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.


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