The Women’s Caucus on the first morning of the Democratic national Convention in Charlotte, had a message for America: “We’re not going back.”
Issues raised at the caucus crystallized all the issues of the Presidential campaign: accessibility to affordable health care, jobs that pay a living wage, pay equity, public education, national security, energy security, financial markets, the environment.
The Republicans are right about one thing: that women vote on more issues than reproductive choice.
But that is fundamental too – because having children, raising children, having the resources to raise a family and have a home, and live in an environment with clean air and water, sets the rest of the course.
There was some discussion of choice and abortion, but more about health care, how President Obama ended the practice of making being a woman a preexisting condition that private health insurance companies could use to deny or drop coverage, and have used to charge women 50 percent more on their coverage, while giving them less.
The women’s caucus that took place on the first morning of the Democratic National Convention was notable in that there was one (actually more than one) – the Republicans not only did not hold a woman’s caucus, but canceled the only press conference to discuss women’s issues.
“It‘s interesting to see at the Republican convention how they love their mothers, their wives,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told a packed ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center. “We all love our moms… But let’s carry that respect and respect for judgment for all the women to determine the size and timing of family, ending discrimination in workplace. House Republicans are standing in the way of passing the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act – Joe Biden wrote that bill years ago. Women have the most to gain by the reelection of Barack Obama, and the most to lose if he does not win.
“So we must carry our message to our sisters across the country – everybody talks about pro-choice, this or that – these people are not even pro birth control. That is a radical position, they don’t believe in the role of government, clean air, public education, but they believe in role of government in our bedrooms, it’s just not right. It’s njust not right.
Remarking that she is celebrating her 25th year in Congress, Pelosi said, “When I went to Congress, there were about 20 women, now there are about 80… It’s good, but not good enough. At that rate, it will take 200 more years to be at parity. We can’t wait, we’ve waited long enough.
“Incrementalism isn’t doing it for me. We have to kick open the door. We’re operating in an environment that is hostile, or not as friendly as it should be to the election of women.
“I promise you, if you increase role of money in campaign and increase the level of civility, you will elect more women to Congress.”
But that won’t happen, Pelosi said, unless there is a way to stop big money overwhelming the political process.
“Big money, putting tens of millions, hundreds of millions, do not have to say they approve that message. We have to dare:
A: Amend the constitution to overturn Citizens United (big appalsue)
R: Reform the system to one based on public financing of campaigns
E: Elect people. “I don’t care if they are Democrats or Republicans, but that they be people who are ready to protect our democracy, where we still have the government of the many, not the government of the money.
But to get to that point, she said, with a note of irony, “We have to raise money to reduce the role of money in election.
President Obama already has a record supporting the Issues that are important to women but there is more to be done.
“Ending discrimination against women, ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, reduce discrimination in the military, advance women’s health care in the Health Care law where no longer is being a woman a preexisting condition, honor a woman’s right to choose.
“But to fully unleash the power, we need to add to that affordable, quality child care, so that women can take their full place.
“It’s essential, not only for the aspirations of women, but for the success of our economy, that we have more leadership of women in government, for success of national security, we need more women in the military, and certainly in government and politics, we must unleash the power of women, who want to create our own environment, a friendlier environment to advance the cause of women,
“And nothing is friendlier to that environment than the reelection of President Obama and Vice President Biden, holding the majority in the Senate and taking back the House.”
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services and the former governor and insurance commissioner of Kansas , put what is at stake for women in the starkest terms, especially where access to affordable health care and to Medicare are concerned.
“When you hear these debates about health and health care, they’re about us, she said.”
“Women in the private market are much more likely to buy insurance on their own, because we’re much less likely to have jobs that come with good insurance, we’re more likely to rely and depend on the valuable benefits that Medicare has because we are less likely to have big pensions going into our later years and we live longer than our male colleagues and spouse do.
“So when they are talking about health care chances and choices, they’re talking about us.
Listen very carefully. They believe that insurance companies should still be able to pick and choose who gets coverage and who doesn’t.
“I’ve been there. I was an insurance commissioner. I fought with companies for years about giving people the benefits they deserve, about fighting for good coverage. Women were not even included in clinical tests until the 1980s. Did you know that? Because they were too messy. Seriously, scientists said we’ll just do tests on men and figure out how it relates to women.
“In the 1990s when I was insurance commissioner the reason that 27 states in the country passed mandatory contraception was that 90 percent of health plans included Viagra and only 20 percent included contraception. That was the snapshot at the time.
“We now have a president who said you can’t have financial security without health security. You need to know that you and your children will have health care.
“It is a whole different world. The private market will change and women will no longer be a preexisting condition. That’s a big step forward.
“Currently it’s totally legal for women to be charged 50% more for coverage and then have a much worse plan that doesn’t cover any services we need. Totally legal. Those days are over.
“And when we get into our older years, this president believes that the commitment made 47 yeasr ago that when a portion of your paycheck goes for Medicare, Medicare should be there for you when you retire when you’re 65.
It’s just wrong to turn seniors over to insurance companies with a voucher and say go out and navigate on your own, figure out your own coverage, figure out your own policies. What we should have is a guaranteed set, that’s the commitment made and that’s the commitment this president will keep.
Medicare is about us. The majority of Medicare beneficiaries are women. When you get to age 85, 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are women. So, when they talk about doing away with Medicare, they’re talking about us. And we have to stand up and fight for that guaranteed 70%. We worked for it, we earned it and we deserve it.”
Listening to the Republican Convention, she said, “I must say I wouldn’t have known it unless they told me over and over again they love women. That’s what they said, that at the podium, ‘We love women,’ that their mothers were women, that they’re married to women, their sisters are women.
“But if you watch what they do, they don’t like women very much, they don’t respect women very much and they’re not looking out for us very much.
“Obama- not only talked the talk but walked the walk. He put women in charge of world affairs, domestic security, health care, of workforce, of US diplomacy, small business and the environment, just to name a few. We now have three women on the Supreme Court.
“And Mitt Romney just made an important choice for a running mate. If he chooses Paul Ryan what he’s saying is that he’s comfortable with him being the next president of the United States. Just think of who he will choose for the Supreme Court. Think of your lives and your liberties in the hands of these folks… That’s what we’re looking at…
“We not only have a president who began with pay equity for women as one of the first things he signed, but has focused for the first time in a long time on child care – recognizing that women can’t go to work unless their children are in a safe and secure environment where they are actually learning, a focus on early education, knowing that can be the best investment that any of us will ever make.
“Whoever thought that in the year 2012 we would be going back to the days where people are having to fight to try and register and be eligible to vote. There is something fundamentally wrong with that,” she said.
Picking up on the question Romney raised, Sebelius asked, “Are we better off today than we were four years ago?”
”Yes we are,” the audience roared back.
“We have an economy that’s coming back to life, built on a strong middle class, knowing that all of our children should get the great education, that all of our workers should be able to make a living wage and have health benefits, that along the way, that all of us should be able to tuck away something for retirement and watch our children grow.
“Every child in America should be born into a loving household. Every child in America deserves to be cared about and wanted. Every child in America should have the opportunity to do what Barack Obama did.
“Work hard, play by the rules and dream big, and they too should look forward to being president of these United States.”
“This is going to be a down to the wire election. It’s about our future, our children’s future and it’s about the future of a prosperous America.”
Mame Reiley, president of the DNC Women’s Caucus committee, said President Obama “has fought hard for equal pay for equal work, reproductive rights, affordable, accessible health care. He fights for us when he works to create jobs, stabilize the economy, protect the environment, invest in our children’s future, or works for a more secure world, and has stood for an America with liberty and justice for all, when he signed into law the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, when he declared his support for marriage equality, the first president to do that…
“History will likely put health care reform act on par with passage of Social Security Act and Medicare… Obama codified in law principles hopefully from which this nation won’t retreat: health care is a right, not a privilege.
“Health care for all is a moral obligation and preexisting condition is a term that should be eliminated from the insurance vocabulary. Despite hostile opposition, President Obama never wavered in his commitment to make affordable health care the law of the land, and generations to come will benefit –
“The Republican Party doesn’t get it It has been taken over by the extremist wing, it has become the party of faulty science, medical ignorance and disregard for women’s freedom.
“This Republican party codified abortion bans in party platform, wants to shut down Planned parenthood (boo), tried to mandate vaginal ultrasounds in my own state of irginia (boo), but women’s strike force in Virginia formed over night, they made McDonald change that law.
And the Republican Party has public officials who make reprehensible comments about llegitimate rape’. They’re out of touch, over the top and out of control.
“They don’t get it, we do.
“This is the century of women..
“President Obama gets it. Not only has he advocated for women’s rights at home, he does the same abroad. He has brought women’s empowerment into world politics.
“Under his leadership, G0-8 and NATO each made history this year by placing women’s rights and women’s advancement squarely on the agenda.
“And don’t forget the wisdom he displayed in his choice of secretary of state.
“When he appointed a woman with the moral courage to declare to the world, 1995 in Beijing, that women’s rights are human rights.
“Barack Obama is our friend and has constantly stood up for us. We must now have his back.”
Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, said, “This election is about women – women voters around this country who need to get mobilized, educated – we need to explain and contrast the difference between the Democrats and Republican party – It is so clear… Todd Akin. Start there and end with voucher care.
“It is cradle to grave and they are out to move us backwards, and we will move our country forward.
Ashley Judd, actress who is a political activist, told the audience, “We talk about family planning because when girls and women can prevent unintended pregnancy, they prevent the need for an abortion… Our 42nd president, William Jefferson Clinton, said ‘Abortion should be legal, safe and rare.’
“Abortion. Even in this room, there is a wide spectrum of feeling and beliefs about abortion. One side may say never, even to save the life of a mother, never even for rape or incest… On other end of spectrum, there are those who believe abortion should be safe and legal at all stages of pregnancy and at the discretion of the woman.
“But what we can do is reduce unintended pregnancies and reduce the need.
“And to recognize that at any time, in any relationship, in any place, rape is rape.”
Republicans, she said, scrambled to remove themselves from Todd Akin, who said that in a “legitimate rape” a woman’s body has the ability to shut itself down to avoid pregnancy. But she added, the republican vice Presidential Candidate, Paul Ryan, helped right and co-sponsor legislation banning abortion and wrote the language defining forcible rape.
Republicans, she said, “are comfortable with making it illegal for women being charged more for health services,
Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood said, “The Republican presidential primary was like a race to the bottom, with every candidate trying to outdo each other who would be worse for women, and maybe we got him. Instead of jobs, the economy, what is the Republican leadership obsessed with? Ending access to birth control, overturning Roe v Wade, defunding Planned Parenthood and cutting millions off for the preventive health care we provide.
“As if the solution to unemployment is hidden in our uterus,” Richards said to big cheers.
“It is important that folks understand Planned Parenthood is the largest sex educator in the United States, but the Republican platform would end all that… If there was ever an argument for mandatory sex education it has to be Congressman Todd Akin….
“This is 2012 and we are still actually arguing over whether women should have the right to birth control in America. That is absolutely unbelievable,” she said, pointing to a particular sign carried by women “of a certain age”: “I can’t believe I have to fight this shit again.”
“The President stood for us, and by God, we will stand with him.”
She related how a year ago, “We were hours away from shutting down the entire federal government.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, “the third most powerful man in America was about to shut down federal government,” and she told why: his demand to get the budget bill was to defund Planned Parenthood.
“Obama said No, zero, not going to happen. These guys don’t know that ‘no’ means ‘no’.
“That will go down on history where the President drew the line for Planned Parenthood,” said Richards, who is the daughter of Ann Richards, Texas’ first female, pro-choice governor.
“Before President Obama, women had to pay more for health insurance than men, and for first time in history, breast exams, pap smears are covered at no copay, and for first time, women can’t be prevented from getting health insurance because have had breast cancer or were a victim of domestic violence. For the first time, being a woman is no longer a preexisting condition.”
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the first woman to chair either party, told a personal story of what Obamacare means to women, when she discovered at age 41 that she had breast cancer.
“I don’t care how strong you are, being told you have a serious illness is like getting a boulder dropped on you and one that you will carry for the rest of your life. Under the old health care system, it meant that an insurance company could drop me or deny me and I would be one step away from being uninsured and uninsurable. And since this is hereditary, it meant that for my two daughters, making sure that being a woman will never again be treated as a preexisting condition, it was so incredibly important.
What Barack Obama did by fighting for Obamacare – we embrace the term because we want to know the President cares – wanted to make sure that boulder was lifted from my shoulders, and I could go forward knowing that God forbid I got hit with cancer again, or some other illness, and I could be around to help torment my children ….
“Remember 2008? I think back to election night, seeing President Obama and his beautiful family in Grant Park on election night,I still get goosebumps. That election was truly historic, and we were euphoric that night, but as we’ve seen since Republicans took over the House, since Republican governors and legislatures exploded throughout the country, we have seen what Republican control means for women… We know the progress we’ve made under Obama and Biden, so 2012 is personal, and we’re not going back.”
NOOOOO came the reply.
“We’re going forward.
Nancy Keenan, President of NARAL warned that younger women seem to take for granted the hard-fought and won rights of women decades ago – to reproductive freedom, the right to use birth control and make their own choice about ending a pregnancy. But by 2020, those under 30 will represent 40% of the voting population. They need to be made aware of what’s at stake.
“President Obama wants women to be able to make that personal decision with their family, with their doctor. Romney wants politicians to make those decision or women.
“President Obama wants to have insurance coverage for contraception..Romney wants your boss to make that decision for us (big boos)
“Obama is building a stronger economy for women with equal pay for equal work and Mitt Romney wants the opposite…
“The choice is clear here about who is a man of character and who is the man we cannot trust, and we cannot trust Mitt Romney.
Obama stood with Sandra Fluke when Rush Limbaugh went after her.. Mitt Romney was silent.
“Romney and Ryan are going to try to tell public, with a wink, wink, nod, nod, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ Romney sent out his older sister to say, with a wink, wink, nod, nod ‘Don’t worry about it, he’s really not going to do anything on choice.’
“Shut the front door! You can’t, we can’t trust Mitt Romney.”
Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who became the target of rightwingers for standing up for access to contraception as a part of women’s health care, was a surprise guest, with a simple message:
“Thank you for what you’ve done for my generation.
“I come bearing a message from the millennials: We’re here and we’re ready to stand with you.
“This fight requires every woman in America.”
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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