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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.

Sometimes it’s the tail that wags the dog

I was grateful for the photo of the Ruskin mailman in his gyrocopter because I wasn’t really sure what a gyrocopter is. Nor would I expect this toy-like sky vehicle to fly the distance between Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and Capitol Hill. I’m disappointed, though, that there’s been no discussion of why he chose Gettysburg for take-off: that can’t have been a coincidence. I’d like to know what he would say about that. To the extent that the media has given him any attention, it’s been on his worthy goal of campaign finance reform, but I’ve not seen a copy of the 535 letters he dropped for the 535 members of Congress. I’d like to.

The most jaw-dropping thing about this, though, is the sweet sense of innocence that this federal employee had about breaking the rules on air space in downtown DC. Or maybe he didn’t break the rules – maybe the rules don’t address the use of unarmed gyrocopters that deliver mail. In any case, he naively thought that his political action would not affect his federal employment and told his boss that he’d be in for work on Tuesday after being fitted for an electronic ankle bracelet on Monday. The boss apparently said no thanks. I guess he’s on administrative leave now. I’m wondering if it’s paid leave and how he is spending his time.

I think I know how he would be spending his time if he were not a white senior citizen from a small town who has an Anglo name. If his family had originated in the Middle East or North Korea or any part of the former USSR or probably even Africa or Latin America, he’d be languishing in a Washington jail. If his name were Al-Arian or Singh or anything that ends in “sky” or “kov,” he never would have been permitted to retrieve his car in Pennsylvania and drive back home to Ruskin. (And by the way, inquiring minds want to know if the town’s namesake, British philosopher John Ruskin, played any role in his decision-making.)

More seriously, since Congress passed the “Patriot Act,” thousands of people have been jailed, many without trial, merely for exercising their constitutional right to free speech -- and in comparison, this was a deliberated and planned overt act. I’m happy that prosecutors are going lightly on him, but we all should acknowledge how selective prosecution can be. And how much of a huge advantage remains for those of us who are white with Anglo names. It’s hard to walk in other’s shoes, but we should try. And we should not renew the Patriot Act with its secret courts and loopholes for ambitious prosecutors whose highest goal is to see their names in print.

* * *

That sort of mad-dog guy continues to lose their self-created wars, and Cuba is another example. My younger sister in Arkansas called recently to ask if I wanted to go to Cuba. Of course I do -- but not with an organized tour, as I don’t do well with getting up and on a bus early in the morning. She’s different and will share hotel rooms on the week-long tour with our nephew’s wife, who lives in California. Again, though, the jaw-dropping thing is that the tour is under the aegis of the Chamber of Commerce in North Little Rock, Arkansas. When that kind of organization in that kind of place goes to a “communist” country, there’s nothing more to be said. The fifty-year fight is over.

* * *

This sister also sent me a newspaper clipping about the 50th anniversary of a particularly beautiful rest stop in the Ozarks. I’d almost forgotten that before state departments of transportation took on this task, it was another thing that women did. When I was a child, they generally were called “wayside” stops and often were no more than a picnic table or two. Many were created by local branches of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, but this mountain retreat was sponsored by the Russellville Rotary Anns.

I’d almost forgotten about Rotary Anns, too. They were the female auxiliary of Rotary International and began in the 1920s, when women were not allowed to join the main organization. A 1987 Supreme Court decision changed that, and today very few Rotary Ann clubs maintain a separate existence. Jaycettes had an even shorter history: they were the female auxiliary of the Jaycees, the name used for the Junior Chamber of Commerce. Created in 1920 to provide leadership training for men between 18 and 40 who then would move on to the real Chamber of Commerce, its associated Jaycettes were essentially an auxiliary to an auxiliary. It lasted only ten years, beginning in the 1970s (when women were invented, you know) and ending in 1984, when the Supremes ruled that the Jaycees could not be male-only.

The integrating case, Roberts vs. United States Jaycees, was filed by a brave Minnesota woman. The last Jaycettes convention was in Atlanta – and yes, geography has something to do with it. Almost any progressive change can be mapped, and those maps will show the South still fighting the Civil War in its resistance to new ideas, especially acceptance of minorities and women. We Floridians, as residents of what now is the nation’s third-largest state, are under a special obligation to remember that.

* * *

Indeed, the whole concept of auxiliaries is fading – so much so that it may be useful to put them in their historical context. Most people today don’t know that women had no organizations until relatively recently. They went nowhere except church, and even there, no organizational opportunities existed. As a result, women did not learn to preside at meetings or keep books as treasurer or even take minutes as secretary. As late as the 1960s, when my Lutheran congregation made decisions, the voters were all male. My brothers were welcome at monthly “Voters” meetings, but I was not – even though I taught Sunday school, and they did not. We had the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League -- but in some congregations, the auxiliary didn’t even have that status and was merely “Ladies Aid.”

It’s rather startling to realize that not only did women lack organizations, but also that auxiliaries to male organizations were late in time. George Washington, for example, was a Mason -- but decades would pass after his death before Martha could have joined the Mason’s auxiliary: its Eastern Star didn’t begin until 1875. Organizations such as the Eastern Star then became a half-step for women evolving into independence. Yet although they were composed of women who willingly accepted a subordinate place, auxiliaries nonetheless performed functions that could be crucial to a cause.

Labor unions were especially quick to recognize this, and men in male-dominated industries such as mining formed women’s auxiliaries almost as soon as they organized themselves. (Women, of course, had their own unions almost as soon as they became industrial workers. They led a strike in the textile industry in 1824, just a few years after the power loom had been invented. But we are talking about auxiliaries here.) Without the rules of decorum imposed on upper-class women, blue-collar ones supported their men from the beginning, sometimes violently.

Women’s auxiliaries took on police that attempted to break strikes from coast to coast. Women were arrested and even killed while supporting men in places from Ludlow, Colorado to Lawrence, Massachusetts. In Michigan copper mines, they even dipped brooms in outhouses and attacked strikebreakers with them. Such violence largely was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and after federal law provided for union organization with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, protests were more peaceful. Still, it was the women’s auxiliary to the United Auto Workers that made the crucial difference in the great 1937 sit-down strike. Men sat down inside factories and refused to either work or leave – and would have starved had not their auxiliary delivered meals.

Final thought: While the usual case is that a female auxiliary derived from an earlier male group, the reverse can be true – even if seldom acknowledged by non-feminist members. Such conservative organizations as the Daughters of the Confederacy, for example, are older than the comparable male group, showing that it was women who provided the impetus and model for men. Moreover, conservative women, who usually lacked careers, were more likely than their men to create organizations that were larger, wealthier, and more active than the comparable male group. The Daughters of the American Revolution, for example, has almost a million members, but the Sons of the American Revolution doesn’t publicize its sagging membership anymore. Back when I researched this for my 1994 Prentice Hall book, the DAR had a staff of 150 in Washington, while the Sons managed only ten in Louisville. Sometimes – very often in the case of women – it’s the tail that wags the dog.

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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