Labor Advocate Online

Three Hopeful Glimmers On A Dark Horizon
by Bill Onasch

Part One—March For Women's Lives

There is no doubt that the Internet has given us unprecedented information, and cultural access, on a truly global scale. We no longer have to rely on our rigidly self-censored home town newspaper, or the pitiful excuse for news and analysis provided by the talking heads of network television. Today a worker with an average income and a high school education can find sources of news and opinions, from all points of view, from every part of our planet.

Nevertheless there is no substitute for getting away from the computer and television screens occasionally, taking a look at our society first hand, and engaging in face-to-face interaction with other human beings.

I was glad to be able to load up my trusty five year-old Ford Contour to hit the road recently. I avoided the indifferent and stingy incompetence of the airline industry, as well as the cynical stupidity of "Homeland Security," that too many travelers seem to accept without complaint. I’m afraid I can’t easily adapt to such discomfort and indignity with good grace. Since I don’t want to make my first visit to Cuba on the wrong side of the fence at Gitmo I now do almost all of my travel east of the Continental Divide by car.

Actually, if you’ve got the time, as I now do, this is the most rewarding mode of travel. Not only do you often view beautiful scenery; by striking up conversations, and overhearing others, at filling stations, restaurants, and motels, you can collect a lot of anecdotal evidence about the mood of the working class.

While most prefer to talk about other topics it’s not hard to discover a gloomy political/social/economic outlook. People are concerned about the war. They feel insecure about their jobs; nervous about available, affordable health care; worried about their retirement prospects. Nor do they have much expectation that any politician can make things better. By and large they keep their heads down, hope for the best, and look for more comforting distractions.

It’s easy to fall into such a funk. It helps to get together with others now and then who both want to understand our world and to change it for the better. Fortunately, that was the objective of my 3000+ mile trip—some hopeful glimmers out there on that very dark horizon.

March For Women’s Lives
I’m old enough to remember the days before Roe v Wade. Especially before The Pill became widely available the lack of safe legal abortion as an option of last resort put many women—and often their partners—in terrifying situations. Winning the right to choose was the first big victory of the current wave of feminism that took shape in the late Sixties.

It was a huge win for women not only as a needed component of safe, effective birth control. It was also an assertion of a woman’s right to choose her own destiny, to make fundamental decisions without granting veto rights to husbands, boyfriends, fathers, or clergy.

Paternalism dies hard not because—or at least not just because—men are naturally jerks. It is nurtured by the powers that be in our society who exploit women in multiple ways—as unpaid mothers, and unpaid housekeepers, allowing bosses to pay male heads of household less—as well as all kinds of pay and promotion discrimination when women work outside the home as well. True gender equality would have a tremendous economic as well as social impact and would be bad news for the ruling class.

The Establishment is divided over the proper tactical response to the women’s movement. Some are content with the prevailing trend of the two income family. Both Mom and Dad go out and punch a clock—though Mom still gets paid somewhat less than Dad would get for the same work. Dad promises to "help out" with some of the house work, and maybe occasionally does. They lay out a big chunk of their earnings on child care. They eat a lot of fast food take out. Bill Clinton, whose administrations helped to accelerate this process, could afford to say that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare."

But some of our rulers—represented by Clinton’s successor—are as receptive to uppity women as the Devil is to Holy Water. Their perceived need to keep women in their place is what is behind the fierce opposition to Roe from Day One that has become increasingly vicious over time.

Those that shout about "baby killers," display gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses, try to block access to clinics, and sometimes even murder doctors, are not just against abortion. They are against any form of birth control. More than that, they demand that women submit in every area of life to the men of their family and to the clergy who claim that women’s oppression is the will of God. Some of these men of the cloth now say that anyone who so much as votes for a candidate who favors choice is committing a mortal sin. (Ironically, opposition to women’s rights has been the most successful example of ecumenicism. The Catholic hierarchy often literally marches arm-in-arm with Protestant Fundamentalists, Orthodox Jews, and Islamic clergy.)

So far the reactionaries have been unable to reverse Roe. But they have eliminated most public funding for any birth control counseling, much less services. They have invented new fictional categories such as "partial birth abortions." They have harassed medical research using fetal tissue—even those originating from natural miscarriages. They have delayed and restricted access to birth control drugs freely distributed throughout the rest of the world.

To their credit, women started saying "Enough is enough—We’re going to fight back"! The April 25 March for Women’s Lives was initiated by seven organizing groups: American Civil Liberties Union, Black Women’s Health Imperative, Feminist Majority, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, National Organization for Women, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. It had a link to the labor movement through the early endorsement by the Coalition of Labor Union Women. Ultimately more than 1200 groups—including, I’m proud to say, kclabor.org—co-sponsored the march.

The demands of the March were quite comprehensive— Choice, Justice, Access, Health, Abortion, Global and Family Planning.

I have attended most major demonstrations in Washington over the past forty years including the biggest of the Vietnam and Central America protests, the march for the ERA, and the monster Solidarity Day organized by the AFL-CIO in 1981. The March For Women’s Lives was bigger than any of those. The organizers claimed 1,125,000. It certainly was in that million-plus ball park.

As could be expected, women were a big majority of the crowd—I would guess men made up maybe 20-25 percent. All age groups were represented. And, while the participants were still predominantly white, there were substantial numbers of Black and Latina women—far more than I had ever seen at previous major women’s events.

There were perhaps a few hundred counter-demonstrators struggling to make their presence known—with little success.

The atmosphere was exhilarating. It gave us a glimpse of the kind of potential power across this land that is seldom tapped.

Some of the best received speakers were famous actresses such as Susan Sarandon, Kathleen Turner, Cybill Shepard, and Whoopi Goldberg. Veteran campaigners Gloria Steinem and Farmworker leader Dolores Huerta, also got big applause.

There was a serious downside, however. The program of the event was largely dominated by politicians and clergy. While the March was officially nonpartisan it quickly took on the character of a Kerry campaign rally.

Kerry did not attend but was represented by several prominent vicars including Senators Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

Hopefully this rejuvenated movement can stay on message and avoid becoming lost in the Lesser Evil, ABB, swamp.

5/18/2004


Part Two—Labor Party Interim National Council

Coming soon—Part Three, Meeting the Challenge conference