Friday, January 28, 2011

The snow is really beautiful but each year it gets harder and harder to deal with

My back yard in the snow

My front yard in the snow

The snow is really beautiful but each year it gets harder and harder to deal with. Last year I wrote:

I don’t think I could live without the drama of summer, fall, winter, spring. I’m sure that I would never burst into tears of joy at the sight of the first species crocus (usually in late February) if it weren’t for several months of ice and cold. Now maybe that sounds a little crazy—wanting the pain of winter to fully experience the joy of spring, but that’s how it works for me. And then Philly winters aren’t all that bad; it’s not like I’m living in Maine.

Well, Philly winters are getting a lot more like New England winters and I think I could do with a lot less winter drama. This winter (and last winter) has had a lot more ice and snow than I as a senior citizen can easily handle. So I’m trying to focus on the beauty, but it’s becoming more of a challenge.

At least I don’t have to worry about getting to work! One of the best things about retirement: Not having to go out on cold snowy days

Friday, January 21, 2011

It’s the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and 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.

And now with a Democratic president and (before the November election) Democratic congress, we got a health care bill which fails to safeguard abortion rights.

There’s much in the health care bill which is a real advance: the expansion of Medicaid which will make a tremendous difference in the lives of the working poor; the end of life time caps on insurance policies which will mean that a major illness will not bankrupt families; the end of denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions; parity for mental health in all policies offered on the new insurance exchanges; young people allowed to remain on their parents polices until age 26. But all these very real advances came at the price of a devil’s bargain with anti- choice politicians.

So prochoice activists are now gearing up for major battle in state legislatures as states develop the framework for the insurance exchanges mandated by the new health care law. Here we go again.

And if that weren’t bad enough, Philadelphians are facing the tragic consequences of the failure to treat abortion rights as a women’s health issue.

Please, please read Back-Alley Abortions in 2011: How Anti-Choice Zealots Force Women to Go to Dangerous Clinics Like Dr. Kermit Gosnell's.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell has been charged with murdering one woman and seven newborn babies at his West Philadelphia clinic, known as the Women’s Medical Society:
“Because of the Medicaid ban on abortion funding and state restrictions, poor women in the state and in Philadelphia really face horrific choices about what to do if they have an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy, or a pregnancy that poses significant health problems,” says Rose Corrigan, a professor of politics and law at Drexel University. “So what I’ve seen is that women often shop around for abortion services. Women are so poor that a few dollars really make a difference.”

Corrigan is also a volunteer at the Women’s Medical Fund, a Philadelphia organization that offers financial assistance to poor women seeking abortions. She says that her organization has been advising women against visiting the Women’s Medical Society since the mid-1990s.“When women would call us we’d say, ‘There’s a reason it's cheap. Don’t go there.’”

“I think it’s also that abortion has become so stigmatized and that abortion care has become so ghettoized from mainstream medical care,” says Susan Schewel, executive director of the Women's Medical Fund. “It means that people aren’t talking about where’s a good place to go and where’s a safe place to go. And when women are harmed they’re afraid to go the authorities. We’ve talked with people here who have been mistreated at this clinic. And we’ve asked them to report it to proper state government authorities, and they said, ‘No way would we do that.’”

Women in my age cohort probably will not see the final victory over those who would deny women the right to control their own bodies. And to add to my dismay at having to gear up for this battle once again, we now have women opposed to abortion rights (like Sarah Palin and her Mama Grizzlies) who claim to be feminists! I get really depressed when women who are themselves pro-choice start buying into this saying things like: “Who are we to police the boundaries of feminism? Let’s be open to all women who want to identify as feminists.” Groups like Feminists for Life have been making these arguments for years but hearing this from members of the pro-choice community is something new.

There is some good news. Fortunately, there is a generation of young feminists out there ready to fight for reproductive rights. I don’t think young women are going to meekly stand by and accept the loss of hard fought rights. But women in my generation thought at one time that we had spared them the necessity of that fight.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I didn’t think that I had any personal connection to the tragedy in Tucson until I checked into one of my favorite sites,

I didn’t think that I had any personal connection to the tragedy in Tucson until I checked into one of my favorite sites, and was astonished to read “BlogHer Ashleigh Burroughs One of 19 Shot Alongside Rep. Gabrielle Giffords”

One of my favorite bloggers was among the seriously wounded. Although I have never met Ashleigh in person, I feel like I know her from her wonderful blog posts and the thoughtful comments she makes on my blog. Ashleigh blogs at The Burrow

To get a sense of Ashleigh and her writing, read her wonderful post
Does It Have to Be Reciprocated to Be Love?
syndicated on

If you go to Ashleigh’s site you will read an update from her daughter:
As most of you probably know by now, my mom attended the Congress on your Corner event yesterday at her local Safeway. Just as she reached the front of the line to shake Ms. Gifford's hand a gunman appeared and began shooting with an automatic weapon. My mom was shot three times.

That's a sentence I never thought I'd have to type.

Right this very minute my mom is in the ICU with her leg in a traction. She suffered a wound to her left chest, one to her abdomen, and a third to her right hip. She is incredibly lucky that none of her organs were hit, even though one of the bullet's entry wounds was in her abdomen. She has been taken care of by some fantastic and proficient doctors and nurses, and a wonderful social work team.

My mom is the toughest broad I've ever met. She is awake and talking and cracking wise and we can all rest assured that the woman we love is still here, kicking major ass.

To all of you who have reached out already: I love you. Your thoughts have honestly been felt even if they were from many states away. The amount of love we are receiving is staggering, and we are incredibly thankful for all of you. Please continue to send out your best "healing vibes" (as we like to call them) and "special strength vibes" for the moments when we will be reaching in to our reserve tanks.

Today I received the following message from the editors at

And, finally, we’d like to ask for your help with something we feel is incredibly important. The shootings in Arizona profoundly affected us, to an even greater degree when we learned that one of our community members was shot . We’ve been considering the way we act and how we choose our words and what messages we may be unintentionally sending. We’re wondering if you are doing the same, so we’ve set up a survey that we hope you’ll take .

We’d really like to hear from you (the survey is anonymous, of course) and your readers, if you feel like this is an appropriate thing to ask of them. Please note that the survey does specifically address the political angle and aspect of this incident, and if you are directing your readers there, you might want to let them know that. Next week we will host a second survey about some other aspects of the shootings. We will share the results on, and would greatly welcome your participation in these discussions as we try to find some sort of understanding and peace.

Here is the direct link to the survey

The editors at have been trying very hard to encourage a civil debate. Please support them by participating in this short survey.

Thanks so much,

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Feminists must remember our founding members and that includes the not-so-famous ones

November 14, 1973: Philadelphia NOW President Jan Welch presenting Barefoot and Pregnant Award for Sexism To the Union League and honoring Philadelphia women, Judge Merna Marshall and Attorney Lynn Abraham, for their courage in standing up to sexism in public life.

Most of the published material documenting the history of second wave feminism focuses on a few major urban centers—e.g., New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The national narratives tend to rely on the same sources and recycle the same anecdotes. Until regional and local histories are incorporated into the national narrative, a comprehensive history of the feminist movement cannot be written. Sadly, much archival material about second wave feminism is gathering dust in the closets and basements of feminists now in their late sixties, seventies and eighties.

I’m determined to make my small contribution to make sure this story is not forgotten and to encourage others around the country to do likewise. Just one example of a history that must be documented and remembered:

On December 15, I received an email from Lillian Ciarrochi, one of the women who contributed so much to the bringing the feminist movement to Philadelphia. She was responding to a Philadelphia Inquirer article on the election of the first women President of Philadelphia’s Union League, historically the home of the city’s white male business elite. From Lillian:

Did it warm your heart to see the front page of today's Inquirer - "A Barrier Falls at the Union League". Joan Carter was elected president--the first in Union League history. Couldn't help recall the good 'ol days of the 70's when Philadelphia NOW gave the "Barefoot & Pregnant" award on Sadie Hawkins day to the Union League amid much publicity.

How this came about: Judge Lisa Richette came running after me on Sansom St near 17th. She had just left the Union League after giving a speech to a large group of National and International business men; she was the keynoter. When she went up the front stairs to enter, she was told that women were not allowed to enter by the front door; she would have to go around back and through the kitchen to enter. She was outraged ; she said she gave the attendees holy hell about this indignity and many of their long foreheads (bald) turned beet red.

She said Phila NOW had to do something to stop this humiliating practice. I brought it back to the chapter and we voted to present our (then) annual "Barefoot &Pregnant" award on Sady Hawkins day to the Union League. About 4 or 5 of us went to the front of the Union League around 4 in the morning and placed a huge pink bow on their front door along with our proclamation. Next morning, a color photo was on the front page of the Inquirer.

It caused quite a stir and several male colleagues who were members told me it started a huge and heated debate among the membership. One debate after another caused them to reconsider and some of the younger members were able to change the policy... I believe this was a big accomplishment for Phila NOW... We did a lot of good and remarkable things in those days, and we should enjoy our victories. In many cases, no one knows about them but us, but that is enough.

Well, I don’t think it is enough. We need to remember and honor the women who changed our world.

There were two accounts of the election of Joan Carter in the Philadelphia Inquirer--one by Mike Armstrong and the other by Melissa Dribben Neither mentioned the pressure from local feminists.

Only in Jenice Armstrong’s article in the Philadelphia Daily News was there any sense that the Union League’s change of heart was a response to pressure from feminists. Armstrong credits "a slew of negative newspaper editorials, political pressure and arm-twisting from the National Organization of Women."

But acknowledging NOW isn’t enough. We should acknowledge the individual women who first applied the pressure that a decade later would result in barriers falling--women like Lisa Richette and Lillian Ciarrochi and other feminists who were part of a small minority challenging gender injustice.

Would the Union League have changed without the pressure from Lisa Richette and Philadelphia NOW? No doubt eventually. Fundamental social change doesn’t happen overnight. First, you need the visionaries like Richette and Ciarrochi to plant the seed. It is hard to believe that integrating the Union League was a really radical idea in 1973. These women raised the issue with the public and started a process of self-examination within the Union League.

From the NOW press release, November 14, 1973 documenting the first skirmish in what would turn out to be a protracted war:

NOW To Award Barefoot and Pregnant Awards for Sexism To observe Sadie Hawkins Day, November 17, the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) is out to get its man ....
The Union League, which maintains the outmoded policy of refusing to admit women in the public areas of its building and in the main dining room even though the women are invited guests
NOW will also honor three Philadelphia women for their courage in standing up to male chauvinism in public life; for their challenges to female role stereotyping and for providing women with a positive career image. The women are Judges Lisa Richette and Merna Marshall and Lynn Abraham, Esquire.

It took a while for the Union League to get the message, but the process of internal debate had begun. From an interview with Lillian:

I worked with a fellow at what was then Provident National Bank in the corporate accounting department. He was very friendly; he came from a blue blood family and was a member or the Union League. He was telling me about the meetings and all of the fights that were going on over there. He said none of the old guys want women and the younger guys were saying well we’re having financial problems, our membership is down...

At any rate, so I would bring the information back to the [Phila NOW] chapter, never giving his name...The Union League finally took a vote because they were fighting all of the time about this. The publicity kept up, we kept it up, we picketed them, all kinds of things. They voted to allow women members by about ten votes, because the younger men saw the handwriting on the wall, saw that it was wrong and they wanted to change it.. It was so exciting to be able to break down these barriers but you had to hit the streets. You couldn’t just be lady-like and say well we think women should whatever, you had to embarrass them to do whatever you could to raise their consciousness to do the right thing.

Despite living in Philly in 1973, I don’t remember anything about this event. At that time I was involved with a little rag-tag band of leftists who wanted to overthrow capitalism rather than fight to ensure women and minorities a seat at the table. Fortunately, there were feminists who had a better handle on what was possible than I had and who were determined to change the distribution of power.

Lillian and others worked tirelessly to expand opportunities for women. Sadly only one newspaper account acknowledged the feminists who first pushed to end gender discrimination at the Union League—-and that account did not mention their names.

I intend to do what I can to make sure we don’t forget the individual women who devoted their lives to the struggle for gender justice.