Monday, November 30, 2009

I can’t believe we are still fighting for abortion rights.

I can’t believe we are still fighting for abortion rights. In 1973 after the Roe decision, I thought the battle had been won. How wrong I was.

When I went to a pro-choice demonstration in DC in the early 90’s, I couldn’t quite believe that we were still fighting this battle. But I was heartened to see so many young women there and thought that soon this would be settled and we wouldn't be wasting our energy fighting for this basic right. Wrong again.

When I dragged myself to DC for the 2004 March for Women’s Lives I began to worry that I might be fighting this battle until my dying day. Bush was president and had the power to shape the Supreme Court for years to come.

Now we have a Democratic president and a Democratic congress, yet we’re still fighting an energized anti-choice movement. But supporters of abortion rights are energized as well. According to NY Times , Nancy Keenan, Executive director of NARAL describes us old folks as “a menopausal militia”—women who can remember a world without access to safe, legal abortion. (Most women my age know someone, either directly or indirectly, who died from or suffered serious complications from an illegal abortion.)

Young women may lack this direct experience, but many see access to safe, legal abortion as a right and they don’t want health care reform to endanger that right. So I expect to see at a lot of young women at the rally/lobby day for abortion rights in DC on Dec. 2.

One concession to age: I no longer take the bus. There is no way I can get to Center City Philly by 6:00 and then return to Philly at 9:00 for a 17 hour day. I plan to drive down the night before, stay in DC overnight, and get up at a reasonable hour in the morning. I’ve paid my dues—40+ years of taking the bus to marches in DC. Unlike so many of my friends, I’ve never enjoyed the experience. I went out of a sense of obligation. I’ve always been a little phobic about crowds and was never really comfortable marching around with like-minded folks chanting slogans in unison. My politics may have collectivist tinge, but temperamentally I’m an individualist.

But there are times when you just have to stand up and be counted.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Who was sitting around your Thanksgiving dinner table? Family? Friends?

Holidays have a way of making me review my life—-memories of Thanksgivings past. When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was strictly a family affair. During my first brief, troubled marriage, I don’t recall our ever celebrating Thanksgiving. My second marriage was another mistake, but it lasted much longer, and about a decade of Thanksgiving dinners were spent with my ex's family. They were a very nice group of people who were very good to my son and I have fond memories of them.

My third try at marriage was a success and many Thanksgiving dinners were spent with my husband’s family in Rhode Island. Sadly, my husband’s parents and many of the relatives who sat around that Thanksgiving table are no longer with us and we are no longer driving up to Rhode Island for Thanksgiving. The common thread in all this is that the folks around the Thanksgiving table were all family—-traditionally defined.

My sister and a group of her friends have been having Thanksgiving together for years. And luckily for us they have taken us in. Much as I enjoy having dinner with my husband, a Thanksgiving dinner with just the two of us wouldn’t be much fun. Holidays are communal celebrations.

My guess is that in our increasingly mobile society with our changing notions of what counts as family, many of those communal celebrations are as likely to consist of a small circle of friends as of a group of relatives.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fall Cleanup: Here I am retired and still behind schedule.

My lawn and walkways are covered with leaves and I still have bulbs I haven’t gotten around to planting. For years I’ve promised myself that I would get my bulbs in the ground before the weather gets cold and miserable, but each year the mountain of student papers and my various volunteer jobs got in the way. Every year I found myself out there in the rain and cold, desperately trying to get my bulbs planted before the ground froze.

I was sure that when I was retired I would be all caught up on the garden chores. True, that trip to New England cost me almost 2 weeks of time in the garden. Even so, I’m retired-- I shouldn’t be so far behind!

My husband tells me: “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re supposed to be able to take it easy when you’re retired.” He’s not giving himself a hard time for being behind in leaf raking, his main garden job.

For other procrastinators out there: Don’t worry, you can plant until the ground is frozen (usually Mid December in the Philly area.) The bulbs will come up a little later in the Spring, but they’ll be fine. But you’re probably not going to enjoy the experience on a cold, gloomy late November Day.

Friday, November 20, 2009

There is a generation of young feminists out there ready to fight for reproductive rights.

Book Your Seat Today!
National Day of Action
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Washington, D.C.

There is a generation of young feminists out there ready to fight for reproductive rights. Many older feminists (myself included) have bemoaned the fact that we are having trouble recruiting younger feminists to take over our organizations. Maybe younger feminists want to form their own organizations rather than build those that emerged from second wave feminism. Maybe they’ll do both.

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that there are young, energetic feminists committed to fighting for equality for women. I went to a meeting today convened by WOMEN’S WAY, a local foundation which raises money for organizations providing services to women and girls. The room was filled with young women determined to fight against any erosion of abortion rights in the health care bill before Congress. (If anyone doubts that the Stupak-Pitts amendment effectively denies coverage for abortion in the plans to be offered in the proposed insurance exchange, read George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services report on the Stupak/Pitts Amendment

These young women do not want to choose between expanding heath care and maintaining a right many women currently possess. One theme which emerged at today’s meeting was that the pro-choice movement has been energized by Stupak-Pitts. When we defeat this attempt to erode abortion rights, we’ll be ready to take on the Hyde amendment, which denies access to abortion to low-income women who are receiving Medicaid.

I don’t think young women are going to meekly stand by and accept the loss of hard fought rights. Something is happening out there.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Another retiree in the city!

My friend Fran is retiring in Cambridge MA and values an urban area for reasons somewhat different from mine.

From Fran:

Like Karen, I plan to stay put in the city. I recently attended my high school’s 50th reunion and was amazed at the number of classmates who had retired to Florida. Not my idea of retirement, nor is moving to the country. Unlike Karen, however, I fear that I make very little use of the cultural resources available to me, abundant as they are in Cambridge, MA. I do, however, like being close to anything I want—gym, dog training club, library, garden center, lots of stores. I like knowing that I can go out for something I need in the middle of the night—though I have to admit that, except for medical emergencies or when the dogs got sprayed by a skunk, I’ve never had to make a midnight run.

Both my husband and I are homebodies and enjoy it that way. I live a pseudo-rural life in the midst of the city, spending a lot of time in my garden. I put up 30 jars of jelly from the grapes I grew (and have enough juice in the freezer for another 40 jars). I knit a lot and made almost all the sweaters my husband wears (and all the ones my dog wears). I love to potter around the house and yard. Just came in from raking leaves, which I enjoy—though unrealistically I expect them to stop falling anymore after I’ve raked. In the absence of gardening in the winter, I tend to my houseplants.

Perhaps this kind of life sounds boring to others, but not to me. I spoke with a retired friend and said that I’ve been so busy since retirement that I wouldn’t mind being bored occasionally. He said, “Ah, yes, I remember being bored one day in 1997.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Retiring in the city!

I finally have the time to take advantage of the cultural resources of Philly. When I was working, I was usually too tired to go to all the wonderful programs at our library, at our Constitution Center, the exhibits at our museums, the many forums sponsored by our civic organizations. Our city may not be rich in per capita income, but we are certainly rich in civic life and cultural institutions.

My husband and I have always tried to take advantage of the cultural resources of the city (e.g., our orchestra and theater subscriptions), but exhaustion often got in the way. Sometimes we just didn’t have the energy to go down town to the concerts we had already paid for. Sometimes we forgot we had tickets and so missed the chance to give away or donate our tickets.

Now I no longer fall asleep at plays and concerts. Thanks to all those Philly Funsaver discounts much of this cultural life is very affordable. And we have all these seriously good, affordable BYOB restaurants

I can’t imagine why anyone would want to retire somewhere out in the boondocks without access to concerts, theater, a wide range of ethnic restaurants. (My good friends who fled the city for rural Vermont can’t imagine why I would want to stay.)

Finally I have the time to enjoy the city I love! And it's not just within the city limits. There’s much in the Delaware Valley that I have never explored. Last week, my husband and I finally got it together to go the Barnes Foundation

Friends have traveled to Philly just to see this collection and could not believe that my husband and I had never been to the Barnes. (I’ve lived here all my life and my husband since his mid-20’s.)

Next week, it's the Brandywine Museum, another cultural resource that despite our many years in the Delaware valley, we have never visited.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Health Care reform must not come at the expense of chipping away at abortion rights

I had come to terms with the fact that health care reform would not be all I wanted. I assumed that like previous major social reforms it would represent a step forward and the inadequacies would be remedied over time.

But unlike Social Security and Medicare, this legislation takes a step backward by mandating that plans included in the insurance exchange, including the public option, will not cover abortion. Some women who currently have abortion coverage would lose the right to it.

Major social reform has always been piecemeal. In order to get the votes to pass social security, FDR made a devil’s bargain with Southern Democrats to exclude domestic workers and share croppers, effectively excluding the majority of African-Americans. In many ways the New Deal was racist, but it established the principle that the elderly were entitled to financial support. In the 1950’s the laws were amended to ensure that the principle applied to all workers. (Those who had been excluded from social security or their descendants should have been compensated.)

Medicare was similarly a work in progress, with prescription drug coverage not included. Medicare established the principle that the elderly were entitled to health care, but it took forty years for prescription drug coverage to be included, and even then, the prescription drug coverage passed during the Bush administration was deeply flawed. The proposed health care reform should improve it somewhat.

I had expected similar gaps and inadequacies in the current legislation, but I didn’t expect an erosion of hard-fought rights.

Tomorrow I will be contacting my Senators. We’ve got to keep this erosion of abortion rights out of the Senate bill!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day is very different now that I am retired.

For over two decades I have been a democratic committeeperson. In my radical youth I never expected to end up doing grunt work for the Democratic Party. As a young woman, I had no interest in working within the two party system; why bother choosing between Tweedledum and Tweedledee? I didn’t want to settle for piecemeal reform nor engage in the messy compromises that are part and parcel of participation in the electoral arena.

For me the wake-up call came in the early l980’s with the election of Ronald Reagan. It really did matter who won elections. This may not seem like a major revelation to most folks, but it was for me. I decided I could no longer afford to vote for protest candidates. (My first presidential vote in 1968 was for Peace and Freedom Party candidate, Dick Gregory.)

So in the 80’s I became a Democratic committeeperson. I don’t have the temperament (or inclination) to run for office, so I decided that I would work to elect good people—-particularly good women—-to office. It’s been a lot of fun, but usually I was simultaneously working at the polls and grading papers. A woman once came up to me at the supermarket and said, “Aren’t you the lady who’s always grading papers at the polls?”

For the first time, there were no papers to grade. No need to check my work voice mail and email to reply to those students who didn’t get my message that class was cancelled.

Maybe it would have been better to have had those papers to grade—-something to distract me from the absence of voters. Finally I was free to chat with all the voters for as long as I wanted, but the voters were scarce indeed. Most were unfortunately not all that interested in the state-wide judicial races which were the only real contests on the ballot--a far cry from the long lines and incredible excitement of November, 2008.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Random thoughts about work and retirement

Three experiences this week got me thinking about my relationship to the world of work now that I am retired from the paid work force. One experience was very positive, the other disconcerting, and the third downright depressing.

First, the positive. I went to a meeting of the Community College of Philadephia Women’s Center Advisory Board. Although I no longer want to teach, I believe very much in the mission of the College and want to maintain a connection. And as the founding mother, the connection that matters is the Women’s Studies program.

I really enjoyed seeing some of my former colleagues. When I would go to meetings like this during my teaching years, I was often in a state of exhaustion and usually surreptitiously grading papers during the meeting. No more!

I left with a good feeling about the College and relief that I was no longer working there. I had always wanted to leave before total burn-out and when I saw signs of incipient burn-out, I got out. Of course, maybe I had a full-fledged case and just didn’t realize it.

Next, the disconcerting. I was downtown at rush hour watching the work force streaming out of the office buildings. In all likelihood, I will never again be part of the paid work force. This was my choice and I am engaged in meaningful work. (It’s easy to find all kinds of interesting projects if you are not interested in getting paid!) So why was I so thrown off balance? Intimations of mortality I guess.

Now the really depressing. A few days ago I attended the funeral of the brother of a good friend. He had just retired at the age of 67 and was looking forward to enjoying his retirement years. When he didn’t show up for his retirement dinner, two of his children went to look for him and found him dead, apparently from a stroke. If I had any lingering doubts about the wisdom of retirement, this wiped them out.

People who can’t think of anything they would rather do than continue at their jobs, should of course continue to work. But for those of us who long for more time to read, to write, to travel, to tend our gardens, to work for a cause, to follow our passion whatever it might lead, we should not delay (Assuming it’s economically possible.)

To paraphrase one of my favorite poets:

If we had world enough and time,
This ceaseless toil would be no crime…..

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near