The Power of Pissed-Off Women

I’ve just begun my second four-year term as president of the National Organization for Women. I was reelected — by acclamation, I’m proud to say — at NOW’s 2013 Conference in Chicago over the July 4th weekend.

My vision for the next four years of activism begins with something that’s long overdue — the election of a women president of the United States.

And not just any woman. A feminist woman who will stand up for our issues against those who would turn the clock back to the 1950’s.

Women need to be thinking — and acting — for the long-term, not just for this year’s elections or next year’s. We need to be preparing for the next president, and the ones after that. That’s what our adversaries have been doing.

As the grassroots arm of the women’s movement, NOW is strong and getting stronger. We are focusing our power — the power of a whole lot of pissed-off women — identifying targets and achieving goals.

As we look towards the 2014 elections, we know that the stakes couldn’t be higher. The radical fringe that controls the Republican party is chomping at the bit for a replay of 2010, and this time they mean to take over the Senate as well as the House.

The Supreme Court has just made our job harder by eviscerating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Now dozens of state and local jurisdictions, freed from having to pre-clear changes in their voting laws with the U.S. Department of Justice, will race to erect new barriers against voting by such “undesirable” voters as people of color, seniors, immigrants and younger citizens.

We are committed to restoring the Act, and correcting the Supreme Court’s sordid attempt to enhance the political power of those who already have so much.

Beyond our electoral challenges, NOW is doubling down on fighting for women’s economic security. We support the initiative launched last week by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA), Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD), and House Democratic women to address real economic needs facing women and families: ensuring equal pay for equal work, promoting work and family balance, and providing access to quality, affordable child care.

It’s called When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families.

As Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said,

“Women are really struggling financially. They are looking for an increase in the minimum wage and equal pay, so they can raise their income, support their families and have a chance for a better life. So today, 165 years after the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, we are launching a woman’s economic agenda to address these severe financial pressures. Raising wages for millions of struggling women is central to ensuring work pays for them and their families. Closing the wage gap, increasing the minimum wage, expanding educational opportunities and supporting women entrepreneurs are crucial to making sure that women — and America — succeed.
Of course, wage security isn’t the only linchpin of economic equality for women. We need access to the full range of reproductive health services, because, as this Valerie Tarico column in the Huffington Post says, “Anybody who says that talking about reproductive rights is a distraction from talking about economics is not running the numbers.”

Unintended pregnancies push women out of the workforce, keep women from earning their full potential as business leaders, contribute to absenteeism and lost wages and throw state and federal budgets out of whack. According to the Guttmacher Institute, every public dollar spent on contraception saves three dollars that would otherwise be spent on Medicaid payments for pregnancy-related and newborn care.

Another enormous economic burden facing women is the crushing cost of student loans. As Elizabeth Warren, the sponsor of the Bank on Student Loan Fairness Act has said,

Students owe more than $1 trillion in student loan debt — more than all the credit card debt in the entire country. But they didn’t go on a shopping spree at the mall–they did exactly what we told them to do. They worked hard, they played by the rules, and they got an education.
As I wrote in this column for the Huffington Post, because women are paid less than men are paid after college, student loan repayments eat up a larger part of women’s earnings.

Like a bad penny, economic insecurity follows women through school, in the workplace, at home, and far too often, in what should be a safe and secure retirement.

This year, we are rolling out NOW’s Campaign to Break the Social Security Glass Ceiling to add a good offense to our ongoing defense against cuts in this crucial program.

We are calling for a range of improvements in benefits for women — including a caregiver credit, so women will no longer be penalized in their retirement years for having dropped out of the paid workforce to care for children or family members; a higher minimum benefit for low-wage workers (who are, very disproportionately, women); modernized rules for divorced and widowed spouses; and equal treatment for same-sex couples and their families — and we show how to pay for it by requiring the wealthiest to pay their fair share into the system.

Simultaneously, our national action campaign to Let Them Put a Ring On It expands and deepens NOW’s commitment to achieving equal marriage rights in all states, at all levels of government. We’ll engage NOW’s chapter leaders and activists to press for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA including the provisions not struck down by the Supreme Court. And we’ll ramp up our work with coalition partners in key states to reverse anti-marriage measures and pass laws recognizing the full rights of loving, committed same-sex couples.

As NOW feminists, our goal is nothing short of radical inclusiveness, as we work to build an organization, a movement, and a society that values diversity and upholds respect for every single woman and girl, no matter where she comes from, what she looks like, where she works or who she loves. We are stronger together, and united for equality.

First published on Terry O’Neill’s Huffington Post blog on 08/05/2013

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