Activists for women’s rights gathered in Jefferson City today for a march and rally at the Capitol. Over seventy-five individuals braved the cold rain and wind to show support for the Equal Rights Amendment, women’s rights and to hear speakers. Former state Representative Deleta Williams, a sponsor of the ERA in the General Assembly in the 90s, was the keynote speaker.
Former state Representative Deleta Williams (D) speaking at the Missouri Women United march in Jefferson City on April 27, 2013.
The remarks of Representative Deleta Williams (D), as prepared:
Deleta Williams: On a warm but a very sad day, Oct. 20, 2000, I walked with my fellow legislators, state officials, and other dignitaries, including President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Hillary and Tipper, from the governor’s mansion to the spot where we stand today, to attend the funeral of an outstanding and beloved Governor Mel Carnahan. At that service, his daughter, Robin, gave a very moving eulogy and told us that on cold mornings, as her dad left their Rolla farm home, he always said, “Don’t let the fire go out.”
As I thought about my remarks for today, it occurred to me that you are a very challenging group to speak to. I thought, “What can I possibly say to this group that would be beneficial? They know well the issues or they would not be attending the rally. They understand the importance and the urgency of the issues — or they would not be attending the rally.”
So I decided to reflect on some, certainly not all, who have refused to let the fire go out on women’s rights as I believe inspiration can be gotten from others experiences.
Certainly first and foremost, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul and Lucretta Mott and the women of their day, who worked tirelessly, from 1867 to 1920 to gain the right for women to vote. And in so doing they endured hunger strikes, time in jail and even death in that struggle. Today, 93 years later, the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, remains the only right guaranteed to women in the U.S. Constitution. These women of yesteryear did not let the fire go out….
….When I became a member of the Missouri House, Representative Sue Shear was the sponsor of the ERA, during what was referred to as the second wave of the ratification process after having been in the trenches during the first wave. She was an outstanding legislator who championed many other pieces of progressive legislation. I remember vividly a morning session of the House when Speaker Gaw had arranged a tribute to Suzy, as she was fondly called, by placing the Equal Rights Amendment on the calendar for that day, making arrangements for a speaker and preparing a House Resolution honoring her 36 years as a member of the House. Rep. Shear had cancer and was hospitalized in St. Louis. The call was made and a frail voice came over the phone “Mr. Speaker”. Speaker Gaw replied — ”For what reason does the lady from the 83rd District wish to be recognized?” And Suzy replied, “Mr Speaker, I move that the ERA be adopted.” Then she proceeded to speak, briefly but passionately, about the merits of the ERA. Unfortunately, this time of honoring Representative Shear became the lowest point of my legislative experience, and of many others who witnessed what happened, when Representative Vicky Hartzler, now Congresswoman Hartzler, who by the way recently voted no on the Violence Against Women Act, stood on the House floor and engaged Representative Shear in a contentious and what seemed to be a never ending debate on the evils of the ERA. Not long afterward Representative Shear passed away. But she had literally kept the fire burning on ERA to the last days of her life.
Soon after the death of Rep. Shear, I attended a BPW [Business and Professional Women] legislative workshop held across the way at the Capitol Plaza. I had been in Jefferson City all week and the last thing I wanted to do was to go back on Saturday. However, I could not say no to my good friend and supporter, Marie Hyatt, another first waver and so she and I went as representatives of the of the Warrensburg BPW.
We broke out in small groups to talk about ERA. From where I was sitting I could hear the conversation from a nearby table and heard someone say, “Maybe Representative Williams would sponsor the ERA”. It had never entered my mind that I would take up what Rep. Shear had done for so many years. I had not been in the trenches during the first wave and was totally unprepared for this task. But finally, I walked over to the table and said “I am Rep. Williams and I will sponsor the ERA.” My legislative assistant, Marie Gladbach, was elated when I told her on Monday morning what we were going to be doing. She had been involved in the first wave also.
During the time when I sponsored the ERA, I discovered that many women, and especially the younger women, thought they already had equal rights and they could not see the need to have these rights included in the Constitution. As we watch now, almost daily, we see these rights, that so many take for granted, being limited, unfunded or underfunded and even in some instances eliminated. Hopefully more and more people and especially the young women see the need for inclusion in Constitution as the only guarantee to these rights. Organizations like those involved in this rally, and BPW, AAUW and others play a key part in keeping the fire from going out.
Passing ERA in the Missouri legislature in the 90’s was challenging and our motto was, “If their minds can’t be changed, change their faces”. As you well know, this has not happened and the number and the resolve of the opposition has grown stronger and stronger. It is incumbent upon all of us here today to work diligently in the next election and however many elections it takes to changed these faces to women’s rights friendly faces.
Senator Justus, with SR 6 and Representative Morgan, HR 36, and their co-sponsors are to be commended for their resolve, in a very difficult environment, to keeping the fire from going out.
Women and I want to thank the men in attendance here today and other men who have been supporters over the years. Every man has or had a mother, most have a wife and many have daughters. And so, why would men not want to support the efforts against the assault of reproductive rights, the threat to women in the areas of education, equal pay for equal work, voter suppression and crimes against women?
The first thing on the agenda each day in the House is the approval of the journal from the previous session. One year the Republican members of the house became upset about something and decided that they would vote against approving the journal until their issue was addressed. There were, at that time, enough Democrats in the House to approve the journal without the votes of the Republicans, so it became rather routine until one day when Representative Mike Shilling, a male and supporter of women’s rights, convinced enough Democratic supporters of ERA, who were upset with ERA not being placed on the calendar, to not show up for the vote to approve the journal. Well, with Republicans voting no and twelve Democrats absent, the votes were not there to approve the journal and business in the House came to a standstill. House leadership met with the group of twelve and agreed to place ERA on the calendar, assuring floor debate and a vote, which failed as expected, but was viewed as positive from the standpoint of keeping the issue of ERA on the front burner.
Thanks to the men and to Representative Mike Schilling for their help in keeping the fire from going out.
Recently, I attended a lecture by Lilly Ledbetter on the campus of UCM. You will recall that she took her wage discrimination case all the way to the Supreme Court where she lost because of the statute of limitations. In a dramatic moment, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench urging Lilly to fight back– and fight she did, becoming the namesake of President Obama’s first official piece of legislation. Today she is a tireless advocate for change, traveling the country to urge women and minorities to claim their civil rights. Her compelling story is told in the book Grace and Grit. Lilly is certainly doing her part in keeping the fire from going out and we can all take inspiration from her efforts.
Last but now least, I want to recognize Mary Mosley and congratulate her on receiving the Alice Paul award. She is extremely deserving of this award. I wish I knew how many miles she has walked in the halls of the capitol in support of progressive issues. She and Shirley Breeze, working together diligently, were my mentors, my teachers and my inspiration. I say thank you for your efforts in keeping the fire from going out.
In closing I would like to share this: Life is like bike riding; it would be good to enjoy the occasional chance to sit back and coast along for a short while, but remember, that in general, if you don’t keep pedaling, it won’t be long until you fall down.
At the start of the march.
On the street, joining the march.
On the Capitol grounds.
Michelle Trupiano, Missouri Lobbyist and Public Policy Manager for Planned Parenthood of Kansas & Mid-Missouri, addressed the rally.
Seems like just when the Democrats come up with a rare winner in the sound-bite “war” with the GOP – the recent “war on women” meme – it manages to offend the delicate sensibilities of a few folks who carefully try to tiptoe back from the edge. Witness Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver who sounded the retreat from the “war” almost before the first shots were fired. Cleaver did offer one of the better arguments against the use of the war metaphors (and there are some arguments that do need to be taken seriously):
“[The rhetoric is] wrong,” Cleaver said. “I think we need to stop that. It is damaging the body politic and it’s further separating the people in this country.”
McCaskill was more cautious, noting merely that:
…while the phrase “‘war on women’ is probably not the right term,” she thinks it is the correct sentiment.
She can be commended for refusing to give up on the kernel of truth at the heart of the metaphor – and, although I respect the impulse, Cleaver is probably a bit late if he thinks we can constrain the use of the war metaphor at this late date.
As Rachel Maddow cleverly pointed out, Republicans who profess to be indignant about Democrats drawing attention to their war on women, have been busy for some time raising the troops to fight putative Democratic wars on Christmas, religion, coal, Appalachia, free enterprise, the Catholic Church and carbon dioxide. Just today Mitt Romney promised Tea Partiers that he’d end Obama’s war on the rich (not just war, but “economic civil war”).
Lyndon Johnson initiated a war on poverty; later presidents have pursued a war on drugs. There’s been war on cancer, and nobody can forget the war on terror. If anything, the biggest problem with the metaphor is that by rights it ought to be just about worn out by now; it’s been used for about everything that you can think of for literally centuries.
Nevertheless, the metaphor is used and used and used again because it’s almost always effective. Far from cheapening the idea impact of actual war, which is another one of the more serious objections to the use of the metaphor, it derives its continuing power from the terrible reality, our knowledge of which we viscerally refresh from time to time. There is no better way to define the issue in simple terms, get the juices flowing and mobilize folks to action. (Get it? Another variant on the war metaphor.) The terms it employs seem to correspond to something fundamental in our conceptual makeup.
In spite of Cleaver’s concern that thinking in terms of “war” will inculcate division, society’s still standing despite the prevalence of the war metaphor over the eons. Nor has it kept us from cooperating when it makes sense. When we don’t, it’s more likely because we disagree in important ways, and the way those disagreements are resolved will have significant consequences for society – the situation we find ourselves in today, and the reason that the word “bipartisan” leaves thinking people prostrate with laughter.
Which is not to say that the war metaphor is always appropriate. Metaphor is a type of analogy; it compares distinct objects or ideas in order to explain one in terms of the other. Analogies are only as good as the correspondence between the concepts in the comparison. For example, the idea of a war on cancer, many have argued, does not work well because it limits the researcher’s conceptual framework to oppositional approaches that may blind him/her to valuable insights. Almost any progressive can tell you why the “war on terror” is a metaphorical bust.
But the political “war on women” is another issue altogether. The bone of contention is clearly delineated. It consists of an effort to turn back the clock on a set of laws that have given women the right to control the disposition of their bodies, their fertility, and their occupational choices as well as equality in the workplace. It involves an economic philosophy that would disadvantage the majority of women and their children. As Ed Kilgore points out, just like real war, this war can also result in death. War here denotes threat. The threat is real. And the need to drum up an equally ferocious response is also real.
Want to know how you can tell that the “war on women” was drawing blood? According to TPM’s Evan McMorris-Santoro, the efforts of Democratic spokespeople to back away left Republicans “slapping each other on the back,” they were so “happy to hear national Democrats abandoning the ‘war’ rhetoric.”
We’ve had lots of talk about framing over the past few years, and here’s a chance to define the GOP with a very traditional and apt frame, one that has a visceral punch. And if you’re worried that it oversimplifies the issues, cheapens the debate, tell me, how do you play nice with bullies – without going home with a blackened eye, that is?
In late September there was an article in the New York Timesdetailing efforts to chip away at women’s reproductive freedom:
Thirty-eight years after Roe v. Wade recognized a woman’s right to make her own childbearing decisions and legalized abortion nationwide, a newly intensified drive by anti-abortion forces who refuse to accept the law of the land has seriously imperiled women’s ability to exercise that right. Opponents of abortion rights know they cannot achieve their ultimate goal of an outright ban, at least in the near future. So they are concentrating on enacting laws and regulations narrowing the legal right and making abortion more difficult to obtain.
The article included a map that shows how many of five particularly onerous restrictions have been imposed on women in each state. Missouri is among the fifteen states that have enacted all five of these restrictions. In fact, Missouri is probably the poster child (poster state?) for those who want to know how to go about undoing women’s reproductive freedom step by onerous step.
According to the Missouri NARAL Webpage, the state has meddled in what should be private medical decisions made by a woman and her doctor by banning specific, medically sound procedures; forcing medically unnecessary delays in delivering abortion services; restricting the use of public funds to provide information about abortion options, including genetic counseling about possible birth defects; forbidding the use of public facilities to provide abortions and banning public employees from providing or assisting in abortions; permitting private individuals, physicians, nurses, midwives, or hospitals to refuse to provide abortion services literally at will, and allowing private employers to refuse to provide insurance coverage for such services; refusing to pay for abortion services for poor women who are eligible for state health assistance, thus restricting their ability to secure an abortion; prohibiting women under 18 from getting abortions without parental consent; hobbling abortion providers with requirements that are not imposed on any other health care providers; and mandating that women seeking an abortion receive propaganda presenting the belief that “abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being” as a fact.
An almost exhausting list, each item of which has the potential to limit the right of Missouri women to secure a legal, safe medical procedure. But there’s more. The state code contains this loaded provision:
The general assembly of this state finds that: (1) The life of each human being begins at conception; (2) Unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being; . . . [and,] The laws of this state shall be interpreted and construed to acknowledge on behalf of the unborn child at every stage of development, all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this state . . . .
Interesting how a bunch penny ante pols feel qualified to step in and adjudicate a question about which both religious and secular ethicists have failed to reach consensus. I hope you’re as confounded as I am at the arrogance that permits these folks to decide that a human life in the process of formation is as or more important than that of the fully-developed human life that sustains it, and, further, that their opinion that this is so trumps the unique physical, mental or social conditions that may lead women to terminate a pregnancy.
I also hope you realize that this is just the tip of the iceberg in what amounts to a war on female sexual autonomy that is being fought on multiple fronts, and which is making frightening – and often lethal – inroads on the equal status of women in this country. Consider:
— Attempts to limit funding to organizations like Planned Parenthood, most recently in Indiana, would not only penalize abortion, but would limit access to contraception, contraception counseling, cancer, HIV and other STI screening for low-income women, reflecting the “do the deed, we’ll make damm sure you pay the price” mentality of so many on the religious right.
— House Republicans in Washington have introduced a bill that would allow hospitals to refuse to perform an abortion even when it is essential to save the woman’s life. This would affect the ability of women to receive vital care at, at a minimum, 600 Catholic hospitals countrywide.
— Who can forget the GOP anti-abortion pander late last year when they tried to redefine rape for purposes of securing an abortion? Remember – no bruises, no broken bones, no rape?
Finally, just to make it crystal clear that women are very, very low on the pro-life, right-wing totem pole, Topeka, the capital city of Kansas, which under Governor Brownbeck is a bastion of the anti-woman, pro-fetal life contingent, has decided that it is just too expensive to enforce statutes that protect women against domestic violence and have decided to decriminalize such acts. Already 18 abusers – men who have physically assaulted a member of their family – have been released from jail because the city refused to press charges.