Tag Archives: League of Women Voters

The Durability of Sisterhood

The Durability of Sisterhood   —by Jinny Batterson

Over the past several weeks, I’ve attended three “women mostly” events—an NAACP breakfast fundraiser and celebration of that group’s NC mother/woman of the year, the annual meeting of our local chapter of the League of Women Voters, and the 50th reunion of my class from then-women’s-college Randolph College. At each event, there were a few men, as official escorts, unofficial companions, or male affiliates, but the focus was mainly on us women. I’d forgotten how good it can feel to be surrounded by other females.

The NC NAACP celebration was the first formal NAACP event I’d attended. Not knowing anyone to tag along with, I went alone. I expected to be a minority at the event—this proved true. The few other white women, none of whom I knew, seemed more connected and more engaged than I felt. The venue was local to Raleigh, but contestants and their supporters came from nearly twenty NAACP chapters throughout the state. Not realizing the flexibility of the event’s scheduling, I’d accepted an invitation to a lunch meeting in a different part of town, so missed the slightly delayed keynote talk by recently named Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, Cheri Beasley. Over the part of the event I did attend, I learned that the NAACP has been holding such annual celebrations since the 1950’s.

The LWV Wake County annual meeting had a generally paler audience and was held on a weeknight. Food was higher priced. There was a cash bar. I knew some of the “old stalwarts,” but was pleased to notice younger faces new to me. One older male member I knew, attending without his equally activist spouse, spent a good bit of time talking with me. I wondered if he felt something of an outsider, like my reaction at the NAACP breakfast. The event was tightly scheduled. The business at hand—election of new officers, committee reports, financial updates—was quickly dispatched, assisted by paper agendas. Dinner conversations were pleasant, non-confrontational, and generally apolitical in this non-partisan organization. The Wake county LWV had been founded in 1920, the same year women got the right to vote in national elections. After a rocky period during the late 1930’s and 1940’s, the chapter reconstituted itself in 1950 and has been active ever since.

Then there was the Randolph reunion. I arrived near the beginning of the three-day weekend’s festivities to find a familiar, still beautiful, mostly empty campus. A good student when I’d attended what was then Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in the late 1960’s, I’d nevertheless been anything but a social standout. A foreign language major, I didn’t contribute to campus publications. I wasn’t a horsewoman or an athlete in any sport. I did sing in the glee club, but held no campus leadership positions and rarely attended campus-wide events. I’d felt at graduation that I’d made it through, but would likely not maintain much connection with the school. I wondered how fish-out-of-water I’d feel at a reunion of this institution that had been founded in 1891 exclusively to promote the education of young women, but evolved a lot over its recent existence. About a decade ago, faced with declining enrollment and difficulties attracting highly qualified women to a small, single-sex liberal arts school in the U.S. south, the trustees made a wrenching decision to become a coeducational institution. Alums of the most recent reunion class (those who graduated in 2014) are a rainbow mix of genders and backgrounds, though both the school’s student body and faculty are majority female.

As more and more members of my former class gradually filtered in, I was surprised at how many women I recognized and felt connected with: still-active, still-engaged, still-vibrant septuagenarians whose energy was palpable. This was a tribe I could feel part of! Of course we engaged in some mutual bragging—about further educational achievements, children, life partners, careers, travels, awards, humanitarian endeavors, whatever. Mostly, though, we shared stories based on the values we’d developed during a special time and place together in a supportive environment, values that continue to illuminate our choices and preferences fifty years after graduation. 

With so much travel in my recent past and near future, I’m temporarily traveled out. I’ll miss this Sunday afternoon’s Charlotte-area reunion of a part of my biological family that I’ve become better acquainted with since I moved to North Carolina: the Rea clan. I’ll especially miss the possibility of spending time together with three sisters of my dad’s generation, related to me through my grandmother’s baby brother Zeb. As far as I know, none of the Rea sisters are famous, but they’ve each lived long, fruitful lives, handling multiple challenges with quiet grace. I hope to have later chances to reconnect with Virginia, Betsy, and Judy. Now in their 80’s and 90’s, they have maintained a durable sisterhood through thick and thin.

Rea sisters Judy, Virginia, and Betsy at 2014 reunion

So to sisters everywhere—stay active, stay engaged, stay vibrant. Avoid excluding anyone if you possibly can. And most of all, stay connected!   


Health Care: It’s Complicated (or Is It?)

Health Care: It’s Complicated (or Is It?)    —by Jinny Batterson

It is sometimes easy these days to grow disenchanted with the various attempts to improve the U.S.’s ailing health care system. As Congress grapples with ways to improve/replace the Affordable Care Act and to shore up existing government health care subsidy programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, let’s take a broader look at what we mean by health care.

A generation ago, a non-partisan grass roots political group I belong to, the League of Women Voters, studied the health care issue in order to make some informed recommendations at multiple levels of government. (A summary of the U.S. League’s position on health care is available at http://lwv.org/content/health-care.) Some of the conditions we discovered during our initial study in the early 1990’s have changed, but other basic trends have remained, even accelerated. As a population, we Americans are getting older, fatter, and more likely to suffer from various addictions—drugs, alcohol, nicotine, sweeteners, fats.  Access to health care is skewed toward those who already have a disproportionate share of economic resources. 

We’ve all likely heard the various statistics—overall, health care costs for Americans account for nearly 18% of U.S. economic activity, compared to a global average of about 10%. Is it any wonder that many people’s health care insurance premiums are going up?

Part of the increase in medical costs comes from advances in medical practice and tools. If my grandmother suffered from arthritis, she had few options other than aspirin. My mother’s options were broader, but not nearly as broad as mine. Now it’s possible to have most joints replaced. Medicines and/or surgery are available to deal with many of the chronic illnesses that either killed or debilitated Americans in previous generations. Yet dissatisfaction with the state of our health and our health care continues. Some have more medical coverage than they need, while others have little or none. Medical providers are exhorted to improve “patient satisfaction,” yet some studies show no correlation at all between patient satisfaction and one important measure of medical efficacy—mortality.  So what are we to do? 

One non-traditional approach comes from “clown doctor” Patch Adams, his staff and colleagues at the “Gesundheit Institute.” I’d read Patch’s book Gesundheit when it first came out in 1993, and watched the 1998 movie partially based on it, but hadn’t really thought much recently about this approach to medicine. Patch and crew subscribe seriously to the notion that “laughter is the best medicine.”

This spring, as I was preparing to visit a young doctor friend in China, I emailed Ruby to see whether there was anything I could fit into my luggage that she’d like me to bring her from America. What she asked for were copies of some of Patch’s books. By jettisoning an extra shirt and pair of slacks, I fit in one copy each of Gesundheit and House Calls. Like any conscientious donor, I reread the first book and skimmed the second during trip preparations. Lots of what it said about healthy habits and healthy communities made sense to me.

As luck would have it, my visit with Ruby coincided with the opening of a newly built hospital in her home town. It also fell on the weekend when she’d arranged a monthly “clown doctoring” session at the hospital children’s ward. For several years previously, Ruby had spent extra time and effort to incorporate a clowning component into the medical practices at her hospital. She’d developed a corps of about twenty doctors, nurses, and volunteers. Prior to our ward visits, she spent over an hour preparing us, individually and as a group, for our interactions with each other and with patients. Ruby especially emphasized the importance of not invading the children’s or their families’ space without permission. Once our visits were over, she did a thorough debriefing. I don’t know if any measurement would have detected an impact on the health of these children and their families. I do know that among the children who wanted to interact with us, we got lots of smiles, some chuckles, and even a few outright guffaws.

My visit with Ruby and my reintroduction to Patch Adams’ work reminded me that health care is about more than preventing or curing active illness.  It is also about more than preventing death at all costs. Health involves caring for each other. It is vibrant. It includes the capacity to be silly and to laugh with each other, to make fun of ourselves and of some of life’s absurdities.  Put that way, it doesn’t seem all that complicated.