Veteran Feminists of America Celebrations


ON AUGUST 27, 2009


My daughter, Michele and I arrived early at the Stockton Country Club café in northern California on August 27, 2009. Michele immediately set up a table with VFA brochures & application blanks, Barbara Love's
Feminists Who Changed America and Merikay McLeod's book, Betrayal, which she'd given to VFA; and a tasteful display of beautiful Gloria Steinem refrigerator magnets we'd converted from pins hoping to sell enough to pay for my trip. And we did. This event was not VFA financed, but a gift from Beverly McCarthy and the San Joaquin County Commission on the Status of Women, so there was no money for "extras." (right: Jacqui Ceballos and daughter Michele at table)

Beverly, who planned the whole event, was seeing that all ran smoothly. The place was soon buzzing with activity -- women greeting one another, many who hadn't been in touch for years. By noon more than 150 guests had arrived --many African American and Latina women, and quite a few men -- the most diverse representation since our New Orleans event in 2002. Out of town guests were feminist icons Laura X (nee Murra), founder and director of the National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape; Mary Stanley, of the California Women's Political Caucus; and Ruth Gottstein, publisher emerta of Volcano Press, which published the first book on domestic violence,
Battered Wives.

Led to the head table I was handed a beautiful program with a huge photo of our medal of honor gracing the cover, and seated next to Ruth Gottstein, who told me of her conversations with Del Martin and her partner, Phyllis Lyon, before Del's death, and gave me copies of Del's books,
Battered Wives and Lesbian/Woman. (left: Mayor Ann Johnston, Jacqui Ceballos, Beverly McCarthy and Ruth Gottstein)

The mayor, Ann Johnston welcomed all warmly and led us through the Pledge of Allegiance. A young soprano, Chantelle Faulks, after telling us that she'd never heard of "I am Woman" before Beverly had asked her to sing it, gave a lovely rendition of Helen Reddy's gift to the feminist movement.

Beverly got up to a round of applause and told the story of the San Joaquin County Status of Women Commission, which she founded and has directed for years, then introduced me. I gave my usual story of VFA with a little added spice. They must have liked it, as they gave me a standing ovation! Laura X later said, "Jacqui gave one of her best energizer bunny speeches."

I think the women were just thrilled to be honored--which confirms my main thesis--that all these great women who'd worked around the clock in the 1970s and 1980s making incredible changes locally and nationally, appreciate a little recognition. Ours was truly a great generation, and of that generation only a few, maybe Betty and Gloria, are recognized and will be remembered. If we want the feminist revolution to continue, we must not let the soldiers who made it happen be forgotten!

Beverly called the names of the honorees, and one by one they came up to be medaled by me. Meanwhile Michele videotaped the event, while my daughter in law, Elinore, and Merikay McLeod took some photos.

After the event many came to thank me. All said they're taking the brochures home to fill in leisurely. Hopefully, they'll join VFA. I'm following up with a note reminding them. It's so important that feminists keep connected, even after many have retired from activity.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND AS TO STOCKTON EVENT - In 1962 I was living in Bogota, Colombia, with my Colombian husband and four children, a "dama de la casa" with time to devote to my great love, singing. Bogota was a small town of one million then, and I met every visiting musician, including a soprano, Aline Eraso, who, with her Colombian husband and 3 year old daughter was visiting in Bogota. We became friends, and for years, after she returned to her home town of Stockton. CA.we exchanged Xmas cards, though our lives went in completely different directions. She was singing with the Stockton Opera Company and I was back in New York working full time in the movement.

In the 1980s when I was now living in New Orleans recuperating from years of heavy feminist activity, Aline visited me with her daughter. At the time my son Denis was also visiting. Guess it was fate. They married and have lived in Stockton for 10 years.
(left: Jacqui Ceballos, Maria Elena Serna, Mayor Ann Johnston)

During the early movement years every town of whatever size had a feminist movement. Were there any feminists in Stockton? I'd asked Aline. "Of course, she said. Beverly McCarthy." So I sent Beverly information about VFA, and she joined. But every time I was in Stockton, she was out of town. Finally, we met by circumstance having Thanksgiving dinner at a local restaurant. Of course I urged her to have a VFA event to honor Stockton's pioneer feminists. Beverly, who has been president of the local NOW chapter and every year for the past 20 or so has given a Susan B. Anthony celebration, agreed. She had the Status of Women Commission co- sponsor it, sent out a letter to all she knew deserved to honored, and the rest is herstory.

Besides thanking Beverly, we thank all who helped her, including Merikay Mcleod, my daughter, Michele, who, in spite of her busy life, took off to help, and my daughter in law, Elinore Eraso Ceballos, who took off work to help with photographing.
(right: Merikay McLeod)

VFA so appreciates Beverly that we've elected her to the board, along with others who have done above and beyond for VFA in the past two years: Eleanor Pan, Zoe Nicholson, Sally Lunt and Bonnie Wheeler. Eleanor was responsible, with Barbara Love, for the great Florida event in March, Sally Lunt gave a knockout event for
Feminists Who Changed America in Boston last year, Zoe did the same in Los Angeles, and Bonnie Wheeler, who, with Sheila Tobias is planning a major event in Dallas for March 10, 2010.


Comments: Jacqui Ceballos

Doors have been opened for us through the efforts of others
By Merikay McLeod

I was reminded recently that we’re often so solidly stuck in our oh-so-busy present, we forget how we got here. Such forgetting can rob us blind, and even hurt others.

For example, I vote in local, state and national elections. I work, receive a paycheck and deposit that check in my bank account. I own real estate. All of these things were once denied women, but today they are part of my ordinary life. These and so many other things have come to me as the result of other people’s hard work.

When we forget that doors have been opened for us through the efforts of others, we may fool ourselves into thinking that we opened them ourselves. Or we may traipse blindly through life, thinking we owe no one for all we have.

Such ignorance breeds the arrogance of entitlement.

What reminded me of all this was a luncheon at the Stockton Golf and Country Club August 27, honoring 43 local feminists whose efforts have changed the world in small and large ways.

Sponsored by the San Joaquin County Commission on the Status of Women and the Veteran Feminists of America, the luncheon was an enthusiastic celebration. More than 150 women and men from throughout the foothills and Central Valley attended.

Jacqui Ceballos, national president of VFA, flew in from Arizona to personally congratulate the feminist activists – some well into their 80s – for making America better.

As each honoree’s name was announced, Ceballos slipped a VFA medal of honor on a red-white-and blue ribbon over her head, and thanked her for her contribution while the audience cheered and applauded.

I was one of the 43 honored. I received my medal for bringing equal pay to a religious publishing house back in the 1970s. Before my lawsuit, women at Pacific Press Publishing Association earned about half what men earned, and they had no opportunity for equal advancement.

As Jacqui Ceballos slipped my medal over my head and thanked me for the effort I had put forth so many years ago, I marveled. My experience back then was one of being ridiculed, criticized, ostracized, shunned and even threatened. There were few thanking me in those far away days. Instead, Most of my colleagues were busy badmouthing and mudslinging in a desperate attempt to distance themselves from the "crazy libber" insisting on equal pay for equal work.

My story is similar to the other 42 honorees’ stories. We each pursued our cause because it was the right thing to do, and because we did not want others to have to live in the world we’d endured.

My husband is a Viet Nam vet and whenever he describes the sick-at-heart feeling of risking all only to be vilified upon returning home, I tell him I know the feeling.

As with veterans of other wars, we women didn’t take on the cause to be thanked, but the VFA ‘thank you’ felt profound.

Whenever I hear radio personalities referring to feminists as Nazis, whenever I hear women repudiating the struggles that have given them lives rich with possibilities, or shrugging carelessly about the rights and privileges they now enjoy, I want to shake them and say "Don’t you realize the sacrifices that have been made on your behalf?" At the VFA luncheon, an entire roomful of people knew well the sacrifices and it felt transforming to be in their presence.

Another foothill feminist – Ruth Gottstein of Volcano in Amador County – received a medal. Gottstein owns Volcano Press. She published the first book in the U.S. addressing domestic violence.

During the luncheon, we told each other our stories – sad, funny, frightening -- and always with the ending that our efforts had made a difference and that difference made the struggle worthwhile.

Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston, who MC’d the event, said the best part of being mayor is seeing the expressions on the faces of young girls who come to her office.

"They say, ‘You mean, I can be mayor?’" she said. "The light of possibility shines from their faces."

For me, the best part of the luncheon was remembering what sisterhood feels like. And remembering that here in America, our rights and responsibilities come to us through the (often hard-fought) efforts of others.

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