Colina L. Fischer Jordan Seeley – My Feminist Activist Partner 1928-2017

Picture of Colina Jordan Seeley sitting on her back porch.

Colina L Jordan Seeley. Photo courtesy of the family as posted at http://www.rouppfuneralhome.com/notices/Colina-Seeley

On Sunday, July 30 I received an email that my close friend Colina Jordan Seeley had died in Wilkes-Barre, PA from complications of a stroke.  She was an 89-year old fireball.  An activist, a fighter for social justice, a social worker, mother, wife, and a life-long fighter for the rights and safety of all. A real feminist.

She was born in Utrecht, The Netherlands a year after my mother was born.  By the time she was 12, she had become a fighter for the underdog; one of her first acts was becoming a part of the Nazi Resistance in the Netherlands.  Her family told this story in her obituary that came out today – a story she often said to me.  The only part she left out in her storytelling to me was that she was the one that convinced her father to go into hiding. Here’s a clip from the obituary:

She was born in Utrecht, the Netherlands on 7 May 1928.  She grew up in an academic household where her father was [a] professor of anthropology at [the] University of Utrecht, and her mother was a history and geography teacher. 

When the Nazis took over the Netherlands, her father was called in to explain why he no longer taught.  He said that the Dutch students had mostly evaporated and all that was left was Nazi sympathizers.  When Colina heard this story that evening, at age 12 she instantly saw that the Nazis would be coming to pick him up, and made such a scene that her father reluctantly went into hiding that night.  The next morning the Nazis were at the door to pick him up.  Colina became the mainstay of the family consisting of the other 5 children and her not very functional mother.  Colina was the person who scrounged for tidbits of food and coal.  She cooked in the back yard over a tin can.  As a small girl with long blonde braids, she was able to hoodwink the Nazis and lead off men out of the groups being marched to Germany to work in the factories there.

Here’s a bit more to that story.  Colina told me that she helped lead these men away from the Nazis after they crawled through a hidden hole at the back end of the Gymnasium (school) into a safe house that abutted the back of the school. She would go each day and walk the escapee away from the area pretending to the Nazi’s that her “uncle” was so drunk he couldn’t talk and tell them she was taking him home to his wife and kids.

Another story she told was about her food scrounging adventures.  Apparently, the Nazis had food and milk trucks that rumbled through town on a regular basis.  As a young teenage girl she was able to get near these trucks, and when the Nazis backs were turned, she’d grab milk off of the trucks and run.  A dangerous activity, but she got away with this too.

BTW, she didn’t see or hear or know where her father was throughout the war because the family feared that if the children knew of his whereabouts they might have been tortured to tell.  He came home safely at the end of the war.

After the war, Colina came to the US and obtained a Master’s degree in Social Work.  She married Joseph Jordan whom she met at the University of Minnesota. The moved to State College where they raised their four children – Saskia, Sharon, Naomi, and Adlai.  Joseph died in August 1992, and she married Ralph Seeley in April 2004.  ,

She continued her activism here in the states. Among the things I know that she accomplished were:

  • Successfully advocating for low-income people with mental health issues.
  • Providing mental health care as the sole practitioner in the Penns Valley area of Centre County. For those that don’t know the area, it’s a rural farming community with a large Amish population. I believe her work in Penns Valley also helped foster her love of nature and the work of the Clearwater Conservancy.
  • Forcing the local Elks Club in Boalsburg to open up membership to people of color. She did this by contacting John W. Oswald in 1970 right after Penn State University announced that he was going to be the new University President.  She pointed out to him that his welcoming party was planned at the racially segregated Elks Club in Boalsburg.  He agreed with her that this was wrong and notified the University that he wouldn’t step inside the club as long as this policy continued.  The venue changed, and soon the policy was too.
  • Starting the first NOW (National Organization for Women) chapter and the local women’s domestic violence and sexual assault center in Centre County in the early 1970s.  The Women’s Resource Center is still going strong today. And Colina remained a member of NOW until her death.
  • Using her love of storytelling, she also became active in the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association towards the end of her life.  She thought up and helped create our Out Loud program. This program highlights local poets, poetry, and local storytelling.

I moved to Centre County in 1981.  She was one of the very first people I met. That was at a NOW meeting. We crossed paths on an irregular basis until 1991 when I, along with Colina and a couple of other women founded Ni-Ta-Nee NOW, the current local chapter of the National Organization for Women.  She became my activist, feminist partner in crime.  We spent time listening to each other, traveling to rallies and protests, and organizing actions to improve the lives of women, LGBTQIA, and people of color here in Happy Valley and at Penn State University.

My favorite memory was setting up a protest ladder on Old Main Lawn with her in September of 1992. The day before President George Bush came to campus to speak for his second run for office, she and I brought in a ladder and a banner and laid them on the ground about halfway up the lawn near the area where the general public was going to be admitted.  Our plan was to set up the ladder and put some broken dolls on the ladder with a sign saying something about his lack of support for early childhood care.

The next day we got there, picked up the banner and the ladder. We then set up the ladder with the baby dolls. Almost immediately, a Secret Service agent came up and confiscated the ladder saying it was a “safety hazard.”

So throughout the rest of the rally, we held up our eight foot-wide “Four More Months!” banner along with the baby dolls.  It was the ONLY sign in the rally protesting Bush’s policies; every other protest sign, including our childcare sign, had been confiscated by the gatekeepers on the way onto the Lawn.

We returned the next day and picked up the banner and the ladder. We then set up the ladder with the baby dolls. Almost immediately, a Secret Service agent came up and confiscated the ladder saying it was a “safety hazard.”  So throughout the rest of the rally, we held up our eight foot-wide “Four More Months!” banner along with the baby dolls.  It was the ONLY sign in the rally protesting Bush’s policies; every other protest sign, including our childcare sign, had been confiscated by the gatekeepers on the way onto the Lawn.

So throughout the rest of the rally, we held up our eight foot-wide “Four More Months!” banner along with the baby dolls.  It was the ONLY sign in the rally protesting Bush’s policies. Every other protest sign, including our childcare sign, had been confiscated by the gatekeepers on the way onto the Lawn.

The press soon found out about this confiscation and broadcast the news as a violation of Free Speech – courtesy of Colina and myself.

Afterward, we went up to the Secret Service agent and asked him what they had done with Colina’s ladder.  The Secret Service agent looked shocked and said to Colina, “It’s your ladder!? I can’t believe an old lady would bring a ladder here!”  He obviously didn’t know Colina!  At that time she would have been 64 years old. He then smiled, told us where they had put it, and we picked it up.

Colina, you’ll be missed.  My condolences to your entire family.  And for those wanting to hear more about Colina and her life, the family is holding a memorial service sometime in September at the Unitarian Fellowship in State College.  Instead of flowers, donations can be made in Colina’s name to any organization of which she would approve, many of which are listed here in this blog.

Farewell, my dear friend.

Is “Anonymous” Always a Woman Anymore? NO!

We have all heard Virginia Woolf’s quote “Anonymous was a woman.”  This quote refers to women who have disappeared when speaking their truth, history, and art throughout much of recorded history. She may not have signed her statements. Her statements may have been attributed to either a male that she was associated with or she has, over time, had her voice misattributed to a man in the popular mind.  As with quotes, women’s history has long been made hidden or anonymous.

This hidden history is now being addressed and has been since the 1970’s here in the United States.  As President Jimmy Carter said in 1980:

“From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.

As Dr. Gerda Lerner has noted, “Women’s History is Women’s Right.” – It is an essential and indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long-range vision.”

Initially in the US, the federal government proclaimed the week surrounding March 8 (known around the world as International Women’s Day) as Women’s History Week.  By 1986, 14 states had declared March to be Women’s History Month to have schools and communities recognize and raise up the history of women – individuals as well as movements.  The following year Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. Every year since then the President of the United States creates a special proclamation once again declaring March as Women’s History Month by highlighting the achievements of American women.

We as women are no longer “Anonymous.” Our voices and our history are being added to what children and adults learn.

As part of each year’s Women’s History Month, a theme is associated with the month’s programs on women’s history.  In 2016, that theme is Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.  Following this theme, leaders throughout the country, both women and men, have stepped up to the plate to highlight women’s service and history.

Here’s what President Obama said in his 2016 proclamation on February 29, 2016:

Throughout history, women have driven humanity forward on the path to a more equal and just society, contributing in innumerable ways to our character and progress as a people.  In the face of discrimination and undue hardship, they have never given up on the promise of America:  that with hard work and determination, nothing is out of reach.  During Women’s History Month, we remember the trailblazers of the past, including the women who are not recorded in our history books, and we honor their legacies by carrying forward the valuable lessons learned from the powerful examples they set.

For too long, women were formally excluded from full participation in our society and our democracy.  Because of the courage of so many bold women who dared to transcend preconceived expectations and prove they were capable of doing all that a man could do and more, advances were made, discoveries were revealed, barriers were broken, and progress triumphed.  Whether serving in elected positions across America, leading groundbreaking civil rights movements, venturing into unknown frontiers, or programming revolutionary technologies, generations of women that knew their gender was no obstacle to what they could accomplish have long stirred new ideas and opened new doors, having a profound and positive impact on our Nation.  Through hardship and strife and in every realm of life, women have spurred change in communities around the world, steadfastly joining together to overcome adversity and lead the charge for a fairer, more inclusive, and more progressive society.

During Women’s History Month, we honor the countless women who sacrificed and strived to ensure all people have an equal shot at pursuing the American dream.  As President, the first bill I signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, making it easier for working American women to effectively challenge illegal, unequal pay disparities.  Additionally, my Administration proposed collecting pay data from businesses to shine a light on pay discrimination, and I signed an Executive Order to ensure the Federal Government only works with and awards contracts to businesses that follow laws that uphold fair and equal labor practices.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer charge women more for health insurance simply because of their gender.  And last year, we officially opened for women the last jobs left unavailable to them in our military, because one of the best ways to ensure our Armed Forces remains the strongest in the world is to draw on the talents and skills of all Americans.

Though we have made great progress toward achieving gender equality, work remains to be done.  Women still earn, on average, less for every dollar made by men, which is why I continue to call on the Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act — a sensible step to provide women with basic tools to fight pay discrimination.  Meanwhile, my Administration has taken steps to support working families by fighting for paid leave for all Americans, providing women with more small business loans and opportunities, and addressing the challenges still faced by women and girls of color, who consistently face wider opportunity gaps and structural barriers — including greater discrepancies in pay.  And although the majority of our Nation’s college and graduate students are women, they are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, which is why we are encouraging more women and girls to pursue careers in these fields….

This month, as we reflect on the marks made by women throughout history, let us uphold the responsibility that falls on all of us — regardless of gender — and fight for equal opportunity for our daughters as well as our sons.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2016 as Women’s History Month.  I call upon all Americans to observe this month and to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, 2016, with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities. 

Similarly, in my back yard, the Centre County Commissioners today proclaimed March 2016 as Women’s History Month here is Centre County and presented the proclamation to Michele Hamilton, President of Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (the local chapter of the National Organization for Women).

Before we were given the proclamation, Michele talked about the history of Women’s History Month and this year’s theme. She then called upon people throughout the county to recognize local woman who have taken up public service and/or are serving our local communities in public office past and present and in the future.

 

01-2016 Women's History Month CC Proclamation  IMG_8934

Michele Hamilton, President of Ni-Ta-Nee NOW presenting the history of the creation of Women’s History Month. Note that in honor of women’s history, we wore the suffragists’ emblematic colors   – purple, white, and gold

I then gave a bit of women’s history – from women being hidden and anonymous to the creation of the Declaration of Sentiments in Seneca Falls in 1858, to the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the vote in the US in 1920, to the continuing activities throughout the US today to put women fully in to the US Constitution through the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

I then, like Michele, called on the public, to advocate for passage of the ERA both at the state level and at the national level.  FYI, here in Pennsylvania, on May 18, 1971, we became the 4th or 5th state in the country to create a state-level ERA (Virginia also created their state ERA in 1971, but I can’t find the actual date of ratification) and we were the 21st state to ratify the federal ERA on September 27, 1972.  Currently, 35 of 38 states have ratified the federal ERA.

02-2016 Women's History Month CC Proclamation IMG_8935

Joanne Tosti-Vasey (l) presenting information on the history of the Equal Rights Amendment

For more information on the ERA and the two routes of activism to full ratification, go to Equal Rights Amendment: Unfinished Business for the Constitution.

Once our presentations giving voice to women’s history in the US and here in Centre County, we were presented with the “County of Centre Proclamation Number 7 of 2016:

10-2016 Women's History Month CC Proclamation IMG_8943

Women’s History Month Proclamation by Centre County PA Commissioners

Here’s the text of the proclamation:

 

WHEREAS, women of every race, class, and ethnic background have made historic contributions to the gro3wth and strength of our County in countless way; and

WHEREAS,  women have played and continue to play a critical economic, cultural, and social role in every sphere of the life of the County; and

WHEREAS, women have played a unique role throughout the history of the County, Pennsylvania and the United States in many ways; and

WHEREAS, women have and continue to, through their work, improve communities through or County; and

WHEREAS, women have been leaders, not only in securing their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity, but also in the abolitionist mov3ment, the emancipation movement, the industrial lavor movement, the civil rights movement, and other movements, which creat4 a more fair and just society for all; and

WHEREAS, younger generations of women from all races, classes, and ethnic backgrounds will continue to contribute to our County, Commonwealth, and Country;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED the Centre County Board of Commissioners does hereby proclaim March2016 as “Women’s History Month” and encourages the citizens of Centre County to observe with attending appropriate programs, ceremonies, activities, and to visit womenshistorymonth.gov and or local Centre County Library and Historical Museum to learn about the generations of women who have influenced or history.

ADOPTED this 22nd day of March, 2016

CENTRE COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS

Michael Pipe, Chair

Mark Higgins

Steven G. Dershem

09-2016 Women's History Month CC Proclamation IMG_8942

Proclamation Presentation: l. to r.: Mike Pipe, Mark Higgins, Joanne Tosti-Vasey, Michele Hamilton, and Steven G. Dershem

 

 

 

 

Social Media Attacks on Women: Rape Culture at Penn State and Kappa Delta Rho

Picture of a sign at the Window of Opportunity rally that says "End Rape Culture."

The theme of the Window of Opportunity Rally and March. This informal coalition was created last week as a “window of opportunity” to impact town and gown policies and programs to reduce/eliminate sexual assault, stalking, and harassment in our community.

A little over two weeks ago, Penn State University’s Kappa Delta Rho fraternity was suspended by the national fraternity’s office and by the university after it was announced that the State College police were investigating the fraternity for possible criminal activity related to hazing, drug use, and the sexual exploitation of college women though the use of a private Facebook page.

The town and gown are now in an uproar.  Once again, the university is in the national spotlight for another instance of sexual misconduct.  This time via the use of social media.

So far two rallies have been held protesting the rape culture that pervades this town and campus.  One of the rallies was held yesterday. It included a speakout and then a march from the entrance gates of the University Park campus to Fraternity Row where the Kappa Delta Rho House is located.

I was the first speaker at the rally.  The following is the written version of my speech. Thank you to Michele Hamilton, NOW Mid-Atlantic Region Board Member, Vice President of Pennsylvania NOW, and President of Ni-Ta-Nee NOW and Marian Bradley, NOW Northwest Regional Director and Past President of Montana NOW for their assistance in putting these ideas together.

Once again, PSU has garnered a national demerit in the public’s view due to allegedly inappropriate sexual misbehavior.

We’re concerned that this mistreatment of women continues to happen in the PSU community.

These actions by KDR have resulted in the appropriate suspension of the fraternity. It also resulted in both police and campus declarations to further investigate what and how this happened. We applaud the University and the national office of KDR for taking these actions. We also applaud the State College police for their pro-active investigation.

We also believe that these types of sexist activities need to be reviewed within the greater milieu of the Penn State environment. This review needs to determine what additional policies and protocols should be implemented to prevent such future acts by members of the community and to hold perpetrators accountable for their misogynistic actions.

The PSU President’s Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment was charged by President Barron to “[combat] sexual misconduct and to [engage] all employees and students in a direct call to action.”   We call on PSU to add this social media bullying type of assaults to this review.

In addition to calling upon PSU to review their policies, we are also asking the public here and across the country to view these actions within the larger scope of online harassment of women. Here’s what we are talking about.

Gamergate. Doxing. Revenge Pornography. Swatting. Posting of pictures of hazing and of nude and unconscious women without their consent. Threats of rape and death via social media. These are all forms of cyber bullying that we have recently heard about across the country. And most of the victims have been women.

In light of these social media attacks, Pennsylvania NOW and Ni-Ta-Nee NOW ( the local NOW chapter) have signed on as organizational supporters of Representative Katherine Clark’s (D-MA) “Dear Colleague” letter sent to her Congressional colleagues in an effort to highlight concerns about gender violence on all forms of social media. This letter, through Congress’ oversight and review process, urges the US Department of Justice to “intensify their efforts to combat cyber stalking, harassment, and threats.”

After the speak-out, we marched to the Kappa Delta Rho House about 12 blocks away.  During the march several reporters came up to me for additional comments.  One of the reporters – Hannah Sarisohn for the PSU Daily Collegian asked me about the Task Force appointed by President Barron that I mentioned in my speech.

During our conversation, she asked me what I thought of the make-up of the student portion of the oversight committee. She told me that the only two student representatives are a sorority sister and a fraternity brother.  No other part of the student community is represented on this task force.  I said, “that’s not right. That’s not enough.”  She then used part of what I said in the article she wrote:

Joanne Tosti-Vasey, resident of Bellefonte and regional director for the Mid-Atlantic region of the National Organization for Women, said while the task force is a good step, more than fraternity life needs to be looked in to.

“We have students not in greek life who need representation. [Undergraduate students, graduate students, students of color,] LGBTA students and students with disabilities, everyone needs representation,” Tosti-Vasey said. “The task force needs to include people from all of these backgrounds.”

Finally, here are some of the pictures I took at the Rally and March:

Signs at that protest rally that say "Kick down rape culture" and "This is not satire."

The protest started and ended at the entrance gates to the Penn State University. About 50 people participated. These are a few of the signs seen at the rally.

picture of more protesters and signage at the Window of Opportunity Speak Out and March

More protesters and signage at the Window of Opportunity Speak Out and March

Picture of a toddler and her mother carrying a sign that says, "I want to grow up in a town what I know I am safe."

The youngest protester (three years old) at the rally carried her own sign on the shoulders of her mother. Here she is with her mother Gina Thompson of Bellefonte, PA who is speaking to one of the reporters that covered the event.

Picture of protesters shouting "Shame on You" in front of the Kappa Delta Rho House in State College, PA

After the speak-out, most of the protesters marched about 12 blocks to Fraternity Row to bring our protest to the front door of Kappa Delta Rho, the fraternity whose members created the online Facebook page that is now under investigation for potential criminal activities. Afterward we marched back to the Gates at PSU to wrap up the rally.