Rose Aguilar

Reports from Standing Rock: Concussion Grenades, Hypothermia & the Fight for Clean Water

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal member JoBeth Brownotter still hears the screams from the front line where she was tear-gassed and sprayed with cold water in freezing temperatures. “I am getting sick. Hypothermia is no joke. My lungs and ribs hurt from coughing and I’m wheezing like crazy,” she told me over messenger. “Despite all that I am going through, I will continue to stand tall in prayer.”

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Old, Female and Homeless

This story was produced with support from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and first appeared in The Nation

The doors of the Mission Neighborhood Health Center in San Francisco don’t open until 7 am, but on the Saturday morning I was there, a dozen or so people were already lined up by 5:30. The group included a middle-aged white man who had lost his job managing a high-end restaurant and a black man wearing a crisp security guard blazer because he had to be at work by noon. Each was there hoping for a bed for the night. The city assigns most slots in its homeless shelters on a first-come, first-served basis by computer. The people had shown up here so early because they know through experience that every last bed will be claimed by 7:10 am.

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Utah Governor Signs Controversial Law Charging Women and Girls With Murder for Miscarriages

On Monday afternoon, a controversial Utah bill that charges pregnant women and girls with murder for having miscarriages caused by "intentional or knowing" acts, was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert.

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Questions for Sarah Palin from Women Across America

Dear Gwen Ifill,

It's hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, the national media were fixated on lipstick. What a difference a Wall Street crash makes. It's been remarkable to hear conservatives on the Sunday talk shows discuss the growing income gap, stagnant wages, and job losses. If it weren't for the economic crisis, who knows what the inane topic of the day would be.

It's a good time to be the moderator of such an important debate. If the lead story were lipstick, you'd probably be criticized for asking "gotcha" questions, but because this country is on a downward spiral, I'd be willing to bet that most people expect you to ask tough questions about issues that actually matter.

The women I've interviewed over the past few months are tired of questions about flag lapel pins and the petty back and forth. They're also tired of being ignored. Other than polls, it's all too rare to hear from actual voters.

Over the past few days, I've asked women, both in person and over the phone, what question they would like you to ask Sarah Palin at tonight's debate. These women have dedicated their lives to fighting for the poor, affordable housing, abused and neglected children, the constitution, social justice, equal pay, veterans, equal rights for all, the uninsured, reproductive rights, civil rights, and innocent civilians whose lives have been forever changed by U.S. sanctions and bombs.

When I tell women about this article, they first chuckle, then take a deep breath, and say, "Where do I begin?" You're probably experiencing similar feelings. I would love to know what your preparation process has been like.

Here are the questions the women I interviewed would like you to ask Sarah Palin:

"Could you please describe your understanding of the obligations and authority assigned to the three branches of U.S. government as set forth in the Constitution?" -Elizabeth de la Vega, former federal prosecutor, Los Gatos, CA

"Governor Palin, 248,000 children in Ohio are without health insurance. How do you stand on funding programs to help our poor and disadvantaged children? Senator McCain supported President Bush when he vetoed SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Where do you stand on SCHIP? -Marian Hann, Receptionist, Children's Defense Fund-Ohio, Columbus, OH -- Senator John McCain received a 10 percent rating from the Defense Fund -- Alaska ranks near the bottom for providing children's health care

"John Mccain's voting record on veterans does not reflect what comes out of his mouth. How will you improve care for veterans' families left hanging? What will you do to ensure the VA hospitals give the vets the treatment they deserve so they don't have to jump through hoops to get it? The VA didn't treat our son. The number of veterans committing suicide is on the rise. A lot more needs to be done." -Joyce Lucey is the mother of Jeffrey Lucey, who committed suicide after being in Iraq for five months in 2004, Western Massachusetts

"If you were to become Commander-in-Chief, would you require military women who've been raped to pay for their own rape investigation kits as the constituents of Wasilla do? Nearly all soldiers found guilty of raping a fellow soldier do no jail/brig time. What would you do to change this policy to serve justice? Do you think this is justice? There are reports of female soldiers dying of dehydration due to fear of being raped on the way to the porta-johns. Would you appoint an independent investigator to look into both this and the claims that women servicemembers who are murdered in country are being wrongly classified as suicides? Why did you delete rape kit funding from the budget when you were mayor? Alaska's rape rate is 2.5 times the national average." -Wendy Barranco, 22, President, Los Angeles Chapter of Iraq Vets Against the War, Los Angeles, CA -- Wendy Barranco served as an anesthesia technician at a Tikrit field hospital from October 2005 to July 2006

"What's your platform for issues of importance to Native Americans and Indian health services? It's getting worse here. We're constantly losing our funding." -Naomi Harjo, Patient Service Coordinator, Native American Health Center, a nonprofit, community-based organization, San Francisco, CA

"Governor Palin, this is the first time I've paid such close attention to politics. I was shocked to learn that you allow people to shoot animals from airplanes in Alaska. Why do you allow aerial hunting? How many animals have been killed as a result?" -Angela, 70, Thrift Shop Volunteer, Petaluma, CA

"Even though the U.S. has for decades been the richest nation the world has ever seen, it has never been able to eliminate poverty by depending on trickle-down from wealthier sections of the economy. Now that poverty is growing again, and a rising number of people with full-time jobs are in poverty, and the burden of poverty falls most heavily on women and their children, what are the proposals to get these women on their feet and out of poverty? Our country's escalating health care crisis - 47 million uninsured, many millions underinsured and health care benefits under siege from employers - has just as devastating an impact on women and their families as the financial crisis has on people in the finance industry. Maybe more of an impact. Would you say it's time for the institutions that are bailing out Wall Street to also rescue the people of Main Street from our failing health care system?" -Ethel Long-Scott, Executive Director of the Women's Economic Agenda Project, an organization committed to attaining economic human rights for all people, Oakland, CA

"Will the McCain/Palin ticket implement work supports--especially paid maternity/parental leave?" -Sylvia Allegretto, Economist, Institute for Research on Labor & Employment at UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA

"Governor Palin, you have said that you believe that climate change is a real occurrence and the immediate effects can be felt all across your own state of Alaska, but when asked if 'man' is the cause of climate change, you argue that it matters not who or what is ultimately to blame for this phenomenon, rather, that we accept it as a reality and move on from there. Simultaneously, you are a firm believer in 'drill here, drill now' as the solution to our nation's energy crisis. How do you reconcile these two positions, particularly given that there is scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels, primarily oil, gasoline and coal, is the primary cause of climate change and, more importantly given your position on offshore drilling, that drilling in waters depths greater than 500 feet releases methane, a green house gas at least twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide in its contribution to global warming? If we do not acknowledge that the oil, gas, and coal industries and the consumers of these products are the cause of climate change, but rather aggressively pursue the expansion of these industries, how can we possibly expect to change course and save your state from melting in the ocean in the process?" -Antonia Juhasz, 37, Activist and Author of The Tyranny of Oil, San Francisco, CA

"If you're so pro-life, why are you so pro-war?" -Pauline, 72, Real Estate Agent, Petaluma, CA

"Congratulations on being able to pull off being a working mother of five children. As vice-president, what are you going to do to guarantee that all American women have access to the same kind of childcare that you clearly have access to?" -Jo Kreiter, 43, Choreographer, San Francisco, CA

"How do you intend to address the fact that an estimated 10,000,000 American children a day go hungry? What is your policy on helping working mothers get affordable childcare? What are your views on the successful re-entry of prisoners back to the community? What are your views on drug laws? Are they effective in stemming crime? Is incarceration the best way to deal with drug-related crimes? How should girls be protected from sexually abusive male relatives/fathers so that they don't get pregnant?" -Margo Perin, Restorative Justice Teacher, CA

"According to an Alaska Eagle Forum questionnaire you completed in 2006, when you were running for governor, you said you opposed hate crime legislation. You were asked, "Will you support an effort to expand hate crimes laws?" You answered, "No, as I believe all heinous crime is based on hate." If someone is physically assaulted because she is Jewish, Christian, African American, a woman, or gay, why shouldn't the law provide for an increased penalty?" -Kathryn Russell-Brown, Professor and Director, Center for the Study of Race & Race Relations, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

"If you were to become President, and then you were offered the opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court Justice, whom would you pick, and why?" -Joni Eisen, 61, President, Potrero Hill Democratic Club, San Francisco, CA

"Do you have any friends who are pro-choice? How do you feel about women who are pro-choice?" -Donna

"How would you ensure that U.S. intelligence agencies focus their warrantless surveillance resources on real terrorism threats rather than on prying into the private lives of law-abiding Americans?" -Nancy Talanian, Director, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Northampton, MA

"Women across the country are battling low-wage or lower-paying jobs while often being the sole provider of the family. What is your position on wages and the right to organize, particularly as it affects women?" -Sushma Sheth, Miami Workers Center, Miami, FL

"Do you truly believe that the earth was formed 6000 years ago with all flora and fauna in place? What do you make of all the scientific studies on the age of the earth?" -Bea Kreloff, Art Workshop International, New York, NY

"What is the job of the vice-president? What are five qualities of a good leader and how do you exemplify them? Where have you traveled? Why should I vote for you?" -Mary McGloin, 35, Actor and Grad Student, Washington DC

"You campaigned for governor of Alaska on a ticket of open and transparent government. Yet, you are now refusing to cooperate with a bi-partisan investigation into your own abuse of power and instead allowing Senator McCain's campaign such interference that the legislature has asked the Alaska State Troopers to look into witness tampering. How can the American people trust you?" "You publicly acknowledge that Alaska, as the only Arctic state, is suffering from the effects of global warming. You also like to champion yourself as having taken on the oil industry. Yet, you recently challenged a Bush Administration attempt to list polar bears as a threatened species, citing studies by scientists known to question the human contribution to climate change and stating the designation would "deter activities such as…oil and gas exploration and development". Explain these contradictory positions." "You've stated that you don't support a women's right to have an abortion, even if she is a minor who's been raped by her father. Would you, as vice-president, seek to uphold the law, which protects a women's right to choose or would you seek to overturn Roe v Wade?" -Karen Button, Writer and Activist, Spenard, AK

"What are your plans to strengthen services to help women and children recover from abuse?" -Cathi Martarella, Invest in Kids Education Coordinator, Every Child Matters, St. Louis, MO

"Why won't you give other women the same choice you made when you decided to have your latest child?" -Lisa Soldavinia, Yes! on Prop 2, Petaluma, CA

"You don't support reproductive rights or raising the minimum wage, so why are you capitalizing on running as a female candidate? Your policies run counter to the interests of women. Please explain. -Loretta Ross, Founding Member and National Coordinator of Sister Song: Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, a network of grassroots agencies representing women of color -- Loretta was one of the first African American women to direct the first rape crisis center in the United States in the 1970s

"Governor Palin, I'm very concerned about our country and the impact we are having on the rest of the world. What foreign policy issue is at the top of your list? Not Senator McCain's list. Your list." -Tina, Concerned Citizen

"Do you support the Community Choice Act and the right of people with disabilities to live free from fear of living incarcerated and in institutions? Senator McCain opposes it. How do you feel? Also, please share your plan for affordable and accessible housing." -Marsha Katz, Community Organizer, ADAPT, a grassroots group fighting for people with disabilities, Missoula, Montana

"What would you do to support women who are struggling to support their families?" -Susannah Morgan, Executive Director, Food Bank of Alaska, Anchorage, AK -- the food bank serves 83,174 people annually -- demand is growing

"What's our responsibility to the promises we made to Afghan women, many of whom have seen no improvement? The situation is actually getting much worse. It was safer to be in Afghanistan in 2002 than it was in 2007. Also, there's never any mention of the lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan due to the U.S. invasions. What role should the U.S. play in ensuring the safety and security of the civilians living in the countries we enter?" -Anne Brodsky, Associate Professor of Psychology, The University of Maryland, Author of With All Our Strength, Baltimore, MD

"What is your position on the bailout plan? What do you think of Reagan's deregulation position? Are you in favor of deregulation? Also, what do you think about the crisis that's happening across this country? The unemployment rate is 11 percent in the African-American community. If you look at black men between the ages of 18-35, it's at 35 percent. People are hurting." -Jeanette Foreman, Media Justice Activist, Prometheus Project, Atlanta, Georgia

"John McCain has said he would like to close Guantanamo. What should happen to the approximately 250 detainees who are being held there?" -Stacy Sullivan, Counterterrorism Advisor, Human Rights Watch, New York, NY -- she recently returned from Guantanamo

"As a woman and a mother who has a disabled child, what do you think about the impact the war and the sanctions have had on the Iraqi people? Over 500,000 Iraqi kids were killed during 12 years of sanctions. Tens of thousands of children have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. What is your response to this violence? Also, you say you prefer adoption to abortion. What do you think of the United States' adoption policies? What should change? -Malihe Razazan, Host, Voices of the Middle East on KPFA 94.1 FM, Oakland, CA

"You told Katie Couric that you consider yourself a feminist. What does feminism mean to you? You also said you have a gay friend who 'chose' to be gay. Do you really think that being gay is a choice? Do you think gay Americans should be treated with the same equality as everyone else? Why do you think the vicinity of Alaska and Russia being close gives you foreign policy experience?" -Candace Nichols, Executive Director, The Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada

Feel free to share this list with your colleagues. We're hoping the McCain campaign 'allows' Sarah Palin to do a few more interviews before the election.

Good luck tonight. We'll be watching.

Rose Aguilar

Making a House Call on Congress

When Congress voted to "stay the course" in Iraq on June 15, many military families were furious.

"I watched the entire mock debate on C-Span for 13 hours," says Stacy Bannerman, a member of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO). "That day, I decided that if they wanted to 'stay the course,' they would have to explain their rationale to my face."

A week later, Bannerman left Seattle for Washington, D.C., where she launched Operation House Call, an MFSO campaign to highlight the ongoing human toll in Iraq. Since June 22, Bannerman, whose husband served in Balat, Iraq, from March 2004 to March 2005, has been joined by over 50 families of U.S. troops who are serving, have served, or were killed in Iraq.

So far, the families have met with several politicians, including Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. They're hoping to meet with Sen. Hillary Clinton in the coming days, but say they have yet to hear back from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chair of the Armed Services Committee.

"When a handful of members of Congress have loved ones in the military, they have no idea what staying the course looks like," says Bannerman, who has written a book about her experiences, titled "When the War Came Home." "This war is being waged on .4 percent of the American population. The rest of the people in this country -- 99.6 percent -- have no connection to the war. They are not being asked to sacrifice or allowed to see the human cause of this war."

For many of the families, Operation House Call is their first foray into political activism. "I never even voted until 2004," says 44-year-old Georgia Stillwell. "I never registered. I never cared. I was as apathetic as they come. And then it got personal."

Stillwell's 22-year-old son spent his 19th and 20th birthdays in Iraq, and is now dealing with a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder. In January, he drove his car over an embankment in excess of 120 mph. Miraculously, he survived the crash. "I know I should be grateful he's not dead, but he's dead inside," says Stillwell.

On July 12, Stillwell shared her son's story during an emotional 30-minute meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. "The congressman compared Iraq to a football game about changing strategies," she says. "I touched his arm and said, 'Congressman, children don't die in football games.' He said nothing. I also showed him a picture of a friend's son who was killed in Iraq. He was unblinking and unfeeling."

After the meeting, Hastert's press secretary said the speaker thought Stillwell was a "very patriotic woman who was proud of her son's service in Iraq."

"That's amazing, right? He just called an anti-war protestor patriotic," said Stillwell laughing.

When the families aren't meeting with politicians asking them to bring the troops home, they're braving the heat on the steps of the Senate Russell Building. There they surround themselves with footwear -- one pair of military boots for every soldier who has died since June 15, and a pair of shoes for each Iraqi civilian who has died.

"I came to D.C. decades ago as a child, and had anybody told me then that I would be spending the better part of my summer in the sauna that is D.C. standing out here, having meetings with politicians, many of whom don't want to know the truth, dealing with staffers who snicker when we come into their offices carrying empty combat boots, I wouldn't have believed them," says Bannerman.

The MFSO members also ask passersby to sign postcards supporting an end to the war. The families then hand-deliver the postcards to senators and congressmen. Stilwell says interacting with the locals and tourists has been an eye-opening experience.

"Bush supporters often say, 'I'm sick of you people.' They look at us with such hatred. I don't get it. We have military recruiter flyers for them," she says. "But what's even worse are the people who won't even look at us. They won't meet our gaze or look at the boots, and they're mostly corporate people."

The families say they've also received a number of surprisingly positive reactions. "A few congressional staffers have stopped by to say they're in full support of what we're doing even though their bosses aren't," says Nancy Lessin, MFSO co-founder.

Despite its efforts, Operation House Call has received little media coverage. MFSO released a second announcement on July 25 hoping to garner attention from the national media.

A number of families from around the country will continue meeting with politicians until they leave D.C. for summer recess on Aug. 4. The Waste family wants to talk about the impact the war has had on their three sons and two grandchildren. Together, they have spent 81 months in Iraq. One son is currently deployed with the First Armored Division; another son is scheduled to return to Iraq this fall with the First Cavalry Division.

Cathy Smith hopes to talk about her eldest son, who was paralyzed from the chest down by an AK-47 round while serving in Iraq, and her middle son who is currently serving with the Army.

Once the families leave Washington, D.C., Lessin says they'll follow their elected officials home. "Our 26 chapters will jump into action and meet with politicians in their home districts, at their offices, their homes and vacation homes. This war doesn't end for us. We can't take a vacation from it."

The Power of Thunder

Just two weeks after South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signed the state's extreme abortion ban with no exceptions for rape and incest, Cecelia Fire Thunder, the first woman president of the Oglala Sioux tribe, made national headlines after saying she would personally set up a clinic on her tribe's land in South Dakota to preserve a woman's right to choose. There is currently only one clinic in the entire state of South Dakota that provides abortions, and its status, since the ban, is endangered.

President Fire Thunder's decision to take the lead on this issue is nothing short of remarkable considering the number of challenges on the reservation. Almost half of all Native American women in South Dakota are poor, compared with approximately 10 percent of white women, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research report on the Status of Women in South Dakota. Median annual earnings for women in South Dakota rank last in the nation. Furthermore, the unemployment rate on the reservation is 85 percent and the life expectancy rate is 46 for men and 55 for women.

But President Fire Thunder is a determined woman. Besides announcing plans for the clinic, she has continued to focus on the need to address rape as an issue for South Dakota women, particularly Native American women. One in six American women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey. The average annual rate of rape and sexual assault among American Indians is three and a half times higher than the national average.

Fire Thunder is one of the co-chairs of a new coalition called the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families. The group just announced a grassroots plan to contest the abortion ban on the November ballot. They have until June 19 to collect 16,728 signatures.

AlterNet's Rose Aguilar spoke with President Fire Thunder about the clinic, abortion ban and challenges facing women who live in rural areas.

Rose Aguilar: Tell me about the clinic you're planning to build.

Cecelia Fire Thunder: The proposed clinic would be for all women because right now, if a woman needs an abortion, she needs to go all the way to Sioux Falls. This clinic would go beyond abortion and contraception. We're missing out on teaching our boys and men about what they need to do to avoid pregnancies.

Rose Aguilar: I called the governor's office to find out what the penalty would be for women who have abortions if the law goes into effect, but haven't received a call back. If the law is upheld, will women be able to have legal abortions on your reservation?

Fire Thunder: We don't know. We have five Indian lawyers working on this right now. When we go face to face with the South Dakota lawmakers, we'll be ready.

Aguilar: You've made it a point to talk about rape in your interviews. While the abortion ban has received widespread attention, there's been little talk about how this law would force a girl who'd been raped by a male relative to have his baby.

Fire Thunder: We need to start talking about those issues. Americans should be outraged about the number of women who are raped in this country. We need to also speak out for women in places like Afghanistan and other war-torn areas where rape is happening. This is not new. Rape has always been a part of life. Unfortunately, the world is not always a safe place for women.

Ultimately, this is a much bigger issue than just abortion. The women of America should be outraged that policies and decisions about their bodies are being made by male politicians and clergy. It's time for women to reclaim their bodies.

Women in America have something that women in other parts of the world don't have. Women in this country don't appreciate their right to free speech. Women in America can be the voice of women around the world. This is a call to arms by women in the United States.

Aguilar: And not only are the anti-choicers going after abortion, they're also going after birth control.

Fire Thunder: Women should have access to contraception. No questions asked. Contraception is a solution. Why don't they (politicians) get it?

Aguilar: Do the women on the reservation have access to contraception?

Fire Thunder: We have Indian clinics on the reservation, so birth control is available, but it's not enough. We're going to go ahead with the clinic no matter what. If nothing else, we need to establish a place where women feel comfortable.

Aguilar: How will you fund it?

Fire Thunder: I'm not concerned about that. We'll get a lot of support. If it's meant to be, it'll happen. We pray a lot. We trust that there will be people who support it.

Aguilar: How do these laws directly impact the poor women on the reservation?

Women of color and poor women have always known that regardless of what happens, women with money will have access to abortion. Women with money will have access to contraception. No matter which way you cut it, it's always on the backs of poor women.

An elder on my reservation said, "So they don't want you to have contraception or abortions after rape? Are they going to step up and take care of that baby?"

Aguilar: Do you think the pro-choice movement does enough to reach out to poor women?

Fire Thunder: Yes and no. For the most part, we have to empower ourselves. We're becoming much more politically astute, and we're getting a lot more young people involved. We love to get people riled up.

Aguilar: Tell me about your reservation and the realities women living in rural areas face in this political climate.

Fire Thunder: My reservation is 50 miles by 100 miles long. It's a large rural community of 40,000 people and 60 percent of our people speak our language. Half of our population is under 18.

In a perfect world, if a woman is raped, she will call the police, and the police will take her to the emergency room. The emergency room will have components in place to help this woman, including the morning-after pill to prevent the pregnancy. In rural America, that doesn't happen. Many places in rural America do not know about the morning-after pill.

On the reservation, we have to take a look at the high rates of alcohol and drug use. More often than not, young women who've been raped while under the influence will be blamed for being drunk. If someone is raped, especially out in the rural community, they may not report it. After three days, they've passed the cut-off point for taking the morning-after pill.

How many babies are conceived during the act of violence? We don't know.

Aguilar: Tell me about your background.

Fire Thunder: I was born and raised on the reservation. Then I went to Los Angeles on a relocation program from 1963 to 1976. The program was the Eisenhower administration's solution to the "Indian problem." What they wanted to do was put us in cities and hope we would disappear. During the '70s, Los Angeles had the largest Indian population in the U.S.

I eventually became a nurse and was able to provide for my two children. I returned to the reservation in 1987 and eventually worked for the state health department.

Aguilar: And eventually became the first woman president of your tribe.

Fire Thunder: Yes, it says a lot about my tribe. My job is to look after 2.7 million acres of land. My job is to take care of the water. My responsibilities are not only about the two-legged, but the four-legged. I have to make sure we have an infrastructure in place, that our educational systems are working, that we have healthcare and that our people have enough food to eat.

Right in my own backyard, I have great possibilities. We're very patriotic on my reservation, however, it's time to get out of Iraq. We need to let people make their own decisions about their future. As a woman and a mother, I personally don't want any more women to cry.

Aguilar: Are many men from the reservation in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Fire Thunder: You bet. We have hundreds of guys over there, and they volunteer to go. We just had a big funeral here last month. It was our first casualty.

Aguilar: How old was he?

Fire Thunder: He was 22. So many of our resources have been taken away from us to support that war. There's a huge groundswell of Americans that say enough is enough. It's time to get out of there.

Aguilar: What are your plans from here?

Fire Thunder: I'll continue pushing the envelope and exerting our sovereignty.

A long time ago, we had medicines that were available to terminate a pregnancy. Women like my grandmother were medicine women, and they had it in their possession. So you look at every culture in the world, and there were ways we took care of ourselves. You didn't have people passing laws to control a woman's body.

As a woman, it's my job to support women. It's my job to support my sisters.

No Room in the Big Tent

Anti-abortion Republicans have a lot to celebrate. The confirmation of Samuel Alito and John Roberts, two anti-abortion Supreme Court justices, and the passage of the South Dakota law banning all abortion, have been seen as clear Republican victories. But for pro-choice Republicans, appalled and disgusted by the South Dakota law, the party ended a long time ago. While some say it's important to speak out and fight for change, others say they're tired of fighting a losing battle.

"I was a Republican. I did stand up. I got crucified for it and finally said, 'To hell with it,'" says Elisabeth "Jinx" Ecke, a longtime Planed Parenthood supporter and board member in San Diego, Calif. "I've tried to support Republican candidates in the California Assembly, and they swear on a stack of bibles that they'll vote pro- choice. Then they go to Sacramento and they vote anti-choice. I'm done."

Ecke, 74, cast her first vote for Dwight Eisenhower back in 1953. Four years ago, she reregistered by checking the "Decline to State" box. "I'm supporting mostly Democrats for one simple reason: choice," she says. "People say you can't be a one issue voter and I say, 'Yes I can.'"

Jewel Edson, 46, another lifelong Republican who "sadly" voted for President Bush in 2000 and Sen. John Kerry in 2004, says she's disappointed with the Republican Party in general. "It has turned me into a person who votes for a candidate, not the party," she says.

Today, the Republican Party's platform says, "Any effort to address global social problems must be firmly placed within a context of respect for the fundamental social institutions of marriage and family. For that reason, we support protecting the rights of families in international programs and oppose funding organizations involved in abortion." It also says, "We support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make it clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of that right against those who perform abortions."

Sue Savage ran as a Republican national delegate during George H.W. Bush's term because she wanted to take abortion out of the party's platform and out of politics altogether. She lost her bid.

Savage says she and her pro-choice Republican friends from Lancaster County, Penn., can no longer compromise over the issues of abortion and family planning. "A lot of my friends have left the Republican Party, including friends who've been elected in the Republican Party," she says. "I was privately voting for Democrats in the voting booth, but it got to the point where it was a very cathartic experience to officially change parties."

Hoping to prevent others from leaving the party in droves, the Republican Majority for Choice (RMC) last month launched a campaign called the "Hunt for Real Republicans" in Pennsylvania, home of one of the most watched Senate races in the country. The campaign kicked off with ads in every major daily Pennsylvania newspaper calling for real Republicans to step up and challenge the extreme right wing of the party. While the ads didn't specifically mention Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, they were obviously targeting his extreme views on choice, family planning and stem cell research.

"Our ad campaign is meant to force a dialogue," says Kellie Ferguson, executive director of the RMC. "Can we get Santorum to at least open his mind? If he doesn't, he's going to lose. We don't want to oppose members of our own party, but we need to point out that this has gone too far."

In a March 3, 2006, letter to the group, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a member of its advisory board, wrote, "I strongly oppose these advertisements. The Big Tent is big enough to include both Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter. The RMC ought not to be in the business of electing Democrats to the United States Senate. Without Senator Santorum's support, I would not have won the 2004 Republican primary. As I believe the RMC knows, I've repeatedly said that Senator Santorum's reelection is my top priority in 2006. I call on." Specter went on to say that he will withhold his decision on whether to resign from the RMC's advisory board until he sees what further action RMC takes on this matter.

The RMC, which opposed Sen. Specter's vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, will continue its "Hunt for Real Republican" campaign in Pennsylvania through mailings and online outreach and plans to expand it to other states.

Ferguson says immediately after the South Dakota law passed, many of the RMC's 150,000 members called and emailed the group threatening to leave the Republican Party unless the tide changes. "The scales have finally tipped, and it's time for us to take the lead," she says. "The ban on abortion with no exception for rape and incest is reality now. It's always been a threat that no one ever thought would come to light."

Bush reinstated the Global Gag Rule on his first day in office, which halts all funding to overseas family planning clinics. Just three days before the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Bush proclaimed Jan. 19, 2003, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. Bush's views have been clear from the start, so why has it taken so long for pro-choice Republicans to speak out?

"Moderates by nature are peaceful and don't want to rock the boat," says Ann Stone, executive director of Republicans for Choice, a D.C.-based group with 150,000 members in all 50 states. "I haven't been peaceful. The party needs to take a look at itself and what it's become because it has gotten away from its basic ideals."

Stone says she welcomes the South Dakota law because it has split the anti-choice movement and forces anti-choice Republicans to publicly take a stand on exceptions for rape and incest.

"Republicans are in power. The reason there's never been an up and down vote in Congress to frontally assault Roe is because they know the debate would kill them," she says. Only a few prominent Republican Senators have been questioned by the national media about this issue. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas told Newsweek he strongly backs the South Dakota law. "I'd have signed it," he said. "Rape and incest are horrible crimes, but why punish the innocent child?"

And anti-abortion Sen. George Allen of Virginia told Newsweek that if a similar bill had come through his own state's legislature when he was governor, he would have vetoed it.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona has gone on record saying he supports banning abortion with exceptions to protect the life of the mother and in cases of rape or incest.

"We've actually considered trying to provoke a Senate vote and expose them once and for all for what they are: people who want to control women," says Stone.

Out of 55 Republicans in the Senate, 46 have a 0 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America and a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee. With the exception of Sens. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, all of those senators are men.

So far, AlterNet has placed two phone calls asking each of those senators if they support overturning Roe v. Wade and, if so, do they support an exception for rape and incest? Not one senator has responded. Right now the fate of abortion rights is in the hands of the courts. But if it comes down to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v.Wade, people will remember which senators voted for the anti-abortion justices. Perhaps then, if not before, the senators will be held accountable.

The Budget and the Damage Done

Every month, 80-year-old Sally Shaver pays someone to drive her to the Harvest Hope Food Bank in Columbia, S.C., to pick up a box of fresh produce, baked goods, dry cereals, juice, canned goods and cheese. "It really helps me out because after paying for my rent, phone bill and medication, I barely have enough for food," she says. "If I could work, I would, but I have an artificial knee and a pacemaker, and I can't get around."

Shaver, who worked as a nurse's aide for most of her life, brings in $451 a month in social security. Her fixed income qualifies her for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which is designed to improve the health and nutrition of low-income senior citizens, pregnant women, postpartum mothers, infants and children.

Last year, CSFP provided 536,196 people with a monthly box of food. Bush's proposed budget for 2007 calls for a nationwide elimination of the entire program.

"As a food bank, we are very concerned about this program. When you have a growing population of elderly in this state, how are we going to find other resources to replace it?" asks Denise Holland, executive director of the Harvest Hope Food Bank. "We have already been serving these seniors for two years, and they have gotten accustomed to this. I can't turn people away in wheelchairs. My heart won't let me do it."

Holland says if the program is cut entirely, she'll seek food and financial donations to ensure the neediest recipients continue to receive their monthly box of food. "Because they are on a fixed income, this box makes the difference between them not having enough to eat for the month to really being able to spread it out over the month," she says. "When they experience hunger, their health is going to decline, which is going to cost us more to help them in other ways."

The Harvest Food Bank serves 56,000 people per week in 18 South Carolina counties, but is only able to offer the CSFP in two counties because of funding constraints. Bush's 2006 budget cuts forced the program to cut the number of boxes it offers from 1,400 to 1,200 per month and that's just in two counties. More than 350 low-income senior citizens are on the program's waiting list.

South Carolina ranks second nationwide for the highest percentage of hungry people and fifth for the highest percentage of individuals with food insecurity, according to the Center on Hunger and Poverty.

Child care's ugly death

Because kindergarten isn't required in Indiana, affordable child care is crucial for low-income single mothers like 25-year-old Shalaywa Murphy. Her $9.95 an hour job as a sterile processor qualifies her for voucher assistance at Imagination Station Child Development Center in Michigan City, one of only two licensed daycare centers in the area.

Murphy's 6-year-old son attended kindergarten at the center until she went on a six-week maternity leave. "If you're on maternity leave, your child can't continue daycare unless you pay for it," she says. "Because I don't get paid maternity leave, I can't afford it, so my son is now home with me, and I worry about his education."

Because Murphy is low on cash and wants her son back in school, she plans to ask her doctor if she can go back to work a week early. The problem is, her newborn is on a waiting list with 150 other families who are also eligible for voucher assistance. "You have no idea when your name will come up," she says. "I'll probably have to pay $120 a week, and it'll be hard to make ends meet."

The 2007 budget cuts would result in an even longer waiting list, says Deborah Chubb, executive director of Imagination Station.

"We have people that come in here every day who can't get on the list and can't get a job because they can't afford child care," she says. "We've also had a lot of problems where people get in and then get a raise and no longer qualify. That creates a revolving door because they can't afford to pay $140 a week and end up losing their jobs. It's an ugly death."

Imagination Station cares for 123 children ranging in ages from 6 weeks to 12 years and is open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. to accommodate working parents. "We work really hard to try to get low-income families in here because the kindergarten that is offered is only half a day. It's insane that you have to pick up your kid at 11:15 and take them to a child-care provider," Chubb says. "Imagine if you work at McDonald's. No one is going to let you run over and pick up your kid. I've offered one mom to pick up her kid because she can't do it."

At least 400,000 children nationwide will lose child care under Bush's budget, according to the National Women's Law Center. This is in addition to the 250,000 children who have lost child-care assistance since 2000. The budget predicts 1.8 million children will receive child care in 2011, compared with 2.45 million in 2000.

AIDS patients' waiting list

In June 1997, a few months after Richard Williams dropped out of college due to a bad case of meningitis and pneumonia, he found out he was HIV positive. Williams, now 32, was living with mother at the time, but she couldn't afford his medical needs, so he sought assistance from AIDS Alabama, an organization in Birmingham that helps people with case management, transportation, substance abuse, housing and education. Williams was accepted into the program and has been living in its housing program since August 2005.

"This program is a blessing," says Williams. "If I didn't have this program, I would probably be dead by now. When I got here, I was slowly dying. They provided me with a doctor, and everything turned around."

Williams is on a fixed income of $631 a month and pays $181 a month for rent and three meals per day. He's in the process of reapplying to college and plans to become a social worker.

AIDS Alabama manages two housing apartment complexes and serves 7,000 people who are HIV positive. Last year, the group had a $5 million budget; this year, its budget is $4.4 million. With even more cuts expected to hit Medicaid and Section 8 housing, the organization is bracing for the worst.

"All the cuts boggle my imagination," says Kathie Hiers, CEO of AIDS Alabama. "I have a moral dilemma when I have to tell somebody, 'I'm sorry, you're HIV positive, and you have to get on a waiting list to get the medicines you need to save your life.'"

AIDS Alabama, which hasn't received any new funds over the past five years, currently has 300 people on its medication waiting list. "Even people who are lucky enough to get on the list won't have access to all the drugs," says Hiers. "The amount of services we're able to provide is just pitiful. We went through a period when the state couldn't give us any money to provide transportation to our rural clients."

Half of the organization's clients live in rural areas and have no access to transportation. The average income for AIDS patients in Alabama is $7,950. "Unfortunately most budget cuts are directed at low-income people," says Hiers. "We're overburdened, and I don't know what's going to happen. It's sad that the richest country in the world will not prioritize health care in America."

The Senate recently passed a proposal that would add billions of dollars to Bush's proposed budget; the House is expected to release its budget after this week's recess. "We can't just talk dollars when you talk about these cuts. These are impacting real people," says Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition for Human Needs, a group that advocates for low-income and vulnerable people. "Bush's budget makes cuts in services that people need, while continuing tax breaks worth trillions of dollars that go overwhelmingly to the wealthiest among us."

A coalition of 1,200 organizations in all 50 states recently sent a letter (PDF) to politicians, urging them to rethink their priorities. But regardless of what happens to the upcoming budget, advocates say, the damage has already been done.

Banned and Gagged

After the recent confirmation of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, it was only a matter of time before a state like South Dakota passed a law that banned all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. South Dakota's governor, Mike Rounds, signed the ban on Monday. While the ban is a turning point for abortion politics at home, it mirrors what's already been happening overseas. Abortion rights advocates say it's time for Americans to start connecting the dots.

"Because of the constitutional guarantees embedded in the Roe v. Wade decision, Republican administrations have been unable to completely defund abortion groups in the United States, so they've taken it out on poor women in developing countries, but those policies are coming home," says Steven Sinding, an American who serves as director-general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), a London-based organization that supports the poor, underserved and marginalized in 180 countries.

The United States has funded international family planning programs since the 1960s, but in 1984, the Reagan Administration passed the Global Gag Rule, which denies U.S. Agency for International Development funding to overseas organizations that perform legal abortions with exceptions for rape and incest or to save a woman's life; provide counseling and referrals for abortion; engage in abortion-related public policy debates; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their own country.

"Americans have the right to say where their funding is going, but we find it completely unfair to be asking others not to talk about certain topics which are not liked by the American establishment," says Tewodros Melesse, director of the IPPF's Africa Region Office. "We believe the American Constitution and virtue of the American democracy exists on individual choices, on freedom and on democracy and to deny that right to others sends the wrong message."

The Clinton administration ended the Global Gag Rule in 1993 by executive order; President Bush reinstated it on his first day in office in January 2001, halting an estimated $15 million per year in funding to the IPPF after it refused to sign the rule. A number of reproductive rights groups, including Ipas, which has offices in 11 countries, have also lost funding to other organizations.

As a result, community-based health services have been curtailed and contraceptive supplies have drastically decreased. The United States stopped giving Zambia donated condoms after it refused to sign the Gag Rule, and several family planning clinics across Africa and Asia have been forced to close.

"We used to have 17 clinics; now we have nine," says Dr. Joachim Osur with IPPF member Family Health Options Kenya, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for reproductive rights in Kenya, where abortion is illegal, with an exception to save a woman's life. "We've been closing them one after another; we were hoping that someone would come to our rescue, but it never happened. After the clinics closed, fetuses were thrown in the streets. We feel the rate of abortion has gone up because women have no access to family planning."

The British Department for International Development recently announced plans to defy the U.S. government by contributing $5.3 million to the IPPF's new Global Safe Abortion Program. "That by itself does not make up for the $15 million a year we estimate we are losing as a consequence of the Global Gag Rule, but it's greatly appreciated," says Sindig. "They've [the British government] asked other European governments to join them in supporting the safe abortion fund. I anticipate it could compensate for the loss of the American money"

The program aims to provide the services and information needed to reduce the growing number of unsafe abortions worldwide. This year alone, 19 million women will face serious injury, illness or death as a consequence of abortions performed by unskilled people under unsanitary conditions. Nearly 70,000 will die. Virtually all of those women live in the poorest countries in the world, and almost every death and injury could be prevented, according to the IPPF's report, "Death and Denial: Unsafe Abortion and Poverty."

A 42-year-old Ghanaian market trader named Esinam recently told the BBC why she decided to have an illegal abortion at a back-street clinic in Accra, after becoming pregnant for the fourth time despite using birth control. "My husband and I can barely look after our three children on the little income we have. How could we afford to feed another mouth?" She was four months pregnant when she had the back-street abortion.

"Even though I realized it wasn't a proper clinic, I was still determined to go through with the termination. I had no choice," she said. After the abortion, she bled profusely, lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital. When she regained consciousness, she was told her womb was rotten and had to be removed. "I cannot have anymore children, and if I had lost any more blood, I would have died. I am very grateful to the doctor and his team at Accra's Ridge Hospital who saved my life."

Esinam was lucky she survived. In Africa, four million unsafe abortions occur each year, and more than 40 percent of the world's deaths occur on the continent due to unsafe abortions.

"We can't tell you how many of those injuries and deaths are a direct result of the Global Gag Rule. There's just no way we can accurately calculate that," says Sinding. "But we have no doubt that the curtailment of services has led directly to suffering by women both because they had pregnancies they didn't want or because they acquired sexually transmitted infections."

Sinding says the Swedish, Japanese and British governments are the world's largest international family planning donors; the German, Denmark, Norwegian and Dutch governments also make substantial contributions.

Funding from the British government prevented three clinics from closing in Ghana, where abortion is permitted to protect a woman's health and in cases of rape, incest and fetal impairment; funding from the Dutch government prevented the closure of 10 clinics in Ethiopia, where abortion laws were relaxed in 2004 to allow abortions in cases of rape and incest. The law also makes an exemption for young women who suffer from psychological stress. The anti-choice movement overseas, which is heavily funded by American organizations, unsuccessfully challenged those exceptions.

"While the current [American] administration and anti-choice groups says abortion kills life, the very precise intervention to prevent abortion is leading millions of women to abortion and killing so many babies and so many mothers," says Melesse. "Over 50 percent of the maternal deaths in Africa are linked to complications due to abortion, which are preventable."

Almost 12 years ago, at an international conference on population in Cairo, 179 countries made a commitment to greatly improve reproductive rights and decrease maternal deaths around the globe by 2015. The Bush administration's policies are making it close to impossible to meet that goal.

"If American women understood what the actions of our government means to the lives of women around the world, particularly poor women in poor countries, they couldn't in good conscience support this administration for any reason," says Sinding. "The fact is, what the Bush administration is doing to women in the developing world hasn't really penetrated the consciousness of the American electorate."

Maybe not. But as we fume about the passage of South Dakota's draconian abortion ban, soon to be headed toward its first legal challenge, it's a good time to remember that we're now facing in the U.S. what women around the world have suffered since the day Bush took office.

The Blue Tint of Indian Country

During the 2004 presidential election, Democrats and Republicans heavily courted the most underrepresented group in the country: Native Americans. Although Indians make up less than 1 percent of the U.S. population, many live in swing states and their influence in determining the outcome of state and local elections is growing. Perhaps even more importantly, 95 percent of Indians are Democrats.

Thurston County -- the only county in Nebraska that voted for John Kerry for president -- is home to the Winnebago and Omaha Indian reservations. Kerry won six of Montana's 56 counties, three of which are home to Indian reservations.

"The Democrats, I believe, have taken some of the leading steps forward for Indian country," says Janine Pease, a Crow Indian and vice president for American Indian Affairs at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont.

"If you go back and study some of the legislation that's been passed, it's happened under Democratic administrations," Pease points out. "Jimmy Carter signed the law on tribal colleges. Bill Clinton signed the executive order on tribal colleges and on tribal sovereignty. There just isn't any way you can compare legislation under Republican administrations. I spent my entire dissertation looking into civil rights and education acts and the leading pieces of legislation that bring what little has happened in Indian country alive have been Democratic initiatives."

Republicans, on the other have, have "dismantled Indian country big time," says Pease. "The Reagan administration didn't appropriate any money for programs in Indian country and let them basically starve to death. We had 35 tribal programs that were contracted from federal funds for a whole number of issue areas, from the EPA to abandoned land mines. After Reagan's first term, we were down to five. That is starvation."

Century-old treaties signed between tribes and the United States government guaranteed Indians basic services in exchange for their land. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Services were created to provide education and healthcare, respectively. Those promises have not been kept, as proven by extremely high unemployment rates and poor access to healthcare.

Take the Blackfeet Reservation, for instance. Located in Browning, Mont. -- a town that borders Glacier National Park -- the Blackfeet tribe has 15,640 members and a 68 percent unemployment rate. "If you don't work for the tribe, the hospital, the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the school district, then all you've got is the convenience stores and small, part-time, minimum-wage jobs," says Carol Sway-Henderson. "People think we Indians get a check every month and that's not true. Believe me, Indians want to work, but the jobs don't exist."

The tribe is planning to build a casino to bring in revenue. Every member I met when I visited, however, said they opposed the idea. "I think it's a waste of money," says Cheryl Guardipee. "They (the tribe) could put it into something for the kids. We have nothing here on the reservation for the kids, absolutely nothing. They go to school and they go home. As they get older, they don't go home, they get in trouble."

Guardipee, 53, started voting a few years ago because, "maybe if more people voted, we'd get something done." Guardipee voted for Kerry, but she isn't enthusiastic about the political process. Both the federal government and her tribal government, she says, ignore Indians.

While the majority of the Indians I met are very proud of their heritage and their culture, most were at a loss for words when I asked them for solutions to eradicate widespread poverty and alcoholism. Part of the problem, says Guardipee, is that Indians are disconnected from non-Indians in Montana. In other words, poverty on Indian reservations is invisible, just like poverty in New Orleans was invisible before Katrina. She also says the stereotypes don't help.

Over the course of a month's stay in Montana, I rarely saw Indians mixing with non-Indians. In Northern Montana, I met an Indian woman who was recently hired by the federal government to do a job that requires her to interact with the public on a regular basis. "For the first three months, the locals couldn't believe that an Indian had this job," she says. "They're used to me by now, but so many of them said they've never met an Indian before. For all I knew, they think we all still live in teepees."

After leaving Browning, I stopped in Glasgow, a nearby town, and asked a local about poverty on the Blackfeet Reservation. "You stopped in Browning? I would never go to Browning. It's too dangerous," was the response. I was warned against stopping on Indian reservations by many Montanans over the course of my travels, but what I found were people who simply wanted to share their stories.

My next stop was the Crow reservation, located in south-central Montana and comprised of just under 11,000 members. The poverty practically slaps you in the face on the drive to and from the reservation. Dilapidated trailer homes line the highway, many with no windows and broken doors, surrounded by junk and rusting cars and clotheslines hung with tattered clothes. Sixty-two percent of Crow Indians are unemployed and the 38 percent that are employed are living below the poverty line, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"The problems are so deep here," says Maxine Brown. "The federal government set up a system that gave us no choice but to rely on them. That led to alcohol and drug problems. In order to make a life for myself, I had to literally walk away from my family because the problems are so bad."

Forty percent of Crow adults are addicted to "one form of substance or another," according to Janine Pease. "I think a lot of people in Montana feel that if Indians would just leave the reservation, they would leave their challenges behind them and partake in the great American dream, but that's not at all the case, not in Montana," she says. "Jobs are often hard to find in big cities and housing is too expensive."

Montana's Indians see a glimmer of hope in Governor Brian Schweitzer, the state's first Democratic governor since 1988. A statement on Schweitzer's website reads, "Montanans need to understand the treaties made between Native Americans and the federal government pre-date the creation of the state of Montana. These treaties state that the reservations are sovereign nations."

Making good on his promise to reach out to Indians, Schweitzer has appointed six Indians to key positions within his administration and another six to state boards and councils. "He's done more for Indian country in a month and a half than the other 23 governors in Montana history," said Democratic Representative Jonathon Windy Boy at one of Schweitzer's inaugural balls held back in February.

Pease anticipates major changes from the governor on down. "Where Indians live, they're in the majority, so we have a number of counties that are Indian majority," she says. "That hasn't always been the case. Fifteen years ago, two counties, Glacier and Big Horn, became Indian and so in those areas we now have county officials and school board members who are tribal members and you wouldn't have seen that 20 years ago. I believe it will slowly make a difference in the quality of life."

If that happens, voter turnout amongst the Indian population will most likely increase. "While it has always been known that Native voters could help determine local election winners and losers, for the first time candidates for statewide and federal offices became plainly aware of the importance of Native constituencies," writes Jackie Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians in its NativeVote2004 report. While registration and turnout is still low compared to the national average, Native communities saw increases of 50 to 150 percent in their turnout, according to the report.

Native Americans became United States citizens in 1924, but as late as 1948, they were barred from voting in some states. While amendments have been passed to ensure the voting rights of women and African Americans, a Native Americans' right to vote has never been constitutionally secured.

Anti-War Voices from Montana

Far from the steps of the White House, about 100 peace activists braved the cold and light rain Saturday night in Missoula, Montana to rally in conjunction with the anti-war march in Washington, D.C.

"It's important to remember that there are people everywhere in America who value peace and international cooperation, not just Washington D.C. and San Francisco," says Gerry Blackman, 65. "I don't think we can discount the numbers of these people everywhere in America."

Missoula's "Take Back Our Country, Bring Back Our Troops" rally was sponsored by the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center and Code Pink. Missoula, which is referred to by locals as the "liberal bastion" of Montana, gave John Kerry 52% of the vote in the 2004 presidential election.

"Missoula is the one place in Montana where a rally like this can happen on a fairly large scale," says Blackman, who recently returned from Uzbekistan as a Peace Corps volunteer. "I'm originally from Great Falls, Montana, which is a little different; maybe not so progressive. It's more content with the war because they support a military base. I've lived there most of my adult life. I've lived in Missoula about 17 years. This is a community that supports and mirrors my attitudes about peace and our international relations. It's a very special community in our state."

"This is the island," adds Jay Bostrom, a middle school teacher. "I spent a year in Helena, Montana and we tried to protest there, but the climate is extremely different. That's the capitol of the state, which is interesting because there is a pretty strong group of peace seekers in that area, but they stand alone and isolated. Standing on the corner with a sign there is a very different experience. At the last anti-war rally we had here, there were 1,000 people, whereas in Helena, there might be 50. Helena might be the second most progressive place in the state, which is not saying much."

While Montana is often referred to as a "red state," it has a much wider political spectrum than it gets credit for. Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer won a closely watched, highly publicized race in November, making him the state's first Democratic governor since 1988. During that same election, 62 percent of Montana voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, the 11th state in the country -- and the ninth Western state -- to do so. The Schweitzer and medical marijuana victories came even as Montanans voted by wide margins to ban gay marriage and reelect George W. Bush for President.

The state's progressives are also proud of the fact that Jeannette Rankin, a Missoula, Montana native, was the first woman ever elected to Congress in 1916, four years before women nationwide won the right to vote. In 1917, Rankin joined a handful of representatives who voted against World War I, saying that the first time the first woman had a chance to say no against war she should say it." In 1941, Rankin was the only member of Congress to vote against World War II.

"Her (Rankin's) political integrity and voting record puts to shame the vast majority of congressmen and women today. She was immensely popular in this 'red state' despite her intractable anti-war and women's rights stances," says Bostrom. "Montana has nothing to be ashamed of politically. The seemingly incongruent and incoherent politics of this state are no worse than the unexplainable feat by the state of California to put Arnold in the Governor's office."

All of the people I interviewed at Saturday's rally are dedicated activists working for various causes both locally and internationally. Carel Schneider, 61, was at the rally representing Women in Black Missoula, a group she started on December 6, 2001. "After 2001, something was totally amiss in my whole energy field because of what we were doing. I had to stand up for what I believed in," she says. "I researched Women in Black, we started standing and we have been ever since."

Members of Women in Black Missoula stand on the town's visible bridge every Friday. "At first, we were called unpatriotic and un-American. When we went to war, people gave us the finger and yelled at us. There have been interims when they've honked in support, but we seem to be moving back into the hostile area," says Schneider. "I don't know why that's happening. It depends on the political arena. As long as we're there, they have to see us and we have to enter their heads. Somehow we're making a difference."

Are opinions about the war in Montana changing?

"Yes. Our membership is up, people are coming by more and our events are better attended. People come in to the Peace Center all the time and just talk about issues or what's happening. I can tell just by listening to them that there is more hope in the peace movement," says Betsy Mulligan-Dague, executive director of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center. "We had a lot of people -- hundreds of people -- at rallies prior to the war, but after the war started and the election turned, we really had some disappointed people that holed up and said, 'I'm not gonna try anymore.' I think that's changing. People are coming back out and are getting involved again. They feel like there's hope."

Mulligan-Dague says the key to keeping those people and growing the movement is by spreading a positive message. Many speakers at the D.C. rally were criticized for screaming off-topic, angry messages without offering solutions to the problems we're currently facing. "They think anger is going to rev us up and get us involved and it has in the past, but I'm finding people more excited by the concept of building rather than tearing down and criticizing," she says. "I get a hundred emails a day from, and, and after reading them, I'm tired. I want something positive."

The challenge for activists here in Missoula and across the country is to reach out to people outside of their tight-knit circles, especially those who still believe there was a connection between 9/11 and Iraq. The day after the rally, I went to a strip mall to ask people if their opinions about the war have changed. In a parking lot full of cars with "Support Our Troops" ribbons, it didn't take long to find people who still wholeheartedly support the war.

"If we don't react, then we're going to bring the fight here and I'd prefer to fight it there," says Vietnam veteran Gordon Feist. "We're gonna get attacked again. It's only a matter of time before that happens."

When I asked Feist why the pro-war rally on Sunday was minuscule in comparison to all of the anti-war rallies on Saturday, he said Bush supporters tend to be the silent majority. "I wouldn't go to a pro- war rally. I make donations through my checkbook. That's the way I protest if that's the word. I'm not a guy who would go out there and walk around," he says.

Feist, like so many people I've met in small towns in the South and West, has two family members serving in Iraq. "Whether you agree or disagree, the government was elected to make the decisions and until they vote the government out, then you have to support them."

After I interviewed Feist, I met Lisa, 42 (she didn't want to give her last name). Lisa, whose son returned from Iraq last year and plans to return soon, says her opinions about the war haven't changed. "I support the president and I support our troops," she says. Lisa says she believes the U.S. is in Iraq to fight terrorism. "I don't think it's about oil. I think everything changed on September 11 when we were attacked."

With the exception of Feist and Lisa, the majority of the people I approached on Sunday were visibly angry when I told them I was writing an article about Missoula's anti-war rally. In response to my request for an interview, one woman sternly said, "We have nothing to talk about," got in her car and sped off.

While that kind of hostility can be difficult to deal with, Carel Schneider says it's one of the reasons she, as an activist, has chosen to stay in Montana rather than move to a more liberal state. "I spent 17 years in Seattle and it was easy to be there. Here, you're a lot more visible and it takes a lot more determination," she says. "I've thought about going to other places, but we need people here. I can go back to Seattle and join a large group, but I won't make a difference like I can here."

Starting From Scratch

Two days before Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans, 49-year-old Walter Favoroth opened a detailing business. "We invested about $2,500 in that," he says.

Now his business, along with his home and personal belongings, are all gone

Favoroth's story is just as gripping as all the rest. He describes saving his wife Yolanda. "I'm in water up to here and I had her on my neck. I had to walk like that for five miles. She doesn't know how to swim," he says. "In our house, we were watching the storm. We saw water coming under the door fast. I went to go get a sheet to put under the door and the water just came in. It filled our bathtub and our toilet and water rushed up to the ceiling. In a matter of five minutes, the whole house was full of water."

The Favoroths, like so many families, have since left New Orleans to start a new life in an unknown town. After spending a few horrific days in the New Orleans Convention Center, the couple boarded an airplane from New Orleans bound for San Antonio, Texas, or so they thought. After they took off, they were told they were actually going to Salt Lake City, Utah.

"I never got on an airplane in my life. It was an experience," Favoroth says. "I was hugging my wife saying, 'Baby, are we gonna be alright?'"

Over 63,000 New Orleans residents have been flown to shelters in nine states throughout the country, including Texas, Arizona, Georgia and Utah. Many had no idea where they were going or when they would return to New Orleans, if ever. Two weeks ago, 583 people were unknowingly flown to Salt Lake City, Utah. From there, they were taken to Camp Williams in Draper, Utah. Many left the base almost immediately and many more took buses to Texas to reunite with loved ones. As of Saturday, 299 people remained at the shelter.

Rebuilding Lives

When I visited Camp Draper last Wednesday, I expected to meet people who were angry about unknowingly being flown to a state that couldn't be more different from Louisiana. What I found were people who were happy to be safe and who wanted nothing more than to share their stories, especially those who had been trapped in the New Orleans Convention Center without food and water. "There were horror scenes all over," says 20-year-old Cornell Perkins. "People scouring for food, water, Pampers for babies. Two or three babies died. It was very tragic. "

Perkins was in the convention center for four days until a charter bus picked him up and took him to the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans. How did he feel when he found out he was on his way to Utah? "I felt bad at first. I'm like, what are we doing in Utah? I thought we were going to San Antonio like the National Guard told us. Man, we wound up far away from the south, but I've adjusted and I'm about to start my life over here in Utah."

Every person I interviewed who plans to stay in Utah said they were eager to find work; most made under $7/hour in New Orleans. "Everyone has been nice, but I feel that since I'm out here, I need to do something because I don't have anything," says John Tucker, 26. Tucker is still searching for his mother, Patricia Tucker. "I want to get a job. I was a cook in New Orleans, so if I can get a job and make some money, I'll stay out here until I find my mother."

At a job fair last Thursday, 44 New Orleans evacuees were hired and 19 more have been called for second interviews. In addition to the job fair, the shelter provides phone and computer services, doctor appointments, prescriptions, free bus passes and information on housing. Many apartment complex owners in Salt Lake City have agreed to both waive deposit fees and cap rents in order to keep living expenses affordable.

Red Cross Public Affairs Director George Muller cautions people who say they are ready to rebuild their lives in Salt Lake City to first come to terms with their loss. "They should wait until they get fully fed and they're used to a shower and everything else," he says. "Then they'll go through different stages, including safety, shelter, food and then self-actualization. When they reach the self-actualization level, what's going to start happening? They'll probably say, 'I want to go back to Louisiana because I miss the Cajun food.' Or 'It's too dry here. I hate the winters.'"

But Ronald Herbert, 48, says he's never been more certain about rebuilding his life in Utah. "I love this state. I thought I was going to come down here to crazy stuff like, 'We don't want you niggers here,'" he says. "Man, they brought us here and showed us so much love. It's not about racial things. It's about love."

After swimming for six miles against the current, Herbert was picked up by a boat and brought to the convention center, an experience he says he'll never forget. "Yeah, there was rape. I was putting bodies in the freezer. We were right where it happened," he says. "They had people in there who didn't take baths for six, seven days. If you went into the bathroom, the odor hit you. All on the walls, in the corners, cracks, crevices. They were letting it out."

In the convention center, Herbert met 50-year-old Jacqueline Gordon, another survivor who spent 18 1/2 hours on her roof until she was rescued. The two flew to Utah together, found an apartment in Salt Lake City and plan to marry at Camp Williams on Sept. 23.

Shock and Sharing

When I interviewed people at Camp Williams, I didn't push the political issue because everyone I met was more interested in sharing their personal stories. At that point, they hadn't watched or heard the news for the past week, and they had no idea how the Bush administration and FEMA responded to the devastation. When I returned on Saturday, I found people who were still dealing with the initial shock anyone would experience after losing their homes and community. I also found a few people who were eager to share their opinions on the government's response.

"If we were in Florida, Bush would have been there the same day, but Bush waited three days and a dollar late. Then he come there like he's some kind of hero. Bush ain't worth a doggone penny," says John Seal, 54. "He's been to New Orleans before. For you to leave us underwater all that time, then you're gonna make like the hero, the lone ranger? Hell no. He ain't nothing in my mind. They call him Mr. President or Mr. Bush. The only thing he's Mister of is his house, and his wife might be wearing the pants in there. I think it was mighty lowdown of him to do the things he did."

For now, Seal plans to stay in Utah. "I'm on top of the world. I thought we had hospitality. We have never been treated like this before. Utah is a wonderful state. Anybody tell me different and I'll slap the taste out of their mouth," Seal says. "There's been nothing but sweet love. Ain't nobody say nothin' negative. They always have a helping hand. Always trying to do something for us. Utah, y'all number one, other than New Orleans."

Not everyone was as critical of the administration. "I was listening on the radio and Mayor Nagin was asking for Bush. Mayor Nagin was pissed," says 34-year-old Troylynn Wilson. "Bush messed up, but he did come back and I thank him for that."

After leaving Utah for Montana, I stopped in Idaho Falls -- which is in a county that gave Bush 77 percent of the vote in 2004 -- to ask residents about their reaction to the federal government's response to the hurricane. "I think it was very, very slow. It's sad. Those people didn't have any food for how many days? Five, six, seven days. Not good," says Dorothy Bischoff, 63. "I voted for Bush, so I'm not against him, but this is unacceptable behavior. He really messed up on this one."

"When they say his approval rating has gone down, I'd have to be part of that," adds Dianne Watts, another former Bush supporter. "I thought he was doing a really good job after 9/11, but he's too much of an oil man. His politics have changed, and it's just getting to be more about the politics than the good of the people."

Off the Front Lines and Forgotten

Twenty-five-year-old Michael Thomas, a member of the Navy since December 2002, was on the ship that fired the first tomahawks on Baghdad in March 2003.

He was discharged for psychological problems three months later.

When I met Thomas at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital in Muskogee, Oklahoma, he was still visibly shaken by the experience. On his "bad days," he locks himself in his room. "I usually don't talk to anyone. I usually cry and get depressed. No one sees it because I isolate myself."

Like tens of thousands of veterans, when Thomas returned to the states, he attended a class about federal benefits. "They send you to a three-hour course and give you a book. If you don't ask questions, you won't get the answers," he says. "I'm still trying to get my claim. I filed it in December. If it wasn't for my cousin, I wouldn't know what to do."

Michael's cousin Dennis Hammons was a member of the Marine Corps from June 1993 to August 1997. Hammons, 30, was discharged in 1996 after he experienced a parachute malfunction and fell 500 feet at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Hammons suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome and has knee, back and neck injuries.

"I'm one of the people that falls through the cracks. I was in during Clinton's police actions," he says. "I was all over Liberia and Rwanda. I got stabbed and there's no record of it. I'm not eligible for benefits because it didn't happen during a conflict. They wrap a lot of that stuff under humanitarian awards. As soon as I got hurt, I was treated like a piece of crap."

Hammons says the claim he filed with the VA took 14 months to process; it took another four months to get into the VA medical system. "My experience with the VA has been horrible. I go to a private doctor for pain meds. If I need to see a doctor here [at the VA], it takes three to four months to get an appointment," he says. "I took my son down a slide, which wasn't real smart, and I couldn't walk. I had pain shooting down my arm and leg. That happened in April. I got in the second week of July. That's how it is here."

Robert Piaro, a Vietnam veteran who serves as the volunteer president of the California Veterans Assistance Foundation, a non-profit organization of veterans helping veterans, says he's seeing Iraq veterans with intense cases of posttraumatic stress syndrome who have no idea what's available when they return.

"These guys are so frustrated," he says. "I understand the bureaucracies; I understand budget problems, but man if you're gonna send young men and women to war, you've got to take care of them."

The CVAF receives 95 percent of its funding through grants. "If the American public actually knew of the deficiencies in VA healthcare, they would be outraged," says David Gorman, executive director of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), a 1.2 million-member group that represents disabled veterans. "It's really changed to become an us against them-type mentality on Capitol Hill. Right now the Republicans have the majority and they flex their muscle whenever they have a chance. It doesn't do the country any good and doesn't do the vets any good."

In April, Republican senators, including Rick Santorum, R-Pa., John McCain, R-Ariz. and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., voted to defeat a Democratic effort to add $2 billion to the 2005 VA healthcare budget. The only Republican who voted in favor of the bill was Senator Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

"Democrats are the ones supporting the troops. Republicans aren't supporting us," says Bill Huber, Disabled American Veterans Hospital Coordinator in Muskogee, Oklahoma and Korean Veteran. "I'm 71 years old and I've been around a while. The problem is, veterans don't protest. We take what we get. I'm the president of our DAV chapter and I tell my people to write to their congressmen. They just sit back and let our lobbyists do it. They can't do it by themselves; we have to help them."

Huber's group provides transportation to vets who have no means of getting to their VA appointments. The transportation service relies on donations to pay for vans, and volunteers to pick up and drop off veterans, including some who live as far as three hours away.

"We have a breakfast fundraiser once every three months and the only ones that will come are our members. We have that fundraiser so we can go on with our projects, but we don't get support [from the locals]. That's disheartening," says Huber.

The transportation service was recently asked to cut back its operations by 45 percent because of lack of funding, but the director refused to sign on. "What kind of people do we have running our government? So many are non-veterans. The ones that are veterans aren't supporting the veterans," says Huber.

In June, the Department of Veterans Affairs admitted an unexpected shortfall of nearly $1 billion for 2006 budget. "The administration has consistently gotten the numbers wrong throughout this war," says Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq vet and executive director of Operation Truth, an organization for veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars. "They've done this entire thing on the cheap. People at the VA are trying hard and doing their best, but in the end, they're allocated few resources."

The shortfall announcement resulted in negative press and an embarrassed Bush administration. Before Congress took its August recess, the House and Senate were at odds over how much money was needed to adequately fund the VA. The Senate asked for $1.5 billion and the House asked for $975 million. The House finally joined the Senate and approved the $1.5 billion supplement.

The question is, will the VA be able to distribute the money in time to help veterans? "I'm not sure the money will be spent on hiring healthcare professionals," says Steve Robertson, legislative director of the American Legion, a wartime veterans organization. "It'll be spent on replacing equipment and construction maintenance problems."

For its part, the Muskogee VA Medical Center, which is enrolling 400-500 veterans a month, says the $1.5 billion supplement will fully fund all of its veterans' programs. "We haven't heard how much the trickle-down will be, but we'll be fully flush," says Greg Sorenson, chief of volunteer services at the Muskogee VA Medical Center.

Hammons says he's glad the supplement was passed, but doesn't believe it will improve the situation. "If they [politicians] supported our troops, Iraq war veterans that come back with missing legs wouldn't have to wait six months to get an appointment. Until that's taken care of, they're lying," he says. "I know personally, I'm not letting my kids join the military and have their lives destroyed.

One State at a Time

It's been six months since Howard Dean visited Jackson, Mississippi, but locals are still talking about his fiery speech in which he criticized President Bush's plan for social security and said Republicans are doing nothing to help the people of Mississippi.

"Every seat was filled. There were people standing around the room and people outside who couldn't get in," says Joanne Morris, an editor and writer living in Jackson. "He got an absolutely fantastic reception. I'm sure he must have been surprised. I was surprised myself. People were just jubilant."

Dean's speech revitalized scores of Mississippi Democrats who are sick of being ignored by the national party. "We're also written off in the media; they either skip over us or stereotype us," says Dorothy Triplett, secretary of the Mississippi Democratic Club, a group of progressive Mississippians. "We're finally saying, 'Hey, wait a minute, we're here and we're not going anywhere.' I think we can be a real asset to the national party and I'm delighted that they're finally giving us some attention."

As part of Dean's 50-state strategy, the Democratic National Committee is hiring staffers to join state party offices that typically run on shoestring budgets with few employees, including in Mississippi, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

"Because of his commitment, we'll be able to increase our staff by 300 percent, so to speak," says Keelan Sanders, executive director of the Mississippi Democratic Party. Before the new hires showed up, Sanders was the party's only staffer. "It is definitely helping the state party with needed resources so we can begin organizing and getting the message out."

Constructing that message won't be easy. It's been 28 years since Mississippi gave its six electoral votes to a Democrat; Bush got 60 percent of the vote in Mississippi. Democrats hold more county elected positions and legislative seats than Republicans, but the governor, lieutenant governor and the state's two senators are members of the GOP.

"Mississippi is ripe for the picking. They're either 49th or 50th in every statistical category. Per capita income is low. Poverty levels are high. Medicaid is a huge issue here," says Jay Parmley, former chair of Oklahoma's Democratic Party.

Parmley is spending a few months in Jackson helping the Mississippi Democratic Party. "What I'm finding here is that the message of our party, if delivered right, is what people want to hear. Can it be done quickly? No, but at least I can try to get people talking to each other again. So much of our party is that we all think we're important and we all have our own issues."

Parmley was one of the first state Democratic chairs to endorse Howard Dean. The announcement drew criticism from all sides of the political spectrum in Oklahoma, a state where John Kerry failed to win one county. "I started out thinking Dean was not what we needed. But the more I kept talking to him, the more I realized that this guy gets it. He understands that it's a 50-state strategy. He understands that those of us in Oklahoma and Mississippi aren't getting any help," says Parmley. "We need to build stronger state parties. He found out that most state parties only have one or two staffers, they're in dilapidated buildings and they're not raising any money. How are you supposed to communicate with people? Yahoo may be free, but you've got to build an infrastructure."

Sam Hall, a newly hired communications director for the Mississippi Democratic Party, is working with the state legislature on crafting policy messages. "Neither the House nor the Senate has a large communications apparatus," says Hall, a former journalist and political columnist. "After years of being a one-party state, we are now a two-party state and we need to start organizing."

In many Southern states, Democrats rarely take a strong stance on issues like abortion and gay rights, and end up delivering muddled messages that fail to distinguish them from Republicans. "My personal frustration with Democratic candidates is that they're always afraid they're going to offend someone. In the South, we run from pro-choice positions," says Parmley. "What we're doing is basically telling the electorate that we don't believe in anything and they don't vote for us. I'm not discouraged, but I get real upset with candidates. If you're a Democrat, I expect you to be able to say why you're a Democrat."

"One of the problems with Mississippi is so many of the state's Democrats aren't really Democrats," says Robert Hooks, President of Mississippi's Young Democrats. "Democrats in Mississippi need to take Howard Dean's lead and stand up for what they believe in."

Three years ago, Mississippi's Young Democrat group only existed on paper. Today it has 64 organized chapters in high schools, colleges and counties across the state. The state's young voters led the South, and much of the nation, in the percentage that voted for Kerry (63 percent) over Bush (37 percent). "We're a new generation of young voters that identifies ourselves as national Democrats, not southern Democrats," says Hooks.

Hooks says Dean's visit in March struck a nerve with college students. "The Democratic Party went from being stagnant for 10 years to finally moving forward," he says. "The DNC's financial effort is the last chance we have. If the state party can modernize, we have a tremendous chance of drop-kicking the Republicans. If it chooses to hold on with a death grip and is not willing to change, this movement will be for nothing."

Jay Parmley agrees. "I see this as a one shot deal. Does it mean if we miss the shot, it'll be over? I don't know, but I do know it'll be a long, long time before we win if that happens. Now is the perfect time to recreate the party."

Oklahoma Superstar

In 1957, high school history teacher Clara Luper was given the opportunity to escape segregated Oklahoma by spending a few days in New York presenting "Brother President," a play she wrote about Martin Luther King. Luper and the group of students she brought with her were able to go about their day like everyone else and order sodas from non-segregated lunch counters. As their bus journeyed back through the Jim Crow South, Luper vowed to take on segregation and explained how she was going to do it in her book, Behold the Walls:

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No Room for Moderate Republicans?

"It is mind-boggling to me that the press only focuses on right-wingers. Is it just because sensationalism sells?" asks Ann Stone, national chair of Republicans for Choice, a DC-based group that supports pro-choice Republican candidates. "When moderates try to do something, it might get attention on NPR or in the Los Angeles Times, but the press here in Washington is pretty much ignoring moderates."

She's right. By reading news coverage of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement, you wouldn't even know that moderate Republicans exist. A July 12 opinion piece in USA Today reads: "Now as Bush considers how he will fill the first Supreme Court vacancy to occur on his watch, he is under pressure from conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats to name someone to their liking." According to a July 13 Voice of America article: "Special interest groups on both ends of the political spectrum have been mobilizing for a Supreme Court confirmation fight for years." And a July 15 story in Human Events, a conservative weekly, says, "All told, liberal and conservative special interests could spend upwards of $50 million by the time a nominee is confirmed by the Senate."

Why aren't moderate groups -- of which there are many -- receiving as much attention as groups like People for the American Way, the Christian Coalition or Planned Parenthood?

"We are not spending our time doing a lot of loud screaming on the outside," says Stone. "Instead, we're working directly with the senators who will be swing votes."

Republicans for Choice, a group with 150,000 members in all 50 states, is lobbying moderate Republicans to fight for a "moderate, thoughtful" Supreme Court justice who will "uphold a woman's right to choose."

Stone says that so far the female candidates mentioned to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor are "horrible," while three of the male candidates, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, are "close to acceptable; [Gonzales is] the only one that is remotely pro-choice," she says. "We're not even sure that he's 100 percent pro-choice, but he's been moderate in his decisions." As far as the other two candidates go, Stone is "afraid to give their names because that would ensure they would not get nominated, especially after the smear campaign against Gonzalez from the right."

If Bush names a justice who is in favor of outlawing abortion, Stone believes moderates will leave the party in droves. "People are becoming very upset," she says. "A lot of the people who have already left the party are only giving money to us."

The next Supreme Court Justice's opinion on Roe v. Wade is also the main concern for Republican Majority for Choice (RMC), a moderate Republican group that endorses the "big tent" philosophy of inclusion and tolerance on social issues. "This is the most important decision that has ever been made for this organization," says Kellie Ferguson, RMC Executive Director. "We've done polling after polling that shows the majority of Republicans support women making decisions, not the government."

For now, the RMC is spending its resources on a judicial task force of attorneys who have been researching potential Supreme Court nominees and sharing their findings with moderate Republican senators. "Spending a lot of money up front is a waste," says Ferguson. "This vote is with the Senators and we need to focus our attention on targeting them."

Ferguson says four to five Republican Senators are close to 100 percent pro-choice; another handful support family planning. "We believe members who are not pro-choice will be hesitant to confirm a conservative nominee because there are so many ramifications involved."

RMC works with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America on legislative issues, but they part ways when it comes to endorsing specific candidates. RMC is working on a game plan if the President decides to nominate a justice who is similar to Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia.

Another group that has rarely been quoted on the Supreme Court justice issue is Republican Main Street Partnership (RMSP), an organization that reaches out to disenfranchised Republicans and fights for issues including stem cell research and the Endangered Species Act. "Moderates, of course, are not the ones who are out there first with all the rhetoric," says Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, RMSP executive director. "We're working behind the scenes with Senators."

Chamberlain Resnick says the group, which works with 68 politicians in the House and Senate and 8500 members in almost every state, is hoping Bush endorses "someone who is in a similar mind frame" of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. "We realize the President will choose a conservative," says Chamberain Resnick. "We just hope it's a conservative we can live with."

If Bush chooses a conservative the group can't live with, it is prepared to take action. "The moderate wing of the party will not stay quiet," says Chamberlain Resnick. "We do have some donors who are ready."

Moderates who run blogs and newsgroups are also weighing in on the issue, but they, too, are finding it difficult to get widespread attention. "It's people like me, who aren't marching down the street, that nobody ever hears about," says David Griffith, a member of the Republican for Integrity newsgroup. Griffith broke ranks with the Republican party last February to become the spokesman for Republicans for Kerry in Oregon. "If W decides to knowingly nominate a candidate who has a history of allowing their personal political or religious views to influence and bias their decisions, then he will have a fight on his hands -- and rightly so."

"Many moderates are fed up, but are afraid to speak out. We're trying to make people aware that we exist and have strong views," says 23-year-old Jeremy Dibbell, a member of the Centrist Coalition. Dibbell, who voted for John Kerry in 2004 but still considers himself a moderate Republican, started the blog Charging RINO (Republican in Name Only) in March. Since then, a number of moderate Republican blogs have been created, and almost all of them have similar views on the next Supreme Court justice.

"Conservatives often say they don't want an activist judge. Neither do we, but we don't want an activist judge from either side. Activist judges come from both sides and that's not often articulated," says Dibbell. "I don't anticipate a pro-choice justice, but he or she should understand that Roe is law. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, it will be a knockdown drag-out brawl and that's not healthy. We need a justice like O'Connor who can see both sides and understand the consequences of the decisions they make."

Not all moderate Republicans are as hopeful. "If the President nominates Alberto Gonzales, he'll lose support from the religious right," says Michael Cudahy, a political writer and former national campaign staff member for President George H.W. Bush. Cudahy, a moderate Republican who also voted for John Kerry in 2004, says President Bush is "one of the most pig headed, willful people I've ever met in my life. I think he's going see this as an opportunity to craft his legacy and I think he perceives his legacy as a social conservative. Here's his chance to take over the fourth branch of government. That's very disturbing, but I do believe that's what he's going to do."

The Loneliness of a Lonestar Liberal

It's not easy being a progressive activist in Texas. Not only are the state's progressives up against a conservative majority and completely ignored by national politicians, they're also stuck with the media's label of "red state voters" who have completely different values from "blue state voters."

"I'm a redneck. I was raised Pentecostal and listen to country music. So what?" says Diane Wilson, 51, a member of Code Pink and author of the forthcoming book, An Unreasonable Woman, about her battle to save her hometown from industrial chemicals. "Redneck progressives are capable of a lot more than the media would have you think."

The repetitive use of the term "red state voter" makes it easy for the country at large, including progressives living in Democratic cities, to lose sight of the fact that Texas is a diverse state full of activists.

Wilson, a fourth-generation shrimp-boat captain, has been an environmental activist since 1989. She was born and raised in Seadrift, a small fishing town in East Texas, where chemical plants dominate and protesters are considered whackos. Shortly after Wilson learned that Seadrift was the most polluted region in the nation, she began staging solo hunger strikes. "People would say, 'Women don't do hunger strikes in Texas! Especially solo hunger strikes.'"

At the time, Wilson says she had no idea what it was like to have a support network and connections in the activist community. "A lot of activists are really good at networking. Because I was a fisherman, I was solitary anyway, so for a very long time, I would do actions by myself."

Wilson's actions eventually forced Formosa Plastics, a manufacturer of petrochemicals, to stop pumping discharge into Seadrift's waters. Since then, Wilson has been traveling around the country talking about her victories and encouraging influential progressives to reach out to working-class folks like herself. "The movement will continue to die if that doesn't happen," she says. "I still feel like I'm kind of an outsider looking in, but I do what I need to. I don't count on the Democratic or progressive parties to save me. I don't have time to wait on that. I've got chemical plants dumping daily."

Texas activists in small towns like Seadrift are making an impact; the problem is, they rarely receive the attention and press they deserve. Activists in and around Crawford, President Bush's adopted hometown, worked tirelessly to reelect Democrat Chet Edwards to the U.S. House of Representatives in November, making him Bush's congressman. Still, expressing opposition to Bush and his policies is frowned upon in Crawford. The locals make it very clear: if you're not a Bush supporter, you're not welcome. Life-sized cutouts of Bush and his family stared at me as I ate French fries at the only cafe in town. Shop and restaurant windows are plastered with W stickers and receipts say, "Home of President George W. Bush."

That's the climate Crawford Peace House activists face on a daily basis. In March 2003, John Wolf made national headlines when he announced plans to buy the house and convert it into a resource center and meeting place for those who oppose the Bush administration. On the highway leading to Crawford, just past the sign saying "Home of President George W. Bush," the Peace House is the first structure you see.

"We the People Say No to the Bush Agenda" and "Veterans for Peace" banners hang in the window, while information about everything from the war and military spending to Israel/Palestine and social justice can be found inside.

Kay Lucas, an activist who drives 25 miles to maintain and care for the Crawford Peace House, says the few locals who've expressed support for the Peace House are brave. During our interview, two men stopped by to say hello and check out the house. One agreed to answer a few questions, but didn't want to give his name for fear his neighbors would find out he voted for John Kerry (but preferred Ralph Nader).

I asked if he thought the Peace House has any impact on the locals. "I know it does. It gets some people to look deeper, but not very many. This is Bush country after all." Lucas tells me that when locals stop by the Peace House, they don't want passersby to see their cars in the driveway.

Crawford activists are trying to ease those fears by changing the dialogue. "We no longer protest," Lucas says. "We now have parades. Lots of parades." Have they made an impact? "If it weren't for us, there would be no alternative voice. I hope we've made some sort of a difference."

Even progressive activists in large Texas cities like Houston face many challenges and often work in small groups. "Houston is hard to organize because there is no mass transit and no commons area," says Theresa Keefe, who, along with her husband Keith Koski, brought a large cash cow to a Halliburton shareholder action in Houston last month. Keefe says the most effective activism in Texas involves visuals. "People in Texas won't listen if you scream," she says. "Big silly props reach more people, especially those who don't agree with us."

In addition to attending actions, Lee Loe, a 77-year-old member of Houston Code Pink, uses newspapers to spread her message. In 1996, when Loe learned about the impact sanctions were having on Iraqis, she started Iraq Notebook, a newspaper about the history of and current happenings in Iraq. Today, Loe selects stories with Houston's low-income Latino community in mind. The latest edition of Iraq Notebook includes eyewitness accounts from soldiers serving in Iraq and information on military recruiting efforts.

"The Latin American community is being heavily drafted here," Loe says. "The only people reaching out to the Latin American population are the ROTC. They were at the Cesar Chavez parade."

Loe distributed 12,000 issues of her last paper at local Latino festivals, including that parade. "It's such a drop in the bucket, but it spreads," she says. "One woman picked one up at a conference and gave it to her friend. She read it and used it in an exam for her students, so the information is getting out there."

Loe's paper doesn't have an accompanying Web site; she believes the progressive community often forgets that not everyone owns a computer. "I get mad when an event is posted and they put a web address with no telephone number. Are you kidding? That's elitist," she says. "I always hear, 'People can go to the library.' Yeah, right, with their five kids on the bus?" Loe is currently working on a new edition with the help of volunteers, donations and grants from the Green Party and Resist Illegitimate Authority.

The activists I've met over the past month and a half in Texas are dedicated and determined. Unlike progressive-leaning places like San Francisco, New York and Washington DC, activists here face strong and often hostile opposition. When Texas Governor Perry signed anti-gay and anti-abortion legislation at a church in Forth Worth last month, a few hundred activists stood in the hot sun waving signs and chanting slogans to 1,000 Perry supporters as they drove by in air-conditioned cars.

"We are beginning to learn that we have to speak out," says Mike Herrington, a sixth-generation Texan and member of Soulforce, an organization devoted to changing the minds of religious leaders who engage in anti-gay campaigns. "I'm also standing up for my own rights and I didn't used to do that. I think we're beginning to spread the message here in Texas. We have to be willing to take risks."

Lanore Dixon, an activist who drove 55 miles to attend the event, says openly talking about politics in social situations is taboo. "That has handcuffed us as activists. We're gonna have to face the uneasiness in our families. We're gonna have to risk being the black sheep that dares to open their mouth at Thanksgiving or Christmas or birthday parties. If we don't, we really are going to lose democracy," she says. "My goal is to turn Texas blue again. We need pointers on how to organize and how to inspire each other."

It's easy for progressives and national politicians to ignore Texas, especially since Bush got 61 percent of the state's vote. But local activists who break down the numbers remain somewhat hopeful. In Dallas County, Bush won by just under 10,000 votes. "If a national Democrat came here and talked to the people, I'm sure Kerry would have won Dallas," says activist Lynn Walters. "We also would have won more local races."

Texas activists say support from national politicians and progressive activists living in liberal cities would give them more power and influence. "It's pretty scary down here. We're sitting in one of the most conservative Bible Belt areas in the country," says Madeline Crozat-Williams, a Code Pink organizer in Houston. "We feel like we hear shreds of the conversation about where to go from here, but we're struggling. We could use all the help we could get."

Houses of Right-Wing Worship

In a ceremony that felt more like a church service than a political event, Texas Governor Rick Perry chose a Sunday afternoon to sign anti-abortion rights and anti-gay legislation inside the gym of the Calvary Christian Academy, an evangelical school in Fort Worth, Texas. The ceremony was filled with praise for "pro-family, pro-life" groups and religious references.

"I don't get confused about where God is," said Perry. "He's everywhere. He's over there, he's here. Matter of fact, we could be doing this in the parking lot of Wal-Mart and God would be there."

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, and Don Wildmon, president and founder of the American Family Association, two ardent opponents of gay rights, joined Perry on stage. Their remarks received several standing ovations and shouts of "Amen!" from a diverse crowd of about 1,000.

"We may be on the grounds of a Christian school today, but our message speaks to all who believe in standing up for the unborn, all who cherish strong traditional families regardless of party, of ethnicity or creed," said Perry. "We're here because a quiet majority decided to have their voice heard and heard loudly, that understand that families are the building blocks of civilization, who recognize that marriage must be defended because it is the glue that binds the very fabric of society." After Governor Perry signed the bills, the crowd belted out "God Bless America."

The abortion bill requires girls under 18 to obtain their parents' consent before obtaining an abortion. Perry also signed a bill -- although his signature wasn't required -- to put a gay marriage ban on the November ballot. Texas state law already prohibits same-sex marriages, but supporters of the amendment fear the law could be struck down in court. Don Sachs says he's in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage because "it's a sin according to the Bible."

"If you want to use the Bible and ban gay marriage, then ban divorce. The Bible says that. Of course, they're not doing that," says Reverend Michael Piazza, Dean of the Cathedral of Hope, a gay and lesbian church in Dallas. "What they're doing is trying to use the Bible to ban gay marriages and the Bible doesn't say anything about that. We do that to explain the hypocrisy of the whole thing and force them to explain how it is that they'll take a stand on one issue and ignore others."

Piazza was one of the 350 protesters who greeted ceremony attendees with signs reading, "Hate Is Not A Family Value," "I'm a Tolerant Christian," "Don't Ruin God's House" and "Separation Of Church And State."

In a letter to Governor Perry, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) warned that the event exploits a house of worship for partisan political purposes and could jeopardize the congregation's tax-exempt status. The group has already filed one complaint with the IRS. "We might file another complaint," said Jeremy Leaming, spokesman with AU. "The use of the language was cleary to use a church and it's resources to help a political campaign. It's highly disconcerting."

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based nonprofit that counters the religious right, criticized the right-wing's use of churches to spread their propaganda."Why is Governor Perry acting like he was only elected to serve the Christians in Texas?" Miller asks. "As far as I know, he was elected to serve everyone. The only question I hope is being asked by people of faith is, when will politicians stop misuing our places of worship in order to promote their own campaigns?"

In response, Perry said, "It [wouldn't] make any difference where we signed this piece of legislation. If we'd been in a Wal-Mart parking lot, they'd still be griping about it."

Separation of church and state isn't important to Perry supporter Eloise Kennedy. "I go to church, and I'm a member of the state, so how can I separate myself? There shouldn't be a separation," she says. "I loved today's event because it put God first and thats what we're here for. God first, life second."

The event was held in the gym instead of the nearby church sanctuary to deflect complaints from protesters like Mike Herrington, a sixth generation Texan and member of Soulforce, a group dedicated to changing the minds of religious leaders who engage in anti-homosexual campaigns. "Baptists, which I used to be, believe strongly in the separation of church and state and that's what's so contradictory about this whole thing," he says. "You can hardly call this separation of church and state."

Many of the protesters said Texans who live in small towns are beginning to speak out and get involved in peaceful demonstrations. "There have been three special sessions to fix education finance, and all they've managed to do is get a bill passed to eliminate gay marriage that they can come sign in a church," says Lisa Earley, a fifth grade teacher from Grand Prairie, Texas. "I happen to be straight. I'm out here because this is wrong."

In addition to educators, nursing home advocates were also heavily represented at the event. Nursing homes in Texas haven't had a rate increase in six years, according to Cheryl Killian, owner of three small nursing homes and administrator at the Sycamore Care Center in Fort Worth. "We're about 22 percent underfunded right now, per patient, per day," she says. "People are dying right now in Texas because of the underfunding. They're getting bed sores and laying in their own waste because we can't afford to keep on going. I've been doing this for 30 years and it's never been this bad."

Killian, one of the few on the street who actually voted for Perry, said her fellow Republicans would rather sit in a church than face reality. "It's not their issue. Maybe they're afraid of speaking out," she said.

Republican Kathy Holt says too much taxpayer money is being wasted on administration costs in education and nursing homes. "The church should be responsible for taking care of the elderly," she says. "I'd be more than happy to write that woman a check. In fact, I bet I could get that entire church to make a donation."

When I asked Janet Waterman to respond to Cheryl Killian's concerns about nursing homes, she said, "People have been dying for years. What about the babies who are dying from abortion?"

Because Republicans currently dominate Texas politics, protesters say they're often discouraged, but Sunday's event gives them hope. "I have not seen something like this in quite some time," says Bryan Hartmann, executive director and political consultant for the Democratic Arlington Political Action Committee, a group that began just three weeks ago. "This proves that people are fed up. They're tired and they're hurting. People aren't going to tolerate this much longer and I think that goes for moderate Republicans as well."

A Journey into Red America

Editor's Note: After the 2004 election, Rose Aguilar, like many other progressives, was haunted by the same question: what went wrong and why? She realized that the answer lay not in the liberal bubble of San Francisco but in the vast expanses of George Bush's America, among the many people who voted for him despite the best efforts of progressives everywhere. Over the next four months, Aguilar plans to visit a number of red states, including Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana and Utah. Her first stop was Zavala County, Texas.

The drive from San Francisco to Texas took almost three full days. The road to El Paso, Texas looks like chain store America, with loud fluorescent signs and advertisements lining the highway. John Kerry got 56 percent of the vote in El Paso County, but I am headed for Zavala County, where Kerry got 75 percent of the vote. It's as blue as you get in Bush country.

I drive into Crystal City, a small town with two main roads that reveal its slow decline. The shops on the main drag near the movie theater (House of Wax is showing for $4) are empty and dilapidated. I drive by a pinata party at Pizza Hut and spot a Dairy Queen sign touting the virtues of its rancheros plate. No other restaurant chain could be bothered to set up shop in Crystal City.

The town's staunchly Democratic tradition dates back to 1969, when more than 1,700 high school students staged a walk-out to protest a high school rule that allowed only one Hispanic on the cheerleading squad. "Cheerleading may not sound significant now, but thanks to that walkout, everything changed," says Diana Palacio, Crystal City's city manager who led the walkout. The issues at stake were much larger: bilingual education, Hispanic teachers, college preparation and representation in the curriculum.

"Today, every member of the school board is Hispanic. Back then, they were all white," she says. "We couldn't even speak Spanish and had no one to look up to."

It was a proud moment in Crystal City's history when this small town became a catalyst for similar protests across the country. The walkout did not, however, change the town's fortunes, and it has since languished as a neglected outpost of progressive America.

The Religious Left

I attend Mass at the Church of the Almighty, a Pentecostal church with parish of around 200 people, and am immediately greeted with a dozen handshakes and hugs. After the service, which focused on Mother's Day and the importance of family, I ask the pastor, Brother Dino Espinoza, whether he discusses political issues in church.

"If I want people to vote for a certain issue, I will do it outside of the building," he says. "I never bring politics into my church. It's not appropriate." Brother Espinoza is a registered Democrat and is staunchly opposed to abortion and homosexuality, but he never preaches against them from the pulpit. "I believe God loves everyone. Therefore, everyone is welcome in my church," he says.

The vast majority of the people I meet at service say they're very religious and vote Democratic for its economic policies and anti-discrimination stance. They never mention abortion or gay marriage.

It's no surprise that the economy is the number one issue for women like Sofia Munoz, who works 64 hours a week at three jobs. She averages $5.60 an hour as a cook for Head Start and at a taco stand and as a labor contractor in the fields.

"I've always voted Democrat and always will," she says. "I feel the Democrats fight harder for us poor people than the Republicans." Munoz says she barely makes ends meet, but rarely complains about her 1 percent annual raise -- not when the unemployment rate in Crystal City is 14 percent, one of the highest in the state. "If you have a job you keep it, because you won't get a better one," she says.

Crystal City is one of the poorest towns in Texas, and 98 percent of the city's 8,263 inhabitants are Hispanic. Most residents have no idea that they live in the most Democratic constituency in Texas, but are not surprised. "Democrats give more opportunities to low-income and minority people," says Maria Alvarez, a teacher in a local Head Start program.

"Our efforts for equality have always been more supported by the Democrats than the Republicans," Palacio says. “That’s why they get our votes.�

Yet the Democratic Party shows little appreciation for this kind of loyalty. Crystal City, receives little attention from party officials even during election time. "The Republicans are coming out and talking to everyone, but the Democrats rarely come around," says Crystal City Mayor Raul Gomez. He received at least a dozen phone calls from Republicans before the November election and none from Democrats.

"If the Democrats want to keep winning down here, they have to come out and talk to the people," Gomez says.

Hispanics for Bush

When I knock on the front door and tell the Guerreros about my project, they welcome me with open arms and Mexican pastries. It doesn’t take long to spot the huge "Viva La Bush" sign in the backyard. Jesus Guerrero, the newly appointed municipal judge and Crystal City’s first Hispanic to run as a Republican for city council, sports a Support Our Troops T-shirt.

"I voted for Bush the first time he ran for governor. I just like his charisma and values," he tells me proudly. "Plus, you can't change presidents during war."

Guerrero and his wife support the invasion of Iraq and say they feel safer because of it. Whenever I raise questions about the reasons for going to war, Jesus brings the conversation back to 9/11: "We're just lucky it never happened in our neck of the woods because we're not populated."

His wife is equally insistent when it comes to the war, "I don't know too much about the details of the war, but I do support any military person that signs up and wants to keep us free," says Diana, who voted for President Clinton twice, but feels he was too busy with Monica Lewinsky to pay attention to Osama bin Laden. Unlike her husband, who seems to enjoy being one the few Republicans in town, Diana calls herself a "poor Republican." In other words, she's voted for both Democrats and Republicans since she turned 18 and is open to going either way in 2008.

Since visiting Crystal City, I've been to Kerrville, a predominantly wealthy, retired Republican community; yet another 24-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter (I've already lost count); and the Shoreline Christian Center, a mega-church in Austin. Like the Guerreros, they too focus on Bush's personality, not the facts.

Even the Democrats in Crystal City are not up on their facts -- working three jobs leaves little time to stay informed. These aren't the kind of San Francisco progressives who read The Nation or Mother Jones -- in fact, no one here has even heard of these publications. The little news they get is from television. As a result most folks know more about the Runaway Bride than the Republican vote against raising the federal minimum wage in the Senate. When I tell both low-income Democrats and Republicans here about the minimum wage bill, their eyes open wide and mouths drop. They had no idea Bush is opposed to raising their wages. They're clearly angry, and for good reason.

Still, it's clear from my conversations in Crystal City that it's the Democrats and not the Republicans who need to worry about the future. Due to the indifferent and high-handed attitude of the Democratic establishment, it is in danger of alienating its most ardent supporters. The future of the party lies with women like Sofia Munoz, and Democrats would be wise to start listening to what she has to say: "Please continue to fight for our rights. We live in a small town, but those of us who stay informed, spread the word and have a lot to say. All we ask is that you be real and listen."

Gimme Shelter

Herold Noel served his time in the military, including the first five months of the Iraq war in 2003 as a fuel handler for the military. He returned from Iraq in August of that year to Brooklyn, N.Y., hoping for a welcome and a helping hand from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), something he had been told to expect. That was not to be.

"The government says one thing, but does another," says Noel. "I came back to New York thinking there would be support; that I would have a job, but I was sadly mistaken." After eight months of cold sleepless nights in his car, the 25-year-old veteran finally has a place he can call home. If it weren't for an anonymous donor who paid for a year's rent, Noel would still be on the streets of Brooklyn, unable to see his wife and four kids.

Noel says he contacted several government programs, including the VA, but was told he'd have to wait up to a year for services. "It's time for the government to wake up," he says. "If soldiers come back and find out they were lied to, we're going to have a rebellion on our hands."

As small waves of Iraq vets return home, organizations that offer housing, employment and counseling services expect the problems will be unlike anything the United States has ever seen. They say they're not prepared and the federal government isn't offering enough support and assistance.

In some cases, the government is literally putting them out on the streets.

A few weeks ago, a Cincinnati County commissioner in Ohio called Charlie Blythe, a Vietnam vet and coordinator of the state's Goodwill Industries' Programs for Homeless Veterans, and told him that an Iraq vet was about to be released from a local alcohol treatment program run by the VA and the man had nowhere to go. Blythe agreed to house the vet until he secures another spot at the VA. "Doesn't that make a lot of sense?" Blythe asks sarcastically. "The VA treats someone for 28 days and releases him, even though they know he doesn't have a home."

Blythe is currently housing three Iraq vets and has already received e-mails from many more who expect to be on the streets after they return from Iraq. "The people that are coming back are not the men and women that we sent over there and we don't have the funding to take care of them," he says.

"The message our government is basically sending our troops is, 'Once you take off that uniform, you're on your own,'" says Linda Boone, executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), a nonprofit that works to end homelessness among veterans. "To say the Department of Defense isn't doing an adequate job of preparing the military for civilian life would be an understatement."

The VA says Boone is missing the point. "The DOD's role isn't to teach me how to be a good civilian," says Pete Dougherty, director of the VA's homeless services. "Their role is to teach me how to be a good sailor or a good active duty member."

Boone recently conducted a survey of 19 member organizations across the country that counted 67 vets from Iraq and Afghanistan in homeless shelters last year. "Homelessness is going to be a huge problem, but we don't see the DOD even acknowledging there is a class of homeless vets."

Dougherty acknowledges a problem exists, but insists it won't be a "huge problem."

Still, organizations that serve homeless vets are preparing for the worst. "I think it'll be a lot more intense than Vietnam," says Bart Casimir, director of health and social services of Swords to Plowshares, a San Francisco-based organization of vets helping vets.

Casimir, who served as a paramedic in Vietnam, says when Bay Area Iraq vets return home, the reservists will need the most assistance. "Think about it – when you're in the reserves, you meet once a weekend, then have two weeks of active duty every year and that's it. Reservists aren't used to holding guns," he says. "A lot of those reservists will be totally displaced."

Casimir says it took about 12 years after the Vietnam War ended to figure out the scope of the homeless problem. This time around, he expects it'll hit society in the face. "Get ready to hear about soldiers battering their wives and acting violently. It's already happening," he says.

The case of Marine Lance Cpl. Andres Raya is one example of what Casimir is talking about. Raya served in Iraq last year but wasn't quite the same when he returned to Ceres, Calif. Friends told the San Francisco Chronicle that Raya would stare into space during conversations or lock himself in his room and listen to music for hours. They said he once fell asleep at a party and when they woke him, he screamed at them and reached for a gun that wasn't there.

On Jan. 9, Raya, who had been told he was being returned to Iraq, went berserk. He walked into a liquor store with an assault rifle, ordered the clerk to call police and when they arrived, he fired at the police officers, killing one of them and injuring the other. He then ran around the building and through the backyards of homes, screaming at residents, telling them they were "innocent civilians" and would not be harmed. Police later gunned him down.

Military mental health experts say Raya most likely suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after serving in Iraq last year.

The NCHV's Boone expects PTSD will show up in huge numbers when vets return en masse because "soldiers are fighting in an urban environment. Anybody can be your enemy. You can be in the mess hall and get killed."

That was Sgt. Joe Sharpe's reality from March 2003 - April 2004. He served as a reservist rebuilding Iraq's banking system and stock market. He expects to be redeployed next year. "Everyone is being shot at. There's no way to get around hearing constant gunfire or explosions or trying to dodge rounds," he says. "Large groups of people are being exposed to this type of trauma and we don't have the infrastructure in place to deal with that."

So what is in place?

The DOD won't say, and suggested we call the National Guard or Army Reserve. At the National Guard, Lt. Col. Mike Milord would only say our questions were "good ones that deserve to be answered." He suggested calling someone at the state level.

We tried the VA and gave up after being put on hold for 30 minutes. Later, Dougherty said that long wait was an "unusual circumstance."

The NCHV's Boone says the VA's system is broken: "People just assume that the VA takes care of all vets, but they don't. We don't spend enough money on homeless people in general, let alone veterans."

The process of seeking assistance through the VA can be daunting, says Rose Sutton, director of Next Step, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based non-profit that provides employment training and supportive housing services to 500 veterans a year. "If vets are wounded, the VA will care for them, but if they're wounded mentally, they'll take them through a lot of hoops and obstacles and make them prove the problem happened during duty."

Sutton, Casimir and Boone say the public needs to put the pressure on politicians to demand the DOD help vets assimilate when they come home because it won't do it voluntarily.

Boone moved to Washington D.C. nine years ago because she "thought people on Capitol Hill just didn't understand the problem." She assumed she would get the story out and the government would provide funding to organizations like hers. "I'm here nine years later and they still aren't writing the checks."

The U.S. is spending $4.8 billion a month on the invasion and occupation of Iraq, according to the Pentagon controller's office. Says Boone: "Why should I have to spend so much of my time trying to get $50 million for a homeless vets program? Vets shouldn't be homeless. We could prevent it for pennies compared to what the government is spending on the war. It makes no sense."

Where Have All The Lawyers Gone?

Polling places in key precincts around the country are being flooded by more lawyers than voters. Democrats have 10,000 lawyers on the ground, while Republicans have 8,500. A coalition of outside groups, including the People for the American Way, the ACLU and the NAACP have called upon 6,000 lawyers to monitor the polls in 17 states. The majority of those lawyers say they're donating their time to ensure a clean and fair election.

Too many lawyers, one might say. But some experts think it is a good thing.

The presence of so many lawyers is making a difference, says Jamie Raskin, professor of constitutional law at American University and author of "Overruling Democracy." "A lot of tricks that we weren't even aware of last time we know about," he says. Raskin points to the felon and ex-felon voter purge list in Florida in the 2000 elections which ended up removing more than 50,000 people from the rolls � even though they were never charged with a criminal conviction. "This time there are voting rights groups which have been on top of that process. They (Florida) did indeed attempt to do the same thing, but we've been able to block them in different ways," says Raskin. "The civil society has stood up. That doesn't mean we've won yet, but at least we're galvanized for action."

Still, the fact that almost 25,000 lawyers are monitoring the polls is an embarrassing moment for the country, says Raskin. "We're trying to scramble to defend the right to vote," he says. "Unlike Mexico or Canada, we don't have one national constitutional right to vote. We don't have one national ballot. We don't have an independent nonpartisan electoral commission. Instead, we have partisan election officials like Katherine Harris in 2000."

Jerry Goldfeder, professor of election law at Fordham law school, is volunteering his time in Philadelphia. He predicts the influx of attorneys will have a positive impact and dissuade those who might otherwise attempt to suppress the vote from doing so. "We're training hundreds of lawyers to be poll monitors so that if voters have any problems we can intervene on their behalf," he says. "Our main goal is to make sure that everybody who's eligible to vote can vote."

Based on the tactics that have already been exposed, today is sure to be chaotic. On Saturday, the Wisconsin Republican Party demanded that city officials require identification from 37,000 "questionable" voters. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice recently filed a brief supporting a statute in Ohio that allows individuals to challenge the legitimacy of a voter at the polling place. A lawsuit filed late last week in Cincinnati, Ohio contends the procedure disenfranchises voters. A federal court judge agreed saying the Republican plans to challenge voters is unconstitutional. A similar suit is pending in Akron, Ohio.

Polling place observers, otherwise known as challengers, can question a voter's eligibility and demand to see identification. A new provision incorporated into all state laws requires all first time voters to provide some form of identification. Voters who don't have proper identification can still vote using a provisional ballot.

Voters can also use provisional ballots if their names are not on voter registration lists. Provisional ballots require voters to place ballots in an envelope and then place that envelope in another envelope with a signed affidavit. Election officials will then investigate all provisional ballots to determine whether they'll be counted.

And provisional ballots are as likely as anything else to delay final tallies. Ted Lieverman, an AFL-CIO lawyer who specializes in class action suits, predicts each provisional ballot will be inspected like every punch card was inspected four years ago in Florida. Lieverman is also in Philadelphia monitoring the polls. He anticipates it will take up to a week or more to declare a winner. "The Republican party has already announced plans to use massive challenges against newly registered voters,� he says. �That means we'll have thousands of provisional ballots and each one is going to be a fight. It could be ugly."

Members of the Republican party say they have no plans to rely on lawyers to win the election � but they�ll be ready to fight in court in any case. "We're working and focused on winning this election at the ballot box, not in the courtroom,� says Joseph Agostini, spokesman for Florida's Republican Party. �But have no doubt, we are ready for anything that may arise."

Democrats in Florida say they too will be ready for anything. Some 3,000 attorneys are expected to monitor activity in the Sunshine State. "Lawyers plan to sit at polls and watch what's going on � if a voter is challenged or turned away, lawyers will step up and alert the poll worker that the law is being broken," says Christine Andersen, spokesperson with the Kerry-Edwards campaign in Florida. "We've taken a pledge to stay away from any election day challenges. We've urged Republicans to take the same pledge, but they've refused."

Democrats and Republicans say in a best case scenario, Sen. John Kerry or President Bush wins by a comfortable margin and voting runs smoothly. But that's highly unlikely.

"On the one hand, it would be great if we didn't need lawyers and voting was a shared consensus," says Lieverman. "On the other hand, I'm glad there are enough both democratic and nonpartisan public interest lawyers who will go out and try to protect people. I just hope I'm not needed."

The Strip Club Vote

When a few officials of the local Republican party in Cleveland, Ohio decided to treat themselves to a good old-fashioned boy's night out at a strip club, they were greeted with an alarming sight: a Fox News television crew.

"They asked me why Fox was outside," says Angelina Spencer, The Circus club owner, "and I told them they were doing a story about our voter registration campaign."

"They all scrambled and fought over the back door. One guy even got his tie caught in the door," she laughs.

Who can blame them? Strip clubs are hardly synonymous with political activism. Unlike every other industry in America, the adult entertainment business tries to stay as far away from Capitol Hill as possible. In the skin trade, discretion has mostly trumped politics � until 2004.

In this presidential election, everyone from strip club dancers to CEOs of live porn sites are encouraging their customers to get involved and vote.

Spencer, who is the executive director of ACE National, a trade association of adult nightclubs, says her political wake-up moment came when Kristin Kritzler, a 20-year-old who strips at The Circus, was sent to Iraq earlier this year.

"That opened a lot of entertainers' eyes and got them involved in politics," she says. "At that point, I realized that we were dealing with an untapped constituency."

In April, Spencer sent out 800 voter registration kits to adult nightclubs, lingerie stores and adult bookstores across the country. Approximately 160,000 customers filled out voter registration cards on the spot, but many took the cards home to mail in. "This was more successful than we ever anticipated," she says. "We never expected to get this much publicity."

Since May, 800 of the roughly 4,000 adult clubs in America have launched voter registration efforts, registering an average of 200 voters per club.

"This is the most important time to be active. There will never be a more important election," says Spike Goldberg, CEO of, an amateur porn streaming video site that receives 100,000 unique daily visitors. "Until now, no one has harnessed that power. This is merely the beginning."�s "Get Out the Vote" banner ads link to the Rock the Vote web site. Rock the Vote doesn�t tally new voters specifically from porn sites, but overall, the non-partisan organization has registered 1.3 million new voters.
A week before the election, Goldberg plans to post a letter to his members highlighting the differences between President George Bush and Sen. John Kerry on issues including free speech, healthcare, the military, education and the war.

"We�re not in the business of telling people who to vote for, we just want them to vote," he says.

While Spencer, a registered Republican, emphasizes the fact that ACE's registration drives are also nonpartisan, she – like many others in her industry – openly expresses concern about the Bush administration, especially its Attorney General John Ashcroft's hostility toward pornography.

During a speech in 2002, Ashcroft said pornography "invades our homes persistently though the mail, phone, VCR, cable TV and the Internet," and has "strewn its victims from coast to coast."

"Ashcroft used to care more about pornography than terrorism," says Scot Powe, professor of law at the University of Texas. "The guy is a throwback to the early 50s; maybe that�s being too generous."

Over the past four years, Ashcroft's office has launched dozens of investigations of adult content businesses and filed obscenity cases against porn firms.

David Wasserman, a first amendment attorney who defends adult web site operators, says those actions are the tip of the iceberg. "My fear is that a second Bush administration will unleash a slew of prosecutions against adult entertainment web sites, video stores and producers of adult films."

Dave Manack, editor of Exotic Dancer magazine, agrees. "Another four years with George W. Bush could be damaging to the adult industry," he says. "We�re not necessarily rallying behind Kerry, but the Bush administration makes no bones about the fact that they don�t support the adult entertainment industry."

Many in the adult entertainment industry say another reason why they�re encouraging customers to vote is because unlike the Clinton administration, the Bush administration makes no distinction between child pornography and adult entertainment.

President Bush�s 2005 budget provides increases of $13.8 million to fight crimes against children and obscenity, lumping the two together both in funding and policy. The Department of Justice describes "efforts to help state and local law enforcement protect our communities from crime, pornography, and obscenity with several key initiatives to protect our children from pornography and exploitation; stop Internet crime against children; and prosecute adult obscenity offenses."

"We donate thousands and thousands of dollars a year to Adult Sites Against Child Porn. We want nothing at all to do with child porn," says Greg Clayman, president of Clayman is doing his part as a member of Internet Media Protective Association, a trade organization of adult webmasters. The IMPA has asked all of its members to offer links to the Rock the Vote site.

Attorneys who defend free speech say all citizens should be concerned about the government's crackdown on the adult entertainment industry, even those who are opposed to pornography. "Anytime you start allowing the government to draw lines about indecency, they�ll continue drawing them to put as much speech as possible out of the reach of the average citizen," says Marv Johnson, legislative council for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Johnson says 70 percent of Americans say free speech is important, but that support begins to drop drastically when it comes to pornography. "You�ll always find a certain segment of the populace to stop speech with which it disagrees and the government would love to do the same," he says.

Over the past year, Hustler magazine publisher and author of "Sex, Lies and Politics: The Naked Truth" Larry Flynt has repeatedly drawn a connection between post-9/11 laws such as the Patriot Act and Ashcroft's anti-pornography crusade. In an interview with Wired News, he said, "A lot of Americans think, 'I'm not Arab, so it doesn't affect me.' But the Patriot Act has no color barriers. They just used part of the Patriot Act to bust a strip club owner in Las Vegas."

The target of anti-porn activists for years, Flynt is still going strong, currently touring the country promoting his book and vociferously attacking Bush. Flynt is a member of the "anybody but Bush" camp and his web site is chock-full of information about everything from gay marriage to the latest polls.

Scot Powe has no doubts that the Bush administration will go after the adult entertainment industry if it is re-elected for another four years. The question is: how successful will they be?

"Given the way obscenity laws are drafted, it�s almost impossible to get a conviction," he says. "Even the Supreme Court has been pretty good when it comes to free speech rights."

Still, if Bush wins the election, Powe says we should expect a flurry of anti-obscenity bills and legal actions to strengthen the administration�s family values platform and please its conservative base. Those who are targeted will face costly and lengthy lawsuits. "If the government decides to fight, they�ll fight all the way to the Supreme Court," he says.

With Americans spending around $10 billion a year on adult entertainment, the industry clearly has an opportunity to influence the outcome of the election. "A few Republicans have politely asked me to stop," Spencer says. "Anytime you get strip club owners involved in the political process, you know it�s going to be quite an election."

What Women Want

John Kerry recently was forced to face a simple, incontrovertible fact: without the women's vote, he will lose the 2004 election.

Two disappointing polls delivered the bad news last week: an Associated Press-Ipsos poll that showed Bush and Kerry running even among women; a New York Times poll giving Bush a five percentage point lead among registered female voters. So it's no wonder that the Kerry campaign has finally realized that it's time to start talking to women.

Dolores Huerta, founder of United Farm Workers of America and the national chair of the Women for Kerry campaign, is planning to meet with the Kerry campaign this week to discuss measures to address the gender gap. "We're planning to focus on women's issues, including healthcare and social security," she said. "There's still time to reach the millions of women who've been undermined by the Bush administration."

Here's the good news for the Democrats. Contrary to the media babble about "security moms," the issues most important to women voters are also John Kerry's greatest strengths, be it healthcare or the minimum wage.

While many women across the political spectrum have raised concerns about terrorism and security, a new survey released by Women's Voices, Women's Vote (WVWV) reveals that forty percent of unmarried women want to hear less about the war on terror and more about affordable healthcare, equal pay and a higher minimum wage. The 12-state survey conducted by Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research for the non-partisan organization questioned 1250 unmarried women, ages 18-64, half of whom make $35,000 a year or less.

"They think John Kerry is more interested in talking about domestic and economic issues and George W. Bush is more interested in talking about security and moral issues," says pollster Anna Greenberg. "But more importantly, sizable numbers of unmarried women simply do not know if the candidates are interested in their issues at all."

Those findings sound about right to Susan Kellenbach, a 66-year-old retired music teacher from Rockbridge, Ohio. "Terrorism isn't as important to me as other issues," she says. "Social security is important to me. Medicare is important to me. Rising gas prices are important to me. Let's talk about those issues."

Kellenbach and her family voted for Bush in 2000. On Nov. 2, she plans to switch her loyalties and vote for Kerry. Her reason: "The Republicans are lying to us seniors. A lot of us feel like we're getting shoved in a hole."

Bush's near-obsessive focus on the so-called 'war on terror' has also alienated Joan Weiss, a 58-year-old insurance agent from Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. "I support conservative causes, but Bush is not a true conservative," says the long-time Republican. "I'm voting for Kerry because he will interact with the world instead of going it alone with a tough, cowboy image." She also wants the candidates to discuss the Patriot Act and their plan to create a just and peaceful society.

Voters like Weiss and Kellenbach are not alone. While it is difficult to get at hard figures, the experience of get-out-the-vote organizations also discounts the media-driven theory about "security moms" � the idea that at least 10 percent of likely women voters in the post-9/11 era are more likely to prioritize security over bread-and-butter issues. Mainstreet Moms Oppose Bush (MMOB) claims that a vast majority of the married and unmarried women it's contacted through its grassroots efforts still want to hear more about jobs, outsourcing, school funding and healthcare. While women do fear the possibility of reinstating the draft, "terrorism rarely comes up," says Megan Matson, founder of MMOB.

The volunteer-based group has sent out personal letters and voter registration forms to 250,000 moms in swing states. "We've heard from many staunch Republicans, especially the ones who are opposed to nation building, who say they can't, in good conscience, vote for Bush. Many say they'll vote for Kerry or won't vote at all," says Matson. She says her group has been overwhelmed with responses, but has yet to hear from a Democrat who plans to vote for Bush.

The primary challenge facing groups such as MMOB and Mothers Opposing Bush (MOB) is to educate female voters about issues that both the presidential candidates and the media are ignoring. As both candidates spend most of their energy on the 'war on terror' and continue airing negative ads, domestic issues are largely being ignored. The Bush and Kerry campaign web sites provide a fair amount of information about their domestic platforms, but most voters rely on sound bites, debates and media commentary for their information on the candidates.

"If the press isn't talking about the war on terror, they're talking about polls or campaign rhetoric," says Donna Jefferson, treasurer of MOB, an 18,000 member group whose mission is to get the Bush administration out of office. "What the press isn't talking about are proposals that women would appreciate. Kerry wants middle schools to be used for after-school care and he's proposed to increase the child care tax credit to $5,000."

Jefferson says many of the moms targeted by MOB are working multiple jobs and raising more than one child on their own. "Bush policies are not helping these women and are not helping their families," she says. "I have to believe that women who are still undecided or haven't registered to vote don't know the true story."

This week, MOB will try to reach those women through targeted television ads in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. MOB is also placing ads in college newspapers in ten swing states with the slogan, "Vote As Though Your Life Depends On It."

Another campaign is focusing on 159 college campus groups in seven swing states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The goal of the Get Out Her Vote campaign is to register 20,000 new young female voters. "We are focusing on the fact that every state must allow students to register in the state where they go to school," says Crystal Lander, campus director for Get Out Her Vote. "We're also focusing on issues students care about, including reproductive rights and human rights – issues the candidates rarely address."

So why aren't we hearing from these women in the polls? For one, most pollsters only survey registered voters. New voters are rarely, if ever surveyed.

MMOB's Matson says grassroots organizations, many of which didn't exist a year ago, are having a significant impact. Most groups haven't released final numbers because they're so busy knocking on doors and making phone calls. Many also send out voter registration forms with the hope that the receiver will send it in to their local elections department.

But even without specific data on women, the number of newly registered voters is impressive. According to an analysis by The New York Times, data shows that in Democratic areas of Ohio - primarily low-income and minority neighborhoods - new registrations since January have risen 250 percent over the same period in 2000. Compare that to a 25 percent increase in Republican areas. New registrations in Democratic areas of Florida have risen 60 percent higher. The increase in Republican areas is only 12 percent.

"The numbers prove that voter outreach initiatives across the country have been wildly successful," Matson says. "You might not hear from us in the polls, but you will hear from us on Election Day."

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