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:

Weston:

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.

Sarasota

  • Hosted an equality day luncheon (per Pat Ross)

Jacksonville

  • 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:

ARTICLE X. STATE OR MULTISTATE ORGANIZATIONS

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

Constitution Revision Commission

Editorial note: This post is by Jennifer Boddicker of the Naples Branch. She and Barbara Kanter attended one of the Constitution Revision Committee’s Public Hearings. I attended one in Jacksonville and perhaps many of you attended one as well. The Commission is now done with its first week of meetings. They will consider proposals in this order (scroll way down). You can still email comments to admin@flcrc.gov but they may not be read, but you can find a list of commissioners here and call them.

Below Boddicker’s account you will find a longer piece on all the proposed amendments by Linda Geller Schwarz.

Pat DeWitt

Every twenty years Florida considers amendments to the state constitution. 2018 is such a year. The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) narrows down proposed amendments to only a few that will appear on the ballot in November, to be voted on by the people of Florida. The CRC hosts listening tours to hear public input.

On March 5, we attended a public CRC session in Cape Coral. Six students from Parkland came to the event. They, like us, asked the CRC to add an amendment banning the sale of military style assault rifles and high capacity magazines. This will allow the people of Florida to decide, taking the decision out of NRA-complicit lawmaker’s hands.

As you’ve seen on television, these kids are eloquent and pointed. One called out the commissioners for looking at their phones during testimony. He insisted they “look him in the eye” while he spoke. One by one, the young people told their stories. Then they said if change didn’t happen, they’d be using the power of the vote to fire lawmakers.

So far, the Florida legislature has refused to ban the sale of the AR-15. However, the kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas have transformed the gun debate. Before, change seemed impossible. Now, change is inevitable. We regret what they have gone through. We are that they are turning their trauma into a crusade to never let it happen again. Where grown-ups have failed to speak up, young people have the courage to challenge the status quo.

From Linda Geller Schwarz:

When Florida’s Constitution was rewritten in 1968, it contained a provision unique among the states: the creation of a commission that would meet every 20 years and provide recommended changes to the state constitution for Florida voters to decide on.  This year, all amendments proposed by the Commission need to be finalized by May 10, 2018 to be included on the November ballot.

The CRC is made up of 37 members, including the attorney general and individuals appointed by the governor, house speaker, senate president, and chief justice.  With Florida state government under single party control, the appointments to the 2017-2018 CRC were ideologically one-sided, resulting in many regressive proposals.

The CRC has now completed its final round of public hearings.  With the exception of a heated debate among supporters and opponents of grey-hound racing (proposal 67), most of the public comment focused on what the coalition organized by the League of Women Voters have called the “Terrible Ten”. They include:
Proposal 4 – Delete the No Aid provision from the Florida Constitution’s “Religious Freedom” protections and open the door to Floridians’ tax dollars potentially funding religious indoctrination, proselytizing, and discrimination

Proposal 22 – Eliminate all existing privacy protections, including reproductive rights, from Florida’s Constitution except for those specifically relating to informational privacy. It does this by narrowing the privacy clause so that it only applies “with respect to privacy of information and the disclosure thereof.”

Proposal 29 – Require mandatory use of the error-prone E-Verify program, potentially denying thousands of authorized immigrants and even citizen workers the ability to work without any meaningful avenue to seek redress.

Proposal 43 – Mandate term limits for local school board members rather than letting voters in the school districts decide how long a member can serve their community.

Proposal 45 – Give tax dollars to private schools through school vouchers including religious schools – creating a system of publicly funded education separate from our free public schools

Proposal 71 – Take sole control of charter schools away from local school boards and allow decisions about local education needs to be made at the state level.

Proposal 95 –Allow the state to preempt any local ordinances that big business can claim interferes with commerce between counties and other jurisdictions – such as living wage ordinances, protections from wage theft, local hiring preferences or local protections for the environment and natural resources.

Proposal 96 – Needlessly claiming to protect victims of crime while not providing any meaningful benefit to victims, interfering with the rights of the accused, and making it more difficult for the state to convict criminals.

Proposal 97 – Make it close to impossible for the constitution to be changed by initiative, by the Legislature or by any commission in the future.

(For details on these proposals go to the CRC website:  https://www.flcrc.gov/Proposals/Commissioner )

If you are counting, that makes nine proposals.  The tenth, Proposal 72, would tie the hands of future elected leaders and severely limit Florida’s ability to invest in public education, mental health care, affordable housing, roads and bridges, parks, beaches and workforce training programs by requiring a supermajority vote of the Legislature to raise taxes or fees.  The CRC does not need to put this on the November ballot, because the Florida legislature has already passed a bill to do so (HB 7001/SB1742).  If the Courts allow this on the ballot as written and it passes, this will be very damaging for the future of the state.

While all of the above would be bad changes that pubic testimony and surveys show Floridians do not want,  there is one amendment on the table that is a great idea.

CRC Commissioners Coxe, Plymale, Joyner, and Kruppenbacher have proposed  an amendment that would ban assault weapons., require a 10 day waiting period to purchase a firearm and incorporate some of the other provisions that were approved in the recent school safety bill.   If at least 22 of the 37 Commissioners approve this amendment, it could be placed directly on the ballot in November!
The CRC has indicated they will be taking up the proposals in the following order (scroll down):  http://flcrc.gov/Meetings/Calendar/2017/Daily_Calendars_2018-03-14_182335.PDF
 

Pat’s Viewpoint on the AAUW Membership Question

A branch public policy director asked my opinion on the question of admitting people without college degrees to AAUW membership. I am posting it here, as it has a lot to do with public policy. I cannot and will not attempt to oversimplify or give you a pat answer (pun inevitable).

Historically, AAUW had as part of its mission to promote women’s education. Equal access to education was an important issue in a time when medical doctors promulgated the opinion that education was harmful to a woman’s health and all-important biological fertility. We no longer hear this opinion from respected sources. Women are no longer behind men in college graduation rates: The Atlantic reported that in 2017 women comprised 56% of college graduates (bachelor’s).  This doesn’t surprise me, since I worked for and with the National Center for Education Statistics. At conventions we heard several times from a researcher who was concerned with the diminishing rates of college attendance and college graduation among men. As I’ve said many times, this is a battle we have won. We need to move on. I do not believe that the promise of AAUW membership motivates young women to complete their degrees today. When AAUW was more prominent socially, that might have been the case, but when degree attainment is as common as it is today, that hardly seems plausible.

Let us consider the credibility and effectiveness of our advocacy. That is important in public policy. One of our Public Policy committee members a couple of years ago was also a member of the national lobby corps, and she firmly believed that their status as “educated women” gave them more credibility. I’m not sure how she knew, but I do believe that it gave her more confidence. That is valuable in lobbying. I think both humanities and sciences backgrounds can be useful—you need to have some command of statistics, but personal stories have a lot of impact. We need more of those! However, we have to recognize that in the last 40 years or so, the public’s respect for expertise has declined drastically. Many decisions by government officials are strongly influenced by emotion (or what they think will be the emotions of voters). When our members are trying to persuade officials to take or not take some action, will careful analysis or passionate pleading be most successful? Every time I write a Florida Action Alert, the national office rewrites it to put in more emotional content.

Now let us consider membership. We know that our membership has been on the decline for some time. We have been told that the paradigms and customs of the past will not suffice to grow our membership. One of the main arguments for doing away with the degree requirement—now only a two-year degree—is that it will allow us to recruit women who share our values but don’t have a degree. Is having a degree one of our values? Does one have to possess a degree in order to promote “high-quality public education…academic freedom, civic education, protection from censorship, bias-free education, and responsible funding for all levels of education” (from AAUW Public Policy Principles for Action 2017-19). No. See above on advocacy in general. I scarcely believe that any of my four college degrees would cut any ice at a school board meeting compared with the word of a parent of whatever educational level, but I haven’t really tried this experiment.

Finally, let us be pragmatic about this vote to drop the degree requirement. Since far more women are earning college degrees today, there should be plenty of potential members to recruit. We just have to find them. I can see the advantages of having the viewpoint of certain stakeholders who don’t have college degrees, but the idea of associate memberships or friend memberships has been floated in the past and people didn’t like the idea of second-class memberships. From the standpoint of public policy, I believe we need to have more community education events and advocacy events open to the public, where participants don’t have to be members. Moreover, we can and should work on projects, particularly advocacy projects, in coalition with other groups in the community that share our values and goals. There are a lot of opportunities for women who want to advocate for equity for women and girls, including older organizations like NOW and newer ones like the Women’s March. Neither of these has a degree requirement. We can work with them and learn from their viewpoints.

Personally, I like the idea of our being known as educated women, as long as we continue to use and build on our education and exercise our ability to come to reasoned conclusions. And as long as we are bold enough to stand up for them!