Sounding the Alarm at the HERvotes Press Conference

By Laura Kacere

A coalition of over 50 women’s organizations came together this morning to hold a press conference on the launching of a nationwide effort to mobilize women voters around the issues most affecting women in the upcoming election. HERvotes, working toward Health, Economic Security and Rights, are calling out to women to use their voices and their votes to stop the attacks on historic advances of women.

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, speaks at the HERVotes press conference.
Photo courtesy of the author.

This morning’s press conference was a sounding of the alarm – with too many attacks on women’s rights in the past year for us to remain silent.  We’re seeing reproductive rights under attack, from an unprecedented number of bills in the last legislative session directly attacking abortion access to the challenging of birth control coverage by religious employers under the Affordable Care Act. We’re seeing Medicaid and Medicare challenged as funding for public education is slashed and public sector jobs are cut. Voter ID laws only serve to further exacerbate all of the attacks to health, education, and employment, as those most affected by these decisions are the very people being disenfranchised – low income people, people of color, women, and youth.

We are so tired of this, and we are rising up. As Ellie Smeal, president of Feminist Majority Foundation, said this morning at the conference, women make up the majority of minimum wage workers, of domestic workers, and public sector workers. We are at greater risk of poverty than men, and our economic exploitation is aided by the oppressive attacks on women’s health, namely, their right to choose if and when to become a mother.

Sarah Audelo of Advocates for Youth noted that things like birth control and the right to vote were rights that she never thought our generation would have to fight for. She, and others, reiterated the power of women as a force for change through voting, as well as through social media. The importance of things like blog carnivals, twit chats, and other online avenues for connecting with each other and getting the word out is very clear now as a tactic to counteract the incredible power and money at the disposal of those working against us. We saw this of course in the massive response in outrage to the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to stop funding breast cancer screenings for low income women at Planned Parenthood. And of course, there is also the massive power of young people. “Don’t count young people out,” Audelo said. “They will be leading the charge on college campuses, in their communities, and on social networking sites.”

Outrage over the politicization of what should be accepted aspects of women’s health, such as breast cancer and birth control, are mobilizing women to speak out against the extreme voices in politics and media today that serve to not only hurt women but also attach shame to sexuality, as we saw in Rush Limbaugh’s recent quip and continue to see in the ongoing religious attacks on basic women’s health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. But these are uniting issues among women, and we will NOT be silent. As Ellie Smeal noted, “they say they’ve awoke a sleeping giant, well we were never sleeping! We’ve been working three jobs and trying to put food on the table.”

We are at a disadvantage as we work to combat the attacks coming at us from all sides – this is why it is so important that we build coalitions, such as HERvotes, to build a broad base of allies and make clear the connections between all of these issues. So much is at stake for us. “The more they attack women’s ability to get along day by day…they are losing our votes,” Terry O’Neill, president of NOW noted. “People are waking up.”

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