Sunday, January 27, 2013

What's next for the the pro-choice movement?

We are winning the battle for hearts and minds. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, seven in 10 Americans believe Roe v. Wade should stand, the highest level of support since polls began tracking it in 1989. The increased support comes primarily from Democrats—particularly Hispanics and African-Americans—with a slight increase in support from Republicans.

However, although the polling data are encouraging to supporters of abortion rights, the Republicans do not seem to have gotten the message. According to John Boehner, Ending Abortion Is 'One Of Our Most Fundamental Goals This Year' and those states governed by Republican majorities continue to chip away at abortion rights.

In 1973 after the Roe decision, I thought the battle had been won. How wrong I was. When I went to a pro-choice demonstration in DC in the early 90’s, I couldn’t quite believe that we were still fighting this battle. But I was heartened to see so many young women there and thought that soon this would be settled and we wouldn't be wasting our energy fighting for this basic right. Wrong again.

When I dragged myself to DC for the 2004 March for Women’s Lives I began to worry that I might be fighting this battle until my dying day. The Republican War on Women which dominated debate in the 2012 election was further evidence that the battle is far from over. The backlash grows more vicious each year—perhaps the virulence of the opposition is related to their growing realization that they are losing.

Fortunately, there is a generation of young feminists out there ready to fight for reproductive rights. I don’t think young women are going to meekly stand by and accept the loss of hard fought rights. But women in my generation thought at one time that we had spared them the necessity of that fight.

Many young feminists are growing impatient with establishment feminist organizations, and what they see as second wave feminists’ reluctance to pass the torch, According to a recent Time Magazine article, 32 year old Erin Matson, 32, was elected vice president of NOW in 2009 but recently resigned:

"When you want to build a jet pack, sometimes that means you have to leave the bicycle factory," she says. Matson says she is considering starting a new organization to specifically target young people. "A number of young women are just saying, 'To hell with it, I'm just going to lead,'" she says. "It's easier for young women to exercise leadership right now than before we had this[internet] technology."

The time has come for a younger generation to assume leadership of the pro-choice movement. NARAL’s Nancy Keenan realizes this and announced she will step down in 2013. According to Time, “she said she hoped a younger person could replace her. ‘They're chomping at the bit to have their opportunity,’ she says.” It’s time.

Monday, January 21, 2013

President Obama's Second Inaugural:Is the long backlash against the 1960’s finally over?

Everyone I know has been echoing the same theme--this is nothing like the euphoria of Inauguration Day, January 2009. True, but in some ways it’s more significant. We’ve re-elected the first African-American president and that’s huge. And although President Obama doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves, he has a record of real accomplishment.

Inauguration Day, January 2009 was my last semester teaching at Community College and we had classes that day. Although I used to be religious about never canceling classes, I met my students and told them to go watch the Inauguration which was being streamed in the College auditorium.

I still couldn’t quite believe Obama had really won and he really was taking the oath of office. To echo the phrase Michelle Obama was pilloried for, for the first time in my life I was proud of my country. I had been very invested in the 2008 campaign and as a Philadelphia NOW chapter president got a lot of grief for supporting Obama rather than Clinton. I thought Obama would make the better president, but it also mattered more to me to elect first African-American president than to elect the first woman president. (I’m ready to make up for that feminist lapse (if that’s what it was) by working hard for Hillary in 2016.

But the euphoria I felt in January 2009 was also because I thought that just maybe the long backlash against the 1960’s—a backlash fuelled largely by rage against the dismantling of racial and gender hierarchy—was finally over. The Tea Party soon disabused me of that illusion.

I actually thought the backlash might have been over in 1992 which was the first and only Inauguration I ever attended. It seemed that Clinton’s presidency was the end of the conservative backlash of the Reagan/ Bush years but it turned out to be only an interregnum with the right returning for 8 horrendous years of George W. Bush.

The Republicans are hoping that Obama years will turn out to be a similar interregnum, but the country has changed too much. The party of the 1% managed to win elections by playing to people’s racial and cultural fears, thus getting them to vote against their own interest. Fewer people are buying their poison.

We may have finally turned a corner. The demographic changes in the country, the dramatic generational differences on issues such as racial and gender equality and same- sex marriage suggest the backlash may finally be over, or at least winding down.

Yes, we have the crazed Republican right but it is becoming increasingly marginalized, although thanks to partisan redistricting, anti-gay, anti- choice forces are in power in state legislatures across the country, determined to destroy the social safety net and enact the right wing social agenda. But these forces are becoming increasingly marginalized and can no longer win a national election. So just maybe, this time, my oft made prediction is finally coming true.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Getting more citizens involved in grassroots politics!

During my working years I always hated January. The holidays were over and it was back to the daily grind. Now that I’m retired, January still means back to work, but it's work that I’ve chosen, work on my timetable.

One of the joys of living in a deep blue city with many progressive organizations is that there are many options for social justice work. Working for social change gives me some sense of being part of the future and having some forward momentum in my life. When I was teaching I felt that I was going round and round in the same groove I had been in for years. The thrill was gone.

My passion at this stage in my life is civic participation. For me and for many other progressive activists, Republican attempts to suppress the vote have been the galvanizing force--there are state wide groups working to overturn the Voter ID law and to make voting easier in PA. Also, the Voter ID law (slated to be implemented in 2013) has drawn attention to what has been a very low profile position—-the Judge of Elections. In each division, the Judge of Elections resolves disputes and makes determinations about voter eligibility in areas where the law is ambiguous. This has been an under the radar position with very few citizens actually running for the job. The Majority and Minority Inspectors also play an important role in ensuring fair, well-run elections. With the enactment of the Voter ID law, having a fair, knowledgeable election board matters more than ever.

The organization I care the most about,Philadelphia NOW, in partnership with Philadelphia CLUW, has prepared a handbook and is running a workshop on running for the Election Board ; at a later point we will hold a workshop on running for committeeperson. Thanks to a grant from Bread and Roses Community Fund, Philadelphia NOW did this in the past. Once again supported by Bread and Roses, we are running the workshop but we should be more successful this time. We are working in partnership with CLUW and we are also part of a broader movement, thePhiladelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus which will encourage civic and community groups to run workshops for their members to encourage them to run for Election Board and committeeperson.

So I am putting my energy into getting more citizens involved in grassroots politics, trying to make the Democratic Party more democratic , fighting voter suppression and making voting easier. If the people who came out in November 2012 had come out in 2010, we’d have a different congress and a different state legislature with major consequences for redistricting.

I think the only way to get more people to vote in mid-term elections is to make it easier to vote. People may be willing to wait in line for hours to vote for the President, but this generally doesn’t carry over to state legislators. And no citizen should have to stand in line for hours to vote!!! Many of our NOW members consider this a women’s issue as women are the ones most likely to be juggling work and family and having trouble getting to the polls—especially when their work place is far from their home.

I have friends on the left who question my focus on electoral politics and in particular the value of trying to reform the Democratic Party, but I’m convinced that for the rest of my activist life the only hope for progressive change lies in making it easier for people to vote and in building the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My New Year’s resolution inspired by good friend Cathy Schrader

When I’ve played the New Year’s resolutions game I usually think in self-improvement terms: I will work on my Spanish; I will exercise more; I will clean out the basement etc., etc.

This year, inspired by my good friend Cathy Schrader, I’ve decided to focus on attitudinal change. Cathy has been dealing with a major, life-threatening illness for many years. She’s always had an upbeat temperament and it has served her well during this difficult time. This year she and her husband and two good friends went on a much anticipated trip to Italy. They flew to London, spent a few days enjoying London’s museums and theatre , then flew to Venice for several magical days with perfect weather, then Florence which Cathy fell in love with and finally Rome.

Cathy at our New Year's Day Party, 2013

Then the perfect trip unraveled. Cathy got sick in Rome and because of her medical history was rushed to the hospital. When she told me this I felt sick with disappointment—after all Cathy’s been through, she sure didn’t deserve this.

To my surprise, she said it wasn’t so bad. The Rome hospital was fascinating; she met some really wonderful people and discovered much about Italian culture she would never have learned as an ordinary tourist.

My response: I was amazed that she managed to salvage something from the experience. I know I would have been in a deep, dark depression about my ruined vacation.

Cathy’s response; Well, with what I’ve been through, I’ve had to learn how to how to focus on anything positive which comes my way.

As long as I’ve known her-–about 50 years—Cathy’s always been looking at the glass half-full. We traveled together to Italy in the late 1960’s and her sunny disposition and tendency to think the best of people got us into some dicey situations, including two near-miss sexual assaults. We decided not to go to Italy because we had been having a hard time fending off predatory French men and had heard that Italian men were much worse.

I’ve had the good fortune to go to Italy many times since then, but this was Cathy’s first trip back since 1969. It seemed so cruel that she had to spend part of that time in the hospital.

But she focused on the positive. She was happy she convinced her husband not to spend his time hanging around the hospital and was glad he had the opportunity to explore Rome. If it had been me, I probably would have wanted Rick to spend his time keeping me company in the hospital.

So inspired by Cathy, this is my New Year’s resolution: to try to salvage something positive from whatever life brings--without getting ridiculously Pollyannaish about it--although that’s never been a danger for me.