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

Tag: Sexism


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.

A Reflection in the Advent Season on World Forum 2007

Side road off of Route 4 near Edwardsville, IL  Photo Credit: Helene Swanson

Side road off of Route 4 near Edwardsville, IL Photo Credit: Helene Swanson

Inspired by Rev. Thomas Momberg’s sermon and refreshed by those I welcomed me at Holy Cross Episcopal Church, West Memphis, AR I now make my way to Little Rock where I will drop by the Clinton Presidential Center.  I have been reflecting on the Advent Season and what has moved me forward in my ministry in promoting the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.  Many have helped in so many way – one person who comes to mind is Dana Curtis.

Back in late 2006 I took a job working for Dana assisting her in her thriving mediation practice. Dana is an amazing woman and brilliant lawyer. At the time I was not familiar with several concepts. Dana introduced me to mindfulness and stillness where I observed her make the time to take the time for her daily mediation practice and how vital her mediation practice was to her work mediating cases for large organizations. Meditation is another word for prayer time. I came to he right before her move from the flats to the houseboat community in Sausalito. I assisted in a number of small projects of no consequence. But not only did she have a profound influence on my spiritual growth her organization Rockrose Institute did as well. Rockrose Institute was founded by Dana Curtis, Maya Ramsey, Rebecca Westerfield, and Justine Durrell and they successfully brought the concept of dialogue to the world table. (Thank you beautiful women of wisdom.)

As her assistant I attended the conference Justice, Religion, and Conflict Resolution – 2007 World Forum. Rockrock Institute retained Mark Garzon to facilitate the conference. Mark is a consultant who trains our US Congress and United Nations delegates from around the world in the art of dialogue so that all are empowered to more fully participate in conversations.

At World Forum 2007 I was privileged to Eli Wiesel, noble peace prize recipient and Jewish survivor of the Nazi death camps, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright under the Clinton White House Administration, and former Dean of Grace Cathedral The Very Rev. Alan Jones. They spoke to us before each workshop in order to put things in their proper context. The conference was well attended with over 600 world leaders. We had numerous daily breakout groups at the end of each workshop and were given tools to help facilitate change for the common good. Most broke off to address issues of the day. I became a member of the Wisdom Team with Maya’s husband Craig. And walked away with an approach to life that has empowered me to work through many difficulties and I hope to share the gifts given with others.

Then again at the 2008 Lambeth Conference I learnt how the Anglican Communion is using Ubunto and Continuing Indaba to develop and intensify relationships by drawing on cultural models of consensus building for mutual creative action.

So why do I embrace dialogue (see theological and social device, well primarily because debate is an outdated modality. Debate, simply put is a win or lose format. I’m right you are wrong, my way or the highway, us vs. them, equates to someone walking away hurt and unresolved, so the fight goes on. The small voice is overpowered and if one is lacking in resources or a power they are not heard. So if the monied, resource ladden or larger group dominates those who are disadvantaged are not heard. When one is not equal none are equal – we all lose.

Where as in dialogue the concept of Ubunto is employed. Dialogue is where feelings, beliefs, and facts have equal consideration. Ubunto, an African word for community and comes from the tribal practice where all come under the tree to express themselves all voices are heard equally to address concerns that affect all.

I have encountered many angry folks who are fear based driven and in their attempt to control others scream to intimidate and quiet them or mute the voice of another by minimizing them as lessors. These controlling methods are working under a broken modality. Instead I will continue to embrace all and work with all.

Off of Route 40 in Arkansas Photo Credit: Helene Swanson

Off of Route 40 in Arkansas Photo Credit: Helene Swanson

It is my hope and pray that by following utilizing dialogue that the voice of wisdom be heard.

In recent months, I have come to see just how important it is to utilize the dialogue format in moving the United States of America to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and include the ERA in the US Constitution. Both those who are con, against the ERA and those who are pro ERA have valid points whether they be fear based or factual, and all need to be heard for positive resolution to end ongoing discrimination. Sexism, Racism, and Anti-Semitism – Anti-God are interconnected.

It is my hope and prayer that by utilizing dialogue that we at Katrina’s Dream can bring both sides to the table to be heard so that we can dispel the myths thereby demonstrate the need to end discrimination and violence against women.

So in the months to come and I continue this pilgrimage across the USA, I hope to demonstrate to others how to use the dialogue driven methods to bring women, men and the LBGT community to be welcomed at the table and unite under a common cause, Equality for All. In short, the Equal Rights Amendment is “All for All”.

And so in this advent season where we eagerly await the coming of the child who fulfills prophesy and empties hell I share with you my dearest friends my Ubunto Birth Song for the Equal Rights Amendment dedicated to my beloved William Gaines Swanson who so love Christ.

Come one, come all, come children of God

Come one, come all, all for all

Time now to heal, time to restore, time for love

All now equal, under the heavens, under the law

Come one, come now, come all

Nativity Scene in the town square in Carlinville, IL  Photo Credit: Helene Swanson

Nativity Scene in the town square in Carlinville, IL Photo Credit: Helene Swanson

Be sure to click on the links they help you to become familiar with the ministry of Katrina’s Dream and those we work to promote the full inclusion of women in the Church and in Society and other Social Justices Issues

Love and Light in Christ,

Helene de Boissiere Swanson