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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.

Perhaps the Most Important Organization Ever

In America, that is. At least, the most important outside of government, a private entity funded with small donations from members. That would be the League of Women Voters, which after a century or so, continues to pull us out of our mire. You think there’s fraudulent voting now? Try looking back a century or so, when politicians openly bought a virtually all-male electorate with free drinks at saloons in exchange for their vote. Party bosses gave or withheld public employment depending on how someone voted. They picked up your garbage or didn’t, again depending on what they perceived as your political leanings. And no one thought that was wrong.

Countless numbers of these male voters were illiterate in any language, and many more were non-citizens. As long as they were white and could stumble into the polling place, no one checked on backgrounds. The parties dealt with illiteracy by adopting the elephant for Republicans and the donkey for Democrats, and all the voter had to do was put his pre-marked ballot in the box that matched the animal. There were lots of minority parties then, too, and they used differing colors of ballots. No need to mark any offices at all – just drop the appropriate color. It worked for everyone on the slate. Some men went from poll to poll, picking up drinks along the way.

Nothing enraged Susan B. Anthony and other feminists more than this joke of electioneering. She and countless others were former teachers who inculcated the duty of voting under classroom American flags – but could not vote themselves, no matter how well informed they were. Or how long their families had been in America or how much they paid in taxes. They finally won in 1920, more than a decade after Anthony’s 1906 death. The League of Women Voters soon will celebrate its centennial, having formed in 1919 when it was probable that the nation would ratify the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which granted all voting rights to women in all states.

Before that, though, women voted in several places, with the first being the Wyoming Territory in 1869. By 1911, enough states had fully enfranchised women they formed the National Council of Women Voters. It was an optimistic name, though, as the Council represented just four contiguous states: Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho. Bit by bit, the surrounding states joined the map, and then in 1917, New York. Florida never did, but that’s another story.

A Big Segue Here, but Hang In

Having won the vote, women used it, with some success and some failures (or let’s say, instead, “some long delays.”) Of the first two bills they pushed through Congress in the 1921-22 session, one worked and the other would have worked if the Republican administration had owned a spine. The one that worked was the Cable Act, which overturned the State Department’s longtime practice of granting automatic citizenship to a foreign woman if she married an American man – while cancelling the citizenship of a native-born woman if she married a foreigner. The other one was the Sheppard-Towner Act, which pioneered free maternal and infant health care until Congress, panicked by the fall of Wall Street, killed it in 1929.

The League nonetheless carried on with its lofty goals, and still does. Unafraid of controversy, Leaguers now want you to think about the issue that most politicians still dodge: gun control. Despite thousands of lives lost every year because of illegal guns, despite the massacre of hundreds of innocent people everywhere from a Connecticut elementary school to an outdoor Vegas concert, most elected officials still are unwilling to stand up to the National Rifle Association. Indeed, the NRA should change its name, as it doesn’t limit its support of weapons to rifles. High-powered assault weapons, mounted rockets, bombs, whatever -- it’s all fine with them. Which leads me to the motto I’ve used with myself for a long time. I’ve finally gotten up the courage to share it with you.

Only Grandmothers Should Have Guns

You want a gun? Go live with your grandmother. You don’t have a grandmother? Find one. The only requirement is that she be old enough to be eligible for Social Security. She even can use that money to buy a gun, but if you want to use it, you have to take her with you. Wouldn’t that cut down on crime? We’d have a few pistol-packin’ grandmas, but not many. They’d be spending that money instead on food and other necessities, leaving the men who commit the vast majority of violent crimes sitting on the couch without a rod.

Seriously, the League wants to hear your thoughts on gun control and on how we can develop a strategy that will force lawmakers to strengthen their backbones and take guns off the streets. Cops will like that; trust me. Law enforcement would love a world in which instant death was a lower probability. We could do gun buy-backs. We could close down illegal sales. We certainly could close down gun fairs in which weapons are sold without waiting periods and background checks.

So if you want to add to this conversation, please go to what promises to be an interesting evening called “Ballots, Not Bullets: How Florida Voters Can Influence Gun Safety.” The local League of Women Voters will host this on Tuesday, January 23, so you have plenty of time to put it on your calendar. It’s from 5:30-7:30 at the Children’s Board building in Ybor City, at 1002 Palm Avenue. That’s easy to get to from I-4 and there’s plenty of secure parking, so don’t let that be your excuse.

The featured panel is excellent: Ernest Hooper, popular Tampa Bay Times columnist and resident of my East Hillsborough area; Andrew Warren, newly elected state attorney and criminal justice reformer; and my old friend Dr. Kathleen Heide, a USF criminologist who specializes in children who kill. I don’t know the other two panelists, but I’ll be interested to get to see them in action: Captain Yvette Flynn of the Tampa Police Department and Pattie Bingham, who chairs the Florida League’s Gun Safety Committee. I don’t know for a fact that there will be food for the famished at 5:30, but it’s a good possibility. Check out RSVP@hclwv.org.

I Threw Away a Book

I never do that. When I want to find space on our crowded shelves, I think of someone who might like the book or Hubby takes it to a used book store. But with this book, I didn’t even want anyone else to see the cover. Written by a man who dedicated it to his brothers and published in Britain in 1986, I don’t remember how I acquired The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations. It’s not humorous, though; instead, it’s misogynist and demeaning to women. I trust no garbage man will rescue it from its intended fate at the county’s Faulkenburg Road incinerator. But it is a good measure of what appeared to be funny a couple of decades ago is no longer.

The cover featured four men and two women, and four of the six quotes are sexist. A woman says, “It’s not the men in my life that count, it’s the life in my men,” while the other proclaims, “One more drink and I’ll be under the host.” A man thinks it’s hilarious to announce, “A woman drove me to drink and I never even had the courtesy to thank her.” The worst is a man who apparently thinks that advocating open violence against women is worth a laugh: “Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.”

We’ve made progress. I remember that when I was young, the most common staple of stand-up comedy was men (almost all comedians back then were men) who told mother-in-law jokes. This transferred from the stage to television. Remember black-and-white television’s “Jackie Gleason Show?” Ralph Cramden not only regularly used his fist threatening to send his wife “to the moon,” he also frequently complained about his mother-in-law. On the few occasions when we saw her, however, she was quite sweet. And also quite right to view Ralph as egotistically stubborn because he forbade Alice from employment while they lived in a two-room apartment. Yes, that’s two rooms, not two bedrooms.

After women began to be featured on some sit-coms in the 1970s, mother-in-law abuse began to fade – and a decade or two later, roles reversed. Shows such as “Grace Under Fire” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” featured mothers-in-law whose blind favoritism towards their sons merited jocular responses from daughters-in-law. Like everything else, humor is complicated – and it quickly becomes obsolete as times change. The best place for this particular “humor,” therefore, is in the trash.


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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