Category Archives: organizing

No, I wasn’t in New York last Sunday marrying Rachel Rawlings, the woman who has put up with me for 14 years now. Not that we hadn’t been hoping for it for a long time, or that we didn’t tear up when we saw the photo of Cheryle Rudd and Kitty Lambert and Niagara Falls lit up in rainbow colors. I do kinda wish I’d gone  there to bear witness, 10 years after Rachel and I got our domestic-partners certificate in Manhattan.

Photo: Kathy Bockus, The St. Stephen Courier.

By the time of the latter in 2000,  itself a sequel to the one we’d secured in San Francisco a year after we met,  we’d already enacted the “in sickness and in health” part of the vows, at each other’s side during hospitalizations, and were about to dance together at my brother’s wedding. In 2004, during what I called “gay marriage fever season,” we jumped at the chance to try for a marriage license in Nyack, N.Y., joining one of a near-dozen lawsuits charging that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. But that suit, like the others,  failed before the state’s highest court in 2006, the justices practically begging the Legislature to clarify the law.

But that didn’t appear imminent when we moved to Pennsylvania two years later; we finally tied the knot last year in a small Canadian town just over the Maine border. (We even made the papers not so much for being a same-sex-marriage but for being the first to marry at New Brunswick’s Chocolate Museum.) Our parents made the trip and our brothers were the official witnesses, something that I’d never have dreamed possible when we met in the 1990s.

Still, as the momentum gathered this year in New York State, we couldn’t help feeling that it was our journey, too. On the day same-sex marriage was voted in, I choked up watching Sen. Tom Duane, whom I’d covered often as a reporter,  speaking about his partner, Lewis Webre, and the bill he’d championed for nearly a decade. And Sunday I loved learning about it on Twitter, as @CityHallNews told me that  “NY County judges prepping to marry ssm couples, affixing brooches to their robes. A reported shortage of inkpads to stamp certificates.” Or from @steven_thrasher: NY #SSM – that “judges don’t say ‘I now pronounce you wife & wife,’ but ‘I now pronounce you married.’ Has a dignity to it.” Absolutely. Over all, 659  couples wed on the historic day.

Rache and I will likely renew our vows in New York, maybe even on our first wedding anniversary. In the meantime, here are some moments many of us will think of as our wedding album:

A week after signing the marriage bill, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was hailed at the city’s Pride parade, along with Sen. Tom Duane and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who proposed to her girl the next day.
12:01, July 24, 2011: Cheryle Rudd and Kitty Lambert start off the day’s festivities with Niagara Falls in the background.
 4  p.m.: Rod and Ricky, the pair of Wall Street bankers  in love from the musical Avenue Q, had a wedding on a Broadway stage along with a handful of the industry’s human gay couples.
 The cover of The New Yorker Magazine, July 25, 2011.

Photo: David Shankbone

Of course, we knew such happiness would be challenged by some people, like this member of the Westboro Baptist Church, which joined for one day with other marriage opponents to stream their rally. (Maybe I won’t put that one in the album, though it’s a useful reminder of why the struggle has taken this long.)

Photo: Jen Doll

5:40 p.m.: Mayor Michael Bloomberg officiates at the wedding of aides John Feinblatt and Jonathan Mintz, to the delight of their ‘tween daughters (and flower girls.)

Please send any photos you  have to supplement these, especially if you were there. We’ll be happy to add them to our gallery. And I’m still so proud of the city where I was born, for helping lead the country into the 21st century.

 

(Originally posted at Women’s Voices for Change.)

A national crisis, now hyper-local

Notice: I am neither dead nor AWOL. Just busier than ever, with a suddenly-really-pending deadline, new blogging at Guernica, and reporting for Newsworks.org – the web portal of WHYY, my local PBS/NPR station.

Here is the very first story I ever pitched to WHYY’s Alan Tu, back in September, Given my background in sussing out tenant stories in Manhattan, I knew quickly that there had to be a story in our slice of the national foreclosure crisis. It’s a story about predatory lending, about neighborhoods, and about a pioneering legislator who figured out 30 years ago what to do about all this.

The story’s also a phoenix: it sat in the pending pile, right behind breaking news, until the city suspended all foreclosures AND I happened upon the perfect interview subject. I hope it absorbs and amuses some folks.

Now to my follow-up story, and to cutting my book manuscript by two-thirds.

Judy Shepard: the true “mama grizzly”

When you hear the phrase “mama grizzly” thrown around as a Republican buzzword, it’s useful to think of heroic women who live up to that phrase. I had the privilege of meeting one last week, at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I was just a mom, who cared about her boys,” said the lovely 5’4″ woman to the 50 people crowding in to hear her, in a campus bookstore at the University of Pennsylvania.  “I was not a public person.”

Yet today, Judy Shepard’s life is entirely public, so much so that she said good-naturedly of her life: “I spend a lot of time on airplanes.” And on, June 27  she was one of three grand marshals in one of New York City’s largest parades: the 41st annual NYC Pride march, urging full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Not that Shepard herself is among them. But ever since her son, Matthew Shepard,  died nearly 12 years ago at the hands of two men who’d been looking for  a gay man to assault, Shepard and her family have worked every day to end such hate crimes.
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any pre-1980 Hunter High alums in Philadelphia?

I’m sitting here listening to WHYY and Talk of the Nation’s report on Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. I’m as obsessed with the nomination as many women in America — especially those who, like me, attended Hunter College High School around the same time she did. When I called my best friend, who I met in 1974 during the first week of school there, she didn’t need to ask why: “Is the press conference starting?” were her words upon answering the phone.

But I was calling instead to tell her that the New York Times had run perhaps the first published mention of our reality back then:

The school, which then occupied two floors of an office building at 46th Street and Lexington Avenue, was and remains one of New York’s elite public high schools. It drew girls from across the city and an array of backgrounds — all admitted on the strength of their performance on an entrance exam, rather than money or family connections.

“We were really exposed to tremendous diversity there — whether it was a Jewish girl from the Upper West Side or a cop’s kid from the Bronx or the daughter of a C.E.O. from the Upper East Side or kids whose parents worked in sweatshops in Chinatown,” said Ellen M. Purtell, a high school classmate of Ms. Kagan’s. “It was never about what you were wearing. It was: Did you bring your best game academically with you today and could you contribute to the discussion?”

I wish I knew the exact day in September that I first got into the elevator of that office building — to me, my exact crossover from the east Bronx into a bigger world. And its all-girl status was part of its magic, one that has been lost for awhile. (I was in the first class that admitted boys, but they were too a test case, and too few to change that magic.)
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Why the iPad makes sense for some of us

It’s now been nearly a week since I–and oh, about 300,000 others–became early adopters of Apple’s new tablet computer, the somewhat unfortunately named iPad. (I still wonder if any women were in the room when they decided on the name.)

You’ve probably heard more about it than you ever wanted to, even if you own one: in this one week alone, we’ve had videos of two-year-olds playing on the thing, articles like “The iPad is a gift to readers” (Salon) and “The 9 Worst Things About the iPad” (Huffington Post). So why am I writing yet another one?

More centrally: why did I, a freelance writer and editor with a super-limited budget, line up at the Apple Store on Saturday with all the hardcore Mac fanboys — who had, like me, “pre-ordered” the device?

Partly because the minute I heard about it, it felt to me not like a luxury item but a near-necessity.

Full disclosure: I’ve been a charter member of the Mac cult for just about 20 years, and am fully aware that it means I have spent more for computers than I should have. I am also one of those “laptop people,” not having used a desktop computer since about 1995. Limits on my vision , dexterity and agility–first from illness, then from age as well–have kept me keenly interested in tools that let me focus on my work and not the computer’s. And as a media professional, I’ve been keenly aware of the newer media spaces, not just “Internet-instead of newspapers,” but phones, game consoles, and social media.

When the iPhone came out, I was in the market for a new laptop and thought of buying the iPhone instead, since it’s a powerful computer in its own right. That fancy passed, but as prices came down I became a proud owner of an iPod Touch, and learned to love both its easy access to work (email, editing blog posts like this one) and its quick windows to the rest of the ‘net. (I swear, for example, that I read a lot more of the New York Times on that tiny screen than I ever did in print.)

The problem with the Touch? Remember the vision and dexterity problems I mentioned above? Even when I increase font sizes, it has felt severely limiting—especially given the admittedly beguiling multitouch interface, where you physically turn pages and place Scrabble tiles. I joke about it, have called it all occupational therapy. But when I first started hearing about the iPad, and heard it critiqued as “just a big iPod Touch,” I clapped my hands. You made me a big one?
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two pictures, old hope

Images  found this week at the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, now in dim photocopies.  I’ll scan both as soon as I can, and provide substitutes in the meantime:

Stokely Carmichael in Alabama, 1966

Stokely Carmichael in Alabama, 1966

#1: June 30, 1966.  A room at NY Community Church on 35th Street, filled to bursting for a press conference. To the left of the table, a reedy and still-handsome David Dellinger, WWII conscientious objector and staff member at War Resisters League, and Stokely Carmichael, about to become chair of the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee (SNCC), looking almost exactly as he does at right.

musteday1Seated just behind Carmichael is pacifist icon A.J. Muste, who had just returned from a visit to Vietnam (looking just as he did in the iconic photo with Dorothy Day, left). Then at the table itself sit Army privates Dennis Mora, James Johnson and Robert Samas, also known as the “Fort Hood Three,” announcing their intention to refuse deployment to Vietnam– flanked by Lincoln Lynch, of the Congress on Racial Equality, and the ubiquitous Staughton Lynd,  co-chair with Muste of the Fort Hood Defense Committee.

In some ways, it’s a picture of the anti-war movement before it fractured into a million little pieces. When the priests, the poets, the politicos and the pranksters who demarcated the movement had yet to manifest themselves, and most simply thought of it as an extension of the struggle for civil rights, three years after the March on Washington.  The letterhead of the Defense Committeee lists, as members and sponsors, such seemingly-disparate pairings a Dorothy Day and Noam Chomsky, both civil rights veteran leader Fred Halstead — soon to run for president on the Socialist Workers Party ballot — and the libertarian journo Nat Hentoff.

This was a moment  just before  Carmichael  went down to Alabama to organize the Lowndes County Freedom Party, whose symbol was a black panther, and long before he came to symbolize Black Power both to SNCC and the FBI;half a year before Muste died at 82, leaving behind a movement already beginning to shred; before the GI antiwar movement had multiplied, until there were imprisoned GIs, more “defense committees” charged with everything from conspiracy to murder, than anyone could count. It’s a serious photo, but somehow hopeful. No one in that room imagined that the war was in some ways just beginning; there’s none of the rage, exhaustion, Dadaist darkness  of even the Chicago Seven protests two years later.

wpaphotoImage #2 was on the cover of WIN Magazine in January 1981. It’s from the November 1980 Women’s Pentagon Action (left). But the image in front of me now is of two college sophomores, not yet nineteen years old, openly grieving after having marched to the Pentagon from Arlington National Cemetery. Ronald Reagan had just been elected, and the next war felt imminent. The crying was part of an innovative, emotionally structured sequence in which the demonstration went through stages, starting with grief and ending with defiance (civil disobedience). One of the girls in that photo is my heart-friend Julia Kay. And two rows behind those two is a girl in braids, looking forlorn and stubborn at the same time.

To my eye, none of those girls looks older than twelve — including the one in the braids. I was only four when those brave boys came forward at Fort Hood, and knew nothing of them when I wept at the Pentagon 15 years later.

Tomorrow is my birthday — god help me, I’ll be forty-seven. (No one told me when I celebrated 40 that it would keep going forward!) But working on this book has brought me closer to that girl in braids than I ever expected.

don't know much bout eco-nomics

My bankruptcy lawyer, among others, is quite aware of my financial illiteracy (something I’m not proud of). Which has likely made it amusing, for the five to ten regular readers of this blog, as I worried about having to get an MBA in order to understand NYC’s then-peaking real estate market. I wanted to simultaneously get a Ph.D. in philosophy, so that I could find a way to articulate that whatever allowed these guys to get away with what they were doing,  it was wrong.

Now, thanks to the invaluable Sullivan, I learn that the degree I was really missing? I could have written their kind of lucrative fictions – but I needed to use advanced mathematics.

I can’t wait for the episode of the show above entitled The Gaussian Copula.