24 November 2008

Sara K. Gould Offers Advice to Timothy Geitner in Real Deal Blog Posting

The Real Deal blog of the National Council for Research on Women has posted a Q&A with Ms. Foundation President and CEO Sara K. Gould as part of its "Dear Mr. Treasury Secretary" forum. In her responses, reprinted below, Gould provides recommendations to Timothy Geithner, President-elect Obama's choice for the position.

Linda Basch: What three recommendations do you have for Timothy Geithner, our next Treasury Secretary?

Sara Gould:
  • First, we must strongly urge that the next Secretary ensure that the $700 billion bailout and other actions designed to address the economic crisis prioritize getting relief to communities that need it most. It’s not enough to rely on support for large banks to trickle down to middle and low-income people who are disproportionately affected by the plummeting economy—particularly when the banks’ share of the bailout came with few regulations and the conditions it did come with are being defied (see Naomi Klein’s article in The Nation). Instead, the next Treasury Secretary should require that financial institutions use the bailout money for lending to consumers—instead of to boost the value of its shares. In addition to accountability and comprehensive regulations that apply to bailed-out banks and beyond, s/he should insist upon transparency and reveal exactly where the money is going and how it is being used.

    It is especially critical that the bailout money be used to help people who are facing or already in foreclosure—the majority of whom are likely women and people of color, as they were most likely to receive sub-prime loans in the first place. One promising option is to support FDIC chairperson Sheila Bair’s proposal to use $25 billion of the bailout to provide mortgage relief to homeowners. Her proposal would offer incentives to loan servicers to restructure mortgages, making payments more affordable.
  • Second, an economic stimulus should be passed quickly. It should include immediate relief such as the extension of unemployment benefits as well as programs like job creation and training that will ensure economic stability for low- and middle-income people over the long-term. Any economic stimulus package should be sure to address the urgent needs of those who have been most impacted by the crisis, especially low-income women, women of color and their families. Recent statistics show that women are losing jobs at twice the rate of men.
  • Third, we must return to a system of progressive taxation in which people with high incomes and net worth provide a larger share of tax revenues. New revenue should go towards domestic stimulus programs such as job training and infrastructure rebuilding as well as for key social and economic supports that have been eroded over the last two decades.

Linda Basch: During the economic meltdown, women and people of color were largely absent from the decision-making table, both on the corporate and federal crisis intervention teams. How do we ensure that there is true diversity in developing a new direction for moving forward?

Sara Gould: This is an uphill climb, and we must prioritize and step up all of the work to advance women and people of color into top-tier decision-making positions in all sectors. More women and people of color now serve in the second and third tiers of leadership; what will move them forward? We must use the election of the first person of color to the presidency of the United States to illustrate again the importance of breaking through barriers and striving to make our decision-makers, in both public and private settings, reflect the nation’s diversity. We should also support initiatives like the “Diversity in Democracy Project” that focus on identifying a diverse range of candidates for high-level positions. As well, we should continue to build the power and leadership of low-income women, women of color and others who are disproportionately impacted by economic insecurity and create a better leadership and communication pipeline from the grassroots to state and federal levels to ensure that their voices are consistently heard at policymaking tables.

Linda Basch: What kinds of regulations or checks need to be in place to prevent another economic meltdown or crisis, and how might we ensure that effective reforms and safety measures are followed?

Sara Gould: First, it’s unconscionable that the money given out so far as part of the $700 billion bailout package isn’t being closely regulated, particularly after a severe lack of regulation played a huge hand in creating the economic crisis we’re now in. That money, and the rest that follows, should be subject to regulations and accountability standards that ensure it goes towards lending to consumers to boost the economic security of those who need it most—not for mergers, dividends, or bonuses and salaries of corporate execs.

In general, all kinds of financial institutions, including banks, investment houses and hedge funds, must be subject to comprehensive regulations; they should all be playing by the same set of rules aimed at protecting borrowers and investors from the excesses of speculation and greed. Without a doubt, we should bring executive pay under control.

Finally, we must develop a far better safety net to protect women, families and communities from economic crises large and small. Such a safety net must include benefits that are easy to access and do not carry stigma, include automatic triggers that come into play during times of economic downturn, and be inclusive of immigrants. Without this, women and their families will sink deeper into poverty and be far less likely to recover from overwhelming threats to their economic security, like those they face today.

Ms. Foundation President Sara Gould Advises Geithner to Bail Out Responsibly
Real Deal Blog
November 24, 2008

Conference Call Report: Economy Hitting Women Hardest

In a summary of the Ms. Foundation conference call of November 19 [online audio, mp3 file], Brittany Schell of OneWorld US, wrote:

WASHINGTON, Nov 20 (OneWorld) - Women are being disproportionately affected by the U.S. mortgage crisis and economic plunge, said a panel of women leaders Wednesday, urging a strong woman-focused response from the federal government.

In Rhode Island, the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country, one woman has not been able to find a job for the past eight months and is losing her house to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Another, struggling to take care of her 14-year-old granddaughter because her own daughter is in jail, is a tenant in a building that is being foreclosed. She is being evicted by the bank, even though she is willing to pay rent.

These women's stories, told by Sara Mersha, the executive director of Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) in Rhode Island, are part of what she calls the "economic Katrina."

Mersha spoke along with other women's rights advocates at a teleconference sponsored by the Ms. Foundation for Women called, "Lifted Up or Left Out? Economic Stimulus Policy that Benefits Low-Income Women." The experts discussed the challenges facing women in the United States today and policies that could make a difference.

Read the full story on Yahoo News. Read and post comments on OneWorld US.

20 November 2008

Testimony of Susan Wefald on Domestic Workers, Abuse, Insecurity, and Exploitation

Prepared testimony for New York Assembly Hearing on Domestic Workers Bill of Rights
21 November 2008

Good morning. My name is Susan Wefald. I am the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Ms. Foundation for Women. We support building women's collective power to ignite social change. We fund Domestic Workers United and their efforts to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. I am here to urge you to support this bill on behalf of this valuable work force. 

Domestic workers have long been an important part of our economy, and have become even more so in recent decades as more and more women have joined the paid workforce. This increase in women's workforce participation has been a significant factor in our economic expansion. Sixty-four percent of women with children under age 6, and 56 percent of women with infants (under age 1)-now work outside the home. A full seventy-seven percent of women with children age 6-17, and eighty-one percent of single women with children that age, are in the labor force. Significantly, seventy-six percent of employed mothers of children under eighteen work full time.[1]  

As our parents live longer, women increasingly find ourselves "sandwiched" between caring for our children and our parents. Already working a "double shift" of our day jobs and coming home to care for our children, we don't have any time left for housework. Without nannies to care for our young children, caregivers to care for our aging parents, and housekeepers to keep our homes clean, many women could not work, could not contribute to our society and our economy, as well as to their families' incomes. 

Why is it that domestic workers were deliberately written out of the Fair Labor Standards Act? Isn't this class of workers deserving of the protections afforded other workers? They work just as hard, their work just as valuable. Ask a parent looking for someone to entrust with the care of their precious young children, and you will be told what an important job it is. Ask an adult daughter or son looking for someone to care for their beloved elderly parent, and you will be told what an important job it is. Ask someone looking for a person they can trust to come into their home and clean and care for their valuable possessions, and you will be told what an important job it is. And yet this workforce often cannot afford childcare for their own children, cannot save for their own retirement, cannot even pay the rent on their own home.

We know this workforce is primarily employed by private individuals. Unfortunately there are private employers who take advantage of the fact that these workers have little power and visibility, and exploit them, pay them low wages, abuse them verbally and physically, require impossibly long hours, refuse to give them days off when their workers are sick. These workers need the protection this bill will offer, to give them redress when such exploitation occurs. At the same time, there are many private employers who would like to do the right thing, but don't know what that is. Having clear standards would be a significant help in letting people know what they should pay, and what benefits they should provide.

I speak not only as an officer of the Ms. Foundation, but also from personal experience. I am a single mother by choice. I decided to have children on my own when I reached my forties and didn't want to go through life without the joy of having a child. I won the fertility clinic lottery and wound up with twins, a son and a daughter, now 10. I feel extremely privileged to have a job that I love, and the ability to share my life with my wonderful children. Some people think I am a super woman raising twins by myself while holding down a full time job. But I could not have managed even one day of returning to work without the wonderful nanny I hired to take care of my two 5-month-old infants. And my 86-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer's, is able to continue living at home in Maryland with my 81-year-father because of the two amazing women my brother hired to help with her care. I used word of mouth and various online Brooklyn parents groups to figure out what a fair wage and benefit package was for my nanny. We new parents felt like we were winging it as new employers. A Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would help both worker and employer - those employers who are committed to fairness and justice. And those that aren't need the Bill of Rights to make sure they do the right thing anyway.

Thank you for your time.

1  Cited by the National Women's Law Center from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Employment Characteristics of Families in 2006, Tables 5 and 6, available at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/famee.pdf (last visited Jan. 16, 2008). These percentages understate how many women raising children are in the paid labor force because they reflect only women raising their own children, and do not include the many women who are raising grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, or other related children. Note that the labor force includes those who are working and those who are looking for work.

Media Advisory: Domestic Workers Testify to Mounting Crisis of Abuse, Insecurity, and Exploitation

Domestic Workers United
Ms. Foundation for Women

Ai-jen Poo, DWU (646) 529-7000
Joycelyn Gill-Campbell, DWU (646) 240-6881

New York Assembly Holds First Hearing on Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

New York, NY. Nannies, caregivers, housekeepers, and their employers will testify before the Labor Committee of the New York State Assembly in the Assembly's first hearing on domestic workers. The hearing marks a significant step toward passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (A638B), sponsored by Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem, which provides critical protections to the over 200,000 workers who keep New York families functioning and make all other work possible. Currently excluded from many laws that protect other workers, domestic workers are uniquely vulnerable to abuse and face a workforce crisis of mounting proportions.

What:A hearing of the Labor Committee of the New York State Assembly, sponsored by Assemblyman Keith Wright, on domestic work.
When:11 am - 2 pm, Friday, November 21, 2008
Where:Assembly Hearing Room, 250 Broadway, Room 1923, 19th Floor, NY, NY
Who:Exploited domestic workers; employers, advocates, researchers; Assemblyman Keith Wright (sponsor of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights), Labor Committee Chair Assemblywoman Susan John. Ms. Foundation for Women Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer will present testimony [prepared testimony]  in support of the legislation. **Workers will be available for interviews with the press**
Why:"With the financial crisis bearing down upon New York State, domestic workers are at the forefront of those affected by the downturn. They are being laid-off in record numbers, with no recourse of severance and minimal protection under the New York State labor laws. This is a disaster in waiting," says Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Social Services. "With the hopeful passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, domestic workers will no longer be relegated to an archaic classification that prevents them from reaping the benefits of honorable employment."
# # #

Audio Available: Lifted Up or Left Out? Economic Stimulus Policy that Benefits Low-Income Women

Ms. Foundation grantees and staff shared their experiences and expertise in a conference call that addressed the impact of economic conditions on low-income women and discussed policies that could make a difference. The speakers in the 19 November 2008 call were:

Nancy Duff Campbell, Co-President, National Women's Law Center
Ai-jen Poo, Lead Organizer and Founder, Domestic Workers United
Sara Mersha, Executive Director, Direct Action for Rights and Equality
Sara K. Gould, President and CEO, Ms. Foundation for Women

Listen with the player below, download the mp3 file.

18 November 2008

Guest: Post-Election Musings by Makani Themba-Nixon

The Ms. Foundation is pleased to present this guest commentary by Makani Themba-Nixon of The Praxis Project. It is part of our ongoing effort to share invited guest voices. 

Post-Election Musings 
By Makani Themba-Nixon

Closer to Home

I've always wanted to love this country. To feel that unalterable sense of home that no matter what it does, it belongs to me. I know people from Chile, Palestine, Rwanda, for example, who have literally lost everything—their parents and siblings murdered, their homes burned to the ground. Still, they fight for their homeland with a sense of ownership, a sense of deep connection that separates the place from the people who run it.

As a Black woman, I have always envied this sense of homeland. Although I changed my name, among other things, to try to make real my sense of Africa as my imagined home, I, like many others in this country, have long felt homeless in this respect.

On election night, for the first time in my life, I saw people gathered to say unequivocally that they finally feel at home in this country. I walked the streets of this nation's capital built by enslaved Africans until nearly dawn. Spontaneous gatherings were sprouting everywhere. I stood in the crush of thousands at the White House as people sang, "Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na. Hey, hey, hey. Goodbye…" They chanted, "Who's House? Our House!" And then I saw another first: the White House turned off every light—in the house and on the grounds. It was the physical manifestation of what they've done for the last eight years: sit in the dark and pretend we weren't there.

In Adams Morgan, a lively queer group brought some extra flava by leading 18th Street in the chant, "Obama for Yo Mama!" U Street was straight out of control. The Ethiopian clubs were bumping , and in the middle of the street a multinational dance-off converged that repped much of East and West Africa, frat boys and old school hip hop of all stripes. It felt like being in South Africa after Mandela was elected or in Venezuela after Chavez. It felt like anywhere but the US after an election.

I don't think many offices got cleaned that night. Folk were out in their jumpsuits, standing on the yellow line, just hooping and hollering to the sound of cars honking and people beating rhythmically on their car roofs. Downtown DC was full of smiling, crying people so full of joy and, yes, hope, that they would spontaneously talk to others, bursting with analysis. At the National Council of Negro Women, the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation had an old school party where people cried and danced and hugged each other and, yes, did the electric slide to freedom.

A New Progressive Coalition?

Earlier in the day, four hundred people stood in line at 4am in Woodbridge, Virginia determined to vote in a state that does not require employers to allow employees paid time off for voting. I spoke to a waitress in Alexandria who had just found out she had a shift change and was heartbroken. She would miss her first chance to vote after becoming a citizen last year.

There was a family from Culpepper, Virginia including a 62-year-old grandmother and three grandchildren in their twenties who were voting for the first time. And then there were the day laborers who moved from organizing around local conditions to organizing around national elections in less than a year. These brothers, members of Tenant Workers United, spent Election Day knocking on doors in the rain because they had come to see the connection between their lives and the elections. There are so many stories. I am too full to do them justice. They are each their own miracle.

Stories like these belied the neat red-blue dichotomy that so dominated network news later that night. The turnout was much more nuanced and often more raced. Over and over, Obama victories told a similar story: people of color and young whites were key.

Maybe now, as we examine further the turnout demographic in places like North Carolina, Indiana, New Mexico, Colorado and more, we can finally lay to rest this unsubstantiated worship of the soccer mom/NASCAR dad as the necessary foundation for progressive victory. No more "blueprints" that put money in every place but urban centers. No more colored people as after thoughts. No more Joe Six Pack or Joe the Plumber as the archetypal American story. Maybe we can face the fact that it was Jose and Shanequa and Mohammed who made the difference this season.

Sure, there was vote flipping, vote stealing and a biased voting system that held Obama back from an even more impressive win. I mean what kind of system won't mandate time off to vote or will allow Ted Stevens (R-AK) to run for Senate as a convicted felon but not allow our ex-offenders, who have done their time, to vote?

But this year, long-time warriors like the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Lawyers' Committee, NAACP and Advancement Project were joined by the Obama campaign, which organized voter protection teams in every state where funny business was expected. It was another historic first: a Democratic candidate that did not participate in the long-time, bi-partisan "gentlemen's agreement" to look the other way on voter suppression. In fact, Obama was the first major party nominee to implement a full-blown street operation that valued our communities' vote, and in doing so, bucked a century old tradition of paying "leaders" to "deliver" us.

Now What

Clearly, the eagerness of so many to translate their newfound activism and burgeoning political literacy into local action opens up new opportunities. I literally heard hundreds of people say to me, "This is not about Obama. He is just an agent. Now, we have to take responsibility to get involved where we are."

And that's what keeps me up at night. How do we keep from blowing this opportunity? What do we need to let go of and embrace in order to really see our way ahead?

I have friends who are deeply consternated by the elections. They are afraid of how hard it will be to move a progressive agenda because of the passion that people feel about Obama's candidacy. On the one hand, there is greater access and likelihood he will embrace some key issues. On the other hand, his "big tent" paradigm creates greater pressure to distance himself from many progressive issues including avoiding an attack against Iran. And then there's that "post racial" thing.

Our work will be even harder, they say, because it will be difficult to hold him accountable. Sure, but how well did we hold Bush accountable? And is accountability the end game or is it power to govern, to move our agendas? And what is the strategic relationship between the two?

If it's the latter, we might not need to start the public conversation with an Obama critique, although there are many legitimate and important ones to make. Perhaps we start with building the infrastructure to support progressive, local work that helps channel this new activism—particularly in African American communities, where progressive institutions remain severely under-resourced.

Perhaps we also ask how we bring people closer to a concrete political framework that solves problems, broadens the imagination and deepens the analysis. What are the necessary reforms, frames and institutional changes that will help facilitate this larger project? And what new stories can be told, new dreams inspired?

I have long believed that no one ever takes anything that they don't somehow believe they are entitled to. It is at the core of what made me uncomfortable with such concepts like "Take Back America." How can I take back America when, as Langston Hughes wrote so eloquently, it never was America to me?

Which brings me back to where I began. Today, there are many more folk for whom America is closer to being "America" to them. I can either dismiss this as wide-eyed ignorance or I can work with others to leverage this new confidence to advance change we can depend on. Perhaps it will require me to give up my perception of myself as a "captive in Babylon" and embrace the project of making this country truly home -- in every sense of the word -- for the people who built it and keep it going every day.

Makani Themba-Nixon is Executive Director of The Praxis Project, a nonprofit organization helping communities use media and policy advocacy to advance health equity and justice.

07 November 2008

Join Us for Nov 19 Conference Call: Economic Stimulus for Low Income Women

Join our Conference Call on Wednesday, November 19
Time: 1:00-2:30 p.m. EST

Lifted Up or Left Out?
Economic Stimulus Policy that Benefits Low-Income Women

As our nation faces the challenges of a once-in-a-century economic crisis and the opportunities of a new presidential administration, our conversation will address the impact of economic conditions on low-income women and discuss policies that could make a difference. Ms. Foundation grantees and staff will be sharing their experiences and expertise in a conversation which will include:

Nancy Duff Campbell, Co-President, National Women's Law Center
Ai-jen Poo, Lead Organizer and Founder, Domestic Workers United
Sara Mersha, Executive Director, Direct Action for Rights and Equality
Sara K. Gould, President and CEO, Ms. Foundation for Women

Register by Monday, November 17. To register, or for more information, please contact Kara Elverson at kpollardelverson@ms.foundation.org or by phone at: 212-709-4424

    05 November 2008

    Sara K. Gould Comments on Historic Election

    We join you in celebration of an historic moment in our nation - the election of Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States! The American electorate’s embrace of a vision that calls to all to renew our democracy, and lifts up the participation of women and men who live now at the margins of our society, is a moment of enormous hope and possibility for us all.

    It is also a moment for bold action. All of us who seek change that prioritizes racial, economic and gender justice must redouble our efforts at building powerful constituencies capable of holding our elected leaders accountable. We must join diverse constituencies together, creating new – and renewing old – connections across issues, movements, geography and levels of activity.

    In particular, this moment holds great promise for making strong and strategic connections between women’s and other social justice organizing.

    These new connections will raise the voices, vision and visibility of women leaders in low-income communities and communities of color. We know that when women who now face exclusion based on race, class and gender truly gain access and agency in our society, solutions to pressing problems will emerge that benefit not only women, but all people, families and communities.

    Thank you all for everything you do to create a better world for us all.

    Sara K. Gould
    President and CEO
    Ms. Foundation for Women