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Rebirth in Virginia: The ERA in the 21st Century

ERA

Image credit: ERA Action, We Are Women Coalition and Progressive Democrats of America

This week, activists in Virginia are working to convince their legislators to do something that has not been done in the 21st century: ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Hard as it may seem to believe, the Equal Rights Amendment, the 90 year-old brain child of suffragist Alice Paul and bastion of 60s and 70s era feminism, is still not part of the U.S. Constitution. As a result, we face the reality that in 2014, the right to equal protection, regardless of gender, is not the law of the land.

To change this, ERA activists face two daunting challenges. First, the ERA did not become law in the 1970s because it fell three states short of the 38 state (three-fourths of 50) ratification threshold set forth by the Constitution. Indiana, the 35th state, ratified the ERA in 1977. No other states have ratified it since. Secondly, when the ERA was proposed to Congress in 1972, it included a ratification deadline, a deadline that passed way back in 1982. So ERA proponents including activists from the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) have a two-pronged battle plan: 1) get Congress to approve removal of the ratification deadline (there are resolutions in the House and the Senate to do just that ) and 2) get at least three more states to ratify the ERA.

And that brings us to this week’s activity in Virginia. Virginia’s Senate already passed the most recent ERA bill but approval in the House is proving to be a tougher nut to crack. Delegate Mark Cole, Chair of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, questions the legality of the bill and has said he will not bring it out of committee to the floor for vote. Proponents of the bill hope to change that. On Wednesday, February 19, PDA will stage a call-in day in which Virginia voters can call, tweet, or email their delegates, House Speaker William Howell and/or Delegate Cole to ask them to bring the bill to the floor. in addition, there is an online petition asking Delegate Cole to bring the bill for a vote. According to PDA’s National Deputy Field Director, Andrea Miller, the petition will be delivered to the House Privileges and Elections Committee on Friday morning.

Also on Friday, activists plan to line the hallways outside the Committee room in a “silent sentinel” to send a message that Virginia citizens, particularly women, are watching what the delegates do. Friday may be the last day for the bill to be placed on the docket for this House session so Miller is hopeful that they can get several hundred voters to Richmond on Friday for the demonstration. If the bill fails to pass the Virginia House in this session, Miller says PDA will not give up in Virginia, or on their other targeted states: Arizona, Florida, Arkansas, Nevada, Louisiana and Missouri, among others.

Even though, it’s been almost forty years since a state last ratified the ERA, Miller and the other proponents are confident and determined. She calls passage of the ERA the “unfinished business” of the last century and of the civil rights movement. Though laws like the Lilly Ledbetter Act have helped give women legal options in the workplace to combat discrimination, it doesn’t go as far as an amendment could. Miller stresses that finally passing the ERA will give judicial standing to such laws and to gender discrimination cases that come before the nation’s high courts. “If we are going to lift women and families out of poverty in this country, we need pay equity. The ERA will help us get there. Finally.”

Finally indeed.

Learn more about the ERA and the three-state strategy here: www.equalrightsamendment.org

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Radical Grace, Radical Change: An Interview with Filmmaker Rebecca Parrish

Rebecca Parrish is a filmmaker with a track record for making incisive, ground breaking films with a progressive and often feminist bent to them.  WRUN Admin Jen Giacalone sat down with Rebecca recently to chat about her current project, Radical Grace, which follows the Nuns on the Bus and the other Catholic sisters in their fight for social justice and their struggle against the Church patriarchy.  Followers of the page know that we are NOTB fangirls, so the editors will not bother to hide their glee.

 WRUN:  So, I have to ask… how did you and the sisters find each other? Did you seek them out, or did they approach you?

rebecca and simone

Director Rebecca Parish with NETWORK’s Sister Simone Campbell, in the field while filming “Radical Grace.”

RP: A friend of a friend was a friend of Sister Jean’s.  So our mutual friend connected us and we thought there was a film there. Then we approached Jean.  That’s the short version.

WRUN:  Did you know immediately what the story was that you were going to try to tell or did that reveal itself over the course of working with them?

RP:  I knew I was interested in a couple of things: What it means to do social justice as a spiritual practice, and what it means to be a feminist in a patriarchal institution.

There are the two opposing concepts of spirituality that are illustrated in this story. The hierarchy is typically all about who are the insiders and who are the outsiders, who is closer to God and who is further, and how do you get to heaven. The sisters are all about how we’re all interconnected and how we need to be there for each other, and, as someone who’s not religious per say but sees value in spirituality, their story and approach to this concept of God in a really broad way really appealed to me.

WRUN:  It must be an interesting learning experience for you as a non-religious person. What is like to experience the Church through their eyes?

RP:  It totally changed my conception of what “the church” is.

WRUN:  How so?

RP:  It used to be that the hierarchy defined it for me. Whatever the pope and bishops say Catholicism is, is what it is.  Now I see that it’s the people, and the community they have built together who define it.  The sisters and other lay people have just as much “authority” in my eyes, if not more ‘moral authority,’ than many of the bishops.  Before, I just never thought about it that hard.

WRUN:  I think that’s something that would be surprising to a lot of secular folk who are a little hostile to religion in general.

RP:  Yeah, totally.  It was like, ‘Catholics believe XYZ, the pope is infallible…” Now I see that it’s all much more contested.  I think that’s part of what gives faith such a bad rap: the people on the outside take those who claim to be the representatives at face value.

WRUN:  So, there’s been a bit of hostility between “The Church” and feminism. Feminists often feel that religion, and Catholicism in particular, upholds dogma that is oppressive to women.  Do you think that this project can have some impact on the way that these groups view each other?

RP:  I hope so.  I think that secular feminists in particular have a lot of assumptions about people who have maintained their Catholicism. I certainly did. I think this film debunks some of those stereotypes.

WRUN:  What would be the one thing that you would want secular feminists to walk away with after seeing it,  if you had to boil it down like that?

RP:  Ooh, that’s always a hard question for me.  I tend to approach filmmaking more as an exploration and asking questions than with a particular agenda.  I guess I want people to see opportunities for coalitions and collaboration. I think the separation between faithful feminists and secular feminists is a real detriment to their shared goals.  It’s like a divide and conquer thing.

WRUN:  Imagine what could be accomplished if feminism and the church were both bigger tents?

Exactly.

WRUN:   What are the sisters like?  How has it been to spend so much time with them?

RP:  They are really fun.  Another huge thing for me has been seeing how they approach such challenging work with so much joy.  Maybe that sounds trite, but they really know how to party.

But I think that ties in to my interest in spiritual activism, because a huge part of what their spirituality brings to their work is a sense of lightness, joy, and resiliency.

WRUN:  Does most of the film take place out on the road with them, or is it more about what they do within their community?

RP:  It’s both.  The film actually follows three separate stories: Sister Jean’s, Sister Chris’s and Sister Simone’s stories are separate but interwoven.

We filmed with Simone at NETWORK, lobbying on Capitol Hill, on the road with Nuns on the Bus, and at her Motherhouse.

We filmed Jean working with formerly incarcerated people at St. Leonard’s house and making decisions with people at her Motherhouse.

And we filmed Chris organizing Catholics to work for church reform in parishes and leading a pilgrimage to sites of early women leaders (who have been obscured) in Rome.

WRUN:  I saw a little of Jean’s story in the trailer and thought that looked really moving.

RP:  Yeah, it is. Her story spans both her work with the formerly incarcerated and her struggles with the institutional Church.  She doesn’t always see God in how the institution operates, but she does see it in the guys at St. Leonard’s house.

WRUN:  Chris’s story sounds fascinating too.  I think the only notions that a lot of people have about women in the early church come from Dan Brown novels.

RP:  She leads the pilgrimage to the archeological sites, because women leaders often don’t show up in the written history, which was written by men. But they do show up in the art, which is a more direct source in terms of how people lived and how they understood themselves in relation to faith and society.

WRUN:  Amazing.  So tell me about Simone’s story.  Does that follow the health care law?

RP:  That’s part of it.  That and the Nuns on the Bus.  When the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) came out in opposition to the Affordable Care Act, she was heartbroken.  She and NETWORK have been working on healthcare reform for a long time. And when it finally started to look like a real possibility, her own church leadership was opposing it.

And, she knew that the USCCB could have a real influence on Catholic legislators, so she crafted a letter that leaders of many nuns’ congregations across the country signed, saying that this law was in alignment with their faith values.  They say that universal healthcare is “the REAL pro-life stance.”

Then her organization, NETWORK, is named in the Vatican censure. And to her, it’s obvious that this is payback for their work standing up for healthcare reform. As she/they become famous as a result of the censure, Simone asked, “how can we use this new fame to further social and economic justice?”

She’s very strategic. The big issue at that time was the federal budget, and Paul Ryan was twisting Catholic Social Teaching to say it supported cutting social services. So she used her new fame to, once again, be a progressive Catholic voice for change.

WRUN:  I have to tell you, we really love that story.

RP:  Yeah, so many people connected with it.  I think many secular, or unaffiliated, or “spiritual but not religious,” people connected with her kind of spirituality.  She also represented something people were/are hungry for in that way too.

And, of course, there is the progressive Catholic laity who were excited to have a positive public model of what their faith is all about.

WRUN:  Well, you could easily argue that there’s been a real failure of leadership in the political class on these issues.  Do you think Simone and the sisters are kind of filling a void there?

RP:  Yeah. I also think that progressive organizing lost its soul in a way.  It’s very materialist.  Maybe I’m getting too abstract?

 

radical groupWRUN:  Well, I think there’s something to the notion that you have these big progressive organizations that feel very corporate, because they are.  They have budgets, and staff, and PR firms, and so on.  There’s something about the way that the sisters are doing what they’re doing that is very genuine and uncorrupted.

RP:  Yes. That’s very true.

I think it’s like the humanity, the feeling of connection and interconnectedness drops out when it becomes so corporatized.  But at its heart (no pun intended), that’s what progressive organizing should be about, or that’s what motivates it, and helps people keep going when it’s tough, and builds community and solidarity.

Radical Grace is currently in post-production.  Rebecca and the Sisters are running a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to finish and promote the film.  If you are interested in learning more about the Sisters’ work, the film, or how to help, go visit: Bit.ly/RadGraceFilm


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Why Identity Politics Works (Except When It Doesn’t)

Guest Blogger Dave Thomer explains how he picked a candidate to support in the PA Gubernatorial race.  (Hint: It's NOT this guy, current Governor Tom Corbett)

Guest Blogger Dave Thomer explains how he picked a candidate to support in the PA Gubernatorial race.
(Hint: It’s NOT this guy, current Governor Tom Corbett)

I’m a Philadelphia resident who teaches in the Philadelphia public schools and has been married to WRUN Admin Pattie for the last 14 years. So you are probably not surprised to hear that I am rather eager to see Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett defeated in 2014. I am optimistic that the Democratic nominee will be able to defeat Corbett, but first there is the significant issue of choosing said Democratic nominee. I spent a large chunk of today trying to decide if I would donate to any of the candidates before the July 31st filing deadline, and wrote about that process at my site, This Is Not News. I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss how gender factored into my decision. All things being equal, I would like to support a female candidate for the nomination. But at this stage of the campaign, I found myself unable to do so.

Let me tackle both parts of that process. Why did I go into the process hoping that I could find a woman to support? Part of the answer is pure political calculation. There is usually a significant gender gap in support of the Democratic and Republican parties, and I believe that a qualified female candidate could widen that gap in the Democrats’ favor. In the specific case of Corbett, his position on reproductive choice and his comments about women closing their eyes during trans-vaginal ultrasounds might not be the primary reasons for his low approval ratings. But they are certainly not helping, and a strong female candidate should be able to vividly demonstrate how absurd and out of touch Corbett’s positions are. As I mentioned, I really want to see Corbett defeated. So if a woman gives the Democratic Party a better chance to do that, I would like to pick that woman.

The larger reason, however, is that when we vote for someone we are not selecting a policy automaton who will make political decisions based on some set of formal algorithms. We are electing a person who is going to make judgment calls, and sometimes that judgment is going to be based on the personal experiences that make each one of us different. I have written before about how important empathy is for a functioning democracy. It is important for each of us to try to look at the world from another person’s point of view, and understand how our choices will affect them. It is important that every citizen believe that the people in their government are trying to understand the consequences of the policies they they propose.

In order for empathy to really work, we have to be exposed to as many different perspectives as we can. With all the good will in the world, I can not imagine the perspectives and experiences of others who come from different backgrounds. I need to listen to them when they speak. I need to read them when they write. I need to spend time with them in order to know them as people so that my imagination has something to work with when I try to be empathetic. It is a lot easier to hear and learn about different experiences when there are leaders who have had those experiences. It is a lot harder to avoid hearing and learning about them as well. I would point to President Obama’s comments about Trayvon Martin as an example.

On the flip side, empathy only goes so far. There are things that I understand at a deeper level because I experienced them. So when you have a job like the governor, which can only be held by one person at a time, it is inevitable that there will be some issues and concerns that the governor understands at a personal level and some that he or she does not. As long as the governor is trying to reach beyond his or her own experiences, that is fine. But what can be harmful is if one governor after another has the same basic background and perspective. The government will wind up institutionalizing that one perspective, and others will be lost. There have only been a total of 36 female governors in the entire history of the United States. There are currently only five in office. Pennsylvania has never had one. So in the abstract, before I look at individual candidates, I can see a strong reason to want a governor who can bring a personal experience of the issues facing women to the office.

Some people might question me generalizing that women and men have different experiences, such that I would assume that a woman has understanding of something that I assume a man is lacking. Don’t those assumptions work against the idea of equality? Wouldn’t it be better if I just took a bunch of resumes, biographies, and policy statements, then stripped them of all reference to gender, and picked the best one? Well, besides the fact that such a process is practically impossible, I believe that equality requires recognizing and affirming differences. From a pure biological standpoint, women and men will have to deal with health issues that are not identical. I think that’s a relevant difference when you think of the impact that a governor can have on health care policy.

Beyond that, as much as I would like to say that we live in a world that is free of gender stereotyping (as well as stereotyping based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so on), the truth is that we do not live in that world yet. Lots of people treat men and women differently. That means that men and women will experience the world in different ways.

Here’s a personal example. When our daughter was born, I was in graduate school working on my dissertation. Pattie had a full time job that provided the bulk of our income, not to mention our health insurance. So Pattie went back to work and I stayed home to watch our daughter while I did my research and writing. At work, many of Pattie’s female coworkers assumed that she was going to quit her job as soon as possible in order to be a stay at home parent. Meanwhile, I took our daughter with me to take care of some paperwork at the university, and a couple of people made comments like, “Oh look, Daddy’s taking care of you for the day!” We each fought against the expectations people had based on our gender, and I’d say that Pattie had the more aggravating fight to deal with.

If you want a more substantial example in the policy world, look at what people are saying about Janet Yellin and whether she has what it takes to be the chairperson of the Federal Reserve. Men can and should be empathetic to that kind of stereotyping. But we should also have leaders who have faced and overcome it personally, to help create a new culture where the next generation of leaders will not have to face the same obstacles.

So that’s why, all things being equal, I would like to support a woman to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor. (Feel free to bookmark this post, come back in 18 months, and do a search-and-replace to change to “governor” to “president.”) And yet, at the end of the day, I’ve chosen to support John Hanger. How can I do that in light of everything I have just written?

Well, that’s where the “all things being equal” comes in. Background and biography are important, but they are not a blank check. I have to have the sense that the candidate will use that background to try to implement policies that I support. Hanger has just done so much more than the other candidates to define his positions that the other candidates look much poorer in comparison. I absolutely love former environmental protection secretary Katie McGinty’s resume and biography. But she barely mentions education at all on her campaign website, and even her environmental policies are vague. I want her to step up her game. If by January, she’s laid out proposals that are even close to Hanger’s on the critical education and economic issues facing the state, I will happily change my support.

In the end, I think that this shows where “identity politics” factors into my thinking. It’s important to evaluate candidates based on their qualifications and proposals. But when deciding between candidates who have cleared that bar, establishing greater diversity in government is a virtue that can legitimately push one qualified candidate ahead of another.

Dave Thomer is a teacher, adjunct professor and blogger from Philadelphia. He blogs at www.notnews.org


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Where the Action Is: A Primer on State Legislatures

CRAZY LAWS

“Tonto! Someone in Virginia is receiving oral sex! Quick! Round up the braves!”

by Admin Jen

I was chatting recently with a friend who runs a rather large & popular liberal-leaning Facebook page. I asked her who her state representatives were. She named her Congressman and United States Senator. I said, “No no, your state legislators. The people who vote on stuff in your statehouse, that your governor has to sign.” She had no idea. And this was someone who is pretty passionate about politics, and really pays attention.

But she pays attention only at the national level, and it’s a common mistake. Now, it’s not that national politics don’t matter. After all, it’s not going to be your mayor declaring war on Afghanistan or authorizing bailouts of collapsing foreign governments. But that stuff is half important, half dog & pony show, and half Coliseum blood sport. (I realize that’s three halves. That tells you more about our national politics than it does about my brain, OK?)

The real action is in your state legislature. In case you were unsure, your state legislature is the gang of people that make and pass the bills that your governor signs into law. This is an entirely different gang from the one that marches off to Congress and the U.S. Senate, to argue and mostly not pass bills for President to sign into law.

State legislatures are often vastly more entertaining than Congress and the Senate. They are home to a great deal of really loopy legislation, probably because they think nobody’s paying much attention. And they’re right. Our totally unscientific WRUN poll showed that half of you have no idea who your state legislators are. It almost seems like they count on this: note how many legislatures are tucked away in the middle of nowhere, far from the large cities with lots of actual people in them (Harrisburg, PA? Albany, NY, anyone?). This is how you get real “put-your-feet-up-and-have-some-popcorn” type fun, like Kentucky’s law, “One may not dye a duckling blue and offer it for sale unless more than six are for sale at once.” Or Tennessee’s HB1783, which makes it illegal to share your Netflix password. Until recently, in Montana, if seven Native American Girl Scouts approached you trying to sell you thin mints, it would have been legal to shoot them, because more than six was legally considered an Indian raiding party. Kudos, Big Sky State, for catching up to the 19th century!

But don’t get lulled into the false sense of security that your state legislatures are all fun and games and Indian raiding parties. State legislatures are also, as Jon Stewart referred to them, the “meth labs of democracy,” wherein crazy people are able to run amok on issues that actually matter. North Dakota recently went wild with a sort of “Tough Mudder” style obstacle course of anti-abortion legislation; banning abortions at six weeks, banning abortions for sex selection and genetic disorders, banning them again at 20 weeks just in case you somehow made it past the other bans… while also defunding sex education for homeless teens. Because nothing says “it’s important to prevent abortions” like refusing to teach kids how not to get pregnant in the first place.

Members of North Carolina’s legislature recently tried to establish Christianity as the state religion, in total defiance of that pesky First Amendment. Texas, in its zeal to reduce abortions, cut off funding to any clinic that even looked like it might have ever had anything to do with Planned Parenthood, and in the process, cut thousands of low-income rural and urban women off from their contraceptives; they are now scratching their heads in puzzlement a year later as their tab for Medicaid births goes through the roof. Arizona gave us the “show us your papers” law (which was challenged and partially struck down by the Supreme Court), not only making racial profiling mandatory, but making it possible for the citizenry to sue the police if they didn’t feel the police were being racial-profile-y enough. That was a few years before the law that made it totally legal and fine for a doctor to lie to his pregnant patient about her pregnancy if he thinks the truth might cause her to abort. Genetic abnormality? Non-viable fetus? Potentially deadly tubal pregnancy? Too bad.

Michigan’s legislature handed the governor the authority to toss out any duly elected official of a financially troubled municipal body (that could be a mayor, a school board president, etc) and install a person or CORPORATION of his/her choice. Then they gave the world “right to work” (or, “legalized union-busting”) laws, and the baffling decision that you need a tax credit for a fetus but an actual born child… eh, not so much.

Meanwhile, Virginia has legislated against all sex except that between men and women, in the missionary position. I’m not sure you’re even allowed to have the lights on; you’ll have to check with Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

And Wisconsin? I can’t even talk about Wisconsin. Just go google “horrible laws passed under Governor Scott Walker” and try your best not to stab your eyes out.

Now, it’s not all bad news. Some lawmakers in places like Texas and South Carolina are trying to introduce laws saying that sex education classes have to contain actual correct information. I know, please try to contain yourselves. South Carolina’s is still too new to know what will happen (we’re hopeful as it was introduced by two Republicans), and Texas’s attempt at this didn’t pass (#headdesk), but still, you kind of have to applaud the effort. Enough state legislatures have decided to recognize marriage equality that it sort of qualifies as a movement. Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana for recreational use. I’m still trying to figure out why we haven’t moved there yet.

And with all that, still, at least half of you have no idea who’s representing you in matters of everyday importance in your state. So, for Pete’s sake. Find out! Show up and vote in those races. Find out who your state senators and/or assemblymen are and write them, call them, or stop by their office and tell them what you want from them. They probably have one in your neighborhood, by the very nature of the job, and they have to listen to you. You’re a constituent, and they need to know what you want in order to do their jobs properly. Otherwise they’re just left to their own devices.

And I think we’ve seen enough about what kinds of shenanigans go on when that happens: racial profiling, defunded sex education, and illegal blue ducklings.

Please. Find your legislators here, at this link:
http://votesmart.org/


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Why Expanding VAWA Mattered: A Survivor’s Story

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Author Carissa Daniels after speaking at a Press Conference about domestic violence with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) on April 2, 2012.

My name is Carissa Daniels. I am a mother, a student, an advocate and an activist. I am Cherokee. I am also a survivor of domestic violence. Fifteen years ago this May, I was forced to take my daughter and leave my home because of domestic violence. We spent four months homeless, living underground in the system of domestic violence shelters where victims move every 28 days to stay safe from someone who has threatened and/or tried to kill them. The same someone who said they loved them.

Nowhere in my dreams of happily ever after did it ever mention mental and emotional abuse, put-downs, physical and sexual violence. But I lived through all of those and more.

People ask why victims stay. A much better question would be “Why does someone who says he loves someone hurt that person?” As to why victims stay, I can tell you that in my case, I didn’t know that what I was living with was abuse. It’s hard to recognize because it occurs in so many different forms, and happens so gradually, you don’t even know what is going on until it is nearly too late.

I was disabled in a car crash years before meeting my ex, so I had very little income. Some abusers keep victims from working at all, or they take all the money, so she has no way to get out.

This is why renewing the Violence Against Women Act was so vital and why it was so important to not compromise on which victims receive services and protection and which don’t. VAWA helps to fund programs to support domestic violence victims who want to get safe. It enables them to have a place to go, temporarily, without cost. It gives them a roof over their head, and food to eat while they work on getting things in order and contemplating their next steps.

VAWA provides a victim with a legal advocate to help with things like an order of protection, divorce and child custody and support issues. Sometimes, when the situation is most serious, and the victim qualifies, the legal advocate can even help the victim find an attorney to help them. In my case, I nearly lost custody of my daughter because he had a significant income, while I did not. He could, and, did spend a lot of money on attorneys in an effort to take my daughter from me. If it hadn’t been for the legal advocacy program, I would have been alone while enduring four years of terrifying court battles, all in an effort to take my daughter from me.

Until now, this would not have been the case, if I lived on a reservation. If I had been assaulted on Native American lands, much of the help that is available to other victims of abuse would have been far from me. Getting an order of protection on a reservation would have been much more difficult if the House version of VAWA had become law. The Republican plan would have made it harder for the courts to issue civil orders of protection on the reservation because all applications for an order of protection would have required tribal courts to get approval from a US Attorney General. This is the current procedure for prosecution. It would not have changed under the new bill. This is part of the problem. If this hasn’t worked for prosecution up till now, why did they think it would work adding civil protection orders?

I felt a cold chill when I read this portion of the House GOP proposal because it meant even more people would die. Many abusers knew that their crimes could be committed with impunity on the reservation if you were not a tribal member. Eighty-eight percent of these crimes on the reservation are committed by non-Natives. Seventy-seven percent of people on the reservation are non-Native people, exempt from prosecution under Native law. Native women are currently two and a half times more likely to be assaulted, and more than twice as likely to be stalked, than non-Natives. Indian nations, which have sovereignty over their territories and people, have been the only governments in America without jurisdiction and local control they need to address the epidemic of domestic violence. We have given power to state and local governments to deal with domestic violence but until now we had not done so for Native American territories. The House GOP version of VAWA removed some more of the few tools the tribal courts have. While federal agencies have exclusive jurisdiction over these crimes, the U.S. courts are located hundreds of miles from the reservation, so they often decline prosecution. In any other foreign nation, they have the right to prosecute someone who commits a crime on their land. Not so with non-natives on Reservation land.

I cannot help but ask, when we see how effective VAWA has been in other areas, the number of lives saved (incidents of domestic violence are down 63% since 1994). And in the first 6 years of its existence, VAWA saved $14.8 billion dollars in net averted social costs. Why would we not support a bill that protects ALL victims? The new portions of the Violence Against Women Act have been created after months (and in some cases, years) of research and consultation with constitutional lawyers and the tribal authorities. Constitutional experts and the native organizations have come together, working to find a solution that maximizes the help for victims while controlling the costs. They agree that it can be done without any negative impact on the rights of Non-natives. When a discussion is made about if a non-native can get a fair trial in a tribal court, the answer should be a resounding yes. The jury of their peers… their neighbors, their community are called to hear the case. Instead of displaying ignorance and prejudice, squabbling over “if” we should do it, we need to ask, “How we can make it happen?” We already know it is costing many lives, and money to do nothing.

Then there’s the question of immigration issues: Because of controversy over this, Senate Democrats removed the section in their bill that would have granted more visas to undocumented victims of domestic violence. They did so to try to compromise with the House. Rather than being willing to compromise, however, Republicans in the House removed sections these sections as well as those would have protected LGBT victims from discrimination in applying for services.

Lastly, the House GOP proposal left out of their bill updates that would protect college students. The Leadership conference on Civil and Human Rights said it well when they said that “Even in today’s polarized climate, we should be able to agree that when we send our daughters and sons to college, they should be protected from stalking, violence, date rape and sexual assault.”

My point: These omissions would have cost many lives! The more inclusive VAWA that passed last week has significant cost savings, without yet another huge loss of services to those who need it most. In fact, it will reach more people and have a significant impact on future generations, while saving money… The choice was clear. Congress needed to do what was best for victims, and stop grandstanding. Thankfully they did so in the end. If we are to make a significant difference in the fight to end domestic violence, we need to have the tools to do so. That is why, yesterday when I saw the House passed S. 47, I cried. For those who will live and one day make our world a better place. If all of us do what we can, we can make a difference in the lives of victims!


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In Stunning Last-Minute Move, Congress Does the Right Thing For Once

by Admin Jen

Well, the House finally found a way to vote on, and pass, the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act.  It was the most convoluted, face-saving way possible, but they did it.  And as it turns out, most of our representatives don’t like domestic violence.  Pop the champagne, people.  The House has managed to sit down together and get enough of its members to agree that wife-beating is bad that they could pass something about it.  I realize this is a low bar, but we have to start somewhere and if we are really going to entertain fantasies of bi-partisanship or progress in this relentlessly, depressingly divided country, it’s a satisfying enough place to begin.

I’m not kidding.  The significance of VAWA’s passage can’t be underplayed.  It gives a glimmer of hope that we might see a more reasonable Republican party in the future.  As I’ve said elsewhere on this page, I would love to be having a spirited conversation with my conservative brethren and sistren about the role and size of government, the best way to spur economic growth, foreign policy, just about anything else than whether domestic violence should be treated as the serious crime that it is.  This really is a big damn deal.

Why do I say this?  Well, if you recall, the bill that originally sailed past the Senate last year contained expanded protections for underserved, hard-to-reach groups; namely Native Americans on reservations, illegal immigrants, and LGBT victims.  And the bills that were coming out of the House committees were conspicuously missing these expansions.  Multiple Republican House members said the expansions in the Senate bill made it “impossible” for them to vote for it, because of gay immigrant cooties or something.  America had the distinct impression that the House Republicans felt that immigrants, gays, and tribal women weren’t really women.  That they didn’t deserve the same protections as “regular” women.  By resoundingly passing the Senate’s bill, it gives the lie to all of that.  It codifies a simple recognition of the humanity of these groups.  A significant number of Republicans, in voting for this act, voted in favor of the notion that these groups are people too, and that their shared humanity matters.  It’s an encouraging thought.

Now, virtually all of the “no” votes were still Republicans… But there were lots who voted “yes”, including my own Pennsylvania congressman, Mike Fitzpatrick, a mushy moderate in a purple district who is nonetheless a Tea Party darling.  The partisan in me sometimes sits back and laughs when the rhetoric from that side of the aisle grows too sick, too sad, too hateful and misogynistic, because it clearly hurts them with women voters and, you know… decent people.  The evil voice in my head (who sounds suspiciously like Kathy Bates in “Primary Colors”) says,  “Go ahead, guys, keep giving yourself that rope, you saw how well it worked out for Richard Mourdock.”  But the truth is, I don’t want to live in that world.  I want to live in a world where the opposition is sane.  Where we really do share the same desire for the same ends, and the wrangling comes in trying to achieve them.  Where we can agree that all people are worthy of love and respect, deserving to live in a world that is as sane and safe as our loony species can manage.  (Again, a low bar, perhaps, but we can still try to raise it.)  I count a few conservatives among my friends, and they’re good people.  I promise you, they don’t sit around on their rooftops wearing hoods and taking potshots at their gay neighbors with a .22.  They aren’t Minute Men.  They really don’t deserve to be stuck with the reputation made by the louder, angrier, more reactionary cousins in their extended partisan family.  This vote brings the country one step closer to internalizing that truth.

Now, it’s not clear whether this seemingly sudden turnaround was politically motivated, motivated out of simple human decency, or some combination of the two.  It’s possible that the support for the Senate version had been there all along and the gamesmanship revolved around something else entirely.  Be assured, we’ll be researching the matter more, if only to satisfy our own curiosity as to what changed and when, and we’ll share everything we learn.  But there are two reasons to feel a glimmer of hope for the future.  One, because, after months of our own campaigning and encouraging you all to call and write your representatives, we finally have a Violence Against Women Act that reaches that many more women.

And two, because it might, just maybe, represent a tiny step in the direction of sanity for us as a people.

A girl can dream for just a minute.  Now give me the damn champers.


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Foley’s Friendly Firearms Shop

by Admin Jen

mossbergThe first thing that I noticed was that I was the only woman in there. The young guy working the counter was helping a customer, but he perked up noticeably when I walked in. I was a little nervous. I’d never seen this many guns at one time. Also, I was worried that someone would figure out the Elantra in the parking lot with the Obama bumper stickers belonged to me, and would spot me as the interloper I was.

I spent a few minutes meandering along the counter and looking at the various firearms: a wall of hunting rifles and shotguns, a glass display case with Glocks and revolvers, and another display case with what looked to my seriously untrained eye like collector’s items: antique-looking six-shooters, Colt 45’s with pearl handles, and another very small, very old looking gun with a price tag that read almost a thousand dollars.

The clerk finished with the customer and introduced himself as Frank. I told him I’d moved down here from New York City a few years ago. Never owned a gun before, but was wondering if I ought to. “Yeah,” he said, “we’ve been getting a lot of that lately. Guns flying off the shelves, all first-time buyers.” “Since the Connecticut thing?” I asked. He nodded. “Yeah, kind of before that, like since the election. But definitely way more since the Connecticut thing.” “Connecticut thing,” of course, sounds much better than “the mass shooting of 20 first graders”.

“So what do I need in order to buy one of these?” I asked, gesturing at the case of handguns. “Like, a permit or a license or anything?” Not unless I wanted a concealed carry. Just show my drivers’ license and pass a background check and I’d be good to go. No waiting period? No. There used to be a five day waiting period, but they replaced that with the PICS (Pennsylvania Instant Check System.) “So, what do they look for in the background check? What if I got busted for turnstile jumping?” I asked coyly. Frank laughed. “No, they just look for felonies and uh, domestic misdemeanors.” “Domestic misdemeanors? So, if I broke a plate over my husband’s head, I’d be out of luck?” At this point, two other guys who’d been eavesdropping decided to chime in. “Only if you did time for it,” the younger, more clean-cut of the two offered. “And if it was less than nine years ago.” Everyone chuckled a little.

In case you’re wondering, the Pennsylvania Instant Check System sounds like a great idea, and for circumstances like gun shows, it’s probably very useful. Their hotline is open 7 days a week, even on holidays, and about 60% of those attempting to purchase a firearm are approved in minutes, according to their website. But what if I’d caught my brother having sex with my dog and was so enraged that I decided to shoot him? I have neither a brother or a dog, but let’s pretend. I have no criminal record, and Pennsylvania’s adherence to the notion of putting folks on a do-not-sell list for mental health is statistically nonexistent, so even if I’d been on anti-psychotics or something in the past, there’d still be no need for me to have a few days to cool off before marching into Foley’s and marching out with a semi-automatic weapon to rain destruction on my hypothetical sibling.

Frank brought us back to business. “So, what do you think you’re going to use it for? Would you want to carry something on you? Or more for your home?” I hadn’t thought that far into my lie. Just for my home, I decided. He took a shotgun down from the wall rack. It was a twelve-gauge, shorter than a lot of the others it sat next to, with synthetic wood grain on the stock. He handed it to me. It wasn’t an “assault weapon” but it was still heavy, and plenty “scary” looking. It felt substantial, powerful. Frank was enthusiastic about it for me, because it was relatively light, and you don’t need to be a good shot to use it because it fires a round that is about as big as a film canister. At only $375, it was a great deal. Plus, he said, “they’re never going to ban these.”

The two eavesdroppers weren’t convinced about that last part. “They’re not gonna be happy till they get rid of everything,” the older guy declared. “They’re gonna make us trade these in for a Teddy Ruxpin, so when someone busts into your house, you press the button and he’ll say, ‘Please don’t shoot me’.” More chuckling as he mimed brandishing a Teddy Ruxpin doll at an imaginary intruder.

His younger friend chimed in, “Look, if this is for home defense, you need something where you can just mow the guy down in one shot, so that if you have to go to court, you can claim self defense without it having to be a “he said-she said” thing.”

I didn’t understand.

“If the guy’s still alive then it’s your word against his, but if he can’t testify… well, you were defending yourself. Easy enough to say when you only fired one shot. It’s a lot harder if you shoot the guy four or five times.”

It took me a second to process that he was talking about actually killing an intruder.

“Yeah,” the older guy agreed, “but the good thing is, now, in PA, you don’t have to wait till he’s inside the house anymore, like you used to. With the new castle law, you can drop ‘em outside the house now. You just have to be able to say you felt threatened.”

“Yeah, just don’t shoot the UPS guy,” the younger man joked.

“You ever shoot anyone?” I asked him.

He laughed but didn’t answer right away.

Frank interjected. “No, but he has threatened to shoot someone, and sometimes that’s all you need. You pump this thing-” He took the shotgun from me, and pumped it once, and it made that sound –chk-shhck!– exactly like in every movie you’ve ever seen. “-and burglars know what that is, and they get the hell out.”

PIONEER WOMANI took it back for a moment more, pumped it once myself. It made that sound again, chk-shhck! I held it up, probably incorrectly. It felt… well, badass. I had a brief passing urge to say, “Make my day.” I flashed back to Technicolor westerns with stoic frontier wives. I thought, This is why people want these.

I handed it back to Frank and told him I wanted to do more research. I thanked him and left, hightailing out before anyone got a load of my bumper stickers.

Owning a Glock doesn’t make you Chuck Norris any more than owning a Fender Stratocaster makes you Eddie Van Halen, but emulating those guys… that’s why you buy those things. You’re envisioning your own blazing, electric moment. If you’re a musician, you can go through the motions in practice, but those licks you play in practice have to be so embedded in your muscle memory that they happen perfectly, even under the pressure of the spotlight. And much like playing an instrument, gun ownership, if it’s to be what you imagine, is something you commit to in a similar way; buying and maintaining gear, practicing, and so on. So that you can make your hands do what you intend them to do in that moment of truth.

But I didn’t hear about that at Foley’s. If I had wanted to, I could have plunked down $400 and walked out with a shotgun without raising anyone’s eyebrows, regardless of the fact that I would not have the first clue how to handle it. In the time I was there, I didn’t hear a word about safety. Not a word about storage. Not a word about how much practice it takes to get good at shooting. You hear about how great it is that you can defend your home. You hear about which rounds blow the biggest hole in someone trying to break and enter. But the damn thing isn’t much use to you unless you commit to the equipment, the training, the practice, and most importantly, the idea of killing.