Monday, December 24, 2012

A gardening challenge I finally met this year

For years I’ve tried to have flowers blooming without interruption all year long—a real challenge in Philadelphia. This means perennials, flowering shrubs and bulbs. A clump of winter pansies doesn’t count—that’s too easy.

Well this year I finally achieved my goal. I had a few roses blooming in late December which overlapped with my snowdrops emerging the third week in December. The roses are gone today, but the snow drops will persist through January.

In the past we always had a hard frost sometime in late November /early December and the snow drops usually did not come up until early January so I did not have that period of overlap.

Maybe I should not be celebrating as this is probably connected to the scary prospect of climate change, but in 2012 I finally managed to have continuous bloom throughout the year. And soon I’ll have winter honeysuckle!!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ed Schwartz,a Remarkable Man, an Enduring Legacy

Last night I attended a memorial service for my friend and neighbor, civic activist Ed Schwartz at the Constitution Center last night. The Center was filled with Philadelphians from all works of life who had come to pay tribute to this remarkable man.

Ed had a major impact on local government and civic life in Philadelphia as a city Councilman, head of the office of Housing and Community Development and Founder of the non-profit, the Institute for the Study of Civic Values. As a friend once said of him, he produces more ideas per minute than anyone I know. When I taught a service learning course at Community College of Philadelphia he was one of my regular guest speakers and always willing to share his ideas and expertise with my students. Over the years quite a few of my students volunteered at the Institute and parlayed that experience into o a career in non-profits.

I loved talking to him about local politics. For many years he lived in the East Mt. Airy division where I serve as a committeeperson and I always looked forward to talking to him on Election Day. We agreed on issues and core values but often disagreed as to which candidate could best advance those values. I remember a few shouting matches on Election Day about a particular mayoral candidate about whom we strongly disagreed. But whatever the discussion, I always came away from the conversation with a new idea or new perspective.

When he moved--like a typical Philadelphian he moved just a few blocks away--he was in a different voting division and I missed those Election Day conversations. A few years later, I learned to my shock that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. This was really hard to take in—someone with his mind, his ability to think, to write, to argue, to engage with the world—losing that ability to engage.

Luckily for Ed, the strong support network provided by his wife Jane arrested the progress of the disease and by all reports in the last year of his life he was getting better--raising some questions about the diagnosis. At our New Year’s party last year I had a conversation with him about local politics and he was clearly keeping up with the political landscape. The last time I saw him was at his daughter Ruth’s graduation party last May and he was obviously very proud of her and enjoying the party. He may not have been his old self, but he certainly did not seem like someone suffering from Alzheimer’s.

His wife Jane reported that he was attending city council sessions regularly and was playing again with a group of friends who had formed a band, the Reading Terminals. (Among his many accomplishments he was a very good pianist.) It looked like Ed was beginning to regain a life, maybe not the old one, but a meaningful life nonetheless. On November 29, he died of a heart attack. Sadly, just as he appeared to be regaining his life, he lost it. But it was clear from the testimony last night that his legacy lives.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Growing Old On My Terms

Growing Old On My Terms By Margaret Guthrie, Cross-posted from Metropolis

One of the things that happens when you pass 75 -- and I am not talking about speed limits here -- is that you realize you could drop dead at any time. Dropping dead at any moment becomes much more real than it was at 30 or at 50 or even in your sixties and early 70s. As Dustin Hoffman once said, "The end is definitely in sight." As you pass through life, you might give occasional thought to your removal from the planet, to your participation in the recycling of all physical substance, but it doesn't occupy the forefront of your thoughts. The trick, when you're officially elderly, is to not let it occupy the forefront now.

Society doesn't help. Television is full of ads designed to scare old people into doing things that might not be in their best interest. For instance, there are those over-55 communities, which are basically beached cruise ships for the elderly. These places are full of organized activities like arts and crafts and high-school shop for the elderly and dining with 70 or so of your best friends, all of you basically ghetto-ized and awaiting the grim reaper, while you play bridge. Frankly, the idea of learning all over again how to make a magazine rack or napkin holder doesn't appeal to me. Plus, as I understand it, they have rules, like having to get permission to have your grandchildren visit you because they're under 55 years of age. Really?

I live on a block that has two young residents under the age of one, and a gentleman across the street from me who is in his 80s, lives alone, drives his own car and seems to be in fine shape. I believe he still plays the organ at his church on Sundays. There is a young woman next door to me in her junior year at St. Joseph's University, and next door to her is a young woman in her last year at Girls High whose sights are set on Howard University. Various parents, grandparents and others of all ages also live on my block. It's a microcosm of life in the city, and I would not miss it for all the "security" of living in a community where everything is taken care of for me. Sure, I have to rake leaves, shovel snow and haul the recycling out to the curb, but that keeps me moving. One thing you do learn about being old is how important it is to keep moving.

And then there are the ads for various drugs designed to ease or erase the physical effects of aging. The list of side effects can be nothing short of terrifying. I don't now and have never regarded either tuberculosis or death as a side effect. At this moment there is an epidemic of fungal meningitis loose among us, the result of careless manufacture of a steroid injection designed to ease back pain and related ills, as I understand it from the media. Is our medical system really out to help us, or is their only purpose their own enrichment at the possible expense of our lives? My own doctor told me it's his goal to keep me out of the hospital; I assured him it's a goal we share. My ultimate goal in this particular part of my life is to just go to sleep one night and not wake up -- but not for a while, please.

If my knees hurt, I'm supposed to let a surgeon who specializes in such things remove my knees and replace them with some mechanical device attached to the bones in my leg. No thank you. I would like to go into the recycling bin with as much of my own parts as I possibly can. I already have enough bridges in my mouth to make me competitive with Manhattan, and several years ago I had cataract surgery to replace the lenses of both eyes. I would like very much to hang onto the rest of me, as I figure at a maximum I have another 15 years. The more of actual me there is, the more I can enjoy the time that is left.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Something to be Thankful for this Thanksgiving—Obama’s Victory!

We certainly had something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving—Obama’s victory!

Rick and I spent Thanksgiving with my sister and her extended family of friends and relatives. The group gets larger every year with more and more table extensions. It’s a group of secular liberal Democrats and while there were no formal prayers, there were plenty of expressions of relief at not having to face four years of President Romney--and a whole lot of gloating about the shell shocked Republicans who thought they were cruising towards easy victory.

I’m not a religious person so am not thanking God for sending Hurricane Sandy to give the president a bump in the polls. So I guess my thanks goes to the president who had a record of accomplishment, , to the voters who came in numbers much higher than expected and to Obama’s stellar campaign team. To quote James Carville: :

They connected people in a way that had never been done before with Facebook. If they knew I was an undecided voter, they also knew I was in the Marine Corps, and they'd have a retired gunnery sergeant call me to get me to vote. It was way far above anything that's ever been tried in politics before. Political scientists will mine this data forever.

And also thanks to Nate Silver whose kept me sane in those tension filled weeks before the election.

It would have been a very glum Thanksgiving dinner if things had turned out otherwise!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I have never been so far behind in fall clean-up as I have been this year.

My garden desperately in need of fall clean-up!

During my working years when my garden was a mess, I was convinced that when I retired things would be very different. How wrong I was.

I have never been so far behind in fall clean-up as I have been this year. Sure, I can blame it on the election. I was immobilized by anxiety the entire Fall (especially after the Denver debate).

But getting older and taking a little bit longer to do everything is certainly part of the explanation. My husband managed to keep election anxiety at bay but has seemed much less interested in garden work then he used to be. I haven’t raked a single leaf and he hasn’t been much better.

And there are all these leaves which still have to come down!

I still have a lot of bulbs to plant and it’s clear that divisions of perennials I had intended to do this Fall will not get done. There’s no choice about the bulbs; they have to go into the ground and they will even if it means I’m out there some cold rainy night in December desperately trying to get the bulbs in before the ground freezes.

Just hope we don’t have an early snow fall!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Obama Victory

It sure felt different from 2008. Instead of the incredible high, there was just an enormous sense of relief. That word “relief” cropped up over and over in phone calls, emails from friends/family members today.

I’m a Democratic committeeperson and yesterday was a tough day at the polls—mainly because I could not sleep Monday night. I get caught up in worrying that I wouldn’t get enough sleep to handle a long day and that worry became a self-fulfilling prophecy. By the end of the day, I had a raging headache and could barely keep my eyes open.

The good news was that my neighbors voted overwhelmingly for Obama. Despite all those claims that liberals/progressives were disillusioned with the President, my neighbors were almost all voting enthusiastically for the President. So the vibes were good and that made the headache bearable.

When the networks called the race for Obama soon after 11:00 pm, I collapsed and had the soundest sleep I had had in a long time—no waking up in the middle of the night obsessing about the election.

There was so much at stake in this election. Obama has had real accomplishments-- e.g., health care, financial regulation, the end of DADT and support for marriage equality. It would be intolerable to see all this unravel.

But I think the intensity of my support for Obama is in some ways connected to my stage in life. I came of age in the 1960’s, a time of tremendous social possibility, but then spent my middle years in a time of reaction. There was bit of hope during the Clinton years, but then the dark ages returned with the George W. Bush years. Obama’s 2008 victory signaled the possibility of an era of progressive change. And we have certainly seen real movement in that direction.

I have hope (yes, a much ridiculed word) that we may see further change in the direction of fairer, less racist, less homophobic society. I so want to leave this beautiful planet on a note of hope.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Race and the 2012 Election: Just what is going on?

I never believed the post racial narrative of 2008, but I didn’t expect the venom of the Tea Party and their hideously racist signs.I consoled myself with the fact that this kind of virulent racism is largely confined to older white voters and that in 20 years (or less) this ugliness will pass. (Unfortunately, I probably won't be around to see it.)

However the 2012 election has made it painfully clear that this is not just a problem of overt Tea Party racism. Something else is going on. According to an Associate Press poll:

Racial attitudes have not improved in the four years since the United States elected its first black president, an Associated Press poll finds, as a slight majority of Americans now express prejudice toward blacks whether they recognize those feelings or not.” The poll also found an increase from 2008 when 48 percent of Americans expressed implicitly racist attitudes compared to 51% in 2012.

And although the Democratic Party is certainly not free of racism, today’s virtually all white Republican party is "full of racists," as Colin Powell's former chief of staff Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson told MSNBC's Ed Schultz: :

My party, unfortunately, is the bastion of those people -- not all of them, but most of them -- who are still basing their positions on race. Let me just be candid: My party is full of racists, and the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander-in-chief and president, and everything to do with the color of his skin, and that's despicable.

The uptick in both implicit and explicit racism helps explain some of the puzzling aspects of the 2012 campaign such as the dramatic shift in the race after the first debate. How did that debate change the trajectory of the race so much so quickly? Salon’s Joan Walsh’s speculates:

Still, it’s worth asking (even if we don’t have answers) why Obama’s first debate performance seemed to have hurt him so badly with white voters, and particularly white working-class men. My hunch is that apart from racism or cultural distrust (which certainly exist), working-class whites are more affected by whether Obama seems ready to fight for them.


I don’t understand how anyone who read the transcript of the first debate would conclude that Romney’s lies and inconsistencies trumped Obama’s more thoughtful responses, but of course nobody reads the transcript. This was all about who best projected leadership and apparently most people saw Romney’s manic posturing as dynamic leadership.

My explanation: deeply (and in many cases not so deeply) buried assumptions about white superiority are still an unfortunate part of the American psyche. My guess is many white people (particularly white men) over 50 boarding a plane would have a twinge of anxiety at hearing that their pilot was black and my guess is that it might be more than a twinge if they learned their pilot was a black woman. I think Romney tapped into the fear that maybe a black guy just wasn’t up to the job and fixing the economy required a white knight in shining armor.

The crazy belief that Obama cannot speak without a teleprompter is held by Tea Party fanatics but there is something more subtle at work with some white voters. Melissa Harris Perry wrote about this in 2011 in her nation column, “Black President, Double Standard: Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama.” She acknowledged that crude Tea Party racism is now mostly confined to the political margins, but that Obama’s re-election bid, however, “may indicate that a more insidious form of racism has come to replace it:”

The 2012 election may be a test of another form of electoral racism: the tendency of white liberals to hold African-American leaders to a higher standard than their white counterparts. If old-fashioned electoral racism is the absolute unwillingness to vote for a black candidate, then liberal electoral racism is the willingness to abandon a black candidate when he is just as competent as his white predecessors.

Perry compares liberal/ progressives’ responses to the Clinton and Obama administrations. Her focus is on progressive response to the president, but her comments I think have broader application:

[President Obama’s] record is, at the very least, comparable to that of President Clinton, who was enthusiastically re-elected. The 2012 election is a test of whether Obama will be held to standards never before imposed on an incumbent. If he is, it may be possible to read that result as the triumph of a more subtle form of racism.

I think Obama’s record is far more impressive than Clinton’s, but agree with Perry that Obama has been held to a higher standard and this (at least in part) explains the sudden, dramatic shift on the part of the electorate after the first debate .

If Obama wins, let’s hope that the double standard Perry describes finally begins to fade away.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It will be easier to get through the next 2 weeks after the Oct 22 Presidential Debate!

It will be easier to get through the next 2 weeks after last night’s presidential debate. The president was forceful, convincing and Romney was in an “etch a sketch” mode. This guy has real contempt for the voters. Does he think that we don’t remember he was taking very different positions a short time ago? We will soon find out if the voters have Romnesia and vote for someone who has no core beliefs and values.

If there is any consistency in Romney’s positions, it's his refusal to accept that the world has changed. One of Obama’s best lines was:

"You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."

Obama also reminded Romney that the Cold War's been over for 20 years:

But Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.
See full transcript.

Robert Reich had ( from my point of view) one of the best assessments of the debate:

I thought the third and last presidential debate was a clear win for the president. He displayed the authority of the nation's Commander-in-Chief -- calm, dignified, and confident. He was assertive without being shrill, clear without being condescending. He explained to a clueless Mitt Romney the way the world actually works. Romney seemed out of his depth. His arguments were more a series of bromides than positions -- "we have to make sure arms don't get into the wrong hands," "we want a peaceful planet," "we need to stand by our principles," "we need strong allies," "we need a comprehensive strategy to move the world away from terrorism." This has been Romney's problem all along, of course, but in the first debate he managed to disguise his vacuousness with a surprisingly combative, well-rehearsed performance. By the second debate, the disguise was wearing thin. In tonight's debate, Romney seemed to wither -- and wander. He often had difficulty distinguishing his approach from the President's, except to say, repeatedly, "America needs strong leadership."

Also Dick Polman got it right:
[Romney]was so woefully over matched in last night's foreign policy debate that he couldn't even get his geography straight. At one point, he said that "Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea." Wow, that's quite a revelation, given the fact that Iran has its own route to the sea, courtesy of its own 1000-mile coastline. But President Obama didn't rout Romney merely because the challenger can't read a map. Obama easily won the debate for four reasons: He called out Romney for lying, he educated Romney on basics of national defense, he listed Romney's long string of foreign policy flip flops, and he enjoyed the many moments when Romney endorsed administration policies.

But will the voters get it? Despite the president’s strong performance, I’m still scared and still nervously checking Nate Silver is still predicting an Obama victory and as of today is giving the President a 70.3% chance of winning. I’d be in really bad shape if it weren’t for

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The October 16 Debate-- the President is Back on Track!!!

I’m trying to remember if I was as stressed out in 2008 as I have been this election cycle. Probably not. Whenever I got worried I went to and Nate Silver calmed me down. The cure worked this year until the Denver debate and Obama’s poll numbers plummeted. He is still the projected winner but his lead seemed to narrow each day. For first time I really faced the prospect that he might lose.

I was in a state of high anxiety the day of the second debate. I was one of the few people who did not think that Obama’s performance in first debate was anywhere near as bad as most political commentators claimed; also, Romney’s manic spewing forth of lie after lie did not strike me as a great performance. Yes, Obama failed to point out Romney’s lies and yes he seemed tired and disengaged, but the transcript of debate creates a very different impression than the videotape—Obama’s thoughtful answers vs. Romney’s inconsistencies and prevarications.

The Biden/ Ryan debate lifted my spirits but it didn’t seem to produce a lift in the polls and the brief euphoria I felt after the VP debate quickly faded.

Oh what a difference last night’s debate made!!! The president was back on track,and once again the leader who inspired so many of us in 2008 and who has delivered for us in office.

Yesterday was very good day—Obama won the debate and the Supreme Court ruled that early voting could proceed in Ohio.

I slept well last night—no waking up in the middle of the night worrying about the election. The president is back on track to win this one!!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

It's time to move the plants back inside!

My sunroom uncluttered by plants

My sunroom last year after I crammed in all the plants

One of the household chores I really detest is moving all the plants back into the house before the first frost. I’ve really gotten to like my little sunroom with only one jade plant. But I can’t put it off any longer.

I used to think that when I was retired I’d get a head start on this loathsome chore and have all my plants back indoors by mid-October. Well, it hasn’t worked out that way. I’m just starting in mid October! I am even more behind schedule than I was during my working years.

Each year when I try to cram my plants back into the house, it gets harder and harder. Some have become enormous and I’m going to have to hack away at them if I’m ever to get them back inside. Our little sunroom is the only place we can put some of the really gigantic ones and soon there will be no room for us in the sunroom. I love my plants but this is really getting out of hand!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Computer Crash Blues

I knew my ancient computer had to be replaced. I was holding out until I finished my book on second wave feminism in Philly and somehow got it published. I didn’t want to have to deal with transferring all those files.

The plan was, after I finished the book, I’d get out those back issues of Consumer Reports I was saving for this purpose, do the research, and get the best deal I could on a computer. Well, best laid plans and all that.

Lately, the computer was getting really, really slow and making weird noises. I was having trouble re-booting, and when we went to Block Island I left it on. I decided it was worth wasting electricity, so I wouldn’t have to worry about re-booting. (From an environmental perspective, very bad, I know.)

I have a publisher interested and was making the revisions she wanted so I could get the manuscript back to her by the beginning of October as promised. At this critical moment, my computer made a very loud, horrible sound and then the screen went black. Rick said it sounded like a power supply problem.

My students were always claiming something like this happened to them when they didn’t hand their papers in on time. This may be payback for never believing their stories.

So I had no time to do research to get the best possible deal on a new computer. I went to Staples (because it’s five minutes from my home) and bought the cheapest CPU from a manufacturer whose name I recognized and hoped that the extra hundred I paid for file transfers would work. I had thought I was backing everything up with Simple Save, but apparently not.

I finally got the wretched computer set up and then discovered there was no wireless adapter. So, back to Staples. I asked them why they didn’t tell me the computer did not come with a wireless adapter—I thought that was standard these days. The sales person acknowledged he should have told me.

Why am I bothering to write all this boring stuff? Maybe the real question is: why can’t I deal with the possibility of going without a computer for one day??

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Block Island is Glorious in September!

One of the great joys of retirement is taking a seashore vacation in September! The prices are lower, the weather cooler, the crowds much thinner, and the ocean temperature still warm.

Last September Rick and I went to Martha’s Vineyard. We hadn’t been there for about 25 years and decided it was time for a revisit. It will be our last visit. Although thanks to our inn, we had access to a gorgeous beach in Menemsha , the public beaches were disappointing and beach access was severely restricted. The mega mansions took up large stretches of precious beach.

We found ourselves saying over and over, this is nowhere near as beautiful as Block Island, a tiny little island about 14 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. Unlike Martha’s Vineyard which is so large that you’re often not aware you’re on an island, on little Block Island you are always within sight of the ocean. And there's no problem with beach access. There are expensive houses on Block Island but no mega mansions commandeering large stretches of beach.

Block Island was once considered “the poor man’s Martha’s Vineyard.” I don’t think it’s exactly a poor folks’ vacation spot, (although it does have a new restaurant called The Poor People’s Pub), but it is no playground for the super rich.

We have been going to Block Island in the summer for the past few years and renting a house big enough to invite friends and relatives. Part of the fun is sharing Block Island with good friends. This year we decided to do this at the last minute and we had fewer visitors. We were so happy that our good friend Beth could spend a few days with us. The weather was glorious and it was our best time ever on Block Island. In the future, Block Island will be a September vacation spot for us.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


From Fran Waksler who gardens in Cambridge MA
This spring’s azaleas promised a wonderful gardening year
As did the hibiscus

The spring of 2012 started out very well in my garden and I was looking forward to a beautiful and lush year. For a variety of reasons, however, the summer turned my garden into a big disappointment. As the weather and other issues interfered, the garden suffered. At first I was disappointed and unhappy, but I finally decided that it was more productive to focus on what I could do now to make next year a great gardening year.

With this year’s warm spring, I got an early start on yard work. I was optimistic that this year I would be able to keep up and have the best garden ever. Alas, it was not to be. May and June were taken up with finishing a book I edited with a friend of mine—a fully enjoyable project, but the amount of intense work involved limited my time in the garden. And then, in June, I had cataract surgery, after which I was not supposed to bend over or lift anything heavy for two weeks, so all I could manage was the little light pruning that could be done standing up. When I finally had more free time to devote to gardening, the weather scuttled my plans, with alternations of heat in the 90s and days of torrential rain, both of which kept me inside.

The odd weather was responsible for a number of disappointments. The lilacs, which reliably bloom around Mothers’ Day, had a very short season and were gone by the holiday. Clematis came and went with equal dispatch, as did the roses. The red roses, fortunately, rallied and gave a second show (despite the fact that their trellis fell down and had to be nailed back to the house, a task that involved many painful scratches from thorns). The June white roses were also short lived, but for some reason just last week decided that they owed me a second blooming, offering me both encouragement and pleasure. Strawberries and raspberries, however, produced almost no berries. The purple Concord and green grapes look good but don’t yet seem to have gotten the kind of weather that will make them sweet.

I finally identified the hateful vine that has been invading my yard for the past few years—swallow wart—and I have been on a mission to exterminate it. Apparently I am not the only one, for in my city and adjoining ones there are actually “vigilante” groups bent on its destruction. People walk through neighborhoods, talk to neighbors, and collect what pods they can that are in public places. Interestingly, we are told not to compost the pods and not to put them in the trash. The only suggestion is to burn them, but to the best of my knowledge burning them outside is illegal. I’m not sure what one is supposed to do with them—all I have come up with is putting them in plastic bags in the trash and feeling guilty.

So, in preparation for the wonderful garden I will have next year, I have started madly weeding, pruning, taking stock, and making plans. I’m cleaning up the strawberry and raspberry beds. I’m encouraging a shaded area with sparse grass and a moderate amount of moss by pulling up the straggly grass and transplanting moss that is growing is less desirable locations such as the strawberry bed. I’ll let the grass and moss decide on the dividing line between them and support their decision. It’s been a wonderful year for ferns, with the consequence that they are overspreading a north side path so I am cutting back where I can. When they die back, I’ll go to work with my edger, define their limits, and dig up those that have spilled beyond their boundaries. There is a certain perversity in the fact that plants that don’t do well and those that do too well are both problems!

And I will relocate some of the lovely tall phlox that Karen gave me years ago. The pink ones have spread in just the right places. The few white ones, however, have spread willy-nilly. Since I have a particular weakness for the white ones, I am carefully marking them where they self-seeded and will gather them together in a single place to make a beautiful big white splash.

Tall white phlox from Karen

Monday, September 3, 2012

The academic calendar still shapes the way I see the world.

I’m still kind of surprised by how easily I’ve adjusted to retirement--how it so quickly became the new normal.

Yet there are some old habits that linger. The academic calendar still shapes the way I see the world. I haven’t shaken the idea that the year begins in September and I have to get my house in order before the new year begins in the fall. One ritual was cleaning out my kitchen cabinets which I did religiously every summer (Yes, it’s true I only clean my cabinets once a year.)

Last week, I had a moment of panic. It was the end of August and I hadn’t cleaned the kitchen cabinets! But then reality set in—it doesn’t matter if this job stretches into October.

Just as it doesn’t matter that I haven’t gotten through that stack of books I wanted to read this summer. There will be time for that later in the year. No stacks of student papers will get in the way.

Labor Day used to be a serious work day for me as I desperately tried to finish all my course outlines. There was always one syllabus I hadn’t nailed down before Labor Day weekend. No more.

There is one Labor Day ritual I really miss—the Waterloo Gardens Labor Day sale, the mother of all plant sales. Sadly Waterloo Gardens went bankrupt and closed this summer. I learned the hard way never to plant in the late spring or summer. If hadn’t got a shrub in the ground by mid-spring, it would have to wait until the fall. When we were working the only time we could travel was summer vacation or winter holidays and it was just too risky to plant during the summer when we weren’t around to water plants for 3-4 weeks.

I really looked forward to going to Waterloo Gardens to buy their always healthy and (during Labor Day weekend) deeply discounted plants. Fortunately, we have a lot of good garden centers in the Delaware Valley, but nothing quite like Waterloo Gardens. I miss that wonderful Labor Day sale, but I sure do not miss going back to work!!!!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Road trips have their advantages—Part II, Montréal

After Burlington we went to Montréal which we had visited briefly about 25 years ago en route to visiting friends in Ottawa. We weren’t all that impressed with Montréal, but then we didn’t really see it. It was hellishly hot and the only thing I recall was visiting Montréal’s amazing Botanical Garden. It was too hot to walk round the garden and we rode through in a little train, with no time to stop and smell the roses. This time it was hot, but not unbearably hot, so we got to really see the garden, including the amazing Chinese Garden.

The jewel of Montréal is its beautifully 17th century old town which for some inexplicable reason we never visited last time.

Twenty-five years ago we were really disappointed with the restaurants. It seemed as if French culinary talent had not managed to cross the Atlantic. We were certainly not disappointed this time and ate very well in Montreal. Although food was affordable, wine lovers in Montréal(and all of Canada for that matter) will experience real sticker shock. Alcohol is heavily taxed with revenue going to pay for Canada’s national healthcare system, so we consoled ourselves that the high prices were in the service of a worthy cause. I’d gladly pay higher taxes in the U.S. for a single payer system.

Canada’s high taxes pay for a variety of public goods, including Montréal’s Museum of Fine Arts which is well–designed and has a good permanent collection which is free to the public. We spent an entire day there. We had intended to combine the Museum of Fine Arts with! Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, but in our senior citizen, slow-travel mode, we decide to see one museum really well and spend the rest of the day hanging out in a café.

Rick had the gratifying experience of being taken for a Quebecois because his French is so good. He was basking in compliments the entire trip. The first tribute came when we were entering Quebec and the border guard asked in surprise, “How come your French is so good?” When we went to the Botanical Garden, Rick asked for two senior tickets and when he looked at the receipt, he realized he had been given the senior rate for Quebec citizens.

We will be back to Montréal. For Francophiles like us, it’s wonderful to get a little taste of French culture without the pain and expense of international air travel.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Road trips have their advantages—Part I, The Hudson Valley and Burlington Vermont.

Pond at Bob and Susan's new house

Road trips have their advantages—no desperately trying to pack enough clothes into tiny suitcases, no pouring toiletries into those small plastic jars that will pass muster with homeland security. We just throw whatever we want in the trunk of the car—including as many hardback books as we want. Kindle books is not my idea of summer reading!

Since we decided to take international trips only off season--thus avoiding the crowds and high prices--we’ve been taking road trips in the summer.

Our good friends in Vermont have moved from southern Vermont to a small town outside of Burlington, right near the Canadian border, so this year we decided to combine Burlington with Montreal. One concession to old age is not to drive 6+ hours in one day. This means driving to Burlington is a two day trip for us.

Our first stop was Rhinebeck , New York. To Philly folks looking for a weekend get-away: consider the Hudson Valley town of Rhinebeck with its many antique stores, trendy boutiques and some very good restaurants. Just outside of Rhinebeck is one of the best B&B’s we’ve ever stayed in—Whistlewood Farm. The setting is idyllic, the owner very friendly and the breakfasts fantastic. On our return tip to Philly we stayed at another charming country inn, the Inn at Silver Maple Farm with Shaker themed furnishing and the friendliest innkeeper ever.

On our way to Vermont, we took the opportunity to visit Eleanor Roosevelt’s house at Valkill. Years go we visited Hyde Park but missed the last tour for Valkill. After reading She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker by Brigid O’Farrell for my feminist book club I really wanted to see Valkill. O’Farrell has documented ER’s contribution to the labor movement which if mentioned at all is often downplayed. The 15 minute film which begins the tour at Valkill emphasizes ER’s concern for the poor but does not mention her very strong ties to the organizations fighting to improve the lives of poor and working class people. The tour guide was very knowledgeable about the minutiae of ER’s life but did not seem aware of her ties to organized labor. I recommended the book to her and she said she’d look into it.

This was the first time we had been to Burlington and it lives up to its reputation as a charming small city. Cities with water fronts are very fortunate and Burlington takes full advantage of its waterfront on Lake Champlain.

Our main purpose in visiting Vermont was to see our friends. For those of you who know Bob and Susan here are photos of their beautiful new houses which sits on 49 (!)acres.

Susan's spectacular vegetable garden!
Bob about to mow their enormous lawn

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Foix, the Pyrenees and Parc de l 'Art Préhistorique, The Langue d’Oc Diaries, Part III

The medieval streets of Foix

Our last stop was the Pyrenees town of Foix, a seriously charming old medieval town. We stayed in an inexpensive hotel in the old town—fine for one night. I had forgotten how beautiful the Pyrenees are; the only downside is there’s no escaping driving through those really long tunnels.

We decided to return to Barcelona by way of Foix because of the spectacular Parc Pyrénéen de l'Art Préhistorique. We had hoped to visit Grotte de Niaux, but the glorious weather we had enjoyed the entire tip changed to cold and rain. The guidebooks cautioned against visiting the caves in the rain as the entrance is slippery and there is no turning back. We decided we weren’t up to it. Slipping and breaking an ankle in one of these caves was too scary a prospect for this senior citizen.

We had visited caves with astonishing prehistoric paintings in the Dordogne, were in awe of the artistic vision of our ancestors tens of thousands of years ago, and wanted to have that experience again. However, it’s much easier to navigate the caves in the flat land of the Dordogne than in Pyrenees --and we were about 20 years younger.

Although we didn’t make ito the Grotte de Niaux, we saw amazing reproductions in the museum Parc Préhistorique.

The museum was organized in way that was very confusing. It reminded us of the American Indian museum in Washington, D.C.-- deliberately non-chronological in the organization of exhibits and, according to the American Indian museum’s designers, mounting a challenge to linear thinking. I don’t know if the designers of the Parc Prehistorique were deliberately trying to create an experience of disorientation, but that’s the effect it had in us. Nonetheless, the museum was a very powerful experience and will stay with me in a way most museums do not.

In addition to the museum, the Parc Prehistorique contains numerous open-air exhibits, including one which demonstrated how archaeologists work. (I think if I were a young person that museum would have made me seriously consider becoming an archaeologist.)Since it was a dreary day, we had the attentions of the young, enthusiastic archaeologist all to ourselves.

Luckily for archaeologists, pre-historic humans did not clean up their campsites and they left a treasure tore of litter for archaeologists to sift through. The exhibit recreated the kinds of objects found at these sites and demonstrated how archaeologists have interpreted the findings to reconstruct scenes of daily life at the campsites. Archaeologists expect to unearth many more caves and campsites and learn a good deal more about pre-historic humans. I hope some of the discoveries are made when I’m still around!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Rediscovering Toulouse: The Langue d’Oc Diaries, Part II

Toulouse, Main Square

Rick and I thought we had shortchanged Toulouse when we visited in August in the mid-1980’s. It was hellishly hot, and we thought if we hadn’t been stumbling about in a heat-induced daze we might actually like Toulouse.

And that’s just what occurred when we returned last Spring. Toulouse, like so many European cities, is an open-air architectural museum. The architecture is very much like that of Paris, but the colors are different. In Paris, it’s gray stone with black balconies; in Toulouse (called the Rose City) it’s Mediterranean colors—-red brick buildings with blue, turquoise, and green balconies.

Street in Old Town, Toulouse

Toulouse is also a clearly a much more prosperous city then it was in the mid-1980’s and is now the center of the French aerospace industry. The old town which I remembered as a little shabby has been cleaned up and is now filled with trendy shops and upscale restaurants and cafes.

There’s much to see in Toulouse: some very good museums and magnificent churches, like San Sernin which has one of the most beautiful towers in Europe and Les Jacobins which contains the tomb of Thomas Aquinas and a gorgeous cloister.

San Sernin Tower
Les Jacobins Cloister

We certainly didn’t exhaust Toulouse in our 3 day stay. We never got to many of the smaller museums as we couldn’t resist the pleasure of hanging out in cafes. I’m always amazed at how much free time the French appear to have. The cafes were always full and most of the peopled were clearly not tourists.

Toulouse is also a very affordable city. Our hotel was half the cost of our Carcassonne hotel and our restaurant bills were considerably lower. I especially recommend Café L’Opera—and old brasserie on the main square with traditional Catalan cooking. We were very glad we made the return trip and came away with a very different impression of Toulouse.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

2012 Conference of the National Organization for Women, Part III

Recently for my book Philadelphia NOW: The Glory Years, 1968-1982, I have read stacks minutes of NOW meetings on the national, state and local levels. Some of the very same issues are argued over and over again, often with each side brandishing the very same arguments. And so it goes with the question of mail-in ballots which (it appears) was first debated and defeated in 1973.

According to the conference minutes, Betty Friedan argued passionately against the resolution: “Finally, no mail ballots. You want to be able to have people see who they are and elect who they are on the basis of what they commit themselves to when your polices are made here.” The recorder may have mangled Friedan’s statement which as recorded is not a clearly expressed argument. Friedan appears to be saying that voting members should have the opportunity to hear candidates describe their positions and vision for NOW in person. A former NOW officer at the 2012 conference defended in-person voting on similar grounds arguing that those who are most committed and willing to travel to vote should be the ones who choose NOW’s leaders.

Former Philadelphia NOW officers Elizabeth Parziale and Barbara Mitchell reported that this was a divisive issue during their involvement in Philadelphia NOW in the 1970’s. Since participation in NOW conventions involved travel, according to Barbara Mitchell, delegates to national and state conferences were often chosen based on their ability to pay: “And so the people who had the money, who could go and wouldn’t have to charge Philadelphia NOW … It was easier to pick those people to be delegates than pick some person who didn’t have a car, who had to be driven.” There is clearly a compelling argument for not linking voting rights in national NOW to having the resources to travel. From the comments at the sessions on modernizing NOW’s structure, it appears that the idea of a mail or online ballot is an idea whose time has come.

While some issues such as the mail-in vs. in-person ballot continue to be contentious, there are some once bitterly fought issues which have resolved themselves over the course of time. A case in point is the value of regional vs. state structures. According to the minutes of the 1973 National NOW Conference, this was once a very contentious issue. Pennsylvania NOW members were among those who argued for the primacy of state organizations and “against having more superstructures above the state.” Pennsylvania NOW was one of the pioneering state organizations and its members were quick to realize the political utility of state organizations. The advocates of state organizations appeared to be primarily from the east coast. East Coast Regional Director Jacqui Ceballos “spoke for state organization. If the U.S. government is going to be changed...we have to build a feminist government, a counterpart to fight and change it. We [that is NOW as an organization] have to have a state government and a federal government.” At the 1973 Conference members voted by a narrow margin to retain regional structures.

As NOW became more involved in electoral politics in the middle and late 1979’s—largely as a consequence of the ERA campaign and state level attempts to chip away at abortion rights—the importance of state organizations became increasingly evident. The regional configurations corresponded to no political unit and therefore had no political utility and consequently faded in importance. At the 2012 conference there were many who wanted to eliminate the regional structure all together and there appeared to be an emerging consensus that voting for national board members should be held at national conferences rather than at the poorly attended regional conferences.

While NOW debates regional vs. state structures, in-person vs. mail-in ballots, it is also facing far more fundamental challenges from young activists in the Occupy Movement, seeking to create new models with a horizontal structure, decision-making by consensus, and no formal leadership. For those of us old enough to have been involved in the New Left and/or the Women’s Liberation movement of the of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Occupy Movement with its anti-leadership ethos and reluctance to get involved in local politics has a familiar ring. We’ve been through this before. Many Women’s Liberation collectives in the early 1970’s also shared the Occupy Movement’s distrust of electoral politics and commitment to decision making by consensus, no matter how long it took.

The idea that social movements themselves should prefigure the societies they want to create was a very powerful concept in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, and it has re-surfaced in the Occupy Movement. NOW’s bureaucratic structure is generally seen as the antithesis of the Occupy Movement, but there has been a visionary strand in NOW, a legacy of NOW members who traced their roots to Women’s Liberation collectives. Toni Carabillo draws on this strand in her 1976 document, “Toward A Feminist Ethic,” written in the aftermath of the bitterly fought 1975 National NOW conference. The emphasis on democratic participation in the Occupy Movement of 2011 in many ways echoes Carabillo’s philosophy. Carabillo pledges that because the feminist movement is “composed almost exclusively of people who are weary of being led, subordinate, voiceless and powerless and of conforming to rules and courses of action we had no hand in devising [she will] never sacrifice principles of participatory democracy to the false idol of organizational efficiency.”

And like the Occupy movement, Carabillo framed economic justice issues in terms of the 99% against the 1%. She argued for building “coalitions not only with all the dispossessed in our society--the women, minorities, the poor. the aged--but also with the disenchanted--those members of the middle class of our society who have in the past been manipulated into being angry with all those below them on the economic ladder, when their anger and hostility should be redirected up-ward to the top 1% who should be carrying far more of the economic burdens of this society .”

NOW has tried to balance the visionary strand in Carabillo’s work with the practical, nuts and bolts politics approach usually associated with NOW. Will it strike the right balance for a new generation of feminist activists? NOW will celebrate is fiftieth birthday on 2016. I believe it is critically important to have a diverse, inter-generational, multi-issue, multi-tactical feminist organization, but acknowledge that no one organization can meet all needs, effectively address all issues. Perhaps it is time for young feminists to start developing their own organizations which speak directly to young women. From my conversations with young feminists, I get the impression that increasing numbers of young feminists are eager to form their own national organization. If they do so, I hope that they will also maintain their connections with intergenerational organizations such as NOW.

Whatever NOW’s fortunes, the feminist movement is growing. The global feminist movement is the story of the 21st century. And if there ever was any doubt about the need for a U.S. feminist movement, the battle over inclusion of abortion and contraception rights in the Affordable Health Care Act has demonstrated the need is as urgent as ever. Whatever the future of NOW, the feminist movement is not going away.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

2012 Conference of the National Organization for Women, Part II

Prior to the 2012 conference, NOW’s grassroots leaders received an email from Patricia Ireland, past President of National NOW and Co-chair of the National NOW Advisory Committee , requesting their response to a survey about “strengthening NOW to meet the opportunities and challenges of the 21st Century.” Ireland noted that “NOW's structure has not been addressed comprehensively since the 1970s. Think how the world around us has changed since then! NOW, too, must change.” Respondents were asked to identify what they considered the strengths and weaknesses of NOW, and if they thought there was “something in NOW's structure which holds the organization back.”

At the 2012 conference there was a series of workshops labeled "Modernizing NOW’s Structure.” I attended four out of five of these sessions and was surprised that the workshops were relatively well-attended. People usually join organizations because they feel passionately about issues, not because they are intrigued by organizational structure and have an intense interest in by-laws development.

The group was comprised almost entirely of white women and disproportionately of older women; many of the attendees at these sessions were current or former officers of chapter or state organizations, and so probably had more of an investment in NOW than most conference-goers. NOW has yet to create a similar investment in the organization on the part of a diverse group of younger members.

In the “Modernizing NOW’s Structure” workshops, generational differences did emerge—-most notably on the importance of technology as a tool for feminist organizing. Unfortunately, as there were so few women of color at these workshops, it wasn’t clear if there were racial/ethnic differences in how members perceived NOW’s structure.

One suggestion which came up over and over at the sessions on structure was that NOW should move to webinars rather than face to face meetings. Often young feminists lead very pressured lives as they juggle work, school and family responsibilities; traveling long distances to attend state board meetings is not an option. Also, NOW’s geographically based model makes it more difficult for many young feminists to move into national leadership positions, as they are much less likely to stay in one place long enough to become a state president—-the usual path to national leadership.

It has proven extraordinarily difficult for veteran members to change the way they have been operating for decades. When some members of Pennsylvania NOW wanted to include a call-in portion of the state board meeting, there was intense resistance. One veteran member said that she had traveled around the state of Pennsylvania for forty years to attend state board meetings, and if she could do it, then younger members should be able to do so as well. NOW is of course not the only organization whose members react negatively to any suggestion for doing things differently from past practice. Too often those with progressive values turn into the most hard-bitten conservatives when it comes to organizational change.

National NOW has tried to introduce a new model for chapters—-virtual chapters which would enable a group that might be geographically dispersed but with common interests and shared history to form an official chapter. This concept met with fierce resistance from some veteran NOW members. Currently, members who have not joined a local chapter are counted as at-large members of the state organization where they reside. National NOW sends a portion of member’s dues to chapters or in the case of at-large members to the state organization. Some state organizations were concerned that the existence of virtual chapters would mean a decrease in their rebates from national NOW, and as a result they lobbied against virtual chapters. Although the resolution passed, nothing has yet been done to implement it, no doubt largely due to the resistance of veteran members.

Fear that virtual chapters would erode the funding base of state affiliates was not the only reason for resistance to virtual chapters. Certainly, virtual chapters would not be as effective politically. Political representation is geographically based; we vote where we live. For NOW to continue to be politically effective—-both in terms of lobbying elected officials and electing feminist candidates--NOW needs state and local affiliates. The challenge is to maintain the geographically based structures but at same time build new opportunities for involvement and leadership development for young feminists. Some geographically based chapters are thriving, but far too many have shrunk to a president for life and an ever-dwindling mailing list.

In 2010, I introduced a resolution to institute term limits for officers of state and local organizations. Although NOW has instituted term limits for national officers and national board members, many state organizations and local chapters do not have them, and officers have sometimes held their positions for decades. As chapter and state organizations are the training grounds for new national officers, the national organization can’t afford to clog the pipeline by allowing officers to hang on to their positions forever.

At the same 2010 conference where I introduced my sure-to-fail term limits resolution, a young woman introduced a resolution to allow members to vote by mail for national officers, as many members cannot afford travel expenses and thus cannot cast their vote in person. A veteran member (in what the young women experienced as a patronizing, supercilious manner) immediately shot her down with: “This is out of order because it would require a by-laws change.” After the session, a few older members encouraged her to hang in there and try again, but I worried she might not come back. It seemed it was not so much the failure of her resolution that bothered her but the dismissive reaction.

Perhaps the most controversial idea raised at the 2012 workshops was that of voting for officers by mail ballot. Currently one must be physically present to vote at the conventions at which national officers are elected. This gives a tremendous advantage to those who live near the convention site; consequently, board members who decide the location of the convention frequently try to get a site favorable to their preferred candidates. Also, in-person voting shuts out low-income women and younger women who often lack both time and money for long distance travel.

This is an issue which has been raised over and over again in NOW’s history. But from the comments at the sessions on modernizing NOW’s structure, it appears that the idea of a mail-in or online ballot is an idea whose time has come.

More on the proposal for mail-in ballots in Part III

Friday, July 6, 2012

2012 Conference of the National Organization for Women, Part I

I have been attending NOW conferences regularly for the past ten years. I believe the first was in 2001, the year I became Philadelphia NOW chapter President. At that point I felt an obligation to attend. I recall that at every one of these conferences NOW was engaged in soul-searching—how can we attract more young women, more women of color? The soul-searching continues.

If attendance at national NOW conferences is any indication, NOW has been more successful at attracting young women than women of color (of all ages). It seems that every year the number of women of color at national conferences is smaller. I checked my perception against that of other regular NOW conference attendees and they confirmed my perception. (Of course these are subjective recollections. I have no hard data to back this up.)

The number of young feminists at national conferences appears to have remained relatively constant over the past decade, but the faces change. While many older members tend to attend national conferences faithfully year after year, this is much less likely to be the case with younger members. NOW members in their sixties, seventies, and eighties have been involved in the organization for over three/four decades and they generally are intensely loyal to it; with younger members, identification with NOW is much less powerful. They are not necessarily convinced that membership in NOW is essential to the feminist project. If NOW is to survive and thrive it must build a diverse cadre of young feminists deeply committed to the organization.

One of the most powerful presentations at the conference was “Young Feminists Organizing.” NOW's young, dynamic Action Vice President Erin Matson opened the session with a tribute to young feminists: “Younger women are leading the feminist movement--online and in the streets.” She acknowledged the tremendous achievements of an older generation of feminists, but the suggestion was clear—-it’s time for generational change.

Sandra Fluke

The first panelist was Sandra Fluke, the young woman who has become a feminist rock star thanks to Rush Limbaugh’s response to her congressional testimony on access to contraception. Fluke thanked NOW for “having my back the past few months.” Like Matson, she focused on the contributions of young feminists: “Young feminists are on the move. If some were under the illusion that they were living in a post-feminist world, they have awakened from that.” Fluke suggested that NOW use the language of “gender equality” when trying to reach young people. She noted that younger women are concerned that stereotypes about masculinity may be oppressive to the young men in their lives—their brothers, partners and friends—and that young women and men might be more easily reached by using the language of gender equality. Fluke may be onto something here. I recall some of my Women’s Studies students at Community College of Philadelphia expressing a similar point.

Krystal Ball

The next speaker, former congressional candidate and MSNBC political commenter Krystal Ball, was introduced as the woman who made in it safe for the Facebook generation to run for office. Ball had forcefully pushed back against an attempt to use sexually explicit Facebook photos as a means of derailing her candidacy. Ball’s speech focused on young feminists’ response to Republican attacks on reproductive rights, including her campaign to boycott Rush Limbaugh because of his scurrilous attacks on Sandra Fluke. Ball stressed that the next battle will be against Republican governors who want to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid. As with many young feminists, Ball’s feminism is intertwined with a wide range of social justice issues.

Tamika Mallory

The third speaker, Tamika Mallory, discussed issues such as wage inequality and violence against women in the context of their impact on women of color. Mallory is the national executive director of one of the nation's leading civil rights organizations, National Action Network, founded by Reverend Al Sharpton. Just 31 years old, she is the youngest national executive director in the group's history. Mallory focused on voting rights issues, which she characterized as the major civil rights issue of the 21st century--one more battle we thought we had won in the 1960’s which we are fighting all over again.

For many young feminists, their feminism is intertwined with wide range of social justice issues. Of course many older feminists recognize the interconnections, but young feminists have often placed greater emphasis on the way gender justice is intertwined with issues of race, class and sexuality. It’s perhaps a testimony to the gains that women have made that young feminists can do this. In my book on second wave feminism, FEMINISM IN PHILADELPHIA: THE GLORY YEARS, 1968-1982, founding member Lillian Ciarrochi argued “NOW was established to end sexism against women … The focus had to be women, women.” She was making an argument similar to that made by many in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s--that it was necessary to focus laser-like on civil rights for African-Americans and not get distracted by other issues. She now sees the feminist movement as at different stage: “Now I think the other issues are all intertwined. We’ve always known that but we had to focus [on sexism] in that way, in the early 70s. If we hadn’t we wouldn’t have gotten as much done. It’s the same with Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.”

Many younger feminists have taken Women’s Studies courses organized around the intersection of race, class, gender and sexuality and their approach to feminist organizing reflects this. Although NOW has evolved in its approach and for some time has focused on these interconnections, not all feminists and social movement historians have recognized the extent to which NOW has embraced a more complex, inclusive approach to gender justice.

NOW’s leadership is committed to an inclusive vision but has yet to figure out how to make the organization more attractive to a diverse group of young feminists and to women of color of all ages. The organization is currently involved in major effort to revamp its structure. I attended a series of workshop on “ Modernizing NOW” and had plenty of time to think about what structural changes would make NOW more attractive to a diverse group of young people. I got what I thought was a brilliant new idea—-NOW should become involved in the global feminist movement. When I shared my idea informally with others, I discovered that many people were thinking along the exact same lines, suggesting this is an idea whose time has come.

NOW is a national organization with a domestic agenda. When NOW was founded in 1966 there was no visible global feminist movement. Much has changed in 46 years, including the capacity to connect with feminist organizations around the globe. NOW’s programming at national conferences reflects this. Among the workshops were several which placed feminist issues in global context: “Sex Trafficking - A Growing Criminal Industry that Harms Women, Children”; “Women Workers of the World: Unite to Fight for Our Dignity and Our Rights!” and the plenary session with Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls.

However, NOW has no organizational connections with the global feminist movement. It’s not at all clear how such connections could be forged. It’s not like there is one over-arching global feminist organization with which NOW could affiliate. But if we were to figure out how to do this I think NOW would be a lot more attractive to a diverse group of women. Many recent immigrants—-from Africa and the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia—have a global perspective and a reconfigured NOW with an international dimension might be more attractive to such women. Also younger women whose education is increasingly international in orientation—-e.g., all those study abroad programs—-might be more receptive to a feminist organization directly involved in the global feminist movement. This is an issue the committee charged with recommendations to “modernize” NOW’s structure should seriously consider.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

I didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed by the Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act.

I didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed by the Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act. I burst into tears when I heard the news. (Those on the other side were no doubt bursting into tears as well.) Fortunately, I missed the erroneous CNN report which announced that the Supreme Court had ruled against ACA and got the news when the decision in favor of ACA had been announced.

It wasn’t all good news. I’m worried that allowing states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion and still keep existing federal funding will leave a lot of people uncovered, but there is time to work on this and as Ruth Ginsberg said, “In the end, the Affordable Care Act survives largely unscathed.”

As usual, one of the best analyses was Paul Krugman’s :

In short, unless you belong to that tiny class of wealthy Americans who are insulated and isolated from the realities of most people’s lives, the winners from that Supreme Court decision are your friends, your relatives, the people you work with — and, very likely, you. For almost all of us stand to benefit from making America a kinder and more decent society.

Also the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Annette John-Hall didn’t pull any punches and said what so many pundits have danced around:

What baffles me the most is that almost every poll indicates that while most Americans support many of the measures in the Affordable Care Act, more than half want to see it repealed, including seniors who stand to benefit the most. For sure, the president didn't do the best job explaining the health-care law. And yet there's that element that chooses to blind itself with hatred for the black guy in the White House. Even if it kills them.

I think I will always remember where I was when I learned that the ACA had been upheld.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Walled City of Carcassone: The Langue d’Oc Diaries, Part I

It felt really good to be back in France—we hadn’t been there since our sabbatical in 1999. Before that we went almost every year concentrating on one small region at a time. Southwestern France was one of regions where we had spent relatively little time. We were in Toulouse sometime in the mid 1980’s, but it was so hellishly hot we fled after one day. During our working years we could only travel during the summer or the winter holiday break. One of the great pleasures of retirement is the ability to travel off-season, when the prices are lower, the crowds fewer, and when it’s much easier to snag an airline upgrade.

We decided to combine Barcelona with Southwestern France—-once one cultural region before there were such entities as France and Spain. I had planned to read Montaillou, a social history of a small town in the region during the Middle Ages. No surprise, I never got around to it, despite Rick’s owning a copy. Fortunately Rick knows a lot about the history of the region and filled me in on the key points. I had also planned to review some French grammar before the trip, but never got around to that either. Rick speaks French really, really well and since he’s so good with languages, it’s very easy for me to fall into the trap of linguistic laziness.

The French are trying to revive the old language of the region and I was surprised to see all the street signs in Carcassonne in Langue d’Oc. The old walled city of Carcassonne is definitely worth a day and also worth staying overnight to see the castle and ramparts illuminated at night. Unfortunately, you have to walk through a gauntlet of gift shops as you enter the old medieval town, but then tourism pays for the preservation of the site. Carcassonne had been a major political /cultural center in the Middle Ages, but had been abandoned and in a state of disrepair until one of my heroes, historical preservationist Eugene Violet-Le-Duc, convinced the French government to allocate funds for its restoration. Every time we visit a medieval historical site in France– a cathedral, castle--the guidebooks always tell us that Violet-Le-Duc preceded us. Lovers of the Gothic cathedral (and I count myself among them) owe a great deal to Violet-Le-Duc.

L'Eglise Saint Navaire

The bad news about Carcassonne is that it has the high hotel prices that come with a major tourist attraction. We found an acceptable small hotel in a great location—-right outside the city walls. And although the hotel was nothing special, thanks to the hotel staff we found a great restaurant with the best cassoulet I’ve ever had!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Another victory for democracy, transparency in the Democratic Party—this time in the Pennsylvania Democratic party!

Some friends of mine who are very disillusioned with the Democratic Party and see little hope for improvement ask me why I bother working within the Democratic Party. Every once in awhile something happens which makes me think it might be worth it after all.

Progress shouldn’t be this painfully slow, but the determination and persistence of Tracey Gordon and Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus has finally paid off. The Philadelphia Democratic Party finally acknowledged that Tracey Gordon won election as committeeperson in 2010 and seated her. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Pennsylvania Democratic Progressive Caucus, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party is becoming more democratic, more transparent.

On June 9 a resolution initiated by the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus was passed unanimously by Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee. The resolution stated:

Whereas, that in all 67 counties in the State of Pennsylvania there is only one process in effect for the election of Democratic Committee people and that the Committee person election process has guidelines set forth by the Pa. Dept. of State and State election laws; and

Whereas, we recognize that that all 67 Democratic County Committees are obligated to have rules and by-laws that are consistent with our State Party by-laws; and

Whereas, it should only be practical, that in all 67 counties that there is only one process in effect to remove an elected county committee person from office within the Pennsylvania Democratic Party;

Therefore, be it resolved, that we the elected committee people of the Democratic State Party respectfully request that the leadership of the State Democratic Party commission the state by-laws committee to establish a review and recommendation process for a due process procedure of the removal of county committee people and to submit a draft to all state committee members for the Jan./Feb. 2013 30 day call.

Last Fall the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus asked the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus to bring the Philadelphia Democratic Party’s refusal to seat Tracey Gordon to the PA Dem. Party Executive committee and seek a remedy. Initially there was reluctance to deal with this issue but the Progressive Caucus persisted and the July 9 resolution was the result. Special thanks to Bruce Slater, Chair of the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus who made many, many phone calls to state committee members all around the state getting their support for this issue. That outreach will no doubt pay off in many other ways.

The By-laws Committee will have a draft of new by-laws consistent with the resolution by the next State Committee meeting and Party Chair Jim Burn made a public commitment that this would be done. I have seen a change in Burn. I think he now recognizes that the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus is a force to be reckoned with and Burn is now talking about making the Party more democratic, more transparent.

Also two additional resolutions initiated by the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus, support for same sex marriage and for women’s rights, were passed at June 9 state committee meeting. The women’s rights resolution was passed unanimously; the same-sex marriage resolution passed by an overwhelming margin. The energy in the Pennsylvania State Democratic Party is with the Progressive Caucus.

Irv Acklesberg and the ACLU intend to pursue legal remedies and are currently considering options which could result in a ruling enjoining the Phila. Democratic Party from ever again nullifying the results of a democratically conducted election for a county or committeepersons.

Of course it shouldn’t be so hard to get the Democratic Party to conduct its business in a fair, democratic manner. And some times I question whether it’s worth working within the party , BUT at this point I think a reformed, revitalized Democratic party is the only option for keeping an energized, well-funded radical right at bay and creating some space for progressive politics.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

President Obama is not the lesser of two evils! This President has a record worth defending.

Last October I wrote a blog post expressing my frustration with “left wing critiques of Obama that refuse to credit his achievements or acknowledge the constraints he has been under.” Now that we are heading into what could be a very close election, it’s all the more important to counter that notion that President Obama is the lesser of two evils—a view recently expressed on a progressive email list I’m subscribed to.

Encouraging people to for Obama vote because Romney would be a disaster (although certainly true) can result in voters just staying home. People want a reason to vote for someone. Obama’s achievements--criticism from both far left and far right to the contrary-- have been impressive. There is a record to be proud of.

Yes, he has not always governed as a liberal/progressive. Yes, the stimulus bill should have been much larger, but was arguably the best that could be done, given this dysfunctional Congress. Remember what a difficult time the President had getting three Republican votes in the Senate to pass the bill.

This is not a liberal/progressive country and we can’t expect him to have governed as if we were a nation of blue states. Polls consistently put the number of people who identify as liberal/progressive at no more than 20%. Many of us are working hard to change those numbers, but that is the current political reality.

The responses both to the October blog post and its reprint in a local paper were quite positive. The comments I got were all in the form of reminders of achievements I had neglected to include. So for all those who are going to be out there going door to door talking to voters or to your friends and relatives, here are some talking points:

Jobs/ The Economy
True, President Obama has not ended the jobs crisis brought on by the Great Recession but financial crises, as virtually all reputable economists acknowledge, take a while to recover from. Although now reviled by both the left and the right, the stimulus program, according to most economists, brought the economy back from the brink of real disaster.
The rescue of the auto industry is certainly one of the President’s major achievements. See WAPO article on auto bailout.
Despite fierce Republican opposition, the President managed to get significant extension of unemployment benefits in the 2010 lame duck Congressional session
The passage of meaningful—again not as much as we needed—regulatory reform is an accomplishment the Republicans are itching to undo. The dismantling of regulatory agencies at the root of the current economic crisis dates back to the Clinton years. This crisis was many years in the making and we in all probability have a long ways to go before real recovery. Reasonable people understand this.
Despite implacable Republican opposition, President Obama, with a lot of help from Nancy Pelosi, still managed to pass a healthcare bill establishing access to heath care as a right of all citizens. Sure, it’s an imperfect bill, but assuming it survives the legal challenges, we will have the opportunity to improve it, just as we have had with other deeply flawed programs, such as Social Security. Medicare at first met with fierce opposition, but gradually became an essential part of the social safety net.
The expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) extended coverage to another 4 million low-income children, increasing the total number of children covered by the program to more than 11 million.
President Obama’s overhaul of the college loan program resulted in significant savings for students, their families and the taxpayers. It is projected to save taxpayers roughly $68 billion over the next 10 years.
The implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill increased educational opportunities for veterans by making college more affordable for returning service members.
Women’s Rights
President Obama’s first official act was signing “The Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act,” another piece of legislation the Republicans are pledged to overturn.
In his first few days of office the President rescinded the "global gag rule" which denies US taxpayer dollars to clinics around the globe that even mention abortion to women with unplanned pregnancies.
President Obama has nominated and gotten confirmation of more women and minorities to the federal bench than any president in the history of the United States. And while many of his nominees remain stalled in the Senate confirmation process, it is a stellar record nonetheless. For more info see NYT article on Obama nominees.
And let’s not forget that Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan are on the Supreme Court: their nomination is a testament to Obama’s good judgment; their senate confirmation a testament to his political skill.
LBGT Rights
President Obama’s major achievement of the 2010 lame duck Congressional session was the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Admittedly it took him too long, but President Obama has affirmed his support for same sex marriage.
Foreign Policy
Finally, consider Obama’s achievements: He rid the world of Osama Bin Laden and finally brought the country some degree of closure after 9/11. Somewhat too slowly from my point of view, he is winding down the two wars he inherited.
The President reached the most important arms control agreement with Russia in two decades. New START will reduce our nuclear arsenals, put inspectors on the ground in Russia, and renew America’s leadership in pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons.
There is also a list of accomplishments prepared before the 2010 mid terms which contains additional info: : WHAT THE FUCK HAS OBAMA DONE SO FAR? at

Also something often overlooked: Obama's appointments to regulatory agencies. John Judis wrote an excellent article about this. A summary and links to Judis article “The Quiet Revolution: Obama has reinvented the state in more ways than you can imagine” at “The Quiet Revolution: Obama has reinvented the state in more ways than you can imagine.”

I’m sure I’ve overlooked something, but I think it’s clear: This President has a record which is worth defending. He should not be described as the lesser of two evils!