Nel's New Day

March 9, 2017

Betsy Devos: Huge Danger to the Nation

Billionaire activist Betsy DeVos and her family have given over $4 million to Republicans who have now confirmed her for Secretary of Education. Of that sum, $250,000 went directly to members of the education committee, $950,000 were given to 21 senators who voted to confirm her, and another $2.25 million was sent last fall to the Senate Leadership Fund, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) super PAC. The National Republican Senatorial Committee got another $900,000. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who promised to keep a rein on DDT, took $98,000 from DeVos and paid her back with his vote.   She followed the same process in Michigan, paying state Republicans $1.45 million in seven weeks after they passed the no-accountability charter school law. DeVos has said that she no longer takes offense at the accusations of buying politicians because “we do expect something in return.”

Before the confirmation of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, I posted about how she would be a disaster for education in the nation. Her blunders during the first few weeks on the job show that she is worse than many people may have predicted. In summary, she is a billionaire who wants all children to be force-fed her brand of Christianity in charter schools that massively profit already wealthy people—like her.

Her gaffes began on her first day as head of the education department when she tweeted, “Day 1 on the job is done, but we’re only getting started. Now where do I find the pencils? :)” Most schools in the United States are so poor that teachers have to buy their own pencils.

Devos’ actions thus far:

  • insulted teachers at a middle school for not helping students succeed
  • supports the idea of her department being erased
  • says that critics want “to make my life a living hell”
  • misspelled W.E.B. Du Bois in a tweet for Black History Month—and then had to fix the tweeted apology that stated “our deepest apologizes”
  • ignored the first Twitter chat that she held for teachers
  • asked teachers to make up for children’s troubles at home such as absent fathers
  • made U.S. marshals protect her and ran away because protesters blocked her entrance to a DC school
  • accused protesters of “keeping kids in and new thinking out,” “how hostile some people are to change and to new ideas”
  • sold out transgender students to allow AG Jeff Sessions to discriminate against them in using facilities corresponding to their gender identity
  • and, surprise, gave her top priority as “school choice” that destroys public schools

DeVos’ responses to the hearings were so bad that her  confirmation required Mike Pence to be the first vice president in history to break a 50-50 tie to confirm a Cabinet nominee.

Her job may not last long. A House bill, HR 899, dissolves the Department of Education and another, HR 610, provides educational vouchers and repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, including nutritional standards for school meals. The only responsibility left to the department—if it continues to exist—would be to award block grants to states with the $20 billion for vouchers that DDT wants. There may not be enough support to shut down the Education Department, but Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) wants $20 billion for vouchers, most of the department’s budget for local communities largely used for low-income students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and other vulnerable children.  

After trying to compliment teachers at Washington’s Jefferson Academy by calling them “wonderful,” she told them that they were “not going to bring success to an individual child” because they were in “receive mode, waiting to be told what they have to do.”

DeVos tried to help DDT woo blacks for the 2020 election in her statement:

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) … are the real pioneers when it comes to school choice.  They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”

Her revisionist history purports that the Jim Crow education system of legal segregation gave black students “more options” as if they had the option of attending all white schools before the Supreme Court ruling that began to eliminate permissible racial discrimination. The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo’s analogy:

“To paint historically black colleges as pioneers of ‘school choice’ is like saying the Montgomery bus boycott was a transportation startup.”

There was much controversy about the perch of Kellyanne Conway, DDT’s counselor, during the meeting with HBCU leaders. Some photographs show her taking a photo, but her real insult was that she couldn’t even get the name for the group correct when she talked to Lou Dobbs on his TV program. In addition, the photo op, proposed at the last minute to show DDT’s comfort with blacks, left those attending with little time to communicate with the man in the White House about the current state of these institutions. DDT plans to fund only the private sector instead of directly supporting HBCUs and requested that the White House Initiative on HBCUs be removed from the Department of Education.

In reality, DeVos has little power because Congress weakened the power of the executive department two years ago. Congress will be the one to create a voucher system and remove more standards for education in the nation. But she can create trouble by taking no action in other areas that creates more difficulty—for example, not investigating, complaints in the area of sexual assaults and reverse rules requiring colleges to use a lower standard of proof in determining sexual assault. DeVos might also ignore part of Title IX, reversing the progress of female athletes in schools. One way is to divert funds to the Office of Civil Rights which leaves the Department of Education unable to address IX complaints even if DeVos chooses to do so. The percentage of female high school athletes has gone from seven percent to 42 percent since the law was implemented. Title IX isn’t just about sports and transgender issues: it protects “pregnant and parenting students, women in STEM programs, and victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence,” according to Neena Chaudhry, Director of Education and Senior Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center.

DDT will definitely “relax” the past crackdown on for-profit colleges, including a new regulation relieving students of loans if they prove their college defrauded them. Under DDT, Trump University might not have had to pay $25 million. An indicator is the way that stocks have shot up—DeVry over 40 percent, Stayer’s 35 percent, and Grand Canyon Education over 28 percent. The GOP will also try to disappear the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that tries to protect consumers from predatory for-profit colleges.

About Betsy DeVos, education historian and researcher Diane Ravitch wrote:

“She was never a student, a parent, an educator, or school board member of public schools. It is her life’s work to tear down public education. She does not respect the line of separation between church and state. She supports for-profit charter schools…. She is ignorant of federal law, federal programs and federal policy. When asked at her Senate hearing about the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, she did not know it was a federal law. She had given no thought to lessening the burden of debt that college students bear, which now exceeds $1 trillion. At a time when the federal role in aiding students with the high cost of college needs to be redesigned, she knows nothing about it.

“… DeVos has financial conflicts of interest which she refuses to divest. She told the Senate committee that she had no role in her mother’s foundation, which has funneled millions of dollars to anti-LGBT organizations, but her name appears on 17 years of the foundation’s audited tax returns. She told the committee that online charter corporations produce stellar results, but researchers demonstrated with facts that she was wrong.

“Choice policies in Michigan have caused the test scores in that state to decline. Detroit, overrun with charters and choice, is a chaotic mess….

“She personifies the privatization movement. She is the leader of the Billionaire Girls Club, spreading her millions across the land to reward and enrich allies in Congress, on state and local school boards, and in any setting where she could tout school choice as a magical remedy for poor performance. Charters and vouchers, whether for-profit or nonprofit, is her sole idea. She has singlehandedly stripped bare the ‘reform’ movement, showing it to be not a civil rights movement but a privatization movement funded by billionaires and religious zealots.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) told his protesting constituents at a town hall meeting that they cared so much about Betsy DeVos that she probably had too much power. Our conservative representatives don’t want people to care about what happens in the government.

In a country that almost never recognizes the name of the Secretary of Education, almost half of the people have an opinion—and two thirds of them have an unfavorable opinion of Betsy DeVos. Her lack of approval at 31 percent is worse than that for Jeff Sessions (23 percent) and Mike Pence (28 percent).

The greatest danger that DeVos might do to education in the United States is the proposed voucher program—the subject for the next blog post.

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December 6, 2014

Sex-Segregated Classes, Schools Need to Stop

When I attended high school, boys and girls were divided in some classrooms because girls couldn’t take the fun shop classes and boys weren’t allowed in home economic classes. Not until Title IX, declaring equal rights for female and male students, was passed in 1969 did classes that traditionally permitted only one gender become desegregated by sex. Thirty-five years later, George W. Bush’s Department of Education changed Title IX regulations to allow single sex classes and schools. One rationale was that girls would do much better without the attention paid to more disruptive boys; another one was that boys could learn to be more manly without any females in their classes. Within the next ten years, about 750 public schools in the United States again separated males from females.

The practice of gender segregation in education has largely benefited males:

Separate is not equal: Much of the educational practices are based on faulty science about the difference between boys and girls. In Middleton (ID) elementary teachers electronically amplify their voices in all-boys’ classrooms, but not in those that are all-girl, because of ridiculous assumptions about hearing differences between the two sexes. Boys are encouraged to run and play before exams while girls participated in “calming yoga exercises” from false beliefs about differences regarding the brains’ stress response systems between the two sexes. Boys usually get the newer facilities—just as they have in sports—and the “best” teachers because they “need” the help more than girls. Because girls are considered easier to manage, their classes are larger than those for boys. A Dayton (OH) second-grade class of low-income blacks in a public school focused on instruction on etiquette such as how to eat in a high-end restaurant. One justification for sex segregation has been that girls need to be protected from the boys.

Costs are higher: The separate operation and facilities for single sex education are more costly than comparable coeducation. Staff training, program evaluation, and responses to litigation about discriminatory practices require taxpayer funding. Florida uses teacher-training materials about “busy boys and little ladies” from the ideas of Michael Gurian, a pop psychologist lacking training in both neuroscience and education. The Hillsborough district, which includes Tampa, has paid almost $100,000 to the “Gurian Institute” and other trainers who preach stereotypical practices.

Sex segregation is absolute and not totally voluntary: Girls who want to enroll in classes set aside for boys cannot get permission and vice versa. Yet science shows more variation among groups of girls and of boys rather than between the two groups.

Many assumptions about benefits of sex segregation are educationally unsound: Claims about the differences between male and female students requiring dissimilar education are false. For example, this Gurian claim:

“Boys come out of the womb with a formatting for non-verbal, spatial, kinesthetic activity on the right side of the brain. In the areas where girls’ brains come out ready to use words, boys’ brains come out ready to move around, kick and jump.”

Boys’ and girls’ brains aren’t formatted differently, and men and women do not have different brain areas dedicated to verbal or spatial abilities. Testosterone doesn’t help math skills or repress language development, although Florida teachers are told that it does.

Sex-segregation teaches students to discriminate: Ferrell and Franklin Academies in Tampa post Facebook videos of girls bragging about their superior frontal lobes and ability to read facial expressions. Boys boast about their brains’ better visual and spatial processing. Touting how good they are in specific areas implicitly states “we’re bad at thinking” or “we’re bad at talking.”

Research results do not generally support the superiority of sex segregation in advancing student learning or in decreasing sex discrimination: No sound research exists to show that single-sex programs are better than coeducational ones, and increased sex stereotyping is more of a problem in sex-segregated classes.

Sex segregation using pseudo science in public schools is illegal: Title IX regulations forbid single-sex education that is based on “overly broad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of either sex.” Claims about boys’ and girls’ hearing, vision, stress response, and cognitive abilities qualify are “overly broad” because many boys and girls don’t conform to these generalizations. Girls can be very physical and excel at math, and boys can be sensitive and good at reading.

Although not all single-sex schools rely on brain sex differences for justifying segregation, the existence of segregating accents group differences. Any segregation exaggerates the false beliefs in hardwired, unchangeable differences between the sexes. Girls or boys may feel empowered by same-sex classes, but both sexes lose the ability to work with members of the other sex and restrict their potential by keeping them from learning to work together.

The good news is that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has issued guidance this week about the law covering same-sex classes and schools. Requirements include these:

  • Voluntary enrollment in same-sex classes.
  • Substantially equal coed class in the same subject.
  • Same-sex classes to both male and female students.
  • Evaluations every two years for compliance with Title IX.
  • Equitable access to students with disabilities and English language learners.
  • No discrimination against faculty members based on gender.
  • No reliance on gender stereotypes.
  • Identification of important objectives with proof that the classes achieve the objectives.

More information about children’s brains is available in Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps—and What We Can Do about It. The author, Lise Eliot, is neuroscientists at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University. Another useful book in this area is Parenting beyond Pink & Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes from Christia Spears Brown, a developmental psychologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

May 9, 2014

Campus Rape a Serious Problem

Three University of Oregon basketball players–Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis, and Brandon Austin—won’t be charged for alleged sexual assaults in March, because ”the crimes cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Patty Perlow in Lane County. The victim said that the three males raped her repeatedly.  Dotson had been suspended from a game earlier this season after trying to use a fake ID to get into a bar, and Artis was out of  the first nine games of the season for selling team-issued shoes in violation of NCAA rules. Austin transferred to UO from Providence College (Rhode Island) after suspension following allegations of sexual assault.

This is another ugly chapter in sexual assault on college campuses across the country. U.S. politicians promote a culture of rape through their laws that concern themselves with a definition of “forcible rape” or refer to a pregnancy caused by rape as a “gift from God” or biologically impossible from “legitimate rape.”

UO officials haven’t explained why they didn’t immediately begin investigation into the March 9 assault when they were alerted, as mandated by federal law. The campus was not notified about the assault, as UO has done in cases not related to athletes, and the report does not appear on the UO police crime log. Eugene police notified UO of its completed investigation on April 8, but university officials did nothing until April 24, well after the three accused basketball players were able to play in the NCAA tournament. The vice-president of student affairs is now blaming criticism from the UO Coalition to End Sexual Violence’s for deterring the students from coming forward.

This is part of a pattern across the country, but students are starting to fight back, filing Title IX, Title II, and Clery complaints against a number of universities. The Clery Act, named for Jeanne Clery who was raped and murdered in her dorm room by a fellow student, requires higher institutions of learning to report crimes such as murder, manslaughter, rape, and use of a date rape drug.

The federal government has released the names of  55 colleges and universities that they are investigating for  mishandling of sexual abuse complaints. One of these is the University of Southern California that classifies sexual assaults on campus as “injury response” so that they don’t have to report attacks to the LA Police Department. A year ago, USC campus police told Ariella Mostov, who filed a sexual assault report, that she had not been raped because her attacker did not orgasm. They explained, “Even though his penis penetrated your vagina, because he stopped, it was not a crime.”

Two Republican and 10 Democratic members of Congress have requested that the US News & World Report college ranking report include a rating for the handling of sexual assault on campus. Critics claim that such action would further underreporting of this crime and shaming of victims to keep them quiet. Twenty percent of women experience sexual assault while in college, and six percent of men have the same experience. The victims know 90 percent of their rape perpetrators. One study, however, found that 95 percent of college sexual assaults are unreported. Only 20 to 25 percent of men found guilty of sexual assault are expelled from college. Their punishment might be writing a research paper.

Studies indicate that colleges reporting a low level of campus rape are those that discourage victims from reporting. These campuses are likely to have rapists continuing to offend. In contrast, victims are taken more seriously and rapists face real consequences at schools with relatively high numbers of reported rapes. A study by Safer and V-Day found that almost one-third of schools surveyed don’t meet even the minimum reporting standards of the Clery Act such as anonymous reporting, transparent and just judicial hearings, prevention programs, and definitions of “sexual misconduct” requiring students to practice affirmative consent.

A reason for concealing sexual assault at colleges is the search for funding. Higher education relies on private money, and institutions count on good public perception to make money. Private donors and businesses have less interest in funding schools with problems of violence. Much of the money comes through the jock culture that encourages sexism and violence, and college sports programs frequently use women to attract athletes.

At the same time that a group of women are suing the University of Connecticut because of their failure to follow Title IX, the state legislature has passed a bill against campus sexual assault. Requirements for all state colleges and universities:

  • Immediately provide concise, written notification to each sexual assault victim regarding their rights and options under the school’s policies following an assault.
  • Accept anonymous reporting of sexual assaults.
  • Enter into a “memorandum of understanding” with at least one community-based sexual assault crisis center and one community-based domestic violence agency to make sure sexual assault victims can access free and confidential counseling and services on or off-campus.
  • Create a campus resource team to review school policies to make recommendations for services to students and employees who report being sexually assaulted.
  • Provide more prevention programs, with an emphasis on encouraging bystanders to intervene.

Gov. Daniel P. Malloy has not yet said if he will sign the bill, but it passed unanimously in the state Senate.

Testifying against a rapist is a horrifying experience for the victim of sexual assault. A common attitude in the country was demonstrated by a contractor’s tweet on Mass.gov: “Sexual assault is always avoidable.” Criticism caused Gov. Deval Patrick to call the tweet a “dumb mistake” and have it taken down. The sentiment, however, remains: a victim of sexual assault should be sober, dressed conservatively, and stay out of “dangerous” places. Society advises women to protect themselves from rape by not drinking, but nothing is ever said about men avoiding alcohol so that they don’t rape others.

Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University junior, was raped by another student, but the man, accused by two other students of sexual assault, avoided any sanction. Harvard officials failed to act after a male student raped a young woman living in the same dormitory. Kimberly Theidon, an anthropology professor at Harvard, claims that she was denied tenure because she spoke out against sexual violence on campus and supported women who came forward with allegations.

Wagatwe Wanjuki filed a complaint at Tufts University in 2008 after two years of rape and abuse by an ex-partner, also a Tufts student, but the only action that the university was to expel her. She and another victim of sexual assault at Tufts had published a telephone number with this information: “We think rape is bad. We will help you. Call these numbers if you’re raped.” Expulsion for rape victims who insist on justice is not uncommon.

Wanjuki was awarded some justice six years later when the Education Department found Tufts to be in violation of Title IX, writing that the school has mishandled complaints of sexual assault and harassment. It has the option to terminate federal funding for the school, yet Tufts refuses to follow Title IX law. Wanjuki is now an organizer with Know Your IX, a group to educate students about their rights under Title IX.

At the end of April, the White House released a report from its Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The goals are identification of the scope of the problem, prevention, and improvement of responses of universities and the federal government. Instead of using statistics about occurrences, the report suggests a “climate survey” to find students’ awareness of and attitudes toward sexual assault on campus. The problem with this approach is how to detach it from the college’s profit motives.

Title IX can be a useful tool to combat the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. NotAlone.gov provides information about protections for students under this federal law. A 52-page document from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights provides additional information. Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand and some of her colleagues propose a database of all Title IX and Clery Act violations. Other ideas to increase students’ protection from sexual assault:

  • Colleges themselves must be held responsible for changing their culture of rape.
  • Students found guilty of sexual assault must, at the least, be expelled.
  • Students must have access to mental healthcare, safe housing, and rape kits that are actually processed.
  • The Education Department can withhold federal funding from a school that doesn’t comply with the law.

The University of Oregon is just one of many campuses that can be part of the problem or part of the solution. The university’s president said today that the three accused players will never play for the Ducks again.  University President Michael Gottfredson also said the university is appointing an independent panel to take a closer look at sexual violence and harassment on campus as well as recruiting practices at the university.

On another note, Oregon men’s basketball head coach Dana Altman said, “I am very disappointed in the three young men.” Just “disappointed”?

June 22, 2012

Celebrate Title IX

Forty years ago tomorrow, Title IV tried to stop gender discrimination in public education when President Richard Nixon signed the bill. It’s had a rocky road throughout the years while some people try to get rid of it and others just try to circumvent it.

Cornell counts men who practice with the women’s fencers as female athletes under Title IX.  Texas A&M and Duke do the same thing, except in reverse, on the women’s basketball teams. At the University of South Florida, more than half of the 71 women on the cross-country roster didn’t know they were on the team. At Marshall University, the women’s tennis coach signed up three freshmen who didn’t have to practice or travel with the athletes.  Two years ago, a federal judge ruled that Quinnipac University violated Title IX because it required women cross-country runners to also join the indoor and outdoor track teams so that each could be counted three times, a common practice at other universities.

Perhaps the biggest reason for sports gender bias in our schools during the 21st century is football. In the 2010-11 school year, roughly 1.1 million high school boys took part in football, while only 1,395 girls did. But high school football has the booster clubs, the money, and the facilities. In many places, it’s a religion. And the leaders are well-paid. Two years ago, the head football coach’s six-year contract at the University of Oregon was over $20 million.

Yet Title IX has made amazing changes in women’s sports. Teri Mariani, coach and athletic administer at Portland (OR) State University 40 years ago: “There was only one entrance to the training room, and it was through the men’s locker room. As a female athlete, if you needed to get treatment, you would call the trainer to meet you in the lobby, and he would put a paper bag over your head and lead you through the men’s locker room.”

Even after Title IX became law, women had to fight for their rights. In 1976, Ginny Gilder and her rowing teammates at Yale University frequently got sick after practice. Unlike the men rowers, women had no shower facilities so, cold and wet, they got on the bus. Gilder and her teammates staged a protest in a school administrator’s office. “We all turned around, took off our clothes and stood there naked, with ‘Title IX’ on our backs,” Gilder remembers. Team Captain Chris Ernst read a statement that said, “These are the bodies Yale is exploiting. On a day like today, the ice freezes on this skin.”

Nobody knew the impact that Title IX would have on sports because the law doesn’t mention this. The full text of the law are these 37 words:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Despite the belief 40 years ago the civil rights laws had already done away with discrimination in education, they didn’t. The 1963 Equal Pay Act covers women and men but exempts education. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, origin, color and religion, but not sex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act exempts educational activities at schools. And the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not apply to women.

Before Title IX, women needed much higher grades than men to get into a college, and graduate schools set a limit on the number of women admitted. Although no man was denied admission to state universities in Virginia before Title IX, about 21,000 women were not allowed to attend these schools. Cornell’s veterinary school admitted just two women a year; now 70-80% of its vet students are women. Before Title IX, women applying for faculty jobs routinely heard, “Your qualifications are excellent but we already have a woman in this department.” Harvard University’s graduate school of humanities and sciences didn’t hire a female faculty member after 1924 until Title IV went into effect.

I remember when girls in the school where I taught started taking auto and wood shop after the administration had to follow Title IX guidelines. Today that sounds pretty normal, but it was a traumatic change for the teachers in our large, inner-city high school. Pregnant women and parents in high school are no longer forced to attend “special schools” when they want to stay in the regular high schools. I also remember the opposition to allowing a pregnant girl, married to a soldier in Vietnam, to attend the school where I taught.

Gradually during the last 40 years, more and more girls also started taking advanced classes, including calculus and physics. Classes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) showed increasing female enrollment.

Title IX brought an explosion of women in higher education so great that some people complain that more women than men attend college. In 1972, women earned fewer than 100,000 degrees in science and engineering; by 2008, women had about 250,000 degrees in these fields. In 1972, women received 7 percent of law degrees and 9 percent of medical degrees. In 2011, those had risen to 47 and 48 percent, respectively. Women earn four times as many doctorates as in 1972.

Title IX also plays an increasing part in trying to control the violence of bullying. Sexual harassment and assault are considered forms of gender discrimination, and Title IX requires schools to take corrective action to stop this harassment and prevent its recurrence once they know about it.

People have Reps. Patsy Mink (D-HI) and Edith Green (D-OR) and Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN) for these rights. Mink was the first woman of color to be elected to Congress; she died in 2002. Green was the second Congresswoman elected from Oregon; she died in 1987. Bayh is still practicing law in Washington, D.C.

Bernice Sandler, the first to file lawsuits after failing to be considered for any of several jobs at the University of Maryland and being told in 1969 she came on too strong for a woman, is known as the “Godmother of Title IX” for her activism leading up to this vital equal rights law. One of her stories shows the gender inequity in education.

“When I went to elementary school, I wanted to run the projector,” said Sandler, who grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. “It was very new. It was the height of audio-visual equipment at the time. They wouldn’t let the girls do it. If you asked why, you were told boys were good at that and girls weren’t. I wanted to be a crossing guard, and again they didn’t let girls do it.”

In the 1960s, I was told that I could not have a teaching job because I couldn’t coach football. When I interviewed for another job, I was told that I would have to put off my “family plans” (aka getting pregnant) if I took the job. I thank the people who worked so hard for gender equity in education so that all people today can have some educational equal rights while we work to erase more of the existing inequities.

We can all be grateful to Patsy Mink and Edith Green and Bernice Sandler and Birch Bayh and the others who think that all people should have equal rights.

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