Education is Key to Understanding the Past, Shaping The Future
How can women shape history? Sometimes it takes just one indomitable force; sometimes we need to band together to create change. The founders of the Women’s City Club understood this when, in 1915, in anticipation of getting the vote, they decided to educate themselves about important issues confronting the city and then go out and do something about the problems they saw. Ever since that time, we’ve been true to our mission of shaping public policy through education, issue analysis, advocacy and civic participation to make a meaningful improvement in people’s daily lives in this great city. Since we tackle really tough issues, sometimes progress is slow. But we stick with it and do have an impact.
I don’t think we do things in order to change history. We do what we do because we’re not happy with the present and want the future to be better. It’s only after the fact, if we succeed, that the change is documented and it becomes part of histor
Let me give two examples. About two years ago, I got disgusted seeing wastebaskets overflowing with plastic and foam take-out food containers. I knew they were used for — what — an hour? Then they dirtied the city and wound up in landfills where they stayed (and stayed and stayed). I thought, “Why can’t take-out food containers be recyclable or biodegradable?” So I suggested the idea to our Environment & Infrastructure Committee and, because more heads are better than one, they broadened it to apply to food service in general. (Do you know that 850,000 Styrofoam lunch trays are disposed every day in the New York City public school system?) The Board of Directors adopted a policy position and we began to advocate for change. We weren’t the only ones concerned with non-recyclable take-out containers. Last year the City Council and the Bloomberg administration reached an agreement to expand recycling to all types of plastics as soon as a new recycling facility goes on line in 2012. That’s great! We’re still working on replacing the polystyrene products…
In the 1980s most of the homeless shelters were operated by the city. Members of the WCC concerned about homeless women visited those shelters, educated themselves, and recommended a series of improvements. One changed history. In a way, the other did too; it just won’t be recorded. Women shaped history when the city agreed with our policy recommendation that shelters would be better run by nonprofit agencies. The fact that shower curtains were installed for the first time won’t show up in history books but I know it provided some privacy and dignity.
Some of the changes we cause as women could be created by men as well. But sometimes it takes a woman’s sensibility to identify a need and fill it. This is when it can truly be said that women shape history.
Since 2007, Ruth Acker has served as president of the WCC, a nonpartisan nonprofit educational and advocacy membership organization that shapes policy to improve lives. She is President of Acker Ventures, Inc., a firm that helps start-up companies write their business plans, develops their financial projections and creates strategies for obtaining early-stage capital.