Our Members Write…and Speak*

*Note that all commentary are the views of the authors, not necessarily PBC NOW’s viewpoint.

February 5, 2017 Susan B. Anthony Luncheon

Opening Remarks: Arlene R Ustin, PBC NOW President

If ever Hillary’s mantra, ‘Stronger Together,’ describes an event, it did on January 21, 2017, historically. Not only in Washington, Florida, across America, but globally. [put pink hat on] Elin Shusterman and I have never been so comfortable in a crowd as we were in Washington among half a million persons. The D.C. police reported there was not one incident they needed to defuse in all those hours! I attribute this ambience to feminist qualities – not gender specific: making the circle, the space, as wide and big as it needs to be to be totally inclusive. With compassion, I watched everyone being mindful of the needs of those around them. It was an invaluable opportunity to put faces on the issues that might not directly affect each one of us, but for which each of us has been supporting, i.e., Dreamers, naturalized citizens worried about their immigrant families, physically disabled, LBGTQIA communities, families living below the poverty level, those wanting to address climate change with sanity – everyone was concerned about our democracy. We learned, shared stories, made friends, deepened our resolve and smiled a zillion times!

So why did so many participate? I received an email from Diane Russell, whom I do not know, but whose words resonate with me: “Women around the world and here at home have been imprisoned, beaten, and murdered for having the audacity to fight for their rights as half of the world’s population, as mother to all of the world’s humanity. Our great-great grandmothers were outcast for their fight for the right to vote. Our grandmothers were scorned for securing the right to make our own health care decisions. Our sisters of color have been trampled just because of the color of their skin – [others for their sexual identification or their religious beliefs].

Today we march in honor of these champions, the beaten down who got back up, the ones who gave their lives, the ones who triumphed and the ones who kept a steady gaze and raised their families against all odds. Tomorrow, we march for our daughters and granddaughters, for our boys who will become men in a masculine world that refuses individuality. We march for Equal Pay, for a world without violence, war and nuclear threats. And we march for the rights that would and should be granted to us under the US Constitution…” The Equal Rights Amendment needs to be ratified. Florida needs to step up! Thank you Representative Lori Berman.

Every issue critically affecting the lives of women, men, and children was represented in these marches. And the 2015 updated NOW National mission statement emphasizes the ‘intersectionality’ of all these issues. Just last night U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee spoke the the concept of ‘intersectionality’ too! We don’t want to leave anybody out. Now, I’m going to call out David Brooks. In his op ed entitled Marches won’t be nearly enough to counter Trump, he granted that the march was an ‘important cultural moment’ and then criticized us for being focused on the wrong issues, namely, “reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, action on climate change.” Really? This respected NY Times columnist concluded his piece by saying the musical Hamilton is a lot closer to what he thinks is the effective strategy, not our marches. Aside from being dismissive and condescending – his remark about pink hats so noted, [take pink hat off] we need to take his piece as a cautionary tale.

Marches alone is not enough! We don’t need Brooks or to be a rocket scientist to appreciate the magic momentum we now have. BUT, looking to the future we need a unifying message for sure and to work in concert with other organizations and groups to express our diverse needs – and never, never, at the expense of others. This would be feminism at its best. To do less is to default to the usual hierarchical model that is deaf to the needs of others who are different from themselves. We have our message: Marching for Humanity; Working for Unity. Even before Jan. 21 we were already holding demonstrations and organizing plans to make a moment a movement. We need to be focused, unrelenting, speak up for others (especially in their absence), and act! Take a leadership role, make phone calls, write letters, demonstrate (despite shyness, tentativeness, discomfort, or fear). There is something everyone of us can do to preserve the values of our democracy that are being threatened daily, even hourly, and advance our sense of humanity while taking care of those who have been suffering for years. We can register voters, promote VBMBallots, make sure everyone we know casts a ballot in every election. Know what our candidates stand for, keep abreast of what our legislators are filing, and call, write, or email each of them on every critical issue that comes to committee. There are persons here who do the homework regularly and provide the contact info and even suggest what to say! I am referring to Linda Geller-Schwartz and Joan Waitkevicz.

We are only strong when we act together – we have too many issues and  risk fading away if we fail to keep our unity.

Shifting gears: I’m always amazed by how the best in humankind can exist side-by-side with its worse. And today we are here to celebrate and savor our best.

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Letter to Palm Beach Post, January 11, 2017, by Joan Waitkevicz, Membership Chair:

Sessions falls short of top cop standard                                                                         Palm Beach Post 1/11/17

Thomas Carney’s Point of View letter, “Sessions deserves basic courtesy, fair hearing” (Thursday), supporting Sen. Jeff Sessions, the nominee for U.S. attorney general, is misleading.

As U.S. attorney general in Mobile, Ala., in 1981, Sessions did prosecute the men who lynched 20-year-old Michael Donald.

However, it was the Southern Poverty Law Center, not Sessions, that bankrupted the United Klans of America by suing for their entire assets on behalf of the family. In a statement in November, SPLC Director Richard Cohen acknowledged Sessions’ help with the civil suit.

“But,” Cohen warned, “we cannot support his nomination to be the country’s next attorney general. Senator Sessions … has associated with anti-immigrant groups we consider to be deeply racist, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Security Policy. If our country is to move forward, we must put all forms of racism behind us.”

Sessions supports the rollback of the landmark federal Voting Rights Act. He opposes the restoration of voting rights to ex-felons. In the 1980s, Sessions selectively enforced voting laws in Alabama by race and threatened activists who assisted illiterate voters with jail.

Sessions voted against the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. He voted against the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization because it included gay, lesbian and immigrant victims.

These are not just comments, they are actions. America should hold its attorney general to the highest standard.

H. JOAN WAITKEVICZ, WEST PALM BEACH

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Letter by our long time member, Jean Poleshuck, to National NOW, but it could be addressed to anyone:

As a 25 year member of NOW I appreciate the meaningful  issues  that NOW supports. However I want to propose that NOW recognizes and fights for justice for incarcerated women. I believe that we should be in the forefront to end the overall national attack on mostly poor, black and brown women.

The facts:

Only 5% of the world’s population  live in the US but the US accounts for nearly 30% of the world’s incarcerated women. Thailand is the only country with a higher incarceration rate for women than the United States…

With more than one million women behind bars or under the control of the criminal justice system, women are the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population increasing at nearly double the rate of men since 1985.

40% of criminal convictions leading to incarceration of women in 2000 were for drug crimes. 34% were for other non-violent crimes such as burglary, larceny, and fraud. 18% of women in prison have been convicted because of violent conduct. 7% were for public order offenses such as drunk driving, liquor law violations and vagrancy.

Women of color are significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Black women represent 30% of all incarcerated women in the U.S, although they represent 13% of the female population generally, Hispanic women represent 16% of incarcerated women

A large percentage of female prisoner have experienced physical and sexual abuse in their lives.  In 28 states, women may be shackled during labor and delivery, and while caring for newborns. Most of the newborns are immediately separated from their mothers after birth.

The destructive impact on families. Two-thirds of women entering prison have children. If these children are lucky, they get placed with grandparents or other stable long term caregivers. But \many are shipped off to foster homes and bounced for years among temporary housing situations.

Proposed Actions:

Call on our elected officials to promote criminal justice policies and practices that make sense for women, to provide resources that raise the standard of living for all and strengthen families, to expand community-based gender-specific alternative programs that rebuild lives, to protect women in prison from inhumane treatment, and to make sure that women can make a healthy and successful return to their communities.

Jean Poleshuck,  member, PBC NOW

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Sept. 20, 2016, from Linda Geller-Schwartz

POINT OF VIEW WOMEN’S HEALTH

Zika highlights need for women’s health services for the poor

Very troubling reports are emerging that the thousands of women tested for Zika statewide have been worrying and waiting for as long as six weeks to find out whether they are positive for the virus. Many of these are low-income women, who could not afford to be tested unless it was done under a free governmental program.

Women should not have to wait this long to be able to make informed health care decisions and plan for the future. And when they get their test results, they must have all the information and resources needed to make decisions that they feel are best for themselves and their families.

Any woman who is pregnant should be able to get health coverage for the full range of care related to her pregnancy, including prenatal care, labor and delivery, miscarriage care and abortion services. Unfortunately, those who are enrolled in Medicaid are denied an important component of that care by the Hyde Amendment, which politicians have used for 40 years to ban Medicaid from covering abortion. In Florida and nationwide, this policy is especially harmful to immigrants, women of color and youth. No Floridian should be forced into a decision that isn’t right for her just because she cannot get health coverage.

In 1976, three years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal, Congress first passed the Hyde amendment, cutting off low-income women from insurance coverage for abortion care. By doing this, Congress singled out women, who are already struggling to make ends meet, to limit their access to a legal reproductive health care procedure. The Zika virus outbreak in Puerto Rico and Florida brings this home. If you have private health insurance and financial resources, you will be able to decide with your family whether to carry the pregnancy to term or have an abortion. If you are enrolled in Medicaid, you simply will not have the same choices.

Like all pregnant women, they should also be able to make the decision to end a pregnancy without politicians interfering. It is immoral for low-income women to be faced with inferior reproductive health care.

LINDA GELLER-SCHWARTZ, BOCA RATON

Editor’ note: Linda Geller-Schwartz is Florida state policy advocacy chairwoman for the National Council of Jewish

Women.

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Palm Beach Post letter to the editor: Effective birth control must be part of Zika strategy
Friday, July 22, 2016

Last week Congress failed to pass legislation to protect Americans against the Zika virus. Republicans held up the funding, by insisting that no funds go to Planned Parenthood. The money would have gone to vaccine research, emergency testing labs, and surveillance of pregnant women, as well as birth control.

Until we get more research, here is what we know about Zika:

  • It is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, by sexual intercourse, and by blood transfusion.
  • It is possible to be infected without symptoms.
  • Zika infection early in pregnancy carries a 13 percent risk of microcephaly (small brain,) a severe birth defect, and other birth defects are possible.
  • The brain abnormality in the fetus cannot be detected until late in pregnancy.
  • Zika is already endemic — established — in America. The Centers for Disease Control last month estimated that in the coming year 25 percent of the population of Puerto Rico could be affected and dozens to hundreds of babies with microcephaly could be born there.
  • The mosquito that carries Zika is prevalent in Florida and can be found as far north as Virginia.

[The CDC has issued a fact- filled travel advisory for Puerto Rico at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/alert/zika-virus-puerto-rico.

Read “Florida” for “Puerto Rico” to see what we may face in the years to come.]

In Florida, as in Puerto Rico, wetlands are a part of nature. Mosquito control efforts and repellents, though important, can’t protect everyone.

Until we find a vaccine or cure for Zika, the government has a responsibility. Everyone who wants effective birth control should be able to get it.

Condoms help prevent infection, but as birth control they are not nearly as effective as other methods, especially long acting reversible contraception (LARC). We need to gear up now to provide LARC to everyone who wants it.

[We need all experienced hands on deck.  It is the height of insanity, or cynicism, to defund Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico, or Texas, or Florida. ]

JOAN WAITKEVICZ, M.D., WEST PALM BEACH

Editor’s note: Dr. Waitkevicz is an officer of Palm Beach County National Organization for Women

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Qualifications key in picking president   Letters, Palm Beach Post 2/20/16

Kathleen Parker, in her Feb. 11 column “Feminist era of Clinton, Steinem, Albright is over” about Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem, makes the case that young women do not feel limited by gender. She says young women don’t understand people over 50 (like myself) being enthusiastic about a woman president.

The presidential candidates are applying for a job. It’s our job as citizens to hire the best-qualified person. But what if the best qualified is a woman?

I have complete confidence that young women (and men) understand this. When they go for a job interview, there are interviewers whose message is “Tell me about your qualifications.” Others give the message “Make me like you.” When you’re a woman faced with such an interview, you sometimes need finesse to get past “Make me like you” and back to qualifications. More is required.

The voters are still in “Make me like you” mode. I trust we will get smart soon, and get back to qualifications.

H. JOAN WAITKEVICZ, WEST PALM BEACH

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Sent in by Elin Shusterman: Elin Shusterman in Dublin advocating Reproductive Rights“Just left Dublin where I came across a petition signing event to get rid of their 8th Amendment. As you may know, abortion was illegal, but the men found it necessary to make it double illegal by making it a constitutional amendment.
“Due to a recent incident involving a pregnant woman being allowed to die unnecessarily rather than be allowed to be given a legal abortion, there has been outrage and a major change in public opinion. A very stringent law has been passed allowing only women on deaths door (verified by numerous doctors) to have abortions. So far a total of 8 women in Ireland have been allowed to get legal abortions.
“And we thought we had it tough.”

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On Sept. 19, 2015, Adele Guadalupe gave an excellent description of Families Against Court Travesties, Inc. (FACTS) and its reasons for existing.  If you would like to read it or download it, go to her speech on the EXTREME ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES MOTHERS EXPERIENCE AS A RESULT OF MANY DECISIONS MADE IN FAMILY COURT.

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Rethinking Domestic Violence
By Marilyn Fitterman, Past President NOW-NYS
Our society has created an environment where beating women and children and violating their civil rights are acceptable.  In fact we have actually created an industry that is the violence against women movement. This movement thrives on building “safe houses” and places of “retreat” to protect victims, as opposed to enforcing “on the books laws” against the men who abuse.   Read more…

September 4, 2015 by Elin Shusterman, Board Member, to the Sun-Sentinel

Deportation Plan Despicable

Donald Trump’s despicable plan of rounding up and taking away whole Hispanic families (mothers, fathers and even their American citizen children) is reminiscent of the actions of some of the most despised dictators in history. Who next will Trump decide doesn’t really belong here and should be thrown out (or worse) based on his racist, narrow-minded ideas?

People should remember that it was Trump, along with Newt Gingrich in a previous presidential election, who wanted to put poor children as young as 9 years old to work cleaning toilets in their schools so they would  “learn a work ethic,” and assumed all their parents were lazy good-for-nothings, instead of actually being parents working two and three jobs just trying to get food on the table.

I always wondered if it ever occurred to Trump or Gingrich to set that program up for spoiled, lazy rich kids born with silver spoons in their mouths. It is no wonder that David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan and other right wing extremists are beginning to profess their support for Trump.

Wake up. This is no TV show folks. Get your entertainment elsewhere. Get real. This is serious business with very serious consequences. Dump Trump now.

September 2, 2015 by Pres. Arlene Ustin, to the Sun-Sentinel

Concealed weapons on campuses, again?

By Arlene Ustin

Guns and college campuses still do not mix!

The Florida Legislature is currently deciding which bills to hear for the 2016 legislative session beginning in January. Legislators defeated the bill to allow concealed weapons on college campuses last session, but identical bills are back. Now SB 68 is in the Senate and HB 4001 is in the House. Once again voters must voice their objection to allow concealed weapons on campuses with renewed vigor. Since March the reasons have not changed, they have intensified.

It is dangerous and unreasonable to allow weapons on school grounds at any level because experience has demonstrated, for decades, how innocent people have been killed in horrific incidents in Florida and across our country.

Weapons — in the hands of other than police or security personnel — can only increase, not reduce, the risk of more deaths and injuries. So-called “training” for nonprofessionals is completely insufficient. Actual situations require finely tuned judgment calls, crisis-management plans, experience to act under stress, etc. — skills that students, teachers, cafeteria personnel, etc. cannot possess in short order.

The Gun Safety Committee of the League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County lists six reasons to oppose this bill:

  • All 12 universities in the State University System, their police chiefs and the Board of Governors that oversees them oppose guns on campus.
  • Law Enforcement opposes guns on campus. Police do not want to be placed in a position of responding to an incident on campus involving a concealed carry permit holder and not being able to discern the “good guy” from the “bad guy.”
  • Guns and alcohol do not mix. One study found that two-thirds of gun-owning college students engage in binge drinking.
  • Guns do not make women safer from sexual assault. More than half of victims of rape report being raped by an intimate partner. A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a firearm.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24, exceeded only by accidental death. About 85 percent to 90 percent of suicide attempts with a firearm are fatal.
  • Economic Impact. A Texas study shows the cost to that state’s university system will be approximately $47 million over six years should a similar bill pass there. Just how much will it cost in Florida?

What else is this bill doing? It is diverting attention away from sensible gun safety legislation. When 90 percent of the public, including members of the NRA, wants legislation passed for effective background checks and closing loopholes for buying guns illegally, why are our elected officials focused on bills such as this? Why are they not focused on the effective gun safety legislation that can impact this horrific problem head on and act on behalf of the people they are supposed to be serving?

If we, as voters, do not contact our state representatives by visiting their offices, calling, and/or emailing them, are we then being complicit in future gun violence deaths and injuries?

Arlene R. Ustin, of Delray Beach, is a board member of the League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County.

Copyright © 2015, Sun Sentinel

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June 25, 2015 from Shirley Herman about the Supreme Court victory upholding Floridians’ rights under the Affordable Care Act!

     Finally a victory.
    The Supreme Court voted down the challenge to the Affordable Care Act.  It upheld the validity of Federal Exchanges in States that did not create State exchanges.    This is particularly important for Floridians.  Our legislators refused to set up a state exchange in an effort to block Obamacare. 
    Nevertheless  hundreds of thousands of Floridians signed up for healthcare subsidies under Obamacare on Federal Exchanges.  Now their access to healthcare is secure. 
    Our State legislators still are blocking access to healthcare for the working poor, by refusing to take the funds for enhances Medicaid.  This is our tax money that would protect our neighbors.  This is our next fight for healthcare.

Feb. 12, 2015        Court Watch: Letter to Chief Justice of Florida from Adele Guadalupe, VP

Dear Chief Justice Labarga;

For over 12 years I have been witnessing Family and other Civil Court proceedings in Palm Beach, Broward and other Floridian counties.  Therefore, it was with great interest that I read about the recent formation of the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice.  As you state in your press release, this system is truly broken.

Having lawyers available to these civil litigants and having mandated court room recordings of these hearings/trials made available at a reasonable cost, is of utmost importance if justice is to be provided to every one facing civil or family court proceedings, especially those of limited means.

As President of Families Against Court Travesties, I have helped develop a website, given talks to numerous groups, conducted court watches, written evaluations, given testimony to the Supreme and Appellate Courts, and participated in many interviews of judicial candidates prior to elections.

Our group also has a hotline that takes calls from parents who have lost access to their children because of misguided decisions made by Family Court judges.  Many of these arbitrary decisions have wreaked havoc on children and their families.  Because there is no Legal Aid available to these parents, the Family Court System has become a very lucrative arena in the legal system.  After lawyers, paid guardian-ad-litems, evaluators, psychologists, etc. are involved in a revolving door of fees, most parents, women especially, are left penniless and heart-broken, as are their children and extended families.

Time after time, especially in heavily contested child custody cases, I have witnessed child abusers, child molesters, and domestic violence perpetrators being given sole custody of their children or unsupervised visitation with them.

Children are traumatized by the fact that they’ve not only lost their mothers, but have been forced to live with the abuser.  In many of the hearings that  I have witnessed ,evidence of the abuse is not even allowed into court..  Children, toddlers and even infants are being denied access to loving parents and other members of their families.  Due Process is being ignored and children are being viewed as property to be divided or awarded.

Many litigants start out with financial means, but quickly run out of resources.  This lack of finances has caused many parents to go pro se.  They have nowhere else to turn.  Needless to say a high-powered attorney on the other side makes mincemeat of them and the judges often become annoyed with the pro se litigant’s lack of familiarity with courtroom procedures and the law. To make matters worse, when they can no longer afford the court-reporter or transcripts, their rights  to appeal become severely hampered.

I notice that the 27-member committee does not include any lay people, such as myself and other court watchers.   If there is no one to represent the actual litigants, to explain what they have to experience in court, their losses and their  frustration, this committee will not truly represent the general public, which I assume is supposed to be the entire purpose of it.  Please consider inviting people such as myself into your committee, so that it is truly representative of those in the trenches.

I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Adele Guadalupe, VP Fl. NOW PBC Chapter, Chairwoman of FACTs, Co-Chair Fl. NOW Child Custody Comm., Nat’l NOW Family Law Advisory Comm.

Good news, bad news in AIDS statistics      Palm Beach Post 7/22/14

H. JOAN WAITKEVICZ MD, WEST PALM BEACH (Our Membership Director)

You can’t imagine what a joy it was for a physician to read “Health law shrinks Florida’s uninsured” and “HIV diagnosis rate fell by a third in U.S.,” both published in Sunday’s Palm Beach Post. That is, until I went back to the source article and realized Florida is near the top in the rate of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. Only D.C. and Louisiana have a higher rate.

In 2011, we had more than 5000 new cases. Two-thirds of too much is still too much.

What can be done? First, young gay and bisexual men need to get the prevention message before they become active. Compass and Planned Parenthood have been doing a great job; other community groups, and the media, not so great.

But the proven best way to keep people from getting HIV/AIDS is to test everyone — no judgments, just part of your routine health care — and treat those who test positive. This stops the spread of infection.

Oh wait, a million of us don’t have routine health care. Our legislators are giving back $15 million of Florida’s federal tax dollars per day that could insure a million more low-income working Floridians. That’s a lot of young people.

Wasting my money to fight inevitable   Palm Beach Post 7/20/14

SHIRLEY Y. HERMAN, WEST PALM BEACH (Our Treasurer)

 I resent Pam Bondi, my attorney general, using my tax dollars to litigate against my rights.

On Thursday, a judge in Key West declared the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

This is one of many decisions, but the first in Florida.  Many of these decisions have been challenged in many states and in the US Supreme Court, and each time these challenges have failed.  All they succeeded in doing was costing taxpayer money in support of bigotry and delaying the inevitable.

Give it up, Bondi.  Same-sex marriage is inevitable.  My marriage to my same-sex partner of 41 years (married four years ago) will be recognized in Florida and justice will be served.

POINT OF VIEW FLORIDA POLITICS, Palm Beach Post March 2014

Use vote to bring shift in political climate, by Arlene Ustin

  In 2010, the last midterm election year, only 30 percent of the Florida electorate voted, and the agenda of Rick Scott and the tea party-influenced politicians were placed in charge of our governance.

The governor recently unveiled his seemingly concerned budget proposal for 2014-15, but please don’t be fooled — and don’t forget what Scott, his administration and the Republican-dominated Legislature have done since 2010. They have passed laws that slashed education by $1.3 billion in Scott’s first year; refused $51 billion in federal Medicaid expansion that would have assisted 1.2 million low-income Floridians; cut jobless benefits while awarding corporate tax breaks; refused to hear most bills for women’s rights and gun violence prevention; and prevented the restoration of voting rights of more than 1 million returning citizens (ex-felons) — of whom 30 percent are African-American   males under age 40 in Florida.

The newly appointed secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Herschel Vin-yard, called Scott the “Environmental Governor” when the environmental protection funding dedicated to keep our water clean and our land protected was cut 97.5 percent.

Scott was the only person in Florida who could, but refused, to declare a state of emergency after the unexpected storm of Jan. 9-10, which left two persons dead, and hundreds of residents struggling with the aftermath of flooded homes and cars in Palm Beach County. With Scott’s decision, FEMA could not assist those who continue to suffer from this natural disaster.

Scott and the Legislature have been supporting the privatization of schools with virtually no accountability or consequences for the shamefully poor performance of those charter schools that have   failed. Moreover, many of the laws passed in Tallahassee in 2011 created the abominable election experience of long lines and unsubstantiated limitations placed on certain voters in 2012. Today, some of these laws have been reversed, but not without consequences for some.

I don’t trust the politicians who dominate Tallahassee at the moment, and feel misled and insulted by their rhetoric, misinformation and untruths.

To shift this political and social climate, we need public leaders who understand our issues and will act on behalf of all Floridians. Whatever your political persuasion, you must exercise your right to vote this year. When all is said and done, it is the vote of every citizen that will keep our democracy viable and robust today, and prepare Florida for its citizens in the future.

ARLENE USTIN

Delray Beach

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From our archives: Letters and speeches, 2013, by NOW members

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