In Praise of Women

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump posthumously pardoned Susan B. Anthony on the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. At the same time, Donald Trump has been actively and openly involved in suppressing the vote by opposing mail ballots with the false claim that mail ballots are subject to fraud and by trying, unsuccessfully in the end, to sabotage the American postal service. The 19th amendment is known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment because Anthony was found guilty in 1873 in New York State of illegally voting in the 1872 presidential election.

The 19th Amendment of the American Constitution was introduced in Congress in 1878 by Sen. Aaron A. Sargent of California. It took over 41 years for it to finally pass when Tennessee became the 36th state ratifying the amendment. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Canadians should know that their historical record was slightly worse. Women’s suffrage was granted in the three prairie provinces in 1916, by the federal government in a partial way in 1917 and fully in 1918. By 1922, all provinces except Quebec had granted suffrage to women.

After I finished premeds and began my first year of medical school in 1957, there were 16 women in our class of 160. There was a 10% quota for women. Our class was the first one at UofT’s medical school to elect a female student as class president. She was from Egypt. When we returned from the summer break in the Fall of 1958, she had not returned. She had died during the summer. She had become pregnant and sought a back-lane abortion. She contracted blood poisoning. Abortions were then illegal. In fact, so was the sale of birth control devices.

In 1936, Dorothea Palmer had been arrested in Ottawa and charged with advertising birth control, then a criminal obscenity under the Criminal Code of Canada. She was acquitted because the judge ruled that education about and distribution of contraceptives was a social good. Twenty years later, as the CAMSI (the Canadian Association of Medical Students and Interns) rep for my first-year medical class, I believe I was the first to use National Film Board documentaries to teach medical students at UofT about different methods of birth control. We have come a long way since then, not only with respect to abortion and contraceptives, but the majority of students now studying medicine at UofT are women. In 2018, 57% of acceptances were female.

We have also come a long way to the third day of the Democratic Party Convention in the U.S. The star of the first night was Michele Obama. The stars of the third night were Barack Obama and Kamala Harris. But the night was awash in female speakers. The emcee for the evening was once again a woman – Karry Washington who set the tone for the evening – “We are fighting for the soul of the country.”

Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton were all lead speakers culminating at the end of the evening with the address of Kamala Harris. Most of the attention of commentators was focused on Barack Obama’s very unique direct attack on Donald Trump and his all-out support for Joe Biden. (I will refer to that speech in tomorrow’s blog.) Further, this was the first evening devoted to substantive policy planks. The issues discussed – gun violence, climate change, childcare, immigration and the separation of children from their parents – were all powerful appeals, especially to women voters.   

In the 116th Congress, of the 435 voting seats in the House of Representatives, 198 are Republican of which 15 are women (7.5%). 232 are Democrats and 90 of them are women – 39%. (There is 1 Libertarian and there are 4 vacancies.) The Democratic Party has become a party for minorities, for women and for educated voters. Gabrielle (Gabby) Dee Giffords, who was a member of the House of representatives from the 8th congressional district in Arizona from January 2007 to January 2012, was featured on the issue of gun violence. She was shot in the head at close range on 8 January 2011, a day after my 73rd birthday. Because of her serious brain injuries, she did not run again. But in the 2020 Democratic Convention she was able to make a powerful appeal to introduce legislation to ban assault weapons and to close the loopholes on background checks.

A wide variety of young girls, and women spoke on the devastating affects on families and often to their American-born children because of Trump’s campaign to deport undocumented migrants. Many have lived for years in America, worked and paid taxes. Featured was a US Marine whose wife was deported to Mexico and separated from her children. Donald Trump as president was accused of using the weight of his office to attack the vulnerable, to undermine the long tradition of America welcoming the homeless in pursuit of the quest for freedom and economic security. Of the estimated 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, the Democratic Party National Convention featured two families of immigrants and their suffering as a result of the Trump harsh policies.

11-year-old Estela Juarez’s father, Temo, served in both the Marine and the National Guard. Her mother, Alejandra, came to the U.S. 22 years ago as an undocumented migrant. Estela was born in the U.S. and was, therefore, an American citizen. In 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement confiscated Alejandra’s Mexican passport and coerced her into self-deporting. Estela spoke directly to the TV audience. “My dad thought you would protect military families, so he voted for you in 2016, Mr. President. He says he won’t vote for you again after what you did to our family. Instead of protecting us, you tore our world apart.”

Donald Trump’s total lack of empathy in contrast to Joe Biden’s was a powerful theme of the evening and this episode was used to show that this flaw in his character had real world consequences for families. Jessica Silvia (she has spina befida) and her sister, Lucy Sanchez, were also featured addressing the audience in English as her mother, Lucia Sanchez, spoke in Spanish and described her ordeal in getting into the United States to save the life of her baby daughter. A number of the speakers referred to Trump’s policies that put children in cages and separated them form their families.

Donald Trump is reputedly a populist. But he was pictured as saying in reference to these illegals that, “They’re animals.” He treats them like animals; they are not eligible to receive medical assistance if they contract COVID-19. He appeals to that segment of the American public that wants to prosecute businesses for hiring aliens but he does not do that even though almost 70% of swing voters favour such action. He would have to prosecute his own businesses. Instead, he goes after undocumented aliens many of whom have been in the U.S. for years. He does so even though a clear majority of Americans favour landing them unless they have criminal records.

It is clear why Trump and the Republicans oppose the implementation of compassion in this case. They are overwhelmingly women-of-colour. They are already the fastest growing segment of voters in the United States. Since 2000, the voting-age population (CVAP) of women of color who are citizens has increased by 59 percent—a gain of more than 13.5 million potential votes They overwhelmingly vote Democrat. The Republicans adamantly do not want to add more to that total for that would condemn the party of Trump to permanent opposition. These women of colour turnout to vote in disproportionate numbers. They are now the backbone of the Democratic Party. Donald Trump is certainly not going to allow compassion to get in the way of efforts to diminish support for the Democratic Party, even if a majority of Americans favour such compassionate initiatives.

Over and over again, Trump’s lack of kindness, respect, civility and empathy was contrasted with that of Joe Biden. The tone shifted from compassion for others to survival of everyone in the segment of the Convention evening on climate change. The devastation to farmers, the floods and fires destroying homes and lives, were featured. But the challenge of environmental change was also presented as an opportunity to create high paying jobs in developing and operating the new technology.  Perhaps the Convention best reached younger voters by featuring Billie Eilish in a wispy white dress singing “My Future,” probably to counteract the widespread pessimism and even despair youth feel about their future in the face of climate change.

I can’t seem to focus
And you don’t seem to notice I’m not here
I’m just a mirror
You check your complexion
To find your reflection’s all alone
I had to go

Can’t you hear me?
I’m not comin’ home
Do you understand?
I’ve changed my plans

‘Cause I, I’m in love
With my future
Can’t wait to meet her
And I (I), I’m in love
But not with anybody else
Just wanna get to know myself

[Verse 2]
I know supposedly I’m lonely now (Lonely now)
Know I’m supposed to be unhappy
Without someone (Someone)
But aren’t I someone? (Aren’t I someone? Yeah)

I’d (I’d) like to be your answer (Be your answer)
‘Cause you’re so handsome (You’re so handsome)

But I know better
Than to drive you home
‘Cause you’d invite me in
And I’d be yours again

But I (I), I’m in love (Love, love, love, love)
With my future
And you don’t know her (Ooh)
And I, I’m in love (Love, love)
But not with anybody here
I’ll see you in a couple years

What an appeal to girls to love and appreciate themselves and have confidence in the future!

When Hillary Clinton spoke forcefully and without an ounce of self pity, her theme appropriately was redemption. “We’ll redeem.” We’ll redeem four horrific years. But she also stuck it to Donald Trump’s most sensitive spot and reminded everyone that she won the popular vote by three million votes. She remined voters that the Obama administration had left Trump with plans on how to manage a pandemic, but Trump not only failed to attend to the plan, but dismantled part of the government apparatus needed to implement the plan.  “What do you have to lose?” Trump had rhetorically asked in 2016. Hillary answered. Far more than even the most pessimistic of us expected. “Our health, our jobs, even our lives, our leadership in the world, and yes, our Post Office.”

Get out and vote. This was repeated over and over again during the evening. Biden and Harris “can win 3 million more votes and still lose. Take it from me. We need numbers so overwhelming Trump can’t sneak or steal his way to victory.”

Then there was the theme of violence against women (and children). Mariska Hargitay an advocate for sexual assault survivors, and other professionals testified. But the most compelling was one head of a national organization, Ruth Glenn, who had been a victim of an abuser.

When it came to pushing the Democratic Party policy, none could do it better than a policy wonk like Elizabeth Warren. She artfully dodged the traps set by journalist questions intending to get her to criticize Joe Biden. She was the spokesperson for the Democratic economic platform. She emphasized “plans to bring back union jobs in manufacturing and create new union jobs in clean energy.” But she spoke from an empty childhood care centre in Springfield Massachusetts that brought out her start as a teacher long before she became a Harvard professor. Daycare had to be as essential a part of the American infrastructure as roads and bridges. Biden and Harris “will make high-quality childcare affordable for every family, make preschool universal, and raise the wages for every childcare worker.”

However, the highlight of my evening was Kamala Harris and not even the speech by Barack Obama that I will touch on tomorrow. Not because she was engaged in pugilism and landing blows on Trump-Spence. For she all but ignored them. If she mentioned Trump once, I missed it. Instead, Kamala was introduced by her family members, by her formidable sister Maya and her up-and-coming niece, Meena, by her (step-) daughter and by the extensive blood and adopted family members who became part of her life.

She gave extensive and heartfelt tribute to her mother who raised her from the age of five and I could not help but think with gratitude of my own mother who raised three boys on her own. I ended the evening identifying with Kamala, appreciating her warm smile and determination rather than getting caught up in the details of the Democratic Party platform.

The whole evening was a tribute to women. I was struck deeply about how much I owe over the course of my whole life to them.


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