Wednesday, April 1, 2015

7 Questions With Barbara Ortiz Howard, Women on 20s

Most days start out for Barbara Ortiz Howard on a scaffold, inspecting building facades, balconies and roofs or overseeing operations for the exterior restoration company she started almost 30 years ago in the New York City area. Undeterred by the challenges of being a woman executive in a male-dominated field, Barbara enjoys her mission of taking care of people and their buildings. She is the founder of the women on 20s campaign, a campaign to put a women on the twenty dollar bill. With the Women On 20s campaign, she aims, again, to literally raise the profile of a woman in a male-dominated field.

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?  
I was a good history student in school. My understanding of history at that time, particularly in the context of the transformational late sixties did create a desire in me to support many causes. The problem was that after JHS and HS, I think I had one World History class in a seminar with 300 students in college and of course vowed never to do that again. I could not understand the professor at all!  Then I went off into a specialized area of study that excluded history.  
2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?  
History provides the context of our lives. Without this context we are seriously hamstrung in understanding where we are and how to unravel some of the greatest challenges facing us today on the planet.  We are also all part of history and are making it along with our generation and cultural beliefs. Perhaps the greatest sense of empowerment might come from the idea that we each have an opportunity to change the course of history and at the same time the most disempowering sense is that we have no power to affect history at all. I am thinking hey, we all have the former right here in Women On 20s.  Lately with the challenge of this campaign and my everyday life, I do think about our candidates and the obstacles they overcame on the road to victory.  Over this past winter, I so thought of Susan B Anthony going door to door on purpose in the dead of winter with her message of the need for reform.
3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
I am in building construction restoration...though I dabbled in some historical/landmark restoration, almost all of my work is in buildings where everyday people live and work now.  It is hard to be both... but understanding the history of the buildings that I work in is central to my success.  What has happened here? What materials were available when it was constructed, what was the fad then, and how do we get it to function the way it was designed?  Are the original plans available?  What laws were in place when it was constructed?  All that relatively short term history affects effective solutions. 
In my career as a parent, it was useful to have role models for my children.  For my daughter I would have liked to have more available, something like Mighty Girl back then.  Still I am proud that she so loves Alice Paul today from the Alice Paul birthday parties we had.
4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
I think what I said earlier about context is the most relevant-said another way, how do you know what might be a good way to go without knowing where you have been?  While most of the responses we get are positive, it is apparent many basic history facts are not known, or poorly understood.  Worse than not knowing however is inaccurate history information that permeates our consciousness and drives bad behavior.  Much hatred is based on wrong information, propaganda intentionally passed along to further someone or some group's personal agenda.  When the true facts are laid out, most good people, and most people are good, will agree on courses of action.
5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
Visiting Seneca Falls I relearned history.  So much more meaningful for me to have the opportunity for hands on.  I am fascinated by the steadfastness of the abolitionists, suffragists and temperance leaders(who in large part  banded together to fight what we now consider domestic violence) and how these era progressives banded together, were true friends for decades and initiated huge positive change in this country.  This idea of friendship of these different people across groups informs me of what it takes to get there to be change.  Imagine had they not supported one another how much longer we would have had slavery and women would languish  without many basic different than in so many countries today that reek of human rights violations.
6. How did “Women on 20s” begin?  
A longish story but I have to say a number of things were brewing in my soul to have an aha moment.  First I had felt rather shocked and angered that I was not familiar with the Alice Paul story until I saw Iron Jawed Angels a few years after it came out.  I felt how could I, a pretty smart, successful woman with advanced degrees not know this part of history?  I didn't even really know the Stanton-Anthony story very well.  Meanwhile, I had been incubating the awareness that we were about to have our national Centennial right of Suffrage in 2020 back in 2012 and thought gosh what are we doing for this huge event?  And then I had my aha moment- there are no women on our currency. I immediately shared this epiphany with others in line with me at a very famous coffee shop. I got a few smiles as I often do as I strike up conversations with strangers in NY.   But seems others really hadn't known this, or why this was the case, so I started asking friends via email who on a list I had did they think would be a good candidate.  I asked other groups to take it on as I have a more than full time business, but I became aware that I was stuck with it.  Fortunately Susan Ades Stone, a longtime friend, saw the same need to change things and offered her life 200% pretty much over the past year to shape Women On 20s into the national movement I had envisioned. 
7. How can people get involved in the process?   
Glad you asked
1. Share widely with all your social media for sure but personal emails are the most effective.  Send an email to all family, friends and co workers with a link to the site and urge them to vote:   Assure them most people do not know all candidates but that they should(why we need the campaign really)...and there are bios on the site so they can become more familiar.  You can also ask them to send donations- we are a 501c3 organization, so all donations are tax deductible. Though we do almost all the work ourselves, we are not paid of course, but we pay people for lots of stuff and buy anything the campaign needs. 
2. Write a letter to your local and city newspapers saying why you support Women On 20s and how it has impacted you. In your article, provide the website link often and urge readers to go to vote.   
3. Send us pictures, selfies or with family and friends with a sign  that you voted on #womenon20s for --------- or 3 amazing women
4. Tell us you are in- by writing us at and giving us permission to share your name and contact info with other volunteers  Please give your home addressing city, state,  tel#, a little about what you do, student or teacher etc., or what you are really good at or love to do or how you want to help   
5. Go to your website and print out a flyer - we think it looks best on blue pastel paper and post in your gym, school, deli, supermarket, yoga studio, doctor’s office, office - you know anywhere you won't get arrested.  We have no bail program available sorry
6. Send us feedback on all else that will help the campaign.  Fact check for us you history buffs.  Do any of you know the truth about AJ birthplace in Waxhaw NC/SC?    Continue to speak up on our social media with your support and put the facts out there as misinformation forms bad ideas and behavior.   This is not an us vs them.  This is a win-win for America and possibly the world to have all people count as one.  W20 is about how we value each other and recognize we all have incredible worth and value and its time to recognize it!!!!!!  When we value ourselves, and one another, a lot of bad behavior goes away.

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