots, but when there are young progressive candidates, with their intellect, knowledge of issues, commitment to public service, I want to support them as an investment in the future. Actually, given that Brian Gralnick had no backing from elected officials (other than 9th ward committeepeople), he did quite well for a newcomer.

The newspaper headlines focus on the negative— “Most newcomers lose to party and union backing” , but the news articles describe the seeds of change. As challenger Tomas Sanchez put it:

"This was never about how other people would interpret what we were doing," he said. "We have a long-term strategy that will become apparent more and more over the years."

…"We showed people that we have courage," Sánchez said. "I see this growing. ... I'm not happy with the leadership in my community."

Another hopeful sign, in Philly we have a lot more young progressives who ran for committeeperson this time with an eye to building the infrastructure we’ll need to actually elect progressive candidates. Also, there were far more write in-candidates this time. Jon Greeting's interactive map letting people know where there were vacancies was a tremendous resource. There actually was a buzz about running for committee person. Is running for committeeperson becoming a cool thing to do?

Friday, May 16, 2014

It’s not too late to mount a write-in campaign for committeeperson!

It’s not too late to mount a write-in campaign for committeeperson! The Democratic Party infrastructure is in a sorry state with many committeeperson slots going unfilled.

Thanks to Jon Geeting we have an interactive map which shows exactly where the vacancies occur. Great job, Jon! Please see the map
on his blog at Keystone Politics and also posted on the New Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus (PDPC)website.

I have found both in the workshops NOW/CLUW conducted in2013/2014 and in the committeeperson workshops NOW conducted a decade ago, that often people become interested in running for committeeperson, but learn about the process too late and miss the deadline for filing petitions.

However failing to get on the ballot does not necessarily preclude winning a race in these low turn-out elections. It is difficult (although not impossible) to win a write-in campaign against a candidate who is on the ballot. However, it is very easy to win a write-in campaign when there is an open slot for committeeperson.

A write-in campaign is a more viable option than I once realized. (For years, I had been under the impression that 10 signatures were required.) I checked with Commissioner Singer’s office and found to my surprise that assuming a write-in candidate is the only candidate for an open slot, only one signature is necessary to win!

In other words, if Candidate A for committeeperson gets 100 votes and Candidate B for committeeperson gets one write-in vote, then both are elected-- assuming that there is no other write-in candidate with a higher vote total.

Commissioner Singer has also posted detailed instructions for write-in votes here

There are also write in options for Democratic State Committee although there are far fewer possibilities as there only about 50 slots as opposed to about 3400 for Democratic committeeperson (2 slots per division).

State committee slots are allotted by senatorial district. A list of candidates is posted here

Scroll down to page 93 for the list of Philadelphia candidates for Democratic State Committee. They are listed by senatorial district and the number of slots is noted. In the first district it says "Vote for not more than 8." Nine candidates are listed, so this district would not be an easy one for a write in-candidate to win. There are a few senatorial districts with more slots available than there are candidates and thus opportunities for a write-in candidate.

There is more interest in committeeperson elections this year than I can ever remember with excellent coverage by Emily Guendelsberger and Jon Geeting. See

Feibush vs. the machine

30th Ward Reformer Fight: Are New Philadelphians Finally Flexing Their Political Muscle?

I don't think I would vote for some of these newcomers (e.g. Ori Feibush), but in a city in which less than 10% of the voters turned out in the 2013 primary election, this energy and interest in grassroots political involvement is to be applauded.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Akebono, the most beautiful tulip in the world

This was a good year for tulips- - at least it was in my garden. Usually the underground critters eat most of my tulip bulbs, but this year they decided to leave me almost all of my tulips. And Akebono was the star. It begins looking like a regular tulip but as the bulb opens it looks more and more like a peony.

It’s a soft yellow with petals rimmed by a thin line of brilliant red. It also has the virtue of lasting a really long time as a cutflower.

The only downside is that when it’s fading, Akebono turns into the ugliest tulip in the world-–no need to include a photo of that.

I’m now down to a few late tulips including one of my favorite combinations, deep purple (almost black) Queen of the Night, paired with Maureen, an incredibly long lasting cream colored tulip which matures to a bright white.

The tulip season is (sadly) winding down but the tree peonies are beginning!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Delaware Valley in mid-spring has got to be one of the most beautiful places on earth!

Cornell's Pink Rhododendron

During my working years, I always felt that the glory of mid-spring went by so quickly. There would be a brief glimpse of early flowering shrubs and then they were gone. I thought that when I retired I would be able to take it in much more slowly, but somehow it hasn’t worked out that way.

In preparation for old age gardening, I slowly converted my garden from a perennial garden to a mixture of perennials and easy care flowering shrubs. They are all incredibly beautiful but their flowers last for just a few days--if we have serious storms, they are literally here today, gone tomorrow. The show begins with the delicate flowers of deciduous rhododendron Cornell's Pink.

Then the PJM evergreen rhododendron which has the advantage of foliage which darkens to deep purple as the season progresses.

Cherries have the briefest period of bloom of all--especially true of the purple sandcherry which also has the advantage of reddish purple foliage to break up the midsummer wall of green (The downside of flowering shrubs is that for the most part it is a spring show.)
Purple Sandcherry

The shrubs are all blooming later than usual this year but the succession of bloom never changes, the cherries after the early rhodos, the redbud trees with their gorgeous purplish flowers and graceful shape always bloomimg with the cherries and with the astonishingly fragrant early viburnums, followed by the dogwoods and crabapples. So what if they often bloom for less than a week?

Carlesi Viburnum

Crabapple Indian Summer

The azaleas and lilacs are just beginning to emerge.

Emerging azalea

The first lilac

I can never get enough of that lilac fragrance. The Delaware Valley in mid-spring has got to be one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Whenever there’s a Threepenny Opera within easy traveling range, I make every effort to see it

Whenever there’s a Threepenny Opera within easy traveling range, my husband and I make every effort to see it. We went to NYC last weekend to see the production at the Atlantic Theater—the 6th (or maybe7th?) we’ve seen together. Rick was fortunate enough at the age of eleven to have seen the first New York production with Lotte Lenya.

This production got luke warm reviews but we both liked it and would recommend it. I think most reviewers have an ideal production of Threepenny Opera in their heads and no actual production can ever measure up.

The Threepenny Opera has some of the greatest songs in musical theater—Mack the Knife, Pirate Jenny, the Tango Ballad. Judy Collins first introduced me to Pirate Jenny’s song and it’s still my favorite version—although Sally Murphy who played Jenny in the Atlantic production was very good.

Although the Threepenny Opera has been generally viewed as Brecht’s satiric take-down of capitalism, I’ve never seen it that way. Sure there are those famous lines—e.g. “What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?” But I’ve always seen the Threepenny Opera as a cynical account of human cruelty with those on the bottom preying on those even more vulnerable, and with a savage portrayal of gender inequality at the emotional heart of the piece. The one time the caricatures become human beings is when Jenny pours out her pain at Macheath’s betrayal in Pirate Jenny’s song, followed by one of the most poignant songs ever written about love gone bad— Macheath and Jenny’s duet in the Tango Ballad.

So if you’re in NYC anytime soon, I recommend the Atlantic Theater’s production of Threepenny Opera. (of course, I’d recommend just about any production.)

Friday was our Weimar Republic day. In the afternoon we went to the Neue Galerie to see Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937.

The exhibit was definitely worth it-–although just because Hitler hated a painting doesn’t mean it was a major work of art. There were some truly awful paintings in there with the Feininger’s and Klee’s. The exhibit also included archival footage of the citizens of Munich wandering through the exhibit looking dazed, uncomfortable and uncomprehending.

Definitely worth it if you’re in NYC before it closes on June 30. And the Neue Galerie has probably the most beautiful café in NYC, a recreation of a Viennese café with pastry to die for.