Sunday, November 2, 2008

Charlotte Taft Speaks: If You're A Feminist, You'll Vote Obama

A young supporter at a rally with Michelle Obama in Las Vegas, New Mexico on October 29, 2008 (A young supporter at a rally with Michelle Obama in Las Vegas, New Mexico on October 29, 2008. Photo by Adrienne Booth.)

Charlotte Taft is what I think of as a Feminist's Feminist. She is particularly well-known and respected in Texas because she founded the Routh Street Women's Clinic, the first feminist reproductive rights clinic in our state. Routh Street became known, under her leadership, as a place where the whole woman was treated, where abortion was approached as the complicated and life-altering decision that it is without judgment or denial. With her efficient pragmatism and creative humor, she managed to dissuade Operation Rescue and other hate groups from keeping Routh Street Clinic as its number one target. Her kind of feminism is MY kind of feminism -- never single issue, never stepping away from identity but not living entirely in its tent either, a feminism which is an ethos and a world view, not just a stand on a few issues.

(For more information about Charlotte Taft and Routh Street Clinic, I recommend the fascinating article about her in the 1995 Dallas Observor.)

When Charlotte's letter, below, was forwarded on to me, I immediately knew I wanted to post it for international distribution. It's brilliant and open-minded and compassionate in that bold way I associate with women leaders. What I hope from sharing this to expand upon Charlotte's intent to begin a discussion, long overdue in this country, about the real meaning of feminism and why we can't go forward without it at our core. We've allowed others to kick dirt on it for too long, and now, with the likes of Sarah Palin claiming to be some version of "feminist", enough is enough. Just as we are taking back liberal, I'm leading the charge to take back feminist. It means what WE say it means.

And if you are a feminist, you will be voting for Obama. With pride. -- Maggie Jochild

An Open Letter to my fellow Hillary supporters who are considering casting their precious votes for McCain/Palin.

When I first heard that there were former Hillary supporters --- women --- who were going to vote for McCain I thought it was a vicious and cruel hoax. Now I realize that it is true. I think we must be coming from very different points of view. I can’t imagine what underlying beliefs and values are most important to you that his candidacy appeals to.

I’ve read some of the web sites that express anger and resentment at Hillary’s loss, and the sexism that was to blame. I was very disappointed, too. I agree that there was sexism, but when it comes down to it she didn’t win enough primaries. It doesn’t make sense to me to blame Obama, who represents and shares so many of the beliefs that Hillary stands for. It is traditional and convenient to pit women and minorities against each other. But we have more in common than not. And I wonder who benefits when we who have had so little power are scrambling to blame each other. I am hoping that your consideration of McCain doesn’t come from something as sad as racism. Every one of us has grown up in a society in which race is an issue--some of us more than others. I’ve been fortunate to have less to ‘undo’ than some people. But I hope you will see that not voting for someone because of race is exactly the same as not voting for someone because she is a woman. As a adult you either continue that kind of thinking, or you challenge it in yourself and others. That’s up to you.

I think you already know what you want to do, and you are looking for arguments that seem to make it acceptable. Though you have every right to use your vote in whatever way you want, I feel angry that you may vote for McCain not so much because of how this will affect my life, but because of what I believe is at stake for the future of women, the country, and the planet. I’m writing this letter for myself. You can read it or delete it. I fear that nothing I have to say will make any difference to you.

I’m going to write about what’s important to me, and why I think this election is so crucial. But before that there are a few points I want to make. Some of the women writing as feminists say that the Republicans respect women enough to take them seriously. I must disagree!

1. This is the Party that killed and buried the Equal Rights Amendment -- the total text of which was “Equality of Rights Under the law Shall not be Denied or Abridged by the United States or by any State on Account of Sex.” Over the past 30+ years they have killed thousands of bills and initiatives for child care, family leave, increased funding or education, alternative energy, funding for poor women to have the choice of abortion, funding for birth control and requirements that it be covered by regular insurance plans, comprehensive sex education programs, international family planning assistance, peace through diplomacy, early childhood education, school lunch programs, after school programs, wildlife and wilderness preservation, comprehensive health care, violence against women programs, and so many other things that I care deeply about. I have never felt respected or taken seriously by the Republican party. Their choice of a female whose views are antithetical to all I hold dear does not make me feel any more respected.

2. Some of the writers are intimating that Geraldine Ferraro and Bill and Hillary Clinton are going to vote for McCain. Of course I can’t read their minds, but I think it is the height of arrogance and solipsism for anyone say that just because they are going to vote for McCain, they also just know that these other great Americans are going to violate and abandon everything they campaigned for and stood for and believed in to support a ticket that epitomizes the polar opposite. I don’t know what is attracting you to McCain. I doubt it is something I can understand. But at least just be honest and say you have changed your mind about what you value. You have every right to your beliefs, but don’t cloak them in the pretense that this is some kind of righteous feminist anger. If you actually knew what Hillary Clinton stands for and supported, the issues and principals that she has worked so hard for, it would be a cavalier betrayal to throw your vote to the farthest Right Wing ticket we have seen in this nation since Barry Goldwater (who was, by the way, pro-choice!) I happened to serve on the National Democratic Platform Committee in 1984 which was chaired by Geraldine Ferraro the same year she was nominated as VP. I didn’t have any problems recalling her candidacy -- I’ve heard women say, “We can’t let the Republicans be the first.” The Democrats demonstrated that they trusted women 24 years ago. Do you even know that both the Green Party’s candidate for President and for Vice President are women? Cynthia McKinney and Rose Clemente. If what’s important to you is to support women, wouldn’t you at least cast your votes for them who support much more of the issues that Hillary supports?

3. I can’t let you think that we will not lose Roe v, Wade if McCain is elected, no matter what you hear. Better to acknowledge that you don’t care that much about it, or you don’t need an abortion, or birth control, or sex education, than to pretend to yourself that this will not happen. Currently 7 out of 9 Justices are Republican appointees. Three who have supported Roe v. Wade are older than Senator McCain and have been holding on so that the Court is not run by fundamentalists. Far Right anti-choice Justices like Scalia (who McCain has specifically cited as the type he would appoint) claim to be ruling based on Constitutional principles. But they never mention that abortion was legal when the constitution was ratified, and didn’t become illegal until the 1830’s. Many people don’t even realize that the court has already made significant inroads into legal abortion and access. The anti-choice Justices have been very clear in their opinions that they think Roe should be overturned -- as have Senator McCain and Governor Palin. McCain even says on his web site that he supports a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting abortion! When there is a vacancy on the court the President will be given a list that has long ago been made up. McCain has shown that the support of the far Right is so important to him that he gave up any shred of moderation in his choice of VP. He will have nothing to do but to appoint the ones who have been chosen for him. He won’t have a choice, even if he wanted one, just like the women of this nation. But I realize that is not your problem.

So what do I care about?

. The divide between rich and poor in this country is nearly as great as it was during the Great Depression. McCain’s approach to economics appears to me to be identical to Bush’s--to make sure the rich get richer and hope the money trickles down. It doesn’t work. The stability of our country is totally thrown off when we really don’t have a middle class. McCain has already said that he thinks middle class is anyone who makes less than $5 million! He doesn’t even know how many houses he has--so I think you can say he is out of touch with the experience of actual people. The government has gotten us into this mess, and Obama knows that the government has to take a strong role in getting us out of it.

. Choice--already discussed above. Just a tidbit-- our nation has cut off international family planning aid during the two Bush administrations. That doesn’t just make us fools, it means that nations that used to look for us to expand education and the rights of women now need to look elsewhere. Our teenagers deserve to have education about sexuality that provides them with information and assists them in making good, safe choices for their lives. Women of all economics have the right to reproductive justice. Obama will appoint Justices who truly respect women.

. We must have an administration that sees war as a last resort, not as an interesting sport or business venture. Palin thinks God sends us to war. Isn’t it a coincidence that the people we are attacking believe the same thing.

. The planet cannot afford another administration that fights and doubts and ignores the contributions of human pollution to the degradation of the climate. Thirty years ago President Carter sat at his desk in a cardigan sweater and told us that we were in a crisis and we needed to immediately invest in alternative energy technologies and stop our dependency on foreign oil. When Reagan was elected, he didn’t just ignore that, he actually used taxpayers money to have solar panels removed from the White House property. It is not an accident or coincidence that what was already a crisis now has us close to the point at which none of our efforts can be enough. This will take a bold vision and the total commitment of the nation. If you are in doubt, just look at the weather history. The number of hurricanes and tornadoes and tsunami is increasing every year. We don’t know how to protect ourselves from these natural disasters, because there is no protection save to embark on a bold move to curtail our CO2 emissions and begin to heal the planet. The planet needs our leadership. In nominating Palin as VP, the Republicans are telling us that it’s OK with them to have a potential President who lives in denial of the basic scientific facts. We literally cannot afford it.

. During this election season, many Hillary supporters saw sexism everywhere -- and they are right -- it was there. What I have learned is that Obama supporters saw racism everywhere. They were right, too. Our society has long pitted one group against another. And who do you suppose benefits? Looks to me as though the John McCain and George Bushs of the world do. I have great hope that the Obama Presidency will be a very important step in healing our nation’s old birth defect of racism -- as I believe Hillary’s campaign was an important step in healing sexism which has also been around since the beginning. I’m happy for Sarah Palin to be treated fairly, but it is more than a little ironic to me that the Republicans are all of a sudden the ones charging others with sexism. For me, Sarah Palin is to the Women’s Movement as Clarence Thomas is to the Civil Rights Movement -- a recipient of the benefits who carries none of the heart of the vision. Yes, feminism is about women getting to do what they want, but for me that is not nearly enough. For me feminism is also about enlarging our compassion for all people; about expanding both accountability and choice; about caring for the earth as if she were our mother; about becoming evolved enough to find peaceful ways to solve our differences; it is not just about having a bigger piece of the pie, but about baking a bigger pie so that all can experience their own importance and power; it is about valuing life so powerfully that we only bring a child into the world when we know that child can be loved and cared for, and that each woman is trusted with that sacred decision; it is about truly honoring ourselves and each other. For me feminism and fundamentalism are across the Grand Canyon from each other. That’s how far I am from McCain ad Palin. For me Obama’s campaign represents a feminist approach to the country that is more about values than it is about genitals.

. As a lesbian, I care a great deal about how those outside the accepted mainstream of society as far as their sexuality are treated, both legally and with regard to policy and attitude. I am so fortunate to have grown up after the years when gays and lesbians were institutionalized by their families; were denied employment on the grounds that we were abnormal, or else were security risks because we could be blackmailed; were marginalized and openly hated. I came of age during years when so many people courageously ‘came out’ to an often ambivalent public. I was a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit in Texas designed to challenge the antiquated ‘sodomy law’ that was used to discriminate against gays and lesbians in many of the same ways that Jim Crow laws had been used to legitimatize discrimination against Blacks. My lawsuit isn’t the one that changed the world for us--that came many years later. Our society itself has begun to come out of the closet because virtually everyone now realizes that they know or are even related to someone who is gay or lesbian or transgendered. That makes it harder for the hate to be legitimate, but we still have a long way to go.

For much of our nation’s history, racism made interracial marriage illegal in may states. In 1958, polls showed that 94% of whites were against allowing interracial marriage. It was not until 1967 that the Supreme Court declared that laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional. Who really knows why no one thought of suggesting ‘domestic partnerships’ or ‘civil unions’ for interracial couples. I have been disappointed that all the major party Presidential candidates, including Hillary, were on the ‘play it safe’ bandwagon of supporting civil unions or some kind of contract, but not gay marriage. Yet that tells me that, Massachusetts and California notwithstanding, they all saw the marriage thing as political suicide. In terms of Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin, it is only Sarah Palin who is really opposed to even the most basic fairness in benefits, etc. You were very adamant that she allowed benefits for gay government workers. But you didn’t tell the whole story. When the Alaska Legislature passed a bill prohibiting same-sex benefits, Palin’s legal department told her she had to veto it because it would have violated a court order requiring such benefits. But note the second paragraph clearly demonstrating Palin’s disagreement with the order that benefits be provided!

"The Department of Law advised me that this bill... is unconstitutional given the recent court order... mandating same-sex benefits," Palin said in a statement. "With that in mind, signing this bill would be in direct violation of my oath of office."

The statement added, "The governor's veto does not signal any change or modification to her disagreement with the action and order by the Alaska Supreme Court. It is the governor's intention to work with the Legislature and to give the people of Alaska an opportunity to express their wishes and intentions whether these benefits should continue."

So none of the candidates supports gay marriage, but there is a significant difference in attitude between the Obama team and the McCain team. The Democrats stand for an expansion of rights and civility, where the Republicans have over and over sponsored attempts to create Constitutional Amendments prohibiting gay marriage, and it is Republicans who have supported and in some cases passed, laws prohibiting gays from adopting children. This is truly astonishing given that our current Republican VP has a lesbian daughter who has said that she considers her partner to be her spouse. The two had a baby together, and they wanted to be free to make their own choices, and to have others see theirs as a private family matter. Just as with Palin’s teen aged daughter’s pregnancy the Republicans view their families issues as private, while at the same time supporting laws that restrict others’ freedoms. They want to live their lives as they see fit. Gee, that’s all the rest of us ever wanted.

. Americans are one of the few civilized societies in which working people often cannot afford their health care. What difference does it make to be technically advanced if people go bankrupt when they have a catastrophic illness--or if they choose an abortion because they can’t afford another child when they have one with a chronic illness--or when they have to pick between getting their medication and eating? Hillary tried so hard to tackle this one all those years ago. What Party do you think stood in the way? Who protected big insurance companies and scared Americans into fearing ‘socialized medicine?’

. If you were to get a job with General Motors today, you would be making less than someone who started in the same job forty years ago. Actual earning power has declined. Foreclosures haven’t even begun to taper off, gas is off the charts, huge white collar corporations have gotten away with hiding millions of dollars for their corporate executives and squandering the pensions for working people. I waited for the Republicans to apologize to the American people for the last eight years. As far as I know they didn’t.

. In the past 30+ years there have been many programs to lessen the incidence of rape and domestic violence in this country. Yet most of our attention has been on trying to help victims and get them to safety. It is time to focus time, energy, and resources on prevention. Among all the Senators Joe Biden has been one of the most active and vocal on these very painful issues that affect thousands of families every year.

These are the things I can think of. I’m sure there are more but it is late. ---Charlotte

Charlotte Taft is currently co-director of IMAGINE! retreats and workshops in Glorieta, New Mexico. Further information about the issues mentioned in this letter can be found by reading the 2008 Democratic Party Platform and Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog.

For those of you with Clinton Derangement Syndrome, this post is not a chance for you to go off about Hillary. Or to engage in sexist comments about ANY woman, Sarah Palin included. Let's talk with respect and hope, as our candidate models for us.

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