Supreme Court Denies Personhood Appeal in Oklahoma

The US Supreme Court refused to hear a case on Monday brought on by the anti-abortion group Personhood Oklahoma, rejecting its attempt to challenge the Oklahoma court’s ruling against a proposed Personhood ballot measure in the state. The “personhood” amendment, which has also appeared (and was subsequently defeated) in states like Colorado and Mississippi, defines personhood under state law as beginning at the moment of fertilization. This would grant fertilized eggs the same constitutional rights as a person, and would serve to ban abortion, and could also outlaw emergency contraception, IUDS, invitro fertilization, and stem cell research.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court had ruled in April that Personhood Oklahoma’s proposed ballot measure would violate the constitution, saying that states must abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling that abortion is legal. The Supreme Court, by denying the group’s appeal, deferred to the decision made by the lower court.

President of the Center for Reproductive Rights Nancy Northrop said in July when the group petitioned the Supreme Court, “The proponents of this measure have made explicit the ultimate objective of the anti-reproductive rights movement: to strip all Americans of their constitutional right to make their own decisions about whether and when to have children. […]The scope of the fundamental rights and longstanding court precedents under attack by the opponents of reproductive rights is stunning.”

Personhood groups failed to get enough signatures for the Colorado and Florida ballots in the November election.

Media Resources: ThinkProgress 10/30/12; The Hill 10/29/12; Feminist Daily News 7/31/12 and 5/7/12

Activists Project “Rape Is Rape” onto US Capitol Sunday

Stories of sexual violence, punctuated by the words “RAPE IS RAPE,” were projected onto the U.S. Capitol building last night in Washington, D.C. Activist groups Luminous Intervention and FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture organized the action with the intent of drawing attention to the discourse around rape culture, noting that “American culture is uncomfortable to the point of being incapable of recognizing the reality of rape in this country…the culture of rape will not improve until a more difficult conversation is had.”

The activists noted that only 14% of rape fits the definition of “forcible,” and so chose to highlights stories that fall outside of this category. The stories illuminated onto the Capitol included the following:

As a young girl I was raped by a group of teenage boys. They put money on the bed afterward. I was convinced it was my fault.

I was drugged and raped by a man I met while traveling in Greece. He offered to show me around and then put sleeping pills in my food. It was broad daylight. Since my rape was not “violent,” the Greek courts did not charge my rapist.

I can’t even count the number of times I have had sex against my will. Some of the times I was pressured and other times I was drunk. I’ve never been able to call these situations rape.

In a press release, the organizers stated, “The origins of ‘legitimate rape’ or ‘women who rape easy’ are deeper than anti-abortion legislation, conservative views, or a few politically incorrect statements. The problems in the public conversations about rape are bigger than election year politics. The image of forcible rape is the only publicly recognized image of sexual violence in America, and it is not realistic. Rapists do not only use physical violence. Rape is not only committed by a few sick criminals. Rape is not a rare occurrence. Rape is much more complicated and much more common. If sexual violence is going to end, Americans need to drop the story of ‘forcible rape’ and face reality. These stories are here to force the issue.”

The language of forcible rape has come to the forefront in the past year, as a campaign led by the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. Magazine alongside a massive grassroots campaign succeeded in urging the FBI to change its definition of rape. Prior to the change last December, the 82-year-old definition had limited what was legally considered rape to an act that was “forced” and only enacted on a woman, excluding the majority of sexual assaults and leading to major underreporting and a lack of adequate response.

Also last year, Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (WI) partnered with Rep. Todd Akin (MO) to redefine rape under the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act so that only those deemed “forcible” could receive Medicaid funding for abortions.

 

Image courtesy of Flickr user FORCE: upsetting rape culture, photos taken by Casey McKeel

Media Resources: FORCE/Luminous Intervention Press Release 10/21/12 (Press contact:  Rebecca Nagle rebecca.nagle@gmail.com (410) 415-3216); Think Progress 8/19/12; Feminist Daily News 12/7/11

The Chicago Teachers’ Strike: Fighting for the Schools Our Students Deserve

UPDATE – Wednesday, September 19: The Chicago Teachers Union voted yesterday to end their strike and agreed today to a tentative offer put forward by the city of Chicago.  The agreement includes, among other things, an increase in pay for teachers, shorter school days, increased funding for music, art, and physical education classes as well as for textbooks and school supplies, and a change to the process for teacher evaluations with less weight placed on standardized test scores.  In response to the agreement, CTU President Karen Lewis stated, “We feel very positive about moving forward. We feel grateful that we have a united union, and that when a union moves together, amazing things happen.”
It all began Monday, when tens of thousands of people – teachers, parents, children, and community supporters – all dressed in red, flooded downtown Chicago’s streets while others marched in picket lines in front of schools. For the first time in a quarter of a century, the nation’s third-largest school district is on strike.

It is now Day 3, and with over 26,000 teachers on strike, what is being minimized by many into a dispute over teacher contracts has become much more – a growing movement in the struggle over public education and labor unions.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), the oldest local of the American Federation for Teachers, has been without a contract since June, and 98% of teachers had agreed to strike if the city did not come to an agreement with the union by the beginning of the school year. Before the contract disputes, teachers were being forced to work longer hours, imposed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and before that, the Illinois state legislature passed laws that made it more difficult for unions to strike. A school social worker on the bargaining team, Susan Hickey, said “Chicago is a union town, and the assault on unions has been horrible.”

The rough climate for unions today has only been exacerbated for CTU and other public school teachers by austerity measures imposed nationwide, which have led to massive layoffs, increased class sizes, shrinking social services in schools, and school districts unwilling to boost teacher salaries.  CTU members and many others argue that Race to the Top, a policy adopted in 2009 by the Obama administration, has caused them to rely too heavily on ineffective teacher evaluations and standardized test scores without considering outside factors, such as student poverty, and places undue burden on teachers to standardize their education in an effort to maintain their employment.

The Associated Press reported from the strike. Frank Menzies, a teacher for 15 years at Jones College Prep, notes that “equity, fair labor practices and dignity” are what’s at stake in this strike. “Money is not a big deal,” he said. But Illinois state laws prohibit teachers to strike over issues other than pay and benefits, and while this is certainly a part of the issue, teachers are making it clear that they’re also striking over class size, more education options, and decent facilities (one teacher noted that what she wanted most was an air conditioner for her students).

Karen Stolzenberg, an art teacher for 25 years, said that her classes average 32 students, making it “hard to build a relationship with students on a daily basis,” she said. “None of us wanted this [strike], I want to be in the classroom, but this is important.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel denounced the strike in a press conference yesterday, saying it is “one of choice” that could have been avoided if the teachers “were more reasonable.” And the school board agrees with him – not a big surprise, since the board was hand-picked by Mayor Emanuel, and largely made up of CEOs, financiers, and real estate developers.  Mainstream media aired Emmanuel’s statements last night alongside angry parents who wanted their children in school, and police officers stating there would be higher rates of crime because of the strike.

But perhaps the backlash is because the strike is hitting on a nationwide cord. Although some may see this as union leadership calling the shots, this is very clearly a situation in which rank-and-file union members are organizing and mobilizing their communities, taking a stand for a better education system. There is national excitement here –   the power and energy behind it show this strike as potentially sparking a social movement.

The strike also reflects the struggle in the labor movement in its fight for public-sector unions – we saw unions take the national stage last year when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ordered an end to collective bargaining rights and when Ohio voters, soon after, repealed a law that restricted collective bargaining rights for public workers.

The strike reflects our changing education system, where “bad teachers” are routinely blamed for a failing education system  rather than policies that take away funding for public schools and then turn around and condemn it for failing.  Where a growing reform movement that seeks to expand charter schools leads them rapidly rising in number throughout the country.

We are seeing government officials and corporate CEOs find common ground in charter schools, as education becomes the new terrain for privatization. The Chicago teachers strike reflects a growing response to crippling austerity measures through education reform, and calls for new policy that reflects the priorities of better working /learning conditions and quality education over than corporate greed. CTU is setting an example for teachers unions across the country for how to resist attacks on our public schools, and it has quickly become more than a battle for Chicago, but for the whole nation.

We should all join in and show our support for the teachers’ union in Chicago and for our teachers fighting for public schools in our own communities.  In the meantime, Chicago children are learning firsthand from their teachers how social movements begin.  Seventh grade teacher Rick Sawicki told the Chicago Tribune. “This is an amazing display of democracy. It’s a wonderful lesson for children and adults alike. I’m honored that we are all sticking together.”

 

Tweet @CTULocal1 and use hashtag #FairContractNow to show them your support.

 

Images courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user peoplesworld

Quotes credited to Associated Press

Human Life Amendment Drafted for Republican Party Platform

The Republican Party plans to reaffirm its stance on abortion by once again including a “human life amendment” to the Constitution in its official platform.  The proposed amendment would ban all abortion with no exceptions as well as some forms of contraception. The Republican Party’s official platform committee drafted the provision Monday, and still must be approved by delegates at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida next week.

The platform states, “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.” The amendment would outlaw many forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization, and would criminalize miscarriages. Similar amendments promoted by the radical anti-choice group Personhood USA have been on the ballots in Colorado and Mississipi and have failed.  Colorado will again see a “personhood amendment” on their ballot this November.  The platform draft also includes support of mandatory ultrasound bills, clinic regulations, and mandatory waiting periods.

Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia, notorious for his mandatory ultrasound law in the state, is heading the platform committee. The human life amendment has been a part of a Republican Party platform since 1980.

 

Media Resources: ThinkProgress 8/21/12; RH Reality Check 8/21/12; Washington Post 8/21/12; CNN 8/20/12

The Invisible 6 Million

Nearly 6 million people in the United States will not be allowed to vote in the upcoming presidential election for one reason.

As the November election nears, voting rights have become an important topic of conversation. From photo ID requirements to early voting restrictions, the negative effects of barriers to voting are being foreseen, not only in the way they affect outcomes of local and national elections, but in whose voices are being silenced. We see those of young people, old people, black people, women, and the poor being silenced quite often by the very people who seek to make laws that restrict their rights.  But who are we forgetting? Who is the most silenced and marginalized of them all?

Prisoners. Felons. Criminals. What do these words mean? The American lexicon and legal system don’t afford much respect or hope – once you’re labeled a criminal, you’re a criminal for life. Our media and legal system have painted criminals as disposable, people whose voices and bodies are not a necessary or desired part of a functioning society.  They are locked up, invisible to the rest of us.  Often our only concept of them is through the nightly news or crime investigation TV shows.  So who are they?

“Criminals” are poor people. “Criminals” are black.

But these are constructed images. White people commit crimes at much higher rates than people of color, and yet, people of color, or more specifically, young black men, are arrested and subsequently sentenced and locked behind bars at far higher rates. From discriminatory stop-and-frisk policies to mandatory minimums and discriminatory sentencing, the prison-industrial-complex is a racial caste system that serves to not only lock black people behind bars but also put them at a disadvantaged position for the rest of their lives. On top of the near impossible of task of finding employment and housing and being excluded from access to any government benefits, once you’ve been released from prison you’re also told that your voice doesn’t matter in our democracy.

5.85 million people will not be able to vote in this year’s presidential election because they have felonies on their record. And only a quarter of these are actually in prison.  This means that about 4 million people who live and pay taxes in their communities cannot vote in those communities. And nearly 1 million of these ex-felons are African American.  7.7% of black adults (13% for men alone) are disenfranchised, compared to 1.8% of whites. In the states of Florida and Virginia, two key battleground states in national elections, the rates of African American felon disenfranchisement is at its highest, where 1 in 5 African Americans cannot vote.

The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “the right of citizens of the United State to vote shall not be denied…on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But during the Jim Crow era, African Americans were denied the right to vote through poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and felon disenfranchisement, all of which were formally race-neutral and therefore found a loophole to the 15th amendment. Since then, all of these devices have been eliminated – except for felon disenfranchisement.

Michelle Alexander writes in her book The New Jim Crow, “The failure of our legal system to eradicate all of the tactics adopted during the Jim Crow era to suppress the black vote has major implications today. Felon disenfranchisement laws have been more effective in eliminating black voters in the age of mass incarceration than they were during Jim Crow.”

Nearly half of the total disenfranchised population is made up of ex-felons from 11 states. These are states with particularly devastating laws, in which those in prison, on probation, on parole, and even those who have completed their sentence have no option of ever being re-enfranchised. Once a criminal, always a criminal. In 19 other states, people who have completed their full sentence may be able to vote, but for many, there are waiting periods, fees (the new poll tax, as some have called it), and many other hoops to jump through. Only two states, Maine and Vermont, allow everyone to vote, including those in prison. In the rest, inmates only, or inmates and parolees, are prohibited the right to vote.

The nearly 6 million people without voting rights is even more dramatic when you consider that a little more than 30 years ago, that number was just over 1 million. The number of disenfranchised people has not increased at such rates because of harsher voting laws, but because of a dramatically rising prison population.  Did you know that the U.S. , which has only 5% of the world’s population, has 25% of the world’s incarcerated population? The U.S. prison population has increased exponentially since the 1970s when the “War on Drugs” was declared and a huge number of laws targeting primarily black men and black communities were put into effect, with devastating impacts. Of the 2.3 million people in prison in America right now, two-thirds of those people are there for non-violent crimes, the majority of which are drug-related.  The economic, social, and political exclusion of people who use drugs is antithetical to the concept of democracy. Is this what democracy looks like?

Can we really place the decision of who gets to vote (whose voice is valued) on this criminal justice system? A system that incarcerates more people than any other country in the world?

This election year, let’s talk about the ways in which our felon disenfranchisement laws serve to further marginalize and label as disposable the voices of the already most marginalized sectors of society. Let’s get to work on changing the laws in our states so that EVERYONE can vote. Maine and Vermont have it right. Let’s mobilize, contact our legislators, let them know any way we can that people convicted of crimes should still be allowed a voice in their communities. And let’s work to make re-entry into society a little bit easier, by breaking down the barriers to voting and making re-enfranchisement more accessible.

Let’s also begin a larger conversation around the very racist system of mass incarceration. As feminists who seek to dismantle the patriarchal structures that oppress women, we must see this fight as our own – working to end male dominance cannot come about without also dismantling white dominance and racial oppression, without working to destroy the hierarchy of power as a whole. Working to end mass incarceration IS a feminist issue, as is the fight to make voting accessible to everyone.

If there is any hope for a fair election this year, we must make sure that the voices of ALL Americans are heard.

 

For more information, check out the Sentencing Project, an organization that does a lot of great work around this issue.  Statistics included here are from their 2010 report on State-Level Estimates on Felon Disenfranchisement in the U.S.

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons User Unhindered by Talent

Early Voting Restrictions in Ohio’s Democratic Counties

In a state known for its chaotic elections, early voting stations in Ohio’s Democratic-leaning counties will soon be restricted, while it’s Republican-leaning counties will see their early voting hours expanded. Starting October 1st, voters in Ohio’s urban centers will have early voting stations open from 8am to 5pm. Republican election commissioners blocked Democratic efforts to expand the times to make early voting more accessible for people who work during these times. Republican Secretary of State Jon Usted stepped in to break the tie, deciding in favor of restricting times in these counties, but allowed Republican-leaning counties to expand their hours to nights and weekends.

Early voting restrictions are expected to limit overall access to voting stations. According to the Board of Elections, in Franklin County, for example, 82% of all early voting in 2008 took place on nights and weekends, when it will now no longer be available. Counties where restrictions will go into effect also tend to be largely African American.

Of the restrictions in his county, Cincinnati’s Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “The Republicans remember those long lines outside board of elections last time in the evenings and on weekends. The lines were overwhelmingly African-American, and it’s pretty obvious that the people were predominately – very predominately Obama voters. The Republicans don’t want that to happen again. It’s that simple.”

Media Resources: Think Progress 8/10/12; The Nation 8/8/12


NYC Speaker Quinn: Working Women Need Paid Sick Days!

Christine Quinn is the first female and openly gay New York City Council Speaker.   By speaking out and standing up for the rights of women and queer folks throughout the city, she has received a lot of support from the feminist community as Speaker and as potential NYC mayor.  But on a new issue facing workers in her city, Quinn is standing in the way of progress. She is refusing to bring a bill to the City Council floor that would require paid sick leave for most employees in her city.

If you are privileged enough to have paid sick leave at your job (though it’s terrible that we have to think of paid sick leave as a privilege), you probably don’t have to worry that the sniffle you just got might mean you can’t pay your rent this month, or that your son getting sick could very well lead to losing your job. 

More than 40 million American workers get no paid sick leave. 

In over 145 countries, paid sick leave is required under national law. In the U.S., it goes city by city (and occasionally, by state), with existing paid sick leave laws in Washington D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, and the state of Connecticut.

This is a labor rights issue and a public health issue. We need a national law requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave, but until then, the New York City council is aiming to get a proposal passed that would require paid sick leave for 1 million workers that currently do not have this benefit.

The Paid Sick Time Act would require businesses with 5-19 employees to provide them with 5 paid sick days a year, days that can also be used to care for sick children; businesses with 20 or more would provide 9 paid days. 37 out of 51 city council members support the bill – more than enough to pass it over Mayor Bloomberg’s veto. And yet Christine Quinn is standing in the way of its passage by arguing that it will have a negative effect on business profits. Quinn is dead wrong – extensive research shows that paid sick leave does not negatively effect business profits.

Paid sick days are a basic security that should be available to EVERYONE. Workers deserve to know that being sick won’t mean they can’t pay their bills, afford food, or even lose their jobs. Nearly 1 in 4 workers reports that they have lost a job or were told that they would lose their job if they took time off for a personal or family illness. Getting sick is not something anyone can easily avoid, and with such high health care costs, many workers will go to work and suffer rather than lose their wages.

Most of those who lack paid sick days are low wage workers, and most of them are women.  Nearly 4 in 10 working women do not have access to paid sick days, and women-dominated industries are the least likely to have paid sick leave – for example, 72% of childcare workers and 73% of food service workers lack paid sick time. In a culture where women are most often bearing the brunt of childcare, women are often responsible for staying home from work to care for a sick child.  A Kaiser Foundation report shows that around half of all mothers must take work off when their child is sick, and of these, half lose pay when they take time off to care for their child. Among low-wage mothers, 2 in 3 report losing pay. For women of color and LGBT families, a lack of paid sick leave can also be a major barrier to workplace and economic equality.

Christine Quinn is someone who, for many women, represents a feminist dream as the potential first female and first openly gay mayor of New York. Gloria Steinem has been a prominent supporter of Quinn, but recently she has been voicing her disapproval of Quinn blocking this bill.  Steinem, along with 200 other prominent women leaders, is waging a campaign to pressure Quinn to bring the measure up for a vote.  Calling Quinn out for caring more about the interests of the business community and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the group held a rally outside of City Hall two weeks ago. Maria Castaneda, Secretary-Treasurer of 1199 SEIU-UHE, said during the rally that “Nearly 1 million New Yorkers don’t get paid sick days—most are women working in low-wage service jobs like waitresses, retail clerks, day care providers and home care workers.”

The coalition of women made it clear to Quinn that she needs their votes in order to win a mayoral election, and that, although she stands with women on a lot of other issues, that this will not standWomen should not have to choose between keeping their job and caring for themselves or a sick family member.

Unfortunately, it can be easy at times as feminists to get so focused on which politicians support a women’s right to contraception and abortion, and we forget that labor policies, a less overtly feminist issue but a clear feminist position nonetheless, matter to women. These amazing women are making it clear to Quinn and other politicians who are relying on “the women’s vote” to get elected that worker’s rights are women’s rights, and that despite women’s various levels of socioeconomic status, true feminists stand up for the rights of working class women – because without it, we don’t have a chance.

 

– – Spread the word and take action: use Twitter hashtag #paidsickdays and tweet at @ChrisCQuinn

Sign the petitions: New York Paid Sick Days & Gloria Steinem’s on SignOn.org

New York Paid Sick Days campaign

Time to Care

Family Values @ Work – NY

A Better Balanace

 

Time to Care flickr photos used with permission.

Transgender Discrimination Barred Under ACA

In response to letters from LGBT health and advocacy groups, the Department of Health and Human Services announced in letter made public yesterday that, under the Affordable Care Act, discrimination based on gender identity will not be tolerated. Leon Rodriguez, director of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights, stated in a written response to the groups that federally-funded health care programs are barred from discriminating against transgender people. This inclusion does not, however, mean that trans-specific health care, such as transition-related procedures, will be included in coverage.

The National Center for Transgender Equality’s executive director Mara Keisling notes that one in five transgender people report being turned away from a health care provider.  “HHS affirms our position that these abuses are now clearly illegal,” said Keisling. She remarked that this position will hopefully be a tool to get to the next step of covering trans-specific health care.

Trans and health care advocates assert that it is important for trans people to know their rights regarding health care, and to contact HHS when they experience discrimination. The HHS Office of Civil Rights will soon release guidelines for how to respond to health care discrimination.  Trans activist Jos Truitt writes, “a law specifically targeting [trans] discrimination would be a valuable next step, and showing that the need exists could help make this a reality.”

 

Media Resources: Washington Blade 8/7/12; Feministing 8/6/12; BuzzFeed 8/6/12; National Center for Transgender Equality Press Release

Transgender Woman Attacked, Sentenced to Male Prison

A transgender woman was recently sentenced to a 41-month prison term in a men’s prison for acting in what many are calling self-defense in response to a hate crime. Cece McDonald, a young, black, transgender woman was arrested in Minnesota last June for stabbing and killing a white man who was part of a group that physically attacked her while yelling racial and homophobic slurs.

McDonald accepted a plea deal and pled guilty to second-degree manslaughter last month and will be incarcerated in the Minnesota state prison as a male. The court’s decision to do so has brought to light the physical and sexual violence that transgender people experience within the prison system.

Activists around the country have taken up the case for McDonald, starting a Support CeCe campaign to draw attention to the case as well as to the large amount of violence that transgender people experience, both on the streets and in the criminal justice system. According to Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender women are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted in U.S. prisons than are cisgender, or non-transgender, people.

On the night of her sentencing, outraged supporters filled the streets outside the Hennepin County Jail, where she was being held, in protest. Leslie Feinberg, transgender activist and author of Stone Butch Blues, was arrested that evening in solidarity. Marches have been held around the country in solidarity since McDonald’s arrest, and supporters say they will continue to demand justice for her and all trans people and people of color.

Media Resources: Advocate 6/11/12; ThinkProgress 6/11/12; MSNBC 6/10/12; StarTribune 6/5/12; Colorlines 6/4/12

North Carolina Legislature Votes to Defund Planned Parenthood

The Republican-controlled General Assembly of North Carolina voted to defund Planned Parenthood late Monday night. An estimated $200,000 will be stripped from the state’s two Planned Parenthood Affiliates after the General Assembly voted to override Governor Beverly Purdue’s veto of the annual budget.

The General Assembly unsuccessfully attempted to defund Planned Parenthood in 2011. The attempt was defeated after a judge ruled that the Assembly could not single out the organization because of its stance on abortion. The Assembly avoided singling out Planned Parenthood in Monday’s vote by mandating that the Department of Health and Human Services cannot contract with private providers of family planning services. Because Planned Parenthood is the only private provider the state contracts with, they will lose all of their state funding.

Zero state dollars currently fund abortion services in North Carolina so the loss of funding will specifically impact Planned Parenthood’s ability to provide low cost, essential, and life-saving medical services to women such as cancer screenings, pap smears, and birth control. Paige Johnson of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina said to the Huffington Post, “If we aren’t able to figure something out and replace this funding…we won’t be able to provide the walk-in care we currently provide.”

Five other states- Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kansas, Michigan, and Oklahoma- have bills pending that seek to defund or decrease the funds available to Planned Parenthood. This year, Arizona defunded Planned Parenthood and Maine has cut $400,000 in family planning funds. Six states in 2011 passed legislation that defunds Planned Parenthood. Of those states, District Courts in Indiana, Kansas, Texas, and Tennessee have declared the laws unconstitutional and blocked them from going into effect. Wisconsin’s legislation was not blocked.

Media Resources: Huffington Post 7/3/2012; Ms. Magazine Blog 7/3/2012; IB Times 7/3/2012; WTVD-TV Raleigh-Durham 7/4/2012; Feminist Daily Newswire 5/23/2012

Getting Past “Buy Green” on Earth Day

On Earth Day, it’s not uncommon to see “Go Green” posters and signs around town, but it feels like more and more we are seeing this slogan in stores, with “green” products or all kinds being sold everywhere you look.

Consumerism-masked-as-environmentalism seems to be at an all-time high, where the word green is no longer just a color, but an adjective, a thing, an action, a state of being.  It is fashion, it is household cleaning products, it is home design.  And it is largely being marketed to women.

This morning’s Early Show told viewers that the best part about Earth Day is green products, and featured the company Ecofabulous, where women can go online to shop for stereotypically gendered products, such as biodegradable dish soap, organic cotton underwear, or ridiculously expensive designer chandeliers made from discarded man-made debris.  You can even enter to win an Eco-mom Home Makeover! So why does it seem like women are doing all the work here in buying “eco” goods?  And is all of this eco-consumerism really going to save the planet?

We tend to gravitate toward the “conscious consumer” solution to environmental degradation because it’s easier. Do I really want to learn about resource exploitation or our destruction of ecosystems and the accompanying extinction of wildlife when I could just buy this cute, non-bleached organic cotton dress and call it a day?

Consumption of products to save the world is not relegated to the environmental realm.  Oprah and Bono sold us the RED IPod while breast cancer PINK has made it past the pink ribbons and onto our cereal boxes, coffee mugs, and dog collars.

Suddenly, we have it in our heads that we can buy our way out of problems that are much more complex and require much larger solutions than simply buying products of a certain color.  The larger societal focus on consumption tend to obscure the real issues affecting our planet and serves to make a profit for the corporations that see a niche for people with their hearts in the right place.  Maybe it has to do with a general overwhelming feeling of having so little time or power to make any real changes, when changing our buying habits is something easy, accessible, and within reach.

The problem isn’t the actual purchasing of these things, it’s the fact that it feels at times as if this is the only social justice activism that many of us take part in – ever. It’s that the problems (over-consumption, mass production of goods, corporate greed) have somehow become the solution.  Because the fact is, over-consumption really is a large part of the problem here.  Environmental problems are completely tied to our use of resources, which has increased fourfold in the last 50 years (our population has only doubled, yet our consumer practices have changed dramatically). The world’s richest 500 million people produce 50% of global carbon dioxide emissions compared to the 6% produced by the world’s poorest 3 billion.

It is absolutely imperative that we examine our consumer practices as well as hold corporations accountable for the disastrous effects of production on our environment. We must pressure our government to do so as well; the fines for violating water and air pollution laws are often so small that multi-national corporations are not discouraged to violate them. If we want to use our purchasing power, we should use it against these companies by refusing to buy their products and mounting boycotts against them.

Green consumerism isn’t going away, so it’s time we start to examine and engage in honest conversations about what we as a population can do to make a real difference in the problems affecting our planet today.

Image via nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Living Within Our Means: Obama Addresses Students at NOVA

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” President Barack Obama began in a speech addressed to students at Northern Virginia Community College on Tuesday. In a town hall format in the school’s gymnasium, the President spoke about what’s been on everyone’s minds: the current state of the economy and the resulting budget cuts.

Relating the budget cuts to the financial problems of college students, Obama asked how many students in the room were also on a tight budget, saying that, just like students, they are “looking for change under couch cushions” in order to cut spending without having to cut social programs that are important to us, like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. As these programs are being targeted by Republicans in office, Obama and other Democrats are fighting to maintain and strengthen them, while finding other ways to reduce the deficit. It was evident that those in the audience were worried about these very social programs, as well as what would be cut instead.

Although he did not attempt to address anything remotely related to Title X funding cuts or the slashing of abortion funding in the District of Columbia, he did contend that he wanted to hold the wealthy accountable and end the Bush-era tax cuts for the richest in our country when the two-year extension he placed on it last year came to an end. He also reasoned that we could find savings in the defense budget, that there was room to cut there as well, though did not articulate what specifically within the defense budget and how he would go about it.

“The question isn’t if we should cut; it’s how,” he said, noting that the things he refused to cut spending on are infrastructure, technology research, and education. He argued that education funding for things like Pell grants should go up rather than be cut, and that we should invest in education and the environment, but attempt to use that money more efficiently. “We must live within our means, while investing in the future,” he said. The applause for comments regarding education and clean energy spanned the room, generating a lot of positive energy in the crowded gym.

He kept coming back to the budget being a “shared responsibility,” a challenge that we all have to work toward tackling together. “I need your help,” he said. “Hold us accountable. They want to reduce the deficit on your backs, unless you make your voices heard.” As we have been, we plan to do so in the immediate future and beyond that. Students have been speaking out about the programs that they want protected. The question is not whether we will voice our opinions, but rather, whether they will listen.

Equal Pay Day: Promoting the Rights of ALL Workers

Congratulations women, as of today you have earned as much money as your male counterparts did in the year 2010: it only took you 16 months!  Equal Pay Day takes place on April 12th each year as a way to symbolize the amount of time women must work into the following year to earn the same amount that men earned last year alone.

The issue of fair pay feels like something we should read about in history books. How can women continue to make 77 cents for every dollar that men make?

And yet, in celebration of today, the blogosphere is filled with writers arguing that the gender wage gap is a lie. Some argue that it is the women’s choice to engage in jobs that notoriously pay less, that the measurements are skewed, or that women are actually making more than men in this economic recession. I even happened upon this little gem about why there should be an Equal Pay Day for young, single men (incidentally written by a woman).

But these are all arguments to skirt the issue, to blame women for their position, or to diminish the need for action.  These are the facts: at this point, there is not equal pay for equal work. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, women were earning on average 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts were earning.  The National Women’s Law Center calculates this gap to translate into $10,622 less per year in female median earnings.  Because of the economic recession, women have become a larger segment of the workforce, and more and more families rely solely on women’s incomes for survival. The wage gap is damaging as it also further intensifies the feminization of poverty, a term that illustrates the rise in the number of women and female-headed households that live below the poverty line (the poverty rate for female-headed household being almost three times that of male-headed households).

On this day focused on gender inequality, it is important that we also examine how race factors into equal pay, and that we ask the question: which men do we as women want to be equal with?  In 2006, the National Committee on Pay Equity found that while the median annual earnings for white women were 73% of what white men made, black men made 72% and Latino men earned only 57% of what white men were earning.  For women of color, the numbers were even worse: the median annual earnings for black women were 63% and for Latina women only 51% of white men’s salaries for comparable work.

There is also a direct correlation between age and the gender pay gap; the older the worker, the wider the wage gap between men and women.  While women under 25 on average make 85% of what men their age make, women over 50 earn just 73% of what older men earn in wages.

Our culture must also revalue the types of work typically occupied by women (which also tend to be the most underpaid), such as teaching, nursing, and child care. The promotion of these fields would help to ensure that women receive the compensation they deserve and would begin to close the wage gap.

We need to reach a point where all work is valued and workers are paid fair wages no matter one’s gender, race, age, or any other arbitrary factor.  Let’s make the future one where we will be able to celebrate Equal Pay Day on the day that it should be: December 31st.

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