Monday, June 15, 2020

Garden Therapy

My wildly overgrown garden

My garden has always been a source of solace, but never more so than this year as I was recovering from major surgery. My week in the hospital was hell and my recovery much slower than I would like. But fortunately I have my wonderful husband and son and the garden.

When I returned home from the hospital the first thing I did was go into my back garden. It was awash in purple alliums and had never looked so beautiful.

Yes it looked wild and neglected, but the flowers were beautiful and the fragrance of Ms. Kim Korean Lilac was intoxicating.

I always felt that the succession of bloom passed too quickly and that I never had the time I needed to really appreciate each flower. I assumed that if I was retired I would be able to savor each moment. However, although I was doing nothing but sitting in the garden, I still felt like it was going much too quickly. The allium was followed by the rush of the Siberian iris, the peonies, the roses, the clematis, the foxglove. Siberian Iris

Violet Shimmer Clematis

David Austin Rose, "Graham Thomas"

Late May and early June is the truly magical time in the garden and I so wish I could replay those weeks.

It’s been hard to resist the urge to work in the garden and possibly jeopardize my recovery. Fortunately when my husband and son see me overdoing what started as some minor weed-pulling, they warn me that if I keep doing this I’ll wind up back in the hospital. That thought is enough to make me sit down.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Voting by mail proves to be a challenge for local voters

Voting by mail proves to be a challenge for local voters
Posted on June 3, 2020 in Chestnut Hill Local

According to the PA Democratic Party, 1.26 million Democrats applied for a mail-in ballot; however, only some 520,000 Republicans did so. The dramatically lower numbers for Republicans probably reflect the mixed messages they have been getting, with the Republican National Committee in April urging Republicans to vote by mail, and Trump continuing to rail against mail-in voting.

Despite the efforts of the PA Democratic Party, for many voters the process has not gone smoothly. I am one of those voters who struggled to get a mail-in ballot. I applied online on May 6. I received an application number and thought everything was okay. I didn’t think about the election for the next few weeks as I became ill and had to undergo major surgery. Political junkie that I am, one of the first things I did when discharged from the hospital was to check on the status of my ballot application. I received the following message: “We are unable to match your information with our records.”

For two days I tried to get through to the phone numbers the Election Board had designated for questions about mail-in ballots. No one picked up the phone. When I finally got through to someone in City Commissioner Lisa Deeley’s office, I learned that my application had been rejected because there was a discrepancy between my name on my driver’s license (Mary Karen) and my name on the voter registration rolls (M. Karen). I further learned that the election Board is not notifying voters if their applications have been rejected. I thought I had this issue resolved and was told by Garrett Dietz, Supervisor of Elections that my application had been approved and my ballot had been mailed on May 22. As of this writing (May 31), my ballot has not been received.

Applying early has not ensured delivery of mail-in ballots. Chestnut Hill committeeperson, Lydia Allen-Berry reported that her “daughter applied for a ballot on March 25th, received confirmation online that her ballot was mailed on May 4th, and she still hasn’t received it. So she’s coming home from DC to vote. Hopefully, she can vote with a provisional ballot.”

My. Airy resident and candidate for Auditor General Nina Ahmad is advocating extending the deadline for the ballots to be received. According to Ahmad: “In order for no one to be disenfranchised, Governor Wolf and the Postmaster General must commit to deliver the ballots to the Board of Elections in all 67 counties and if needed extend the deadline for the ballots to be received. Additionally, there needs to be a much wider communication plan so all voters who will be voting in person know the location of their new polling places and a commitment for every provisional ballot to be counted.”

The process of voting by mail is especially challenging for elderly voters. West Philadelphia committeeperson and Chair of the Philadelphia Commission for Women Vanessa Fields reported that she has given about 200 paper applications to seniors in her division. Fields noted: “I’ve found out that many elders have arthritis in their hands and impaired vision and cannot see the return address on the application. Therefore, I’m providing them with a stamped, addressed envelope to mail off the application. However, I’m concerned about their ability to follow the directions with completing the ballots once receiving them in the mail. The directions can be a little tricky. Once filling out the ballot, you have to put it in a secure envelope and then the mailing envelope. I have a video demonstrating how to complete the ballot, but many seniors don’t have an internet connection.”

Mt. Airy Resident and 9th ward committeeperson Lisa Holgash reported similar experiences: “I set up house visits with two people in my division who needed assistance because they did not have access to the internet. I have another person in my division who was sent 5 ballot applications but no return envelope.” Holgash further noted that the “technological divide in the City has been exacerbated by COVID-19.”

Vanessa Fields and Lisa Holgash are exceptionally dedicated committeepeople, but there are not enough committeepeople like them to fill the need for assistance.

I expected some glitches, given that this was the first time mail-in ballots were used on this scale, but never expected anything like this. The good news is that we have five months to fix these problems before the general election in November. There are a few remedies that everyone I spoke to agrees on:

1) Ballots should be returned postmarked by a specific date, not returned before a specific date. An individual voter is in control of when her ballot is postmarked, but when she drops off her ballot at a post office she has no control over, how long it will take for her ballot to be received.

2) All voters whose applications for a mail-in ballot were not accepted should be notified immediately that their application was rejected.

3) The time frame between the final date to apply for a mail-in ballot (May 26) and the date by when it must be received (June 2) is much too tight. Currently there are four lawsuits, one in Montgomery and one in Bucks County asking local courts to extend mail ballot deadlines in their counties and two lawsuits before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to give voters statewide an extra week to return ballots. As of this writing, there have been no court rulings. (Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf extended the deadline for ballot reception to June 9 in Philadelphia, Montgomery and four other counties.)

Voters who have experienced or witnessed barriers to participation should report them to citizen watchdog organizations such as the Committee of Seventy. We must address these issues before the critically important November election.

Karen Bojar is an author and former Democratic committee person. She lives in Mt. Airy.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

There are advantages to a cold spring!

Crabapple and lilac blooming together

There are advantages to this cold spring. Flowering shrubs which usually do not survive temperatures in mid to high 60s are still flowering in our current 50s to low 60s range. In past springs, my fragile crabapple bloomed in mid April and was soon zapped by a day in the mid to late 60s. For the first time in my memory, my crabapple and my lilac are blooming at the same time.

Also my redbud and carlesi viburnum are joining my crabapple, dogwoods, lilac and crabapple for a spectacular display—compensation for a cool spring.
Incredibly fragrant carlesi viburnum

My redbud blossoms are lasting longer than usual

My tulips have had a long run.

Working in the garden in temperatures in late 50s and low 60s is less fun than in high 60s and low 70s, but there are advantages to a cool spring.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

International Women's Day, March 8 2020

My article on International Women's Day which appeared in the Chestnut Hill Local.

International Women’s Day, which arose in response to a strike of women workers in 1909, is celebrated around the globe on March 8, both as a tribute to women’s achievements and as a call to action in the ongoing struggle for gender equality.

On Sunday, International Women’s Strike in Philadelphia hosted various events incuding a march and rally in Center City, organized by a coalition of largely socialist feminist groups while more locally, Mt. Airy Art Garage (MAAG) in Mt. Airy marked the occasion with a day of feminist art and achievements.

Arleen Olshan, the founder of MAAG, first organized an International Women’s Day march and rally in Center City in 2008 and 2009, in collaboration with Sha’ifa Malik, Soda Nobuhle, and Sherrie Cohen. Olshan then held the celebration in Mt. Airy when she opened MAAG as a non-profit arts hub and these celebrations continued until 2016 when MAAG was forced to find a new location. It now has a permanent space at 7054 Germantown Ave., where Sunday’s all-day celebration was held, featuring an exhibit of women artists, poetry readings, music by local artists and a round-table discussion with local artists and politicians.

The Center City rally, in addition to the feminist groups, was also hosted by multi-issue socialist groups and progressive organizations focused on single issues such as immigrants’ rights. The event drew a much younger group than those at the MAAG celebration, which included many veterans of second-wave feminism.

To my surprise, the crowd in Center City was half male, with young men holding up signs with feminist slogans such as “La revolucion sera feminista o no sera” (The revolution will be feminist or it will not happen). Increasing numbers of men now see gender equality in their interest, as this was also the case in Mt. Airy. Michael Huff, who attended the MAAG event, said he was there as an ally of women in their fight for equality, but also saw gender equality as in his interest as well.

“If my wife is making 70% of what a man would earn, that hurts my family,” Huff said. “I also want my wife and my daughter to have the same opportunities as men have.”

Economic justice was a major theme of the women activists who spoke at the rally. Councilwoman Kendra Brooks, who was also on the panel at the MAAG event, stressed the importance of a living wage for all workers, noting that women are oppressed as workers and also as women. Marty Harrison, a nurse at Temple University Hospital and a union member, spoke from her perspective as a healthcare worker about the urgent need for Medicare for All, and called for “a feminism that is socialist and a socialism that is feminist.”

The women and men then marched through Center City, concluding with a dramatic call for an end to violence against women. In the middle of a street intersection outside the Unitarian Church, Refuse Fascism performed “The Rapist is You,” a Chilean protest chant and dance has been performed all over the globe to protest gender based violence.

Sherrie Cohen, whose activist history spans second-wave feminism through the radical movements of the 21st century, applauded the sense of urgency and commitment to action of the march sponsored by the socialist feminist coalition.

“It is time that International Women’s Day return to its radical roots and call us to action in mass protest,” said Cohen.

The list of sponsors for the Center City event suggests a return to feminism’s “radical roots.” Many groups sometimes referred to as mainstream feminist organizations (Philadelphia NOW, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Women Against Abuse, Women’s Medical Fund, Women’s Way) and usually found on lists of sponsors of feminist events, were not part of the coalition sponsoring this International Women’s Day event. Instead, sponsors included groups such as Philly SocFem, Global Women’s Strike, Philly Socialists, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Philadelphia Socialist Alternative, Temple Young Democratic Socialists of America, Refuse Fascism, Reclaim Philadelphia and Abolish ICE PHL.

I have long thought that 21st century feminists were not organization builders like second-wave feminists; however, I may have been looking in the wrong places. True, young feminists for the most part have not been forming explicitly feminist organizations. However, young feminists are playing a leadership role in multi-issue progressive organizations, such as Black Lives Matter and Sunrise, and bringing a feminist perspective to these organizations; much feminist organizing now occurs within multi-issue rather than explicitly feminist organizations. In the complex and shifting landscape of 21st century feminism, this may be the new face of feminism.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Greek Diaries: Part III, Mystras

For me, Greek history and culture had always meant the classical period. I knew little about Byzantine Greece and was barely aware it existed. To my surprise, two of our most memorable experiences were visits to monuments of Byzantine culture.

My husband Rick, unknown to me before this trip, is something of an expert on Byzantine culture. Just as he did with the Parthenon, despite his severe arthritis, he managed to scale the heights of the remains of the medieval Byzantine city of Mystras. A fortified city on top of a steep hill, Mystras was a major center of Byzantine culture until the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Greece in the 15th century. It is amazingly well-preserved.

The steep steps Rick somehow managed to climb:

The incredibly beautiful hills surrounding Mystras:

The drive from Athens to Mystras is about three hours and we hired a driver from a company I highly recommend My Day Trip driving service.

However, there is a Byzantine monastery one hour's drive and therefore an easy day trip from Athens--Ossios Loukos. It doesn’t have scenery quite as spectacular as Mystras, but Ossios Loukos is much better preserved than the buildings in the Mystras complex.

If we ever get to Greece again, I would love to visit the clifftop monasteries of Meteora in central Greece:

It probably won't happen, but one can dream.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

My Take on the Women's March published in the Chestnut Hill Local

When I boarded the Chestnut Hill East train on January 18 to attend the annual Women‘s March I noted there were plenty of empty seats, unlike the 2017 and 2018 marches, when the train was standing room only. The 2017 march, an outpouring of protest against the 2016 election of Donald Trump, began as a Facebook post that went viral, demonstrating the power of social media to quickly mobilize millions of people for a common cause. Approximately four million people took to the streets in the U.S., inspiring sister marches around the globe.

Tensions soon emerged within the original Women‘s March planning group. Given that the 2017 march was hastily put together by a small group of women – who for the most part had never worked together – some tension was no doubt inevitable.

Long smoldering conflicts in the newly incorporated Women’s March Inc. broke out into the open in February 2018, when two of the four co-chairs were prominent attendees at Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s Saviours’ Day event. Many supporters of the Women’s March saw the relationship with a notorious misogynist, homophobe and anti-Semite as a disqualifier for leadership of a movement committed to gender justice and the elimination of all forms of bigotry and discrimination.

Dissatisfaction with the co-chairs’ leadership led to calls for them to resign. Since the Women’s March Inc. was not a membership organization with a mechanism for holding leaders accountable, calls for resignation went unheeded. Given the internal turmoil, it was no surprise that the 2019 March attracted far fewer participants than previous years, and saw a dramatic drop in the number of sponsors, as well as competing marches in several major cities.

The conflicts on the national level played out in Philadelphia with two competing marches held at the same time: Philly Women Rally, which was unaffiliated with national Women’s March Inc., and Women’s March Pennsylvania, which was connected to the national group.

Feminist organizations grappled with the issue of which march to recommend to their members; the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) voted to support the march hosted by Philly Women Rally while the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) left the choice up to individual members.

In response to accusations of anti-Semitism, Women’s March national leadership added references to Jewish women to the 2019 unity principles and expanded their board to include three Jewish women – changes viewed by their critics as too little, too late. In response to the criticism, Women’s March Inc. replaced three of the co-chairs who had been accused of anti-Semitism and financial mismanagement, and appointed a diverse group of 17 new board members.

Despite these changes, some anti-Semitism apparently persisted. The Florida Sun Sentinel reported that one of new board members, Zahra Billoo, had a history of inflammatory statements about Israel, calling herself a “proud anti-Zionist” who does not believe Israel has a right to exist. Two days after her appointment, the Women’s March board removed her, stating that some of her public statements were incompatible with the values and mission of the organization.

The controversy underscores the difficulty of uniting all women under the banner of gender equality. Although the 20th century second-wave feminist movement achieved a unified front by sometimes suppressing or ignoring differences, the Women’s March board is committed to inter-sectional feminism and to addressing differences among women.

They have certainly fallen short in their attempts to do so, in part because the differences about what counts as a feminist issue run deep. The new board has replaced the expansive agenda of the 2019 March, which included controversial positions supporting Palestinian rights and the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement, with what it sees as a more unifying agenda centered around three themes: reproductive rights, climate change and immigration.

The relatively small number of women who braved the cold and snow to attend the 2020 women Women’s March Philly were generally not focused on the controversies on the national level. Several expressed relief that these conflicts appear to have been resolved and that there were no competing marches this year. The 2019 demographics were similar to those of past marches—multi-generational but predominantly white and middle class, with fewer pink pussy hats than I recall from previous marches.

Most of the attendees I spoke to were veterans of past marches and emphasized that participation in the annual march meant a great deal to them personally.

“I decided it was important to be present and I was happy I went,” West Mt. Airy resident Marilyn Monaco said. “I felt energized by the experience, and although it was vastly different from other marches in the number of participants, I still felt the experience was necessary.”

“It was wonderful to see women of all colors and ages come together to protest all the issues our country is facing,” said East Mt. Airy resident Nan Myers.

“It is so important not to give up and to keep showing up to events like this,” said Nancy Weissman of East Mt. Airy. “I am also impressed by how many folks from the Mt Airy and Chestnut Hill areas show up every year. Rain or snow, we are there in force.”

Pennsylvania NOW president Samantha Pierson also valued participation in the March, but noted attendance has significantly decreased since 2017.

“I think the drop in turnout is due to the fact that there has not been enough of a transformative social change or result. And that’s why, while I still show up to the march, I spend the majority of my free time volunteering to make certain more women and progressives get elected to office in PA.”

Although there is considerable disagreement about what the Women’s March has accomplished, most participants see the uptick in voter participation and record numbers of women running for office in 2018 and 2019 as evidence of its impact. Many signs emphasized the “March to the Polls” and were clearly focused on November 3, 2020.

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Greek Diaries: Part II, Hydra and Delphi

The harbor at Hydra

After the trauma of the stolen wallet and the herculean struggle to get my credit card unblocked, Rick and I decided to spend the next day chilling on one of the nearby islands. Everyone we spoke to recommended Hydra, famous for banning all cars and buses from the island. Unfortunately, there is no way of getting round. However, we were so exhausted from the previous day’s horrors that just wandering around the picturesque harbor and drinking Campari at one of the inviting cafes was enough.

I enjoyed Hydra but was disappointed that the ferries to the islands which I expected to be like the Block Island ferries, where you could sit on the deck and enjoy the view, were hydrofoils which kept passengers jammed inside with just a glimpse of the Aegean though the dirty windows. It was more like economy class on a plane than the open air ferry ride I had expected.

The next day we decided to make up for lost time and traveled to Delphi which was high on my list. Visiting Greek archaeological sites is for the physically fit. Although the Parthenon had inspired Rick, despite his arthritic knee, to heroically climb to the top of the Acropolis, Delphi did not exert the same kind of attraction. He found a shady spot on a bench under a tree and insisted I go explore the site. The Temple of Apollo was worth the climb but it just wasn’t much fun without Rick and there were steep climbs that were challenging for me, so I decided I had seen enough of the archaeological site. The Temple of Apollo

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the excellent museum which housed cultural treasures that had been recovered from the archaeological site.The road to the Museum at Delphi

The most impressive exhibit, was the Sphinx, an enormous statue which once crowned an ionic column and capital.The Sphinx in the Museum at Delphi.
The beauty of the Greek countryside around Delphi was itself worth the trip. We so wished we had traveled to Greece when we were younger and could drive all over this amazing country. At this point in our lives we are forced to hire drivers, but there is an upside. Rick didn’t have to pay attention to the road, and could really enjoy the astonishingly beautiful scenery.