Forum focuses on

by Jennifer Niemela

In a rare public forum, the Minneapolis Women’s Club will host a dinner and reception Wednesday to celebrate the 78th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment.
On Aug. 26, 1920, women were officially granted the right to vote. The club is marking the occasion by focusing not on the plight of women, but on the Bosnia crisis. Two speakers who lived and worked in the war-torn Balkan region will recount their experiences for the public audience.
“We are opening this up to everybody because it focuses on democracy in an international and immediate way,” said Women’s Club Chairwoman Catherine Ghostley.
Mary Ann McCoy, an election judge who supervised municipal elections in Bosnia, and Bob Grams, a human rights investigator and University graduate, will address the current situation in the Balkans.
A retired Minneapolis police officer, Grams lived in Sarajevo for one year, where he monitored local police stations and trained Bosnian police officers in democratic policing. His speech will concentrate on the stories of women he met and heard about while living in Sarajevo.
One story he will recount focuses on a woman and her 8-year-old son. When the war broke out in Sarajevo, the woman’s son was on the opposite end of the city visiting his grandparents. Within a matter of hours, the city was divided along a river, with the Serbs occupying one side and the Croats occupying the other. The woman and her son were separated by a few miles for the duration of the four-year war. She had to smuggle food and clothing to her son, who was on the Croatian side of the city.
“There are so many stories like that,” Grams said, noting that of the 10,000 people killed in Sarajevo during the war, more than 1,600 were children. “Often children were the targets of snipers. They were killed for sport, shot like dogs or animals.”
Grams said many Americans don’t understand the importance of intervening in a conflict like the Bosnian crisis. “I was one of those that sat back here and said we shouldn’t get involved in other countries’ wars. But then I saw it with my own eyes. It went on for four long years, four long, cold winters.”
McCoy’s talk will focus on Bosnia’s process of moving toward democracy as shown in their election system. She said that although Bosnians were faced with an archaic voting system of hand-counted ballots stuffed into cardboard boxes, they were excited to vote.
“They were dressed like they were going to religious services,” said McCoy, who is a former president of the Minneapolis League of Women Voters. “We had an 86 percent turnout in my precinct, compared with what you’d expect in a local election in Minneapolis, about 15 percent.”
McCoy plans to tie her experiences to the passage of the 19th Amendment by comparing the Bosnians’ experience voting in a democratic election to American women winning the right to vote. She’ll also talk about the experiences that her right to vote has afforded her.
“This is what happens when you give women the right to vote,” she said of her adventure in Bosnia. “They find themselves getting out in the world; the world gets wider and wider.”
Tickets for the event are still available by calling 870-8001. The cost is $25, which includes dinner.