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

Tag: Racism

Next steps… the ERA March and Rally to the US Capitol

Dearest Friends,

Bishop Joe Morris Doss celebrates the Eucharist at the Blessing of the ERA Walkers at St. Stephen and The Incarnation, Washington DC

On Women’s Equality Day, August 26, 2015, Bishop Joe Morris Doss celebrates the Eucharist at the Blessing of the ERA Walkers at St. Stephen and The Incarnation, Washington DC.  Photo Credit: Everett Barnes

I was deeply moved by the commitment of those whom made the August 26, 2015 – Women’s Equality Day – Blessing, March, and Rally a smashing success, for photo’s Click Here. I was touched by all the lovely tokens of affection, gifts, and awards bestowed on me.  I simply did not expect that.  When I heard US Senator Cardin’s and US Representative Speier’s statements I was moved to tears.  It went to the core of why I have walked so many miles.  So my prepared speech went right out the window and the story of my father whom I have rarely spoken of and how he was treated as a coloured man in this country and called a “nigger” a word I own not with pride but with a sad and heavy heart. And what I felt called to speak to is a country so divided by classism, racism, and sexism, a country whose people would so greatly benefit by passage of the Equal Rights Amendment into the US Constitution.

Equal Rights Amendment Rally at the US Capitol

Equal Rights Amendment Rally at the Upper Senate Park Area 2 at the US Capitol. From left to right William Van Horn (Staffer Senator Cardin’s Office) Charles Clymer, Joz Wang, Sarah Kurtz, Taylor Neuville, Helene de Boissiere-Swanson, Dr. E. Faye Williams, Molly Fishmen (Staffer Representative Speier) Ellen Davis, Alli McCracken, and Cathy.

Stories I heard all my life swirling about in my head; instructions to never saying anything about my father being black; how I became my mother’s memory after a red brick fell nine stories landing smack in the center of her head; and then as a child of 12 going out to work selling newspapers door to door in Las Vegas to put food on the table, all those stories and more swelled up from deep within as I listened to one impassioned speaker after another.  And I whom spent a lifetime having been instructed to never cry in public and “keep a stiff upper lip” cried. I cried thinking of Katrina and the trust she put in me, and her stories, stories that she too had kept to herself. And I thought of my beloved husband William too. And I called upon a black woman who served several years in a federal penitentiary to read the Presiding Bishop’s Statement.

Many of you have asked what’s next? First off I will not be taking a break I am only going to come on stronger now.  The pilgrimage is a benchmark in the ministry of Katrina’s Dream to promote th passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.  And just like many doubted that I would make it all the way across the US and many have doubted that the Equal Rights Amendment hasn’t a chance in their lifetime – I know just like I knew that I would make it to DC, I know we are not that long off from the ratification of three more states. Ladies and Gents we are going to come on stronger than ever. The Time in NOW!

Swanson heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee to urge them to move it out of committee

Helene Swanson heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Dirkson Bldg at the US Capitol to urge them to move it out of committee.

So another part of what I have planned next is contacting each and every single US legislator and asking that they co-sponsor S.J. Res. 15 and H.J. Res 51 over the weeks ahead targeting the chair of the Judiciary and several other senators of key importance.  And those that have co-sponsored ask that put on their website  under Women’s Issues  that they have co-sponsored the “ERA Three State Resolution” to demonstrate their support for women’s rights.

This coming September 13th @ 9pm EST Tammy and Cathy are holding their monthly ERA Action National Call and I am hoping that many of you will call in so that we can go over the strategy for the upcoming weekly calls out to our legislators. The call in number is (605) 562-3140 and meeting code number is 787085#

And many of you have asked if I will be writing a book… the answer is yes. The book will be one of my spiritual journey and the difficult decisions I faced in the waked of my late husbands passing and how a simple statements less than two days after my husband’s death at the local church we attended “Don’t worry you find another man, you are young yet”, to surviving a 60 mph sand storm by hiding in a drain ditch brought me closer to the beauty of our earth, and how connecting with a large number of women and human rights activists across the country with each lovingly embracing me in my darkest moments, uplifting me, guiding me, every step of the way.  And praying, indeed praying to God every day to help me walk through aches, pain, and fever; and thirst and hunger when my money ran out months ago, having left with only $200 to my name as I would not – could not – go back to living the life as an oppressed woman in these United States.


Next the herstoric March to the US Capitol has morphed into an annual event. Yes that is correct – the pilgrimage which ended in an amazing march with a dedicated core group of human rights activists and rally to the US Capitol has turned into an annual event to promote the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.  So please continue to invite your friends to our Facebook event page…

Finally and most importantly, I want to thank all of you for making this amazing journey with me.  The love and care shown was emboldening and while most would think I might be tired and want a break I am more energized than ever.  So let’s do this… let’s pass the ERA!

Love and Light in Christ,

Helene de Boissiere-Swanson



I posted this the other day and was deeply moved by the responses.  One friend said they thought it was the best thing I every wrote, asked that I share it with a wider audience. Click here to see the  original post

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend and colleague in which she asked out my use of referring to myself as coloured. I have always referred to myself as coloured. My mother was English/Irish and my father was Trinidadian. While my mother was white my father was multi-racial as many are from the West Indies. I have experienced both racism and reverse racism most of my life. Whites shun me after learning about my father as if I have betrayed them for appearing “passe du blanc” (pass for white) and Blacks often tell me that I as “white bread” I am priviledged.

But if you think that I don”t know the pain from both worlds my grandfather did not allow my mother to bring my oldest sister home because she came out with my fathers colouring and my father was thrown in the brig when he joined the American army for hitting a superior officer for being called a “nigger”. And when I was six my mother and father agreed to divorce because in racist America we had to choose which world we survived in better and that as Whites we stood a chance of getting ahead – but were forced to leave behind my father. So never got to know him growing up and not a day has gone by that I don’t think about him. And wonder whatever be came of him.

So please folks when you look at ME stop seeing my colour and see a person NOT a woman, see a PERSON who is fighting to end racism, sexism and classism. Stop judging me on the little you know about me. Stop telling me how to speak. I speak proper English and Ebonics. I grew up in Harlem, NYC in the 1960’s. I grew up in abject poverty. I saw my first victim of a shooting at 4. My friends suffered from rat bites living in the ghetto. I am not walking to become a celebrity fame does nothing for me. I don’t like being out front because I have always survived in the shadows.

And although i was told by my Spiritual Director that my sexual preferences or identity should never be anyones business – well you probably will be surprised there too. Just cause I was happily married don’t mean I am what you might think. I moved to San Francisco 30 years ago, and all I can say is “do the math”.

Some say I “married well” I say I married for love. which speaks to classism. And those who have gone on to college and university know all about how being in the right sorority or being a legacy helps. But I know lots of brilliant folks who never went to college and put two and two together better than other folks with all kinds of letters behind their names. But I have found suffering in both groups and the grass is always greener cause folks aren’t happy with themselves especially when we live in a world that promotes hatred and greed.

We all know ones background affects ones ability to get the “right” job, and how ones race puts you into a certain bracket, and that no matter how hard you work or how many degrees you get as woman you are just not going to get paid what you are worth.

So I cry when I see what is going on because I can hide behind my white skin colour, my education gives me an edge, and I got a great surname.

So I am walking across America because I want to see ALL that change.

So if you want to know about me just know that I am what I am.

That is… a person who loves God, loves my country, and loves my family an am dedicated to moving this country forward so no one has to live in the shadows that I have.


A little on my family in Trinidad…

“This family presents an essentially different picture from the somewhat stereotype view of the 19th century French Creoles of Trinidad, in that they were Protestant – not Catholic. They were also Republicans, not Royalists in their outlook, and for five generations did not marry into the main matrix of the French Creole extended families. Another difference was that for generations, they acknowledged and supported their coloured illegitimate offspring.”

Aggregated from…/de…


Women Are Human Not Statistics

Since heading out of Springfield, Illinois last November 2014, it has been difficult to keeping up with all the demands being made on me emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually. Walking in the snow and getting feverish dampened my spirits, as did a horrible case of poison ivy and chiggers. Currently, the torrential down pours is playing havoc with keeping dry. As the saying goes, April showers bring May flowers, so nothing I own is completely dry it is all in varying stages of moist, damp, or sopping wet.

Helene Swanson camps out roadside during torrential rains in Mobile, Alabama.  Photo Credit: Helene Swanson

Helene Swanson camps out roadside during torrential rains in Mobile, Alabama. Photo Credit: Helene Swanson 

To see Youtube video and commentary from the roadside in Mobile, Alabama Click Here.

I don’t like complaining and I really don’t have a right too. So I keep my complaints to a minimum. I choose to make this pilgrimage for Women’s Rights. I dedicated myself to making this journey years ago. I wanted to get national media for the Equal Rights Amendment, I want women to be empowered, and I want to see a woman president.

When I first conceived of the idea of pilgrimages 2010, I thought, “Heck if folks riding across the country for prostrate cancer get all kinds of coverage, this should be a breeze”. I received nominal coverage on my first pilgrimage form Seneca Falls, NY to Washington DC back in 2012. See . This time I left San Francisco in March 2014 and I was pretty darned sure that I get a little more press. I gave up my home, and business after my husband died to make this walk. The walk has not been easy. The lack of national media on this pilgrimage demonstrates just how difficult it is for women. Especially those woman who were not born into privilege, if they are to fall on hard times their options are far and few between. I have personally experienced widowhood in the ‘Good Ole USA’ and it is not pretty when you don’t have two cents to rub together and the economy still sucks picking up the pieces while not giving up the dream, Katrina’s Dream for full equality.

Over and over again, as I have traveled across the country I find that there are no places for single women. Most cities across the US do not have shelters for single women. You must be a victim of domestic violence or drug addicted/alcoholic or mentally ill if you are to qualify for a bed in a shelter, providing there is a bed. Typically there isn’t. I have personally observed the ratio to be two to three shelters for single men to every one shelter for women of domestic violence or homeless families.

March 8, 2015 Lynnaia Main, Officer, Global Relations of the Episcopal Church and Helene Swanson at the United Nation's International Women's Day walk to Times Square, NYC   Photo Credit: Katrina's Dream Supper

Lynnaia Main, Officer, Global Relations of the Episcopal Church and Helene Swanson at the United Nation’s Commssion on the Status of Women’s International Women’s Day walk to Times Square, Photo Credit: Katrina’s Dream Supporter

While my costs are negligible, storage, cell phone, etc., eating is essential The cost of printing literature for my visit to the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women had a price and my food budget has gone from $7 a day to zilch. And not having the proper gear makes it exceptional difficult, one tends to wear through outdoor gear more quickly when you are using it 24/7 every day 365 days a year. So over the course of the last few months, I have begun to rely heavily on programs geared to the homeless just to get a bite to eat and replace clothes with equally worn out clothes. As every cent I have is going towards replacing and updating literature accordingly and getting me to up coming conferences as I make my way to Washington DC.

In Mobile, Alabama I stayed at McKemie Place, the only women’s shelter on the Gulf Coast. The statistics are no longer numbers. They have faces. The conditions they stay there under are deplorable. The hot water went out one night and the electricity the next. Many women were turned away for one reason or another as there was insufficient room. You must be signed up each day to stay the night and be there by 4:00 pm and upon checking in you turn over your belonging to be locked up including your cell phone which you do not get back till the next morning. So you have no contact with family, friends, or the outside world. You also sit at a table from about 4:30pm till 7:30pm at which point you are allowed to set up your bed or go to one of the dormitory rooms and take showers. With only four showers serving 60+ women it is pure mayhem. Throughout the time there the doctrine that is spewed is that God is a male and that he made Adam in his image and that you as a woman are there to serve all men as your Master in rammed down your throat. Any comment to the contrary and you are targeted, to not be admitted the following day, especially if you express Pro-Choice sentiments.

But let me put that to the side for a moment. Here are some of the stories I gathered.

One white woman in her late 50’s, with a clostypy bag has been at the shelter nearly 18 months came to be there as ex-husband and packed her up in a van and drove her from Georgia to Mobile seven years ago and dumped her here. She had been married to him over 20 years. She helped him build up their business but he did not want her around anymore. He told her if she fought him in the divorce he would not pay for her daughter’s college education. So she didn’t. She shared that she wished he would take her back because living with him as difficult as it was, was better than where she was at now.

Another woman 36 of Asian descent is struggling with trying to see her six-month-old daughter and serious health issues. When the baby was two months old she and her husband got into an argument and she went out for a walk to cool off. When she returned he had packed up the nursery and has been hiding the child from her ever since. She had attempted to enlist the local police in finding her child but to no avail. He has since told the courts that she was a pill popper – she takes medication for seizures – and has thus been awarded temporary custody because she is now homeless. Her husband lives with his uncle who has been convicted three times of sex crimes; the police told her they could not help as he has temporary custody. Unfortunately, unless she can come up with $1000 dollars, has no one to represent her in court. The last night I stayed there she had a seizure – bit into her tongue and was taken away by the ambulance.

And yet another woman of African American descent, who was in her early 30’s had come down from Birmingham, Alabama, to be closer to her ailing father who resides in a nursing home. He is her sole support, her mother died when she was a teen. She had lost custody of her children and she is homeless. The father of her children will not allow her to see them. She and another woman wound up in a physical altercation because many of the other women there felt that if she was truly a good mother then Child Protective Services would have them, not the father. And obviously she was godless because God had given the children over to her abusive husband who must have been correct in meting out the discipline. She had left him because he was abusive and leaving the children behind was her only option.

When I stood up for women’s rights and LBGT rights I too was called Godless for challenging that God was a man. Stating that God was neither male nor female and that God loved Gays too. Shortly after this a woman came up to me shared with me that she had a partner in another state and was supportive of my efforts of support the LBGT community. She also begged me not to share anymore about her story in fear that somehow it might get back and she would be denied services.

Soooooo….. here I am in Pensacola, Florida making my way over to Tallahassee. At the local Episcopal Church I visited this past Sunday to charge up my spiritual battery I was ignored, having a backpack I believe that most thought I am homeless and it brought home just how difficult it is for women across the country. I left feeling tired, overwhelmed and emotional and spiritually bankrupt. I just wanted to get this over and get back to normalcy. But normalcy means oppression so I press on. And it is more important to me now than ever that we all band together to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.

Blue Heron off the Pensacola Pier in Florida.  Photo Credit Helene Swanson

Blue Heron off the Pensacola Pier in Florida. Photo Credit Helene Swanson

Today is another day and I am renewed having mediated heavily on my thoughts of God. At the pier off downtown Pensacola I spend a few moment with God’s Air Force, the pelicans, herons, and seagulls, and I whisper into the wind.

Thank you for another day. Please give me the strength to go on. And please enlighten our leaders and emblod to make a stand for woman and my brothers and sisters in the LBGT Community.  For now is the time for the Equal Rights Amendment.  And God, please let the next leader of this country be a woman, maybe then God, just maybe than, we shall see a new age ushered in, an age of peace and prospersity for all. Thank you for listening.

“See Ya Tomorrow!”

When I embarked on this Pilgrimage for the ERA I knew it would be difficult.  Difficult is an understatement!  As I slowly make my way from the Golden Gate bridge to Washington D.C.  I pray for those whom I care for and those I have met in the course of day to day affairs.  My dear friend, the Rev. Kathryn Piccard, has taught me to pray for those who have harmed me in some way, shape or form.She advises me to pray honestly, even explicitly, for these people, every time I think of them, for up to two weeks. But if others around, I have to do it silently! And it helps.


This pilgrimage is testing every aspect of my being and my faith in God.  And it is affirming my faith in God as well.  As a person who believes in the law of attraction I put my focus on accentuating the positive in all my relationships. My time in Arizona is a testament to my beliefs and my evolving relationship with God and her people.  I had always believed that I understood and had compassion for those who live alternative lifestyles, in particular, the causation of those who live outdoors un-housed.  My time in Phoenix has given me the gift of walking in the shoes of the economically disadvantaged and sharing the pain of my Hispanic friends who are treated differently because of the color of their skin.


I thought that it would be easy when I arrived in Phoenix. Easy like it was when I was going through Nevada.  It wasn’t.  I arrived late Sunday afternoon and made my way over to the Cathedral just in time for Compline. I was deeply moved by the service and thought I would wait ’til the following day to reach out to folks at the diocese. A big mistake, most of the folks at the Diocese of Arizona were leaving on vacation since it was the week of July 4th, 2014, so I was left in a lurch. Fortunately, a young man with some mental health challenges befriended me. He showed me around and suggested that I go to Grace Lutheran Church for clothing and food. So I did. I wound up sticking around and volunteering all week. I grew close to community of the Respite Cooling Center. I came in every morning around 7:30 am and helped out all day until 5:00pm. It was a deeply moving experience. I observed first hand in a way I had not done before, as a homeless person with no place to go and insufficient monies due to budget constraints to get a hotel room or a decent bite to eat. It was humbling. The volunteers and those they serve at the center became “family” taking me in.


“Shorty,” a Latino born and raised in Tuscon shared his story with me. Reared by his grandparents and uncle, he took to becoming a young gangster by the age of eight, dropping out of school. At the age of 11 he married a young Mexican girl he snuck across the border. By 15 he was a father of three. At 19 he killed a man in a bar room brawl in self-defense. He fled the country to live in Mexico but being a devout Roman Catholic came back and turned himself in. The judge who sentenced him said had he not fled he would only be giving him seven years but he was to be an example, so he got the maximum: 25 years. He served the full 25 years, day by day.  While in prison he was cornered in the bathroom where his jaw was broken and he subsequently lost all his teeth. Upon release, not having a proper education and being illiterate and a convicted felon he was unable to find gainful employment. He has lived the last 15 years on the streets of Phoenix. He never developed a relationship with his children although his daughter lived in the area. Shorty took me in. He shared his campsite with me. At the end of each day we headed over to the public library where I worked on reaching out to various organizations in anticipation of my meeting with Senator McCain. Shorty worked on word puzzles attempting to sound out the words he was searching for to increase his vocabulary, a hobby he picked up in prison. Shorty is also known as “Pa” by a number of the younger folks who go to the Grace Lutheran Summer Respite Cooling Center. One young couple who stayed at Shorty camp during the dust and rain storms of monsoon season is expecting their first child together. The young lady grew up in foster care having been taken away from her mother as one of her mothers many boyfriends had molested her.  Her foster mother saw her as “Cinderella” and she was put to work taking care of the other foster kids who the woman was receiving a good amount of money from the state to house. She said she would clean up after everyone and each night go out to wander the streets.  As long as she was back by morning no one cared that she was gone all night. Her partner arrived in Phoenix a few months ago from the Midwest. He deals with his childhood traumas by doing a drug called spice, an easily acquired street drug in the same family of bath salts. One night he begged her to hit him over and over again, claiming that would teach him a lesson. That it would help him to not to spend the little money they had on drugs. It was a difficult night for all. Shorty would shake his head, the young man begging over and over to be hit, and the young woman complying with her punches. I prayed for this family, my Phoenix Street family. I was quickly bought into the fold and asked to volunteer being a friend of Shorty. Each day the program director gathered us together to go over what we needed to concentrate on. We discuss what went wrong the day before and how to best prevent it from happening again. Occasionally, when there was a problem such as someone being too intoxicated or being too argumentative Carlos, the program director would address the issue immediately. He would clearly state that they would have to leave, but only for the day. Always saying, “See ya tomorrow.” At the end of each day when it was time to clean-up the bathrooms, wipe off the table and chairs, vacumn, we all pitched in, and no one had to ask to do anything. We all just worked together in quiet. And when we were done putting things up, again Carlos would say, “See ya tomorrow!”

1044721_10204022357149669_9137618215313784476_n I met the other volunteers. One husband and wife came in every day. He ran the movies while she prepared the food. He also fixes everyone’s electronic gadgets, being a retired computer programmer for a banking institution and former professional baseball player. Their tireless dedication was truly an inspiration. Another took her day off from the local military base to serve in the kitchen, and yet another came to lead the prayer service. And even more to staff the clothing room.


I could see myself serving this community for the rest of my life. It was hard leaving them to prepare for my meeting at Senator McCain’s office with other concerned Arizona voters organizing for the ERA. But I had to move on. I will carry the promise of another day to serve God and her people as we say at Grace Lutheran “See ya Tomorrow.”