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Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin: A Leader of Women in Fight for Vote

In 1894, Ruffin and her daughter, Florida Ridely, along with Maria Baldwin, a Boston school principal, and 20 other Black women from Boston founded the Woman’s Era Club (1893), a civic association for African-American women.

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Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin. Public domain photo.

Born in Boston’s Beacon Hill community, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842–1924) grew up learning from people with abolitionist ideals of justice, equality and political representation. Her mother was English-born, and her father, from the Caribbean Island of Martinique, founded the Boston Zion Church.
   Young Josephine received her early education in Salem, Mass., where the schools were integrated. By age 16, she’d met and married George Lewis Ruffin, the first African American to graduate from Harvard Law School and serve on both the Boston City Council and in the state Legislature. He later became Boston’s first Black municipal judge.
   After her marriage, Ruffin graduated from a Boston finishing school and subsequently completed two years of private tutoring in New York. She fought against slavery, recruited African-American soldiers to fight for the North in the Civil War. During the Civil War years (1861–1865), the couple became involved in charity works and civil rights causes. Ruffin developed a passion for the advancement of Black women and the women’s suffrage movement and began to work closely with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
    Ruffin served as the first vice president of the National Association of Colored Women and helped found the Boston chapter of the NAACP. She served as editor of the Women’s Era (1890–1897), the first newspaper published by and for African-American women.

    But Ruffin wanted to take the movement beyond the pages of a paper; she wanted to expand the paper and its purpose into an organization. Women’s voices needed to be brought to the forefront for social and political change.
   In 1894, Ruffin and her daughter, Florida Ridely, along with Maria Baldwin, a Boston school principal, and 20 other Black women from Boston founded the Woman’s Era Club (1893), a civic association for African-American women.

   Suffrage was not the club’s only goal though its members did actively engage in the suffrage movement and participate in suffrage-related events. They also joined local organizations and published articles in support of the suffrage cause. Being a member provided Black women opportunities for both self-improvement and to discuss topics of interest specific to their gender and race.
     For Ruffin, women’s suffrage served as a stepping stone to more expansive civil rights: “We are justified in believing that the success of this movement for equality of the sexes means more progress toward equality of the races.”

   The Women’s Era Club, one of Ruffin’s greatest achievements, later disbanded. Topics from local politics and education to the debilitating discrimination and terrorism of Black Americans in the South had been quieted but not silenced. Ruffin remained active, later becoming one of the founding members of the Boston NAACP (1910). Ruffin died in Boston in 1924.

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Activism

UC Berkeley Students Protest Supreme Court Abortion Decision

Two pro-choice activists, Danielle Roseman and Alisa Steel currently believe the law will be overturned. However, they said, “our voices are our best asset to combat (this) and we will continue to protest.” Both seniors at University of California, Berkeley, they decided to organize a campus protest on Sproul Plaza, which took place May 3. 

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By Sarah Clemens

When it comes to reproductive health, the future looks both unprecedented and regressive.

A Supreme Court draft to overturn Roe v. Wade, the controversial ruling that declared the right to abortion, was leaked on May 2, 2022. In the draft, Justice Alito wrote that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.” The very act of leaking a supreme court draft is unprecedented. The last time it occurred was in 1973 with the original Roe v. Wade decision. In a press release the Supreme Court said the leak was authentic, but “it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member.” Final or not, thousands have already begun to protest.

Two pro-choice activists, Danielle Roseman and Alisa Steel currently believe the law will be overturned. However, they said, “our voices are our best asset to combat (this) and we will continue to protest.” Both seniors at University of California, Berkeley, they decided to organize a campus protest on Sproul Plaza, which took place May 3.

The Daily Cal newspaper estimated that “hundreds” attended. After contacting Roseman on social media, they both co-wrote answers to questions posed by this reporter.

“We knew the only way for our voices to be heard was to create a peaceful protest,” Roseman and Steel said. They weren’t alone.

NPR documented protesters across the country with similar stances on the issue from Washington to New York. Some states have existing laws in place that protect abortion rights. Others do not.

The original Roe v. Wade court case happened when a Texas woman by the name Jane Roe alleged that Texas’ abortion laws were unconstitutional. Almost 50 years later, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott supported a law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, with no rape or incest exceptions.

When asked by a reporter, “why force a rape or incest victim to carry a pregnancy to term?” Abbott responded, “It doesn’t require that at all, because, obviously, it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion.”

Despite overwhelming backlash, abortion becoming illegal appears preordained. Yet, throughout history around the world abortion has never stopped despite its illegality. In the 19th century, a doctor named Ann Lohman was called “the wickedest woman in New York” for her practice of giving women abortions.

When California state Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) made a statement on the new bill, she cited this history. “Unlike women before me, I grew up without having to face the choice of a back-alley abortion…If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the Supreme Court will not prevent abortions, instead they will unleash unsafe and often deadly abortions.”

For many years the battle over abortion has been heavily stigmatized. As a result, there is a strong defeatist attitude among many voicing concerns on social media. Roseman and Steel thought otherwise.

“With our voices, we can mobilize, protest, sign petitions, get the word out, and send a shockwave to the politicians who think they have control over our bodies. So get out and get loud!”

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Bay Area

Mayor London Breed, Speaker Nancy Pelosi Celebrate Grand Opening of 100% Affordable Housing in Mission

“As a proud representative for San Francisco, it was my privilege to join Mayor London Breed in celebrating Casa Adelante’s grand opening,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “This development will be a vital anchor for The Mission’s Latino community, providing families with the homes they need to survive and the services they need to thrive. It was an honor to help secure $2 million in federal funds for the community-serving nonprofits in Casa Adelante, and House Democrats will continue fighting to expand affordable housing as we Build a Better America.”

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San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. Twitter.com photo.

2828 16th Street provides 143 affordable homes for low-income families, including 36 homes for public housing residents

Mayor London N. Breed joined Speaker Nancy Pelosi and community leaders on May 5 to celebrate the grand opening of Casa Adelante — 2828 16th St., a 143-unit, 100% affordable housing development in the Mission District.

Formerly known as 1990 Folsom, the development designates 36 units for public housing residents relocating from Potrero Hill and Sunnydale HOPE SF sites. The remaining 107 units are designated for low-income households making between 40% and 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI).

Additionally, 2828 16th St. offers 30 units with accessibility features for people with impaired mobility and three units with features for people with impaired vision and/or hearing.

“These 143 units come at a time when addressing housing affordability for all San Franciscans is crucial,” said Breed. “2828 16th Street allows families to stay rooted in their community while providing critical on-site services that will help them thrive in the neighborhood they call home. This project is a perfect example of how we are working to make San Francisco a more affordable place to live for everyone.”

“As a proud representative for San Francisco, it was my privilege to join Mayor London Breed in celebrating Casa Adelante’s grand opening,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “This development will be a vital anchor for The Mission’s Latino community, providing families with the homes they need to survive and the services they need to thrive. It was an honor to help secure $2 million in federal funds for the community-serving nonprofits in Casa Adelante, and House Democrats will continue fighting to expand affordable housing as we Build a Better America.”

The building on 2828 16th Street transformed a vacant and underutilized property into a mixed-use development with space for the arts, nonprofits, early child care, and education. In addition to the 143 units, the development features an inner courtyard, rooftop urban farm, two community rooms, and bicycle parking.

The property also includes an affordable childcare center operated by the Felton Institute, ground-floor space for Mission-based nonprofits Galería de la Raza and HOMEY to provide community empowerment and cultural enrichment programming, and on-site social work and property management services provided by Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC).

“I am incredibly proud of the work that TNDC and MEDA have done, in collaboration with funders and our City partners, to bring 143 affordable new homes for families in District 9 at Casa Adelante — 2828 16th Street,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “This 100% affordable housing development, that will be home to more than 300 community members and includes on-site childcare and a rooftop urban farm for free produce, is exactly what is needed to keep our working families and residents home in San Francisco.”

“In celebrating the opening of Casa Adelante — 2828 16th Street, we celebrate the opportunity for families, children, and individuals to build stability and vibrant futures in San Francisco,” said Maurilio León, CEO of TNDC. “This building is a testament to innovation in affordable housing. With on-site services like a rooftop farm providing access to free produce and options for affordable childcare, TNDC and our many partners are actualizing a strong community for current and future generations.”

“Casa Adelante — 2828 16th Street symbolizes how we have upended the narrative in the Mission, as we continue to turn the tide of displacement of residents and arts and cultural institutions in our community,” said Luis Granados, CEO of Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA). “MEDA is honored that in conjunction with the Mission community, co-developer TNDC, numerous funders, and valued City partners, 143 households and three esteemed organizations all now have a place to call their permanent home.”

Completed in November 2021, the eight-story, 155,000-square-foot building and associated landscaping were designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (LMSA) and GLS Landscape to address the community’s need for family-centered homes, affordable arts space, and cultural preservation. 2828 16th Street received a LEED Gold Certification in recognition of its achievement and leadership in sustainable design and construction.

2828 16th Street represents a joint venture partnership between Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) and Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA). The development team leveraged low-income housing tax credits, tax-exempt bonds, a mortgage, and federal Project-Based Vouchers.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development invested more than $46 million into the project through the 2015 General Obligation Bond. Bank of America, Barings Multifamily Capital/MassMutual, and Century Housing Corporation provided additional financing. Local firms LMSA, GLS Landscape, Nibbi Brothers General Contractors and Gubb & Barshay were enlisted on the project.

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Activism

COMMENTARY: Pay Attention — Roe v. Wade and the Far Right’s Extreme Plans

For the most part, the judges who are letting states eliminate access to abortion are the same judges letting states limit voters’ access to the ballot box. They’re the same judges who restrict the government’s ability to regulate harmful corporate behavior. Many of them are the same judges who tried to deny millions of Americans access to health care provided by the Affordable Care Act. 

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Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and Professor of the Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.

By Ben Jealous

Things are about to get worse for millions of vulnerable people in our country.

It looks like the far right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is getting ready to reverse Roe v. Wade, the nearly 50-year-old ruling that recognized a pregnant person’s right to have an abortion. Abortion is legal today, but pretty soon that will no longer be the case in most of the country.

A leaked draft of a Supreme Court ruling expected to be released in June indicates that the Court will rule that there is no constitutional protection for abortion. Bans will go into effect in many states immediately, and others will follow soon. That will leave millions of women and LGBTQ people — and their spouses and partners — less free and less in control of their own health, lives, and families.

Like many laws and policy decisions handed down from on high, the harm will fall hardest on those with the fewest resources and political power — people of color and low-income people. It is hard to take.

How did this happen?

In the long term, it happened because opponents on the right to choose spent decades building a movement to make it happen. They invested time and money to elect like-minded politicians. They pushed Republican presidents to fill federal courts with judges who were willing, if not eager, to restrict or ban legal access to abortion. They made it a top priority when deciding whether and how to vote.

In the short term, it happened because Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. To energize the Republican Party’s ideological base, Trump promised them judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade. They took the deal Trump offered. They turned out to vote. And with help from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, Trump gave them kind of judges they wanted.

And now that they have the power to impose their will, Americans’ freedom will shrink and American families will suffer.

In fact, many are already suffering. Anti-choice activists have harassed and sometimes killed abortion providers. Judges have been letting state legislators pile on more and more restrictions on abortion care. As a result, in some states, the right to abortion care may exist in theory, but in reality, it is virtually nonexistent, because clinics and providers have disappeared.

There are hard times and hard decisions ahead.

There are also lessons to be learned and acted on.

One important lesson is that the Supreme Court has a big impact on our lives, even though most of us don’t think about it in the day to day. We should all pay more attention.

We should pay attention when the far right tells us what they plan to do with their political power. They have been loud and clear about their intent to overturn Roe v. Wade.

But many Americans refused to believe that the threat to Roe v. Wade was real. They just could not imagine a 21st century America in which women and doctors are treated like criminals for seeking or providing abortion care.

We no longer need to imagine that kind of scenario. We’re about to live it.

And that’s why we also have to pay attention to the consequences of our voting behavior.

For the most part, the judges who are letting states eliminate access to abortion are the same judges letting states limit voters’ access to the ballot box. They’re the same judges who restrict the government’s ability to regulate harmful corporate behavior. Many of them are the same judges who tried to deny millions of Americans access to health care provided by the Affordable Care Act.

The Supreme Court justices and other federal judges who are put in place by the president and U.S. Senate have jobs for life. That means we are stuck with Trump’s judges for many years to come. And that means we all need to think long and hard about who we vote for — and about ever passing up the opportunity to vote.

Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and Professor of the Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. A New York Times best-selling author, his next book “Never Forget Our People Were Always Free” will be published by Harper Collins in December 2022.

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