Friday, June 22, 2012

Natasha Trethewey, our Poet Laureate....

Our country has a new Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, a talented, forty-six year old, bi-racial Emory University professor with deep roots in her native South. [Here]  Ms. Trethewey gained national recognition when she received a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for Native Guard, a collection of poems focused on one of the first black regiments formed in the Civil War.  Woven into that poetic narrative are other personal themes, such as the murder of her mother, the illegal interracial marriage of her parents, and the pain of her childhood. [Here
Trethewey’s parents were married before Loving v. Virginia banned all miscegenation laws.[Here]  Their daughter Natasha was born a year before Loving became the law of the land.  She was born in Gulfport, Mississippi on Confederate Memorial Day (April 26), a date which became a constant reminder to the young girl of the tragic themes of her native land.  
While still a child, her parents divorced and her mother remarried a man who gradually became physically abusive.  Natasha was nineteen and in college, when her mother was murdered by him.  These early violent shocks would have been sufficient to freeze most young sensibilities but instead Trethewey found a healing response in her poetic voice.
Trethewey has published 3 poetry volumes: Domestic Work, published in 2000; Bellocq’s Ophelia, published in 2002; and Native Guard, published in 2006.  She has also published a non-fiction book, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, 2010. 
Since the present selection system began in 1986, there have been 19 Poet Laureates, who were officially titled The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library Of Congress.” The Librarian of the United States Congress decides each nomination.  Of the 19 chosen since 1986, five (26 per cent) have been women: Mona Van Duyn (1992-3); Rita Dove (1993-5); Louise Glück (2003-4); Kay Ryan (2009-10); and now Natasha Trethewey.  The previous laureate system, called Consultants in Poetry, was begun in 1937, ending in 1986.  Of the 30 poets selected during those almost 50 years, only six were women: Louise Bogan (1945-6); Léonie Adams (1948-9); Mona Van Duyn (1992-3); Josephine Jacobsen (1971-3); Maxine Kumin (1981-2); and Gwendolyn Brooks (1985-6).  [Here
Perhaps we should be pleased that the percentage of women chosen for this literary honor is increasing; however, notable, distinguished and talented female poets--Marianne Moore, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Audre Lorde to name just a few--were never thus honored.  Furthermore, the present percentage of 26% women to men who were chosen is far from what we must demand, viz. complete equality.  If women do not demand equality of recognition, our work will never be equally honored.
As Bella reminded us years ago, parity must continue to be our beacon and our goal.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The war against women continues....

Yes, unfortunately, the attacks continue.  Didn’t we think that we had won most of these battles long ago or were those simply skirmishes in the larger battle for gender equality?  I guess we just have to keep battling.  I’m sure that Margaret Sanger was forced to learn the same lesson when she had opened her first birth control clinic in 1916 in New York City.  
The liberal journalist, Naomi Wolf, in a Guardian article, [Here] wrote that the legislative attacks in states all across the country have been well-coordinated and well-funded.   Wolf also pointed out that Planned Parenthood appears to be the primary target of these assaults.  Eight states--Maine, Texas, Arizona, Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana, North Carolina, and Kansas--have actually passed laws defunding Planned Parenthood or have had bills introduced in their legislatures which will begin the process.
The other target is abortion rights.  In the last year and a half, 92 new anti-abortions laws have been passed in eleven states.  Some laws shrink the time that abortions are allowed and legal, while others make women wait a number of days, the so-called “thinking it over” period, after a woman first seeks medical advice and before she undergoes the medical procedure.  
These latter laws are particularly irksome to me because they treat women with disdain and assume that a woman who wishes to abort her fetus has not already agonized over the decision.  This is a glittering example of the male establishment’s assumption that women are ninnies and must be told what to do, what to think, and how to think.
We see this dynamic written large in the current open conflict between the Vatican’s all-male hierarchy and the Roman Church’s nuns.  Five weeks ago we wrote about this in detail [Here] and reported then that the Catholic Church’s highest doctrinal group, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), had issued an eight-page report directed against the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which accused them, among other things, of harboring “certain radical feminist themes.”  The Leadership Conference represents a majority of working Roman Catholic nuns in this country, the women who do the hands-on, gritty and often irksome charitable work of their church. 
Last week the LCWR met in Washington to address the charges and released this courageous statement: [Here]
Board members concluded that the [Vatican’s] assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.
In addition, the LCWR is sending two of its members--the President and the Executive Director--to Rome to discuss the findings of the CDF and to raise objections with its conclusions.  

Amy Davidson in the New Yorker quotes an interview with Sister Christine Schenk, an executive of a “church reform group.” [Here]  Sister Schenk sums up the problem:
Here you see women, very competent, highly educated, doctorates in theology, masters in ministry, C.E.O.’s of hospitals, heads of school systems, being treated as if they were children... That in itself goes to the issue of where are the women in the decision-making structures in Rome.
Where indeed are the women?  We should ask this same question of our Congress, our White House, and our courts.  In fact, we must ask this question of every power structure in this country and throughout the world.
In the meanwhile, we shall watch and listen as two brave and devout women confront a centuries-old, male-only religious power structure in Rome.  This will indeed be the epitome of speaking truth to power.  

God speed, good Sisters...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

“Completely, absolutely, and permanently married...”

Those were the ringing words that retired New York State Chief Judge Judith Kaye chose on a recent Saturday evening, May 19th, as she said the final, magical words in the wedding of Christine Quinn, Speaker of the New York City Council, and her partner, Attorney Kim Catullo.  
You may remember the famous withering dissent that Judge Kaye wrote in the early summer of 2006.  In an omnibus appeal in which the majority ruled that the NYState’s constitution “does not compel recognition of marriages between members of the same sex,” Judge Kaye had scolded her court, reminding them that New York State had an honorable tradition of upholding equal rights.  She added this line: “... the court today retreats from that proud tradition.” [Here]
When Judge Kaye pronounced that Christine Quinn and Kim Catullo were married--”completely, absolutely and permanently”--, the entire audience leapt to their feet and cheered. [Here]  They cheered the newlyweds, they cheered Judge Kaye for her prophetic warning, and they cheered because they were witnesses to another step in the expansion of equal rights.  Many who were there--Governor Cuomo and New York State legislators--were also applauding their own efforts that had made same-sex marriage possible and legal in the state. 
Who is Christine Quinn, the courageous, City Council Speaker?  It certainly is time that we got to know this lady who is the odds-on favorite to become New York City’s next mayor, the city’s first female mayor and first openly gay chief executive of the city.
The Quinn/Catullo wedding guest list read like a Who’s Who of New York State Democratic leadership.  The Governor, both New York U.S. Senators and a sizable portion of the city’s and suburb’s Congressional delegations were there. 
Christine Quinn has represented Manhattan’s West Side on the City Council since 1999 and has been Speaker of the City Council since 2008. [Here]  As Speaker, she has locked horns with Mayor Bloomberg, but only rarely.  The most notable conflict was when she led the City Council’s opposition to Bloomberg’s cockeyed proposal to build a West Side Stadium, which most sane folks who know Manhattan’s traffic problems and housing patterns also opposed.
She has boycotted the St. Patrick’s Day Parade because the parade’s organizers have not allowed openly gay organizations to march or allowed anyone to display any gay signs, pins or banners.  (This has seemed strange to many of my Irish friends who tell me that gay organizations have for years been included in Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Parade.)  Quinn has stuck by her principles in support of the gay community.  One wonders how long the Ancient Order of Hibernians will continue to discriminate against the LGBT community. 
Quinn is smart and forthright about her life and her life’s choices.  In her role as Speaker in the City Council she has shown a level head and the ability to reach compromises without the loss of principle.  
2013 should shape up to be an interesting year for Quinn’s career and for our political life.
Congratulations, Christine and Kim!  Also, congratulations to Judge Kaye, who was given the perfect moment to remind folks how right she had been six years before. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Parity of another kind...

Last Thursday President Obama announced that he “personally” felt that same-sex couples should be able to marry.  The statement electrified the media and much of the country.  The presumptive GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney immediately jumped on the !NO! wagon, the one that runs backwards.  
All the sound and fury did nothing to change anything, except to position the President on this issue in the mainstream of his own Party.  No federal law was proposed.  No executive order was signed.  The decision about whether same sex couples could legally marry would continue to be left for individual states to decide, just as the question of whether inter-racial couples could marry had been left up to the judgments of individual states until the Supreme Court’s 1967 landmark decision in Loving v. Virginia
Remembering the extent and viciousness of national racial discrimination in the 1960‘s is chilling. [Here]  Equally chilling, but finally inspiring, is reviewing the specific facts in the Loving case. [Here]  Mildred Jeter Loving (1939-2008), of African-American and Indian descent, and Richard Loving, a white male (1933-1975), were residents of Virginia when they fell in love.  They moved to Washington, D.C. to marry and to escape Virginia’s laws banning any mixed racial marriage.  They moved back to their home village after their wedding where they were arrested by a group of police officers who caught the couple sleeping in their bed although they had hoped to find the interracial couple having sex (yet another crime in Virginia.)  
The couple was found guilty under Virginia law which forbade an interracial couple leaving the state to marry and then returning to live.  The Lovings were sentenced to one year in prison with the sentence suspended for 25 years under the condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia.  
The trial judge, Leon Bazile, made a kind of racist history when he declared from the bench: [Here]
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.   
(Doesn’t this religious rhetoric sound familiar?  Can’t you hear Rick Santorum’s voice echoing, “It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”)
The Lovings obeyed the judge’s sentence and moved out of Virginia and into the District of Columbia.  Four year later the American Civil Liberties Union picked up their cause and carried it to the Supreme Court.  Along the way, the Presbyterian Church and the Universalist Church declared their support for the Lovings and interracial marriages.  It’s also good to note that shortly before the Supreme Court took up the case, the Roman Catholic Church joined these mainstream Protestant churches in support of interracial marriages. [Here]
The Lovings were extremely fortunate that their case was heard by the intelligent and liberal Warren Court with associate justices Hugo Black, Abe Fortas, William Brennan, William C. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Bryon White, John Marshall Harlan and Potter Stewart, who also wrote a concurring opinion.  (Warren, Black, Brennan, Douglas, and Harlan had also sat on the court in the 1954 landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Bd. of Education, in which Marshall had argued for the plaintiff.)
The Lovings won their case in a unanimous decision which declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation act unconstitutional and which ended throughout the country all race-based laws that barred marriages.  The court’s decision was based on the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The language of Loving still reverberates.  Here is the decision in part... [Here
Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law.
Tom and Mildred Loving moved back to their home in Central Point, Virginia, where they had grown up, met, fallen in love and married.  They raised their three children in the same quiet, modest rural community.  Unfortunately, Tom died in 1975 from injuries incurred in a car accident.  Mildred continued to live in that small Virginia village, sustained by the memory of her love for Tom and surrounded by her children and grandchildren.  She died quietly of pneumonia in 2008.
The year before she died, Mildred Loving issued a statement on the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia.  It said in part: [Here]   
...I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life.  I support the freedom to marry for all.  That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.
Amen.  Mildred and Tom Loving, rest in peace.  We thank you...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Obama finally got it--sort of....

President Obama’s position on same sex marriage has finally “evolved” into a belated, unenthusiastic, tepid acceptance.  This week was clearly not the moment he would have chosen to make his announcement, but Joe Biden forced the President’s political hand with his statement on Sunday that he was “comfortable” with same-sex marriage. [Here]  Most analysts that I have read agree that this was no pre-planned event to allow Obama to glide easily into the hot button issue but was rather our dear Joe being Joe, the guy who speaks truthfully from his heart.  
The President explained Biden’s actions in a dismissive way, “He probably got out a little bit over his skis, but out of generosity of spirit.” [Here]  Obama’s statement said more about his own position than it did about Biden’s. 
Here’s what our silver-tongued President had to say about his recently ”evolved” position on same-sex marriage.
At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married. 
What has been surprising is the enthusiastic response that this barely coherent statement has gotten from gay-rights activists and all but the far-right media.  It has set off a round of optimistic fund-raising and inspired some pleasant editorials, but I doubt it will propel anyone to the altar or make anyone in North Carolina regret that he or she just voted to slam the door on gay civil rights.  I know that the President wrote that he was “disappointed” with the result of that state’s vote [Here] but so what?  It’s easy to shrug one’s shoulders after the fact, but it is much harder and more important to speak out before the vote.  Would it have changed the final count?  I do not know, but neither does the President.  (And I have heard no noise from the Democratic Party’s leadership or from the White House that Charlotte, North Carolina will be reconsidered as the site of the Democratic National Convention next summer.)
The Washington Post reported [Here] that shortly after Obama made his same-sex marriage statement on ABC, he called one of his spiritual advisors, the Rev. Joel Hunter, to inform him what he had just announced.  Obviously, Hunter was not pleased.  Rev. Hunter, a leading evangelical minister, is the senior pastor of a congregation in central Florida.[Here] He told the Post that he was afraid that civil rights laws would now be passed forcing churches to marry gay couples.  Obama assured him that would not happen.  (?!?)  This gives one another perspective about Obama’s insistence about leaving legalization of same sex marriage up to individual states.  Isn’t it strange that our first Afro-American President carries within himself so few reverberating echoes of the 20th century’s civil rights struggle?
As readers of this blog already know, last July my partner of 33 years and I were the first female couple to be legally married in our township.  The ceremony was beautifully and sensitively officiated by the GOP/Conservative Town Clerk.  We were surrounded and supported by neighbors and friends, all of whom worship in different churches, vote for different candidates, believe in different political goals but who all honored us and have continued to shower us with affection.  This was made possible by the political vision of Democratic New York State legislators and a few courageous Republicans, but mostly it was due to the political leadership and acumen of Governor Andrew Cuomo.
This is an issue that is deserving of determined political leadership and conviction, not one sentence lines.  We yearn to hear the eloquence of Martin Luther King, the clarion voice of John F. Kennedy, the political savvy of Lyndon Johnson, the empathetic heart of Joe Biden and, yes, the clarity and vision of Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

More from Sandra Fluke...

When do you suppose the right wing media will learn not to mess with Sandra Fluke?  Every time one of them projects their stereotypic sexist images on her, they get burned.  At the same time, the more we  learn about this young woman, the more impressive she becomes.
First, there was Rush Limbaugh.  We all remember what happened when Rush called Sandra Fluke a slut on his radio show and then babbled on about birth control, demonstrating that he knew absolutely nothing about female physiology.  His ignorance surprised us all in view of his four marriages.  (On second thought, that may explain why he had to have four marriages.)  Rush lost sponsors, but not enough to shut down his program.  
His tepid pro forma apology was forthcoming only after he had blustered and blathered for three days after his initial “slut” remark and after a tsunami of negative feedback threatened his advertisers and entire propaganda mill. [Here]  Rush’s apology was lame and will win him no converts--or new advertisers.  It did, however, gain Rush a new wave of disdain, which is certain to have permanent sticking power.
The next we heard of Sandra Fluke was the formal announcement of her engagement to her long-term boyfriend.  Of course, the conservative media was drawn to the story as ants are drawn to a honey pot.  The pundit that got into the most trouble was Fox News commentator Monica Crowley who tweeted a snide question: “To a man?” [Here]
Sandra Fluke responded immediately.  On MSNBC’s The Ed Show she called the tweeted remark “blatant homophobia” and then went on to add this comment: [Here]
I don’t want an apology from anyone personally.  I think it is possible she [Crowley] owes an apology to the LGBTQ community, because I am not offended to be asked whether or not I’m with a woman.  It’s not offensive to me to be gay, but it was clearly meant as an insult. 
What a marvelous response!  I wonder how many people in public life have the self-possession, poise, sound values and maturity to answer in these terms?
Crowley immediately fell over herself to apologize [Here] and perhaps she meant it.   We hope so but, as we all know, once said, an insult still vibrates, poisoning the air, no matter how many apologies attempt to dispel it.
Let us hope that Sandra Fluke will now be given some space and privacy to complete her Georgetown Law School studies and to focus on the next phase of her life with her new fiancé, Adam Mutterperl.  Sandra and Adam issued this marvelous statement in an exclusive interview with the Daily Beast [Here]:
Having dated for over eight years, we're just excited that our friends and family were kind enough to pretend to be surprised at our engagement. We're really looking forward to spending the next eight years planning our wedding.
We hope that Sandra Fluke does not disappear from our national political life.  She’s an intelligent, strong, clear-visioned, young woman who has much to offer our country’s future.  Let’s hope that their recent drubbings have taught the rightwing media to treat her with respect.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Another War Against Women....

There is a new war being waged against women, but this time it’s not being fought by the usual misogynists.  The arena is not the bedroom or the courthouse or even the halls of our legislatures, although the women are accused of harboring “certain radical feminist themes.”  Can you believe that the bellows of outrage are coming from the Vatican in Rome and are directed not at pedophiles but at the good nuns who teach the young and care for the poor, the infirm, the ill and the dying--the ones that Jesus talked about.
Last week the Church’s doctrinal group, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), issued an eight-page report, [Here] directed at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).[Here]  (We should recall that the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Inquisition, interprets Catholic doctrine and was headed by the current pope before his election to the papacy.)  The CDF report charges that those good sisters have turned aside from fundamental Catholic teachings and are in need of correction and change.  The Church has taken umbrage with the LCWR’s position on homosexuality, male-only priesthood and a “prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” [Here]  
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is an organization of the heads of most of the groups of nuns in the United States.  Wikipedia tells us that it has 1500 members and represents about 56,000 women religious in this country.[Here]  It is thus fair to say, that the men in charge have told the women religious that they have acted too rashly and too independently.  An Archbishop from Seattle, has been dispatched to meet with the leadership of the LCWR and is empowered to rewrite the organization’s bylaws.
Before I go further, I should warn the reader that I am not a Roman Catholic but have profound respect for most of the Catholic nuns whom I have met over my lifetime.  I also confess to being a lifelong feminist, even a radical one, (whatever that means.)  To add further brimstone on my head, I happen to be living blissfully and happily with my same-sex spouse, whom I recently married after 33 years of co-habitation.
So what did the good sisters of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious do to incur the wrath of their Church’s hierarchy?  The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson has some thoughts. [Here]  Davidson points to the Vatican statement which mentions that the LCWR has made public statements that disagree with the American bishops’ positions.  Notable among them has been the support that the Women Religious has given to Obama’s Affordable health Care Act.  Sister Carol Keehan, the head of the Catholic Health Association with its 600 hospitals, had been honored by the LCWR last year and had been very publicly supportive of the bill as it worked its way through Congress.
Last winter, when the controversy about the federal mandate to have employers’ insurance plans offer coverage for contraception, both the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)  and the LCWR objected.  When Obama offered a compromise, however, Sister Carol agreed but the Catholic bishops did not.  Moreover, the bishops went public with their disagreement with the nuns.  As Davidson pointed out, the Vatican was not so much concerned that the nuns were speaking out, but that they were not parroting what the bishops wanted them to say. [Here]  In other words, they were saying what they believed and what 98% of sexually-active Roman Catholic woman, who use birth control, would most certainly agree with.
The Roman CDF also despatched Archbishop Peter Sertain of Seattle to oversee the “wayward” LCWR and to review and revise its policies.  [Here]  Sertain will have two bishops and five years to help him put everything to rights within the women’s group.  
Do you suppose the good Archbishop is going to start with Eve and work his way forward?