Where Do We Go From Here?

 

 

 

By Beverly George
ACE Leader

In this time of COVID-19, Black Lives Matter protesters have been marching for over three weeks. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and now Rayshard Brooks. The hanging deaths of Robert Fuller in Palmdale, California, on June 10 and of Malcolm Harsch in neighboring San Bernardino County on May 31 were first reported as suicides, but are now under further investigation. The list of black victims seems to never end, not even with resounding protests in our streets.

Where do we go from here?

That question led me last week to Oprah Winfrey’s webinar of the same name with a distinguished panel of experts. Her guests elucidated the constant fear of black Americans who are just trying to live their daily lives in our country. Discussion of the their experience was compelling. The panel also covered what they want white people in our country to know and what they want white people to do. Current protests offer all of us a chance to begin a long process of making our democracy stronger so that it can deliver to all Americans the promise of equal justice under the law.

Winfrey’s panel included Charles Blow, from the New York Times; David Oyelowo, the actor who played Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma”; Nikole Hannah-Jones of The 1619 Project, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, director of the documentary, “13th”; Jennifer Eberhardt Ph. D., professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See; Ibram X. Kendi, Ph. D., author of How To Be an Antiracist; Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; Stacey Abrams, champion of voting rights and author of Our Time is Now; Rashad Robinson, civil rights leader and president of Color of Change; and Bishop William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.

Barber listed five interlocking injustices that affect poor people, particularly black people, in America: systemic racism, systematic poverty, ecological devastation, denial of healthcare, and our nation’s war economy.

“The system is not broken,” said DuVernay. “It was built this way.”

Barber further cited “the false oral narrative of religious nationalism that consecrates all this evil.” What a bold, clear assessment.

All of this takes its toll on the black community, according to Eberhardt. “When we suffer, people are numb. People don’t feel we’re as vulnerable to pain,” she said.

“It’s a collective grief in the history of black Americans,” Hannah-Jones added. “White Americans will tolerate it until something egregious happens.”

I am a first wave Baby Boomer, born in 1946 in Atlanta, Georgia, born with white privilege. While my family worked hard to secure their place in the middle class, we had the advantage of our white skin. We did not have to seek food service from the back door of a café, take a seat at the rear of a bus, look hard and long for a public restroom or water fountain, worry about an encounter with the police or public officials, or fret about the logistics of making a purchase in a store. Today, the Jim Crow laws from my youth have been replaced with voter suppression laws and a two-faced legal justice system in many states.

I embrace my responsibility to push for change for black and brown Americans who have struggled for over 400 years. Paraphrasing a woman protesting somewhere in our nation last week, “You should all celebrate that we do not want revenge. We only want to live equal under the law!” This applies to law enforcement and court rulings, but it extends far beyond that.

Black lives matter. “Equal under the law” should apply to healthcare, education, the environment, equal pay for equal work, voting rights, and more. Our black brothers and sisters need us to stand united with them to this goal. When their lives improve, we will leave white privilege behind, and together, we will all embrace the American privilege of being equal under the law.

Isabel Wilkerson spoke at the College of DuPage in 2018. I had devoured her book, The Warmth of Other Suns, and I looked forward to hearing her discuss it.

Sometimes when you hear an author speak, you take away a beautiful, golden nugget of truth that sticks to the very fabric of your being. I am paraphrasing her now, but here’s the gist of that truth Wilkerson offered. She said that when one group of people continually tries to hold down another group in a ditch, that first group has to crawl down in the ditch themselves to control and suppress the other. I recall thinking in that moment—as I do even now—how absolutely exhausting this all is and has been for 400 years. It diminishes us all to continue this American caste system, born as slavery in 1619.

For the sake of our black and brown brothers and sisters, we must change this now. Together we can pull each other out of that deep, bloody ditch.

Therefore, I urge all ACE members and friends to get to work and advocate now for the following that disproportionately affect black and brown Americans.

 

Access the Ballot and Vote by Mail

Access the ballot in all states —now and in the future—by mail. Voters should be able to vote safely and comfortably in their homes and mail their ballots to be counted. What happened with the Wisconsin and Georgia primaries gave us a preview of how November 3 will play out. Polling sites will be closed and condensed into fewer without proper notice. Votes will inevitably be denied as poll books are not updated in time. Voting machines will not be rigorously tested nor learned to secure a smooth election process. All of these and more will produce a successful and complex strategy for overall voter suppression. Vote by Mail (VBM) works and delivered reliable election results in Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Utah, and Hawaii.

First, you can register to vote online at https://ova.elections.il.gov . If you’re not registered, but will be 18 years old on November 3, 2020, you can also register online today using that link.

Second, on June 16, 2020, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law expanding our state’s existing Vote by Mail process. The new law, effective immediately, applies only to the 2020 general election on November 3, 2020, and it is aimed at ensuring “safe and active participation in the 2020 general election during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” Local election officials must mail or email absentee ballot applications to voters who have participated in recent elections, namely, the 2018 general (mid-term) election, the 2019 consolidated election, or the 2020 general primary held on March 17, 2020. The applications will also be mailed to voters who registered or changed addresses after the March primary.

When you receive your application for an absentee ballot, fill it out and return it by October 1, 2020 to receive your ballot by October 6, 2020. The final step is to complete your ballot and return it. You do not have to wait until November 3 to mail your ballot. Vote by Mail works smoothly, is more convenient for most voters, and delivers reliable election results as we’ve seen in Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Utah, and Hawaii. The number of ballots cast is always higher in a VBM state because it makes the ballot accessible to more voters. Higher voter turnout is a healthy nonpartisan outcome that strengthens a democracy.

Third, take on your own grassroots project. Pick Wisconsin or Georgia and write a letter or email their state house members advocating for Vote By Mail.

 

Census: Fill It Out and Encourage Others to Do the Same

Census data is due August 14, 2020. If you’ve answered the Census 2020 questions, pat yourself on the back. Then, phone or email your friends and family, here and in other states, and encourage them to do the same. The complete response from each community now will determine the amount of federal funds they’ll receive for public education and other services for the next ten years.

 

Encourage Reform of the Criminal Justice System

We need to rethink and reconstruct law enforcement. Chokeholds and other brute force measures should be outlawed, primarily because they are too often used disproportionately on black or brown people stopped for a broken taillight or a DUI. Social services should respond to drug overdose and mental health calls, not armed police officers. I think we can find an effective model for reform in other countries like the U.K.

Prisons for Profit must end. To fill these businesses, black and brown people, including minor children, who have been found guilty are sentenced to lengthy, unjust terms. Bryan Stephenson’s Equal Justice Initiative provides the numbers here to show that America is, indeed, number one in the industry of incarceration.

This is a beginning. More changes will be needed later. Let’s get to work.

 

For more ways to be an ally, visit our Human Rights Committee page.

 

Sources

http://www.oprah.com/app/own-tv.html

http://www.oprah.com/own-wheredowegofromhere/part-1_1

http://www.oprah.com/own-wheredowegofromhere/part-2

https://ova.elections.il.gov

https://my2020census.gov

https://www.dailyherald.com/news/20200616/pritzker-signs-vote-by-mail-expansion-declares-election-day-a-state-holiday

https://eji.org/criminal-justice-reform/

 


ACE Leader Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.

 

 

The #MeToo Movement and the ERA

By Beverly George, ACE Leader

There has been a cacophony of “Me, too!” cries recently from scores of women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace by men in power.

On October 5th, Harvey Weinstein began the long parade of powerful men in business, entertainment, and politics losing their jobs, with more men getting their marching orders every day. The range of odious behavior directed to women begins with inappropriate, rude, or crude comments or actions, and extends to lewd or criminal behavior.

While I am pleased to see the spotlight shine on these heinous acts, I have some nagging thoughts.

First, what about the victims of sexual harassment or assault from a less famous employer, such as the manager of the local corner store, restaurant, manufacturing plant, or car dealership? Will these victims have the courage to tell their stories, or will they fear losing the jobs they desperately need? Will these men be held accountable?

Second, I’ve read about the standing procedure for making a complaint of sexual abuse in the Congress and in other high offices. In the past, victims have received financial settlements, but at the very high personal price of signing non-disclosure agreements so ironclad, the offenders’ names can never be disclosed, enabling them to continue their illicit behavior. I resent mightily that my tax dollars are used to pay the settlements and keep the cloak of secrecy in place while the wheels of these crimes roll over additional victims.

 

‘I resent mightily that my tax dollars are used to pay the settlements and keep the cloak of secrecy in place while the wheels of these crimes roll over additional victims.’

 

Third, the repercussions for an assailant in business is immediate and severe as it should be, but politicians spend a lot of time denying (even with multiple, credible victims) and then dithering. They seem to get a pass if they can ride out the 72-hour news cycle that immediately follows. And when they deny strongly and continuously, many of their female supporters join their cheerleading squad! When I see Alabama women support Roy Moore in spite of the numerous accusers, I am completely dumbstruck. Moore’s incongruous support from women makes me brace for a backlash after the initial, wide support for victims.

Fourth, I worry the emphasis in the media will shift from the deep and enduring harm done to the victims by these predators, to the perceived-as-too-harsh penalties paid by them. Could we hear this statement in the not-so-distant future? “He lost his job, his business, his reputation, his family, his position in the community.” This could backlash into silencing the victims again. And if one, just one, woman’s story is found to be false, the backlash to women will be immediate and acute, and all future testimonies will be discredited with doubt and a suspected “woman scorned” motivation.

I’ve heard TV pundits say we need to keep the conversation going and try to find the elements in our culture that have promoted, or at least allowed, the prevalence of sexual abuse by men in power to grow.

I believe America has a very real caste system. It is a part of American society or culture that people of color and people of lower economic income are valued less than their white or wealthier neighbors. I see it in the prosecution of our laws, differences in public education systems, low minimum wage, investments in community infrastructure, and recent legislative efforts to lessen or remove critical social services from those most in need.

Does this devaluation of some American lives extend to women in America? The evidence indicates it does. American women workers still earn $0.80 on the dollar for the same work done by men. Recent GOP efforts to repeal and replace the ACA had men writing the legislation to determine and limit reproductive health choices for women. The legislation they wrote without any women’s voices effectively categorized women as chattel. The sexual abuse of women in the workplace is just another symptom of the inequality of women.

 

‘Would passing the ERA change the status of women?’

 

Would passing the Equal Rights Amendment change the status of women? I’m a realist, as well as a feminist, and I believe positive outcomes from adding the ERA to the U.S. Constitution would evolve through the courts, albeit slowly. However, passing the ERA would immediately raise hope, raise voices, and give power to women, and the men who support them, to secure their equal rights under the Constitution. The ERA would have a greater and more lasting effect on women’s lives than any single or multiple pieces of legislation, too often diluted by subsequent efforts to repeal, to revise, or to interpret differently from the original intent.

Passing the ERA into Constitutional law is long overdue. When women are securely equal to men under the Constitution, more of them will be empowered to advocate for themselves in the workplace and not just on the subject of salary.

May the chorus of #MeToo play on.

 


ACE Leader Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.

‘Equal Means Equal’ Illustrates Why We Need the ERA

 

By Beverly George, ACE Leader

 

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

I went to see the documentary film, “Equal Means Equal,” last Wednesday night, presented by the League of Women Voters (LWV), Naperville and Will County chapters, at the Naperville Municipal Center.

This film is about the yet-to-be-ratified-and-only-two-states-away Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and why passing it now should be foremost in the collective minds of American women and men.

Bonnie Grabenhofer from the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Michelle Fadeley of Illinois-NOW spoke before the film and offered a history of the amendment and its current status in the Illinois House and Senate. Nevada was the thirty-sixth state to ratify the ERA last March, and Illinois is one of the two states needed that hasn’t passed it yet, but remains one of the best chances for ratification. If Illinois passes it, there is a strong hope and belief that either Virginia, North Carolina, or Florida would be the thirty-eighth, and last required ratifying state.

What can we do right now to facilitate ratification in Illinois? Write or call your state senator and representative and urge them to ratify the ERA when it comes up for a vote in the next two weeks or in March after the primary.

 

‘What can we do right now to facilitate ratification in Illinois?
Write or call your state senator and representative and urge them to ratify the ERA when it comes up for a vote in the next two weeks or in March after the primary.’

 

The film covered more than the history of the ERA. It built a strong argument for it based on the unequal treatment of women in America that hasn’t stopped since Thomas Jefferson took pen in hand to write the familiar words of “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights . . .”

In 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment handily passed both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Richard Nixon quickly signed it, and on March 22, 1972, the amendment was sent to the states for ratification. Deadlines to get thirty-eight states to ratify were extended several times to 1982. See the national map here. Although taking several decades to be passed, the ERA should not have to start the ratification process over again, based on the historic precedent of the Madison amendment, which took 202 years to be ratified. It was submitted in 1789 and ratified in 1992.

Back in 1982, when it failed to get the required thirty-eight (it hit a wall at 35), new arguments had been raised and drowned it out, namely that women would be better off with individual laws passed to protect specific rights. But we know from recent laws, such as the Affordable Care Act and laws regulating power plant emissions, they are subject to subsequent administrations being on board with, or the Supreme Court interpreting said laws to function as they were intended.

In these political times, that’s not likely to happen. It is mandatory the ERA be a ratified constitutional amendment if we want to secure for women their equal rights under the law. Women were chattel then, and in many ways, we still are.

 

‘Women were chattel then, and in many ways, we still are.’

 

 

Health care plans for women typically come with premiums higher by 13%.

Women who defend themselves from sexual or physical abuse from their husbands very often go to prison. The argument of self-defense is weaker than the argument that a husband has a “right” to sexual relations. These women are often beaten into submission.

Sexual abuse and harassment is about power, whether in the home or in the workplace. Consider the taped bragging of President Donald Trump when he yammered on with Billy Bush on “Access Hollywood.” His wealth gave him power to grope women for his amusement, pleasure, and affirmation of power. A more recent example is Harvey Weinstein. He was exercising his power over women’s acting careers for his amusement, pleasure, and affirmation of power. Let the recent fortissimo #MeToo refrain play on.

Child sex trafficking in the United States affects young girls far more often than young boys. A case highlighted in the film centered on a 12-year-old girl who ran away from home and within three days, fell into the hands of a pimp who put her on the streets as a prostitute. When a 47-year-old male was apprehended with her, and because money had changed hands for sexual favors, the legal principle against an adult sexually assaulting a minor went out the window, and girl was charged with the act of prostitution and ultimately sentenced to jail for several years, while the 47-year-old male paid a nominal fine. If the circumstances of the crime and arrest had featured the 47-year-old male with a 12-year-old boy, would the outcome have been the same?

The documentary also covers the need for equal pay for equal work, known as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The difficulty with lawsuits that claim discrimination in the workplace based on sex is the need to establish or prove intent to discriminate. These cases are not judged on a preponderance of evidence, which is easier to prove.

If you haven’t seen the documentary, I encourage you to see it ASAP. It’s showing at several LWV meetings around the suburbs. Check screening dates and times at http://equalmeansequal.com, and take your family, friends, and neighbors, male and female. Be aware that it is adult viewing.

One last word. All of us, women and men, need the Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution. When General John Kelly held his press conference on October 19 defending Mr. Trump’s remarks to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, he went on to lament that when he was growing up, “Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor.”

My hope is that we not be held sacred nor put on a pedestal of honor. Just give us our equal rights under the Constitution, and we’ll take it from there.


ACE Leader Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.