Past Programs 2010-2011
May 12, 2011
The Women’s Voices Tee Party
Annual Meeting, Election of Officers, and Entertainment Extraordinaire
Dozens of members of Women’s Voices and their guests gathered to celebrate six successful years of education and advocacy at the group’s annual meeting on Thursday, May 12. The event, held at The Commons on the campus of Eden Seminary in Webster Groves, included a variety of appetizers, wine, and desserts.
During the business meeting, President Joanne Kelly distributed the annual report and noted some of the accomplishments of the group during the past year. Treasurer Mary Clemons gave the financial report and members voted to approve the budget for the coming fiscal year.
Elected to serve as officers for the coming year were: Mary Clemons, president; Barbara Richter, vice president; Judy Arnold, secretary, and Linda Carey, treasurer. Elected to serve on the Board were Jeanne Bubb, Barbara Finch, Susan Hayman and Helen Houlle.
Entertainment after the meeting was provided by Ed Reggi and the Paper Slip Theater.
April 14, 2011
Start Someplace…End Someplace Else
Speaker: Arthur H. Lieber – Educator, Author, Reluctant Politician
A variety of progressive ideas to improve our state and federal political processes were put on the table at the Women’s Voices meeting on Thursday, April 14. Speaker was Arthur H. Lieber, educator, author, and self-described “unlikely candidate.” Lieber, who had no political experience, ran for Congress in Missouri’s second congressional district in 2010 after no one filed to challenge the conservative incumbent. Lieber lost the election, but gained a great deal of insight into the political process during his run.
“Money in politics has gotten completely out of hand, and an excessive portion of that money goes into negative advertising, which appeals to our baser instincts, ” he said. Lieber refused to solicit or accept contributions during his campaign, which was totally self-funded for less than $50,000. “Candidates can’t run on zero, but there has to be a better way than our current method of constant, round-the-clock fundraising. Money should be used to elevate the conversation,” he said.
In addition to elevating political discourse, Lieber, one of the founders of the Crossroads School in St. Louis, is passionate about progressive education. “We should be educating our children to be more in tune with social justice issues,” he said. “There is too much emphasis on testing today. There is too much pressure on kids to conform and compete.”
Lieber believes in the need for more civil discourse in all walks of life, the importance of “out-of-the-box” thinking and solutions, and the need for reporters to ask appropriate questions and follow up. He also called for a foreign policy based upon humanitarian values, an economic policy based upon the idea that debt should be an investment, and re-structuring and simplifying government at all levels.
Lieber’s book, “An Unlikely Candidate: Reflections on My Run for Congress,” reveals the inside story of his unconventional campaign, shares the lessons he learned about contemporary electoral politics, and suggests ways to fix our broken political system.
March 10, 2011
They Divided, No One Conquered. Did We All Lose?
E. Terrence Jones, PhD, professor of political science, UMSL
Kathleen Sullivan Brown, PhD, associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at UMSL
Michael Jones, St. Louis County Government senior policy advisor
Jeff Rainford, chief of staff to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay
Maria Chappelle-Nadal, Missouri State Senator, District 14
Nearly 100 people filled the Assembly Hall at the Ethical Society on Thursday, March 10, for a lively discussion about the future of St. Louis city and St. Louis county. Participants on the panel titled “They Divided, No One Conquered: Did We All Lose?” included Terry Jones, PhD, professor of political science at UMSL; Kathleen Sullivan Brown, PhD, UMSL professor and a member of the planning committee for St. Louis: A World-Class City; Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay; Mike Jones, senior policy advisor to County Executive Charlie Dooley, and State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who represents North St. Louis County.
“The city separated from St. Louis County in 1876, and it didn’t take too long for leaders to realize that they made a big mistake by making the boundary of the city too small,” Terry Jones said. He outlined several attempts that took place between 1925 and 1984 to merge the two entities. All of them failed, for different reasons. “The city and county have been ‘dating’ for a long time, with various cooperative relationships like the zoo-museum district and the regional arts commission. But all previous attempts at ‘marriage’ have been unsuccessful,” he said.
That may be because there was little grassroots involvement in previous efforts, Sullivan Brown said. Organizers of St. Louis: A World-Class City believe that the city should re-enter the county as the 92nd municipality. That would move St. Louis from its current ranking as the 52nd largest city in the country to the seventh.
“We are tired of being told that we are the most racist city or the most dangerous city in the country” Sullivan Brown said. “If the city became a part of the county, our entire geographical area of three million people would be included. Peoples’ perception would be changed. It would enable us to take greater control of our identity. After all, we are all St. Louisans.”
Members of St. Louis: A World-Class City are aiming for the city to re-enter the county by 2014, which will be the 250th anniversary of the city.
Rainford, acknowledging the recent census figures that showed that both the city and county lost population during the previous 10 years, described the area as “a region of fiefdoms.” “Change has to happen,” he said. “It’s very wasteful to live this way. Younger people want to live more densely. The big question will be who is in charge. Any change will have to be a mutual benefit for both city and county taxpayers.”
Mike Jones cited the reality of the global economy in his contention that we do not have a government structure to be able to compete in the 21st century. “The city re-entering the county is a threshold issue, and while it may be a good first step, it’s not the answer,” he said. “We have the wrong strategy for today’s environment.”
Sen. Chappelle-Nadal introduced Senate Joint Resolution 19 in late February. This calls for a proposed constitutional amendment which, if approved by Missouri voters, would make St. Louis city a part of St. Louis county. “I’m looking at this as a consumer and an economic development issue,” she said. “This is a very controversial issue. But we have to be as efficient as possible in order to compete in today’s world.”
Reporters from KMOX radio, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis Beacon covered this meeting. Read the Beacon’s coverage here.
February 10, 2011
Rob Swearingen, consumer affairs attorney, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri
Robin Acree, executive director, Grassroots Organizing, Mexico, MO
Fenny Dorsey, organizer, Grassroots Organizing
Rory Ellinger, state representative
More than 60 members of Women’s Voices and their guests turned out on a frigid February evening for an eye-opening program on payday loans.
“We don’t have any usury laws in Missouri, and our consumer protection laws are completely inadequate,” according to Rob Swearingen, an attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. “There were 2.4 million payday loans made in Missouri last year. The average loan amount was $307, and the average annual percentage rate was 445 percent.”
The typical payday loan borrower is someone on Social Security or disability who runs into a financial problem. Desperate to pay off an immediate bill, the borrower gets a quick payday loan, but is then unable to pay off that debt. This begins an increasing spiral of expense, as borrowers renew their loans, adding more interest and fees, and then go to other payday loan shops to get new loans to pay off the old ones.
“Payday loans are inherently coercive, and as their debts increase people are frequently threatened with criminal prosecution,” Swearingen said. “Collection abuses are rampant, and that’s one reason why we really need reform.”
Fenny Dorsey gave a moving account of her experiences with payday lenders and the fear and frustration she has experienced with them. “Education is the key to avoiding the kind of situation I found myself in,” she said. “People who patronize these places don’t know what they are getting into.”
Robin Acree, executive director of Grassroots Organizing, spoke about the efforts of her group, both in public education for consumers and advocacy throughout the state in an effort to strengthen consumer protection laws. “The political will is not out there to protect us any more,” she said. “And St. Louis should be ashamed, because payday loan shops are becoming increasingly common in low-income and minority areas of the city and county.”
Acree urged members of the audience to educate themselves about the issues, expose what is going on, and, if legislators don’t act to rein in lenders, work to get an initiative petition on the ballot.
State Rep. Rory Ellinger spoke about one bill that was filed in the Missouri House that would cap the APR charged by payday lenders at 36 percent. This is the second year the bill has been filed, Ellinger said. Last year it received a brief hearing, but only payday loan advocates were permitted to testify.
January 13, 2011
Take Up The Song; Forget The Epitaph
Speaker: Pam Sumners, Esq. – Executive Director of NARAL-Pro-Choice Missouri
The words “Take up the song; forget the epitaph” were written by poet and social activist Edna St. Vincent Millay for the dedication of a suffragist monument. As executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, Pamela Sumners relies on these words, although the song is pretty mournful these days. Consider:
- The new speaker of the House of Representatives opposes abortion in all cases and wants to make abortion coverage impossible to buy in the new health care system—even when a woman pays with her own funds
- For the first time, pro-choice numbers have dipped below 40 seats in the Missouri House
- Only four of 34 Missouri state senators are pro-choice
- Only two states in the union have enacted more restrictions on abortion than Missouri
No matter what your personal feeling about abortion are, it is legal. Women’s Voices has taken a position as a pro-choice organization and has endorsed and supported pro-choice activities since the organization was founded. Pamela Sumners firmly believes that only women and their doctors should make decisions about abortion, but we have a political process that will only give women their full share if we stand up, speak out, and make our politicians do it. We must “take up the song.”
Pamela Sumners is a constitutional and civil rights attorney whose practice has included nine Supreme Court cases. She is also the author of an employment-discrimination textbook. She received her BA from Stephens College in Columbia, MO, with dual majors in political science and English literature/creative writing. She received her MA in political science from Syracuse University as a Maxwell fellow and Harry S. Truman Scholar, and her law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law, where she served on the editorial board of the Virginia Law Review.
A native of Alabama, Sumners was a staff attorney for the Morris Dees’ Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery and a cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Alabama on its internationally noted religion cases. She litigated a school-prayer case that went to the Supreme Court three times, in which the governor claimed that the Bill of Rights did not apply to Alabama. Other cases involved the religious rights of the only four Jewish children in a rural Alabama school district, and cases challenging the right of a judge to hang a Ten Commandments plaque behind his bench.
Sumners served as staff counsel and director of the ACLU AIDS and Civil Liberties Project in Chicago before coming to NARAL Pro-choice Missouri in 2005. During her tenure NARAL’s board and budget have tripled and the organization has focused on grooming young pro-choice men and women for leadership in pro-choice causes.
Read the full text of Ms. Sumner’s address here.
December 9, 2010
Party with a Purpose – Pagedale Family Support Center
Two dozen members of Women’s Voices and their guests enjoyed a “Party with a Purpose” at the Pagedale Family Support Center on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010.
Children enrolled in the after-school program at the Center entertained us with a lively rendition of”Harambe,” and enjoyed ice cream and cookies before WV member Dee Ban entertained them with holiday songs accompanied by her autoharp.
Members completed 24 overflowing welcome baskets that will be given to new rental clients of Beyond Housing this winter. After enjoying wine and snacks provided by members of the WV Board, party goers participated in a sing-along of holiday carols and songs of social justice.
Brittany Hogan, the social service coordinator for Beyond Housing, sent us the following note:
Thank you so much for the baskets! I went by Pagedale today and looked at them–they are wonderful! Our residents are going to love them and I am so grateful that you all put so much effort into making such lovely baskets. I also heard the after-school children LOVED the mini-Christmas party they had with you all yesterday!
It was an honor to be able to make this unique contribution to a wonderful St. Louis organization!
November 11, 2010
Life for people with disabilities has improved markedly during the past 20 years, since passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act. However, more still remains to be done to increase awareness of disability issues and improve access for individuals with disabilities.
This was the message of four accomplished women who represent Paraquad, the St. Louis organization that, since 1970, has helped empower people with disabilities to live with self-determination through choice and opportunity.
Kate Bruggemann, director of development for Paraquad, described the background of the organization and its philosophy of independent living. “We provide services for people with all types of disabilities, both physical and mental,” she said. “We believe that disabled people should have equal opportunities and maintain control over their own lives.”
Kim Barge, staff attorney for Paraquad, talked about her work to educate, advocate and ensure enforcement of the ADA and other disability laws. “The area of employment discrimination is where people with disabilities have suffered the most,” Barge said. She also works with state and local officials on issues of public transportation and public accommodation.
Kirsten Dunham, Paraquad’s associate director of public policy, described how Missouri’s laws affect people with disabilities in many areas, including independent living, transportation, and voting. She highlighted how the 2005 cuts in the state Medicaid program affected the disability community and emphasized the need to protect the recently-enacted health care reform policies. “Insurers can still discriminate against people with disabilities, and they do,” she said. “Our biggest challenge at the state level right now is to fight against further cuts in the Medicaid program and protect what we have.”
Kerri Morgan, an engaging and inspiring young woman who has been in a wheelchair since she was one year old, described some of the challenges she faces and some of the obstacles she has overcome in her efforts to live independently. Morgan is an occupational therapist who is working on her PhD at Washington University. She is an accomplished wheelchair athlete who competed in the ParaOlympic games in China last year. She also is involved in researching cutting-edge assistive technology devices.
A lively question-and-answer session followed the program, proving once again that members of Women’s Voices understand that issues faced by the disability community are issues of social justice.
October 14, 2010
Where The Money Comes From, Where The Money Goes
Speaker: Ruth Ehresman, MSW, director of Health and Budgetary Policy, Missouri Budget Project
There has been a significant decline in revenue in the state of Missouri during the past 10 years, according to Ruth Ehresman, director of health and budgetary policy for the Missouri Budget Project. The national recession and record high levels of unemployment have caused budget shortfalls in almost every state. The situation in Missouri is exacerbated by repeated tax cuts, the widespread use of tax credits, the reliance on one-time funds, such as stimulus money, and outmoded tax policy and administrative practices.
The response of the Missouri legislature has been to make deep and repeated cuts to the general revenue budget. Cuts have affected health and social services, transportation, education, and other crucial services that Missourians depend on.
“We can’t have a thoughtful discussion about the budget without a thoughtful discussion about revenue and taxes that make up the budget,” Ehresman said.
As dismal as the situation is, there is hope because there are things that can be done, she emphasized. Steps that could be taken to increase revenue for Missouri include:
- Close the corporate tax loopholes that enable some corporations to avoid paying Missouri taxes
- Collect taxes on internet and catalog sales
- Increase the cigarette tax (at 17 cents per pack, Missouri’s cigarette tax is the lowest in the nation
- Stop giving businesses a discount for filing sales and withholding taxes on time
- Modernize the state’s personal income tax structure, which was last updated in 1931
“We need a groundswell of grassroots support to come up with common-sense solutions to these problems,” Ehresman said. “A good tax structure should be progressive, equitable, flexible, diverse, and adequate to fund the things we know are important for our values and priorities.”
September 9, 2010
Speaker: Chris Krehmeyer, President and CEO of Beyond Housing
Members of Women’s Voices kicked off their sixth year of educational programming on Thursday, Sept. 9, 7 p.m. at the Ethical Society of St. Louis when Chris Krehmeyer joined us to describe how his organization is tackling some of the most pressing social justice problems in our society.
Beyond Housing, established in 1980, is one of the leading providers of housing and support services for low-income families and homeowners in the St. Louis area. The mission of the organization is to strengthen neighborhoods, one family at a time. It does this by providing affordable housing and home ownership services, providing support services to families, children and seniors, being a catalyst for community-wide rebuilding efforts, empowering residents to be leaders in their own neighborhood revitalization efforts, and promoting individual and community asset-building.
Krehmeyer and his associates understand that it’s not enough to simply provide people with four walls and a roof over their heads (although that’s important!) Beyond Housing is the only organization in the St. Louis region that offers access to affordable housing along with a comprehensive array of educational, employment, youth development and other support services.
“Wherever we work, our goal is to help transform people, families and communities, so that they achieve the skills, strategies, resources and commitment to succeed for the long-term,” Krehmeyer says. Beyond Housing is currently working on a number of commercial properties in Pagedale and residential properties in Hillsdale.
Chris Krehmeyer is a compelling and knowledgeable speaker who has been honored for his work on the local, state and national level.