Thursday, December 10, 2020

Ask Candidates for Governor -- Do you support the right to vote for all?

When challenged in 2016 by people asserting that his voter restoration initiative was a plan to qualify Black people to vote for Hilary, then Governor Terry McAuliffe chose to respond by publishing this data that showed that a majority (52%) of the 170,000+ people whose rights he restored were white (even though a majority of those disenfranchised were and are people of color).  

This disproportion reflected the reality of longer sentences post enactment of Virginia's "no parole" law in 1995 and the continued and increased racialization of the criminal legal system. This reality and the fact that about 12,000 more people (majority Black) are felonized each year demonstrate unequivocally that the only way to bring racial justice to the ballot box is by constitutionalizing universal suffrage -- guaranteeing the right to vote to every Virginian 18 and over -- a right that can't ever be taken away by the government from any person for any reason. 

We need to demand that every candidate for governor commit to champion the right to vote for all (no exceptions, no requirements other than age of majority).  

As Martin Luther King said, "give us the ballot and we will no longer have to worry the federal [or state] government about our basic rights." 

The vote is the foundation of our democracy, and it belongs to the people.  We should not allow government to take it away nor allow government to decide whether and when a person can get it back.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Making Room at the Top and for Self

In October, I announced my intention to "retire" from my job as Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia. 

Here's what I said about my decision:

"It is with profound gratitude for the eight plus years that I have been honored to be allowed to serve as the Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia that I submit my resignation effective March 31, 2021 or as soon as my successor is in place.

I wanted to provide this extended notice so that the transition can be a smooth one and the Board will have adequate time to search for the new Executive Director. I also wanted to time the transition so that it would fall at the end of the 2021 legislative session and at the beginning of our fiscal year. If it would be helpful, I am open to serving as a senior advisor to the new ED for a couple of months after they are onboarded.

I wanted to make the announcement of my “retirement” from this position before the election because I didn’t want anyone to think that my choosing to move on was a response to the outcome of the election, whatever it may be.

I have been thinking a lot about “retiring” as Executive Director since last June when Alexis Ohanian announced his resignation from the board of the company he founded, Reddit, as an answer to the question his daughter might ask following George Floyd’s murder, “what did you do?” Ohanian said he was resigning from the board to make room for a Black director. He said he believed “resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now.” That made me think about whether I should step aside from this leadership position in order to make room for the next generation of leadership at the ACLU. Justice Ginsburg’s death at age 86 accelerated my thinking in significant part because I am only 15 years younger than she was at her death. Fifteen years is not a lot of time in absolute terms and, in relative terms, it is almost no time at all.

I am ready to make room for new leadership to step in and step up now because the ACLU of Virginia is very well positioned to meet any challenges ahead, whatever they are. Since 2012 when I came on board, we’ve grown from 6 employees to more than 20. The people we have added to our team are exceptional in every respect. We have substantial resources in the bank to weather any downturn and invest in making and sustaining important and lasting change. We have an infrastructure in place to sustain and build on the foundation we’ve laid. We have a committed group of lay leaders on our Board of Directors. Our supporters and members now number over 100,000, up from 8,500 just four years ago this fall.

For me, personally, I have begun to long for the time when I was just “me” and not so closely tied to an organizational brand. I want the freedom to set my own schedule and priorities, to be active politically and to help elect the next generation of Virginia’s statewide leaders in 2021. I want to spend my “retirement” and the time I have left helping to make sure that Virginia is a place where all of my extended family (most of whom now live here) will be safe and welcome and where all of my friends feel valued and loved for who they are. I want to be free to look for opportunities to continue to make a difference so that, whatever happens in Washington, Virginia will

• continue to move away from its racially unjust history,

• continue the work to assure racial justice at the ballot box and in our criminal legal system,

• realize the promise of our “first in the south” protection of LGBTQ people from discrimination, and

• erase remaining barriers to people’s access to abortion and basic reproductive health care.

In a very real respect, I will not be leaving the work, just the workplace and the position of power I am holding. The ACLU of Virginia and all of the staff and Board members will retain their hold on my heart."

I was honored when Michael Paul Williams dedicated his column to my decision to make room at the top for the next generation to lead.

Friday, September 25, 2020

One Person Can Make a Difference ... and How!


Vigil --  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg

September 20, 2020

We are here tonight to pay our respects to a righteous woman who led the way for all of us.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s dedication to her vision of an America where we are all truly equal --- where our policies and our laws do equity --- left us in a profoundly better place than she found us.  It is not an overstatement to say that, as Thurgood Marshall was the leading legal mind of the civil rights movement, Ruth Bader Ginsberg was the leading legal mind of the women’s rights movement.

At the ACLU, in Virginia and nationally, we are grieving Justice Ginsberg’s death as the death of a member of our family.  She was the first director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project – a project founded only because of her unrelenting advocacy.  She assumed that position in 1972 and by 1974 the ACLU nationally had brought 300 cases challenging gender discrimination. Her strategy was an inclusive one … helping the mostly male judges understand that men and women (and non-binary people and transgender people) all are adversely affected by sex discrimination … by the limiting stereotypes that undergird traditional views of gender and sex.

For me personally, I know that I have experienced opportunities that I would not have had but for Justice Ginsburg’s advocacy. I am also grateful that opportunities that I was denied because I am a woman (like being able to attend UVA or any Ivy League school as an undergraduate or being able to get credit in my own name when I was a new law graduate) are now open to other women because of Justice Ginsberg’s legal leadership.  

For all of us, Justice Ginsberg’s death has us asking with trepidation … what does the future hold? Who will light the way forward?

For those who are tempted to see Justice Ginsberg’s death as the extinguishing of a light, I ask you to see it as the passing of the latern. Reach out and hold the light high so others can follow.

For those who are tempted to see Justice Ginsberg’s death as the end of a race, I ask you to see it as the completion of the lead off leg in an important relay. Reach out and accept the passing of the baton so that you can carry it forward and pass it to the next runner.

For all of us tempted to give in to hopelessness, I encourage you to remember Bryan Stevenson’s advice that hopelessness is the enemy of justice.  We must remain optimistic to do the work ahead.  We must be resilient.

I recently read an article in the NY Times by Eilene Zimmerman that asked why some people are more resilient than others. Zimmerman wrote that the “most resilient among us are people who generally don’t dwell on the negative, who look for opportunities that might exist even in the darkest of times.”  “Dedication to a worthy cause or a belief in something greater than oneself” also enhances resilience.  Zimmerman advised focusing energy on what can be changed and looking for meaningful opportunities in any difficult situation. And, she pointed out that resilient people don’t “go it alone.” Resilient people find or develop a support system.

So, let’s leave here tonight drawing resilience from our shared commitment to our worthy causes, promising to look for opportunities even in this dark time, and finding support from those here with us and our allies in the fight for reproductive justice and gender and racial equity. 

Let’s leave here committed to pursuing our cause at the polls in November and in Congress … 

Let’s leave here committed to working harder in the Virginia legislature to make Virginia laws more equitable and to ensuring that, whatever happens in Washington, 

·      our Commonwealth will continue to move away from its racially unjust history,

·      our Commonwealth will continue the work to assure racial justice at the ballot box and in our criminal legal system,

·      our Commonwealth will not go back on our “first in the south” protection of LGBTQ people from discrimination,


·      our Commonwealth will not reinstitute burdensome laws limiting women’s access to abortion and basic reproductive health care. 

May Justice Ginsberg’s memory be for a blessing and may her memory be for a revolution.

Playing on the Women's Team

 This is the text of a talk I gave in Richmond at a Mindful Mornings event.  What's most important in the context of this election and elections in Virginia in 2021 is where it ends --- 

"Let’s make a pact here and now that each of us will find and support a woman candidate for governor whose positions on issues we care about are aligned with ours, and refuse now to reject arguments that our candidate can’t win (because she can if we support her).

And, let’s agree not to criticize any woman who is running on her likeability, “electability” or other stereotype furthering basis. Let’s promise each other only to challenge women candidates with whom we disagree on the basis of our substantive disagreement on issues."

Then, and only then,

Only if we play on the women’s team

Can we ALL win.

Mindful Mornings

April 3, 2020

Gender Equity -- Electing Women

Our host, Mindful Mornings Richmond Chapter Founder Becky Crump suggested that I start by talking about who I am and how I came to be engaged in the work I do.

The simple answer is heritage and lived experience.

The heritage part:

I’m the oldest of six, the daughter of a career military officer and a mother who was an “activist” who helped ensure that there was a right to education included in the 1970 revision of the Virginia constitution.

I’m the granddaughter of the first woman to be a statewide Republican committee woman in New Jersey.

I’m also the granddaughter of a woman said to have jumped out of the stands at a high school football game to become the first woman “yell leader” in West Virginia.

And, I’m the great granddaughter of a woman who our family lore says road circuit as an intinerant teacher in Montana with Jeanette Rankin, the woman who went on to become the first woman in Congress when elected in 1916.

The lived experience part:

I went to elementary school when schools in Fairfax County were still legally segregated.

I got my first job when newspapers still said “help wanted men/help wanted women.”

I graduated from high school at a time when Virginia colleges and Ivy League schools were still gender segregated.

Aside:  proud to say now that 2 ACLU cooperating attorneys sued UVA in 1969 to change that.

I entered law school at a time when only 8% of the students were women. (It’s now almost 50%).

As a law student, I had to have my dad co-sign the loan for my first new car, not because I didn’t have the money but because the Equal Credit Opportunity Act hadn’t passed yet and that’s what banks required of women.

While in law school,  I made my first appearance before a Virginia General Assembly to testify in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment,  wearing the bracelet I have on today in celebration of Virginia’s status as the 38th state to vote to ratify it.

Some firsts for women in my lifetime since I graduated from law school:

1st SCOTUS justice

1st state attorney general

1st woman on the national ticket

1st black woman U.S. Senator

1st VA AG/1st and only VA statewide elected official

1st US AG

1st Secretary of State

1st Speaker of the U.S. House

In 2019, 1st state legislature to be majority women (Nevada)

In 2020, 1st VA Speaker and Clerk of the VA House, 1st president pro tem of the VA Senate

In 1997, I wrote an article called “The View from the Balcony” about how few women were then in the Virginia legislature. At that time, only 15% of the members were women, and there were no woman on House Courts (where decisions were being made about domestic relations, abortion, and criminal laws), or Senate Finance where the budget was written and only one woman on House Rules that set the rules for the House.  The lack of women’s voices showed in what legislation was considered and how it was written.  Example 1995 “prison reform”/”no parole” law.  No women at the table when the bill was being written, not in the legislative committees, not from the AG’s office, not from the Governor’s office.  If there had been women in the conversation, would prevention been a topic of discussion in addition to punishment? We won’t ever know.

Twenty two years later, this year the view and the outcomes are quite different.  Women now make up almost 30% of the legislature. The House Speaker, House Clerk and House Majority leader are all women.  There are five women on House Courts including the chair and vice-chair; six on House Rules, including the Speaker as chair; and five on Senate Finance, including the chair. The President Pro Tem of the Senate is the first woman and first Black person to serve in that capacity. 

And, the impact is evident in the list of legislation that is being considered and passed including:  the ERA; repeal of restrictive abortion laws; new anti-discrimination laws; a pregnant workers’ fairness act; a bill to mandate free tampons and pads for students; an increase in the minimum wage that includes domestic workers; bills addressing school lunch and distribution of excess food; changes in juvenile criminal laws limiting life without parole, trial as adults and custodial interrogation without notice to parents; bill requiring baby changing facilities in public buildings; a bill defining birth control; a bill establishing a Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; bills protecting trans students in schools; a bill regulating doulas and prohibiting health insurers to require pre-authorization to transfer a newborn to another hospital when the child needs specialized care.

All of this is great, of course, but this week should help us all see that our “women’s work” is far from done.

Knowing from our experience what a difference the presence of a critical mass of women and women’s leadership can make – we need to ask ourselves why we haven’t and don’t seem to want to elect a woman to the top job in our state or the nation.

When I talk about wanting to elect a woman governor or president, people often challenge me by asking whether that means I would support a woman who they absolutely know isn’t aligned with me on issues I care about, and, if not, why not?

In my view, however, the right question is not whether I would vote or any woman regardless of her position on issues I care about.  The right question is why a person wouldn’t vote for a candidate who agrees with them on issues they care about just because that candidate is a woman.

A 2019 NY Times poll found that 41% of people said they’d vote for Biden but not Warren over Trump. The reason: women who run for president “just aren’t that likeable.”

In a January 2020 CNN poll 20% of women said a woman could not win the presidency compared to 9% men. This despite the amazing gains made by women in the 2018 mid-term and state elections and the 2019 election results in Virginia.

Why is this? Bottom line, women who run for the presidency (and in Virginia for the governorship) violate social norms – including simply the presumed arrogance of pursuing an ambitious political goal.  These candidates confront what Kathleen Hall Jamison called out as “double binds” like you can’t be both feminine and competent.  You can’t be assertive and nurturing.

Brittany Cooper, a self-described black feminist, writing in Time Magazine argues that Warren’s gender was and should have been an “edge” for Warren and was not irrelevant as some on the left argue. Cooper said, “the experiences one gains from being marginalized because of racism and sexism offer invaluable perspectives that often make candidates inclined to be more egalitarian and inclusive, precisely because they know intimately what exclusion feels like.”

But, the reality is that Warren’s gender was said even by progressives to irrelevant or a disqualifier.

And, a key trope was that people didn’t support Warren because she was a woman, but because of the kind of woman she was.

Haven’t we all heard that before?  And, I’m not referring to Hillary Clinton, although people said that often in 2016 and after.

I am referring to Mary Sue Terry. During her campaign, Patricia Cornwell (yes, that Patricia Cornwell) cut an ad for Terry’s male opponent in the governor’s race in which she literally said that Virginia needed a woman governor “but not this woman.”

Why does this matter? Because as Gail Evans points out in her book “She Wins, You Win,” a woman’s criticism of another woman has a saliency that a man’s criticism would not.

Evans says “every woman must always play on the woman’s team” in the office and I believe in politics. Evans underscores that “every time a woman succeeds your chance of succeeding increases. Every time a woman fails, your chance of failure increases.” Mary Sue Terry’s 17% loss in 1993 and Clinton’s loss in 2016 have made people (including women) more “nervous” about whether a woman can get elected as governor or president.

When women participate in criticizing other women, they perpetuate stereotypes that come back to hurt their own chances of success.

No one gives power away. The more we women help each other the more we all move toward greater success – if we don’t help we all take a step backwards.

So what now? Our choice to elect a woman as the 45th president has now passed us by.

But there is an election for the next governor of Virginia in 2021.

Let’s make a pact here and now that each of us will find and support a woman candidate for governor whose positions on issues we care about are aligned with ours, and refuse now to reject arguments that our candidate can’t win (because she can if we support her).

And, let’s agree not to criticize any woman who is running on her likeability, “electability” or other stereotype furthering basis. Let’s promise each other only to challenge women candidates with whom we disagree on the basis of our substantive disagreement on issues.

Then, and only then,

Only if we play on the women’s team

Can we ALL win.