Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Event for Feminism in Philadelphia at Giovanni's Room: Why We Need Independent Bookstores

Last week I had a book reading/signing event for Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982 at Giovanni's Room. It was my second event—the first was at the national NOW Conference in Chicago in July.

The Giovanni’s Room event was so much more enjoyable. For one thing, many of the attendees were personal friends including many of my CCP colleagues and Philadelphia NOW sisters. Also, three of the women featured in the book were there. We had NOW's founding members, NOW's current leaders, and young people who might become the future of NOW engaged in intergenerational dialogue.

But what also made the event really special for me was that it was held in Giovanni’s Room, a legendary bookstore which has been a resource for the LGBT community for forty years. I felt really honored to do a reading in a place with such a rich history.

I recently learned that Giovanni's Room is up for sale. Let’s hope it’s bought by someone who intends to maintain its history as resource to the LGBT community. Independent bookstores have been critical to the growth of social justice movements, sponsoring cultural events as a service to the community. It would be a great loss if we no longer have independent bookstores playing this vital role.

Ed Hernance, the owner of Giovanni’s Room told me that there are still many independent bookstores in France and Germany because of government regulations that prevent conglomerates from slashing prices in order to drive small businesses out of existence. So it doesn’t have to be this way.

It’s unlikely in our largely unregulated form of capitalism that we could get such regulatory reforms, but we can make choices as consumers which might give stores such as Giovanni’s room a shot at surviving. I have vowed to resist the temptation to buy books from Amazon. Yes, it’s easy and cheap, but Amazon has been systematically destroying those independent bookstores which have sustained so many communities.

And yes, you can buy Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982 from Amazon but you can also order it from Giovanni’s Room.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Japanese Anemone, Asters, Sedum: The Stars of my Fall Garden

Japanese Anemone

In the first week of September, I went to a garden center which has a well-deserved reputation for correctly diagnosing all sorts of garden problems. I brought in some infested leaves and asked if the problem was aphids. I was fairly certain that was the case but wanted confirmation. Diagnosis confirmed—-I had a major aphid infestation.

I asked if there was something that wasn’t too toxic that would kill aphids. The only option was not terribly effective insecticidal soap. I briefly considered one of the powerful poisons, but resisted temptation and bought the insecticidal soap.

The man who sold it to me said: "Why don’t you just cut the perennial plants to the ground and throw out the annuals—-it’s the end of the season."

What? There’s a whole Fall season ahead of us. The Japanese anemones, now at peak bloom, are the stars of my Fall garden. They start blooming at the end of August and bloom until frost. The blend beautifully with the asters which are tough plants but unfortunately have a shorter season of bloom.


The sedum are in bloom all Fall and the seedheads persist into the winter, providing food for birds.


In addition to the Fall blooming perennials there are the summer annuals which bloom non-stop into Fall, like the tough,always reliable Cleome

And then there are the berries. They may not be fragrant flowers but they sure provide color.

Crabapple Berries

The season does not end in the beginning of September! (At least not in the Delaware Valley.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Early Voting is a women’s issue

On September 4, 2013, I was among the many concerned citizens testifying at President Obama’s non-partisan Commission on Election Administration Testimony on behalf of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women . Let’s hope some real reform occurs as a result of this. From my testimony:

The Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women is committed to making voting easier in Pennsylvania. This is especially important if we are to increase participation in non-presidential year elections. If the people who came out in November 2012 had come out in 2010, we’d have a different congress and in Pennsylvania a different state legislature with major consequences for redistricting. People may be willing to wait in line for hours to vote for the President, but this generally doesn’t carry over to state legislators.

Although making voting easier impacts both men and women in a sense this is a women’s issue as women are the ones most likely to be juggling work and family and thus having trouble getting to the polls—especially, when their work place is far from their home or, as is increasingly the case, they are also juggling several part-time jobs.

Long lines disenfranchise voters who simply can’t take off more time from their jobs and have to leave the polls before casting a vote. This is a far greater threat to our democracy than in-person voter fraud which nonpartisan analyses have generally found to be extremely rare.

Charles Stewart Ill, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that the impact of lines is more likely to disenfranchise Blacks and Hispanics who waited an average of 20.2 minutes, compared with 12.7 minutes for whites. In the most populous areas --those with more than 500,000 voters in a county­-the wait time was more than double what it was in counties with fewer than 50,000 voters. Early voting and other measures for making voting easier such as no excuse absentee ballots will take the pressure off Election Day and reduce those lines.

The research about early voting is at this point inconclusive, but as more states move in this direction, we should have a better understanding of the impact. Much of the research was conducted in the early days of early voting and probably does not reflect the current political landscape. There are also so many permutations. It seems to matter what early voting is combined with. Barry C. Burden and Kenneth R. Mayer, professors of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that early voting is most likely to increase turn-out when combined with same-day registration.

Even if it does not increase turn-out, making it easier for citizens to vote and taking the pressure off election day --thus reducing those long lines—has got to be a good thing in itself.

Another by-product of giving voters more flexibility may be that voters will be under less pressure and might spend more time on the down-ballot races often ignored by voters . Early voting along with mail-in voting and no–excuse absentee ballots would give voters more time to consider their choices in these low profile but nonetheless very important races.

Clearly political leaders are acting on the belief that early voting expands access. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia offer early voting. A recent report from the Brennan Center in its round-up of states passing laws to expand access reports that “At least 19 states[16] have introduced bills that would newly introduce, or expand, opportunities for early in- person voting.”

Even in Pennsylvania (which according to a recent Pew Charitable Trust study, has been found to be among the least voter-friendly states) two early voting bills (HB 361 and HB 548) have been proposed in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and it is my understanding one will soon be introduced in the senate.

As President Obama said at his second inauguration. "Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote." It’s time to give voters the flexibility to participate in the electoral process, even if they cannot be there on Election Day.