Nel's New Day

August 26, 2016

Women’s Vote Can Change the World

Pickets-Women-White-HouseMy mother was born on November 12, 1899, just ten days too late to vote the United States legalized the vote for women. After 72 years of ridicule, imprisonment, forced feedings, and other forms of opposition to women gaining their full citizenship rights, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed on August 18, 1920—thanks to one state legislator from Tennessee who followed his mother’s advice. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the proclamation after the certified record from Tennessee arrived at the capitol.

it's a woman's worldIn the first election, only nine million women, about 35 percent of those eligible, voted, compared to almost twice as many men. Public sentiment followed one of the headlines about the event: “Is suffrage a failure?” For the next 45 years, black women in the South joined black men to eliminate literacy tests, poll tests, and other voter suppression activities. Since 1980, however, women have been the majority at every general election, electing Bill Clinton in 1996 with 11 percent more women’s votes than from men up to 13 percent greater number of votes from women for President Obama in 2008. Whoever thought that the feminist movement failed after 1920 is wrong.

As historian Jo Freeman wrote in A Room at a Time:

 “[Women behind the scenes] prepared women for political work and enlarged their sphere of activity. They did this through education, legitimation and infiltration…. And by doing what was possible, women went into politics the same way they got suffrage: slowly and persistently, with great effort, against much resistance, a room at a time.”

This evolution laid the foundation for women’s progress throughout 96 years, leading to Hillary Clinton’s nomination for presidential candidate this year. The biggest move forward after 1920 was the 1964 Civil Rights Act, initially created to deal with race discrimination. At the last minute, however, the category of sex was added to those of race, color, religion, and national origin that are outlawed in employment discrimination. While no one is sure that this story is accurate, a tale has been told of Virginia’s Howard W. Smith, opponent of all civil rights legislation, adding “sex” to Title VII in order to kill the bill. After the laughter, the Civil Rights Act—with the addition of “sex”—passed.

The first two years after the Civil Rights Act didn’t show much movement forward to support women until another milestone occurred 50 years ago on June 30, 1966. That was the day that the National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded. Thanks to this group’s actions, President Lyndon B. Johnson expanded affirmative action to include women in 1967, and the 1968 Equal Credit Opportunity Act allowed women to get credit—including credit cards—without their husbands’ signatures.

Even so, women weren’t guaranteed an equal education during the late 1960s, and sexual harassment was legal. Domestic violence favored men over women. The movie Twelve Angry Men represented the way that women were barred from serving on juries or had difficulties in being selected as jurors. A clerk advised Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren that permitting women to serve “may encourage lax performance of their domestic duties.” Women were also not employed as TV news anchors, airplane pilots, astronauts, firefighters, movie directors, CEOs—the list was endless.

When women were paid much less, the excuse was that they were single and living with their parents or married and earning “pin money” as a supplement to husbands’ earnings. (The same excuse is used 50 years later to excuse companies from paying teenagers the same wage for the same job as older people.) The medical and law schools that didn’t bar females from being students greatly limited the number of women in classes.

The “pill,” available in 1960 and to all married women after the Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut, was still kept from unmarried women until the Supreme Court ruled that unmarried women also could purchase contraceptives in Baird v. Eisenstadt (1972). The next year saw a Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortions on a limited basis. By 1978, employers were required to hire pregnant women. For the first four decades of NOW, women won pay discrimination lawsuits, and courts decided that the law covered sexual harassment.

The 21st century, however, brought reversals of women’s rights in health and finances. The Supreme Court allowed states to pass unbelievably restrictive anti-abortion laws and even prevent women from getting contraceptives from their insurance. In 2011, the John Roberts’ Supreme Court ruled that thousands of women bringing a class action lawsuit against Walmart for discrimination at work couldn’t sue as a group. Since the Dukes v. Wal-Mart ruling, judges have sided with employers so often that women are now finding it impossible to even find lawyers to take their cases.

Fifty-two years after the equality declared in the Civil Rights Act, women on the average make only 79 cents for every dollar made by a man, and breaking down this statistic by race makes the picture even worse. Black women have to work an additional seven months—19 months—to make the same salary as a man does in one year. That’s a lifetime pay gap of $877,480. one-third of all women in the nation—about 42 million people—live in or on the edge of poverty.

Fifty years later, women still struggle with many of the same issues as in the 1960s, frequently through the combination of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism. Rape is illegal, but too often men are not punished for their behavior because women are accused of being at fault. Protection for women because of domestic violence can be based on a woman’s race, gender identity, and zip code. Because of this intersectionalism of prejudice, NOW plans to focus on reproductive rights, ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and a criminal justice system that puts thousands of female victims of sexual assault—many of them women of color—into prison, especially with newer laws mandating sentences.

Bobbi1The year 2016 marks 50 years of women running in the Boston Marathon. Bobbi Gibbs (left) was told that “women are not physiologically able to run a marathon.” She entered without an application and beat over half the field in 3 hours, 21 minutes. The next year, Kathrine Switzer entered the marathon under her initials and beat her boyfriend, who had thought “if a girl can run a marathon, I can run a marathon.” Her time was only 4 hours 20 minutes, but she was physically attacked by the race co-director. In 1972, the AAU changed its rule barring women from running more than a mile and a half, and Title IX provided equality in education for women.

Women need one more amendment to the U.S. Constitution: The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Originally written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, the proposed amendment to guarantee equal rights for women was first introduced in Congress in 1923 and introduced in every session between 1923 and 1970. Yet it reached the floor only once in 1946 when it was defeated in the Senate, 38 to 35. In 1972, however, the ERA passed the Congress and was sent to state legislatures for ratification.

Phyllis Schlafly mobilized conservative women with the fear that they would have to use the same toilets as men, and the amendment failed to get four of the necessary 38 state ratifications by 1977 with a deadline of March 22, 1979. Later five states rescinded their ratifications, which meant that the ERA failed to get enough states although the deadline was extended three years. This is the text of the amendment that so terrified conservatives throughout almost a century.

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Activists have pushed for the ERA over the long haul just as they did for the vote. The amendment has been introduced in every Congressional session since 1982. As of now, 11 states have adopted constitutions or constitutional amendments providing that equal rights under the law shall not be denied because of sex.

When it was founded, “NOW’s purpose was to take action, to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society,” according to Terry O’Neill, the president of NOW. After 50 years, we have a start.

On the 96th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the one that allowed women to vote, think what our country would be like in the 21st century if brave people had not fought for 72 years to make women equal citizens of the United States.

November 27, 2013

A Wish List for Thanksgiving

In browsing the Internet I found Bernie Sander’s wish list from nine years ago to make the country better. Thanksgiving is a time to dream about a better nation. Let’s see how we have done in nine years:

Campaign Finance and Election Reform: The wealthy and large corporations cannot be allowed to continue to buy political parties and candidates. We must move to full public funding of elections. Same-day registration will encourage low-income people to vote, and stop the United States from having the lowest voter turnout of any industrialized nation on earth. Since that time: The U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of Citizens United to turn the corporations and wealthy loose and allowed voter suppression by overturning part of the Voters’ Rights Act.

Protect and Expand the Safety Net: We must beat back the efforts to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and public education, and the attacks on children and the poor. This country is wealthy enough so that every man, woman and child should be able to live in dignity and security. Since that time: The extremist GOP has worked to cut back food and housing for the poor increasing the number of homeless and hungry after the recession.

Revise Our National Priorities: We should eliminate funding for wasteful and duplicative weapons systems and the $125 billion we currently spend on corporate welfare. We should increase funding for job-creating improvements in our physical and human infrastructure, as well as the needs of our elderly and children. Since that time: The last two Congresses have completely ignored any help for the growing unemployment problem, and the military gets more and more money.

Reform the Tax System to Make It Fair: Over the last 20 years, the federal tax system has lowered taxes for the wealthy and large corporations, and raised taxes for the middle class and working families. In a nation which currently has the most unfair distribution of wealth and income in the industrialized world, we must fight for a tax system which is progressive and fair. Since that time: The inequality of income in the United States has become the worst in almost a century.

Raise the Minimum Wage: In 1996, against tremendous opposition, Congress raised the minimum wage from $4.25 an hour to $5.15. We must do better. The purchasing power of the minimum wage today is much lower than it was 20 years ago. Every American worker who works 40 hours a week must earn enough to live above the poverty line. That’s why I have introduced legislation which would raise the minimum wage to a living wage. Since that time: The federal minimum wage has been increased to $7.25 but still fails to match what people were paid 50 years ago.

A Fair Trade Policy: We are losing millions of well-paying manufacturing and information technology jobs as corporations “outsource” to China, Mexico, and India where workers are paid substantially lower wages. We need a new trade policy which protects the middle class of this country, and not the CEOs of large companies. Legislation that I have offered would radically alter our role in the global economy – protecting the workers of this country and the developing world. Since that time: The president is working to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership which would give most of the control to corporations and stopping Congress from protecting workers. Individual states controlled by GOP governors and legislatures have consistently destroyed unions to give money to corporations and the wealthy.

Protect Civil Rights for All: Against enormous and well-funded opposition, we must redouble our efforts to protect a woman’s right to choose, support affirmative action, and end discrimination against minorities and gay people. Since that time: The GOP has barraged women with restrictions on reproductive rights, and the U.S. Supreme Court is reducing affirmative action. Good News! Sixteen states and the federal government have legalized same-sex marriage, and ENDA, the bill to stop job discrimination for LGBT people, was passed in the Senate with ten Republicans voting in favor of it.

National Health Care: The health care crisis is getting worse, not better. More and more American lack health insurance; Medicare and Medicaid are under savage assault and millions of people are being forced into “managed care.” Despite all this, the United States continues to have the most costly and wasteful health care system in the world. We must continue our fight for a single-payer national health care system which guarantees health care for all Americans. We must also take on the pharmaceutical industry which is ripping off American consumers and charging us the highest drug prices in the world. Since that time: The Affordable Care Act has passed, although it’s under tremendous attack by the GOP. It lacks the single-payer provision that would help, and 25 states refuse to provide Medicaid at an acceptable level, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. But it’s a start. Sanders’ state has passed the single-payer health care system which will be fully operational by 2017.

People who live in the United States want to think that the country is exceptional. Below are ways to make this come true:

Raising the Minimum Wage: Seventy-one percent of people in the United States support raising the minimum wage to $9.00.  Doing this would still not make it equal to the minimum wage in the 1960s, but it would be a start.

Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases: Most people in the country support laws to start keeping  guns out of the hands of terrorists, felons, and mentally disabled.

Balanced Deficit Reduction: The country needs a balanced approach to reduce the debt, according to 76 percent of the nation’s voters.  Balanced means, to explain it to the GOP, both spending cuts and additional tax revenues. 

Job-Creating Infrastructure Investments: An investment in repairing and replacing the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure—roads, bridges, airports, etc.—would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. A majority of people support this, despite the continued opposition from federal GOP legislators who want to give more money to wealthy and corporate special interests such as the oil industry.

Pathway to Earned Citizenship: The 11 million immigrants without legal papers in the country contribute to the economy and work at jobs that others refuse to do. A majority of Republicans and 70 percent of all people in nation support the Senate bill that House GOP members refuse to vote on.

Expanding the Medicaid Program: Two-thirds of Americans favor the part of ObamaCare that calls for expanding the Medicaid program. All that stops health care across the United States are GOP governors and state legislators.

Marriage Equality: Marriage equality is now legal on a federal basis, but many states still refuse to legalize same-sex marriage, continuing the second-class situation for many of LGBT people across the nation. A study now shows that opposition to this equality is concentrated “among a few narrow demographic groups.”

Ending Job Discrimination for LGBT People: Transgender people can be discriminated against in 33 states and lesbians/gays in 29 states. Federal law needs to stop that.

Universal Access to Birth Control: ObamaCare requires health insurers to offer birth control at no additional cost, a policy supported by 70 percent of Americans. This policy is also supported by a majority of Catholics despite continuing opposition by Catholic bishops. Studies show that free contraception drastically reduces the number of abortions in the country, a goal for all

Expanded Early Childhood Education: Two-thirds of people in the country support universal pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds and an expansion of other early childhood education programs. Without these and other education reforms, we have fallen far behind many other developed countries. And add higher education to reform by drastically reducing costs for public higher education.

Single-payer Health Care: Traditional Medicare administrative costs are 1 percent, costs for a combination of traditional and private insurer Medicare is 6 percent, and administrative costs for private insurers for the rest of the people is 20 percent—sometimes more. The solution to saving money is “Medicare for all.”

Environmental Protections: Industrial expansion and growth of cities are causing land resources to dwindle, factory waste is polluting water sources, poisonous gas is polluting the air, and deserts are spreading. Resources on this planet are finite, and humans need to make the Earth sustainable for future generations.

Equal Rights for Men and Women: Alice Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923; it passed both chambers of Congress in 1972 but failed to get the necessary 28 number of ratifications by the deadline a decade later. The amendment very simply stated, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Twenty-one states have a version of the ERA in their constitutions.

Also think about the rest of Bernie Sanders’ agenda: Voting Rights, Cuts in Defense Spending, Public Funding of Campaigns for Elected Officials, Increased Social Security Benefits, Tax Reform to Reverse Income Inequity, Reproductive Rights (which helps both men and women), and Unemployment Reform. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

December 8, 2012

NOW Comes to Town, Part 3

The first two blogs about NOW issues discussed women’s reproductive rights, violence against women, and racism. Following are additional issues regarding the current inequality of women.

Lesbian Rights: Currently the GOP is spending our taxpayer money, by now over $1.5 million, to continue the ban on marriage equality. Inability to be married discriminates against same-sex couples in more than 1000 federal laws, many of them costing a great deal of money. Although lesbians and gays are now permitted to openly serve in the military, their partners lack the same rights as married partners, refusing them housing and other benefits. People complain about the possibility of paying taxes on health benefits from their employers, but gays and lesbians are already forced to do this if their employers insure their partners.

During its current term, the U.S. Supreme Court will determine whether LGBT people will continue to endure these inequities.

Economic Justice: During the fall campaign, conservatives kept claiming that women cared far less about reproductive rights than they did in the economy. They refused to recognize that reproductive rights influence women’s economic status: if women cannot plan their families, they have less chance to meet their economic needs. In addition to reproductive rights, NOW addresses a wide range of women’s economic justice issues including welfare reform, livable wages, job discrimination, pay equity, housing, social security, and pension reform.

The GOP denies the fact that women are paid over 20 percent less than men for the same types of jobs. Conservatives also want to reduce Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid payments which many women desperate need because of their lower pay. Over a lifetime, women will receive almost $500,000 on average less than men during a 40-year career, which then figures into less savings and Social Security benefits. More than twice as many women seniors live in poverty than male seniors.

The poverty rate for women is almost 40 percent higher than for men; 14.5 percent of all women lived in poverty in 2010. More than 17 million women live in poverty compared to 12.6 million men. A greater number of Hispanic women, 25 percent, live in poverty, and 25.6 percent of black women are at or below the poverty level. More than 40 percent of single mothers now live in poverty. The GOP solution is marriage, but conservatives ignore problems of domestic abuse and the poverty of men who would become their husbands. 

When women banded together to fight these economic inequities, the Supreme Court struck them down. Twelve years ago, a lawsuit, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, exposed the company’s discrimination against women in pay and promotions, but SCOTUS said that women could not file a class-action suit because the group was too large to share “common claims.”

After the court reinforced the practice of discrimination, Congress introduced the Equal Employment Opportunity Restoration Act (EEORA). The majority of GOP representatives resulting from conservative state legislators’ gerrymandering will surely keep this act from passing the House. The Senate has already failed to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act because the GOP filibustered it, requiring 60 votes to move forward, eight votes more than it had—a majority of the Senate.

The most recent accomplishment for women’s economy was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill that President Obama signed into law. The law overturned SCOTUS’s ruling that complaints have to filed within the first six months after receiving a pay check whether the employee knows if there is any discrimination. Fortunately, Mitt Romney was not elected president because he would never say whether he would try to overturn the Ledbetter Act.

Most of the public is aware that women are paid less than men. Not as many people know that women are charged more than men for goods and services. And there’s no federal law against this discrimination. People would never accept a difference in charges on the basis of race, but they seem to accept that one gender has to pay more than another for the same thing.

 Insurance companies charge women $1 billion more than men for the same coverage, according to a recent report from the National Women’s Law Center. The reason isn’t maternity care; almost one-third of plans without this provision have higher charges for women of at least 30 percent or more. This inequity will stop as part of Obamacare at the beginning of 2014 unless conservatives overturn this law.

Cleaners charge more for “blouses” than men’s “shirts.” Women’s deodorant costs 30 cents more than men’s. Hair cuts are more expensive for women even if they get the same service. Men’s sneakers are taxed at 8.5 percent, while women’s sneakers are taxed at 10 percent.

In 2006, the Consumer Federation of America reported that women were 32 percent more likely than men to get saddled with costly, high-interest subprime loans–even in cases in which their credit ratings and credit histories were better than the men’s. As a result, women have been forced to pay thousands more in interest.

Twenty years ago, Ayres published a landmark study proving that women consistently paid more for cars than men did. Studies since then have shown that women continue to pay more. Black women suffered the most in extra charges when purchasing cars, an average of $400 more than men.

Equal Rights Amendment: Over 90 years ago,   Alice Paul, who was sometimes imprisoned for her activism in the women’s suffrage movement, wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The text was a simple sentence: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Introduced to Congress for the first time in 1923 and every year until it finally passed 40 years ago in 1972, the ERA was given only 7 years to gain ratification by three-fourths of the states. Richard Nixon endorsed the ERA after its passage in 1972, and 30 states ratified the ERA within the first year. The impetus slowed, however, and some states rescinded the ratification leaving the ERA with only 35 of 38 states required for becoming an amendment. Failing this, the ERA continues to be introduced and continues to fail every year since 1972.

Winning this equality continues to be one of NOW’s top priorities. For more NOW issues concerned with equality for all women, go to NOW’s website. And find a NOW chapter near you.

March 27, 2012

Women Gaining Ground–Maybe

As the war on women moves through Women’s History Month, the opposition to women’s rights may be weakening slightly. The Catholic bishops’ struggle to control government decisions and taxpayer dollars regarding contraception flagged last week when U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns ruled that the government was in the right for refusing to renew a contract to the Catholic Church. The decision focused on the bishops’ decision to refuse key reproductive counseling and referrals for human trafficking victims with its $3 million grant. Stearns agreed with the ACLU on the basis that the bishops’ rules for federal funding violated constitutional prohibitions on church and state. The judge in the Massachusetts federal court wrote:

“To insist that the government respect the separation of church and state is not to discriminate against religion; indeed, it promotes a respect for religion by refusing to single out any creed for official favor at the expense of all others….This case is about the limits of the government’s ability to delegate to a religious institution the right to use taxpayer money to impose its beliefs on others (who may or may not share them).”

He also cited an earlier Supreme Court ruling that stated the Framers “did not set up a system of government in which important, discretionary governmental powers would be delegated to or shared with religious institutions.” Last week’s ruling questions the entire basis of the George W. Bush’s federal faith-based contracting initiative that has given almost total power to groups like the Catholic bishops who are permitted to determine how  taxpayer dollars are spent.

The bishops wanted the issue resolved in their favor even though they no longer had the contract. Their success might continue their autonomy over spending public money—including selection of insurance that provides contraception. In losing this case, they may have lost even more than the control of spending their money as they wish. It is possible that the FDA would make oral contraception available over the counter, making birth control far more accessible to women and totally offending the Catholic bishops.

Another break in the conservative forces against abortion and contraception came from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) in an interview yesterday with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. She said that she opposes the loss of Medicaid funding for the state after Texas stopped funding for Planned Parenthood. “I think Planned Parenthood does mammograms, they do so much of the health care, the preventative health care, and if they’re doing that, then we need to provide those services, absolutely,” Hutchinson said.

Although almost no men directly support women’s fight for contraception, one Republican made a surprising statement at a rally for the Equal Rights Amendment. Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) thinks that we women should give our money to Democrats. “I think these are very precarious times for women, it seems. So many of your rights are under assault,” he told the crowd of mostly women. “I’ll tell you this: Contribute your money to people who speak out on your behalf, because the other side—my side—has a lot of it. And you need to send your own message. You need to remind people that you vote, you matter, and that they can’t succeed without your help.”

The inequality between men and women in this country is made glaringly clear when male support for a female issue is totally unexpected—and when that male is a Republican, we find the support almost impossible to believe. We still live in a country where the Constitution defines a citizen as a male. But people like Richard Hanna may move us up the path toward more equality.

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