Veteran Feminists of America




I was born a feminist. At least thatís what my mother said. Well, she didnít exactly say that. She said I was the most stubborn, obstreperous and independent kid she had ever seen. She had six so she ought to know. (pictured right: Dianne as Susan B. Anthony in a one woman show she wrote, acted in, produced and directed.)

I was born in 1947 and grew up in Muscoda, WI. When I was growing up, my first-grade teacher told me that she had been worried about how I was going to manage, because she asked what I wanted to be when I grew upÖ. I said President of the United States. She said girls canít be President so pick something else. So I said okay then Iíll be a doctor. She said girls canít be doctors, so maybe you can be a nurse. I donít want to be a nurse I said, Iíll be a race car driver. She was totally exasperated and said, ďDianne, girls canít be race car drivers.Ē My final word was well then, Iíll become President and change that. Out of the mouths of babes!

In 8th grade, I was sent to high school for part of the day to give me something more appropriate to my intellectual level. So what did they send me to? Typing and shorthand, the skills a woman needed for ďsomething to fall back onĒ should her husband not prove up to snuff. I still am a whiz typist. Once I dropped into the
*Off Our Backs" office in Washington, DC to volunteer and they gave me a stack of typing. In about an hour I was finished. They offered me all the volunteer work I could do.

At the end of 8th grade, I signed up for high school English, history, math, chemistry and shop. When I arrived in the fall, I was enrolled for english, history, math, chemistry and home economics. My protests did not avail, but I caused extreme despair by winning the Betty Crocker Homemaker of the Year award in 1961 though I was completely inept. It was a math test Ė if you bought this refrigerator at this down payment with this interest over these many months or that one for that, which is cheaper. That I could win. But at the regional contest, I had to cook and sew, and I was out on my ear.

I was elected president of my class my sophomore year and every year after. I wrote a political column for the school paper Ė once. It was about the failure of the state legislature to pass a fair housing law. The principal told me that I was too young to be talking about civil rights. But I had gone to Chicago with a church youth group when I was 16 and lived in the ghetto for two weeks, where we marched daily for civil rights actions. I told him it was our job to speak up, which is what education was for. He didnít agree and my column was axed.

Since the junior president had always been Prom King, what to do, what to do. So I was Prom Queen and I picked the King. As it should be. In my senior year I was already in the college prep track, but they found that I was very fast with my hands (120 wpm typing), so advised I should work in a factory. I was valedictorian, National Honor Society member, president of my class for three years, AND winner of the Bausch and Lomb science award. Yet he suggested I should work in a factory!! I asked him if he would recommend that to a boy with my record. He said no, but I was just going to get married and pregnant anyhow so what was the point. It was 1965.

My father had the idea that going to college was a waste of time and money Ė mine, as he never paid a dime. Years later when I was nearly graduated from law school, he changed his tune and told everyone his daughter was going to be a lawyer. He died one semester before I finished.

During college, I participated in few activities other than work and studying. I had a work/study job plus a job off campus because I needed the money. I had several scholarships and had to keep up my grades to keep them. My last years I participated in some anti-Viet Nam war actions and some feminist meetings but hadnít much time.

After college, I went to California and got heavily into the
anti-Viet Nam war actions but only slightly into the drug culture. I read Betty Freidan --- recommended by a boyfriend of all things! First, I was a parole officer for California Youth Authority, and then went to graduate school at San Jose, again while working full time. I thought with a psychology degree I would understand why people did the crazy things they did. Now I know better. It seems the older I get, the dumber I get, because I donít understand anything anymore.

By 1976, I was back in Wisconsin in law school. That was the way, by golly, to fix the system Ė go to law school. Yup, you can see how that worked! But to keep my sanity among that lot, my first year I joined the National Lawyers Guild, Lesbian Law Students, and Women Law Students. My second year, we hosted the national Women and the Law Conference and I was co-chair. Through that, I met many of the pioneering women lawyers who are icons today Ė one of them on the Supreme Court.

When I started law school, I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney, but I went to hear Louise Trubek speak about her organization, Center for Public Representation, and the rights of women, and that was it. I wanted to be like her. So I switched to all things women and started working at the Dane County Advocates for Battered women. I also worked on some women and alcohol issues, women in prison, and disability issues with the newly passed Rehab Act in 1973.

After law school, I skedaddled to a warmer clime and ended up in Arizona, because they had not passed the ERA, and I reasoned they needed me. I was right. Within months, I had become the state chair of the ERA Initiative and shortly thereafter organized a group to sue the state of Arizona, because it donated $10,000 of taxpayer dollars to the Mountain States Legal Defense Fund to stop the
ERA, and Arizona had not even ratified it. The lawsuit died when the ERA did.

During the 1980ís, I was very active in
Women Take Back the Night and in the early 90ís set up a womenís radio show. All the while I was representing battered women and children in family and juvenile court for my daily bread Ė and it was just barely daily bread. In the mid 90ís, I began to get more involved in the LGBT movement.

By 1998, I broadened my career into international human rights law, an area I always craved. I went to Moscow, Russia for two years as a volunteer gender specialist for the American Bar Association. I organized 44 seminars in 30 cities in 24 monthsĖa busy schedule by anyoneís measure. I trained womenís groups, psychologists, teachers, lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and police Ė all on gender based violence (GBV). Along the way I trained the best of the attendees in interactive techniques to take over my work. At the beginning I was doing the entire seminary; by the end, I had found Russians to replace me. In addition, we organized a social advocate program (like our para-legals) that continues to this day, and a legal literacy program that also continues.

I then returned to Arizona for three years working for the
Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence as Public Policy Director. But the international bug had bitten, and when I got the chance to go abroad again, I did. This time it was Cambodia to train legal aid lawyers especially those working in family law and those representing women. With local staff, I visited rural villages and asked the women what their needs were. Without fail, their first question was about violence in the family. They wanted information on their legal rights though most could not read, and access to free legal information and advice. So we produced a simple booklet that could be read by their children. That book is still in use today.

Hungary was the next stop to work with the European Roma Rights Center supervising the legal department. Loved the job, didnít like Hungary. But I made some lifelong friends and learned a lot about the Roma. I started a case for Roma IDPs in Kosovo who were living on lead poisoned dump sites since1999 though promised removal in 45 days. It is 2010 and they are still there. The case is still going on (when I left the organization did not want to keep it so I took it with me). but it is very difficult to hold the UN responsible when they are the culprit.

Back home again, I did some short term consulting primarily for an Albanian organization on their newly-passed domestic violence law. The legislature wouldnít pass one so the people collected over 15,000 signatures, and all the politicians jumped on that bandwagon and it passed. But much work remained to get it enforced. I worked with local groups to organize community coordinated response teams, drafting protocols for all sectors on how to work together Ė police, prosecutors, judges, medical workers, psychologists and NGOs. Later I returned to train court constables.

On Motherís Day in 2007, I filed a complaint against the U.S. at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights on behalf of battered women and children . Then I returned to Russia but this time to Vladivostok. I liked it much better. Itwas more progressive, better weather and great people. With a few thousand gallons of paint and some cable cars, it could be San Francisco. There I worked with the local bar association to set up training for lawyers on GBV issues. The IOM and U.S. State Department were opening a shelter for victims of trafficking so our attorneys came up with a protocol about how the government would work with the NGOs Ė normally they donít. The protocol has now become a model in Russia.

From there, I moved to
Algeria. I could sit on my balcony and watch the ships glide in on the blue Mediterranean waters. The project was to train 60 young lawyers--preferably women--on womenís rights and domestic and international mechanisms for enforcement. The food was marvelous, the weather magnificent, and the people magnanimous. Though it was clear I was an American, they were as gracious as they could be. (pictured: Dianne with 2 Algerian friends.)

I returned to the U.S. in July 2009. Since then (besides looking for a job), I am a volunteer with the local Volunteer Lawyers Program of legal aid and the NAACP weekly, where I am on the Board.

Some years ago, we had established Itís Your Choice, a fund to help poor women pay for the abortions they badly needed. No Medicaid or other state assistance is available in Arizona. The fund had gone moribund but is now revived. So far we have aided a 17-year-old rape victim, two fleeing battered women, and three others Ė just since July. My phone number was on the web for one week, and I was inundated with calls so now we only work through established relationships with doctors. The need is great but the resources meager.

The Arizona Historical Museum is opening a new exhibition on women next year, and I have been assisting with that. Demonstrations for Code Pink or NOW or for decent treatment for immigrants keep me hopping. Our chapter of
World Peace Through Law is preparing presentations on humanitarian law and a resolution against our locally elected sheriff, (Joe Arpaio the new Bull Conner) and Andrew Thomas, county attorney (itís hard to know what to call him), for their pattern of abuse of law and discrimination. I do a lot of speaking to young lawyers handing over that still-blazing torch.

The Future?.... For my 60th birthday I gave myself a stunt flight in a fighter jet. For my 70th, I think it will be a trip to the international space station. And for my 80th birthday, what the hell, they say women are from Venus so maybe I'll go home.

* Off Our Backs was a feminist newspaper published from 1970 to 1988

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