Thursday, August 11, 2011

New Orleans women not shrinking violets

The other night, a girlfriend invited me to a meeting of the Independent Women's Organization at Chickie Wah Wah. IWO is a progressive political group of women (or maybe a political group of progressive women) founded in 1939.

 In those days, the women calling themselves "independent," meant speaking in their own voices, separate from men and machine politics.

The woman who made out my name badge that evening said the founders thought they could do better.

During the 1939 campaign, IWO sponsored women's "broom brigades" to dramatize their objective of "sweeping the city clean." Pretty cool, I thought, since even in New York in the 1960s, my mother still asked my father how she should vote.

So, at Chickie Wah Wah, we had at least 60 women of all ages milling about and three African-American attorneys running for judge. What do you think of that? I had a chat with Clare Jupiter who's running for Civil District Court. She got her BA from Yale and JD from Duke University Law School combined with a string of impressive positions as general counsel and partner in a New Orleans law firm.

Clare told me she had been reprimanded by a judge for wearing short sleeves in his courtroom. Not sleeveless, mind you, nor a camisole. So, when you watch those shows on TV and the female attorneys wear low-cut blouses and short, tight skirts, they couldn't defend clients in New Orleans like that.

After a rousing speech and membership drive, folks starting leaving to tend to family obligations. I had a conversation with a woman who looked familiar. She started telling me how she and her fiance, who was playing drums in the band, had evacuated to Nashville after Katrina. She'd gotten a great job there, doing cancer research and he found gigs playing music, but they just wanted to come home.

She told me a story about how they would barbecue on the sidewalk in Mid City on the Fourth of July and invite everyone on the block so they could meet the neighbors. Everybody who walked by got a hot dog. Even when they had moved to Nashville, their NOLA neighbors carried on the tradition.

This tale sounds so familiar, I said. Have we met before? Suddenly, I remembered interviewing her four years ago when she had come with a group to New Orleans to build Habitat for Humanity houses. (I was supposed to post comments on the corporate blog.) She said how proud she was to work for a company that would volunteer staff to rebuild homes in the Ninth Ward. A couple of months later, the same company laid off 10 percent of its employees, including me. Now, neither of us works there. Oh well!

I'm sure I will see her again at another IWO mixer. Life just keeps rolling along here in New Orleans.

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