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.