Time to Advocate with the Florida Legislature

IMG_0477Pat DeWitt is in the green sweater. See #2 below. I have two reports on this topic:

1. Friday, February 1: Local Legislative Visit

Another member of the Jacksonville branch, Kay McKenna, and I visited the office of Sen. Aaron Bean, where we spoke with his legislative assistant, Dee Alexander for over an hour. We presented her with a brief description of AAUW, The Simple Truth in full and one-page versions, and a card about the online Work Smart program. We gave her a partial list of bills that AAUW plans to support during the 2019 legislative session in Florida–leaving out those that Sen. Bean would certainly not support. That left us with several bills that seemed to interest Ms. Alexander. The conversation was pleasant and Ms. Alexander asked several questions which we were able to answer, with the aid of the AAUW publications.

We then asked her what Sen. Bean is working on that we might be able to support, and she mentioned a juvenile justice bill and a couple of local programs.

RENEWED CHALLENGE: the Florida state legislature is not active during the last week of February, February 25 to March 1, and that would be a good time to visit your Florida legislators in their districts.

2. Wednesday, February 6: Tallahassee Visit

I was invited to attend a press conference in Tallahassee on Wednesday, February 6 to “stand and support” three bills impacting women’s economic security: the Helen Gordon Davis Fair Pay Protection Act, which AAUW helped write three years ago; State Procurement, which would require the state to certify and favor suppliers that follow gender pay equity; and Employment Practices, a new paid family leave bill. Details of these are below.

I did not get to speak, but five legislators spoke forcefully: Dotie Joseph, Janet Cruz, Linda Stewart, Lori Berman, and Fentrice Driskell (detail below). At the end of the conference a lobbyist for NOW, Barbara DeVane, went to the microphone and introduced those of us who came from various organizations to support the legislation. We should each have been carrying signs with the names of our organizations. Supporters included the League of Women Voters, the Democratic Women of Florida, Planned Parenthood, NOW, and some women’s organizations from South Florida.

After the press conference, I spoke to Dotie Joseph and Fentrice Driskell, new legislators, and gave them copies of the AAUW’s The Simple Truth report (both one page and full versions) as well as the one-page Florida roadmap for pay equity.


Helen Gordon Davis Bill Sponsors (H 419, S 474)

Rep. Dotie Joseph, D 108 (Miami-Dade), Elected 2018

Sen. Linda Stewart, D 13 (Orlando area), and Janet Cruz, D 18 Hillsborough; Victor Torres D 15 Orange/Osceola Co.

State Procurement Bill Sponsors (H 633, S 652)

Sen. Lori Berman D 31 (Palm Beach County) and Victor Torres D 15. Berman, a longtime friend of AAUW, moved up to Senate in 2018

Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D 63 (Hillsborough, lives in Tampa), Elected 2018

Employment Practices Bill Sponsors (H 393, S 692)

Rep. Dotie Joseph (see above)

Sen. Janet Cruz, D 18 (Hillsborough)


When Social Media Bites Back

When I moved to the small town of Rome, Georgia, I was advised never to say anything bad about person A in front of person B, because you don’t know who is related to whom. The Internet is like a small town in this way. You never know where your comment will wind up. If your comment arouses someone’s host him himility, they may find out who is related to you and slander them in return.

Something very like this happened recently here in Florida. One of our branch officers (I’ll call her Peggy) expressed her own opinion on her own Facebook page regarding a popular woman TV personality. Offended by this personality’s confrontational style, Peggy called her an unflattering name in her post. Now, it seems that once Peggy ran for local office, and helpful friends linked her Facebook account to a Twitter account to maximize her exposure. She was not aware it was still linked when she made her explosive comment, but it was from that Twitter account that another Twitter user retrieved her comment, found out she was an officer of AAUW, and proceeded to condemn her and Florida AAUW. He had found out she was an AAUW officer by connecting her with a newspaper article.

Of course, national AAUW has a feed whereby they can see anything in the media regarding AAUW. So the next step in this viral contagion was that AAUW’s national advancement officer, Kendra Davis, contacted our president, Pat Ross, and suggested that we ask Peggy to publish a retraction. Peggy’s Twitter adversary had 66,000 followers. The national officer recommended that Peggy state on Facebook that her opinion was not the opinion of Florida AAUW. Peggy complied, posting on her Facebook page that her opinions were her own and not those of Florida AAUW. Nothing more has come of the flap since then.

Since I felt that there was a public policy dimension to all this, I consulted with Elizabeth Holden of the public policy office. She assured me that this sort of thing is the purview of membership and advancement. If the negative publicity had occurred in connection with an advocacy event or project, the national public policy office would have helped the branch to deal with it. Elizabeth assured me that Kendra did not intend to censor members.

I have seen the tweets, but at this time I agree with Elizabeth that since “the story didn’t get legs”, we may just take it as a cautionary tale. So what may we learn from this disappointing experience?

First, we must understand that nothing in cyberspace is ever private. It is as public as if we had shouted it out like a street preacher. Fortunately, it is also evanescent, but it is possible to retrieve anything that we have ever put out there. If someone has an ill will toward us, it is possible to dredge up damaging information, even if we ourselves did not put the information there (the newspaper article, for example: most newspapers are online today.) Therefore, we must be ready to defend every expression we make public in any medium.

If we must defend anything we say in public, it follows that what we say needs to reflect our best, most principled and civil self. We need to save our primal screams for our most trusted friends, or better yet for our trips far out into the forest or the ocean. The good news is that always to take the high ground, as Michelle Obama said, is uplifting and ennobling. When Peggy consented to post that her opinions were her own and not those of Florida AAUW, she took the high ground.

It would be a disaster for AAUW advocacy if we all concluded that we must be silent.The only way that any group can avoid criticism today is never to take any kind of a stand at all. We cannot be cowed. We can and must be civil but we must not hide our heads. I am always telling people why I joined AAUW, but I sometimes leave out a few details. I used to watch groups of women walking down the hall in my college saying that they were going to an AAUW meeting. They were very staid, respectable type ladies, one of whom was the head librarian, Mary Mac Mosley.  Then one day, after the publication of “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America,” an article appeared in our local paper stating that AAUW was a radical feminist group. I decided that if Mary Mac was a member of this radical feminist group maybe I should be too. The detail that I keep leaving out was that AAUW was in fact attacked in our local paper (attacks were a little milder back then).Him him

Don’t forget the last [Christian] Beatitude: “Blessed are ye when men revile you…for my sake.” But make sure it is for the sake of right. Do keep speaking out in support of our advocacy efforts with passion and strong, well informed opinion.

More on AAUW’s Future Advocacy

Some of you have been in AAUW long enough to remember our old mission, which included the phrase “positive societal change”. This was wisely eliminated because it is too broad, but I think we need to remain committed to part of this phrase. We are committed to positive change. This means that we are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until women and girls achieve equity.

I recently re-discovered an article subtly comparing our present situation in the United States with the climate of Athens in 399 B. C., when Socrates was put to death. The author believes that for a long time, Athens was a society dedicated to positive change, looking for ways to improve towards an ideal. But after their loss to the Spartans in the Peloponessian War, the climate in Athens turned defensive, and they claimed superiority without the commitment to improvement. When Socrates criticized them, they decided he had to go. His most outstanding student, Plato, left Athens in disgust and studied elsewhere. But Plato returned later, and established an Academy to which he invited scholars from outside of Athens. Thus he made Athens into a center of learning once again, but a more inclusive one.

I then happened on another article which I had previously overlooked. The author put forward the thesis that we cannot have a just society without admitting that we need to change towards an ideal of fairness and equity. That ideal should be our vision.

Now as for AAUW: if we believe that there are forces in our society today that are pushing back against equity for women and girls, we have two options. We can try to get laws passed that will forbid these attacks on equity. As individuals, we might support candidates who will support equity, but as an organization we may not advocate for or against candidates. A second option, more difficult but potentially more fruitful, would be to try to restore the national commitment to positive change that many of us observed in the past. That means first and foremost that we promote the idea that equity for all is a key element of the American dream: in the phrase “with liberty and justice for all” it’s the justice part. Justice happens or doesn’t happen in all interactions of the individual with society, not just in in the courts. Second, people need to understand that equity for all does not exist at present, but that we could move in the direction of equity. For women, this would continue a direction including the rights of women to be financially independent, to vote, and to be paid for their work regardless of gender.

Needless to say, as public policy director I will continue to work for the first option. We must convince our sitting legislators that pay equity legislation is good for everyone, and that legislation against abortion is a blunt instrument that will hurt many people. More on that elsewhere. But also, I have come to believe that it is our mission to promote positive change in the hearts and minds of our neighbors. There is a movement for civil discourse whose models we might be able to use. The idea is to present to a group of people a problem in society along with a set of potential solutions. The problem should be one on which most people agree that change is needed: some examples were violence in the community and climate change. The solutions are proposed by the organizer, who also provides a list of advantages and disadvantages of each. Then the organizer serves as a neutral moderator. I have been advised that the moderator cannot display any bias towards any of the proposed solutions. This might be a little bit difficult for AAUW, but it is worth consideration. For example, recent research has revealed that poverty among the elderly is a real problem. We could put forth proposed solutions following some of Mary Gatta’s ideas. We could state that unintended pregnancy is a problem because of its costs to society, to the family and to the pregnant woman. We could develop moderators within our branches and within the state and offer their services to community organizations outside of AAUW.

Another model I have observed recently is a series of sessions conducted by the St. Johns Riverkeeper in communities that were affected by flooding following Hurricane Irma. There were presentations by local authorities and technical service providers, followed by ample opportunity for community members to share their observations and concerns. Afterward, audience members were provided with postcards on which they could write to government officials about their concerns. The key here was dealing with concrete impacts, not abstract principles.

I am sure you can think of many other societal problems that are in need of positive change, and I think that AAUW’s history and background as a moderate, deliberative organization would provide a good fit for this method. But I do recommend that we concentrate on issues of equity for women and girls, in order not to stretch ourselves too far. I have a large basket that is full to overflowing with letters from deserving organizations, and they are only the organizations to which we have contributed in the past, not to speak of all the emails! it is hard to deal with the many calls for involvement in societal change, but I feel that we will be more effective if we focus on just a few. Let equity for women and girls be one of them!

The Future of AAUW Florida Advocacy

I want to thank and praise all the branches that reached out and encouraged people to become informed and vote in the 2018 midterm election. We had branches that held candidate forums, passed out literature at tables, and sent letters to the editor. We had individuals who participated in many ways including canvassing, rallying, contributing, and even waving from bridges. We suffered through a confusing and discouraging ballot that lumped unrelated issues together in the amendments, even though many of us protested against this.

No matter the outcome of this election, I feel that we need to reach out to people who do not understand why we take the positions that we do. They may not agree with us, but perhaps we can encourage them to understand and not to condemn. We will also need to avoid condemning them, while explaining why we do not agree with them. No one says this is going to be easy, but I believe that it is the only way to achieve lasting change. It should be our “long game.”

I keep the AAUW Public Policy Priorities close and refer to them constantly. As a reminder, the biennial action priorities are 1) to support a strong system of public education that promotes gender fairness, equity, and diversity; 2) to achieve economic self-sufficiency for all women; 3) to guarantee equality, individual rights, and social justice for a diverse society.

Some people do not understand the importance of a strong system of public education. We understand that it is important to assure a high-quality education to everyone, and to promote civic unity and involvement. Some people may not realize the importance of economic security not only for women, but for everyone. The existence of a huge chasm between the very rich and the very poor is damaging to our sense of national unity, our democracy, and is even bad for business. Some people do not remember the harm that desperate women encountered before abortion was legal. There will always be desperate women, women who have very good reasons for not wanting to bear a child that may even have been conceived without their consent.

How shall we reach out to them? One model is an issue forum. It might be easiest to start with a program related to a recognized social problem such as the lack of affordable housing or violence in communities. We could join with other organizations who are interested in trying to solve these problems. The gender pay gap is also widely recognized, and AAUW has committed to helping eradicate it. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a project of a national organization, National Issues Forums, which is an opportunity for him civil discourse about pressing social and political issues of the day. To quote the guide, “forum participants engage in deliberation, which is simply weighing options for action against things held commonly valuable.” Possibly, AAUW’s educated-women approach might be a good fit for such a project. Take a look at http://www.nifi.org.

A recent article in Time magazine asked, “is there a middle ground on moral issues such as slavery?” This points out the limitations of compromise. AAUW does have positions on which we cannot back down. But we can listen to the other side and find out why they are so opposed to our positions. We need to collect stories of people who suffered from social injustice and the lack of equal rights. In many cases I believe that rights are denied to people who are not seen as equivalent human beings. Stories can help us see “the other” as a real person and not a caricature. Many of us can look back over our lives to see the changes that stories have made in our perceptions of people who are different from ourselves.

I have mentioned some ways in which we could become engaged with community members, but we are not giving up on the political process. We need to find some way to be visible to our legislative representatives on a continuing basis. I will be looking into this and seeking advice for you. They need to know that AAUW is a source of well-thought-out positions and civil advocacy.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these ideas.

Pat DeWitt





Confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. No.

AAUW’s voice is traditionally more thoughtful and reasoned than is advocated by many of the more recently established women’s organizations, and I see that as a good thing. However, we cannot sit on the sidelines when momentous questions are in play. The confirmation of a Supreme Court justice for life certainly qualifies as momentous.

I understand that some AAUW members do not understand the strength of AAUW’s opposition to Kavanaugh, and believe we should listen to what he says. Without claiming that he was not sincere during the hearings, I would like to call your attention to national AAUW’s documentation of what he has done on the bench. These actions speak louder than words. Here is an excerpt from a letter by AAUW’s Deborah J. Vagins, Senior Vice President, Public Policy and Research:

After careful review of Judge Kavanaugh’s available record, including his record on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, his known speeches and writings over his legal career, and his responses to questions during his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, I am concerned that he will do grave harm by undermining positions central to AAUW’s mission, including upending employment and labor rights, curtailing reproductive rights and access to health care, entangling public education and religion, and restricting voting rights.

I also understand that some may have doubts about the allegations of sexual assault leveled against him. I do respect AAUW members for being fair-minded. But here’s what I think:

  • Trump has tweeted that if anything actually occurred, charges would have been filed at the time. This shows a disdain for the well-established fact that women find it very difficult to file such charges and often take years to muster the courage to come forward. Since Dr. Ford came forward, she has received death threats and has felt it necessary to relocate her family. And that’s after #metoo! Imagine how hard it would have been to take the risk of filing charges in the 1980s!
  • The allegations were not dreamed up or fabricated to derail Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Dr. Ford revealed the assault to her therapist in 2012. She had no reason to defame Kavanaugh at that time.
  • Kavanaugh was only in high school when the alleged assault occurred. True. I have a son, with whom I had my own talk about respecting women’s bodily integrity. If he had gotten drunk, lost his better judgment, and had done something like this, I would expect him to confess and seek forgiveness. Kavanaugh did nothing of the kind and still denies the event and shows neither contrition nor regret. Could he have been so blind drunk as to erase his memory and still have done what he is alleged to have done?
  • Kavanaugh does not face criminal charges because of the statute of limitations. If the Senate does not confirm him, his career will not be over. Don’t feel sorry for him. The administration should be able to do better than this.

Now, if after careful thought you agree with me, call the Florida Senators as I just did. Be sure to mention where you live and what you want them to do (oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation, have the FBI investigate Dr. Ford’s claims, etc.):

Marco Rubio   202-224-3041

Bill Nelson      202-224-5274

Civic Engagement Activity

These reports were received during late August and September from several Florida AAUW branches in response to a request for civic engagement projects:


Palm Beach County

  • members are working on an initiative to encourage voting.  Members pledge to remind at least one drop off voter to go the polls or request an absentee ballot.
  • We are hosting the League of Women Voters at our September luncheon to discuss amendments on the November ballot. This meeting is open to the public

Flagler County

  • has already begun its get out the vote campaign.
  • On Wednesday, August 29, we hosted  a Women’s Equality Day program at the Flagler County Public Library which featured a speaker from the LWV and the Daytona Beach branch president.
  • We will be appearing at the October and November 1stFriday in Flagler Beach with voting information etc.
  • Our October 13 branch meeting will be a meet the local candidates program and an Amendment

Marco Island

A Marco Island member writes: I belong to two very small philanthropic groups who are already planning the following and perhaps because I belong to the Marco Branch we will ask them to join especially for the walks.

  1. Still discussing the logo:  #USFORUS, #ONEUS, #BACKTOGETHER
  2. We have gotten local police permission to hold signage and line up on the bridge with large signs
  3. I usually write the articles for the newspapers.  They will be regarding ‘Parties Work Together’, ‘Crossing the Line’, ‘Stop Bullying’. etc.

Daytona Beach

  • will be hosting a meeting the the League on the proposed amendments in October.
  • St Augustine and Daytona hope to work on women’s economic security research which I am sure will lead to some advocacy work.


  • Hosted an equality day luncheon (per Pat Ross)


  • will have as its program for September the former president of First Coast LWV presenting a program on the Constitutional Amendments. If the LWV wants us to help as we did in 2014, she will ask at the meeting and I am sure we will get volunteers to help.

Orlando/Winter Park

  • October Meeting will have as a presenter a member of the League of Women Voters to discuss the 13 amendments that will be on the ballot.

Lake Sumter

  • Get out the vote, voter registration with LWV
  • Joint Equality Tea co-hosted by AAUW and LWV on August 17 with guest speakers Lisa Marshall (running unopposed for Lake Co. Commission) and Leslie Campione, Bill Nelson’s Regional Director each speaking on how the became interested in politics.
  • Educating members and the public on
    • Proposed FL constitution amendments
    • Meetings to host political candidates in our counties
  • Plan to host an event at a local college.




Florida’s One Member One Vote on Public Policy

Until two years ago, Florida AAUW published a set of public policy priorities. At that time, I presented the following rationale for not publishing such a document. Because our bylaws and operating procedures require this set of priorities, I proposed then and propose now that the state of Florida accept the national public policy priorities as our public policy priorities for Florida. Here is the rationale for not publishing our own document:

  1. It is not useful
    1. It is phrased in general terms and we need specifics for legislative action e. g. Lobby Days and Action Alerts.
    2. We already have a national public policy phrased in general terms.
    3. It is confusing to local PP officers because they think anything I or the Public Policy Committee suggest should have gone through the biennial vote on public policy. That is not true.
    4. While it might be useful to have some long-term public policy goals, having a predetermined set of public policy priorities for a two-year period that is more specific than the national public policy priorities could be limiting to our actions in response to quickly developing state issues. I do not want to see a situation in which we would be prevented from addressing legislative developments just because they are not listed in the state priorities.
  2. It presents a potential conflict with national bylaws:


Section 2. Purpose. These organizations shall further AAUW purposes, program, and policieswithin their respective areas. Bylaws of such organizations shall not be in conflict with these AAUW Bylaws.

Also, from the AAUW Board of Directors Manual: 300 Program and Policy

PUBLIC POLICY PROGRAM. The AAUW Public Policy Program is adopted by a vote of the membership every two years. It serves to present AAUW’s Public Policy Principles and the Action Priorities which will focus national resources and nationwide energy. This external statement of federal priorities identifies short-term policy objectives based upon their viability, critical need, strong member support, and potential for distinctive AAUW contribution. Members, branches and states initiate action consistent with AAUW’s Use of Name Policy. (See Policy 119, Section II.)

I ask for your vote in the one member one vote process to accept the AAUW national public policy priorities for 2017 through 2019 as the public policy priorities for Florida. We do need your vote because a quorum a 5% of the membership is required to complete the one member one vote process. You should have received an email from Fong Cheng (he’s a long-time AAUW information technology specialist) with instructions as to how to vote. When you go to the ballot, you will notice that the full text of the AAUW 2017-2019 Public Policy Priorities has been included. Please note that you are not voting on those priorities themselves. Those policies were adopted by a vote of all members nationwide leading up to the 2017 national convention. They are the priorities of all AAUW. You are merely voting whether to accept them in lieu of a special Florida set of public policies and a public policy document. Thank you in advance for your participation.

Patricia DeWitt, Director for Public Policy, AAUW of Florida