An interview with Dr. Radhika Puttagunta, a woman of science
Ever since her days as a high school student in Flint, Michigan, Radhika Puttagunta has known she wanted to be a geneticist. After receiving her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus, Puttagunta left the American Midwest to join her husband in Germany, and she now runs the Neurogeneration Laboratory at the Spinal Cord Injury Center within the UniversityHospital in Heidelberg. We caught up with Radhika, 41, a member of the Stuttgart chapter of Democrats Abroad, as she was working on two grant applications and hoping to carve out time to participate in the April 22nd Science March in Heidelberg.
In an interview conducted via e-mail and telephone, Radhika took aim at the approach to science adopted by the new administration in Washington, D.C., described the challenges she faces as a woman in her male-dominated field in Germany, and talked about how she and her engineer husband manage two demanding careers and care for two young children.
How did you become a member of Democrats Abroad?
I was searching for groups for expatriate Americans when I first moved here about 10 years ago, and found Democrats Abroad, along with Writers in Stuttgart and the International Women’s Club, as well as a short-lived Book club. The first time I attended a meeting, however, was this year, as the group was undergoing internal changes. This was the first time I actually felt fear for my country and wanted to do something about it. I went to the February meeting because I believe that the country is headed sharply in the wrong direction. I was upset and so were several of my friends, whose anger registered with me via Facebook even from the other side of the world. I watched all this activism back home and wanted to be involved.
I had been so elated in 2008 with the election of President Obama, and thought we had turned a corner as a country. But after that election I saw that extreme factions grew stronger, with racism and anti-government sentiment coming to the forefront, and biased cable news programs dominating the media landscape. I was shocked as I watched friends back in the USA struggle to afford health care for their families and the start of teaching non-scientific topics within science education in schools. I felt things spiraling downward, and then with the 2016 election, the bottom fell out. Betsy DeVos, a person without any public education background, who pushed “school choice” in Detroit, Michigan effectively destroying that educational system, was named head of the Education Department, and Scott Pruitt, who is vehemently opposed to environmental preservation, was put in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, just to name a couple of the many disappointments in a very short period of time.
What do you think of the new president’s approach to science?
I think it will have the exact opposite effect of what he says he wants, funding on results alone is not the way to go forward. Creativity and solutions cannot be rushed. Things such as basic science research are being defunded, to give preference only to science that can be translated into human health benefits. Why is this problematic? Because where do we find answers to our current problems? Often in nature. Understanding how it works and what solutions have naturally evolved help us find new breakthroughs. When we start to lose that inherent curiosity about the world around us and are only concerned with results, we most likely will lose out on the really transformative discoveries. What has made American science amazing and had the world knocking at our door was the amount we spent on ALL kinds of science. I think the biggest innovations came from funding innovative risky out-of-the-box ideas or basic exploratory science without a specific result in mind. Those moments when you think there is no way this will work but let’s try it anyway -- those are usually the moments that go down in history. When you pull your purse strings so tight there is no margin for error, well, science just doesn’t work that way, it is a process. I am of the field of thought that we should fund more science and education, this is the way forward. Find alternatives for lacking resources, find cures for diseases we never lived through before, find new ways to conserve. Look at our history, how much has come out of funding science, we are able to achieve it, but we must fund it. We need knowledge, not war and slashing 20% of the NIH budget will not help with that. Unfortunately funding science after things are destroyed or epidemics are started does not help solve problems, we must remain ahead of the curve.
How did you get to the job you do today and what does it involve?
I have wanted to be a scientist since high school and I have wanted to be a professor since I was 16. The reason? I love science but more importantly, I want to teach others about science so that when they go off and vote, they make informed decisions on things that not only affect my work but our lives as a whole. I don’t want people to vote out of fear or ignorance.
Classically trained as a geneticist, when I moved to Germany, I wanted to put my skills to work in the field of neuroscience. I find the brain and both nervous systems absolutely fascinating. There is no computer we have ever created or any invention that is even close to the human body. All of that is controlled by our nervous systems. Living in Stuttgart meant I had the choice between two well respected universities with excellent Neuroscience programs, Tuebingen or Heidelberg. After seven years of work at the University of Tuebingen, I have been running my own group at the University of Heidelberg for the past year. Although housed in a clinic, I do basic research, focusing on how to grow neurons again after a spinal cord injury. With that kind of injury, the damage means that the brain is no longer able to make a connection to the rest of the body – I like to say, the circuits are interrupted. I am doing research into how to regrow nerves, and re-establish the circuitry. We don’t just hope to make people overcome limb paralysis but regain bladder control, sexual function and overcome injury induced pain, issues often not highlighted in the field.
I currently have three PhD students I am training, along with one post-doctoral fellow, a lab manager and several rotating masters students. I am now working toward the “habilitation” certificate necessary to become a professor in Germany. Aside from running my laboratory I teach courses for Masters and Phd students and hope to develop new courses for medical and undergraduate students. I love the creativity of what I do, that I shape young minds and I get to experiment! I get to actually think of possible solutions to problems and try them out. I can find out if I was right or wrong, how great is that?!
Do you have family members who work in science?
Not exactly scientists but my parents are both physicians, in fact most of my family on my mother’s side are physicians, but my father’s side is a bit more diverse. My late paternal aunt was a chemistry professor in India. One maternal uncle has a PhD in chemical engineering and runs the research division at the New York Blood bank after having been a professor at UC Berkley for many years. I have maternal cousins who also have become professors now after pursuing medical degrees, they are wonderful researchers at prestigious US universities. I have one paternal cousin who is pursuing his biology PhD. We also have our share of engineers, business entrepreneurs, lawyers, software programmers and such.
Are there heroes whom you look up to?
Yes, of course! First and foremost, my mother, as she was a pediatrician with her own practice (now deservedly retired). Being our primary caretaker, as my father was working quite a bit, she somehow she made it all work. She never missed an event at school, any doctor appointments or meetings. We grew up doing pretty much any activity you can think of, piano, karate, Bharatanatyam dance, Girl Scouts, guitar, basketball, tennis, horseback riding, etc. I am sure I missed some activities in there. Anyway, she was incredibly busy with us running around on top of running her own business. So when people ask me how I’m able to do something they view as extraordinary, I just don’t see it that way. I’m doing what I see as every day normal. I should also state that all four of my maternal aunts are just like my mother, doctors with families. As I said, it has always been my norm. That said I now know after haven been through it that it involves hard work and dedication; they are my heroes, especially my mother.
I was so fortunate to have an amazing undergraduate advisor at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, who raised her two children while successfully building her research laboratory. She is German but now also an American citizen. She is an accomplished scientist, mother and choir member. Her talents are truly endless. Again, this showed me at a young age that you can have it all, you truly can be a mother and successful in your career.
Do you participate in any networks for women in science? Are you helping to organize any events around the Science March?
There aren’t that many for women at my level here in Germany, but I am involved in a mentorship program that is linked to a collaborative grant I am a part of. I did start a group in Tuebingen for female investigators after they finish their PhD and it has continued after my departure. Maybe one day I will get the chance to start a similar one in Heidelberg. Regarding the marches – unfortunately no organizing as I am really stretched for time right now. I must get two grants out by the end of the month, and for now everything else must wait. I hope to march in Heidelberg if I have the time. I was so disappointed to be out of the country at the time of the Women’s March and unable to participate.
Have you encountered problems at work because of your gender?
I have to say that in German culture, both men and women, are quite tough on full-time working mothers. It seems to be the belief that the mother should stay at home while the children are young. So I get shocked looks or comments to indicate such after I mention my full-time job and all the commuting I do. I have lots of female friends in the US who work and they don’t hear similar criticism for working full time with young children. You have to remember many of them grew up in daycares, after school programs or with babysitters and we didn’t find doing so to be detrimental in anyway. There are very few women here at my position or higher, so there aren’t many role models to turn to, and probably why I have inadvertently became a de facto role model to others. Do I feel women still have to work harder to prove themselves than men do in science? Yes. Does the data back me up? Yes. I still don’t see why me having two X Chromosomes would make me any less of a scientist or capable than someone with a X and Y Chromosome.
Most of my colleagues are men, and although they may be more involved at home than previous generations most of them have full support through stay-at-home spouses. They don’t need to come home and worry about running the laundry so the kids have clean clothes for school in the morning. Is there an upside to all of this? Well, I am not sure how to explain it exactly but once you become a mother you find you become hyper focused and very efficient. I guess it is due to extreme necessity that may have been lacking before. Having a family in this field and being a woman even frames the smaller decisions. For example: I actually thought twice whether to put photos of my kids up at work. If a man does that, it’s, “Oh, how sweet.” But I might hear, “Such young children – that must be difficult for you to balance?” I could make life easier for me by hiding that part of my life but I don’t see any reason to apologize for my full life. So not only do I have their pictures up but also drawings they have done recently. I don’t dwell on the kids but I also do not ignore their existence.
Biology is a field that starts out with about 50% women in PhD programs. By graduation you have already lost some of those women, in the post-doc years many more leave and very few stay after that. Those that do are typically not married, or if they are, they don’t have children. Those that do either of those two definitely don’t have multiple kids. Those of us that have opted for those three cardinal sins are considered to be a rare breed. Only time will tell if I can break through the glass ceiling, but I am not giving up. I want my kids to see that nothing can stand in your way when you want something. Not your gender, not your ethnicity and not your nationality.
Do you consider yourself to be a feminist?
Feminism means to me supporting women in their choices, careers and dreams just as much as we do men. I am not under the illusion that there will be complete equality as our biology does not for allow for it in some ways, but I do believe we can have intellectual and job equality.
To do my part I actively speak about things I have experienced that I think women do not discuss freely enough about; dealing with infertility; not loving every moment of being a mother; raising a kid your way, and that way may be a mash-up of different cultures; choosing to breastfeed or not; marriage is hard work; speaking your mind and feeling that you deserve to be heard; knowing yourself truly and your own desires before getting involved with someone else; being abundantly clear with your significant other, they are not able to read your mind; that quality is better than quantity of time with kids; making sure to look after your own health because too often we let our health slide to unhealthy depths; and that not everyone needs to marry or have kids and that is perfectly ok. As you can imagine the list goes on and I think we benefit from having more open discussions without fear of judgement but support of our sisters.
Have you had to deal with failures or major obstacles, and if so, what did you do to get past them?
Unfortunately, I had a very verbally abusive PhD advisor. He was pretty horrible. Whatever his reasons were he took out his life frustrations on me. I nearly dropped out of graduate school because I thought he was right when he told me I was stupid and lazy, because the experiments didn’t work the way he wanted. It took all I had in me to pick myself off the floor literally and crawl my way back to graduation. I asked for help and no one was willing to help, probably because he was careful to keep the abuse hidden. What it taught me was resilience, to keep asking for help, that failure is OK, and learning from it is crucial, but most importantly, to never, ever, let someone have that type of control over me again. I now feel that if I could make it through that I can make it through just about anything.
What might a friend or family member say when asked to describe a characteristic or experience that would define you?
I have never been “normal”. It may have been from being a first generation American and bridging two cultures, maybe it is from being a woman in a male dominated field, maybe it is being a minority, or just a combination of all of them. I have never felt that I fit in any box, but I am OK with that, I am uniquely me and I like that. Strangely I always felt that was what being American was about, and I am seeing nowadays that I may have been mistaken.
What do you like to do in your free time?
What is this “free time” you speak of? No, seriously I used to have many hobbies but life got busy with kids, working full time and commuting previously 1.5 hours daily to now 3 hours daily. I used to play tennis, read, choreograph bellydance and write poetry. I hope to get back there one day. I teach my students that creativity outside of the lab breeds creativity in the lab, I really do believe that.
Where do you find inspiration, or cause for hope?
In nature and medicine. Look at all that is around us, how amazing is it? I get to study that. Look at the human body, can you think of anything more complicated and intricate, yet more beautiful or functional? I can’t. Look at all the strides we have made so far in medicine. Those strides come from scientists like myself tolling away behind the scenes, rarely getting any credit. Why do we do it? Simply because we couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I may not like every aspect of my job, but for the most part I have my dream job.
How did you and your family end up in Germany?
My husband is German. We met while he was studying abroad at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The agreement was that whoever graduated first would move to the other person’s country, and then whoever moved got to make the decision on where to live next when the other one graduated. Needless to say, I graduated first and I decided we would remain in Germany. I decided raising a family the way I want to would be easier in Germany. While we may not make more money here, we have more services easily accessible to us, such as reasonably affordable healthcare and childcare, greater personal safety due to less gun violence, strong funding of science, paid parental family leave and better work-life balance, decent roads (take a trip to Michigan and you’ll see why that is on the list), and strong free public education through university level, so I can actually save for retirement. Oh, I also like that it is quite easy enough to pop over to another country to experience their culture, and that you get enough vacation time to do so. That is just so crazy to me, even though I been here for 10 years now.
How old are your children, and are they in German schools?
My son is seven and my daughter turns four soon. My son is in first grade at a German elementary school, my daughter is in a full-time pre-school. Both have gone to child-care or pre-school programs since they were nine months old, mostly full time. I worked part-time after a year off following the birth of my son, only because I couldn’t find full-time daycare. After having my daughter and taking a year off, I returned to work full time.
Have you taken them to your workplaces?
Yes, they have been to my labs. I talk about science with them. It is really important that you talk about what you do with everyone. My feeling is, if I can’t explain what I do to everyone, including children, then I’m not all that good at what I do.
How do you and he work out the balance in your careers and family life?
Lots of people have asked me how this works. My husband knows how cut-throat it is in academia, and how much I want to be in it, and have wanted it my whole adult life. Since I got the position in Heidelberg and commute so much, about 3 hours a day, he has stepped up even more and cut his hours back at work. This was his choice and I love that he supports me and our family. He is now the primary caretaker, meaning he drops them off and picks them up, he does the grocery shopping and cooking (he is quite talented in the kitchen and has always had this role in our relationship), he deals with bills and taxes, he does the doctor appointments and parent evenings. What do I do? I do the most I can in the time I have. I make time in the morning and evening for the kids and also the weekends. All of the rest of the household duties fall to me. I am lucky my husband knew himself well enough to know whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He really listened to me when I said science was a big part of who I am and having a family did not mean giving that up. My husband and I may be as different as day and night but maybe that is why we work, we complement each other well, my strengths are his weaknesses and vice-versa.
Besides my husband, our full-day pre-school and full-day school, I must give credit to my in-laws. Without them we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. I always said I would live either near my parents or his. I grew up on the other side of the world from my grandparents and I didn’t want that for my kids. Not only do the grandparents spend a lot of time with our kids, but they bail us out whenever we need help. They do it willingly, they love their grandkids and seeing that makes my heart swell. I have been blessed many times over.
Where is home for you?
When I am speaking and say home I could be referring to Germany or the US, it depends on the context. However, it is funny you ask this, it was part of my wedding vows. When you are first-generation American and you look like me many “Americans” don’t think I belong. So I am not considered really American by Americans and not really Indian by Indians. I AM American and only lived in the US until moving to Germany. We did three-and-a-half years across an ocean long-distance, including one-and-a-half years after getting married. Anyway, my wedding vows said that I never quite felt like I belonged anywhere truly until I met my husband and home is where he is. That is how I feel, where we are together is home, the place doesn’t matter, the person you spend your life with does.
I am completely a Midwest girl, born and raised – born in Park Ridge, Il. (Chicago adjacent, where Hillary Clinton grew up). My parents immigrated from the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, and had lived with the fighting in Ireland before moving to Chicago. From there we went to Detroit and then on to Flint, Michigan. I know people have heard about Flint in the news recently, but it was really a great city to grow up in back in the day. People don’t realize it was very affluent – previously known as BuickCity, home to the General Motors Institute (now KetteringCollege), a very good engineering college. The old downtown was paved with cobble stones, there was the Flint Institute of Art, the opera, the ballet, MottCollege and AutoWorld. There was a lot going on in Flint, but then when Buick moved out, there wasn’t much diversification, and things went downhill.
I was shaped by growing up in southeastern Michigan, and I thought everywhere was as diverse as that. We had lots of African-Americans, Indian-Americans, the Arab population was the third largest outside of the Arab world, there was a sizable Latino population. It was like that when I went to college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. When I went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus, I was in for a bit of a shock. 9-11 happened while I was there, and you could start to feel the tension. When I ventured out of southern Wisconsin I realized the state was relatively homogenous and I wasn’t always welcome there.
It is hard to put into words. Somehow the US was different when I was growing up, there was racism but maybe it was more hidden and now it is more in your face. Priorities seemed to have changed. People used to be more open and helpful, now they just seem frightened and it isn’t always clear of what.
What do you hope to be able to look back on later in life?
I hope when I look back that I will see that I raised two strong independent thinking children, married the man I love and respect, I was able to add to the knowledge base out there in my field and move it forward. I hope to train some students that will continue as good academic scientists as well as others who will branch out into other fields. All in all, I hope that my existence makes a difference.
Thanks for your time, and your willingness to tell us about your life as a
"woman of science."
Opportunities to participate in our caucus are as varied as our members.
There is no "one-size-fits-all" level of involvement. We also encourage membership by all genders because women's issues impact all of us. What our individual sections do depends very much on their size and location.
Here are just a few examples:
1. Small groups or Individuals can access:
Monthly online meetings, based on an agenda which has been planned by our steering committee and made available in advance.
- Input from all participants is encouraged. Here is the place to speak up!
- We alternate meeting times to accommodate our many time-zones.
- Recordings of past meetings and Agendas are available.
- Global town hall-style meetings and Webinars with speakers from important women's advocacy groups and members of congress.
- Information, guidance and ideas for local activism based on our issues. Through our mailings, Facebook page and website we announce regular "calls to action" such as targeted letter writing, call-storms and protests.
2. Medium-sized groups can additionally:
- Form a section for their own chapter: We encourage groups of any size to get together and start planning events for their own chapters or precincts. They can check the Women's Caucus Wiki for tips on how to start their own caucus, and choose first activities.
- Sponsor a workshop weekend with your local DA chapter on any number of topics, and invite members from all over. Offer home-stays when possible. An event like this can electrify and unify the entire chapter! We can help you.
- Stage Events of all kinds: a protest march or vigil, Fund-Raisers, GOTV
3. Large caucus sections:
With hundreds of members our sections in major cities are leading the way and providing an example of what groups in other cities around the world might aim for. Some of their accomplishments include:
- Establishing working committees in areas such as Issues and Goals, Membership and Outreach, Education, Legislative, Events and Activism, Communications, etc.
- Holding regular teach-ins, workshops, film-nights,
- Inviting Internationally-known speakers for live or online events
- Lobbying, interfacing with legislative councils in the U.S.
- Staging major protests and demonstrations.
Wherever you might be, we always have a need for volunteers to step up and take on extra responsibilities too.
Do let us know if you are interested.
We look forward to working with you!
Our inexhaustible UK Women's Caucus has come up with something new for us all!
Under the leadership of Nick Beard, the Media & Communications team for DAUKWC is producing a new podcast, Women to the Front.
Follow this link to hear their first instalment "Feminists in a StrangeLand":
Find links to future episodes by clicking our Resources button.
Listen and be inspired!
On paper at least, Norway is a country with full equality between the sexes. The Prime Minister of Norway is currently Erna Solberg, the second women after Gro Harlem Brundtland to serve in that capacity, and the chairs of the Norwegian Labor Organization (Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions) and the Norwegian Employers' Organization (NHO), Gerd Kristiansen and Kristin Skogen Lund, are women. But as we celebrate the International Women's Day on March 8, 2017, statistics still show that women have a way to go before they are fully equal to men in the workplace. In 2016, the average monthly salary of women was 87.5% of men's. Two thirds of the CEOs and others in leading positions are men, and although the majority of women are in the workforce, 35% of them work part time, as opposed to 14% of men. Women now dominate in law and medical schools and most other fields with the exception of math, science and technology. The workplace, however, is still strictly divided by gender. Men dominate the private sector, where salaries are generally higher, and women dominate the public sector in fields like health and education.
Inequalities in the workplace are the background for many of the slogans seen in Norwegian parades on March 8: "Equal pay now!" "Say yes to the 6-hour workday!" "Demand 100% jobs!" "Raise the average women's salary now!" "Economic independence is essential to gender equality!" "Strengthen minority women's right to work!" "Defend public pensions!" Others address issues like family policy, research on typically women's illnesses, women immigrants, racism, LBGT rights, rape and violence against women, porno, global abortion rights, education as the key to ending poverty.
But one of the more interesting issues that has risen during the prelude to March 8 concerns developments in Norwegian society regarding education of boys, job prospects for men, and male public health issues like lifestyle and suicide. Men get lower grades, are more prone to drop out of school, more inclined to have an unhealthy lifestyle, more likely to commit suicide, die earlier, and are more prone to violence and its consequences. More boys are diagnosed with ADHD, are in special education, and have problems accommodating to the school environment. Furthermore, fewer men have children; 23% of men over 45 do not have children, as opposed to 13% of women, and fathers are often "recycled". Women who wait to have children often partner with men who have children from earlier relationships.
Camilla Stoltenberg, Director-General of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, addressed disturbing statistics on men, especially in education, in a widely-read article in the newspaper Morgenbladet. Stoltenberg was born in the 1950s, and during her lifetime, she has seen men go from winners in education to losers. Boys receive lower grades in middle and high school, and only 40% of college and university students are men. They make up 10-25% of those who study medicine, psychology and law, which are very competitive in Norway, and they are also in the minority of doctoral candidates.
Stoltenberg's article has been widely debated in Norwegian media, and the Norwegian Broadcasting Company (NRK) devoted its weekly debate program to the subject on March 3, considering the question of whether boys are becoming society's biggest losers. https://tv.nrk.no/serie/debatten/NNFA51030217/02-03-2017
Norway has practiced quotas for girls and women in some majors and jobs in the public sector. One participant argued that boys now need to benefit from a similar system to ensure that society will have female and male doctors and lawyers in the future. The Minister of Education agreed that boys often do poorly in school, but the background for quotas for women was that it was proven that women were discriminated against because of their gender, whereas this was not the case for boys. But everyone agreed that the problem is real, that the causes need more study and eventually a strategy to address how to keep boys from dropping out of school and get more of them in professions like medicine and law. However, it was pointed out that men still dominate in the hierarchy of managerial and leadership positions, and it is not clear whether the structure will change any time soon, despite the fact that women dominate many fields at the ground level.
A few decades ago, girls were the better achievers in elementary school, but boys' achievement would normally pass girls' around Christmas in the 8th grade and continued through middle and high school. Now, boys lag behind and girls keep up the steam through middle and high school. There is, however, little indication that more boys do poorly in school than before. What has changed is that most women do better than before, and the weakest boy students are more isolated in the system, and the consequences are great, since the job market no longer offers low-skilled positions in trade and industry. The workplace has also become more "feminized", valuing strong skills in language, communication, and other areas where women tend to excel.
In a theoretically egalitarian society like Norway, the media often question the relevance of celebrating March 8, and that men's issues should also be marked. 2017 is no exception, and March 8 is "balanced" in the press against the problem of the boy losers. But does all this have an impact on women's issues? Issues related to children, parenting, and family life are all intimately connected to the lives of women, so the fact that their sons are lagging behind in Norwegian society is something to be addressed. The debate will certainly continue, but it will not be a significant part of the marking of the International Women's Day.
A greater concern is the fate of immigrant women and their descendants in Norwegian society. The women's movement has often been criticized for not reaching out to minority women. But those who address women's issues in minority cultures often tread into a mine field. Feminists who have spoken out against white men's violence against women are applauded for their courage, but if they are concerned about the fact that some minority cultures are patriarchal, require them to obey their fathers and brothers, deny girls a decent education, arrange for them to marry at an early age, and condone wife beating and honor killings, they are met with scorn and accused of being racist. Another question is whether women's clothing like the hijab and burka have political connotations and are compatible with the fight for women's rights. Up until recently, minority feminist voices were rare. But now, minority women are beginning to organize and establish dialogue with feminist organizations. Shabana Rehman, an outspoken Pakistani-Norwegian woman, objects to the idea that Norwegian feminism is white and one-sided. The only reason it looked that way to some people was that minority women had not gotten organized. But that is now changing rapidly, and many new voices are coming forward to debate minority women's issues.
Nancy L. Coleman, DA Norway
Global Women’s Caucus Members in all corners of the world:
Have your own March 8th International Women’s Day Postcard Party!
Be a part of the worldwide movement to send the “Misogynist-in Chief” a postcard as part of the March 15th “Ides of Trump” campaign.
Use your postcards to give full expression to your disgust with this horrible regime and what it means for women.
You can also use your Women’s Day parties large and small as an opportunity to discuss with each other your thoughts on next steps and strategies for our Caucus- some of the best ideas ever have been hatched by just a couple of women over a pot of coffee!
And remember to share your ideas with us all!
Consider using blanks cards and re-creating your “Women’s March” protest signs in mini-format or use some of our colourful DA cards.
Prepare for mailing by March 15th, 2017, the Ides of March. Then, mail your messages to:
Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
This is a chance for our Democrats Abroad Global Women’s Caucus to really make the feedback GLOBAL.
SO HAVE A POSTCARD PARTY!
by Nancy L. Coleman, Brumunddal, DA NORWAY
As soon as I read that a Women's March on Washington was being planned for the day after Trump's inauguration, I knew I had to go. I live in Norway, and I bought my ticket before the sister march in Oslo was announced. Fortunately, I have a cousin in Maryland, so what better time than to visit his family and combine it with the march?
My cousin's wife Treva wanted to march with me, and she thought it would be a nice idea for us to join the Democrats Abroad, rather than the Maryland group. The morning of the march we were up early, in order to catch the Red Line to DC in time to meet the DA group at the Eastern Market. We were lucky that our metro station was one of the first stops, so we got a seat. At the Eastern Market we looked all around for the DA folks, who were supposed to be wearing blue hats or other blue gear. An identifier was supposed to be 70 members of the Canadian DA in blue ponchos. We saw numerous groups, but no one that answered to that description. Accessing the DA website with Treva's phone, we found instructions to go to L'Enfant Plaza station, so we got back on the Metro. We never did find anyone from the DA, but in such masses of people, it would have been a major feat if we had.
When we reached the Plaza, many had gathered, and it took a while to exit the station. But it was fun to be in the crowd moving very slowly towards the exit. Everyone was kind and considerate, and we could take the time to study the first of the many posters and signs that we would see during the march. We had a good laugh when we saw the first "Urine trouble" sign, in the form of a urinating male organ and Trump's picture.
From L'Enfant Plaza we made our way towards the meeting point at Independence and 3rd Street. But by the time we got as far as 4th Street, we realized that there would not be room for even the two of us at the appointed intersection. We were standing in a sea of people, but an organizer from the A.C.L.U. advised us to go back towards L'Enfant Plaza, where we could probably wedge ourselves into a spot in front of one of the screens that had been set up, and then we could watch what was happening on the stage.
Moving through such a crowd is a slow process, but it was no problem to wade through those who had already found a spot, and soon we had a good view of a screen. It made a great impression on me that the demonstrators were so pleasant, peaceful and accommodating to those around them. Several people were in wheelchairs, but that was no problem. Someone would yell, "Wheelchair coming through!", and people would somehow press together to vacate a wide passage so the wheelchair could pass. It did occur to me that a good many of us might get trampled to death if panic broke out, or some disrupters had mixed with the crowd. Guidelines instructed marchers to bring a very small purse and anything else in a transparent bag. We never saw any inspections, but clearly, there were many eyes scanning the crowd for anything suspicious. Nor did I see anyone or anything to threaten us. There had been a riot or two during the inauguration, but this massive crowd seemed almost unbelievably benign.
The rally featured a long list of profiled speakers and performers, and the crowd was enthusiastic. As far as we could see, there were people packed together, many wearing pink pussyhats. Treva and I were kind of an anomaly in the sea of pink. If I had been younger, I am sure I would have plunged into knitting pink pussyhats. But I found the video of Donald Trump bragging about just grabbing women by the pussy so despicable, that I jumped at the idea of a blue hat. So I crocheted a blue hat and matching neckpiece, and pinned my "cracked ceiling" brooch to the band. But the many humorous "pussy" slogans and the march itself dulled my wrath regarding the background for the pussyhats, so a few weeks later, I am busily knitting pink pussyhats. I am sure my granddaughters and I will need some when I go to the States in the months and years to come!
After a few hours, Treva and I realized we needed to visit a port-a-powder-room before the actual march started at 1:15. We started threading our way through the sea of demonstrators. Since I am tall, I could look over much of the crowd, and we knew roughly where the toilets were supposed to be. But with so many people it was impossible to find any. Eventually, we reached the Smithsonian Metro Station, so I suggested we might take the Metro a stop or two away from the march and find a restroom. That turned out to be a very good idea. The next day, we read that the crowd had overwhelmed the toilets, and organizers had to pass out cups and let people pee behind a curtain.
Back on Independence Avenue, the march had just started, so we joined it and moved slowly along the route. At intervals everyone let out huge roars, and I am sure this was heard at the White House, even though Trump himself had gone to the CIA to brag about the size of his inauguration crowd. The sound must have reached all the way to Virginia and elsewhere. Since the march was global, it may go down in history as the "pussy roar heard round the world!"
When we reached a point near the WashingtonMonument and the new AfricanAmericanMuseum, the march came to a complete standstill for a long time. Everyone cheerfully socialized, admired signs and slogans, and took lots of pictures. We learned later that there were so many people that the entire march route was full of people and too clogged to move! The organizers must have started channeling portions of the march off onto side streets, in order for us to march towards the Ellipse, where the march was to end. By the time we reached the edge of the Ellipse, there seemed to be parades everywhere, moving in every direction.
After the march, it was a problem to leave the center of DC, but again, everyone moved in an orderly and friendly fashion. We finally abandoned the idea of taking the Metro back home, and ended up catching a series of buses that were not very crowded. The bus stops had been moved, but my cousin's daughter deftly accessed their stops with her phone app.
Demonstrators had left their signs in front of Metro stations and other places, like Trump International Hotel (how fun!), so we had an opportunity to study them and again be impressed by the enormous creativity – and bloody seriousness – of the slogans.
The peacefulness of the march, the friendly atmosphere, feeling of solidarity and togetherness, and the humor in spite of a sense of urgency and dread of where Trumplandia will lead us, were all things that impressed me. It was wonderful to see groups that obviously consisted of 3-4 generations, there were many men of all ages, and there was much diversity evident in the crowd. However, Treva and I were struck by the fact that the large majority were evidently people from the upper middle class, and the percentage of African American, Native American and Hispanic women was fairly small. Washington has a black population of almost 50%, so the small number of blacks was particularly striking. In the weeks before the march, I read some articles and letters to the effect that many white women felt intimidated and had cancelled their plans to come, as a number of black women had given voice to how the march had tried (inadvertently) to usurp the title "Million Women's March" from the protest held in Philadelphia in 1997, and in general, that it was women of color who had the most reason to protest, that white women could never know the pain and suffering of black women. My instinct is that this conflict must have resolved itself to some extent, and I hope that non-white women felt they were most welcome.
A recent article in the New York Times, "How a Fractious Women's Movement Came to Lead the Left", points out that the march for women surprisingly "managed to crowd a broad opposition force onto its platform", and that the energy has only spread. "It seems unlikely that any other kind of march would have turned out quite this way. In this moment, it happened that 'women' was the one tent large enough to contain almost every major strain of protest against Trump." It is too early to tell whether the Women's Marches will be the pivotal moment in the realization of a society marked by equality and respect that we all hope for. Let us hope that they will.
Nancy L. Coleman, Brumunddal, NORWAY
by Randi Milgram, London, DAUK
On January 21, an unstoppable wave of hope and strength rose to resist the dark shadows of the preceding day. Once Donald Trump was officially inaugurated, many Americans felt disheartened and dejected, fearful that our values would be thrown aside. But then decent people all over the globe joined together to rise up, refusing to accept inequality and injustice in our democracy. In France, in Peru, in Macau, in South Africa, people of all ages, genders, races, and national origins stood as one band of solidarity against hate and for equality.
All over the world, citizens of numerous countries joined together with Americans in the first Global Women’s March, proving that millions of people with the same values will stand and fight for democracy, justice, and equal rights for all. Members of the Women’s Caucus of Democrats Abroad helped bring the enormous event to life in locations around the globe. Thousands upon thousands gathered in Brussels, Amsterdam, Brasilia, Mexico, Auckland, and even Antarctica. Just as in the epicenter of the Washington, D.C. march, with crowds breaking all estimates by the hundreds of thousands, most foreign cities showed turnout beyond all expectations as more and more people stood together to show support for women’s rights, gay rights, and equal justice. In London, the DA Women’s Caucus group marched proudly up front with other organizers as the crowds swiftly grew from the estimated 20,000 up to 100,000. In Paris, the crowd of thousands circled famous tourist destinations as residents and tourists alike joined to support women and girls.
The sources of inspiration were endless, from the many men who showed their support and willingness to fight for equal rights, to the many families who brought their small children, as it’s their world we are fighting to protect and improve. Common refrains were shared throughout various cities, with most participants stating that the massive show of solidarity among marchers provided the first feeling of optimism, the first smile, since Election Night. Many others said that this groundswell of grassroots activism is what will protect America from destructive policies.
Indeed, activists are acutely aware that the incredible momentum that built up to the epic march must be sustained, difficult as it will be, in order to effectively contest the aggressively undemocratic movements attempted by this administration. But the March proved to us that we are ready for the fight, that we are strong in number and resilient in will. Simply the sheer numbers of likeminded fellow marchers, no matter what city you were in, inspired us all to keep fighting, to keep making calls and writing emails, and keep marching on the right side of history.
To that effect, members of Democrats Abroad, and the Women’s Caucus in particular, are busily working to put all of this energy and goodwill into action. Several projects underway include an expat version of the superb Indivisible guide to activism and narrowly focused mass calls to Congress. The next date to keep your eye on is March 8 – International Women’s Day. This day of action for gender parity will use the tag “Be Bold For A Change” and advocate for women to promote themselves in work or private life. Keep an eye on the Women’s Caucus Facebook page and website for more information about how to mark this exciting day and about other upcoming projects.
Democrats Abroad affirms the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women around the world, including the right to education, healthcare, legal protection and legal standing before the law, the right to physical and psychological safety, self-determination of reproductive rights and equality of opportunity and remuneration.
Activism in Small, Medium and Large
Opportunities to participate in our caucus are as varied as our members.
There is no "one-size-fits-all" level of involvement.
We also encourage membership by all genders because women's issues impact all of us.
What our individual sections do depends very much on their size and location.
Statement of Purpose:
The Women's Caucus of Democrats Abroad is committed to fostering and promoting gender-informed perspectives in issues analysis, communication and policy-making and ensuring that issues that impact women and the future of our nation become central to the political debate at all times and in particular during election years and at all levels of governance.
We will take action to address policies that negatively impact women and their families and so, by implication, the economy and our democracy.
We propose to:
- Act as disseminators of information to Caucus members and Democrats Abroad members at large, and as a catalyst to action on issues which affect American women both in the United States and internationally;
- Ensure that the women’s perspective is effectively incorporated in all the work of Democrats Abroad, including issues advocacy, communication and GOTV strategy, planning and execution;
- Stay current and ensure that issues and policies which impact women are discussed in the Caucus and by Democrats Abroad and included in the Democrats Abroad and Democratic Party platforms;
- Promote Democratic Party candidates committed to policies that positively impact women’s lives;
- Support Democratic Party candidates who are proposing to improve women’s standings and rights in society at every level, in their election campaigns for State and Federal Government positions and in their appointments to judgeships and high positions in Government offices and agencies;
- Monitor and, with Democrats Abroad, lobby for or against legislation affecting women directly or indirectly;
- Inform our communities of injustices against women in areas of civil rights, economic equality, health, and welfare;
- Engage with other women’s caucuses for the purpose of information sharing, mentoring and maintaining solidarity; and
- Make our voice heard nationally and internationally with members of women's groups and all groups fighting for justice, equality and the rule of law around the globe