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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Be Bold (Because It’s the Only Strategy That Works)

An interesting thing happened this legislative session that I know of only because of one e-mail; it got no attention from my several electronic news sources nor in print. (Not surprisingly, as our one daily newspaper is less and less informative.) But it seems that Planned Parenthood had more success in the recently concluded legislative session than Displaced Homemakers, which is a first ever in feminist causes. Some background:

My dear friend, the late Senator Helen Gordon Davis, was the genesis for Florida’s displaced homemaker program, including the Centre for Women in Tampa, in 1978. I well remember the year, because I managed Helen’s re-election campaign, and we almost lost due to her focus on displaced homemakers instead on of her own political survival.

Like many women’s issues, this one was just emerging into public consciousness in the 1970s. People were just beginning to realize that, yes, many successful men owed their educations to working wives who, after they got their degrees, would bear their children and help them build their careers – and then a younger woman would displace the middle-aged homemaker. They had wed in the baby-boomer days of the 1950s and never expected to work outside the home, until after a couple of decades of marriage, they found themselves divorced. (Did you know, by the way, that our popular-vote loser president has been quoted as saying that age 35 is “check-out time” for wives?)

Helen – whose husband adored her and supported her in everything she did – went to work on the problem. Helen and Gene personally guaranteed the mortgage on a deteriorating mansion in Hyde Park, and with help from other legislators, including Tampa’s Pat Frank and Betty Castor, Representative Davis pushed through a state appropriation for our Centre and others elsewhere. The funding has been renewed annually for nearly forty years, and the relatively small amount of money has proven to be a good investment. The Centre (now renamed for Helen) has helped many thousands of women with no particular job skills to enter or re-enter the modern labor force. Women who might have been on welfare instead are contributors to the economy.

So of course the guys in Tallahassee -- who may be the dumbest assortment of arrogant young men we’ve ever had -- apparently left the displaced homemakers budget on the cutting-room floor this year. Nor did they let anyone know about this until after adjournment. As I said, all I know is that I got an e-mail urging me to urge Governor Scott to veto this section of the budget.

And here’s the final point. Advocates for displaced homemakers always have made a point of being extremely non-political, non-demanding, and polite in their dealings with Tallahassee – so it was an ironic contrast to get at the same time an e-mail from Planned Parenthood. It read: “Every year since Rick Scott was elected governor of Florida in 2010, he has signed into law another attack on reproductive rights. With your help, we’ve fought off…most, but every year one got through. Until this year. This year our resistance was too strong. This is the first time in seven years that there won’t be a single rollback of our reproductive rights signed into Florida law!”

The lesson is clear: Be Bold. Grow a spine, and don’t depend on being ladylike. If they think you lack power, politicians will roll right over you. My suggestion to advocates for displaced homemakers is that they organize the mothers and grandmothers of these male legislators and make the fight personal. Several current leaders are proud to be fathers of large families – and their wives might do themselves a favor to check on check-out time.

Other Things That Make Me Mad

The first foreign visit of the new administration is to Saudi Arabia! The home of 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9-11. Or had you forgotten that? Dubya’s folks certainly never made a point of it, as the prime reason for his and his daddy’s wars in the Middle East was oil for their Texas buddies. Have you noticed that with Obama’s investments in alternative energies, we are much less dependent on oil? Coal is almost completely gone as a factor in energy production, although you wouldn’t know it to listen to Mitch McConnell, the Senate president who manages to convince his Appalachian constituents that coal mining will be the wave of the future if they just continue to vote Republican.

But Saudi Arabia: Women there still can’t drive cars or travel without male escort. The royal family still is a monarchy with powers comparable to those of European royals hundreds of years ago. Americans thought they left all that behind back in the 1600s, but now we have a president who unabashedly makes his first priority abroad a visit to an absolute ruler in a complete theocracy.

And some of the people around him (especially the secretary of commerce) have so little understanding of democracy that they cheer about the lack of protestors. Is it that such men don’t know that a protestor in Saudi Arabia soon would be beheaded – or is it that they don’t care? Free speech is the enemy of fascism, and these guys have all the characteristics of fascists. Please ponder it.

Every predictor of peace and prosperity revolves around the status of women, and it’s not a far leap from Saudi Arabia to Africa. That huge continent never has had a prominent female leader – unlike the Middle East, which at least had Benazir Bhutto until conservative clergymen encouraged her assassination. Africa continues to indulge in civil wars, too, with women as a weapon of war. You may have seen that Nigeria’s factions recently exchanged a few male prisoners of war in return for some – but not all – of the teenage girls kidnapped and held as sex slaves several years ago. The report said many had babies, and some refused to come home to their parents because of that.

I heard an NPR report a while back following up on the civil war in Ghana two decades ago. Some intrepid guy has been using new United Nations guidelines on war crime to investigate rape there. In a place where women are especially reluctant to talk about this, he has identified some 250,000 cases of rape as a weapon of war! Imagine that. A quarter-million women who were used as a terrorist targets, as a way to force surrender. And even if we assign a low fertility rate – let’s say a mere 10% -- that’s 25,000 women with unwanted pregnancies. In a place where both contraception and abortion are rare. The radio report didn’t mention that factor, but I hope you will ponder it.

One more thing, and then I’ll switch subjects. Did you see the small item in the paper about a 68-year-old Ocala man who excused his rape of an eight-year-old girl because of her “provocative clothing?” There’s no need to expound on that, is there?

Who Rewrites Our Basic Document

I said I’d switch subjects, but even though this will be far less graphic, it nonetheless does come down to the same thing: the equal status of women, and how long it’s taken us to make the small progress that we have made. And as I said above, that’s not merely about the half of us born female, it’s also about peace and prosperity: an unequal society never can obtain life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. See the Vikings and modern Scandinavians.

So, on the other topic, you’ve heard by now that next year’s ballot will offer amendments to the Florida Constitution endorsed by the Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC). I’m going to hold off on thoughts about amendments, but instead address the history of women on the CRC. Florida had the first major revision of its Civil War era constitution in 1968, and it included a provision for a check-up a decade later, and then every twenty years afterwards. Thus we’ve had CRCs in 1968, 1978, 1998, and now 2018. The Constitution calls for a 36-member revision commission, and if you take the inclusion of women as a measurement of democracy, here’s the (alpha-order) deal.

1968 – Senator Beth Johnson of Orlando

1978 – Yvonne Burkholtz, Miami, Florida Education Association; Dr. Freddie Groom, African-American administrator at FSU; Lois Harrison, Polk County, state president of the League of Women Voters; Jan Platt, Tampa City Council; Stella Thayer, Tampa attorney and 1965 graduate of the law school at prestigious Columbia University

1998 – Martha Barnett, Tallahassee, second female president of the American Bar Association; Pat Barton, Naples realtor and Republican activist; Valerie Evans, home-school leader (and so obscure that I’ve never been able to research a residence, but she was appointed by House Speaker Daniel Webster of Orlando); Marilyn Evan-Jones, Melbourne, former legislator; Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, Dade County prosecutor; Barbara Williams Ford-Coates, Sarasota tax collector; Ellen Freidin, Miami, president of the Florida Association of Women Lawyers; Toni Jennings, Orlando, Senate president; Jacinta Mathis, Orlando, African-American attorney; Judith Byrne Riley, Pensacola, Florida Commission on the Status of Women

That’s one woman in 1968, five in 1978, and ten in 1998 (although at least three of the ten were not nearly as well qualified as the five in 1978). That year, 1998, was the end of the administration of Governor Lawton Chiles, who appointed five of the ten women. It’s the last example of equity, as this year, no appointing authority chose as many women. The Constitution provides for CRC appointments from the governor (15), the Speaker of the House (9), the Senate president (9), and the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court (3). The governor also appointed the CRC’s chair, Tea Partying developer Carlos Beruff of Bradenton. A perfect duplicate of Donald Trump, he made national news by calling President Obama “an animal.”

But back to women. They total 12 of the 36 members, a very slow gain from ten in the last CRC twenty years ago. The only one you are likely to know: Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa attorney, former legislator, and civil rights protestor back in the day. She pioneered the practice of law for African-American women in Florida, and not surprisingly, her position is due to the Florida Supreme Court. All other appointments were from Florida’s all-male, all-Republican leadership. Ponder that, too, please.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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