Thursday, April 29, 2004

Here to Lead or Here to Be Led?

That more than one million women -- a third of whom appeared to be young women in their 20s -- marched for the right to abortion should give us a reason to rejoice. It buries the myth that women today -- especially young women -- are post-feminists who take women's rights for granted, expressing no interest in feminist activism.

However, is it really true, as the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health youth organizer Caricia Catalina said, that "We are here to proudly announce that young women, women of color and poor women are here to lead. . . . We are not here as foot soldiers, we are here to lead. We are not here to hold signs, we are here to make decisions. And we are here to build a broad social justice movement" (Jessica Azulay, "A Million 'March for Women's Lives,'" April 25, 2004)?

The speaker lineup -- from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton -- revealed that, while formal and informal leaders of local activist groups indeed had taken leadership in getting women (and men, too) on the buses to the D.C. march, the leadership roles were taken away from them once they arrived inside the beltway. "Urging the crowd to elect a pro-choice President come November, Clinton remarked, 'if all we do is march today it will not change the condition the country is in'" (Hillary Frey, "Marching for Women's Lives," April 26, 2004). For the march's national organizers and speakers like Clinton, women on the march were "foot soldiers" for the Democratic Party in the November elections, notwithstanding Catalina's statement to the contrary.

For financially secure women who can afford to focus on the protection of the legal right to abortion, supporting the Democratic Party probably makes sense. However, for poor women -- especially poor women of color -- whose interests are sacrificed by the neoliberal economic policy that the Democratic Party leadership promotes (the clearest example of which is the "Welfare Reform" for which John Kerry voted), electing "a pro-choice President" is hardly the solution. There is a great gap between what poor women need -- workers' rights to organize, good jobs with living wages, shorter working hours, paid parental leaves, child care, universal health care, social security that does not leave more old women than men in poverty ("[s]even out of ten poor elders are women, and the poverty rate for older women [11.8%] is over 70% higher than that of older men [6.9%]"), etc. -- in order to become truly free to choose (free to choose whether or not to bear and raise children according to their wishes) and what the Democratic president can or will deliver. And the gap continues to become wider every year.

What might a feminist movement look like if and when working-class women truly lead it, rather than get mobilized for a political party that exploits them on behalf of big business?

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