Women

African American History Awareness Month - A Chance to Prove

In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson launched Negro History Week as an initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of Black people throughout American history. Today the celebration in the arts and science, public and private business industries, sports, domestic and foreign policy, and political, social and economic justice arenas continues throughout February and is now known as African American History Awareness Month.

Like others during these 28 days, I find myself hungry to learn of yet another person who, because of their thoughts, actions, motivation, "made a way out of no way". One Saturday evening I watched a PBS documentary titled "For Love of Liberty" and the sacrifices of African American soldiers who fought for a "cause greater than me".

Dating as far back as the Revolutionary War, it is the story of "America's Black Patriots." I watched images and heard narratives of those who faced ultimate racism and bigotry, but continued to sign up to for a chance to prove African Americans were worthy of dignity, humanity and full rights of citizenship. I also watched images of soldiers lynched in their uniforms as a message from extremist that no matter what their sacrifice, they would never be equal, honored or worthy.

This month I was afforded the opportunity to participate in a Congressional Black Caucus staff briefing on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In preparing for this presentation I realized here was yet another group of military personnel, soldiers waiting for a "chance to prove" they were worthy. I found what may seem like an unlikely connection with those of the past who fought for love of liberty for others with no gains or recognition of who they were with those who fight today and serve this county honorably for the same reason.

The contributions of African American's to this country are substantial, but as important they are inspiring. Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback was the first non-white and first person of African American descent to become governor of a U.S. state, serving as the 24th Governor of Louisiana for an entire 35 days. Anna Julia Haywood Cooper was an educator, writer, and human rights leader. Vernon Johns was an African American minister and leader who was active in the struggle for civil rights for African Americans from the 1920s and is considered the father of the American Civil Rights Movement, having laid the foundation on which Martin Luther King, Jr. and others would build.

There are no ordinary sacrifices a person can make when their motivations and actions are for a cause greater than self. Religious and racial extremists haven't deterred those who seek that chance to prove their worthiness. As an African American, I am aware of what the insults of oppression, injustice and inequality can have on the mind and spirit of a persons and a people. I also know that separate is not necessarily equal. But I also have read and witnessed that "suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."

I believe in revelation, the connection to historical moments, the legacy of persons and people in pursuit of "a chance to prove." This African American History Awareness Month I recognized the contributions of all men and women who served and are serving in our armed forces with profound appreciation for their sacrifices in pursuit of a chance to prove. In the words of what is known as the African American National Anthem by James Weldon Johnson, we must continue to celebrate, educate, and be inspired to "Lift every voice ... until victory is won."

PFAW

Rev. Madison Shockley Reflects on the 37th Anniversary of Roe and Stupak Amendment

As we reflect upon the 37th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, I had the privilege of speaking with Rev. Madison Shockley, pastor of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, Calif. briefly about the anniversary, health care reform and the Stupak amendment, and why he feels “the struggle still continues and we must be vigilant.”

Stacey (SG): What do you see as the enduring legacy of Roe v. Wade?
Rev. Madison Shockley (MS): The major accomplishment of Roe was to establish fairly firmly in our culture that women are full citizens and have the right to control their lives. In a modern society, their lives are no longer pre-determined by the demands of the larger agricultural industrial society that, in times, past determined-child rearing. We’ve left the notion of women as baby factories behind and entered into an era of women as full persons.

SG: Recently, we’ve seen renewed attacks on a woman’s right to choose, particularly within the health care reform bill and the Stupak amendment.
MS: Stupak is part of the ongoing strategy of people who opposed full personhood of women. They label themselves as pro-life, which is abhorrent to all of us because we are all pro-life. They are anti-women’s reproductive rights, anti-women’s personhood. This is part of an ongoing effort to impede upon a woman deciding what to do with a woman’s reproductive right. As we are on the brink of providing health care reform, this pokes women in the eye by managing what women do with their reproductive rights. They do that by saying you can be part of this historical movement for health care reform, but you also have to leave your reproductive rights behind.

SG: Why did you feel it was important to travel to Washington, DC to travel lobby against the Stupak amendment?
MS: I represent a constituency whose voice is not heard often enough – black men, black clergymen. There are men, and black men, people of faith, African American men and clergy that are strongly committed to women’s reproductive rights and full personhood. I wanted to share my insight, and to represent this underrepresented population of people in this movement.

SG: What are you doing in your church and community to convince people of the need to reject the Stupak amendment?
MS: The main thing I want people to know is that the struggle continues and we must be vigilant. In my church, we’ve preached against Stupak on Sunday mornings as an infringement upon the divine personhood of women, and we’ve also done letter writing campaigns. I want my community to know that health care is the best way for all who are concerned about life to achieve the goal of women being able to welcome each pregnancy with joy.

PFAW

Reproductive rights 37 years later

Roe v. Wade established a constitutional right to privacy and protected a woman's right to make reproductive decisions based on her own life, health, and conscience. Today, on the 37th anniversary of this landmark ruling, we face a new call to action.

People For the American Way shares the widely held view that abortion should be safe, rare, and legal. We believe that healthcare reform can and should uphold these principles. Unfortunately, current legislation would do more to restrict the rights of women than it would to protect them.

In the House, health insurance plans that participate in the new exchange would be prohibited from providing full reproductive health benefits to millions of American women. Senate language sets up an unworkable system in which women are forced to purchase abortion coverage separately from other healthcare needs, which violates privacy and stigmatizes abortion, and also has the potential to dissuade insurance companies from offering abortion coverage in the first place.

While the Senate has not gone as far as the House in its restrictions, neither bill upholds President Obama’s promise that those who are happy with their healthcare before reform will be able to keep it after. It is critical that whatever he is asked to sign is, at the very least, abortion neutral. Now is the time to defend women’s rights – not roll them back.

Please stand up to right-wing activists who want to hold healthcare reform hostage.

PFAW

The Pew and the Bench: A Faith Summit on the Federal Judiciary

Today, there was a panel at the Religious Action Center discussing the role of religious communities in debates over judicial nominees. Joi Orr, program assistant with People for the American Way’s African American Religious Affairs department spoke about the role of the religious vote and what People for the American Way is currently doing around judicial nominations.

Other panelists included: Nancy Zirkin from the Leadership Conference on civil rights, Jim Wimkler from the general board of the United Methodist Church, Holly Hollman from the general counsel of the Baptist joint committee, Sammie Moshenberg from the National Council of Jewish Women, Rick Foltin from the American Jewish Committee and Mark Pelavin from the Religious Action Center.

Panelists briefly discussed how their organizations reach various faith communities, and reiterated the importance of having strong judicial candidates for these lifetime position. Joi summarized the work that the African American Religious Affairs department is accomplishing with regards to judicial nominations.

The ministers programs were founded to act out of the prophetic vein of the Black Church. So I will say, that we do not claim to speak on behalf of the entire black church, because it is not a homogeneous group. We particularly advocate and represent the marginalized, disenfranchised, and outcast. So like the prophet Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we advocate with a liberal reading of the Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other. That’s what the prophetic black church has done throughout history. We rejected the “slaves obey your masters” rhetoric of the New Testament, while embracing the nation’s sacred documents that purport to stand for liberty and justice for all. And I want to underscore the word all. Because the truly prophetic black church is inclusive in its advocacy. That’s why MLK was an integrationist. That’s why as an organization we work on fair public education for all of our children, fair comprehensive immigration reform, and LGBT rights, because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

PFAW

Stop the 'Stupak Attack'

Today, several hundred pro-choice activists from across the country descended on Capitol Hill to tell members of Congress, “Stop Stupak,” and oppose language in the health care reform bill which would cause millions of women to lose reproductive health care insurance they already have. The Stupak amendment goes far beyond current law, the Hyde amendment enacted more than 30 years ago, which has unfairly prohibited the use of federal funds for abortion in most cases.

People For the American Way joined more than 60 groups with the Coalition to Pass Health Care Reform and Stop Stupak and dozens of members of Congress rallying to keep this anti-choice amendment out of the Senate’s health reform bill.

Among the members of Congress on hand to express their support of our efforts to stop the Stupak amendment were Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patti Murray (D-WA), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) Diana Degette (D-CO), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Lois Capps (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Judy Chu (D-CA), among others.

Upon passage of the Stupak amendment in the House, Rep. Diana Degette wrote a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, signed by a total of 90 Pro-Choice Members of Congress, vowing to oppose any conference report from the health care legislation that included the Stupak amendment language:

The Stupak-Pitts amendment to H.R. 3962, The Affordable Healthcare for America Act, represents an unprecedented and unacceptable restriction on women’s ability to access the full range of reproductive health services to which they are lawfully entitled. We will not vote for a conference report that contains language that restricts women’s right to choose any further than current law.

Advocates made statements with various signs including one that read “a woman is not a pre-existing condition,” “Stop the Stupak Attack,” and another that read “Don’t make me ‘unfriend’ health care reform.” Speakers called on activists to call their senators to remind them that women need health reform that covers all of their needs, including comprehensive reproductive health care. After the two hour rally, advocates dispersed through the halls of the Senate to lobby members to protect the rights of millions of women and families and take a stand against this restrictive and overly-burdensome language.

 


 

PFAW

Reid Announces Senate Health Care Bill Without Stupak Amendment

Surely we have a lot of fighting left to do, but it’s encouraging that the Senate has introduced a health care bill without the Stupak-Pitts anti-choice amendment, which passed in the House. There’s no doubt that the right-wing will attack this bill, and work fervently to get the anti-choice language into this bill. This summer, People For the American Way alerted you that the right wing was fanning the flames on abortion:

Religious Right leaders have enthusiastically joined Republican-led opposition to health care reform efforts.

Much of the Religious Right’s organizing energy has been devoted to incendiary and false claims about the administration’s alleged stealth plan to force every health plan to cover - and force all doctors to provide - abortion services. None of these approaches are actually included in the plans working their way through Congress. In fact, anti-choice members of Congress are using health reform to institute a new nationwide abortion ban in private insurance plans taking away coverage women already have.

And guess what’s happened… By now you know that the House recently passed a health care reform bill with the Stupak-Pitts amendment. As you’ve read here before, the Stupak-Pitts amendment prohibits private insurance companies participating in the new health care system (which will be created by the bill) from covering abortion services. Translation: private insurance companies that individuals pay to provide quality health care with their own money cannot provide the option of abortion coverage.

The right wing is already out in force on this. They’ll be lobbying members of Congress and talking to their allies at Fox News, The Washington Times, and news sources across the country spreading lies and misinformation. Our representatives need to hear from us, and know that this is unacceptable. Earlier this week, NARAL and People For the American Way delivered more than 97,000 petitions to Sen. Harry Reid’s office, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. More than 97,000 of you have spoken up and called for Sen. Reid to reject the anti-choice language to this bill. Now it’s up to us to make sure it stays this way.

UPDATE: On Saturday night (11/21), the Senate voted along party lines -- 60-39 -- to move forward the Reid-introduced health care bill for debate.

We have plenty of work ahead in the Senate. If you have not joined our petition, please take a moment to do so now.

PFAW

Despite Anti-Choice Health Care Attacks, RNC Covered Abortion Services Since 1991

Despite 176 House Republicans voting for the Stupak amendment that makes it nearly impossible for private insurance companies participating in the new healthcare system to cover abortion services, as of yesterday, the Republican National Committee provided employees with an insurance plan that covered elective abortion procedures. The plan has been available to RNC employees since 1991.

According to the insurance provider, Cigna, customers can opt out of elective abortion coverage, but the RNC did not do so. RNC Chairman Michael Steele has instructed staff to stop providing the coverage to RNC employees. Steele said, "I don't know why this policy existed in the past, but it will not exist under my administration. Consider this issue settled."

Not only will women lose coverage for abortion services under the Stupak amendment, but Republican support of the amendment has caused the RNC to strip employees of coverage as well.

PFAW

Marriage Equality Marathon

Almost 100 people testified on Monday, October 26 in a 7 ½ hour hearing on marriage equality legislation moving in the District of Columbia council. Another 169 people who signed up will testify on Monday, November 2. After that, marriage equality will move from committee to the full council and should be passed into law by the end of the year.

The hearing was inspiring and invigorating. I testified in support of the bill on behalf of People For the American Way and as a DC resident hoping to get married next year. I was at the halfway point of the hearing but stayed until almost 11 p.m. to hear everyone speak.

The good news is that pro-equality speakers, and pro-equality clergy, vastly outnumbered opponents. Included were other professional advocates from the Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU; a dozen pro-equality religious leaders, men and women representing many faiths, races, and ethnicities, among them Rev. Dennis Wiley of Covenant Baptist Church and Rev. Robert Hardies of All Souls Church, Unitarian, leaders of DC Clergy United for Marriage; pro-equality leaders from the local Democratic and Republican political parties; and a long list of DC residents, LGBT and not, testifying on behalf of themselves, their partners, their families and friends, and their children.

There were many moving moments: a young gay couple, one of them a vet, tightly holding hands and fighting back tears to testify; a heterosexual married man who testified with his seven-year old daughter at his side, because she already understands that it's wrong that the gay people in her life, including the parents of her best friends, aren't treated equally under the law; dozens of women and men speaking the truth about their lives, their eagerness to protect their loved ones, and their desire to be treated equally in the city that is their home.

Opposing the measure were Bishop Harry Jackson, who leads the city's anti-equality forces, a handful of local civic activists, and a group of officials from the Catholic archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities. The most interesting back-and-forth of the night took place between the panel of Catholic leaders and Councilmembers David Catania and Tommy Wells over the scope of the religious liberty protections in the bill. Councilmember Catania had said earlier in the day that he was willing to consider changes to those provisions, but he and Wells were deeply skeptical of demands that Catholic Charities be given carte blanche to discriminate against same-sex couples in provision of services and treatment of its employees when 75 percent of its revenues are from public funds. Notably, a few panels earlier, Professor Joseph Palacios from Georgetown University had testified in favor of the legislation, citing recent research showing strong support for marriage equality among lay Catholics nationally and even stronger support in the District of Columbia.

The legislation is assured of passage: it was co-sponsored by nine of the 12 councilmembers, and another councilmember announced his support at the hearing. DC Mayor Adrian Fenty has pledged to sign it. Activists are working with congressional leaders to make sure that the legislation survives the legislative review period that DC's laws are subjected to. The council's overwhelming support for the measure was a source of frustration to some of the anti-equality speakers, who angrily denounced the hearing as a sham and demanded that the issue be put to a public vote. Earlier in the day, Jackson and other anti-equality speakers urged the District's Board of Elections to allow them to put marriage equality before the voters, even though the board had ruled earlier this year that doing so would violate DC law against putting human rights protections on the ballot.

Watch my testimony here: 

PFAW

Bob McDonnell and the High Cost of Being a Gay Couple

In Virginia, far right gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell has gotten a lot of attention for his belief that it is the duty of government to punish homosexuality. McDonnell came to mind this weekend when I read a sobering article in the New York Times entitled "The High Cost of Being a Gay Couple."

By not recognizing marriages between two men or two women, our federal and state governments treat these couples as legal strangers. The authors of the article calculated the financial burden that results from this discrimination.

We looked at benefits that routinely go to married heterosexual couples but not to gay couples, like certain Social Security payments. We plotted out the cost of health insurance for couples whose employers don't offer it to domestic partners. Even tax preparation can cost more, since gay couples have to file two sets of returns. Still, many couples may come out ahead in one area: they owe less in income taxes because they're not hit with the so-called marriage penalty.

Our goal was to create a hypothetical gay couple whose situation would be similar to a heterosexual couple's. So we gave the couple two children and assumed that one partner would stay home for five years to take care of them. We also considered the taxes in the three states that have the highest estimated gay populations — New York, California and Florida. We gave our couple an income of $140,000, which is about the average income in those three states for unmarried same-sex partners who are college-educated, 30 to 40 years old and raising children under the age of 18.

And what was the result?

In our worst case, the couple’s lifetime cost of being gay was $467,562. But the number fell to $41,196 in the best case for a couple with significantly better health insurance, plus lower taxes and other costs.

Of course, as far as Bob McDonnell is concerned, the government is only doing what it’s supposed to do: punishing homosexuality.

PFAW

Empathy as the Enemy

Taking a cue from Karl Rove’s playbook, the Right is trying to transform one of the key strengths of a top-quality jurist – empathy – into a serious flaw. For example, earlier today, Michael Steele told an audience that "the President is looking to put Doctor Phil on the Court."

Last Friday’s Washington Post reported on the Right’s strategy:

An early line of attack emerged last week when Obama told reporters that his eventual nominee would have, among other characteristics, a "quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes."

Wendy Long, chief counsel of the Judicial Confirmation Network, a small Manassas-based group that has been active in conservative judicial battles, immediately pounced on the remark. "What he means is he wants empathy for one side, and what's wrong with that is it is being partial instead of being impartial," said Long, a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas. "A judge is supposed to have empathy for no one but simply to follow the law."

A judge who is willfully blind to impact of the law on real people would be a throwback to the type of jurisprudence that once kept women from becoming lawyers, that kept blacks and whites in separate schools, that kept Japanese Americans in detention camps, and that kept gay men in constant fear of arrest and imprisonment.

Just take a look at Plessey v. Ferguson, the 1896 case that upheld racial segregation. The Court deliberately ignored the real-world effect of segregation:

We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument [that state-mandated segregation violates the Constitution] to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.

African Americans living under Jim Crow would have to wait more than a half century before Justices with empathy would reconsider the issue.

Empathy is not a strike against a judge: No jurist committed to our core constitutional values can be without it. And that’s the type of jurist we need on the Court.

PFAW

Proposition 8: Open Season on Minorities?

We’re all waiting to see how the California Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of Proposition 8. Equality advocates argue that stripping lesbian and gay people of the right to marry was what California law calls a revision: a constitutional change so fundamental that it should not have been allowed on the ballot without first being approved by a constitutional convention or a legislative supermajority.

In contrast, Proposition 8’s far right supporters claim it was a constitutional amendment: a non-fundamental change that properly went directly to the voters. Supporters of Prop 8 have also loudly condemned equality advocates for going to court after the election, saying that such a move is illegitimate because the people have already spoken.

The Right is wrong on both counts.

PFAW

Legal Scholars Speak out to Support Dawn Johnsen

People For the American Way co-hosted a press call on 4/27 concerning the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

We were joined by Walter Dellinger, Solicitor General and head of the Office of Legal Counsel under President Clinton, Douglas Kmiec, head of the Office of Legal Counsel for Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Aviva Orenstein, an Indiana University law professor and longtime colleague of Dawn Johnsen.

All three vouched for Johnsen's legal acumen and commitment to the rule of law and expressed disbelief that Senate Republicans were attempting to block her nomination.

You can listen here:

 
The Washington Post reported on the call -- "Scholars Urge Confirmation of Johnsen to OLC" -- along with progressive bloggers like Christy Hardin Smith and Armando LLorens who have reported extensively on the Johnsen nomination: "The War Against Dawn Johnsen" and "Kmiec Calls Out “Rank Politics” Against Dawn Johnsen’s OLC Nod."

The call was co-hosted by the Alliance for Justice, National Women's Law Center, and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

PFAW

Obama's First Judicial Nomination: A Good Start

News reports state that David Hamilton, a federal district court judge in Indiana, will be President Obama’s first judicial nominee. He will apparently be nominated to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

I am just learning about Judge Hamilton. In 2005, according to the New York Times, "he made news by ruling that the legislature was prohibited from beginning its sessions with overtly Christian prayers. The decision drew widespread criticism in the legislature and across the state."

I can only imagine.

The overwhelming majority of Indianans are Christian. I’d venture to guess that very few of them have ever lived in a society where theirs was a minority religion, and where the government officially promoted a religion that condemned theirs. The experience of their lives is one where they are comfortably in the majority.

As a Jew who grew up in conservative Texas, my experience is different. I know how it felt in elementary school when public school teachers imposed their Christianity upon the classroom. Officially-sanctioned Christianity regularly made it clear that I was an outsider in my own society: I did not belong.

That is but one of the many excellent reasons that the Founders wisely adopted the First Amendment’s prohibition of the establishment of religion by government. But it’s the one that first occurred to me as I read about the Indiana legislative prayer case.

It is important that judges as a group reflect the diversity of America, so the bench is filled with jurists with a wide variety of life experiences, ranging from the top to the bottom of the social ladder. But that does not excuse the individual judge from being able to step outside their own life experience and recognize that what is not a problem for them can be a severe problem for someone whose life has been different. That is an essential quality for a judge. It’s what made the Brown v. Board of Education decision so different from Plessey v. Ferguson, even though both cases were decided by all-white Courts. Similarly, it’s what made 1976’s Craig v. Boren (establishing a higher level of scrutiny for legal sex-based classifications) so different from 1872’s Bradwell v. Illinois (upholding the state’s prohibition against women attorneys), even though both cases were decided by an all-male Court.

Perhaps Judge Hamilton’s ability to step outside his own experiences helped him decide the legislative prayer case. Either way, he clearly was willing to enforce the First Amendment and clear Supreme Court precedent in a case where he knew that he would be condemned by many people in his state. He put the law over ideology. That’s another quality needed in a judge.

This is an encouraging first judicial nomination from President Obama.

PFAW

Remembering Barbara Jordan

Every February, People For the American Way, along with the rest of the country, celebrates Black History Month. And this year, more than ever, it's humbling to see just how far our nation has moved. And how far we still have to go.

I'm proud that People For the American Way can point to its own history to demonstrate why Black History Month is relevant to people of all backgrounds. Barbara Jordan was the first African American woman to serve in the Texas State Senate, the first African American woman to represent a southern state in Congress, and one of the founders of People For the American Way.

In 1981, when U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan joined Norman Lear to form People For the American Way, they understood that the promise of our nation, that all men (and women) are created equal, was not just unrealized, but was under active attack. But instead of focusing on what was wrong with our country, they used their powerful, utterly unique voices to speak for America's highest ideals and to push forward towards a better America.

Rep. Jordan was an energetic advocate of our Constitution's core values of fairness and equality under law. She continues to be an inspiration in our work, and it's not an exaggeration to say that it's because of leaders like Barbara Jordan that we were all able to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama last month.

But still, there are those who are intent on dragging us backwards. While the inauguration was still fresh in our minds, People For was forced to lead an aggressive campaign to help confirm President Obama's Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder -- the first African American to hold the position. After eight years spent undermining the crucial work of the Department of Justice, the Right is fighting hard to prevent the new administration from truly restoring justice at the DOJ. This is why Attorney General Holder's comments about the racism in America ring true to so many of us in this constant battle against those who would turn back the clock on civil rights. And just last week we all got an ugly reminder of this pervasive racism and racial insensitivity in America when the New York Post published an offensive cartoon depicting President Obama as a chimp getting shot by two white police officers. The cartoon literally included several layers of tastelessness: the comparison of our first African American president to an ape, what could be construed as an invitation for violence against the president AND the stirring up of racial issues with law enforcement in a city that has particularly sensitive recent history in that area.

Many have pointed out that the lack of diversity in senior management and on the editorial staff of the Post was a major contributing factor to how a cartoon like that could get published in the first place. That's why I'm proud that People For and our affiliate foundation have taken so seriously our mission to help promote diversity. It can be seen very clearly in People For the American Way Foundation's leadership development programs, the Young Elected Officials Network and Young People For, which are among the most diverse programs of their kind -- ever. And it can be seen in our groundbreaking efforts to promote equality for all, like with People For Foundation's work with African American ministers to combat homophobia in the Black Church.

We're working hard to make sure that civil rights remain a top priority for this administration, and fighting against those who are intent on erecting barriers to the ballot, not to mention advocating for a more just Supreme Court, organizing for marriage equality for all and defending religious liberty by maintaining the separation between church and state.

Barbara Jordan made clear that there are certain principles that are not negotiable, values she called "indigenous to the American idea." Opportunity. Fairness. Equality under law. Those are still the values that bind our community together, and every day we're moving closer to that nation that she envisioned.

PFAW

Energized and ready to pave the way

In President Obama's first few days in office, he has already undone some serious damage from the previous administration with the stroke of a pen. He signed orders to close Guantanamo and the CIA's network of secret foreign prisons. And he repealed the global gag rule prohibiting U.S. dollars and contraceptive supplies from going to any international family planning program that provides abortions or counsels women about their reproductive health options. He's nominated stellar candidates to run the government, many of whom have been confirmed and started their work.

Great start!

President Obama's inauguration this week was enthusiastically celebrated by Americans of all political stripes. Even many former Bush supporters have embraced President Obama and agree that the country needs to move beyond partisanship and division. President Obama's high approval ratings are a clear indication that Americans are willing and ready to do what's needed to heal our economy, restore our good standing in the world and meet the enormous challenges we face.

Unfortunately, it seems that not quite everyone is ready to move forward with us. On Wednesday, led by Sens. Arlen Specter and John Cornyn, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee delayed a committee vote on Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder. Blocking confirmation of this historic nominee is exactly what Americans don't need or want. Whatever political assurances they may be seeking from Holder before he takes the reins at the DOJ, as attorney general, Holder's only commitments should be to the Constitution, the law and the American people (commitments he has already demonstrated that he will honor).

Some of these same Senate Republicans even tried to play partisan games with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, using their ability to offer amendments to slow the legislation. But I am happy to report that last night the Senate passed it! Thank you to all of you who took action over the last few years in support of the bill -- this is a tremendous victory. Next up: the Paycheck Fairness Act! Stay tuned for more on that as we keep up the pressure to get that through the Senate.

Eric Holder's confirmation. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. These are things worth fighting for. We can't count on any party or branch of government to always to do the right thing, but when they do, we need to be there to block for them -- to make sure we're countering the opposition who would deter progress and the restoration of constitutional values to our government.

PFAW

Have You Voted?

In case you needed more reason to get out and vote, the interwebs are virtually flooded today with stories of people voting, and loving it.

In New York

Even more people out there now. I walked across the street and down the one block to Stroud elementary, and turned the corner to see the line. I have voted in this neighborhood for the past seven years, and the longest line I've ever seen was one snaking out from the gymnasium where the booths are, to the front door, about 20 feet away.

This morning, the line stretched past that point, out through the cast iron gates, turned to the left, and went nearly halfway down the New York City block street to Washington Avenue. It was 6:00 a.m. There were hundreds of people already on line, waiting patiently to cast their vote.

In Chicago

The guy behind me, in the line, was telling another voter that he hadn't voted or even registered to vote in 20 years. He had been moving around a lot and didn't have the time to register or give much thought to elections. He had recently moved from Louisiana to Texas, but this time he registered to vote. He registered twice to make sure that he'll get his card on time. I turned back and smiled at him when he said that. He was in his late fifties and looked excited to be there.

In DC

My precinct (68) has 1,740 registered voters, 814 of which turned out for the presidential primary. Voting at the precinct could be done by computer or paper ballot, and there were two paper ballot counting machines. The one I slipped my ballot into had already counted nearly 400 others, suggesting that the primary numbers may already have been topped before noon. My precinct may see something like 70% turnout on the day. Absolutely remarkable.

Lots of smiles all around.

In Maine

I popped over to the polling station in Rockland, and at 8:10 this morning there were about 40 people in line:

I ran into Rep. Ed Mazurek on the way out, and learned that over 1,400 absentee ballots had been cast in Rockland alone.

In Ohio

I waited in line for three hours to vote the other day. What amazed me was all the different people out there voting. There was this ridiculous line and a single mother was in front of me, she was trying to feed her child in her arms and scooted the baby carrier on the ground with her foot. I saw men and women in uniform, I saw elderly in wheelchairs, elderly standing in the line wheeling oxygen tanks along with them. When I got up to the poll worker who printed off my ballot for me, I asked her if it was like this every day. She said for the past week or so it had been, averaging thirty thousand people a day coming in to vote early. Then I read in the paper this morning about how Ohio is expecting an 80% voter turnout. It is absolutely amazing

In Seattle

6:45 am at Northgate - line going out the door already. 7:05 in the voting room - all booths full, lines for booths three people deep. Never thought I’d want to take a picture of me and a ballot before. I wish I had volunteered to work at a polling place, I want to be around that kind of vibe all day long!

And there are more. If you have a voting story you'd like to share, you can e-mail blogtalk@pfaw.org.

And, of course, if you have any trouble voting, you should be sure to call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

PFAW

Dissecting Sarah Palin's Logic: Ledbetter and Fair Pay

A portion of Katie Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin that aired Tuesday focused, among other things, on equal pay.  The transcript:

Couric: Where do you stand on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act?

Palin: I’m absolutely for equal pay for equal work. The Ledbetter pay act - it was gonna turn into a boon for trial lawyers who, I believe, could have taken advantage of women who were many, many years ago who would allege some kind of discrimination. Thankfully, there are laws on the books, there have been since 1963, that no woman could be discriminated against in the workplace in terms of anything, but especially in terms of pay. So, thankfully we have the laws on the books and they better be enforced.

Couric: The Ledbetter act sort of lengthens the time a woman can sue her company if she's not getting equal pay for equal work. Why should a fear of lawsuits trump a woman's ability to do something about the fact that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. And that's today.

Palin: There should be no fear of a lawsuit prohibiting a woman from making sure that the laws that are on the books today are enforced. I know in a McCain-Palin administration we will not stand for any measure that would result in a woman being paid less than a man for equal work.

Couric: Why shouldn’t the Ledbetter act be in place? You think it would result in lawsuits brought by women years and years ago. Is that your main problem with it?

Palin: It would have turned into a boon for trial lawyers. Again, thankfully with the existing laws we have on the books, they better be enforced. We won't stand for anything but that. We won't stand for any discrimination in the workplace - that there isn't any discrimination in America.

At first blush, it looks like Palin is just rehashing McCain’s argument against Ledbetter: “I don’t believe that this would do anything to help women except maybe help trial lawyers and others in that profession.”  She does manage to eke out the lawyer-bashing McCain line, while asserting that McCain-Palin “won’t stand” for discrimination, but after that she appears to get a little lost.  She seems to think that the “fear of lawsuits” Couric refers to in the second question are people suing women to prevent them from enforcing “the laws on the books.”

But a closer look reveals an even more fundamental misunderstanding.  She says that “thankfully, we have the laws on the books."  Well, yes, but thanks to Samuel Alito, that law means a lot less than it used to.

Ledbetter v. Goodyear, the Supreme Court decision that led to the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, involved a woman, Lilly Ledbetter, who worked at a Goodyear Tire plant for almost twenty years, for a salary much less than her male co-workers.  The “laws on the books,” as read by Justice Alito and the rest of his voting bloc, said that Ledbetter’s discrimination claim needed to be filed within 180 days of the first discriminatory paycheck.  The only problem: Ledbetter first found out about the unequal pay through an anonymous tip, sixteen years after that first paycheck.

Of course, it’s not surprising that Palin doesn’t know the substance of the Ledbetter case—apparently, when asked to name Supreme Court cases, the only one she could produce was Roe v. Wade.

PFAW

Don’t Worry, Sarah. We’ll tell you about the Court!

In an interview with Katie Couric, it appears as if Sarah Palin was unable to name a single Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade.

The Palin aide, after first noting how "infuriating" it was for CBS to purportedly leak word about the gaffe, revealed that it came in response to a question about Supreme Court decisions.

After noting Roe vs. Wade, Palin was apparently unable to discuss any major court cases.

There was no verbal fumbling with this particular question as there was with some others, the aide said, but rather silence.

I like to think that if prompted, she could tell us what Brown v. Board of Education accomplished, but I’ve learned not to take anything for granted.

Anyway, Sarah, allow us to tell you about one or two cases that your own running mate has had a hand in bringing about.  Thanks to the confirmation of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, you can use any of these cases to talk about how the Court affects ordinary Americans.

  • Ledbetter v. Goodyear – Makes it harder for women to sue when they’ve been discriminated against.
  • Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 – Makes it harder to desegregate schools.
  • Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation – Makes it harder for to preserve the wall between church and state.
  • Garcetti v. Ceballos – Makes it harder for students to exercise free speech.
  • Gonzales v. Carhart – Makes it harder for women to get abortion procedures they need.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!  Thanks to your running mate, there are all sorts of terrible, terrible Supreme Court decisions that limit our rights and freedoms.  Better get studyin’.

PFAW

A Rollercoaster Week

What a roller coaster of a week! I spent a couple of days in New York this week meeting with board members, supporters and potential donors. The turmoil in the financial markets and the uncertainty about what kind of plan will come out of Washington contributed to some tension in the air. But I found that people were also focused on the bigger picture, what is at stake in this year's elections and on the importance of the work we're doing.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain was on a rollercoaster of his own: pretending to suspend his campaign to rush to Washington, then sitting quietly through a White House meeting; getting caught red-handed lying to David Letterman; calling for tonight's presidential debate and next week's vice presidential debate to be postponed, then backing down today when it became clear that the American public wasn't buying it.

I'm proud that you came through for us this week. In just a few hours, more than 30,000 people signed our petition urging the presidential debate commission not to get pulled into McCain's political charade. We have more reason, not less, to take stock of our would-be leaders at a time of crisis. Earlier today People For joined forces with other organizations mobilizing to keep the debates on schedule and together we presented more than 170,000 petition signers to the commission office in Washington, DC.

Your activism is energizing to all of us at People For. One of the most heartening things that came across my desk this week was a note from Vicki Ryder, a People For member in Rochester, New York. Hundreds of you (thank you!) have posted "Sarah Palin Doesn't Speak for Me" photographs to our website. Vicki took it a step further, organizing a gathering of 300 women in a downtown square. "The organizing was easy," Vicki told us, "since so many of us who cherish true democracy are horrified by the thought of what a McCain-Palin administration would do to further erode our fast-disappearing rights. All I did was send out an invitation to some women I know, and the word spread quickly."

Vicki got some great media coverage of the event, making sure that a lot of people heard her message about McCain's selection of Sarah Palin:

"We don't like the idea that she doesn't support the Constitution. We think that the vice president of the United States, who's a heartbeat away from the presidency, should support the Constitution. She believes in banning books; she believes in imposing religion in the public schools, there are a lot of things we find totally objectionable."

Thanks and congratulations to Vicki for going the extra mile — and giving hundreds of her friends and neighbors a way to get involved. And thanks to all of you who wrote me after last week's note to tell me how you're getting engaged in this year's important elections.

One thing everyone can do is host a house party for next Thursday's vice presidential debate — and raise a little money to support our "Sarah Palin Doesn't Speak For Me" campaign. Gather with friends, old and new. And before we all start hollering at the TV set, join me on a nationwide conference call to get an inside look at what People For the American Way is doing between now and November 4. We have a nerve-wracking few weeks ahead of us, so let's join together for Debate Watch Parties next Thursday, and let's have fun while we're working to change the world.

PFAW

It’ll Start a Debate Alright

Via Think Progress comes this article from the Times-Picayune detailing state Rep. John LaBruzzo’s novel solution to fighting poverty:

Worried that welfare costs are rising as the number of taxpayers declines, state Rep. John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, said Tuesday he is studying a plan to pay poor women $1,000 to have their Fallopian tubes tied ... LaBruzzo said he worries that people receiving government aid such as food stamps and publicly subsidized housing are reproducing at a faster rate than more affluent, better-educated people who presumably pay more tax revenue to the government. He said he is gathering statistics now.

"It's easy to say, 'Oh, he's a racist,' " LaBruzzo said. "The hard part is to sit down and think of some solutions."

LaBruzzo said he opposes abortion and paying people to have abortions. He described a sterilization program as providing poor people with better opportunities to avoid welfare, because they would have fewer children to feed and clothe.

He acknowledged his idea might be a difficult sell politically.

"I don't know if it's a viable option," LaBruzzo said. "Of course people are going to get excited about it. Maybe we'll start a debate on it."

PFAW