Past Programs 2007-2008

June 12, 2008

Sarafina at The Black Rep

More than 70 members and friends of Women’s Voices marked the end of our 2007-08 program year by attending the Black Rep’s production of “Sarafina.” This energetic and inspiring musical told the story of a group of students in Soweto, South Africa, who stood up to their government and eventually forced an end to aparthied.

Black Rep Director Ron Himes wrote in his program notes:

“We cannot stand by without speaking up.
We can make a difference.
We do, each one, count.
We must be sure to include the young when we make plans for the future.”

To these words, the members of Women’s Voices say, “Amen.”

May 8, 2008

Immigration in the United States

Speakers: Tiffany Baldwin, attorney with Greensfelder, Hemker and Gale; and Jennifer Rafanan, statewide coordinator, Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates

In the run-up to the 2008 general elections, the topic of immigration has surfaced to the top of the agenda for several candidates. But it’s impossible to understand the problems of illegal immigration without first understanding legal immigration, according to Tiffany Baldwin, a St. Louis immigration attorney. “To put it simply, we have a problem with illegal immigration because our legal system is broken,” Baldwin said.

There are three categories of non-U.S. citizens who are here legally, Baldwin explained. They are (1) naturalized citizens, (2) permanent residents, who are closely related to U. S. citizens (sometimes called “green card” holders), and (3) non-immigrants, who are temporary visitors or those with visas.

“Getting into the U. S. legally is a long and complicated process,” Baldwin said. “There are limited options, The visa process is complex and expensive. More restrictive policies have been put into place in the wake of 9-11. Many categories are capped. This has resulted in a huge backlog of people who are waiting to get in. And because only one of every three applicants for a visa can get in, the result has been that many businesses have to open up out of this country in order to find enough workers.”

While the intent of much legislation dealing with immigration has been to protect U. S. workers, the actual outcome has been to force large corporations to leave the country and small businesses to go under, Baldwin said. Unskilled, agricultural and seasonal workers will continue to come because they cannot survive and feed their families in their own countries.

“We need a guest worker program to take care of these individuals,” Baldwin said.

Jennifer Rafanan described the mission of the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates as a coalition of organizations that stands up for the basic rights of all immigrants.

“In Missouri, only 3.4 percent of our population is foreign-born,” Rafanan said. “Nearly half of those are naturalized citizens. They come from all over the world and they live all over the state.”

Rafanan points to NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) as the driving force behind the current influx of illegal immigrants. “Workers come from Mexico and Central America simply because they can’t make a living wage in their own countries any longer,” she said. “People move to places where they can find work to feed their families.”

Policy makers are out of touch with economic and social realities in other countries, Rafanan maintains. “There are only 5,000 work visas per year for unskilled workers to come to the U. S.,” she said. “There is no way for employers to sponsor unskilled workers, and there is an out-of-control backlog of family members waiting to get in. These people can’t get in line to enter the U. S., because there is no line for them to stand in.”

Thirty-two pieces of legislation dealing with immigration have been filed in the Missouri legislature just this year, and much of it is fueling the anti-immigrant sentiment. Both Baldwin and Rafanan agree that the only solution to the problem must come from the federal government.

April 10, 2008

Talking With Our Enemies and Strategic Competitors

Speaker: Ambassador Marshall McCallie

Ambassador Marshall McCallie’s subject, “Talking With Our Enemies”, was a refreshing shift from the current foreign policy of the United States. Ambassador McCallie’s career has been in public service, first as an officer in the United States Air Force for four years and then as a Foreign Service Officer in America’s diplomatic corps for 28 years. McCallie began by saying that conducting effective foreign relations will take all of our talent. A wise nation, he said, minimizes its enemies. “We must develop a bias toward peacekeeping”, he said. “We must frame issues properly”. President George W. Bush’s often-quoted declaration about the “axis of evil”, in which he included Iran, immediately undercut the possibility of negotiations with them.

He was clear that he does not view engaging our enemies in dialogue as ‘rolling over’. While he supports military preparedness, he does not support preemptive strikes. He also believes strongly in intelligence-gathering: there is no substitute for good intelligence, he said.

His years as a diplomat taught him that once negotiations with another entity are under way, confidence and credibility must be established. “Don’t lie,” he said simply.

He reviewed the situation following the fall of the Berlin Wall, and credited the United States with having both the vision and the will to negotiate with the Soviets, who were opposed to reunifying Germany.

He said that while the United States has few enemies today, we do have strategic competitors, which requires us to think strategically.

Before the U.S. attacked Iraq, his recommendation was to get the cooperation of the United Nations. Our approach has not made the world safer, and we became embroiled in a civil war in Iraq. This should be a wake-up call, that we cannot transform a society culturally or politically. It concerns him that, in Iraq, we’ve built the largest embassy in the world. It’s wiser, he said, not to have set geographical points, which may become a sore point where we’ve installed them.

He discussed the opportunities we have had to negotiate with Iran, and our concern over Iran’s potential nuclear energy. We need the International Atomic Energy Agency’s help in these negotiations. He thinks the process will not be easy, but it is not impossible. In fact, he sees Pakistan as a bigger threat.

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation, most people agree that we must search for a solution. He talked about non-political aspects such as cross-cultural exchanges. We did not recognize the cultural divisions in Iraq. “All the talk in the world is worthless without a deep cultural knowledge”. We must develop a “respectful dialogue with the rest of the world”. We can afford to negotiate, and this will promote a more stable world.

Questions from the audience included one about the current protests during the relay of the Olympic flame. His opinion is that we should go forward with the Olympics but he also welcomes the protests. He said our government should not “pile on” to this process, but rather let the protesters make the point.

In response to a question about withdrawing from Iraq, he thought the Bush administration saw a “false choice”: stay and save Iraq or get out and ‘let hell occur.’ In fact, a new administration must negotiate so the other countries in the area see that it’s in their best interests.

To a question about “conglomerate idiocy” in the Bush administration, he said they were torn between pragmatists, former Secretary of State Colin Powell being an example, and neo-cons such as former U.N. Ambassador Bolton of the former and the latter. Powell was silenced by Vice-President Cheney and others.

Are we moving toward one world government, he was asked. He said he thought not, because people value their own culture.

Does he see promise of better diplomatic relations with a new administration, he was asked. Sen. McCain’s thoughts on a “League of Democracies” concern him because he sees that as code for ignoring the United Nations. He thought Sen. Clinton was upfront about getting out of Iraq in a responsible manner; Sen. Obama, he said, had not lived through the Cold War and consequently sees the world as less threatening than the generation ahead of him.

To a question about whether the U.S. has lost prestige and moral authority in the world, he thought that if Sen. McCain were president, the world would see this as maintaining the status quo. If the next president is a Democrat, the international community would greet that person with openness, but he predicted the “honeymoon” would only last three months before a “new way of doing business in Washington” would have to be demonstrated.

The final question about the departure (in 2001) from previous policies and the ‘interference’ on the part of the U.S. in other countries brought the reminder that actions have consequences. “It will take citizens like us”, McCallie said, “to push for open diplomacy”.

The following is a bibliography of books to which Ambassador McCallie made reference in his talk:

  1. James Hillman, A Terrible Love of War
  2. Chris Hedges, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
  3. Dennis Ross, Statecraft: How to Restore America’s Standing in the World
  4. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Second Chance
  5. Ray Takeyh, Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic
  6. The Iraq Study Group Report, James A. Baker and Lee Hamilton, Co-Chairs
March 13, 2008

Film: Uncounted

On Thursday, March 13, Missourians for Honest Elections* showed a disturbing film, “UNCOUNTED: The New Math of American Elections”, that turns many of our assumptions about democratic elections upside down. The film looks at the 2000, 2004 and 2006 elections and the many questions that came out of these events.

Voters in several places found long, long lines; some polls opening an hour late; people who had voted in the primary found their names missing from the rolls for the November election; some voting machines were not working properly … these and many other stories seem to bring our right to a fair and honest election into question.

One reported polling place in Ohio had only two voting machines for 1300 people, one of which was broken for the first two hours of the day. Also in Ohio, only one phone number was given for each precinct, making it nearly impossible for people to call for information.

Undercounted ballots (which occurs when a voter does not indicate a choice for a candidate or issue) usually make up 1 – 3% of elections returns, but some precincts in Pennsylvania reported as high as 70 – 80% undercounted ballots. In Louisiana, thousands were unable to vote due to software problems with the electronic voting machines.

The 2000 voting debacle of vote flipping in Florida was examined closely, including the connections between the Bush family, leading Republican Party members, and the people in charge of the election.

Many of the above problems that kept people from voting seemed to occur primarily in ethnic or low-income neighborhoods, which were projected to yield a strong Democratic vote.

In Utah, a county clerk was locked out of his office and ultimately fired after raising questions about the integrity of their voting machines. This in spite of the fact that the county clerk is elected, not appointed.

A significant part of the movie was devoted to electronic voting machines and their inherent flaws. One analogy seemed especially thought-provoking, which is that Diebold, which manufactures both electronic voting machines and ATMs, is able to produce machines which are virtually unhackable, and which produce a paper receipt (and cash), are unable to incorporate the same features in electronic voting machines. The primary assets of these machines seem to be convenience for election officials and speedy election results for the media.

The discrepancy between exit polls and ballot counts was another puzzling phenomenon. Historically, exit polling has been a dependable measure of voter balloting until 2004, when numerous states yielded very different results between exit polling and actual ballot counts. A further curiosity was the lack of media interest in this discrepancy.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of this film is the realization that these problems still exist and will affect the 2008 election.

Helen Mcintosh, a member of Women’s Voices who also is active with Missourians for Honest Elections, introduced the film. With her were two other very active members of Missourians for Honest Elections, Ginger Harris and Pat Berg, who fielded questions following the film.

Copies of Uncounted were available at the end of the meeting.

Following are just a handful of the related web sites:

*Missourians for Honest Elections is a non-partisan public watchdog group that has been working since 2005 to educate the public and government officials about the problems associated with electronic voting.

February 14, 2008

Targeting Muslim Rights: Private Provocation and Public Action

Speaker: Gulten Ilhan

“Are all Muslims bad?” Gulten Ilhan’s daughter had asked her after coming home from kindergarten one day. Professor Ilhan then talked to us about the forms of prejudice that Muslims deal with in the United States since the September 11 terrorist attacks. The depth of misinformation and misunderstanding she described was staggering.

“It is extremely difficult to be Muslim in the U.S.”, she said. To demonstrate her statement, she showed a recent Gallup Poll revealing that 39% of people thought U.S. citizens who are Muslim should be required to carry something identifying them as Muslim. One-third of those polled believed all Muslims were sympathetic to al-Qaeda. Another poll showed that 22% of people would not want a Muslim as a neighbor.

Ilhan, who moved to the U.S. from Turkey when she was 16, completed her education through a master’s degree, but abandoned her Ph.D. work in order to become an activist for Muslims and Islam. She is now professor of Philosophy and co-director of Global Studies at Meramec Community College and spends her free time working to educate non-Muslims, hoping to put to rest the myths and prejudices that exist. Her many activist roles include committeewoman of the Democratic Central Committee of St. Louis County, and board member of the ACLU.

She showed photos of signs in front of several churches with varying messages to the effect that Jesus supports life but Mohammed preaches killing. One example showed the word ISLAM written with the S replaced by a swastika. She said a story in the Post-Dispatch about Muslims in St. Louis drew nearly 300 responses of which 260 were negative. One including the following comment: “The only good Arab is a dead Arab”.

Several clips from television and talk show personalities, including Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter, displayed both ignorance and extreme prejudice toward Muslims. Coulter’s comment following 9/11 was, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

She closed her talk by asking, “How many of you fear a knock on your door? We do”, she said. “We do.”

Professor Ilhan answered several questions, including how many Muslims live in St. Louis, which she estimates to be 60,000 to 70,000. She said that approximately one-third of Muslims living in the United States are African-Americans. The final question to her was, “What can we do?” Her answer was simple: Speak up.

January 10, 2008

YouthBuild in the Hyde Park Community

Speaker: Martha Brunell

The Rev. Martha Brunell delivered a powerful message at the January Women’s Voices meeting: “Are you mad?!” she asked us. She said that she understood Women’s Voices was started because the founding women were angry following the 2004 elections. Martha, an ordained United Church of Christ pastor for 30 years, said she’s been mad for a long, long time, and quoted musician Holly Near’s lyrics from her song, “Fired Up”.

Martha talked about her church, Friedens United Church of Christ, in the Hyde Park neighborhood. The church, now 150 years old, chose to stay in the north city in the 1950s when what she called a “calculated political plan” caused many people to move to the suburbs. After the 1980 election, she said, “money dried up overnight and the Hyde Park neighborhood fell through the safety net.” “We have” she said, “”forgotten how to be aware of the common good.”

In 2005 Friedens Church created the Friedens Neighborhood Foundation to ensure the future of their work in the neighborhood. Soon after this, HUD began developing YouthBuild programs in St. Louis, and Friedens was selected to administer one.

She talked about our response to society’s needs. “Give us a catastrophe!” she said in describing our society’s love affair with “acute drama” such as the Katrina disaster. She compared this with “chronic realities,” the day-to-day poverty and misery all around us, which we seem able to tolerate.

She asked us four questions:

  • Are you mad?
  • What are you mad about?
  • How long are you willing to be mad?
  • Are you willing to be changed?

She reminded us that being mad takes a lot of energy, so it’s necessary to focus our passion, which she calls our “edge.” . She described their community garden, begun by a volunteer whose love of gardening led her to recruit young men in the neighborhood to help her.

She warned us not to simply respond to a social injustice we recognize, but rather to choose something we care deeply about, because that’s where we will be able to make changes. She warned us repeatedly that this takes lots of time, and many, many failures.

She described YouthBuild as a program for 18 – 24-year-olds who work toward their GED while learning construction job skills such as plumbing and electrical work. Students are given financial reimbursement each day that they come, because regular attendance is also a job skill. This is funded for just one year, and the money may run out before the class is completed. Volunteers are desperately needed to help them find money in order to finish out this year.

She invited us to visit her “corner”, as she refers to Friedens Church, and see for ourselves what they are about.

(Friedens United Church of Christ is located at 19th Street and Newhouse, bounded on three sides by North Florissant, North Grand and Hwy. 70. )

December 13, 2007

Caring for Kids

About 22 Women’s Voices members had a great time cleaning, sorting, and accounting for a library of books, videos, and developmentally appropriate toys at the Child Day Care Association on the evening of December 13th. Substituting this activity in place of our December meeting, the women were greeted by the appreciative staff of the association, who had given careful thought about how to best utilize our volunteer services.

cdcaToysWhile some of us went through the shelves of books, looking for those missing pockets or incorrectly shelved, others took down bins or zipped bags of toys, all labeled by age and developmental skills. We wiped down each piece with antiseptic wipes and cleaned out the bins as well, noting those whose contents failed to match the description on the lids. Toys that were missing pieces were then set aside to be repaired or replaced.

Our librarian members converged on the cabinets of videos, matching them against inventory lists. Somehow, when the time came to stop and get ready to reboard the bus back to the Ethical Society, all of the books had been accounted for, the videos were in order, and 99.7 % of the puzzles and toys had been cleaned and sorted. Best of all, the spirits of all of us were even higher at the end of the evening!

It was great fun for a great cause . . . and we left behind a huge assortment of diapers to be distributed to the First Steps families who really need them. Call it a Win-Win Evening!

November 8, 2007

Jeff Smith – Missouri Senate, District 4
Public Education in Missouri

Senator Smith began by talking about his father, an NBA fan and a strong proponent of cultural diversity. One of his dad’s methods of passing this onto his son was to drop him off at the Wohl Community Center on N. Kingshighway on Saturdays and pick him up four hours later, during which time Jeff Smith developed basketball skills as well as an understanding and compassion for the people he now represents in the city of St. Louis. During his four years at the University of North Carolina, Smith was instrumental in getting a Black cultural center on campus. He left school with the intention of teaching in St. Louis, but didn’t have the necessary education courses, so, he said with irony, “They hired me as a teacher evaluator.” This worked to his advantage, allowing him to spend time in all of the city schools instead of teaching in only one school. While he observed some talented, dedicated teachers, he also came across many who were simply counting days to retirement.

Ultimately, he and Dr. Susan Uchitelle started the Confluence Academies, a group of urban public charter schools in St. Louis. They literally went door to door in search of parents and children, and today have close to 2300 students. The students, primarily Black, and most eligible for the free or reduced lunch program (a standard measure of income level), are a remarkable success story, according to Smith: they are succeeding and their test scores have steadily improved. He clarified that charter schools are public schools operated with public school dollars, not vouchers. (He said during the Q and A session that he was opposed to vouchers.) Charter schools have several advantages, including the ability to determine hours (Confluence students attend two hours longer than most other schools) and to lengthen the school year from nine to eleven months, and they have minimal non-teaching staff.

This commitment to urban education has led Smith to develop several pieces of legislation, including the Missouri Teaching Fellows bill, designed to attract teachers to non-accredited school districts in both the city and county. Another legislative effort would fund early-education programs for pre-Kindergarten students. Yet another idea is to reward science and math majors for teaching in non-accredited schools. He said that one-third of the science teachers in St. Louis schools have taken no science courses in college. Another proposal is a Pay for Performance program, where administrators, colleagues, parents and students would review teacher performance. Teachers who meet the performance criteria would be paid accordingly, and it would be voluntary on the teacher’s part. Nevertheless, the teachers’ union strongly opposed it. Smith, who probably looks the age of many of his graduate students at Washington University, said, “I’ve gotten a lot more pragmatic in my old age,” bringing one of many chuckles from the audience.

During the Question and Answer session, he was asked about the Mentor St. Louis program in which the questioner participates. He said he’s all for one-on-one tutoring, which he does at the Matthews-Dickey Club, but he then described College Summit, a three-day program with high school students which guides them in writing their college-application essay. He called the experience “transformative” for him.

“Cautiously optimistic” was his analysis of the current (appointed) St. Louis School Board. He thought acting School Board president Rick Sullivan was “listening to groups of people.”

Asked about his current project with city high school civics students, he said he’s visiting every civics class to talk about the legislative process. He then asks the students to propose a bill. He will select the best bill and sponsor it in Jefferson City.

A question and comment from a former St. Louis teacher dealt with how charter school teachers are paid; the questioner thought salary was not as important to most teachers as being “part of the process.” Smith firmly believes that teaching salaries are too low, saying, “We pay teachers less than garbage collectors; they should collectively make what engineers make.” He also cautioned about “romanticizing” teaching.

He finished by encouraging his audience to participate through programs such as College Summit, College Bound and Mentor St. Louis.

October 11, 2007

Terry Jones
State of the State

Terry Jones presented an entertaining, fact-filled evening as he discussed national and state politics at the second Women’s Voices meeting of the year, on Thursday, October 11, at the Ethical Society. He brought several handouts, saying, “It’s the professor in me.” (Jones is professor of Political Science and Public Policy Administration at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.)

His familiarity with politics was evident as he discussed various candidate races, both current and past. Based on polls he regularly follows, he assessed the current positions of both Democratic and Republican presidential front-runners, saying he thought the probability was low that a viable third-party candidate would emerge.

The gubernatorial race in Missouri will be close, he predicted. Both healthcare and education will be top issues in 2008, and Governor Blunt has tried to reduce the political damage of his Medicaid cuts in 2005 by introducing MO HealthNet. Jones thought the Lieutenant Governor’s race would be close, and that the contest for Attorney General would be especially. In Jones’s words, “There is no better political position than attorney general because [that person] is on the side of the angels”, representing the citizens of the state against such “foes” as government and big business.

The Q and A session brought a number of thoughtful questions, which he answered with a mixture of historical perspective and humor. Answering a query about whether Al Gore would run, Jones said, “I hope not!” explaining that by starting now, he would not be in a strong position politically, and would have difficulty putting together a quality campaign organization.

Jones was asked about Rudy Giuliani’s liberal positions on several issues and how they would play with conservative Christian voters. Jones said the bloc is fractured and many conservative Christians may choose not to vote.

In response to a comment about the current sad state of the country, Jones said that for the past 13 years, the United States has been trying to define the role of government. He said that politicians have never been so divided, so uncivil, and so unwilling to make compromises.

Regarding governing by initiative and referendum, he said it was “bad public policy” because there’s no middle ground. He also pointed out how important precise wording can be, using the current initiative on stem cell research as an example.

When asked where to find good, solid political information, he referred us to John Combest is up early every morning, he said, combing the web for up-to-date information from other reliable websites, which he then shares with his readers.

September 13, 2007

William Freivogel
The Current State of the Media

More than 60 members gathered at the Ethical Society for the first meeting of our 2007-08 program year. Bill Freivogel, director of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, gave a candid and sobering assessment of the state of journalism in the United States today.

“We are going though the most exciting and radical change in the way information is exchanged since the Gutenberg Bible and the invention of moveable type more than 500 years ago, ” Freivogel said. “And journalists don’t want to end up like the monks.”

There are real problems facing the media today, Freivogel explained. One of these is the economic challenge that has resulted because corporate owners now expect a 25-30 percent profit margin from their news outlets. This economic squeeze has led to the departure of many long-time, seasoned journalists, and the result of this has been a loss of institutional memory and continuity in the community.

“The big question today is what economic model will pay for good journalism?” Freivogel said. “And no one seems to have that answer yet.”

Another challenge is the loss of credibility the media have suffered as a result of reporting scandals and the “hyper-partisanship” that exists on both sides of the political spectrum. And, during the past seven years, an external threat has developed that clouds much investigative reporting. Reporters who broke stories about the NSA warrantless wiretapping program and the CIA prisons in Eastern Europe have been threatened with prosecution under the espionage act. Freivogel cited the publication of the Pentagon Papers as a watershed event in journalism, because they showed exactly how presidents of the United States had lied to the people.

There are some bright spots in the world of news reporting today, Freivogel said. “People have an unquenchable desire for information today. And we have many ways of delivering this information. We just have to figure out a way to get good, solid reporting into the picture.”

One bright spot on the St. Louis horizon is the planned launch of the St. Louis Platform, an on-line publication that is expected to debut early next year. The Platform, under the direction of Freivogel’s wife, Margie, an accomplished journalist in her own right, will provide “news that matters.”

“A lot of energy is moving to the internet,” Freivogel said. “And it has its own set of challenges and opportunities.”

For those who want to be well-informed today, Freivogel recommended reading the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and an on-line publication called “Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting,” The latter is produced by Jon Sawyer, a former Post-Dispatch reporter in the Washington Bureau.