Votes for Women!

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, recognizing women’s right to vote. It reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

It had taken many decades to pass the amendment. Generations of women who had worked toward it died before they were able to legally cast a ballot. Many black women continued to be denied voting rights until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Shamefully, part of the Congressional enforcement of the Voting Rights Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 and some states have enacted discriminatory practices. The House of Representatives has passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to address these issues, but Sen. Mitch McConnell has not brought it up to a vote in the Senate. A brief overview of the bill can be found here.

Because of the centennial, there have been a number of documentaries and news features about women’s suffrage in the United States, as well as articles and editorials. We have seen striking visual reminders of the struggle, such as the women in Congress wearing white for the State of the Union address, because white was the color that many suffragists wore during their marches and demonstrations. [A side note on wearing white: When I was a member of the Smith College Glee Club, we wore white when we performed. I don’t know if this tradition sprang from the suffrage movement or not. After I graduated in 1982, the Glee Club moved to wearing all black, but I admit that I still miss the striking sight of a group of young women blazing onto the stage wearing white.]

Because of the pandemic and the current civil and voting rights struggles, the commemorations of the ratification of the 19th amendment will be somewhat muted. I’m remembering, though, the 75th anniversary, which was a special event for me.

I live in upstate New York, a couple of hours drive from Seneca Falls, home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Twenty-five years ago, I was a member of a mostly female, mostly Catholic group called Sarah’s Circle. We met for prayer and discussion on a regular basis and occasionally took part in public events. We decided to take part in the parade and other events in Seneca Falls. We marched wearing matching shirts with our logo, designed by one of our members, on the front:

The back read “Can We Talk” because, at that time, an instruction had come down from the Vatican forbidding even the discussion of women’s ordination.

This did not deter the members of Sarah’s Circle from still speaking up about women’s ordination, but we were trying to appeal to members of the hierarchy to speak with us about it. A number of the our members who felt called to ordination wore Roman collars with their shirts. At the time, I did not feel that call personally so I did not add the collar. As we marched, we sang women’s suffrage verses that one of our members had written to familiar hymn tunes.

It was an inspiring day, filled with joy, hope, and thanksgiving. We had no idea that, twenty-five years later, there would still be such a struggle for fair voting and for equal rights and opportunity. May this centennial commemoration energize us to continue to speak out and vote for those who will uphold the voting and civil rights and the dignity of every person. May we also defend vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris from sexist and racist attacks.

We’ve come a long way in one hundred years, but not nearly as far as we should have.

SoCS: on conditions in the US

I don’t know how much more of this we can take.

“We” refers here to the United States.

This past week, we surpassed 150,000 COVID deaths and the virus is out of control in a number of states, including our three most populous. California has now passed the half million mark for cases – and the real number infected is, no doubt, much higher because mild or asymptomatic cases are unlikely to be found. There is some hope on the vaccine front with some Phase III trials beginning – the one I’m signed up for will start in August, I hope – but, even if one or more are successful, it will take months and months for enough doses to be available globally to quash the pandemic. Meanwhile, here in the US, there is still no national strategy and people are suffering because of it. Even states like mine (New York) who worked hard to get out case numbers way down are under threat of resurgence from infected people visiting our state, returning home from traveling, or coming back to our many colleges and universities. It’s terrifying.

On Thursday, the nation had an opportunity to reflect on love and justice and service. Rep. John Lewis, a central figure in the civil rights movement who went on to champion the rights of all people who suffered discrimination and prejudice – and the planet itself – was honored with a truly beautiful funeral service. Reflections were offered by clergy, family, friends, staff, colleagues, and all four former presidents, Jimmy Carter in writing and Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama in person. President Obama gave the main eulogy, which was also a call to action for justice and for voting rights, a cause which John Lewis literally bled for, was jailed for, and supported passionately for decades. The House of Representatives voted unanimously to re-name a voting rights bill that they had passed earlier after John Lewis. (OK, Mitch McConnell. Time to get it to the Senate and pass it into law.) Sadly, this law is needed after the Supreme Court struck down provisions of the Voting Rights Act originally passed in the 1960s, reasoning (wrongly) that the country was past discriminatory voting practices. Since then, many states have re-implemented practices that limit ballot access for citizens based on age, race, income level, location, and other factors.

To point out the threat to voting and election integrity – yes, there is also evidence of foreign election interference, as if the domestic problems weren’t bad enough – the same day as the funeral, the president floated the idea via Twitter that our November 3rd national election should be postponed. The date of the election is set by Congressional law, though, so the president can’t change it. Fortunately, even the Republicans in Congress said that the election date will not be changed. I also think there would be civil unrest if it was tried.

Still, the election is under threat from forces within the government. Each state is responsible for running its own election, but the pandemic has made in-person voting more complicated and dangerous. States are moving to make greater use of their absentee voting systems, but these usually rely on the postal service, which the president is undermining through inadequate funding and a new crony leading the postal service who is changing policy to slow service. The House of Representatives has passed legislation to allocate funds to the states and the postal service so that our election can be fair, free, and safe, but Sen. McConnell has refused to bring the bill to the Senate for a vote. His own proposal doesn’t address election integrity at all. It also doesn’t address aid to states – and it was over two months after the House passed their bill before he even put out his proposal.

During the impeachment and trial, Republicans kept saying that “the people should decide the fate of the president at the ballot box.” They should be ensuring that we can do that safely, securely, and freely, not putting up roadblocks. If they are confident in their positions on the issues, they should be eager to have the vote. This looks like they know they have failed in their obligations to protect and defend the people and the Constitution and realize they can only hold onto power by cheating and deceiving.

As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, there is more bad news on the economic front. The GDP declined at its highest rate since such things started to be calculated over 150 years ago. (GDP=Gross Domestic Product) Because the pandemic is so bad, many businesses are needing to close or scale back, so many more people are unemployed. Some who had thought they were temporarily unemployed are now permanently unemployed because their businesses that they owned or worked for are closing for good. Because the federal government isn’t helping the states, we are also facing a wave of layoffs of state and local workers. Unlike the federal government, most states are required to have balanced budgets. Their tax revenues are way down, so their budgets are broken. This can mean layoffs for police, public hospital workers, teachers, public works employees, and other essential workers that are needed even more now. This will make unemployment worse and cause more demand for anti-poverty programs – for which there is already inadequate funding. Oh, and the additional federal funds of $600/week that were added to state unemployment checks in the CARES Act this spring end this week. The House bill that passed in mid-May would extend them until January; McConnell’s new proposal cuts them way down.

Most economists advocate the federal government injecting much more money into the economy to keep it afloat until the pandemic ends. The very real fear is that what is happening now – with the CARES Act programs ending with nothing to replace them (or next to nothing) – that the steep recession will turn into an economic depression. Evictions and foreclosures, many of which had been forestalled by prior legislation, will likely accelerate, leading to an increase is homelessness and, possibly, bankruptcy for landlords who no longer have tenants. People may have even more problems finding food. There are already strains on both public and charitable food resources. Our health care system, which was already broken, will be even more overwhelmed.

I try to be realistic.

It’s hard, though, not to think that we are going to see more and more and more suffering in the months ahead.

As a nation, we need to summon more courage, more intelligence, more compassion, more reason to chart a path to restore peace, justice, and good health. I guess “restore” is the wrong word. We need to establish those things for everyone.

And we need to have the freedom to vote.

***** Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “more.” Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/07/31/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-aug-1-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

SoCS: John Lewis

When I read Linda’s prompt yesterday, I thought I would be writing about Link, a flight simulator company that B worked for early in his career, and how it went from its proud origins in the Binghamton area through various hostile takeovers, sales, downsizings, and other calamities to its current existence in our area as a shadow of its former self.

But, overnight, we got the sad news that John Lewis passed away. He was one of the last living links to the historic March on Washington for civil rights. He had been the only speaker that day who was still alive. He helped to organize the march as a young man who was the head of the Student Non-violence Organizing Committee. (My apologies if I don’t have the name completely accurate. Stream of consciousness and all that.) [Should have been Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.]

He was one of the leaders alongside Martin Luther King, Junior, in the first attempt at the the march from Selma, Alabama, to their state capital on what became known as Bloody Sunday. [Another correction. MLK was not at the first march, but joined the second march that was completed, thanks to federal protection.] As they were trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers came under attack from law enforcement. John Lewis was the first person that they brought down, fracturing his skull. He bore scars from that attack for the rest of his life.

He continued the fight for civil rights for black Americans and for all Americans through the decades, including seventeen terms in the House of Representatives from the Atlanta, Georgia area. His dedication to justice, peace, and non-violent protest is widely admired and respected.

There is a hope that the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which still bears the name of a racist as it did on Bloody Sunday, will be re-named in honor and memory of John Lewis soon.

May it be so.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “link.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/07/17/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-18-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

Review: Just Mercy

Knowing that a film is portraying real people and the situations they face immediately increases its impact for me. Just Mercy is based on a book by lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson, who, after graduating from Harvard Law School moved to Alabama to offer legal defense to those who could not afford representation and to those wrongly convicted.

One of his early cases involved Walter “Johnny D” McMillian, movingly portrayed by Jamie Foxx, who was on death row for a murder that he did not commit. Having just arrived in Alabama, Bryan Stevenson, played earnestly by Michael B. Jordan, delves into the case and finds ample evidence that shows Johnny D could not have murdered the 18-year-old young woman. It also quickly becomes apparent that race was a huge factor in McMillian’s conviction. The victim was white and McMillian is black.

It also quickly becomes apparent that Attorney Stevenson, who is also black, will encounter racial obstacles in his professional life and harassment by law enforcement officers and the legal establishment, but he continues to do all he can to seek justice for his clients, their families, and their community.

I have long been opposed to the death penalty. I remember writing an essay against it when I was still in grammar school. While my opposition centered around the moral belief that killing a person is wrong and the Constitutional grounds that the death penalty constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” this film illustrates some of the other reasons to oppose the death penalty, such as systemic racism in the legal system, incompetent defense attorneys, and lack of recognition and treatment of mental illness.  There is also the horrible possibility of executing an innocent person.

One of the most moving things about the film for me was the support that the men on death row gave one another. Even though they couldn’t often see each other because the walls between them were solid, they would shout to each other to exchange information and offer words of comfort. They would use the bars at the front of the cell and a metal cup to let another man know they are thinking about him.

The film is rated PG-13 and would be too emotionally difficult for children. There are sequences that I found emotionally difficult, especially the one execution that is shown. While the execution itself is not shown on screen, the lead-up to it is heartbreaking.

I always stay to watch the credits of films. Even if you usually do not, you will want to stay through the first part of the credits which gives updates on the people that we meet during the film. It is a final reminder that we are dealing with the lives of real people, what happened to them, and the implications of those events that continue into our present and future as a country.

A note from Joanne:  This is the fifth(!) film I have seen this month. I have never been to a theater so many times in a two week-period. Those of you who are new to Top of JC’s Mind should know that this is not usually a movie review blog. You just happened to catch me at a time when movies are swirling in my mind.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/14/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-14th-2020/

Women’s March 2018

I went to the Binghamton NY Women’s March yesterday. Last year, we had about 3,000 participants, but we expected this year would be smaller and it was, although our numbers far exceeded the 500 that were expected. I have seen estimates of 2,300-2,500.

Last year, we were only permitted to walk on the sidewalk, but this year the police blocked the side streets so we could march down the main street. I was lucky to find some poet friends in the crowd as well as some other friends and acquaintances.

We marched to the United Presbyterian Church, where, due to our numbers, the speakers and crowd were moved from a downstairs community room into the sanctuary with overflow gathering in the community room with an audio feed.

The theme of our local march was “Be heard” in order to hear more clearly from some underrepresented groups. One of the most moving speeches was from a sexual assault survivor who moved us all to a standing ovation because of her courage and message.

I was pleased to have daughter T beside me, as she had been at the march last year. We wore our matching Women’s March shirts and had a good discussion on our way home.

I will keep up my activism on women’s issues and other social justice/civil rights issues as well as supporting candidates who uphold those ideals. While things are challenging right now, we will continue to listen to each other and work hard for the good of all.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:
 https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/21/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-21st-2018/

 

 

 

SoCS: white words

When the horrific alt-right rallies and violence came down in Charlottesville, there were a lot of interviews with various alt-right leaders.

They were difficult to comprehend.

As anyone who has visited my about page knows, I am white. I am also an American. But I don’t understand terms that the alt-right uses, such as “white culture.”

I know that I belong to American civic culture, but that includes people of all races, ethnicities, faiths (or not, because atheists and agnostics are included, too), philosophies, etc. Everyone who embraces the rights and responsibilities outlined in our Constitution and laws. We all join together in working for the common good.

I don’t know what “white culture” is meant to mean. When my grandparents came from Italy and my great-grandparents came from Ireland, they were not seen as part of an American “white culture.” They were seen as “other”; their children and grandchildren were able to join in the American civic culture into which they were born. That still, though, does not define a “white culture” in the United States, as we participate in that culture with a diverse group of millions.

I also heard alt-right people speaking about “white genocide.” Genocide means the killing of large numbers of people because of the group that they belong to. Rwanda had a horrible genocide between the Hutu and Tutsi, with many men, women, and children slaughtered. Sadly, there are numerous other examples of genocide, but there is certainly no mass killing of white people in the United States for being white.

I did hear one alt-right leader explain “white genocide” as whites no longer being the majority of Americans, ostensibly due to immigration and interracial relationships. To be clear, this is not genocide. Genocide is about hate and death. Children being born is about love and life. My granddaughter is not part of any “genocide”; she is a beautiful expression of love.

Okay. Time to get this published before we have another power bump or internet outage. (So no one is concerned, we are just having some system problems locally. We are far away from the Hurricane Harvey area, to which we send our thoughts and prayers as they brace for up to 40 inches (1 meter) of rain over the next several days.)
*****
Linda’s prompt this week for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is to being with the word “When.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/08/25/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-aug-2617/

 

 

Charlottesville

On Saturday, my son-in-law L headed back to the UK to comply with the terms of his visa which only allowed 90 days to be here for ABC’s birth and early weeks. We all miss him and have been adjusting to the household without him, while, of course, responding to the changing needs and sleep patterns of a two-month-old. That and helping out my parents are quite enough to occupy me, but I felt that I had to post about the current state of affairs in the US, which is adding stress, fear, and sadness to our lives.

Donald Trump is exposing our country to danger with his saber-rattling. I hope that Congress will make clear that war declarations are their province, not the president’s. There should be no first strike against North Korea, Venezuela, or any other country without action from Congress, as the US Constitution requires.

I have long believed that Donald Trump has neither the intellect nor the temperament nor the judgment to be an effective, just, and moral president. Sadly, his reactions to Charlottesville have only reinforced this. His press conference yesterday was wrong on the facts and unconscionably upheld the alt-right/neo-nazi/white supremacist lies about their own history, motivations, and current aspirations. (I do not intend to go over this in detail or to engage in comment exchanges about this, but check out the reporting from Vice to hear the alt-right views directly from their leaders.)

This is a time when all members of Congress should clearly denounce the president for his statements and redouble their efforts to uphold civil rights and religious freedom. (The footage of torch-bearing men chanting against Jews was especially chilling.) They should also offer support to the family and friends of Heather Heyer, to all those who were injured, and to Charlottesville, which is not forthcoming from the White House as we expect in times of tragedy.

Vice-president Pence and the Cabinet should convene to discuss invoking the 25th Amendment, which was added to the Constitution to defend against an unfit president.

I do want to remind people that this is not just about some Confederate statues. These statues were not erected in the 1860s to commemorate those who fought and died. They are not battlefield monuments or historic sites. Most were placed in the 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan was so strong that it staged marches in Washington, DC, or during the 1950s-60s, at the height of the civil rights marches. They were put in public places in order to intimidate African-Americans and anyone who supported civil rights for all. No one is proposing that we forget about the Civil War, but we need to learn about the complexities of its causes and aftermath, an endeavor which is not served by a statue of a general on a horse at a courthouse or pubic square that was erected to scare people of color.

Violence and bigotry are unacceptable. Love trumps hate.

As Nelson Mandela wrote in Long Walk to Freedom,  “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

activism refresher

Yesterday, I was able to attend two events that were updated but familiar.

First, I went to a presentation on sustainability in our area, hosted by SUNY BEST. Four speakers talked about different aspects of sustainability, including community revitalization, energy, and building/infrastructure.

My favorite presentation was by Amelia LoDolce of VINES (Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments). Daughter T was involved with this cause before it became a formal organization and I was thrilled to hear about how it has grown and all the good work it is doing and planning to do in the future. Their projects include community gardens, an urban farm in Binghamton which increases the availability of fresh produce for low- to moderate-income folks, youth employment, and educational outreach for schools and community.

It was nice to reconnect with some of the people that I met during the fight against fracking in New York. We have been hard at work continuing to fight against new fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure projects, as well as advocating for renewable energy and increased efficiency. Still, we don’t see each other as often as we used to in the days of frequent rallies…which leads to…

I left the presentation and proceeded to a press conference/rally at Senator Schumer’s local office, part of a coordinated effort around New York State. Senator Schumer is now the Minority Leader in the Senate, so he is vital to leading the opposition to DT’s agenda. We stood outside in the cold and snow to get our message out. Speakers called on Senator Schumer to vote against several of DT’s appointees. There were several speakers who talked about environmental concerns, particularly about Scott Pruitt’s nomination as EPA chief. We were happy that one of Senator Schumer’s staff members came and spoke to us; she passed out two-page documents that had quotes from Senator Schumer’s press releases of which nominees he is opposing and the reasons for his opposition. It was nice to be acknowledged and to know that the Senator is doing what he can to protect our rights and our environment.

Today, I finished watching a video of the Washington Women’s March. Daughter T and I participated in the Binghamton March. It is encouraging that so many people are banding together to fight for social and environmental justice. The people and groups are diverse, but we are stronger together as we support one another in these tumultuous times.

 

SoCS: What would you do?

People sometimes ask themselves, “What would you do if…?”

We in the United States are now getting the answer to to those hypotheticals when it comes to questions of what we would did if our liberties, rights, and Constitutional protections were threatened.

The answer is “We organize and fight!”

I don’t mean fighting in a physical sense; we are fighting non-violently. We are marching, calling and writing our members of Congress and the president, getting the word out in traditional and social media, and working through established organizations.

One of the heartening things to me is that we are helping each other with various causes, even if we are not directly affected by them.

I have been involved with various organizations for environmental and social justice for years. Most of them would co-ordinate with some other closely related organizations within their areas of interest, such as environmental or health care causes, but not think about other areas, such as racial justice or poverty. Now, everyone is pitching in to help any injustice that appears.

We are all in this together.

It isn’t easy and how effective we will be is unknown, as these are early days.

But we must keep at it to ensure our rights and the fate of our nation.

There is an old story about not speaking out when “they” (meaning the authorities in an authoritarian country) came for the members of this group and that group because the narrator is not a member of those groups. When they come for the narrator, there is no one left to speak up for him.

We are not making that mistake.

And for that I am grateful.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is wood/would. Join us for SoCS and/or Just Jot It January! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/01/27/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-and-jusjojan-jan-2817/

 

Women march around the world!

Yesterday, T and I joined with over 3,000 other women, men, and children in a Women’s March in Binghamton, New York, held in solidarity with the Women’s March in Washington, DC.

An idea to march in defense of women’s rights the day after the inauguration grew into a worldwide phenomenon with sister marches and rallies held around the country and on every continent, including Antarctica!

The marches were peaceful and stood for the rights of women and of all other groups who have been attacked for their religion, race, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, beliefs, education level, or sexual orientation.

The attendance at many of the events exceeded expectations. Our Binghamton March had expected a few hundred people, so to have over 3,000 was a fantastic surprise. The Washington March drew a half a million people, many more than the inauguration had drawn the day before. (In a press briefing that illustrates what we are in for in the DT administration, the press secretary insisted that the press was universally lying about the crowd size and that the inauguration had been the largest ever, which is demonstrably untrue.)

Our march was relatively short, beginning at the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue at the Peacemaker’s Stage along the Chenango River and proceeding a few blocks down Court Street to the lawn of the 1897 Courthouse, where we held our rally. Our permit was for sidewalk march only, but the police helpfully stopped the traffic so we could stream through the crosswalks.

We had a full slate of speakers that included elected officials, representatives of local chapters of organizations such as the NAACP and Citizen Action, health care advocates, and members of diverse faith communities, with poetry and music interspersed among the speeches. There were calls for respect for women’s rights, reproductive rights, religious freedom, access to quality, affordable health care for all, indigenous rights, Equal rights for the LGBTQ community, and more.

The speakers and the crowds around the world made me hopeful, especially after the darkness of the inaugural address.

Our rally also echoed the universal theme to get and stay involved. That is the real source of hope. The marches were not a one-day phenomenon. We are all heading back to our hometowns to continuing to advocate for civil rights.

As the chants say, “Women’s rights are human rights.”

“The people united will never be defeated!”
*****
There is still time to join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January. Prompts are available, but any post qualifies. Learn more here: https://lindaghill.com/2017/01/22/jusjojan-daily-prompt-jan-22nd-contempt/

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