Women E-Mail Their Concerns to Clinton

There is a single thread that ties together several Ivy League professors, a group of women in Ohio pursuing their GEDs, a group of women formerly on welfare and female college students from the Northeast. This same thread binds teachers in Missouri, retired grandmothers, mothers in New York and female political appointees across the country.Lydia Bickford, of Washington DC, is responsible for weaving the thread and pulling together a fabric of more than 10,000 women from all over the country, in all walks of life. Her diligence and ingenuity has prompted the Clinton administration to become more proactive in involving his administration in women's issues. One result was the UN Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in September, 1995.In June 1995, the Clinton administration established the White House Office for Women's Initiative and Outreach. They asked female politicians, when traveling throughout the country, to speak candidly to women and ask them to voice their concerns; they were looking for issues both good and bad. As the confidential aide to Ada Deer, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bickford was selected to head up the project. In that capacity, she decided to survey the women of the US electronically, asking them to e-mail her office with the issues they would like to see posed to President Clinton.Of the Internet notion, Bickford says, "It is the most brilliant idea I've ever had. Everyone I talk to about it gets a gleam in their eye." And indeed, the chance to sound off to the president has prompted responses from thousands of women, from all kinds of backgrounds. Bickford's e-mail has been passed on woman-to-woman over the Internet.Bickford says she won't "promise earth- shaking results," but she gives each woman the assurance that she will be heard without futility. Each participant also receives a thank-you letter from the White House.Bickford processes the responses in groups of 10-14 and writes a report for the administration; included are basic demographics: age, race, socio-economic status, the top issues and often quotations from those who have expressed themselves. Bickford says the compilations are strictly "internal documents" and unavailable for public perusal.The responses? They are as wide and varied as the breadth of women who answer the questionnaire. Bickford says, "None of the women are whiny or self-pitying. I've had women that respond that are quite ill, or those that are single stuck with young children and aging parents and the general thoughts are quite eloquent and well thought-out. The consensus is not like, 'I need help,' it's more like 'We [as a country] need help in this area.'"Bickford says that so far, the top concerns among the nation's women deal with issues of health care, education, sexism, racism, welfare reform and civil rights; all issues varying in intensity depending on the group of women they come from. "Young women," she says, "seem concerned about where we're going as a country." Older women ask about the quality and expense of health care and education and talk about balancing work and family.Bickford says, surprisingly, the most left-wing comments come from grandmothers and retired women. "None of these issues are new," says Bickford. "They have just been brought to a head. There really have been no blinding new insights, but it certainly helps the administration to know what women are thinking about."But in essentially surveying the Every Woman, Bickford has attempted a project that is unprecedented. As for the project's future, she says, "They're going to continue it. Maybe expand it even further. It helps give them an idea and a direction."It helps to add a piece to the puzzle," she says. "It represents a liaison that promotes ideas to better women's lives." Bickford expects that the project will continue to expand in the number of responses, but assembling any new dimensions is not a possibility.Building liaisons and bettering lives is what Bickford says brought her into politics. Since the 1960s, she has been a civil rights advocate. Deer was the first American Indian woman to run for Congress and win the primary, and Bickford ran that 1992 campaign. Deer lost the race, but the election helped Deer later secure a Cabinet post in the Clinton administration.Bickford thinks being a proponent of women's rights runs in her blood: Her grandmother was a suffragist who chained herself to the White House fence. "You fall into it and don't stop," says Bickford of political activism. "I believe in the political process and feel we're doing something good." Unfortunately, there is no proposal to combine the results of Bickford's survey into a volume adapted for the public. She says simply, "There just is not enough time." The question remains as to what the Clinton administration will do to keep this pet project alive."[Clinton's] been good all this way," says Bickford, "He's the first president that brought the huge issues of women all together. This is just one more thing that I get to see pay off."As the creator of a fabric that has stretched for miles, Bickford is humble and insists that she is just a pipeline for the information. But she's excited to see so many women responding. She often hears women admit that, "They're having a real tough time, but they tend to look outside themselves. Their concerns funnel through me and go to [Clinton] where something is done about it."Women wishing to participate in Bickford's project may contact her at lydia_bickford@ ios.doi.gov or at her mailing address, Department of the Interior, 1849 C-Street NW, MS-4140-MIB, Washington, DC, 20240.

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