By Amanda Schroeder of Portland, Oregon. Amanda is an organizer for UNITE Against the War on Women, Oregon..
For my last birthday my mother gave me a copy of "When Everything Changed", the Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to Present, by Gail Collins. In her book, Ms Collins chronicles the history of the American woman: from when Phyllis Schlafly and the WASP housewife was the idealized representation of American femininity to when Lois Rabinowitz was thrown out of traffic court for wearing trousers to when the requirements of women to be accepted in the travel industry was to be size 4 and single. While reading, I found myself at times shocked by the underhanded tactics of those who would oppress women or any underrepresented group of people. Some of the anecdotes made me laugh out-loud, but more often than not our history made me gasp, cringe, and weep. What was truly astounding was the boundless strength of the American woman – the tenacity, the veracity, and the solidarity!
This gift from my mother was accompanied with an, “I remember all of this.” We discussed her memories of when women didn’t wear trousers, when women were denied opportunities in the workplace, when a woman did not have control or input into her reproductive health, when there were those who were not allowed to vote – or more exactly – were presented with insurmountable obstacles, to include violence, at the voting booth. “These were times when we fought and wept and cried and laughed and learned to love ourselves.”
The gift of the book armed me with this history, our history, informing and empowering my consciousness it lifted a veil. I started to really look at the current situation within the United States, and I began to ask questions. I asked myself, my mother, my husband, my Union president, my legislators, and pretty much anyone who would listen – Do you see what is happening? I mean do you really realize what is happening?
In September 2011, at the AFL-CIO Next Up Young Workers Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I facilitated a discussion on what I called, The Strategic Deconstruction of Progress Made in the Women’s Movement by Current Legislation by Weakening Critical Programs and Legislation that Protects Our Rights. It may not roll off the tongue, but it does accurately describe the current threats to the gains my mother so proudly recounted achieving. During this discussion we talked about the expiration of the Violence Against Women Act, the legislation to limit voters’ rights, the attacks to Social Security and Medicare, a general disregard for the Civil Rights Act (an alarming weakening in anti-discrimination laws by lack of decisive actions against violators), the ever-mounting attacks on reproductive health care, the weakening of Title IX, and of course the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision. I didn’t have a big “ask” of my participants, but rather a continuous constructive dialogue and a promise to VOTE and make certain that those around us understand the critical importance of voting. I only asked for a conversation (and a vote).
Since this discussion, the attacks have only grown bolder. We have proposals for laws with definitions of “forcible rape” and requirements for sonograms for women who have to make the very difficult and personal decision of terminating pregnancies. We were subjected to inflammatory rhetoric from radio pundits demanding that a woman who wants contraception to be available through insurance is a “slut” and that if insurance is going to pay for birth control, then her sex acts should be broadcast for everyone’s viewing pleasure. There are an alarming number of definitive challenges to our rights in the voting booth, and as shocking as it may seem, Wisconsin functionally criminalized being a single mother.
I was introduced to the incredible UNITE Against the War on Women movement on February 29, 2012, and it occurred to me, this is it! This is the answer to my big “ask” from Minneapolis. The attacks by the rhetorical right are continuous and seem to come from an endless source of some moral justification. UNITE Against the War on Women is a grassroots movement that brings together women, regardless of political affiliation, in solidarity - a movement that provides a venue for both sisters and brothers to denounce the current rhetoric and begin a productive, constructive, and empowered conversation. UNITE Against the War on Women calls us all to action!
Together, throughout Oregon, across the United States, and around the World, men and women alike will raise our collective voice in Solidarity and Strength to combat the oppressive, anti-woman, anti-equality political rhetoric that has taken hold of our nation. I saw a brilliant picture the other day, which brought me back to Gail Collins’ book, "When Everything Changed". It simply had an activist, holding a sign that stated, “I can’t believe I have to do this again.”
All I can say is, Sister, thank you for your continued activism. On April 28, 2012, wherever you are, we in Oregon will march on the capitol steps in Salem as we UNITE Against the War on Women!