Legislator Panel in Palm Beach County

On Saturday, October 12, I moderated a panel of legislators invited by the Palm Beach County branch of AAUW. The panelists were Sen. Bobby Powell of District 30 of the Florida State Senate, Sen. Lori Berman of District 31, and US Congress Representative Lois Frankel. All are supportive of our issues. In hopes that this might provide a useful model and alert you to some current issues, I am posting the questions I sent out to these legislators ahead of time. The topics of AAUW’s interests were economic security, civil rights, and educational equity. You may download the document below:

We were not able to cover all the topics. If you use this document, you might want to pick and choose, and modify in the case of less friendly lawmakers. The legislators did have interesting comments. Sen. Linda Stewart has filed the Helen Gordon Davis Equal Pay Protection Act again this year as SB 90, along with Berman, Lauren Book (Dist. 32) and Janet Cruz (Dist. 18) as co-sponsors (see below). Berman unsuccessfully filed what she called a “carrot bill” last year to favor companies that demonstrated pay equity in state contracts, but the committee hearing she was promissed never occurred. She pointed out that two thirds of minimum wage employees in Florida are women, and that healthcare is a major issue in their economic security. Sen. Powell mentioned his intense interest in this issue because of his daughters. US Representative Frankel noted that the US House has already passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would cover the same ground as the Helen Gordon Davis act in Florida. It has not been considered in the Senate.

In terms of civil rights, Sen. Berman pointed out that the parental consent bill may pass in the Florida legislature (SB 404, HB 265). It would require parental consent for abortions performed on minor children. Presently, Florida simply requires notification. This will cause problems in chaotic family situations and in situations of family sexual abuse. Rep. Frankel supports the national Women’s Health Protection Act (see below), which would counteract the many state efforts to limit access to abortion and threaten providers. When I mentioned AAUW’s support for restoring voting rights to former felons, Sen. Powell mentioned that there are groups organizing in the area to address the issue of financial obligations which have been labeled a poll tax.

The legislators were asked how we can best influence legislation to support our issues. They offered several worthwhile suggestions:

  • Be authentic and bring in personal stories whenever possible. Part of being authentic is speaking for yourself and not sending canned messages. We love our Two Minute Activist, but Sen. Powell said it is possible to just filter out these messages. Write your own by going to the legislator’s website and filling out their forms. You can also tweet them on their sites.
  • Infiltrate organizations that are not as friendly to your issues!
  • Make sure the legislator knows that you are a constituent and recruit other constituents to advocate.
  • Always say thank you to legislators who do support your issues.

With reference to the above, we presented Sen. Lori Berman with a framed resolution thanking her for her continued support for equal pay legislation.

Introducing Kay Smith: New Public Policy Director

As my term as Public Policy Director of AAUW Florida comes to an end, I am extremely pleased to introduce you to our new Director for Public Policy, Kay Lee-Smith. She is well-qualified and enthusiastic, and we are very fortunate to have her join the board. Since she agreed to be a candidate too late for her bio to be included in the spring Florivision, you may read it below, in her own words.

I urge you to give Kay your wholehearted support as she works to advance our public policy in Florida. This work takes place not just during Lobby Days, although that is important. We need to be advancing equity for women and girls all year long, and we cannot do that by just meeting together and enjoying our own company. Legislators will vote for bills that people support, and if they will not do so, the people will elect others. Where do we come in? We need to let the legislators know what kinds of things we would like to see in state government. We need to try to get others to join us, or to join others, so that our combined voices may be heard. These are trying times for equity for women and girls, and we cannot advance it by keeping silent. If we do not speak up and bear witness, women and girls stand to lose what has been gained throughout our lifetimes. So be strong, be civil but principled, and above all, be there!

Patricia DeWitt, incoming President-Elect, AAUW of Florida

K. Lee-Smith, Ph.D.
Director of Public Policy, AAUW Florida

Dr. Lee-Smith is a public servant with experience in the fields of Project Management; Business and Community Planning; Policy Analysis; and Research, Real Estate, and Systems Administration.  She received a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy and Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Jackson State University, Jackson, MS.  Dr. Lee-Smith is a member of the Tampa Florida Branch of AAUW, where she has served as Newsletter Chair and Director of Communications.  

Dr. Lee-Smith joined AAUW because of the vision, “Bringing together Individuals with a common goal of breaking through education and economic barriers for all women.”  Her goal as AAUW Florida Director of Public Policy is to help promote the agenda for women by advocating for the passage of all legislation regarding women’s rights.  

Dr. Lee-Smith is also a member of the Tampa Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., where she serves on the Economic Development and Social Action Committees.  She is also a member of Pi Sigma Alpha and Phi Gamma Mu Honor Societies, the American Society of Public Administrators, and the Conference of Minority Public Administrators. Her research interests are environmental, economic, healthcare, and educational disparities. 

Dr. Lee-Smith is married to the LTC (Retired) David Smith and they have three children Tara, David II, and Jon-Kyle.  She is a member of the United Methodist Church and currently attends St. James UMC, Tampa, Florida.  She believes success equals a trained mind and a heart inspired by God. 

AAUW and Abortion Bans

This year’s state legislative season has seen extreme restrictions on abortion in several states voted into law, including so-called “fetal heartbeat bills” and even a near-andtotal ban on abortion in Alabama. More than 15 states have proposed or passed such bills. The motivation appears to be to generate a challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, which as it stands would prevent these bills from becoming enforced law. They will be challenged in the courts, but supporters hope the new Supreme Court will overturn Roe.

AAUW continues to support a woman’s self-determination in her reproductive health decisions. Deborah Vagins, AAUW’s senior vice president for public policy and research, has recently set out an appeal to donate so that AAUW may help counter these attempts to turn the clock back to the 1950s. AAUW has joined dozens of organizations nationwide to stand against the bans.

It is my hope as Director for Public Policy and soon-to-be President-elect that AAUW of Florida will wholeheartedly support AAUW’s position regarding reproductive freedom. I also realize that this is a troubling topic for some. If you are troubled, please read the rest of this post, which seeks to go beyond gut reactions and to bring some actual information to the topic.

As educated women, AAUW’s membership should be a receptive audience for facts and information to counteract false claims and misinformation. To begin, the bills that have passed in several states are called “fetal heartbeat bills” by both supporters and opponents. This implies that physicians can detect a “lub-lub” audible heartbeat as early as six weeks. To the contrary, according to Rewire.News, what is being detected is an electrical pulse from something called the fetal pole, a thick area alongside the yolk sac that extends from one end of an embryo to the other. Not the bouncing babies shown on billboards begging their mothers not to kill them! At the fetal pole stage, there is no heart at all.

Now for some more facts:

  • Under English common law, abortion was legal until “quickening” (about the fourth month). In the mid-1800s, most states made all abortions illegal under most circumstances. By 1973, legal abortions were available in 17 states. Abortion Law
  • Roe v. Wade legalizes abortion but allows for individual states to pass laws regulating abortion in the second and third trimesters. From the majority opinion: “We, therefore, conclude that the right of personal privacyincludes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interests in regulation.” What are those state interests? “…at some point the state interests as to protection of health, medical standards, and prenatal life, become dominant.”
  • According to the Guttmacher Institute, 75% of abortion patients are low income, 60% are in their 20s, and 59% already have a child. Racially, they are 39% white, 28% black, 25% Hispanic, 6% Asian or Pacific Islander, and 3% other. 62% are religiously affiliated.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015, of the 638,169 abortions reported by states (three did not report):
    • 4% were performed at 8 weeks of gestation or less
    • 7% were performed at 9-13 weeks of gestation
    • 3% were performed at 21 weeks or more
  • Among the 39 areas that reported to the CDC by marital status for 2015, 14.3% of all women who obtained an abortion were married, and 85.7% were unmarried.
  • In 2015, Florida reported 72,023 abortions to the CDC. Florida did not report abortion patients by age or gestational age of the fetus.
  • The CDC found that, in 2014, only six women were identified to have died as a result of complications from legal induced abortion.
  • Contraception methods can fail. The CDC reports a 9% failure rate for the “pill”, patch and ring, and 12% for the diaphragm. Male condoms fail at 18%. IUDs are among the most effective methods of contraception (failure rate .2%).
  • A fact from another source: (p. 3) 81% of single mothers in Florida have incomes below the Basic Economic Security Tables (BEST) index, which benchmarks the income a family needs for basic expenses plus emergency and retirement savings.
  • In spite of the picture created from the statistics, of a typical abortion patient being an impoverished single mother in her 20s, women 40 years old or more received 3.5% of all abortions.
  • In an attempt to portray themselves as fellow human beings, women who have had abortions are starting to tell their stories. (more stories) Some common reasons for unintended pregnancy include:
    • Birth control failure
    • Abusive relationships
    • Rape
    • Coercion
    • Poor judgment
  • Some reasons for choosing abortion include not being ready to be a mother, physical difficulties short of life-threatening, not being able to afford another child, and severe fetal abnormalities.

Here’s what I learned from these statistics: abortion is not terribly rare. It has been practiced for centuries. Today, it is extremely safe. Around 90% of all abortions are performed before 13 weeks of gestation. Women in their 20s are the primary abortion patients, and black women are disproportionately represented among them, as are women living in poverty. Many of these women have used contraception, but it failed. Many of them already have one or more children, and they likely will have trouble affording the expenses of another child.

However, as the stories tell, there are many reasons for having an abortion, and many different kinds of women have them. Each story is unique. Read them. For some, you might think the woman could have made another choice, but for others, only the most hard-hearted or medically uninformed would deny her right to choose an abortion. That is why “AAUW trusts that every woman has the ability to make her own informed choices regarding her reproductive life within the dictates of her own moral and religious beliefs. Further, AAUW believes that these deeply personal decisions should be made without government interference.”





Pay Equity Audits and State Procurement

Rep. Fentrice Driskell and Sen. Lori Berman have filed bills, H 633, S 652: State Procurement, that would reward state contractors who establish a process for determining that they pay men and women equally for equal work. The Department of Management Services would establish a certification program, and procurement would favor certified contractors.

You may wonder, as I did, how the criteria would be established for ensuring pay equity. The company payscale.com does some very interesting research and has some excellent suggestions as to how to conduct a pay audit.

In the recorded webinar I viewed, a researcher from payscale.com reported on his and other research showing that if you control for all the factors influencing salary, the pay difference between men and women is only about 2%. He stated that both the controlled and the uncontrolled pay gap are important. The control factors include such things as years of experience and job category. Biases are built into these, because women may take time out of the workforce and they are often funneled into job types that pay less. He showed research comparing men and women at early career, midcareer, and late career stages. At mid and especially late career, women are less likely to hold managerial and executive positions than men.

The presenters pointed out that pay equity laws are becoming more stringent in certain states and that this trend is likely to continue. Therefore, a company needs to protect itself against lawsuits by complying in advance with proper pay equity standards and by monitoring bias. One thing to look out for is that the job description for an individual should match what they are actually asked to do, especially when elements of that job description are compensable.

A large company can do advanced statistical analysis to study pay equity using multiple regression, but that takes specialized knowledge which is not usually available to a small company. Even if they hire an outside consultant with expertise, they may not have enough employees to yield satisfactory statistical results. However, the presenters suggested certain analyses that could be done using Excel (or a tool that they provide). First the company needs to collect data including job type, job level, demographics, full or part-time status, performance ratings if they exist, and of course pay. He stated that the gender breakdown across department/job group/job level may explain a lot of the uncontrolled pay gap, due to occupational segregation. That needs to be compared with appropriate outside reference groups.

To start the analysis, employees should be grouped by job family (such as accountants), job title, and similar departments might be grouped together. Once the groups are determined, the salary range can be calculated. The presenter suggested two statistics to describe where the individual falls in the salary range: the range penetration, which is simply how far up the individual salary falls within the salary range; and the compa-ratio, which is the salary divided by the range midpoint. (That midpoint would be the median rather than the average.) Then the analyst would compare the different demographic groups according to the statistics. The example shown was Accountant I, male versus female, showing that the range penetration of the males was 48% compared with 30% for the females. Excel could calculate a simple statistical test using this number, but the power of that test would be dependent on the number of employees involved. The presenter suggested that when looking at the data in a systematic way, the employer would probably be able to see where the problems are.

The presenter stated that if a lawsuit were involved, the fact that the company conducted a good-faith analysis would be persuasive. The methodology itself would be of secondary consideration at this point in time. Also, if employees know that the employer is looking carefully at pay equity, they might be less likely to sue. That good-faith effort was also described in the following suggestions that a company can use to ensure pay equity:

What else can you do to ensure pay equity?

  • Look at your promotion velocity.
    • Examine your processes and identify areas where bias can come in.
  • Have a clearly defined process for promotions.
  • Price a position, not a candidate
  • Encourage employees to discuss pay-related matters.
    • Talk to employees about how your pay decisions are made.
  • Audit your pay practices on a regular basis
  • Analyze your talent acquisition sourcing practices.
    • Identify areas where bias can come in.

Human Trafficking Report by Kay Smith

AAUW Florida Public Policy Committee member Kay Smith has been researching human trafficking and recently attended a conference in Tampa. She has also identified and is tracking three bills related to the issue. We will be advocating for these bills during Lobby Days.

Here’s her report:

  1. Florida has the 3rd largest number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline
  2. 1 in 3 girls have been sexually abused
  3. HT is a 152 billion dollar business globally
  4. Keys to combating HT
    1. Education/Prevention/Awareness
      1. Education is the key at an early age K-12
      2. Victims who have been abused early, by time they are teenagers it’s too late, they are usually recruiting victims
      3. Training is needed by law enforcement, business owners, healthcare providers, and general public in identifying and reporting HT
    2. Methodology needed to identify barriers to prevention
    3. Deterrents to HT via strong criminal penalties are needed
    4. Reintegration of victims via employment, healthcare, and life skills training is essential

In my review of the Bills, the below drew my attention because they addressed education/prevention or proposed deterrents via criminal penalties:

  1. HB 219  and its related bill CS/SB 370 – Mandatory minimum term of incarceration, as a deterrent
  2. HB 259 and its related bill SB 982 – Human Trafficking Education PreK-12
  3. HB 851 and its related bill SB 540 – Education and training for owner/operator of public lodging establishments

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

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