Helene Swanson shares her experience walking across the USA for the Equal Rights Amendment

Month: October, 2014

A Bigger Picture: Money v. The Vote

 By At The Threshold

Jesus talked about the sins that came of the abuse of money and power more than anything else. The totalitarian abuses of the Roman Empire were at the forefront of his every thought, and those of the people who listened to him. For Christians, the authority granted to what Jesus called “the little ones,” and “the people of the land,” is not merely a matter reserved to isolated categories of “politics” or “government”; it is a crucial matter regarding moral theology and the role of religious imperatives for government.

This is the third in a series of presentations that examines some of the deeper issues and a bigger picture of the continuing attempts in the United States to roll back the “one-person, one-vote” decision of the Supreme Court in 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – to increase the voting power of the wealthy few and their political minions, while minimizing the power of the vote by “the people.” What follows is a historical survey of the gradual expansion of the franchise to become fully available to all categories of citizens, with a focus on the confusion of the freedom to use money (unequally available to individual citizens and groups) with freedom of speech (constitutionally intended to be equally available to each citizen and group).
A New Idea of Government

The founders did not give serious consideration to a direct or pure form of democracy but placed the decision-making responsibility in the hands of elected representatives. Leaders are to vote and take action according to personal conscience and specially informed expertise. Leadership is accountable through elections. Which citizens and inhabitants, then, make up the electorate and form the pool of those qualified for election? How and to what extent is leadership accountable during the governing process itself, that is, between elections?

The exchange of ideas during the formative stages of the nation elicited a most exciting notion. The ultimate and sovereign authority of government is not in a person or an institutional body, it is “the people.” This was not an entirely new idea. Some earlier postulations came close, but suddenly it was new. It was new first, because the founders discovered the concept as a fact, a reality in the nature of things that could not be denied. The sovereign authority of the people had become obvious to the leaders of a colonial revolution and it had to be applied by inventing a new form of government.

But for the United States, the question of precisely what was meant by “the people” became the most dramatic, difficult, and peculiar issue  profoundly problematic and profoundly stirring. It provided inspiration for the living institutions of representative democracy and vitality for the expanding nature of the body politic. It provided creative compromises and the nation’s harshest conflicts.

When the founders had talked about “the people,” it was with a certain creative ambiguity, at once both inclusive of every inhabitant of the land and limited to those holding the franchise. The voters were white men of property. In that sense “the people” certainly did not include women, slaves, or the uneducated and financially unvested male population. Historians have periodically had to remind Americans that when President George Washington delivered his farewell address to his “Friends and Fellow Citizens,” he did not, in the way we may assume, picture everyone in the land. Joseph Ellis imagines that, “The core of the audience he saw in his mind’s eye consisted of those adult white males who owned sufficient property to qualify for the vote. Strictly speaking, such men were the only citizens.”(1) In other words, most citizens were not “the people.”

The founders nevertheless held a sense of “the people” as a whole that in many ways went beyond the official matter concerning elective processes. They recognized that it is the people at large who form a corporate reality and somehow serve as the sovereign source of all political authority. Washington specifically “…told Hamilton that his Farewell Address was aimed especially at the ‘Yeomanry of the country,’ the American people….”(Ibid) At the beginning, some people were elected as representatives and some people voted to elect the representatives, but it was the whole people who were represented.

Finally, it was not until a civil war was fought over the issue and the most decisive crisis in the conflict had been successfully met, that a president decided the propitious moment had arrived to say exactly who the people are and fully acknowledge what making them the sovereign political authority means. At Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln approached this by tersely expressing the purpose of the Civil War. Soldiers were buried in the fields before him, not only for the preservation of the Union, but to fulfill the Revolution of 1776 and the Constitution of the United States of America. Lincoln spelled out what was implied in defining the sovereign as “the people” and therefore clarified the underlying authority that legitimates the American government. America, he declared, is establishing a “…government of the people, for the people, and by the people.”

Slavery was abolished and the vote was extended in the constitutional amendments that followed, but still it was not fully extended to everyone. The slow but steady expansion of the franchise for all categories of people had to continue well into the 20th century. Despite the Civil War and the constitutional amendments it produced, the vote still was not available to those oppressed by the Jim Crow laws of the South and the prejudices of the North, and women had to engage the electorate and struggle to achieve their right to vote. Indeed, the expansion of the electorate reveals only the storyline. What truly has been at stake is the effect and empowerment that is supposed to come with the vote and with the right to residence, and for this to take place concretely. We too little consider the crucial importance of this form and this level of citizen participation.

With the right to vote should come certain other rights, opportunities, and responsibilities. These should adhere regardless of race, color, class, creed, gender, sexuality, or handicap, and regardless of wealth, power, privilege, or status. Each citizen should have as much an opportunity to exercise her or his right to vote as anyone else, each person’s vote should count as much as anyone else’s, and each voter should have as much possibility for being elected to representative office as anyone else. And, each citizen should be responsibly engaged in the decisions and execution of government in between elections. These indispensable implications of voting have been hard to come by, their effective establishment has invariably required a significant and determined struggle over a long period of time, and we have not seen the end of it.

Archibald Cox, serving as President John F. Kennedy’s solicitor general, successfully argued the case before the Supreme Court that finally established the principle of “one person, one vote.” The issue is relatively simple  however controversial and painfully difficult to institute – it is the ability of each citizen to participate in representative democracy by voting and influencing their elected officials, and to do so equally with anyone else. The new idea of government had finally been established: the people are in actual, as well as “natural” fact, the ultimate and sovereign authority, through the vote and citizenship participation.

(1) Founding Fathers, The Revolutionary Generation, Joseph J. Ellis, Vintage Books, New York, 2002, p 156

Permission to publish this piece was given by Bishop Joe Doss retired Bishop of Diocese of New Jersey.  Please feel free to follow At The Threshold on Twitter, Facebook, or Subscribe to their eblasts at the below links.

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Meet Me in St. Louis – A Prayer Vigil & Rally for the Equal Rights Amendment


St Louis Mosiac       Graphic Design by Helene Swanson

As I leave the Kansas City area heading towards Jefferson City and then on to St. Louis, where I will be meeting with Senators Roy Blunt and Clair McCaskill to urge them to co-sponsor S.J. Res. 15,  l give serious consideration to this past week. But before I get ahead of myself I want to make sure that I get the word out that we are holding a Prayer Vigil & Rally at the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, MO on November 8, 2014 at noon to 2pm.  The Old Courthouse is where the Dred Scott Decision was issued March 6, 1857.

Please be sure to JOIN, INVITE, SHARE and POST this Facebook Event Page everywhere

After the St. Louis vigil my grassroots organizer Portia and I will head out with a small group of women as we walk into Springfield, the state capitol, to call on the Illinois State Assembly and Governor for Illinois to Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Women will walk with me into Springfield, Illinois will demonstrate that like Ghandji this can be accomplished peacefully while chaos surrounds us. Many women will be gathering at the Illinois Prayer Vigil and Rally we will holding in Springfield.  It is important to note that the Illinois State Senate ratified the ERA in about 36 hours from being dropped into the hopper and being voted on the floor. Which is simply amazing!

I am praying to God that all come together and that everyone everywhere helps and co-ordinates with those that have been working so long and hard to move Illinois to be the first state in 21st Century to ratify. I know we can do it! I have faith and I believe, “That if ye have faith of a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible unto you.” Matthew 17:20


10253989_10203052730701502_2518471768494395982_nGeoff Jolley, Legislative Aid, Marion Dyer, and Helene Swanson met to discuss Congressman Emanuel Cleaver co-sponsoring H.J. Res. 113.  Photo Credit: Holly Long


But back to this past week, it has been one of rest and recuperation and also great excitement. I arrived worn and weary my backpack strap broke in Tulsa, OK and I had been making due but the backpack has caused me great pain in my left arm and shoulder, and the storms that delayed me in Fort Scott lead to my sitting for longer than I should, and my Post Deep Vein Thrombosis Syndrome flared up. So when old family friend Marion Dyer picked me up and took me to her home in Lawrence, KS, I was suffering from exhaustion. I slept the entire three days I was there.  As the saying goes,” No rest for the weary”

Marion and I meet with Geoff Jolley, an aid to Congressman Emanuel Cleaver to ask that he co-sponsor H.J. Res. 113. And Portia made the arrangements for the telephonic conference portion of the meeting. In attendance was Zoe Nicholson, who fasted for 45 days back in 1982 in Illinois; and Sandy Oestreich from Florida of the Equal Rights Alliance, Inc.; and Candy Graham co-founder of Women Matter, and Jencelyn King-Witzel from Illinois from 3WF – Third Wave Feminism; and Cathy Kaelin from Ohio of ERA Action and Progress Democrats of America’s ERA Three State Strategy Issue. The meeting went extremely well and I anticipate that Congressman Cleaver will come on board sometime in November… God Willing.

Now, wouldn’t it be awesome if we could get some Republican Groups on board!


10633163_10204766519233256_6972655847713278167_oCarole Plesser and Helene Swanson take a selfie.

The following day I was shuffled over to another dear family friend’s home Carole Plesser who fondly recalled days past when Katrina and George, my husband William and his brother Olof would drop by every Christ Mass Eve to sing Christ Mass Carols. This was especially touching to the Plessers’ who just happen to be Jewish, as it was their wedding anniversary. On Saturday Marion came by and off we went to speak on Sharon Lockhart’s Every Woman radio show. Sharon exemplifies what we at Katrina’s Dream wish to see – more woman be an empowered woman with a voice. We had a great time after the show hanging out with all the folks dropping by for the fundraiser.


10284546_10204747625960936_7994260813246791407_oBeth Pike, Lisa Kim, Marion Dyer, Sharon Lockhart, and Helene Swanson at the KKFI Studios in Kansas City, MO following the broadcast of her show Every Women

Sadly though the lyrics from Meet Me in St. Louis seem all to fitting.

Verse 6

In church sat a man near the door,

asleep, he was starting to snore,

The Minister rose,

and he said, “We will close

singing, Meet on the Beautiful Shore.

The man in the back then awoke,

he caught the last words that he spoke;

He said, “Parson White,

you can meet me alright,

but The Beautiful Shore is a joke.

While I don’t think Heaven is a joke I do find what is happening in Ferguson, MO is despairing. It is not to going to be easy over the days and weeks ahead.  While the terrain was much more demanding on the west coast crossing vast desert regions without water or food the only thing to really fear was poisonous insects and creatures.  In the mid-west where I am now it is racially divided.  There is rioting and the many people are getting killed.

Several weeks ago a young black man, Michael Brown, was shot by a police officer. Please see Police officers shooting black youth is not uncommon in fact it is epidemic. William, my late husband and I were actively involved with the Oscar Grant Committee which formed after a BART officer killed Oscar Grant on New Years Day. Oscar was handcuffed at the time. Fruitvale Station is a movie, which chronicles the killing and I recommend everyone watch it. So I have been following the events in Ferguson, MO closely. When I head into the region known as the Deep South where the custom was to  lynch black people and hang them from trees or worse. I admit I am little concerned.

So, I will need your prayers more than ever for there is not one issue, which is not a woman’s rights issue. We as mothers love our children and seeing them killed is horrific.

Unfortunately, many turn a blind eye to the way women are treated here in the United States. Yes, our standard of living is good here but the way women and children are treated is deplorable.  Be sure to read Women in the US are attacked by the police as well.

However, very few care or dismiss women’s issue stating our needs are not a priority I was recently told that my pilgrimage was bad timing for Missouri and I was being inconsiderate and there was not a enough “bandwidth” that maybe later when things in Ferguson calmed down.  When I became passionate I was verbally attacked and my every word was picked a part.  I wonder how can things calm down in the US when we are divided by our given sex and sexual orientation.

So, America what is it going to take for folks to realize that by empowering women we can change the world. Some joke that if women were in power there would be no war (folks is that really a bad thing), the PBS Series Women War & Peace demonstration just that. I believe that if women were empowered then maybe, just maybe, we just might also stop raping and plundering Mother Earth. Have you ever thought if Earth were called Father Earth instead of Mother Earth would folks be so willing to destroy the planet and the environment?

Lucretia Mott AmendmentLucretia Mott Amendment written by Alice Paul.  Graphic: Helene Swanson

I believe that when the Equal Rights Amendment were passed here in the US that men and women will live longer happier lives as the work load would be evenly distributed, imagine children having quality time with both parents. I have had this dream for a number of years… since my earliest days. So with this I will leave you with a little something from my American Concerto: The Women’s Rights Movement.


American ConcertoHelene Swanson playing the American Concerto: The Women Rights Movement at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Kansas City, MO

Michael Fullam’s Blog – It’s Not About Me.

Dearest Friends,

I a dear family friend wrote this touching post regarding the ministry of Katrina’s Dream.  I am deeply moved by this piece.   Yes it true the Swanson Family is full of love.  It is why I married him… like attracts like…  Take a moment to read Michael’s post and then take a moment to read his blog.  Michael Fullam is an amazing humble and generous of spirit Episcopalian whose lay ministry I deeply respect, and as a social justice his faith based activism for the LBGTQ community has reached many.   .

Love and Light in Christ,

Helene Swanson

Embracing Everyone Everywhere – God’s Inclusive Love in Joplin, MO

It seems like there are not enough hours in the day but in God’s Time where we all live in peace and harmony there is Eternity. Eternity, a concept that Einstein attempted to define which his Theory of Relativity, a concept as a young scientist I pondered when I worked at the Mercury Test Site in 1978 under the Department of Energy and Reynold’s Electrical Engineering Company’s Summer Science Student Program, a concept I play with when I find my asking if not now God, then when? When will we on this ball of dust lay down the sword and pick up the plough and plant seeds of Love and Light in Christ.

Helene's FeetHelene Swanson’s Feet. Photo Credit:  Captured by Helene Swanson from News Broadcast footage

Ahh… but there I go again getting lost in thought as I often do. This is post on God’s Inclusive Love that I promised myself I would write weeks ago as I left Joplin, MO. So guess I should stay on track as the trains that whistle by remind me that I to must stay on track. For several days now I have been thinking of that last night in Joplin, MO. I have been juggling my understanding of inter-faith relationships, ethnicity, individual background, culturation, nurture versus nature, and just how closely the treatment of our friends who are LBGTQ mirrors the treatment of women around the globe.

Not being a learned theologian but working on it I regularly turn to my dear friend, Spiritual Director and fellow Katrina’s Dream board member, Rev. Kathryn A. Piccard. She is always there to help me along as I come to understand scripture and just how inclusive it is. I had been experimenting with my “talk” since leaving the Oklahoma City, which surprisingly and to my delight had a LBGTQ neighborhood. Upon arrival in Tulsa, OK I met a Martin and Juantia Mayberry, who were initially thrilled to meet a fellow Christian on a pilgrimage, but upon learning I had no desire to promote homosexuality as a sin but instead felt that God made everyone just they way they are imperfect perfect – in short unique – they decided I was misled Christian and challenged my belief system. (We are friends on Facebook and I enjoy thier posts as we move forward by dialoguing). So natural as I often do it was a call to Rev. Kathryn for a review of scripture and God Inclusive Love. Kathryn patiently went over the scripture again and shot off an email to me of her Sermon on the Ethopian Eunuch, little did I know just how important this sermon was going to be in the days ahead in Joplin, MO.

10703956_10204515748724150_7234191634138676432_oMartin Mayberry, Helene Swanson and Juanita Mayberry enjoy a moment at Starbucks in Tulsa, OK.

I had a great time in Joplin, I met amazing people, like Seattle Charlie the worlds most literate hobo, and Elisabeth Earhart who opened up her heart to me, and I met a group of young men at McDonald’s who recognized me from a the local news broadcast in which Reporter Felicia Lawrence interviewed me regarding my quest for Equality for All. I felt a little bit like Socrates speaking to these young people as they hovered around me asking one question after another, “Why are you walking? … Do you believe in Jesus?” Where do you sleep? What is the Equal Rights Amendment?” And then the zinger, “Wait, are you saying that you believe that God is ok with Gays?” We spoke for several hours. And dear Connor Badgley the first lad to approach me concerned for my well being who continually texted his pastor begging that he help me with lodging for the night. So out came Kathryn’s sermon – they listened intensely – the whole restaurant hovered around me. As I was finishing up reading her sermon Pastor Joe came in and announced that he and his wife had reserved a room for me at the local Motel 6. I gladly accepted this most generous offer, as I had not showered in about week and half. I said my good-byes having fronded many on Facebook urging they to say in touch. I must admit I felt horrible getting in car I smelt so terrible. But it didn’t’ seem to phase dear Pastor Joe who said he had a gift for me and presented me a cupcake from the dinner he attended where Sarah Palin had spoken. I asked what he thought of Kathryn’s sermon and invited them to check out the Just Words? and he said it had given him much to think about and that he was going to give this week’s sermon considerable thought –I was floored.

10709629_775657585809475_1244850499_o-1Allen Mitchell, Helene Swanson, Tyler Sprouls take a moment at McDonald’s where Helene spoke to a group of youths regarding the Pilgriamge for the Equal Rights Amendment and God’s Inclusive Love.  Photo Credit” PIlgrimage Supporter

When we arrived at the motel and the lads were taking my things upstairs for me. I asked Pastor Joe for a blessing for the pilgrimage for the Equal Rights Amendment. The lads stopped dead in their tracts to hear his response and as he laid his hands on me to bless me they turned their backs and I noticed their steps were a little more spirited.

Indeed, God works in mysterious ways.