Friday, August 31, 2012

09-01-12 Newsletter - Women's issue

Sept. 1, 2012, Issue #183




By the Activist Newsletter

About 300 people attended a Women's Equality Day rally in the village of New Paltz, N.Y., Aug. 26, then marched with signs through the business district chanting such slogans as "When Women's rights are under attack, what do we do?  — Stand up, fight back!" The reception from bystanders was positive.

The demonstrators were registering opposition to the right wing war on women's rights that has been escalating in recent years, reaching the point where Rep. Paul Ryan — the GOP vice presidential candidate — is leading a conservative campaign to criminalize abortion in all circumstances including rape and incest.

About three quarters of the participants were women of all ages including State University of New York students who had just returned to campus. One freshman — Molly Madden, 19, from Buffalo — told a local newspaper that she "enjoyed the speakers, the rally and the message. I've never been to anything like this." All three regional daily  newspapers covered the event with stories and photos.

The rally coincided with similar events in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago on Aug. 26, the day before the Republican Convention, initiated by the new activist feminist group Women Organized to Resist and Defend (WORD),

The main demands of the rallies were were: • Full reproductive rights now: Access to birth control, safe, legal abortion on demand, and an end to abstinence-only sex education in our schools. • Women's rights in the workplace: Pay equity, family leave, and an end to sexual harassment at work. • Stop the budget cuts: Cutting federal and state social services and eliminating public sector jobs disproportionately punish poor women, working women and women of color. • Full equality and respect now: Fight racism, sexism and anti-LGBT bigotry. End violence against women.

Sixteen local organizations endorsed the New Paltz fight-back rally, which was organized by the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter, including: American Association of University Women (Kingston), Arts for Peace, Dutchess Greens, Dutchess Peace, End New Jim Crow Action Network, Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center, Middle East Crisis Response, NAACP (Ellenville), Occupy New Paltz, Orange Democratic Alliance, Orange Peace & Justice, Peace & Social Progress Now, Real Majority Project, Ulster Democratic Women, Ulster MoveOn Council, Women in Black (New Paltz).

Seven speakers, all activist women from the Hudson Valley, addressed the sunny Sunday rally at Peace Park, adjacent to Village Hall. Event chair Donna Goodman, a delegate to the statewide SUNY union United University Professions and a vice president of the AFL-CIO's Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation, spoke first.

"Right now, as the political right wing and fundamentalist religious elements are determined to wipe out some of our gains, we must revive the organized struggle for women's rights!... We cannot rely on the two-party system to do the job for us.... We need to build an independent, progressive, activist women's movement in America to protect our existing rights and to extend those rights."

The next speaker was Beth Soto, executive director of the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation, which represents 113,000 union families across seven counties. She declared that "We stand here to say that no one is going to take away the basic right of women to control our own bodies. We believe in equality. We support working women. We are tired of the right wing trying to turn back the clock and take our hard-won rights away. Women's rights are human rights."

Next was JoAnne Myers, Marist College professor, co-director of women's studies, and vice president of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Center. Noting that Congress designated Aug. 26 Women's Equality Day in 1971, She asked the audience: "Are we equal yet?" (Crowd, "No"). "And it's 41 years later! How about that Equal Pay Act of 1963?  Do women have the same earning power as men? (Crowd, "No"). "Almost 50 years later! Yes, some of us have gone from earning 59 cents to 77 cents on the male dollar… but at this rate it’ll be another 50 years until we have parity!"

Barbara Upton, founder of New Paltz Women in Black, spoke on women and war:  "In WW I, 5% of the casualties were civilians, in WWII the number of civilian casualties was 55% and today that number is 90%. Women and children are killed, maimed, raped, sickened, displaced, widowed and orphaned by war. Eighty percent of the millions displaced by war and conflict are women and children. Rape is used as a weapon of war. In Rwanda a half million women were raped . In Bosnia and Herzegovina 50,000 women from all the ethnic groups were raped and a half million were victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo."

Other speakers included recent SUNY graduate Elizabeth Gross, founder of New Paltz Feminist Collective; Monica Miranda, president of the Hispanic Coalition of  New York; and Ariana Basco, a New Paltz Village Board Trustee and co-chair of the Environmental Task Force. Music was provided by progressive women singers known as The Mahina Movement.

(The texts of talks by Goodman, Soto, Myers and Upton are printed below. We were unable to obtain texts from the other speakers.)

The spirited march lasted about an hour, including a brief mini-rally at a shopping center, ending up back at Peace Park for more music.  Marchers carried such signs as "Stop the Right Wing War on Women," and "End Widespread Male Violence Against Women."

According to
 Goodman, who is also an editor of the Activist Newsletter, "At  best we expected 200 people to attend and were overjoyed when 300 showed up. Clearly, women are angry and are ready to fight back. The far right/religious right is going to keep agitating for their backward goals. It's essential that the activist momentum evident in several cities and towns on Aug. 26 continue into the future. We ourselves are planning a major meeting in the Mid-Hudson region  on International Women's Day in March.

For information or to receive notice of the next women's action, contact  or

Aug. 26 speech by  Donna Goodman

Women have made good progress in America in the last 200 years. We gained the right to vote 92 years ago today when the 19th Amendment took effect. This is why Aug. 26 is officially designated "Women's Equality Day."

We have subsequently gained may other rights, largely beginning in World War II when we were grudgingly permitted to function in jobs previously reserved for men. Most of those jobs were taken from women when the war ended — but we proved our abilities and destroyed the myth that we couldn't do what was defined as "man's work."

In subsequent decades, particularly in the 1960s and '70s, there were many breakthroughs for women in terms of equality, employment, social programs, contraception, abortion, and so on.

There are several key lessons to learn from our  progress over the years.

First, and most important: Every victory was the product of an intense, organized, independent struggle waged by women and whatever male allies were willing to join with them.  This is true whether victory derived from a constitutional amendment or a court decision or legislative action.

There never has been a victory without a struggle! Indeed, it took virtually 100 years of continual struggle and sacrifice for women to gain the national right to vote in our ostensibly democratic society. The fact that there usually isn't a candidate to vote for who will wholeheartedly back our agenda is another matter, of course, which is better consigned to a different kind of meeting.

Second: We may have come a long way — economically, socially, politically — but we still have  a long way to go for full equality.

And our sisters from oppressed communities — African Americans, Latinas, Native Americans — have the hardest road to travel.  We must not rest until all of us get to the finish line!

Third: The forces of reaction — the political right wing in combination with fundamentalist religious elements — are determined to wipe out some of our gains. They want to outlaw abortion under any and all circumstances. They want to  limit the availability of contraception. They want to get rid of social programs that benefit poor women and their children. They want to erode other of our advances.

In effect they want to push us back— and they don't give up! Obviously, we must never give up.

This brings us to point four: If struggle got us victories, if we still have a long way to go, if the opponents of social progress are trying to push us back — it seems entirely logical for us to revive the organized struggle for women's rights!

We cannot rely on simply living in a democracy to do the job for us. Nor can we rely on the two-party system as constituted to do the job for us.  We ourselves must do the job through our own struggle — as we have done before — at which point democracy and the political system are forced to take notice, and make changes.

History shows that all substantial change first starts with people in motion, making demands upon the prevailing system.

Several major national women's organizations already exist — from groups like NOW and NARAL to service oriented organizations like Planned Parenthood. We support these groups, but they cannot do the job alone. We need a revival of an independent, progressive, activist women's movement in America to protect our existing rights and to extend those rights.

Hopefully, the pro-woman demonstrations taking place today in several American cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago — and in our small town of New Paltz— will make a contribution to reviving such a movement....

Aug. 26 speech By Beth Soto
(Executive Director of Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation)

Good afternoon, women and supporters of women's rights. Thank you to all the hard working people who have put this fantastic event together, especially Donna Goodman from United University Professions. Thank you for all standing up and saying "we won't go back." We are strong and no one but us is going to decide things about our rights and our bodies.

My name is Beth Soto. I am the executive director of the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation. We represent 113,000 union members — more than half of them women in the Hudson valley. I am also a mother of two girls 21 and 18. Every day I make sure they are aware of our rights being attacked and make sure they speak up. I wish they could be standing next to me today but they are at college and here in spirit.

We are here to let women know that they are not alone in this fight for women's rights both in the workplace and for equal wages, healthcare and what the government thinks it can mandate.

Is there anyone here that finds it odd that male politicians actually think that they get to decide about women's reproductive rights? They decided back in the earlier years that women could not vote. Did we change that? You bet we did!

Today marks 92 years since we were given the right to vote yet we are still fighting for equality in our wages, fair coverage in our healthcare for family planning and access to reproductive choice, and today we are sending a message that our foremothers did not fight in vain.

We stand here to say that no one is going to take away the basic right of women to control our own bodies. We believe in equality. We support working women. We are tired of the right wing trying to turn back the clock and take our hard-won rights away. Women's rights are human rights.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor statistics, women who work full time earn about 77 cents for every dollar men earn. Because of the wage gap, since 1960, the real median earnings of women have fallen short by more than half a million dollars compared to men.

Minority women face a larger wage gap. Compared to white men, African American women make 70 cents on the dollar (African American men make 74 cents); Hispanic or Latina women make about 60 cents (Hispanic men make almost 66 cents).

The gender wage gap is smaller for union women than their nonunion sisters. The union advantage is clear for workers of color as well.

Unfortunately one of my colleagues, Janice Williams Myers, from 1199 SEIU, could not make this march (she was a scheduled speaker) due to a serious accident. However she asked me to convey the following: "As an African American woman I have seen the injustice and I want you to know that a woman's place is in the struggle and sisters under attack must stand in solidarity and must fight back."

I am not sure what is in the water in Missouri that Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin is drinking with his sick remark about "legitimate rape" but I am here to repeat what President Obama said "Rape is rape," and "no means no."

Aug. 26 speech by JoAnne Myers

Thank You Donna, Jack  and WORD for organizing today. Today is special.  Ninetytwo years ago women won the right to vote.  In 1971 Congresswoman Bella Abzug got Congress to designate today as Women’s Equality Day.

Now I ask you: Are we equal yet?" (Crowd, "No"). And it's 41 years later! How about that Equal Pay Act of 1963?  Do women have the same earning power as men? (Crowd, "No"). "Almost 50 years later! Yes, some of us have gone from earning 59 cents to 77 cents on the male dollar… but at this rate it’ll be another 50 years until we have parity!"

....Here we are 40 years after the 2nd wave, 20 years after the 3rd wave still searching for a women’s movement. If I was Rip van Winkle and woke up today, I’d think it was 1972 all over again, with women’s right to full reproductive healthcare at stake and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act held up by congressional conservatives because of some strengthening additions to the bill.

At issue now is how do we build a transformative women’s movement — a movement of change, not assimilation — to achieve real political, economic, social equality.

Some social movements just want assimilation; to be just like those in power, to be part of the status quo. For example, the same sex marriage movement, it does not extend the 500 state, or 1,000 federal rights to all, but only to those who marry.  The change is for one group only.What about other families?  Where is the respect and recognition for caregivers?  The grandparents who are raising grandchildren, the aunts raising nieces and nephews?

....Transformative movements do not change things for only one group. Women are not members of only one group, we are not a monolith.  We are multidimensional and cultural. Our identities are complex. We belong to many groups based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.

So how do we become transformational? Be clear about what we ask for, do not be reactive. For instance, the pro-life movement trades on the morality and vision of dead babies. They are only concerned with the fetus, not the baby. If they were there’d be adequate pre-natal care. As it is, America's maternal mortality rate ranks at number 46 in the world. The infant mortality rate is a bit better: number 26. This in a country that outspends all others in healthcare.

So we need to reframe the issue. What about dead women?  Where is the pre-natal health care? And after the baby is born — the proper nutrition, healthcare, child care, and education to grow that baby into a healthy productive adult?

We need to reclaim language. "Domestic abuse" individualizes violence against women, keeps it private: Domestic means home, and protects the abuser.  So we need to talk about battering — physical and emotional, to punish the abusers not the victims who give up everything to escape.

We need to grow feminist males! (And I see some here!).  Many males grew up in single mother headed households, so they realize the need for economic justice.

We must claim our power. We are 52% of the population, yet white men who are in the minority still hold the political power to codify laws on our bodies.

Be inclusive.  Ally with other social justice movements, make connections.  All issues are women’s issues:  homelessness and affordable housing, education, defense, AIDS, immigration, reforming drug laws, agriculture. In short Take our Power and use it for the good of all!!

Aug. 26 speech by Barbara Upton

Welcome! How wonderful it is to see so many women and girls of all ages coming together to defend women's rights and it is great to see so many of our brothers here too standing with us in solidarity.

Let me begin by saying, men are not the problem. A patriarchal system that oppresses women is the problem! Patriarchy is the social power structure and ideology that provides justification for the institutionalized discrimination against women. It is supported by and thrives on war and violence.

Patriarchy cannot exist without militarism, which promotes a culture of fear. It is based on power over others and the belief that organized use of physical violence is the main way to resolve conflict. Patriarchy and militarism are inextricably linked. And there is something else that is mutually interdependent: women's equality and our ability to create a culture of peace.

The first step is to recognize and educate ourselves and others about the true cost of war.

Do you know that war is currently being depicted as a game show on NBC? This is the way militarism does it. Only 1% actually does the fighting, and for the rest of us war is glorified and even made into entertainment. The military sanitizes the horrors of war through language. Civilian deaths are called "collateral damage" and missiles are "peacemakers." Rarely do we see the real ravages of war.

The fact is, war destroys people, the earth and the very fabric of life, and no one suffers more in war than women and children.

Our conception of war is that of soldiers fighting on a battlefield, but modern warfare has changed. A UN Peacekeeping General recently said, "It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in conflict."

In World War I, 5% of the casualties were civilians, in WWII the number of civilian casualties was 55% and today that number is 90%. Women and children are killed, maimed, raped, sickened, displaced, widowed and orphaned by war. Eighty percent of the millions displaced by war and conflict are women and children. Rape is used as a weapon of war. In Rwanda a half million women were raped . In Bosnia and Herzegovina 50,000 women from all the ethnic groups were raped and a half million were victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is also important to remember that war does not end when the bombs stop falling. Agent Orange in Vietnam, resulted in hundreds of thousands of babies being born with severe birth defects. In addition, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers were sickened and disabled and the effects are still being seen in second and third generations. Depleted uranium munitions in Iraq and Afghanistan have left a radioactive legacy that has resulted in a spike in cancer rates and childhood leukemia. Landmines in over 80 countries kill and maim women and children daily since they are the ones tasked with gathering food, water and wood.

As if all this horrific violence were not enough, there is also the structural violence created by a permanent war economy. Sixty percent of our discretionary budget goes to death and destruction. This strips money from health care, education, job creation and vital social programs, and because women and children are overrepresented among poor people, again women and children are hurt the most.

Lastly, when violence is seen as the acceptable way to resolve conflict in the international sphere, it affects all aspects of society. It even extends to women in the military. One VA study done after Desert Storm showed that one in three women serving were raped. It is said that women in the military fight on two fronts; on the battlefield and in the barracks. The effects of a militarized society are also seen in community violence with our 30,000 gun deaths every year and in domestic violence which increases during war. VA research shows that veterans with PTSD are two to three times more likely to batter partners and children than veterans without PTSD. Battery is now the number one cause of injury to women in the U.S.

Our path is clear. We have to end war before war ends us, as John F. Kennedy said. We have to make war as unacceptable in the 21st century as slavery was in the 20th century. We have to build a culture of peace from the ground up and inside out. That means we do have to be the peace that we wish to see in the world. We can begin by replacing blame and dwelling on all that is wrong with a focus on creative solutions, stop fueling polarization by listening more deeply, and transform despair with inspired visions and empowered action. Together we can build a culture of peace founded on respect for the dignity and inherent worth of every woman, man and child. Peace is our only true security and I believe it is our collective destiny.

Barbara Upton is a dedicated opponent of war. She founded Women in Black in New Paltz —  a group that without fail has conducted a peace vigil in front of the village's Elting library every Saturday at 12:30 p.m. for almost 11 years. And she says: "We are just beginning! We hope you will join us." (Contact Barbara, or New Paltz Women in Black at


By Women Organized to Resist and Defend  (WORD)

Women’s rights are under severe attack. Access to healthcare - including contraception and abortion - childcare, housing, welfare and other benefits are being slashed across the country. We are tired of politicians playing political football with our lives. It’s time we take action. It’s time we organize and fight back.

It has been 39 years since the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision that declared access to abortion to be a fundamental right. It was a victory for the women’s movement that gave women the most fundamental of rights – control over our own bodies. Since that time, abortion rights have been under attack.

The Republican candidates in this year’s repulsive primary campaign have been competing to see who can spout the most anti-woman rhetoric, even opposing exemptions to abortion restrictions in the case of rape or incest – all the while championing economic policies that slash social programs that poor and working mothers rely on. They have attacked Title X funding, which provides services like cancer screenings and birth control.

Many women voted for President Obama believing he would stand up for women’s rights. But he has compromised with the anti-choice forces on many occasions. When Republicans opposed a 2009 provision for family planning, he dropped it. In 2011, the White House took the unprecedented step of overruling the FDA in order to keep Plan B out of the reach of women under 18. While President Obama is not a right-wing pro-lifer, we cannot count on him or any politician to defend our rights. In fact, in order to reach a budget compromise with Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner in July 2011, President Obama said, "I'll give you abortion in D.C." Meaning, low-income women in the District of Columbia would be prevented from receiving Medicaid assistance offered by the D.C. government for abortion procedures.

Women’s reproductive rights continue to be slashed at the state level. Legal restrictions on abortions tripled from 2010 to 2011. 92 new abortion restrictions were enacted in 2011. In 2011, there were 114 reported violent attacks against abortion providers. Clinics that provide vital services for millions of working-class women are under siege. More than 55 percent of reproductive age women now live in states that are “hostile” to abortion rights. (Guttenmacher Institute)

How did this happen? What has happened between 1973, when abortion rights were upheld, and today, when they’re being taken from us?

Abortion rights were won as part of a larger struggle for the equality of women. The women’s movement of that era was strong, and largely independent of the politicians and the major political parties. Women marched in the streets, protested and sat-in, speaking with their own voices and making their demands heard. Only determined action won many of the rights that we take for granted today.

We need to build a powerful new movement to defeat the right-wing attacks. We need to show the legislators, the politicians and the pundits that we will not let them take away our freedom and send us back to the dark days of back-alley abortions and social inequality.

We will defend the gains of the women’s movement and we will push for greater justice for all women. We will fight for social programs that poor women and families depend on, we will fight for economic equality, and for an end to sexist discrimination.

Women and men of all ages, nationalities and sexual orientations are invited to join in this campaign.

—For more information, to sign a petition or to get on WORD's mailing list, go to