Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Today is Women’s Equality Day!

Today is Women’s Equality Day and feminists are marking it with
op-eds and tweets reminding us all that we have unfinished business.

The changes in the status of women in my lifetime have been enormous and some have become so much a part of the air we breathe that we no longer perceive the extent of the changes. But the extraordinary successes of the feminist movement have not been shared equally. Women with economic/educational advantages have made enormous progress. Of course, there is still a glass ceiling, but as Hillary Clinton famously said, “there are now 18,000,000 cracks in the glass ceiling.”

The cultural change has been so pervasive that many affluent white men have been willing to make room for their daughters—often the same men who have fought against economic policies which would provide opportunities and a robust safety net for the majority of women.
The challenge now is to extend the gains to working class and low–income women trapped on the sticky floor. A revitalized feminist-led labor movement is essential to addressing the needs of women trapped in low-wage jobs, the women who have not been the major beneficiaries of the feminist movement.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Newly Revitalized Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus

The Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus (PDPC) was formed in Fall, 2010. For me, the inspiration was the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus which was born at the PA Democratic State Committee meeting in June, 2010. I eagerly signed up as one of the founding members and started thinking about how to go about this in Philadelphia.

Later that summer something happened which brought home to me (and quite a few others) that there was an urgent need for a Democratic Progressive Caucus in Philadelphia. Thanks to Holly Otterbein’s July 8, 2010 City Paper article “When Elections Don't Matter: The city Democratic Party doesn't always care what voters think” we learned that the Philadelphia Democratic Party had refused to seat Tracey Gordon, a duly elected committee person, thus allowing a ward committee to overturn the results of an election. If those of us who were committee people and thus representatives of the Democratic Party in our neighborhoods didn’t speak out, we would be complicit.

The Gordon case was the catalyst for the formation of the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to resolve this issue with Philadelphia Democratic City Committee, it was clear we had to take legal action. Attorney Irv Ackelsberg was willing to take Tracey Gordon’s case pro bono; we raised money for court costs and achieved a partial victory. The Party seated Gordon although she had to immediately resign as she had been appointed Deputy City Commissioner and was prohibited from involvement in partisan politics. Without the threat of legal action, it is unlikely Gordon would have been seated.

We also raised the issue at PA State Committee and came close to getting the 2/3 majority necessary to pass an amendment to the State Committee bylaws which would make such a miscarriage of justice much less likely.

After taking the Gordon case as far as we could go, PDPC ran out of steam. It’s much easier to organize support for an individual who has been treated unjustly than it is to organize around abstract principles of democracy and transparency. However, by supporting Tracey Gordon and bringing her case to the attention of State Committee, by developing a model of what a democratic, transparent ward should look like, PDPC made some progress.

Perhaps most important, by bringing together committeepeople from wards around the city, PDPC challenged the Party culture which sees each ward as its own little fiefdom with committeepeople having a voice only through the all-powerful ward leader. In response to being told, “It’s none of your business what happens in other wards,” our answer was that undemocratic practices and low-turnout in the 40th ward hurt us all. (Tracey Gordon ran for committeeperson to try to increase the dismal turnout in her ward)

By 2014, the caucus had dwindled to a small group of mostly elderly folks. It was clear that we would never succeed in making the Philadelphia Democratic Party more democratic, more transparent unless we attracted young people to assume leadership of the caucus and take it to the next level.

PDPC has recently elected a dynamic new leadership team, many of whom are currently Democratic committeepeople and thus well positioned to speak in their capacity as elected members of the Democratic Party. The first general meeting of PDPC under its new leadership team occurred on August 19 and was attended by over 30 people, most in their 20’s and early thirties and involved in local politics as Democratic commiteepersons and campaign workers. The meeting was devoted to plans for an ambitious voter registration campaign and a GOTV campaign to elect Tom Wolf as our next governor. The leadership hopes to build membership through these campaigns and be a real force in the 2015 municipal elections. PDPC also intends to be presence at the upcoming Pennsylvania State committee meeting in Philadelphia on September 12 and 13.

It is gratifying to see this revitalized PDPC with a group of young enthusiastic activists and an ambitious agenda for 2014, 2015 and beyond!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The year without hydrangeas

Hydrangea Macrophylla
in bloom in my garden in 2013

Well, it hasn’t exactly been a year without hydrangeas. Some of my lace caps and my oakleaf made it. But this year, the hydrangeas I love the most (hydrangea macrophylla AKA mopheads) were nowhere to be seen in the gardens of the Delaware valley.

It was not only the hydrangeas in my own garden which I sorely missed. I loved seeing all the gorgeous blooms in gardens all over my neighborhood. Northwest Philadelphia is a beautiful place overflowing with mature trees and flowering shrubs and I hadn’t realized how much I enjoyed seeing all the hydrangeas in the neighborhood gardens--both those well-tended and those seriously neglected. Once established hydrangeas will bloom forever—unless they’re subjected to a brutal bud-blasting winter such as the winter of 2014.

But in gardening for every disappointment there is always a consolation. Usually the oakleafs start out bright white, fade to pale pink and then turn brown—usually sometime in early to mid-July. This year, probably due to all the rainfall, the oakleaf panicles are still pink.
Oakleaf hydrangea, 2014

And the late blooming hydrangeas which tend to be very hardy are starting to bloom

Tardive hydrangea,2014

But we gardeners are always looking towards the next season and next year I hope to see Nikko Blue again. Two years without my beloved mopheads would be too cruel.
Nikko blue blooming in 2013

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Marking the centennial for World War I: Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion

The centennial for World War I (August 4 1914) inspired Rick and me to watch Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion which explores the experiences of French prisoners of war in German prison camps during WW I. Generally viewed as one of the great anti-war films ever made, it was on my long list of great books never read, great films/ plays never seen.

The German aristocrat who runs the camp bonds with an imprisoned French aristocrat. For the German officer, class loyalty counts almost as much as nationality and he laments a world in which the old aristocracy is declining. The French officer is more open to the new social order he expects to come in the aftermath of WWI; he increasingly comes to respect soldiers from backgrounds different from his own—a working class Parisian and a wealthy Jewish soldier.

This description of soldiers overcoming class barriers / ethnic prejudices in the cauldron of WW I may sound a little too formulaic, almost trite, but that’s not how we experienced it when viewing the film. It’s totally absorbing, moving--a film I’ll remember and intend to watch again. I’m sure there are subtleties/ nuances I missed the first time around.