Reproductive rights advocate calls for a radical solution to the Bush blues

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The following column is adapted from a speech given by Bernadette Logue for Radical Women at a post-election panel discussion held at Seattle Central Community College. Logue is one of the organizers of Seattle RW’s action in defense of reproductive rights on January 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision recognizing a woman’s right to abortion.

After Bush’s re-election, a flyer circulated around Seattle that advertised, “Got the Bush Blues? Free Support Group for Post-Election Depression and Anxiety.” This mood was reflected at my workplace at the University of Washington (UW), where a black cloud hung over our predominantly female, gay and people of color staff. And I felt as bad as everybody else.

For the top union leaders, “political action” means supporting the Democrats. SEIU members rally in Boston. Photo by SEIU.

Not that I believed that John “I Can Run the War Better” Kerry would have stood up to the corporations who contributed vats of money to his campaign and are making obscene profits off the pulverization of Iraq. What made me blue was thinking about the time, talent and money poured into the Kerry campaign by so many working people. Of the $150 million that the AFL-CIO labor federation dumped into the 2004 election, $52 million came from my union, Service Employees International Union.

And, predictably, the leaders of other social movements also threw their support behind the Democratic “alternative.”

Bipartisan war on reproductive freedom. I know I was not alone in receiving mailings from NARAL Pro-Choice America, telling me that if I didn’t vote to oust Bush, the right to abortion was as good as gone. And even though Kerry was lukewarm at best in defending reproductive rights, the scare tactics hit home.

Of course, Bush and his far-right, fundamentalist backers are a major threat to women’s reproductive rights, as they are to everyone’s civil rights. After the election, the Republicans in Congress quickly slipped restrictions on access to abortion into a $388 billion federal spending bill, which Bush signed in early December.

But why is reproductive freedom under such heavy assault? The simple fact is that if you control if and when a woman has children, you control her whole life. You can force white women to be baby machines while coercing young women of color, girls whose bodies are still developing, into using dangerous contraception such as Norplant and Depo-Provera. You can dictate whether a woman can go to school, what type of work she can get, or whether she can hold down a job at all.

The spending bill is a case in point. It bars federal, state and local agencies from requiring that doctors, hospital insurers, HMOs or other healthcare entities provide abortion services or even referrals. But in that whole $388 billion pork barrel, are there any provisions for workplace childcare centers or paid maternity leave? Dream on!

If Kerry had been elected, it’s likely that women would be facing the same thing. Attacks against reproductive rights have been going on for decades, and it has not mattered a whit whether a Republican or Democrat sat in the White House. In fact, Bill Clinton’s “reform” of welfare, which makes life immensely more difficult for poor women with children, is one of the more disgusting examples of punishing women for their reproductive behavior.

The Democratic Party: from bad to worse. But at least Slick Willie thought he had to lie to get elected, and therefore promised things like universal healthcare. Kerry didn’t even bother.

Democratic politicians tell us that they must appeal to “middle America,” as though everybody in the Midwest and the South is a narrow-minded, Bible-thumping reactionary. But that’s ridiculous, and just an excuse.

Let’s look at how they behave in Congress. They helped to pass the ban on late-term abortions, the Defense of Marriage Act, the Patriot Act, funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and of course tax cuts for the wealthy. And why wouldn’t they? They are rich people. They represent the owning class, the people and corporations whose fortunes are created thanks to the labor of the rest of us. And those owners don’t like us very much. In fact, they are always threatening to replace us with some poor bastards from India or China whom they can treat even more like dirt.

Now I’m not telling you this to drum up business for the Post-Election Depression Support Group. But the people of the U.S. have big problems, and the whole world needs us to find solutions. And the Democratic Party is not the answer.

Cure for depression: solidarity and a radical plan. So to whom do we turn? I would recommend the same people who ended slavery and defeated Jim Crow segregation. Who won the vote for women and the right to abortion. Who gave us the eight-hour day and the weekend. Who played a key role in ending the Vietnam War and secured domestic partnership for lesbians and gays.

There’s a quote I love from the civil rights movement: “We are the leaders we have been waiting for.” Unionists, feminists, people of color, students, immigrants and queers have to fight against demoralization and make up for the vital time lost during the election campaigns. They are needed to educate, organize, sit in, boycott, strike, and wage the decisive battles that must be won — not in Congress and the White House, but where they have always been won, in the streets.

In the presidential contest, forty percent of voting-age Americans did not cast a ballot for either Tweedledumb or Tweedledumber. As usual, many people — most of them young, poor, or of color — didn’t vote at all. To get serious about reaching that 40 percent, the social movements need to raise issues like stopping the war, guaranteeing free and accessible abortion, ending forced sterilization, and providing universal healthcare.

How would the country pay for this? By taxing the corporations. And what if they threaten to pick up their marbles and go? Well, they can go, but we working people keep the marbles! We paid for everything that businesses like Boeing own anyway, with corporate welfare, tax-free zones, free land, energy subsidies — and let’s not forget their decades of polluting that our taxes and labor will have to clean up for them.

We need to stand in solidarity, each with each. That was the real power of the WTO protests in Seattle. Yes, demonstrators shut the city down, exposed the cops as thugs, and broke up the meetings. But what really scared the world rulers was the sight of Teamsters and Turtles, socialists and anarchists, feminists and sweatshop workers, bare-breasted lesbians and peace-and-justice church folks, all proudly marching together with our causes on display. If we can revive and maintain that solidarity, there is nothing we can’t do.

This year on the anniversary of those protests, on September 30 in Philadelphia, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union took over a military recruiting office and attempted to set up a homeless encampment there known as Bushville. The action was part of a campaign called Home for the Holidays: Operation Bring the Money Home. Now that’s what I’m talking about. We need to be that imaginative and that audacious. We have to be bold.

I’m proud to say that Radical Women was part of a coalition that held antiwar rallies on the first anniversary of 9/11 to protest the war against Afghanistan. Radical Women didn’t buy the line that the U.S. military dropping peanut butter and cluster bombs would liberate Afghani women. And, sadly, we were right. RW continues to demand that the U.S. government get its troops and military hardware out of all of the Middle East, including Palestine, and that the corporate war profiteers be made to pay reparations for the horrible destruction their greed has caused.

It’s essential to learn from the past. In the 1960s era, antiwar activists, civil rights champions, and liberationists of many different kinds accomplished great things, but left in place the capitalist system that thrives on wars and inequality. When the economy goes in the dumpster, what happens? The USA bombs someone, working people are forced to tighten their belts, and the rights of society’s most vulnerable or vocal members begin to disappear — it’s as sure as the sun rising in the east.

This system’s sole reason for existence is to make profits for the few, at the expense of degradation and misery for the many. Working people have to end this travesty before it ends us, and replace it with a way of operating that serves humanity.

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