Editorials

From Connecticut – to Florida – to California

November 8, 2018

While we still try to process how the results of the midterm elections will affect commonsense gun legislation, we have once again awakened to news of a mass shooting.  As we write this, 12 people have reportedly been killed in Thousand Oaks, California.  Again, students–this time college students–face the horror of having friends gunned down in a senseless act of gun violence.

As we watch this latest incident, the Parkland students in Florida (14 students, 3 teachers killed) are facing the reality of the midterms. Despite their rallies and their work to register young voters, despite their efforts to support candidates who favor gun control legislation, Florida voters elected an NRA-backed governor and the NRA candidate for U.S senator is holding a lead.

At our December 13 monthly meeting, as we remember the 20 first graders and 6 adults shot in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, we will hear from a panel of young St. Louis activists inspired by the Parkland students. They will be asked what they see as the future of their movement to end gun violence and they will seek our support. We must come to that meeting prepared to listen to them and give them more–much more– than superficial encouragement.

Back to the midterm election: Perhaps because of the national efforts energized by the Parkland students, two dozen NRA-backed candidates were defeated and 88 representatives were elected who support commonsense legislation.  Now, what do we do?

Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Statement

October 27, 2018

Women’s Voices was shocked today by an act of violence at a Pittsburgh synagogue by a man shouting anti-Semitic remarks as he shot and killed his victims. This occurred in the wake of bomb threats by a Florida man who seems to have been influenced by the uncivil rhetoric and political division in our country. We were appalled by the President’s suggestion, just hours after the shootings, to have armed guards in our places of worship and his encouragement of the use of the death penalty. Instead, we urge our members and friends to demand that our government leaders speak out against hateful speech and that they condemn the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories. We encourage Americans to return to civil treatment of everyone, regardless of their religion, race, national origin, gender identity or political positions.

When we wake up in the morning, we now wonder what tragedy or horrible news we will be greeted with when we open our papers, turn on our TVs or check our phones. More often than not, we do hear awful news that makes apparent the shameful state of our society, whether it be a shooting of an unarmed black man, a white woman calling police on a black person going about his or her daily life, migrant families being mistreated at our border, another school shooting, a child killed, or talking heads denying clearly visible realities.

These times call for a principled and concentrated response by people who believe in helping others and in sensible approaches to our problems. Now more than ever we urge people of good will to insist on the truth, call their elected officials, demand commonsense gun laws, write letters, speak at events, and vote for ethical candidates.

Mary Clemons and Ruth Ehresman, co-presidents Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice

Impact of Women’s Voices Racial Justice efforts

October 11, 2018

Read Mary Clemons’s statement on how the efforts of Women’s Voices racial justice focused programs and book club have impacted her life.

America, Home of the Terrified

October 1, 2018

Commentary in the Post-Dispatch by Women’s Voices co-founder, Barbara Finch

Several weeks ago, I was with a group from Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice at an event in a park in north St. Louis County. We were there to provide gun safety information to adults and children, to encourage safe storage practices for firearms, and to provide free gun locks to adults who had unsecured guns in their homes.

We had given away about 40 locks when a man approached the table and said that he needed a gun lock. Because we demonstrate the best ways to lock up both revolvers and pistols, I asked the man what kind of gun he had.

“This kind,” he said, drawing a pistol from his pants pocket and placing it on the table in front of me.

I’ve been working on gun violence prevention for more than five years, and this interaction drove home for me the normalization of gun culture in American life. Ironically, it occurred at an event called “Peace Fest” and the park grounds, bustling with families and children, were studded with signs saying, “We Must Stop Killing Each Other.”

Through its “Lock It For Love” program, Women’s Voices has been providing free gun locks throughout the community in an effort to keep children safe. Stories abound of children in St. Louis killed or injured by unsecured guns: the 2-year-old who shot himself in the stomach with a gun he found at his grandmother’s house; the teenager who wanted to take a selfie with a gun he found in his parents’ closet; the young boy who shot his brother with a gun he found in a dresser drawer. These stories are horrible, but they happen so often that we’ve gotten used to them. They have become normal.

What is also apparently normal is the sometimes-bizarre way that adults have told us they store their guns. One man, who refused a gun lock, told us that he keeps his gun between the cushions of his sofa so he will have easy access when someone breaks down the front door. (His wife returned to our table 15 minutes later, without him, and accepted a lock). People have told us that they keep guns under the bed, under the pillows, in dresser drawers, on the top shelf of closets, and behind loose bricks in their fireplace.

Guns are everywhere, and they are now accepted as accessories or attractions. Women can purchase “conceal/carry handbags” (with either left or right-hand draws). We routinely see ads for gun shows on billboards and in our daily newspaper. Some churches and some politicians raffle off firearms or use guns as attendance prizes.

As the frenzy to normalize firearm ownership has become more intense, so too have our efforts to keep ourselves safe. It’s now routine for us to tolerate searches of our purses before we enter sporting events, concerts or synagogues. It’s not unusual for office buildings, courts and schools to have metal detectors. We accept that our kindergarten children will learn to cope with frightening “intruder drills” and our high schoolers will take their cell phones into the closet with them during lockdowns so they can text terrified goodbye messages to their parents.

This is the new normal in America: land of the free and home of the terrified. The National Rifle Association has been successful in its effort to scare us to death so we will all feel that the only way to be safe is to have a gun. Violence is pervasive and so is the fear of violence. Some of us are so paralyzed by it that we are afraid to shop at the Galleria or drive downtown for dinner.

Because we’ve become conditioned to fear, we buy firearms, which we think will keep us safe. But they don’t, and the proliferation of firearms has resulted in us being less safe. It’s a vicious but common circle in America today.

So how do we break this circle? Maybe we could heed the words of the late Helen Keller, who wrote: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

Helen Keller was blind and deaf. And she was very smart.

Our Thoughts are with Jason Kander

Jason Kander

October 2, 2018

In June Women’s Voices was honored to have Jason Kander speak to us at a reception to kick off our Annual Fundraising Campaign. Voting rights has been an issue for which we have raised our voices since our founding in 2005. Jason talked to us about his work as director of Let America Vote. As we reported after the event, “he kept the packed room spellbound, describing a host of states’ voter-suppression efforts, as well as hopeful initiatives to encourage citizens to cast their vote to make meaningful policy change.”

We are saddened to learn that Jason Kander has decided to take “a step back from day-to-day operations at Let America Vote” and has withdrawn from the campaign he began in the summer for mayor of Kansas City in order to seek help from the VA for the PTSD he has tried not to acknowledge.

We thank Jason for the work he has done and for the thousands of people he has touched through his writing, his speeches and the work to protect our voting rights and to register voters across the country. We admire him for this work and now admire him even more for the strength he has shown in facing his depression and PTSD symptoms.

We wish Jason and his family well as he begins the important work of dealing with his illness. He has set a wonderful example by coming forward and honestly speaking out. We hope that he will serve as a hopeful model to others who may be struggling with mental illnesses.

The VA Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255, and non-veterans can use that number as well.

Dr. Ford’s Voice: Our Voices

Christine Blasey Ford

September 28, 2018

The world seemed to stop for many of us when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford sat before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 27 and described a decades-old sexual assault that she had endured at the hands of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Members of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice would like to thank Dr. Ford for the courage she displayed in delivering her compelling testimony. We are proud to add our collective voices to hers and to speak up, forcefully and clearly, for equality, fairness, and justice.
Thirteen years ago four women sat on the porch of a home in Maplewood and wondered:  what could they do to make the world a better place?
The answer they arrived at was two-fold:  they could learn, from the best experts they could find, about the critical issues facing us today. Then, they could speak out.
For many of us, the learning has been a joy. Often eye-opening, sometimes frustrating, frequently maddening–but we have learned, from experts and from individuals impacted by injustices.
For some of us, speaking out has been more difficult. But we have tried, in a variety of ways, to communicate what we have learned and what we believe.  We have rallied, lobbied, marched, written letters, composed commentaries, phoned, and met with decision-makers.
We believe in the power of human voices, especially women’s voices, to call attention to human suffering in all its myriad forms. Nothing demonstrated this more eloquently than the compelling words and quiet dignity demonstrated by Dr. Ford, as she sat before a panel of judgmental legislators and banks of reporters, photographers and cameras and told her story. Thank you, Dr. Ford, on behalf of all of us.
We invite everyone who is reading this:  Take time to learn about the issues. Then, use your words. Join us. Support us. There is strength in numbers. There is energy in working together.  There is much to learn, and much to do, to make “justice for all” a reality in America.
Barbara L. Finch, co-founder and past president

Letter to Mayor and Police Chief of Clayton, Missouri

July 19, 2018

On behalf of the 500 members of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, most of whom live in the St. Louis area, we write to insist that the City of Clayton and the Clayton Police Department take ownership of the racial profiling of the 10 Washington University students stopped after leaving the I Hop July 7.

We would be remiss if we did not seek your acknowledgment of explicit racial basis.  As an organization of primarily white suburban women, we are in month 6 of a year-long initiative to “create a better, inclusive, more loving and more just community for all of us in St. Louis(Overcoming Obstacles to Create Community: Ways to Fight Ignorance, Hate and Fear). Each month we suggest actions our members and others can take in their daily lives. July’s recommendation is to “pressure leaders” and includes these two timely action steps that relate directly to the harassment of the students:

  • Demand a strong, public statement by political leaders. Silence can be interpreted as the acceptance of hate.
  • Encourage leaders to name the problem. Encourage them to call incidents fueled by hate or bias what they are…hate crimes. This validates the victims and assures that hate crimes statistics are accurate.

We believe the open letter signed by Washington University faculty and published in the St. Louis American must be your guide in addressing the culture of racism in Clayton.

Mary Clemons and Ruth Ehresman – co-presidents Women’s Voices

See Open Letter in St. Louis American here.

 

It Would Have Slowed Her Down

by Brenda Phillips, Lock It for Love coordinator, Episcopal Diocese of Cape Girardeau, MO

On July 10, 2018, I was staffing a Lock It for Love table at the WIC Clinic, in Kennett, MO. A young woman approached and said, “I wish my sister had known about these locks. It would have slowed her down.” She went on to explain that her twin sister, Dalyn Callihan, had died by suicide with a gun on April 24, 2018, her 25thbirthday.

The young woman, Kelsi Hastings, was eager to share her sister’s story, and I spoke with her a few days later. Dalyn had a history of bipolar disorder and other mental health issues, she said, but at the time of her suicide she was not seeing a doctor or taking any medications. She had recently mentioned feeling depressed, but she was attending college and living in her own apartment with her young daughter. She seemed to be doing well, although she was in an abusive relationship.

Kelsi was surprised to learn that she had bought a gun, without a background check, at a local pawn shop the week before her death. Later Kelsi had another surprise: Dalyn had twice attempted suicide by hanging but no one had spoken of it.

When I asked Kelsi what she would have told her sister before she bought the gun, she said, “I would have told her that her pain won’t just go away; it will simply transfer to someone else.I would have told her she didn’t need a gun.I would have had her use a lock on the gun. An impulsive decision like suicide lasts forever. With a gun lock that final outcome can change. It would have slowed her down.”

Permission to share this story given to Brenda Phillips by Kelsi Hastings, July 11, 2018.

When, where do we begin to prevent gun violence?

May 22, 2018

Commentary in the Post-Dispatch by Women’s Voices co-founder, Barbara Finch

Photo from May 20 Post-Dispatch article

The graphic feature story by reporter Stu Durando on the front page of the May 20 Post-Dispatch (“The Youngest Gun Victims”) gave readers an excellent look into a terrifying, blood-drenched world where young victims of gun violence are brought so that the absolute best medical expertise might be applied to save their lives.

There is no doubt that lives are being saved in our emergency rooms and surgical suites every day. Many of the techniques and procedures used by these physicians have been developed and honed on the battlefields of war.  There is no doubt that the more these skills are applied, the better the outcomes will be.  There is no doubt that every staffer in every emergency department  in the St. Louis area is sick, tired, frustrated and fed up with the carnage that comes through the door every day.  There is no doubt that the new St. Louis Area Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program (described in a commentary in this newspaper on March 7) is a serious attempt to involve providers across the city to focus their resources to meet the needs of victims of violence and their families.

There is no doubt that all of these efforts are well-researched, thoughtful and creative approaches championed by some of the smartest people in our city who have to deal with the gruesome reality of gun violence every day.  And there is no doubt that this effort is expensive (the hospital-based initiative is being launched by a $1.6 million grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health).

But here is where there is some doubt:  is the best time to tackle the problem of gun violence AFTER people have been shot?

What if some of our resources could be used to front-load the cost of violence prevention programs into schools, churches, camps, doctors’ offices, homes and community settings?

What if, instead of paying armed guards to patrol the hallways of our schools, we funded social workers to interact  with and counsel students from elementary through high school?  What if we provided classes in problem-solving and anger management to help teach students a variety of coping skills?  What if we put as much emphasis on developing resourceful, caring kids who can make good choices as we do on mastery of the MAP tests? What if we stopped dumping kids in the “school to prison pipeline” where violence is pervasive, outcomes are dismal and guns are everywhere?

And what if the medical community made gun safety for children as important as routine checkups and immunizations?  What if pediatricians gave away gun locks or gun safes?  What if doctors routinely explored issues of violence or self-harm with their patients?  What if parents, grandparents and others in the community could be taught that children as young as two years old are able to pull the trigger on a handgun?

We could do better in so many ways before people end up in emergency rooms or intensive care units, before families are plunged into turmoil and the social safety net, such as it is, is reduced to tatters.  Yes, it would cost money to provide programs designed to prevent violence, But it’s costing as much, or more, to provide services after the fact.

Thanks to every person who works in a hospital emergency department and deals with the horror of gun violence every day.  Kudos to those who are working to come up with innovative solutions to the problem. Courage to those who are beginning to stand up and speak out on this issue, despite threats from the NRA and state legislators beholden to the gun lobby.

And shame on all of us who have kept silent, who have not intervened, who have turned away as our children die on dark city streets or under bright lights in a hospital emergency room.  Where do we want to begin to prevent gun violence, and how much are we willing to pay?

 

President’s Annual Report

May 8, 2018 – Lise Bernstein

I’m sorry I can’t be with you tonight…but I’m thinking of you as we celebrate the 14thyear of putting Women’s Voices’ education and advocacy mission into action.  It’s been a challenging year at both the state and federal levels as we witness continuous steps to restrict human and civil rights, major cutbacks in basic human services including health care, housing and food assistance… and ongoing legislative attempts to deny access to women’s reproductive care.  We see intolerance of immigrants and refugees, discrimination against the LGBTQ community and the continuing toll of systemic racism.  And, gun violence is a public health epidemic, taking too many lives, especially young people of color.

Our response to all of this is to redouble our efforts…to ramp up our capacity to do the hard work of resistance…and to partner with organizations in our community so that we strengthen our voices and our effectiveness.

We bring the collective voices of 475 members and 949 people who receive our education and advocacy e-mails.  In addition, 1,877 people follow us on Facebook and 750 on Twitter.  Despite the recent concerns about social media, we have found it to be a valuable tool in getting information out and motivating people to take action.  Many thanks to Mary Clemons whose prolific Facebook posts and Tweets have been a tremendous asset to our social media presence. And our Marketing Director Judy Arnold manages our communications, such as our monthly newsletter, with strong writing skills.  Through Judy’s efforts, Women’s Voices remains visible as a leader in social justice issues.

One of our most effective means of encouraging people to take action is our monthly education programs, which are free and open to the public. Each month about 100 or more people attend.  Again this year we sponsored 9 education programs on timely issues including: increased intolerance of immigrants and refugees; the toll taken by the opioid crisis; the high rate of infant mortality in St. Louis; the school to prison pipeline; and voter suppression.  Each of these programs featured local experts who gave us “on the ground” ways we can help address these issues. Many thanks to the Program Committee, chaired by Sue Flanagan, and the Membership Committee, chaired by Joan McKerrow, for their hard work to make these programs possible.  Please stand if you are a member of the Program or Membership Committee.

A major new initiative in 2018 is our focus on racial justice with the initiation of our project “Overcoming Obstacles to Create Community.” This includes a variety of programs designed to help us better understand systemic racism and how it affects communities of color in such destructive ways.  We hope to foster understanding and civil discourse…and build bridges for ways we can bring about positive change.

A few weeks ago 28 Women’s Voices members and friends visited historic civil rights sites in Memphis…they returned with new perspectives on the civil rights movement.  Watch for many upcoming programs that will be part of “Overcoming Obstacles to Create Community” the rest of this year.  This project is the hard work of our Racial Justice Committee, chaired by Jeanne Bubb. Please stand if you are a member of this committee.

Since 2013, gun violence prevention has been a major focus for us.  Through our Lock It for Love gun safety outreach project, we provide education and free gun locks to St. Louis area families. This year our goal is to distribute 1,800 gun locks at 46 events—a 20% increase over 2017.  In addition, we continue to advocate against legislation at the state and federal levels that would put more people at risk of gun violence.  We work closely with Moms Demand Action, St. Louis Children’s and Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospitals, the Washington University Institute for Public Health and the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. In addition, we are a member of the newly-formed St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Commission.  Many thanks to Barbara Harris and Mary Schuman who chair our Campaign for Common Sense Gun Solutions Committee…and to the many committee members here tonight who have made our efforts so successful.  Please stand if you are on this committee.

Another hard-working group is our Advocacy Committee, chaired by Ann Ross.  In addition to advocating for and against legislation on a variety of social justice issues, this year the committee worked on several new position papers and updated many others.  You can read these on our website. Please stand if you serve on the Advocacy Committee.

To make all of our work possible, we must ensure that we have sufficient financial resources. In 2017, we implemented a Capacity Building campaign that raised $53,000.  This allowed us to hire our part-time administrative manager Laura Rose.  Laura has been with us since last June…and she has been a tremendous help in our ability to operate more efficiently.  As many of our committee chairs can tell you, Laura is a “miracle-worker” in getting things done well…and on schedule!

Our Annual Campaign goal for 2018 is $30,000.   Membership dues comprise 25% of our annual revenue.  We rely on contributions from individuals and on grants for 75% of our income.

There are two ways you can help.  First, if you are not already a Women’s Voices member, please join.  Annual dues are $40 and you can join tonight or do so online.  You can also contribute to our Annual Campaign.  There are envelopes on the tables…or you can donate online.  Many thanks to Barbara Richter and members of our Development Advisory Board.

We hope you will join us in June for two events. On June 13, we will hold our program that was cancelled in January due to weather.  Our speaker is Dr. Colleen McNicholas, one of only a few doctors in the Midwest who provide abortion care.  She will update us on continuing efforts to restrict access to reproductive care in Missouri.  Also, Women’s Voices will once again be marching in the Pride Paradeon Sunday, June 24.  Andrea Bauman is coordinating our group.  More info will be in our June newsletter and on our website.

It has been my honor and privilege to serve as Women’s Voices president for the past four years.  I am grateful for the talent, passion, persistence, knowledge and energy of our board, committee chairs…and our members.  Without each of you, we would not have the fortitude to do this work. I have made many friends and colleagues over the past four years…many of whom I wouldn’t have met if not for Women’s Voices.

One person I did know prior to my involvement with Women’s Voices was Barbara Finch, one of our founders (along with Joanne Kelly, Ruth Ann Cioci, and Ann Ruger). Many of you were encouraged, cajoled and/or strongly advised to join Women’s Voices by Barbara.  She is a dynamic woman, whose vision and creativity have brought Women’s Voices from a group of 25 in 2005 to a nearly 500-member strong organization today that is recognized throughout the community as a leader in social justice.  Barbara is a “small but mighty” force…and one to be reckoned with.  I appreciate and value the role model she has been for me and countless others.

Finally, there are two other women who I greatly admire and respect–Mary Clemons and Ruth Ehresman.  They are knowledgeable and effective advocates… and experienced, strong leaders.   We are extremely fortunate that they are taking the reins to lead us this coming year.  Together with their incredible board, Mary and Ruth will continue the 14-year legacy of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice.

 

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