All posts by Susan Burgess-Lent

I am passionate about achieving women’s rights through redistribution of wealth – knowledge, useful tools, equipment and supplies, and money – from the ‘haves’ to the poorest women struggling to rise out of poverty. The vehicle is the Women’s Center. I champion the value of women united in transforming the social, economic, and health realities of a community. I also have a thing for solar technology use in Africa, and finding solutions to our city’s out-of-control growth of the unhoused. I bicycle as often as possible to work and for pleasure.

Unrealized Assets

When Oakland Women’s Center closed in April 2018, I’d been staggered that my Board (at the time) proved unwilling to fundraising, and that no one among the hundreds of women we served evidenced any inclination to step into managing the Center.  Either funding or a committed manager would have enable OWC to continue its important work.  Lacking both, no way forward was possible.

WCI found a new space from which to focus on invigorating Baraka Women’s Center in Kenya. However, not a week passes without at least a couple of calls from women in desperate circumstances seeking assistance. I continue to field those calls and to provide referrals. It’s not the same as having the Center’s full resources at my disposal, but it is better than leaving these women flailing about for a port in the storm.

The nature of the calls remains consistent: help with housing crises, custody issues, domestic violence, lack of income.  If anyone imagines that lives of most women have advanced over the last few centuries, you are sorely out of touch.

Funders – even the women-oriented ones nesting in their alliances with other women’s funds – seem unaware that nothing exceeds the urgency of lifting up women, particularly those living in poverty.  Too many regard the poor – when they think of them at all – as a collection of dreary needs rather than as unappreciated assets. The potential languishing in the 700+million women scraping out subsistence lives thrills and haunts me. I believe that each of them, given the right access to resources, could alter the path of humanity. Not necessarily individually, but as a united community.

So I move along, deep into the process of writing the Women’s Center How-To Guide. With luck, I will find the right combination of words to galvanize the right combination of do-ers with socially conscious money to invest.

Career Busting in the Age of #MeToo

“Cruel and Unusual Punishment” is the title of Lionel Shriver’s excellent essay in the February 2019 issue of Harper’s.  He ponders how charges of sexual predation leveled at men, whose works are considered significant cultural contributions, are ending their careers.

Among those mentioned: Louis C.K. (new film withdrawn before scheduled American release, HBO series dropped), Bill Cosby (“sentenced not only to ten years [in prison] but to cultural near- oblivion”), Garrison Keillor (Minnesota Public Radio ended broadcasts of his Writer’s Almanac, and re-broadcast of  The Best of A Prairie Home Companion), and painter Chuck Close (a major retrospective ‘indefinitely postponed’).

But what of the women who have suffered possibly years of career-impinging depression and anxiety due to men’s violations?  How do we judge that the loss of their contributions would be any more or less than those of the accused?

In the 21st Century, we are fighting off (still) The Great Silence: women have suffered such predations for centuries. Their violations once were considered not a trampling of of rights but the loss of their value as a marriageable commodity.

Silence no longer an option

It’s no news to most women that men of all levels of accomplishment have been culturally permitted a level of sexual entitlement.  Most of us are fully aware that the tether holding men to respectful behavior toward women is indeed fragile and unpredictably loosened.

Being called out is not an aberration, but a signal that the pattern of male entitlement cannot stand. If their fame has not taught these men a modicum of restraint in the internet age, then shouldn’t they take a fall?

Eventually female predators alsowill end up with their heads on stakes outside the gates of our citadel of “too much information.” The work of re-balancing gender power takes no prisoners.

Trouble Ahead – My New Book


Amazing, the response I’m getting to my new book Trouble Ahead: Dangerous Mission with Desperate People.

One colleague said he picked it up and never stopped reading. I do like to tell a good story.

This book was one of the most demanding writing projects I’ve done. I’m proud of all I’ve accomplished in my many missions in Africa, with the tools I could marshal at the time. Of Particular note is the wonderful vibrancy of Baraka Women’s Center, the first Center WCI created in Nairobi, Kenya, and worth every trip it required.

Read my book! 25% of sales support the important work of Women’s Centers International. And please review on my book site.  Every good word helps!

The Torture of Our ‘Safety Net’

I’ve known a woman (I’ll call her B), who has worked a good part of her life as caregiver.   She has no living family, she does not own a car.  She usually lives where she works, often on the overnight shift to serve the needs of a patient.

One gig was caring for a women confined to a wheelchair in an advanced stage of a degenerative disease.  B noticed the women on day shift spent more time on their phone and watching TVs than the spent caring for the patient. She reported her concerns about the quality of care;  the company that had assigned her promptly fired her.

She got another job with a facility that houses people with mental illness.  Soon enough, her employer became verbally abusive in virtually every interaction, withheld her paychecks on a whim, and did not provide the house with sufficient food. Her stress level skyrocketed, as did her blood pressure.  She suffered what was probably minor strokes on two occasions.  The most recent one, on Christmas Eve, put her in the intensive care for a couple of days.  She was diagnosed with kidney disease  Her vision began deteriorating and is now about 80% reduced.  When she returned to work, her boss harangued her about missing days and accused her of lying about being in the hospital.  He fired her, then allowed her to stay, then fired her again, with two weeks’ notice. He refuses to give her last paycheck until she leaves.

il_570xN.1193079674_d4bnB has been on the phone every day looking for shelter space, of which the county has precious little. She applied for Med-Cal and now has coverage, but only with certain providers.  Her doctor ordered a CT scan. But she can’t get that without lab work, and she can’t get that without an appointment. “And the scheduler just left for the day.” More calls to people who cannot or will not help in the way their job title suggests they might.

A homeless services group wanted her to come in for ‘training’ before she got on the list for a shelter space. She might be eligible for hotel vouchers from Social Services, but that’s not assured.  Call Social Services and you hear the message “We are experiencing heavy call volume, please call back later” – ALL day. She will have to get there without a car, money, or much ability to see, and hope she finds what she needs.

She not a drug abuser or chronically homeless, but now she’s disabled. She will be homeless in two days.

She’s caught up in a trifecta of fuckups among systems we pay our taxes to support.  How did so much inefficiency and dismissiveness take over?

Truth is, many of us are a paycheck or two from the street – a hell I would not wish on anyone. None of this uncertainty would be necessary if the State’s considerable wealth were fairly distributed by forward-thinking people.  Yeah – how naive!  But those of us who want to live in a more just and compassionate world must find ways to help untangle our social ‘safety net.’

More coming…

The Women’s March Disconnect

I’ve written extensively about the struggles of women living on the margins of our prosperous city, and the need for resources that help advance them. At some time in all women’s lives, the adjectives “vulnerable” and “marginalized” apply. Do we forget?

The messages streaming from the organizers of the Women’s March urge us to RSVP to a March, DONATE, and most recently are pushing to sell March merchandise ( t-shirts etc.).  An earlier email mentioned the formation of policy groups, but no one  responded to a query.

The Women’s March risks becoming a ’cause’ unto itself.

Consider the costs of dozens of Marches in major US cities. I can only guesstimate it’s in the double digit MILLIONS of dollars – much of it for police “protection.”

It’s the new nexus for donations to “Women’s Issues,” usually the least funded of all human services.

If a one-day event can induce an outpouring of so much money, but none of it is publicly earmarked to serve the most vulnerable women, then we have a serious failure to define purpose.

How can the March induce hundreds of thousands of women to gather and NOT enable them to do something more effective than carry signs?screen shot 2019-01-09 at 11.08.22 am

What’s needed now in Oakland – and probably most major cities:

Sufficient safe and comfortable space for all women who need shelter from domestic violence;

A safe place for women to discover and receive the help they need to finish high school, learn computers,  prepare for a job, get low-cost counseling, hang with other women, and learn to value their uniqueness. Too many women ravaged by poverty have a LOT of healing to do.

An initiative to educate EVERYONE our community about how to end violence against women;

A campaign to induce local major employers give public evidence of equal pay – or correct the inequalities.

That’s for starters.

When will the connection between March activism and effective community action begin?  Will the Marches disclose their finances, and will they opt to serve real needs?  It’s an open question that begs response.