because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mary Brent Wehrli

Sometimes, an in-your-face woman's life has chapters like a book. Mary Brent Wehrli is one such woman. The chapter in the 1990's involved her serving as a Social Welfare professor at UCLA, where she established, among other things, a program for all first year students working toward a Masters degree in Social Work to spend at least one full day on Los Angeles' skid row. During that same chapter, she helped to organize grassroots coalitions to fight for a living wage law, to mobilize regional service agencies in response to the needs of the poor, and to move Los Angeles in the direction of declaring itself a sanctuary for Central American refugees. And in the process, she was named California's Social Welfare Practitioner of the Year in 1999.

The chapter before that, though, was even more lively because that was the decade during which Wehrli served as Executive Director of the Southern California Ecumenical Council's Interfaith Task Force on Central America, a body committed to educate and urge the religious community to oppose the U.S. government's interventionist foreign policies. One of her most in-your-face moments in that chapter was when Wehrli somehow finessed her way into a fundraising dinner for George Herbert Walker Bush, who was then campaigning for the U.S. Presidency. Standing up at an opportune moment, Wehrli loudly asked, "Will you do everything you can to end the bloodshed in Central America by withdrawing support for the repressive regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala?" All hell and a cadre of secret service agents broke loose immediately, with one of the agents grabbing Wehrli's blouse in such a way that it laid bare her shoulder (and part of her bra) for all the world to see.

Her current chapter is as a retired person, a position she has certainly earned, but it's doubtful such an in-your-face woman could lay all action and influence aside after getting used to having so much fun in the past.

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