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Dem Women Honor Gwyn Lurie: "It's Time to Dust Off Our Pussy Hats"

Updated: Dec 14, 2023




The Democratic Women of Santa Barbara political organization on Sunday presented its Woman of the Year award to Montecito Journal editor Gwyn Lurie, whose acceptance speech included a stinging rebuke of feminist groups for their muted response to the Oct. 7 Hamas strike on Israel.


"Dem Women" is the most -- perhaps the only -- independent-minded group among the federation of partisan clubs in the Democratic Party coalition that dominates local politics, and so it seemed appropriate that Lurie's distinctive address departed from the usual political cheerleading that typically characterizes such affairs.


The 60-year old editor, screen writer and human rights activist espoused the organization's mission of electing more women to office, but said that doing so is merely "performative" -- unless women exercise a "different kind of leadership" that "more courageously" engages in and encourages "difficult dialogue."


"In the wake of Hamas's terrorist attack against Israel, where women were raped, babies and grandparents were slaughtered or kidnapped, or unspeakably worse, we didn't hear a peep from any of the Women's organizations," said Lurie, whose mother is a Holocaust survivor and was among a crowd of 155 gathered for the event in the coiurtyard of the Santa Barbara Club.


"There we were on October 7th. Once again rape is used as a weapon of war. Young women bleeding from their crotches, paraded through the streets of Gaza," she added. "Yet I was not seeing a single statement from a feminist organization in this country about it. Not one gender studies department has defended even one victimized woman. The silence was defeaning," she said. "As a woman and as a feminist this offends me. As a mother of two daughters, it terrifies me."





Political intelligence. As a matter of community affairs, Sunday's event was a professional and personal triumph for Lurie; it has been just four years since she led a group of investors in purchasing the weekly Journal from former owner Jim Buckley, a pro-Trump right-winger, and began to steer the paper as editor-in-chief into Santa Barbara's center-left mainstream; during the same time, as CEO of the Montecito Media Group LLC, she has led a significant expansion of the company's publishing operations and revenue streams.


As a political matter, the public celebration of her achievements carried several notable and intriguing undercurrents.


Nearly every member of the city and county's Democratic establishment was present or represented - with the noteworthy exceptions of Board of Supervisors President Das Williams and Darcel Elliott, his chief of staff who, conveniently for him, doubles as chair of the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party.


Dem Women not infrequently is at odds with the Democratic county central committee, most often over the issue of campaign endorsements. The former group often backs different candidates than the latter, as it did four years ago, when the women's group endorsed Laura Capps over Williams in her challenge to his re-election in District 1. Capps, who introduced Lurie on Sunday, now represents District 2 as a supervisor.


In a dubious, two-track vocation, Elliott oversees partisan operations and organization of the local party's central apparatus, while she also draws an annual public salary of $115,295, in addition to about $75,000 in benefits, according to data provided by county public information officer Kelsey Gerckens Buttitta, for her "public service" working in Williams' supervisorial office; moreover, Williams also has put on the public payroll, as his administrative assistant, Spencer Brandt, a former longtime paid Democratic Party operative, at an additional annual cost to taxpayers of $85,505, plus about $55,000 in benefits.


Since taking over the editorship of the Montecito Journal, Lurie often has been critical of Williams, including the cozy relations between his office and the Democratic Party, and the. public underwriting of their intersection.


Most recently, she lambasted the board of supervisors president, who is seeking a third, four-year term next year, for his failure to lend support to the effort to keep and maintain the debris-collecting steel ring nets that were installed in creeks above Montecito following the deadly 2018 debris flow. After the county's refusal to pay for maintenance of the nets, financed by private donations, the non-profit group that raised the money for them was forced to remove them on Nov. 1.


"And to Supervisor Williams I say this," Lurie wrote last week, "Montecito needs a County Supervisor that has our back. One who works hard in the calm moments to make sure that we’re okay in the storms. A representative because of whom, not despite whom, we can feel safe.


"We need a Supervisor who sees us, and values us, and works with us to understand our needs," her editorial column stated. "One who shows up every day. Not just when political pressures build; and not just when an election looms."





Siloes and pussy hats. While making a critique of women's groups for not speaking out forcefully about the horrors of the Hamas attack, Lurie also pointed to the suffering and deaths of Palestinians, especially following Israel's military response to the Hamas attack, as one reason for the silence.


"Some, I think, were afraid to speak up. Maybe for fear that it would seem like they were saying that the Palestinian people and their plight doesn't matter. Which of course it does," she said. "But for some reason in that moment, it became too difficult for so many to hold more than one thought at the same time."


She pivoted from the "hold more than one thought" theme to the need for women leaders to advance hard, if respectful, discourse to break through the algorithm-driven, media and news siloes via which many Americans receive their infomation, fueling the toxic red-blue culture and politics of the nation.


"Women are not monolithic," she said. "Like any group, there are many strong opinions among us. We will never, all of us, agree on any issue...But we can agree on the rules by which we are going to have these vital conversations," she added.


"We can agree on the importance of respecting the different paths each of us has traveled. We can agree to encourage difficult dialogue, We can agree to not cancel one another,. We can agree to commit to the absolute rejection of violence, in all its forms, against all women. And men. We can agree to lead with compasion," Lurie said.


Referencing the millinery fashion popularized at feminist rallies during Donald Trump's term, she concluded: "I believe we have the chance to get this right...And I say, let's do this. Let's do this differently. It's time to dust off our pussy hats."


JR


Images: Gwyn Lurie addresses the crowd on Sunday; Lurie with Democratic Woman leader E.J. Borah; Lurie with former Supervisor Susan Rose (photos by Marian Shapiro).


























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