Do Americans, even in anxious times, prefer an optimistic leader or an angry one?
“Attention 2012 candidates: I’m watching. And I will vote!” That is the sentiment sweeping the nation during this election year. On Saturday, April 28, women rallied to defend their rights at events held in cities across the country. From Anchorage, Alaska, to Tallahassee, Florida, from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Concord, New Hampshire, Americans came together and reminded Republican politicians in particular that women make up over 50 percent of the electorate, and they are paying attention to the unrelenting Republican attacks on women.
Saturday’s event, organized by UniteWomen.org, was touted as a “Call to Action to Defend Women’s Rights!” The Madison rally, held in front of the State Capitol, was organized by Edna Kunkel and Dorothy Mickleburgh.
On the Facebook event page, Mickleburgh states, “Wisconsin women, sadly, we’re still stinging from the abusive legislation recently passed by the radical right Republican majority in our State Assembly and signed by Gov. Scott Walker. Wisconsin now joins eight other states lacking equal pay laws: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. Also, on Good Friday, just hours before the Easter weekend, Walker signed bills that curbed women’s reproductive rights: two heavy-handed abortion restrictions and a law mandating abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in lieu of comprehensive sex education.”
Yuri Rashkin, a State Assembly candidate from Janesville, gave a moving speech at the rally. He spoke about how the women in his life — his mother and his grandmother — shaped who he is today. Originally from the Soviet Union, Yuri recounted the story of his mother: “Though Joseph Stalin was dead for five years when my mom was old enough to go to college, his campaign of anti-Semitism was alive and well, and because my mother was Jewish, she could not follow her dream of becoming a doctor. Instead, my mother became a great piano player, graduating from the Moscow Conservatory.”
Then, when Yuri was 13, his family gave up all of their possessions to move to America. “At 47, my mother left behind her job, her friends and family, expecting to never see them again, all to give her children the best possible chance to succeed in this world.” He continued, “We men cannot pretend that this attack on women does not concern us or that it does not attack our freedoms. These are our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters, and their welfare is our welfare. Their happiness and safety is our happiness and safety. Their confidence in the future is our confidence in the future.”
Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, who, along with Rep. Chris Taylor, has been leading the charge on women’s issues in Wisconsin, spoke about how she watched as Republicans repealed the Healthy Youth Act during the recent legislative session. The bill, which she authored with her colleague, Rep. Tamara Grigsby, is known as “the gold standard for protecting young peoples’ health.”
Roys said, “They repealed it and have now put into state law that young people are going to be told false information about their own health.” Referring to further radical legislation passed by the Republican-led Legislature, Roys said, “If women are going to have to be subjected to non-medically necessary exams, then if a man wants a prescriptions for erectile dysfunction, he’s going to get a rectal exam. And he’s going to get a cardiac stress test!”
The other speakers were Gwen Carr, Ruth Conniff, Sara Finger, Dee Ives, Tiffany Keogh, John Nichols, Rep. Mark Pocan, Rep. Chris Taylor, Kathy Utley, Rev. Stephen Welch, Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa and Rob Zerban, who is running against Rep. Paul Ryan.
With upcoming elections, it was only natural to find many candidates for office mingling through the animated crowd, shaking hands and sharing literature. The most sought after was Arthur Kohl-Riggs, a Lincoln-La Follette Republican who is running for governor against Walker. Also spotted were Doug La Follette, Kathleen Falk and Hari Trivedi, running for governor, Melissa Sargent, running for State Assembly, Tanya Lohr, running for State Senate against Glenn Grothman, Scott Michalak, running for State Assembly against Joel Kleefisch, and Yuri Rashkin, running for State Assembly against Joe Knilans.
Saturday’s cold, wet weather did not deter people from coming out to voice their criticism of the GOP agenda. With an estimated rally crowd of over one thousand, the creatively worded signs carried by participants said it all:
“I’ll Be a Post-Feminist in a Post-Patriarchy”
“Women: Human Beings . . . NOT an Interest Group!”
“Misogyny: Hard to Spell, Easy to Practice”
“Equal Pay: The Radical Notion that Women Are People”
“Hey Scott! The 1950s called. They want their MALE CHAUVINISTIC ideals back!”
“What Next? Barefoot and Burqa?”
“GOP = Government So Small It Fits In My Uterus”
“Real Americans Respect Women”
“Does This Dick Make My Rights Look Bigger?”
“No Woman Can Call Herself Free Who Does Not Own and Control Her Own Body”
“Think Outside My Box”
“If it Weren’t for Women, There Would Be No Men! We Can Do Something Your Corporate Money Can’t!”
“Pro-Life Means: Carry Guns, Starve Poor, Strangle Education, Kill Health Care”
“Walker Wages War on: Women, Health Care, Education, Public Workers, Bargaining and On and On. Bye, Bye, Walker.”
“I’m a Woman and I Vote!”
“We’re SICK and TIRED of being SICK and TIRED”
“Women’s Rights are Human Rights”
“Republicans — Keep Your Hands Out of My Pants!”
“Hell Hath No Fury Like a Wisconsin Woman Warrior!”
The overarching message of the day was: “We Are the 52%. And We Vote!”
(Reprinted with permission from the Wisconsin Citizens Media Co-op.)