Sunday, July 15, 2018


My article on the direction of the Democratic Party which appeared in the July 12 Chestnut Hill Local:

Not so long ago many progressives had little interest in working within what they saw as a hopelessly compromised, ineffective Democratic Party. Now, thanks to Trump’s victory, progressive organizations are increasingly turning to electoral politics and trying to build a base within the Democratic Party

Progressive groups have contributed to some surprising recent victories – such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s win in NYC. Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) provided the ground troops for her defeat of a long-term incumbent thought to have been invincible.

Closer to home, Elizabeth Fiedler’s knock-out victory in South Philadelphia owed much to the efforts of Reclaim Philadelphia, an organization formed by veterans of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Members of progressive groups are increasingly bringing their energy and values to the Philadelphia Democratic Party – most dramatically in Reclaim’s takeover of the 1st and 2nd Wards in South Philadelphia.

This trend towards closer connections between progressive organizations and the Democratic Party can also be seen in Northwest Philadelphia. Mindy Brown was one of the founders of Indivisible NW Philly (INWP), formed after the November 2106 election to organize resistance to the Trump presidency. Brown did not see much activity on the part of the local Democratic Party to combat the Trump agenda, so when Steve Masters, the committeeperson in her division and fellow INWP member, asked her if she would like to fill a vacant committeeperson seat, Brown decided to pitch in.

In her committeeperson role, Brown has been knocking on doors, “getting a conversation going and hearing from voters about what matters to them.” She has gotten people in her division involved in INWP’s “Red to Blue” group and in Turn PA Blue.

“Some of these folks have become super-volunteers,” Brown said, “supporting candidates at the local level, canvassing out in DelCo, showing up for post-carding events at the High Point Cafe, and generally doing the work that needs to be done. It’s pretty inspiring.”

Neighborhood Networks steering committee member Margaret Lenzi also believes that to achieve progressive goals in Philadelphia “we need a Democratic Party that is up to the task – that will get the vote out and elect good Democrats up and down the ballot.”

To that end, Neighborhood Networks along with other progressive organizations recruited progressive activists to revitalize the party from within by running for committeeperson positions. According to Lenzi, NN has long advocated both an inside and outside strategy for changing the direction of the Democratic Party.

“Now we’re gratified to see the inside strategy gain steam as the wave of new activists, especially people of color and women, have stepped forward to grasp the reins of power,” she said.

The involvement of progressive activists within the Democratic Party has not always been welcomed by traditional party activists, who fear that an increasingly left-of-center party will not be in a position to win general elections. However, progressives argue that the energy they bring and the policy positions they advocate are essential to revitalize the party. Some see themselves as the left-wing equivalent of the Tea Party, determined to push the Democratic Party to the left as the Tea Party yanked the Republican Party further to the right.

This tension between centrist and progressive wings of the Democratic Party is playing out both nationally and locally in a context where the major political parties have the allegiance of a declining share of voters, as growing numbers of voters register as independents.

The diminished clout of the two major parties is part of a broader trend as Thomas Friedman pointed out in a recent New York Times column: “The big mainstream political parties across the industrialized world are all blowing up at once. It’s quite extraordinary.”

The Nov. 18 election should give us a better idea of the relative strength of the major parties and the extent to which progressives have indeed established a base within the Democratic Party.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

I have finally finished my book In Search of Elena Ferrante


I have finally finished my book In Search of Elena Ferrante; final proofs and index have been sent to McFarland Press. I greatly enjoyed doing the research and writing the book—the proofreading and indexing, not so much.

When you sign a contract with a traditional publisher, you relinquish control of the title, the cover and the price. I’m happy with the cover photo and the title, but I sure wish the price were lower. I intend to ask my friends to a request that their library order my book, now available for pre-order on Amazon, rather than ask them to buy a copy. They should spend their money on Ferrante’s novels rather than my book.

I wrote this book to help me unlock the secrets of Elena Ferrante’s power, to better understand why these books have had such a hold on my imagination and that of millions of readers worldwide. I was introduced to Ferrante by James Woods’ January 2013 New Yorker article, which made a compelling case for Ferrante. I was not disappointed. Since then I’ve read all her books at least three times.

When I searched for material about Ferrante, I found countless reviews, essays, and blog posts but only two full-length studies. I searched without success for a comprehensive study of Ferrante that would explore the complicated interweaving of thematic strands, including analysis of the political dimension, an aspect of Ferrante’s work largely ignored by reviewers. Finally, I decided to try to write the book I wanted to read.

In Search of Elena Ferrante explores the international reaction to Ferrante, dubbed “Ferrante Fever,” the controversy surrounding Ferrante’s decision to write under a pseudonym, and the special challenges posed by a work in translation. I draw on the many insights Ann Goldstein has provided into the process of translating Ferrante’s work, along with her sense of the themes and preoccupations of the elusive author. Furthermore, Ferrante, in numerous interviews conducted solely through letters and email, has provided a running commentary on her work. I cannot recall another instance when readers have had the benefit of both the author’s and translator’s insights into the creative process.

Reviewers have generally ignored the political dimension of the Neapolitan novels and have focused primarily on Ferrante’s exploration of personal relationships, in particular female friendship. However, the Neapolitan Quartet is very much a political text. Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet is deeply political in that the characters’ personal histories are interwoven with the larger social drama although there is no easily extractable political philosophy. Ferrante has intertwined the political and personal strands so effectively that the political debate never feels intrusive, with the characters’ political beliefs emerging organically from their circumstances and personalities.

Although many readers have seen the Neapolitan Quartet as a searing portrait of man’s inhumanity towards women, I argue that Ferrante’s portrayal of gender roles is far more nuanced, with some of her male characters taking tentative steps towards gender equality. Ferrante portrays both her male and female characters as prisoners of gender, their lives constrained by the expectations of a deeply sexist society. Ferrante portrays a world in which gender roles are changing, with at least some of her male characters a part of that change.

I explore the responses to Ferrante’s decision to remain anonymous and the passionate insistence of her devoted fans that the author must be a woman. Then along came journalist Claudio Gatti’s well-documented claim that Ferrante was Anita Raja who, unlike Ferrante, did not grow up in an impoverished Neapolitan neighborhood but rather left Naples at the age of three and lived in middle class comfort in Rome. Presumably, Raja had ready access to the educational opportunities that Ferrante’s characters struggled to obtain. Most of Ferrante’s readers appeared not to be disturbed by this discrepancy and tended to view the falsely claimed Neapolitan background of Ferrante as a literary device.

Many Ferrante fans expressed relief that at least Gatti identified a woman as the author; however, Gatti left open the possibility of collaboration with Raja’s husband, Domenico Starnone . When I first read about the identification of Starnone as the probable author (or co-author), I dismissed it out of hand. I had made up my mind that it was impossible that a man could have written any part of this deeply felt account of female experience; there were just too many intimate details of life in a female body. I am no longer convinced this is the case and can no longer discount the mounting evidence pointing to Starnone’s authorship, including as of this writing four separate teams of linguists whose text analysis software has pointed to Starnone as the principal author, as well as echoes of Ferrante’s work in Starnone’s recently published novels

Certainly many of Ferrante’s fans would be deeply disappointed to learn that the books were not solely the work of a woman, but there are surely others intrigued by the collaboration of a man and woman on books that so powerfully explore issues of gender. The whole experience has challenged some of my assumptions about literature—principally that there is such a thing as an authentic female voice that can be recognized as such. As Ferrante herself has said in her collection of interviews and letters, Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey, “A good writer, male or female can imitate the two sexes with equal effectiveness.” So does all this matter?

I question whether we will read the novels differently if we know that the author is not a woman drawing on her own experience of class and gender discrimination. In my recent re-reading of the Neapolitan novels, I forgot all about Anita Raja, Domenico Starnone and Claudio Gatti and became once again totally immersed in the world of Lila and Elena. This is what counts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

What I learned at the Block Island Historical Museum

Block Island Historical Museum

I never thought Rick and I would turn into the kind of people who would return to the same vacation spot every year, but we have fallen in love with Block Island. This year’s house was in remote location on Mohegan Bluffs accessible only by extremely narrow dirt roads. It was worth the struggle with the dirt roads for the ocean views.


This year we did something we’ve been planning to do for many years, but never got around to. We took advantage of our one rainy day to visit Block Island Historical museum.It is definitely worth a visit for a fascinating glimpse into island life back in the 17thc.

In 1662, natives on the island numbered somewhere from 1,200 to 1,500. By 1774, that number had been reduced to fifty-one. When I asked what had happened to the dwindling native population, I was told they merged with the native African population. When I asked if the Africans were enslaved, the answer was a reluctant yes. So even idyllic Block Island shares the country’s ugly history of of slavery and the reluctance to acknowledge it. There is not a word about enslaved persons at Block Island Historical Museum.

I also learned that Block Island’s harbor was not a natural harbor but was built by the federal government. The harbor had a major economic impact leading to the growth of large hotels and the expansion of the tourist industry—-an example of government expenditures leading to economic development. My guess is that there are many projects around the country that have made a major impact on the local economy and are now just thought of as having always been there, with the government’s role completely forgotten.

We’re happy we finally got around to visiting Block Island Historical museum!

Monday, May 28, 2018

I am very happy to be a retired committeeperson!

Although I enjoyed my 32 years as a committeeperson, I am very happy to be a retired committeeperson. I hope to continue some involvement in the ward as an Associate Committeeperson, helping out on Election Day and with distribution of flyers as needed. I’m still intensely interested in politics, and want to be in involved in the ward at some level, but at this stage in my life I don’t think I can handle that long day at the polls; also walking around the neighborhood delivering all those election flyers is getting really difficult.

I strongly believe that if someone is not willing or able to get out there and knock on doors and talk to their neighbors about what’s at stake in each election, that person should not be a committeeperson. It was becoming clear to me that I no longer had the energy for going door to door and after 32 years I had think I have earned a rest. I look forward to helping out on election day but I need to ratchet down the level of responsibility. And fortunately there is a very smart, energetic young woman in my division who ran for committeeperson.

At this stage in my life, I would much rather read and write about politics than do door-to-door organizing organizing. See my analysis of the May 15 primary results in the Chestnut Hill Local.

I think probably the most useful thing I have done in local politics was my documentation and analysis of the efforts of progressives to reform the local political system in Green Shoots of Democracy. I’m frequently asked if I will do a sequel; my answer has been that I sure hope someone continues this story with an in-depth analysis of the efforts of progressives in 2018, but that it won’t be me.

The 2018 campaign to reinvigorate the Philadelphia Democratic Party has been very much the work of millennials. That’s where the energy is and I do not have enough connections and knowledge of the work of young activists. Philly has many talented young political writers; I sure hope one of them is interested in documenting/ analyzing progressive organizing in 2018 committeeperson and ward leader races.


Monday, May 7, 2018

Domenico Starnone's Trick


Domenico Starnone has joined the list of writers whose books I pre-order and read as soon as they are available. His latest, Trick, translated by and with an introduction by Jhumpa Lahiri did not speak to me as powerfully as its predecessor, Ties, also translated and with an introduction by Lahiri. But I expect more of its power will emerge upon re-reading—that was certainly the case with Ties and with First Execution, the first of Starnone’s books translated into English.

Only three of Starnone’s 14 novels have been translated into English. If his role in the books attributed to Elena Ferrante is ever acknowledged, we might have the opportunity to read more of his work in translation. Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym, a fictional character created to camouflage the identity of its probable co-authors, Starnone and his wife, Anita Raja. (To date, four teams of experts using text analysis software have identified Starnone as the principal author of the Neapolitan novels.)

Although the plot of Trick is very different from that of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, there are thematic similarities. The central relationship in the Neapolitan novels is the complicated friendship between two young girls growing up in a Neapolitan working class neighborhood in the 1950s. One escapes Naples; the other doesn’t. In Trick, like the Neapolitan novels, Naples itself becomes a character, although unlike the Neapolitan novels which depict both the beauty and the misery of Naples, Trick focuses on the misery. The central relationship in Trick is between Daniele Mallarico, an elderly artist struggling with the frailties of old age and disappointments of a declining career, and his precocious four year old grandson.Like Lila and Elena of the Neapolitan novels, Mallarico, generally referred to as Grandpa, grew up in 1950s working class Naples.

Like Elena, Mallarico longed to escape Naples and his difficult family; like Elena, through education and talent he managed to do so. Several of the details of working class life recalled by Mallarico in Trick are reminiscent of descriptions of Elena’s family dealing with the difficulties of a large family living in a relatively small space: Elena describes the daily ritual of dismantling the dining room furniture, making up the beds at night and unmaking them in the morning, so the dining room could double as a bedroom. Similarly, Mallarico describes himself and his brother making their “beds in the evenings, in the living room, putting an end to my mother’s elegant aspirations."

Elena at times speculates on what she might have become if she hadn’t had the strength to leave Naples, and what the far more talented Lila might have become if her family, like Elena’s, had allowed her to continue her education. Similarly, the elderly artist in Trick becomes obsessed with the roads not taken.

Starnone’s novels are characterized by narrative complexity and intertextual drama; in Trick there are running allusions to the Henry James novella The Jolly Corner, which Mallarico has been called upon to illustrate. In the James story, the protagonist Brydon Spencer, who has been living for years in Europe, returns to the New York City house in which he has grown up. Like Starnone’s aging artist who has also returned to his childhood home, Brydon is obsessed with the road not taken and searches for the ghosts of possible alternative selves.

Lahiri thinks that a knowledge of James’ story enriches the experience of reading Trick and on her recommendation I re-read The Jolly Corner. James is every bit as wordy and repetitious as I recalled and I have no desire to read James again, but The Jolly Corner does add a dimension to Trick, suggesting the universality of the experience of mulling over never to be realized possibilities as one moves into one’s later years.

Faced with physical frailty and declining career prospects, Mallarico is unnerved by the talent and physical vitality of his grandson Mario. Their relationship becomes a dangerous contest of wills, culminating in Mario’s telling his grandfather he intends to play a “trick” on him. He locks the door to the balcony and exposes his grandfather to the wind and the rain—echoes of King Lear, intentional or not.

Starnone’s novels, with their literary allusions and avoidance of straightforward narration, are often described as metafiction. I’ve wondered if Starnone decided to write or co-write the Neapolitan novels in order to try his hand at the old-fashioned straightforward narration he has generally avoided. However, on rereading, the Neapolitan novels reveal themselves as far more complicated than the old-fashioned Bildungsroman they are generally thought to be.

Trick concludes with an appendix complete with sketches. I haven’t quite figured out the purpose of the appendix beyond shifting the perspective from “grandpa” (Daniele chafes at the name grandpa) to the artist Daniele Mallarico. However, upon re-reading, the relationship between the main text and the ”appendix” might become clearer. Starnone (like Ferrante) is one of those novelists you have to re-read.



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Is this the beginning of the end?



James Comey's most devastating comment came at the end of his interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulis. Comey dismissed claims made by some that Trump is medically unfit to hold office.
"But not in the way ... I often hear people talk about it. I don't buy this stuff about him being mentally incompetent or early stages of dementia. He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who's tracking conversations and knows what's going on," Comey said. "I don't think he's medically unfit to be president. I think he's morally unfit to be president."

"A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they're pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person's not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds.

"Our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country. The most important being truth. This president is not able to do that. He is morally unfit to be president," he said.

Will Comey’s indictment of the moral failings of the Trump presidency, along with Michael Wolf's scathing portrait of the incompetence of the Trump administration in Fire and Fury:Inside the Trump White House,mobilize those trying to bury their heads in the sand, hoping this nightmare will just go away. In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright asked “Will We Stop Trump Before It’s Too Late?” A question on the minds of so many of us.

Comey told Stephanopoulos that he didn’t think impeachment was the answer—-that the American people had to vote Trump out of office. But that can’t happen until November 2020; there’s too much at stake to wait two and a half years. We need to vote in a Democratic House of Representatives, which can initiate articles of impeachment. Granted, at this point it’s unlikely that 2/3 of the Senate would vote to convict, but we do not know what the Mueller investigation and the investigation of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s files will uncover. Impeachment and conviction are not impossible.

The stakes are high. Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in their new book How Democracies Die propose a four-part test for identifying authoritarian leaders: "rejecting democratic institutions, denying the legitimacy of political opponents, tolerating or encouraging violence and curtailing civil liberties." They note: “With the exception of Richard Nixon, no major-party presidential candidate met even one of these four criteria over the last century...Donald Trump met all of them.”

This is becoming seriously scary.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Bob Brady's recent Inquirer article,“What is a committee person?” ignores the lack of democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party




Bob Brady in his recent article “What is a committee person?” describes committeepeople as “grassroots boots on the ground of the political parties” and “the backbone of our democratic process.”

Unfortunately, many of the people he describes as the backbone of our democracy do not have right to participate in the democratic process by voting on Democratic Party endorsements. In only a handful of wards do committeepeople consistently vote on endorsements; in most wards the decisions are made by the ward leader.

In theory all the ward leaders then come together to vote on candidate endorsements and the majority vote of ward leaders determines the Philadelphia Democratic Party (known as City Committee) endorsements. In practice a small group of party leaders makes the decisions and ward leaders are expected to fall in line.

One of the ward leaders I interviewed for my book Green Shoots
 of Democracy within the Philadelphia Democratic Partynoted that the 69 ward leaders are not all equally empowered to make endorsement decisions and that in fact “there are only a few ward leaders who are involved in making decisions for the Democratic Party. We were all invited to come to that meeting to fill [a seat for a 2014 special election for council at-large] but that decision had already been made.”

Individual ward leaders, however, do not necessarily back the candidate endorsed by City Committee and elections have become something of a free for all with ward leaders sometimes making their own financially advantageous deals with candidates in return for a slot on the ward’s sample ballot.

Not only does Brady fail to acknowledge the undemocratic nature of the Philadelphia Democratic Party, he mischaracterizes the job of committeeperson as a “365-day-a-year, 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week responsibility.” This is absurd.

As one of the progressive ward leaders I interviewed noted: “There are a lot different ways wards do things and how much activity there is, from knocking on doors to no activity at all until Election Day and that’s the way most of the city operates—-no action whatsoever until Election Day.”

No on expects a committeeperson to be on duty 365 days a year. But the job does involve intensive activity in the period immediately before the primary and general election, contacting voters, informing them of what’s at stake in each election, and making recommendations regarding candidates and ballot questions. And in the progressive wards where committeepeople vote on endorsements, the duties also involve attendance at ward meetings to interview candidates and vote on endorsements.

If all committeepeople performed these basic political duties, we no doubt would have higher turnout and a better informed electorate. And if all committeepeople voted on endorsements, we would in all probability have better candidates on the Democratic Party ballot. If endorsement decisions are made by a democratic vote rather than by the ward leader, there is a check on ward leaders’ cutting people from the ballot and selling slots on the ward ballot to the highest bidder.

I am hopeful that many of the new committeepeople we will elect in 2018 will demand that the Democratic Party operate according to democratic principles. Some wards generally considered closed wards are already beginning to adopt some of the features of open, democratic wards. Change is coming.



Monday, March 26, 2018

Pennsylvania NOW has a dynamic new team of officers!




At the March 24 Pennsylvania NOW conference: Our new President of Pennsylvania NOW, Samantha Pearson; past President of Philadelphia NOW and Candidate for Lt. Governor, Nina Ahmad;our new Treasurer of Pennsylvania NOW, Karen Shore Barnosky; our new Secretary of Pennsylvania NOW,Jenne Ayers.

See Pennsylvania NOW for photos and bios of all new officers. From the the candidate bios posted on the Pennsylvania NOW website


Samantha Pearson for President
Samantha Pearson is an innovative outreach and engagement professional with a range of experience in government affairs, policy research and development, constituent outreach, event and program planning, and public relations. In her current position as Project Manager for At-Large City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, Samantha plans and executes Council Office events and programming for citywide outreach initiatives and legislation in addition to creating and managing design collateral to educate and provide resources to citizens across the City. A strong women’s rights activist, Samantha is serving her second term as Board Secretary for the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She also dedicates her time to Vision2020 as Strategic Partnerships Chair for the 100th nationwide anniversary celebration of women’s suffrage. Incredibly proud of the women behind #MeToo, Samantha is a founding member of the US Clear Lines Festival on Sexual Assault and Consent. A firm believer in mentoring the next generation of women leaders, Samantha is also a Girl Scout Troop Leader to a group of ambitious and inspiring Brownies in the Frankford area. In years past, Samantha has also served on the board of Young Involved Philadelphia with a focus on GOTV and voter education efforts as well as tutored young teens through Mighty Writers. She also received the Moxie Women Next Generation of Leadership award in 2016.


Krishna Rami for Vice-President
Krishna Rami works as the Special Aide to the Chief of Staff in the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office where she supports the management of the Mayor’s overall priorities and agenda for the Administration. She previously worked as an Analyst in the Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement where she helped build relationships to create an infrastructure of trust between community and government and create equitable spaces for people of all backgrounds. Krishna serves as the Executive Vice President of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women which tackles racial, economic, and social justice issues. She also empowers and mentors girls as a Girl Scout Co-Leader in the Frankford section of Philadelphia. Krishna is originally from Chicago, but made Philadelphia her new home after graduating from Drexel University with a Bachelor’s degree in International Justice and Human Rights. During that time, she spent eight months in Senegal where she conducted research focusing on girls’ access to education and completed internships for local organizations working with survivors of domestic violence.


Jenne Ayers for Secretary
Jenne Ayers is an associate at Philadelphia’s Ballard Spahr law firm. In 2014 at 26 she ran unsuccessfully for Philadelphia City Council. Ayers is the daughter of former Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers. She previously worked on Joe Khans campaign for Philadelphia district attorney and as a Michigan voter protection director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. She graduated from Masterman High School in Philadelphia and Harvard University and has a law degree from Yale Law School. She is the current President of Philadelphia NOW, and a nominee to the Philadelphia School Board.



Karen Barnosky for Treasurer
Karen Shore Barnosky is Institutional Giving Coordinator at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she works to gather support for the school from corporations, foundations, and government agencies. Previously, Karen worked as Development Associate for the Peggy Browning Fund and as a graduate intern with the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. Karen received her BA Fine Arts, cum laude, from Mount St. Mary’s University and her MS Arts Administration from Drexel University. In addition to serving as VP for Membership in the Philadelphia Chapter of NOW, she worked as a volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and actively volunteers for the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).

It’s a new day for Pennsylvania NOW!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Why is Elena Ferrante writing a column for The Guardian?



Why is Elena Ferrante writing a column for The Guardian? “Elena Ferrante” is, of course, a pseudonym or as she is sometimes called, “a fictional character,” camouflage for the author (or authors) of the novels attributed to Ferrante.

If these personal columns by “a fictional character” were powerfully written, I could see a justification for their existence, but this is generally not case. Some of the reflections are similar to those of Ferrante’s characters, but these jottings are not embedded in a compelling story; instead they stand by themselves. They are often written in a pedestrian style, very different from the emotionally charged prose of Ferrante’s novels.

From the Guardian column on motherhood with its generally monotonous sentence structure:
The first time I got pregnant, it was difficult to accept. Pregnancy was an anxious mental struggle. I felt it as the breakdown of an equilibrium already precarious in itself, as a revelation of the animal nature behind the fragile mask of the human. For nine months I was on a seesaw of joy and horror. The birth was terrible, it was wonderful. Taking care of a newborn, by myself, without help, without money, exhausted me; I hardly slept. I wanted to write and there was never time. Or if there was some, I would concentrate for a few minutes and then fall asleep fretfully. Until slowly everything began to seem to me marvellous. Today I think that nothing is comparable to the joy, the pleasure, of bringing another living creature into the world.

Compare this excerpt from Ferrante’s Guardian column with the descriptions of pregnancy in her novels, such as Elena Greco’s powerful description of giving birth in Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay:

For Elena, problems began after her relatively easy first pregnancy. “ I had atrocious labor pains, but they didn’t last long. When the baby emerged and I saw her black-haired, a violet organism that, full of energy writhed and wailed, I felt a physical pleasure so piercing that I still know no other pleasure that compares to it. [But soon after] the state of well-being ended suddenly…the baby became troublesome (TWL, 237-38).


Or Leda's description of the birth of her first daughter in The Lost Daughter:
"the most intense pleasure of my life…But then came [her second daughter] Marta. She attacked my body, forcing it to turn on itself, out of control. She immediately manifested herself, not as Marta but as a piece of living iron in my stomach. My body became a bloody liquid; suspended in it was a mushy sediment in which grew a violent polyp so far from anything human that it reduced me, even though it fed and grew, to a rotting matter without life” (LD, 110).

Or Lila's description of her pregnancy with her second child in The Story of the Lost Child:
"Your own body [is] angry with you and in fact rebels against you until it achieves the most terrible pain imaginable. For hours [Lila] had felt in her belly sharp cold flames, an unbearable flow of pain that hit her brutally in the pit of her stomach and then returned, penetrating her kidneys” (SLC, 216).

Not only are ideas about motherhood in Ferrante’s novels more complicated than those in the Guardian column, but the emotionally charged prose of the novels is very different from that of the columns. I cannot help but wonder if the person who wrote the columns is the same person (or persons) who wrote the novels.

The only justification I can think of for publicizing the reflections of the fictional character Ferrante is that her publishers want to make sure they keep Ferrante Fever burning in anticipation of the upcoming HBO series based on Ferrante’s novels. There are signs that Ferrante Fever may be waning and the columns may be an attempt to counter that, but I question whether many readers of these columns will be motivated to read Ferrante's extraordinary novels.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

I had not expected this: Only 5 more Democrats filed for committeeperson in 2018 than filed in 2014!

Center: Steve Paul, Chair Democratize Philly

I had not expected this. In my book Green Shoots of Democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party, I predicted that the green shoots of democracy which emerged in the 2014 committeeperson elections would take root in Philadelphia neighborhoods and result in a revitalized ward system in 2018.

On January 15, 2018 a group of progressive organizations announced the formation of Democratize Philly, a coalition initiated by ADA to recruit and support progressive candidates to run for Committeeperson. In January and February organizations such as Caucus of Working Educators, Neighborhood Networks, Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Moving Philly Forward, Philadelphia Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), Philly for Change, Reclaim Philadelphia and 3.0 ran workshops on how to run for committeeperson.

The level of activity and degree of enthusiasm appeared to be much greater in 2018 than was the case in 2014, suggesting that discontent with the undemocratic Democratic Party may be finally reaching a tipping point.

However, the numbers suggest otherwise. Dave Davies reported that 3,267 Democrats filed to run for committeeperson, only five more than in 2014. And only 513 Republicans filed for committeeperson, down from 788 four years ago.

Davies turned to Jen Devor, who ran committeeperson trainings for an explanation of these disappointing numbers. Devor suggested that perhaps fewer incumbents were running and so the mix contained a larger proportion of newcomers. She suggested that longtime committeepeople might not be running because "it’s a more competitive race this time around.“ Maybe. But there are other reasons long time committeepeople might be retiring. I am stepping down after 32 years as a committeeperson in the 9th ward because I think old folks should not be hanging onto these positions for 30, 40 years but should make room for a younger generation to fill these slots. I know others in in my age cohort who are retiring for this reason. I am happy to report that an energetic young woman will be running for the slot I’ve held for decades.

We won’t know until we learn the number of incumbents who chose not to run(for whatever reason), just how disappointing the 2018 numbers are. We also need to know where the newcomers are concentrated. According to Davies' report, City Commissioner Al Schmidt said that the neighborhoods with the highest number of candidates appeared to be in the Northeast and South Philadelphia where there are contests for ward leader.

Are they candidates who are running simply to support a particular candidate for ward leader, which is likely to be the case in the Northeast? Or are they candidates with a vision of how the ward system should operate or a political philosophy they would like to advance—-as is more likely to be the case in South Philly? The numbers are not what I had hoped to see; however, there may be a significantly higher number of people with a deeper commitment to political change than we had in 2014.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Soon there will be daffodils!



Winter gets harder and harder. Each year I am more and more impatient for spring. The snowdrops were late this year but now they are in abundance

Species crocus are everywhere:

And witch hazel is in bloom. It's on its way out but still wonderfully fragrant.


It never really feels like spring has arrived until the daffodils bloom; unfortunately it looks like I’m going to have to wait a week or so for the first daffodils to emerge.

Soon I will be out there working in my garden. Cicero said it all: "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

So impressed by the number of organizations running workshops encouraging their members to run for committeeperson!

A Philadelphia/NOW/ Philadelphia CLUWworkshop on running for committeeperson at Big Blue Marble bookstore on February 10


I have been so impressed by the number of organizations out there running workshops encouraging their members to run for committeeperson-- Philadelphia Chapters of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Philadelphia Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), Neighborhood Networks, Philly for Change, Reclaim Philadelphia, the Caucus of Working Educators, Moving Philly Forward, 3.0 among others.

The level of activity and degree of enthusiasm is much greater than was the case in 2014, documented in my book Green Shoots of Democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party. And the activity in 2014 was much greater than in previous election cycles.

Discontent with the undemocratic party Democratic Party may be finally reaching a tipping point. Growing numbers of political activists and concerned citizens realize that our one-party town can no longer afford an undemocratic Democratic Party. The closed, top-down party structure, currently disintegrating into competing factions, is not working. 2018 provides an opportunity for real political change, with engaged committeepersons a powerful force, educating voters about candidates and about the democratic process. Something is happening out there!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The really good news from the Women’s March--the emphasis on voting!



I managed to attend part of Saturday's Women’s March and was encouraged by the large turn out. The March was diverse in age with many young women, including many who looked like they were high school age.

In terms of race/ethnicity, the March was once again a disappointment. Given the demographics of Philly, the crowd should have been much more diverse. I know the organizers worked hard to attract a multi-racial crowd but the fact that 53% of white women voted for Trump no doubt had some thing to do with the low numbers of women of color. We have work to do.
The president of Planned Parenthood called on white women to do more to "save this country from itself," acknowledging that women of color were responsible for with many of the recent political victories.

The really good news from the March was the emphasis on voting and on the critical need for more feminist women to run for office. Many of the signs conveyed the message that women must use the power of the ballot to get rid of Donald Trump. Marches can energize and galvanize but the only way to rid our county of this monster is to elect a Democratic House and Senate who will impeach him or, failing that, defeat him in the 2020 presidential election.

It will be a different electorate in 2020. Many of those young women at the March were too young to vote in 2016, but they will be out in force in 2018 and in 2020. I was especially heartened by the Las Vegas rally, which launched an effort to register 1 million voters and target swing states like Nevada in the 2018 midterm elections. Change is coming.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A potentially powerful new coalition: Democratizephilly.org

Center: Steve Paul, Chair Democratize Philly

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Martin Luther King Day than to encourage citizens committed to racial, gender and economic justice to become involved in the political process. Today the members of Americans for Democratic Action Southeastern PA (ADA), the Caucus of Working Educators, Neighborhood Networks, Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Moving Philly Forward, Philadelphia Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), Philly for Change, Reclaim Philadelphia, and United Voices for Philadelphia announced the formation of Democratize Philly, a coalition initiated by ADA and chaired by Steve Paul. From the press release posted on the coalition’s website:
We are announcing the formation of Democratize Philly, a coalition of progressive organizations seeking to recruit and support progressive candidates to run for Committeeperson who are committed to the values of social, economic, racial, and gender justice. Our mission is to increase democratic participation, voter turnout, and transparency in Philadelphia’s political process.

We come together around this mission because we believe that a healthy democracy is built on the political participation of all its citizens. Unfortunately, voter turnout has continued to be dismally low in Philadelphia. Last November was a stark reminder of that reality with barely 20% of Philadelphia voters turning out to vote.

A consensus has emerged that our one-party town can no longer afford an undemocratic Democratic Party. The current closed, top-down party structure disintegrating into competing factions is not working. 2018 provides an opportunity for political change -- engaged committeepersons can be a powerful force, educating voters about candidates and about the democratic process.

Some highlights from the press conference:
Numa St Louis from United Voices for Philadelphia emphasized the contributions of immigrants to our society and urged recent immigrants to become engaged in the political process.

Amy Roat and Luigi Borda from the Caucus of Working Educators: We “encourage educators, parents, and public school advocates to do more by becoming an elected committee person this spring. With active members in every section of Philadelphia we are uniquely positioned to help make real change. Our goal is to do the work necessary to hold politicians accountable to provide the children of Philadelphia with the schools they deserve.”

Margaret Lenzi from Neighborhood Networks: “Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Democratic Party as it’s now constituted, is a failure at its core function of getting out the vote for candidates who have our back. That’s why it’s so important for progressive Democrats to become committee people in 2018, an opportunity that won’t arise again for four years. NN’s Committee Person Project provides training, resources and assistance to progressives who want to run for Committee Person in 2018.”

Grace Palladino from Philadelphia NOW: "2018 will be the Year of the Woman, and the National Organization for Women is thrilled to be a place where female candidates can come to get support, a platform, resources, and encouragement. I believe Donald Trump has awoken a sleeping giant, and the awe-inspiring potential of women working together is being revealed across this nation. If you are a female or feminist candidate looking for support, please reach out to NOW’s Philadelphia chapter today. We are here for you.
Grace Palladino from Philadelphia NOW

Many thanks to Emma Restrepo for a video of the press conference highlighting the speeches of Amy Roat, Luigi Borda, and Margaret Lenzi.

For decades progressives have worked to make the Philadelphia Democratic Party more democratic, more transparent. See my account of this activity in Green Shoots of Democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party. I think we have finally reached the critical mass of progressive activists we need for real change. Interest in the committeeperson races is far greater than I have ever seen with more organizations than ever working to educate their members about running for these seats. No doubt Donald Trump has something to do with this increased activity.

Sign up for updates at democratizephilly.org!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Feminist Activism across the Generations



I took a break from writing projects for the holidays and with my Elena Ferrante book now in the hands of McFarland publishers, I’m ready to tackle a new expanded version of Feminism in Philadelphia, tentatively titled Building the Feminist Movement, Building Feminist Institutions: Feminist Activism across the Generations.

Feminism in Philadelphia charted the growth of the second wave feminist movement with an emphasis on NOW, the major engine of institutional change. This is certainly not the complete story of the history of second wave feminism in Philadelphia. Many low-income women, disproportionately women of color, struggled in obscurity for racial and gender justice; their actions were not recorded by the local press, and they were much less likely to leave detailed records. No doubt, much of what occurred was not documented, or if documented, not deposited in libraries or archives accessible to me.

Although NOW may have been the focal point, it was certainly not the only locus of feminist activity in Philadelphia in the late 1960s and 1970s. NOW activists were focused primarily on changing the rules by which society was governed and opening up government, business and what had been traditionally male occupations to women. Some, like Philadelphia NOW founding member and psychologist Jean Ferson, were also involved in the consciousness raising movement, the feminist therapy movement and the emerging women’s health moment. There were other feminists focused primarily on creating feminist free spaces—book stores, clubs, music festivals—rather than building feminist organizations. There were feminists who did not belong to explicitly feminist organizations like NOW but worked tirelessly for gender justice in their unions, their professional associations, in educational institutions and religious organizations. There were those who wanted nothing less than total revolution and were impatient of and often contemptuous towards those trying to change existing social institutions. The energy and creativity was enormous.

When conditions are ripe, a handful of dedicated activists really can transform the world. The changes in the status of women in my lifetime have been enormous and some have become so much a part of the air we breathe that we no longer perceive the extent of the changes.

Feminism in Philadelphia focused on activism and advocacy, but a major strand of the story was left untold—the enormous energy put into building feminist institutions. The service organizations founded on a shoe string by committed feminists--the battered women’s shelters, the rape crisis centers--were beginning to receive significant funding from government and from private foundations. Yes, the funding came with strings attached and the radical edge of some of these organizations was blunted, but more women were receiving services and the women who had been providing them for free could now get jobs as service providers.

By analyzing the struggle to build these institutions, I intend to try to complete the story of second wave feminism in Philadelphia, to the extent that such a story can ever be fully told. The history of feminism in Philadelphia is a case study, a microcosm of the trajectory of second wave feminism, a story unfolding in similar ways in cities across the country. The dividing line between political activism and institution building is not always easy to draw, with many individuals and organizations involved in both. The resources available for building feminist institutions were for the most part available only in urban areas and hence their concentration in large cities like Philadelphia.

I intend my analysis of this history to be a springboard for an exploration of the very different approaches of a younger generation of feminist activists who reject the organizational model of the older progressive organizations with their hierarchical structures and elected leadership. As our society becomes increasingly mobile and use of internet technology more widespread, NOW’s geographically based chapter model with face-to-face meetings as its major organizing tool, strikes some younger members as an anachronism. Many younger feminists are creating more fluid, internet driven forms of feminist organizing rather than the hierarchical structures NOW’s founding generation developed. But can social change be achieved without the kinds structured organizations that fueled the second wave feminist movement?

Yes, the January 2017 Women’s March bubbled up from the grassroots. Established feminist organizations eventually signed on, but the initial impulse came from the grassroots. It’s too soon to tell if all that amazing energy will lead to real change. We’ll have a better idea after November 2018.