Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Chris Rabb's Victory: What this means for progressive politics

As the election season went on, I found myself worrying more about the outcome of the Democratic Primary for a PA House race than I did for the contests at the top of the ticket. This was largely due to the quality of the candidate, Chris Rabb-—one of the most talented candidates to run for local office in my recent experience, a genuine progressive committed both to progressive issues and to a fair, transparent democratic process.

The impact of Chris’s victory will go beyond what Chris will do as a legislator—and I expect him to have a real impact in Harrisburg. Chris won without the support of the political establishment. His opponent Tonyelle Artis-Cook was appointed as the Democratic nominee in a special election by the party machine (more accurately the Northwest Party establishment, one of the more powerful neighborhood machines in an increasingly fragmented Democratic Party). She had the support of all the local elected officials—the mayor, the former mayor, state representatives, city council members as well as the governor and former governor. When Chris first decided to run, most of the politically knowledgeable folks I know thought he could not possibly win given the political support lined up for his opponent.

As the campaign wore on, I became increasingly hopeful. Chris turned out to be a great campaigner, who worked very hard and had a real knack for connecting with voters. He won the unanimous endorsement of the progressive, independent 9th ward and began to garner endorsements from a range of progressive organizations and unions.

His victory demonstrates that a talented candidate who can build a strong base of support can beat the political establishment. Chris won the 9th ward, his home ward, overwhelmingly with 78.85 % of the vote. He won my 2nd division by 87.88%. The highest total in the ward was 91.14% (!) in the 13th division due largely to the indefatigable Anne Dicker. Chris’s ability to attract committed volunteers like Anne was key to his victory.

Chris’s decisive victory should encourage others who thought they could only become an elected official by winning the support of establishment politicians and by heeding the advice generally given to young candidates—“Wait your turn.”

Another consequence of electing a candidate like Chris is that he will be in a position to support other progressive candidates and to build a strong staff. He is not beholden to any politicians who will demand that he hire one of their supporters. There are many young progressives who would like a career in politics, but not that many opportunities to earn a living in progressive politics.

Electing a talented progressive like Chris helps to build the next generation of political activists who will build the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders is unlikely to win the Democratic Party presidential nomination, but his call for a “political revolution,” inspired millions of young people to become politically active. Chris Rabb’s unlikely victory may be a sign that the political revolution is indeed coming.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Lillian Ciarrochi: Feminist Hero

On April 13 we lost Lillian Ciarrochi, a passionate feminist and founding member of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women. I met Lillian when doing research for Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982, a book which could not have been written without her. I spent many happy, productive hours with Lillian recording her recollections of the early days of Philadelphia NOW.

Lillian, like many NOW members, made enormous personal sacrifices in the epic struggle for the ERA in the final years before the June 30, 1982 deadline for ratification. In August 1981, she left a well-paying corporate job to work full time for the ERA in Florida, working 15-hour work days, seven days a week. Lillian recalled:
I was with Scott Paper Company and I was assistant Controller in the largest division. And the vice-president I reported to [had an] office right next to mine. When I told him, he sat there and cried like a baby and he said, ‘you were on your way to the sixth floor, how can you give up your career?’ I was on the fourth floor, and the sixth floor was when you reached the top.
In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer conducted immediately after the defeat of the ERA, the reporter asked Lillian why she would “make a decision that even now she remembers as ‘very, very painful?’ Why do something that would cause her to forfeit her pension rights and that would threaten her future financial security?”

Lillian’s response was that “the strongest motivation was my mother’s life.” her mother was an Italian immigrant who came to consummate a prearranged marriage: “She came on sort of a cattle boat with 500 other young women. All were being pulled away from their families...she became instantly pregnant.” Lillian was the eighth of 13 children in all. She remembers her mother as a brilliant woman who always regretted that she never had the opportunity to get an education. When Lillian told her mother she was joining NOW, her mother started to cry, embraced her and said, “I think that’s important, and do whatever you can to make women’s lives better.” Her mother died June 17, 1980. Lillian said her final decision to “change her life” for the ERA was made on the first anniversary of her mother’s death: “I really wanted to do it as a memorial to my mother.”

Throughout the 1970’s Lillian worked tirelessly to advance the feminist movement in Philadelphia and became treasurer of Philadelphia NOW in 1973. She played a key role in many of the struggles for women's rights in the 1970's, including the NOW campaign against sexist images in the media and the battle to integrate the Union League and the Police Department. Lillian became President of Philadelphia NOW in 1979 and rebuilt the organization after a difficult period in which it almost dissolved—largely a result of volunteer burnout.

In the early years, Philadelphia NOW had been reluctant to get directly involved in electoral politics. Lillian led the organization into the political arena. She recalled her experience at the 1976 Democratic Convention as the beginning of her political education: “After I came back I started pulling the chapter more into politics... It became so apparent that we had to get women elected, get women into power.” She was a passionate supporter of Hillary Clinton’s, and it is tragic that she did not live long enough to see her dream of a woman president realized.

The feminist movement in general and NOW in particular scored an astonishing number of victories both nationally and locally in the early and middle 1970’s. Sometimes the victories were swift and decisive, like the desegregation of Help Wanted ads, while at other times they were long and protracted, like the struggle to integrate the police department and the nine-year battle to integrate Central High, but the trajectory of NOW in the 1970’s was victory after victory. Lillian’s life story underscores the extent to which a handful of dedicated activists can transform the world. The feminist movement of the late 1960’s and 70’s is largely remembered in terms of national leaders but it would never have changed so many hearts and minds, would never have transformed our society without the efforts of so many women in local communities like Lillian Ciarrochi, working tirelessly for gender justice.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

London Theater: fantastic, but no longer a bargain

When Rick and I first started going to London together in the 1980’s, I was astonished at how inexpensive London theater was in comparison to New York. We saw many memorable productions for a fraction of what it would cost in New York. No more. Most West End productions are every bit as expensive as NYC.

We saw an amazing production of Guys and Dolls—a favorite of Rick’s. The current London production is so good that Guys and Dolls is now one of my all time favorite musicals--right up there with West Side Story. And “Luck be a lady tonight” has got to be one of the greatest show tunes of all times.It will be playing in London until October 2016.

We also had the good fortune to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time . We hadn’t managed to get up to New York to see it and were thrilled that it was playing in London during our stay. It too will be in London until October 2016.

There are still theater bargains in London at small theater companies outside the West End, like King's Head Theatre in Islington where we saw Cosi for 18 pounds (about 27 dollars)

And the National Theater is still the best deal in town. We saw Les Blancs, a Lorraine Hansberry play left unfinished at her death and finished by her ex-husband and literary executor.

We saw it while it was in previews and unfortunately there was a break down in the staging—-an elaborate revolving stage that would not revolve. The director walked onto the stage to tell the audience there was a major problem and asked for our patience. We tried, but after a half hour we started to worry about being able to get up the next morning to make our flight. We decided we could not afford to wait any longer. I sure hope Les Blancs comes to NYC some day!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Back to London, Part II: Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse

Columbia Road Flower Market, East End London

One of the things I love most about England is that it is truly a nation of gardeners. And I often think that the little back yard/front yard gardens in people’s homes are every bit as wonderful as showcase gardens like Kew.

Thanks to my friend Gloria Gilman I learned about the amazing East End Flower Market held every Sunday. It was so frustrating that I could not buy any plants for my home garden, but this is not the kind of thing you stick in your suitcase and bring across the Atlantic.

All of the plants were in perfect condition and the primroses were the largest and most beautiful I have ever seen.

I should have realized, given the English mania for gardening, that it wouldn’t be so easy to get tickets to “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse” at the Royal Academy of Arts. We walked to the museum expecting to get into the exhibit and were told that it was entirely sold out during the time of our stay except for a Sunday 7:00pm time slot. We grabbed this time slot and I spent a blissful hour and half at the exhibit. At that point, Rick’s cold was considerably worse than mine but he managed ( with frequent rests) nonetheless to enjoy the show.

If it by any chance the exhibit comes to a museum on the east coast, I would travel to see it again!