Staging the Revolution

When I became a consultant on April 1, 1990, I believed I was on the right side of history.  I had worked at Interval House, the “oldest shelter for assaulted women in North America” for eight years, talked to and comforted hundreds of women and children fleeing unspeakable violence from belligerent jackasses who called themselves husbands and fathers.  I appeared on national TV as a shelter spokesperson to talk about the massacre at École Polytechnique and sat stunned and incredulous as Barbara Frum questioned whether it really had anything to do with the students being women.  On a more cheerful note, I did sit next to Blue Jays’ first baseman Willie Upshaw at least three times for lunch.  (His wife, Cindy, was an Interval House supporter and he was sweet and generous.) 
By striking out on my own and becoming a consultant, I believed I was a mercenary for good.  It wasn’t a career, as my life insurance guy said at the time, it was a calling.  I fancied myself a ranger, a free agent, a strategist and a fixer.   Instead of making one woman’s life easier, I was going for the whole megillah – equality for all women.
I would not be satisfied until the women’s movement in Canada became a well-resourced army of sunny avengers ensuring women didn’t get beaten, raped and paid two thirds the salary of men for the same job. Like a London cabbie, I had the knowledge.  I could see the path.  I knew the way to get there.  And I had the weapon, the secret weapon:  direct mail.  
While I was at the shelter, I watched money raised from direct mail put a roof over the heads of women and children with nowhere else to go, design pioneering programming for children who’d witnessed violence in the home and help women who felt invisible when they came to the shelter take pride themselves once more.  And, in a particularly satisfying smart-ass moment, it allowed us to say “no thanks” to the provincial government when they finally developed a funding formula for women’s shelters but insisted we populate the shelter with people who held graduate degrees in social work.    
And the kicker, the absolutely unbelievable score was that women owned direct mail. It’s how they gave money.  It was their turf.  No drama.  No big awards.  No galas.  Just a cup of tea, a cheque book and a BRE.  Writing DM letters was like being in a secret sisterhood.  
Back then I wrote: 
“As more women’s groups are becoming involved in fundraising, more women are becoming donors of organizations that deal specifically with women’s concerns:  shelters, political actions groups and so on.  A recent study done by Craver, Mathews, Smith states that the current [U.S.] social action population is comprised of about 10 – 12 million people who have given more than $250 million each year in small gifts to a multitude of social action organizations.  Three out of five people in this group are women . . . two in five of these women give to six social action groups or more.  Two thirds give more money than they did five years ago and half intend to give more in the future.”
We had the stealth of a silent army out there.  And these women weren’t giving to charity, they were giving to change. 
Then on April 11, 1990, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, the founder of MS magazine, said in the New York Times magazine,
“By deciding what causes she cares about, and then by supporting them enthusiastically, every woman can further her moral and ethical world view . . . giving money is itself a rejection of the feminine stereotype.  It involves risk taking, decision making and putting our money where our values are.  For me, the badge of feminist courage is visionary philanthropy.” 
The revolution was on. 
Next:  The Men Behind the Revolution

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  1. power to the working people! looking forward to your next entry 🙂

  2. Congrats on your blog Gail! Great read!

  3. Talk about a strong start! Like Beethoven's Fifth!Can't wait to read more.

  4. Welcome to the blogosphere Gail! Congratulations 😀

  5. Ahhh memories. You didn't know you were so cutting edge back then!

  6. Your Working Girl is giddy with pleasure at the sight her follower/friends. Your indulgence is my very good fortune. The fun we'll have!

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