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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.

Mourning is Breaking

I see signs of new life among progressives, especially women. They have stopped grieving over Hillary and are ready to trump Trump’s tricks. Some of the activist names I see in daily e-mails are familiar, but many are new. Some are veterans of feminist wars for equality, but others are young. For them, the election was an epiphany, and they have come to understand that the rights they took for granted can be ephemeral. As Thomas Jefferson said, “eternal vigilance is the cost of liberty” -- and some women were not very vigilant in this last election.

Too many thought that the rights we won for them back in the 1960s and 1970s never could disappear, but they can. Just one Supreme Court member can erase our decades of progress since then. Too many of those born after the 1970s have forgotten that in their mothers’ generation (mine), a potential purchaser of contraception in Connecticut had to show evidence that she was married, while in Massachusetts, no could buy birth control pills at any pharmacy anywhere.

At a recent holiday party, female friends of my age recalled how we could not get credit cards in our own names, and Hubby told them that the mortgage for our first house was in his name – even though he was a fulltime student, and I was the only actual worker. This, too, was in so-called liberal Massachusetts. We showed our guests the passport for our first visit to Europe: It was a dual one that described his height, weight, hair and eye color, birth date and place, etc. My only mention was my first name, listed under “wife.”

Passports, of course, are federal, and as it happened, I could get birth control pills in Massachusetts because Hubby had privileges at an Army hospital there, governed by federal law. My civilian friends, however, could not buy them until after we moved here in 1972. That was the result of a US Supreme Court decision that struck down such state restrictions on reproductive freedom. Moreover, the birth control pill itself was the product of laboratory research funded by Planned Parenthood.

Recent right-wingers have been much too successful at portraying Planned Parenthood as solely an abortion provider, not the scientific protector of women’s health that it is. I’m glad to see its leadership is greeting the new Republican administrations with rallies and lobbying events not only in Washington, but also in Tallahassee – and even here in Hillsborough and Pinellas. Nothing is more important to global peace and prosperity, as well as to the freedom of individual women, than the implementation of the goal that Planned Parenthood adopted more than a century ago: “Every child a wanted child.”

Planned Parenthood’s leadership consistently has been strong during outrageous and even lethal attacks on them, and now I see that NOW – the most important organization in the mold-breaking 1970s – is reviving, too, with lots of planned political action events. The new group from which I’m getting the most Facebook notifications, however, cleverly has titled itself “Surly Feminists for the Revolution.” Attorney Erin Aebel leads it locally, and I’ll quote her:

“I created the Surly Feminists for the Revolution after being extremely traumatized by the presidential election. It wasn’t just being sad about the Democrats losing. I was distraught about a Trump presidency and incredibly frustrated that a woman still cannot achieve the highest office… I felt like I was going to slip into a depression, so I connected with other women who were feeling the same way. There are so many folks who wanted to vent in a safe place and so many new activists looking to take immediate political action…

“We are doing socially significant acts to combat misogyny and prejudice. We are a sanctuary from negativity. We are open to all…and not associated with a particular political party. We do not participate in illegal actions and endeavor to be kind and ethical. We can be serious, and we also like to have fun.” Surly Feminists, as well as other groups, are hosting anti-inauguration parties on and around January 20. You can find them online. And I’m delighted that our daughters and granddaughters have discovered that freedom isn’t free.

Another Time and Place

The key to understanding ourselves always is to know our past, and that is true of every subject area. So often, though, we ignore entire eras and cultures, behaving as if they never existed until we belatedly learned of them. We are like little children who think that the world disappears when they close their eyes. Or like Archie Bunker, who said that there were no African-Americans until Eleanor Roosevelt discovered them.

So it may surprise you that about the same time Planned Parenthood began with a Brooklyn health clinic, Gertrude Bell was riding a camel across unmapped Arabian deserts. An Englishwoman from a wealthy family, she ignored the social mores of her time to explore a region that was little known to outsiders -- and still is, as our nation’s recent unsuccessful military adventurers have shown.

Like other women of her era, Bell was excluded from educational opportunities that had been open to male students for centuries, but she was born in time to go to Lady Margaret Hall, a women’s division of Oxford University. She graduated with honors in modern history and made her first trip to the Middle East in 1892, visiting family who were assigned to the British embassy in Tehran. It was mostly her own hard work, however, that made her fluent in a half-dozen languages, including Turkish, Farsi, and Arabic.

She would spend the rest of her life going back and forth between England and the Middle East, and she published her first book, Persian Pictures, in 1894. I read it before reading the diaries she later complied, and I would suggest that you skip Persian Pictures: It’s too pretty, full of moonlit deserts and oases of jasmine and oranges. Its title reminded me of people I know here in East Hillsborough who, when asked about their ethnicity, say that they are Persian, because the modern word – Iranian – is too controversial. It also reminds me of other people who defend everything Israeli, but aren’t so sure about the Jews next door.

Gertrude Bell Confronts the Middle East

In January of 1914, at age 45, Gertrude Bell set off from Amman, Jordan, to spend five months crossing desert in winter snow and spring heat. She went east as far as Baghdad (now in Iraq) and returned to Damascus (now in Syria) via Palmyra, an ancient city currently claimed by the Islamic State. Along the way, she encountered tribes such as the Druze, Shia, Rashid, and Saudi – of which we hear on the news, but still understand relatively little.

Bell was a photographer, quite a new thing in 1914. Her trip’s diary, which was published in 2000 by the University of Syracuse, features stunning photographs of both landscapes and people (including women, something that might be less likely today). She carried the latest in equipment, including a panoramic camera, a telephoto lens, and great quantities of (black-and-white) film. With the intent to photograph the ruins of ancient settlements before the twentieth century engulfed them, she also developed expertise in archeology, also new at that time.

And she was a cartographer who used scientific equipment to measure latitudes and draw maps. The most important use for a map there, of course, was to find the vital watering holes that nomadic tribes jealousy guarded against each other. Almost all of the tribes she encountered were at war with another, or had been in the not-too-distant past. Moreover, she probably was a spy in the European sense, with at least informal connections to British authorities in Egypt. Her trip ended in May 1914 – and in August, World War I began.

Then the information she had gained from Germans who were building the Berlin-Baghdad Railroad would prove important to this fight between Britain and Germany. Yes, she spoke German, too, as well as French, and had friends in high places. In simply making polite dinner conversation, both European businessmen and local emirs answered questions that would have raised suspicions had a man asked them. A couple of times, her visits to emirs were unwillingly extended while they checked with higher authorities on whether or not they should allow her to move on, but she never retreated from her plan.

Local rulers insisted that she employ a “rajl,” a man they trusted to take her from one place to the next. As far as I could tell, though, no woman accompanied her, and her references to “the women’s tent” seem to be only to her own tent. She always had about a dozen men with her, but she hired and fired along the way. Many did not want to go further. An exception to that was an African slave: It was unclear who owned him, but he was perhaps the most sensible and certainly the most loyal. He wanted to go to England with her.

These men did the cooking, packing, and other chores, while twenty or more camels carried equipment and supplies, including her portable bathtub and writing desk. She also controlled the guns, but handed out rifles if danger threatened. And when things did not work out as planned, she suffered the same thirst and hunger as her hired men. None seemed to question her decision-making authority, although they frequently displayed fear and tried to dissuade her from going into lands claimed by enemies.

Well, I’ve used my share of ink. Next week, I’ll tell you more.


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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