Ruth Rosen

Hillary Clinton Makes History: America Could Have Its First Female President

I still remember the night Barack Obama won the presidency. I was with people who, like me, could never have imagined that an African American could become president. The joy in the room was palpable. The impossible had become a reality. When Pete Seeger sang “The Land Is Your Land” at Obama's inaugural, it seemed as if anything was possible.

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On the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act -- 'We Will Not Be Beaten'

Until the women’s movement organized in the late 1960s and early 1970s, most Americans considered wife beating a custom. The police ignored what went on behind closed doors and women hid their bruises beneath layers of make-up. Like rape or abortion, wife beating was viewed as a private and shameful act which few women discussed. Many battered victims, moreover, felt they “deserved” to be beaten - because they acted too uppity, didn’t get dinner on the table on time, or couldn’t silence their children’s shouts and screams.

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Women Are Swelling the Ranks of People Living in Extreme Poverty in America

This piece originally appeared on openDemocracy, and is reprinted here with their permission.

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Manning’s Difficult Choices Have Paved the Way For a Harrowing Future

Bradley Manning certainly picked a difficult time to tell the world that he has always wanted to live as a woman.  Convicted of leaking 700,000 documents to Wikileaks, Manning-- who went by the name Bradley-- was sentenced to serve 35 years at Fort Leavenworth Prison, a military prison in Kansas.  A spokeswoman for the facility told the “Today Show” that “the Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder.”  She now faces at least seven years in federal prison before she is eligible for parole.

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You've Got a Long Way to Go, Baby!

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Women Are the Key to the Presidential Debate and Election

Well before the vice-presidential debate began, even the president had agreed that he had failed to expose Mitt Romney’s lies and had allowed his opponent to present himself as a supporter of universal health insurance, Social Security and Medicare, none of which is true.  

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GOP Targets African-American Women in Voter Suppression Efforts

How will the American Presidential election be won in November 2012? By the Republicans buying the election? Perhaps. But money cannot always buy an election. That is why Republicans have spent the last 4-6 years passing a spate of voter suppression laws in “swing states” that will make it more difficult and costly for the young, the elderly, minorities, union members and single and elderly women to cast a vote for Barack Obama.

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We Never Said "We Wanted it All": How the Media Distorts the Goals of Feminism

For over thirty years, the American media have repeatedly pronounced the death of the women’s movement and blamed feminism for women’s failure to “have it all.“ But none of this is true. The movement has spread around the globe and early radical feminists wanted to change the world, not just seek individual self-fulfillment.

The latest media-generated debate exploded when Anne-Marie Slaughter revealed in the July 2012 edition of the Atlantic Magazine why she had left her fast-track, high-pressured job for Hillary Clinton at the State Department. Families, she admitted, could not withstand the strain. Even a superwoman like herself -- blessed with a helpful husband, enough wealth to buy domestic help and child care, could not do it all. Although she described the insane work policies that made her neglect her family, she implicitly blamed feminism for promising a false dream. It was too hard, the hours too long, the persistent sense of guilt too pervasive.

What was missing in her article was the history of “having it all.” Too many editors care more about how an article about the death of feminism will, without fail, create a sensation and increase readership than about an inaccurate media trope.

And her article went viral, as they say, setting off a round of attacks and rebuttals about the possibility of women enjoying - not just enduring - family and work. She returned to her former life as a high-powered professor at Princeton University, which in my experience, hardly counts as opting out of trying to have it all.

To Slaughter, I want to say, you may know a great deal about foreign policy, but you certainly don’t know much about our history. By 1965, young American women activists in Students for a Democratic Society asked themselves what would happen to America’s children if women worked outside the home. Activists in the women’s movement knew women could never have it all, unless they were able to change the society in which they lived.

At the August 1970 march for Women’s Strike for Equality, the three preconditions for emancipation included child care, legal abortion and equal pay. “There are no individual solutions,” feminists chanted in the late sixties. If feminism were to succeed as a radical vision, the movement had to advance the interests of /all/ women.

The belief that you could become a superwoman became a journalistic trope in the 1970s and has never vanished. By 1980, most women’s (self-help) magazines turned a feminist into a Superwoman, hair flying as she rushed around, attaché case in one arm, a baby in the other. The Superwomen could have it all, but only if she did it all. And that was exactly what feminists had not wanted.

American social movements tend to move from a collectivistic vision to one that emphasizes the success of the individual. That is precisely what happened between 1970 and 1980. Alongside the original women’s movement grew another kind of feminism, one that was shaped by the media, consumerism and the therapeutic self-help movements that sprang up in that decade. Among the many books that began promising such fulfillment for women, was the best seller “Having It All” by Elizabeth Gurley Brown (1982) who tried to teach every woman how to achieve everything she wanted in life.

Self -help magazines and lifestyle sections of newspapers also began to teach women /how/ to have it all. Both turned a collectivistic vision of feminism into what I have elsewhere called Consumer Feminism and Therapeutic Feminism. Millions of women first heard of the movement when they read about the different clothes they needed to buy in order to look like a superwoman and the therapy they needed to become a confident and competent superwoman. Self-help books and magazines ignored the economic and social conditions women faced and instead emphasized the way in which each individual woman, if only she thought positively about herself, could achieve self-realization and emancipation.

By 1980, the idea of improving all women’s lives—sisterhood—had been transformed into creating individual superwomen. Early activists—like myself-- bristled at the idea that feminism was about individual transformation. But no matter how many articles feminists wrote, they couldn’t compete with all the books and magazines that taught women how to become an assertive, well-dressed independent woman—as long as she had the wealth to hire domestic and child care to assist her ascent into men’s world.

In 1976, Ellen Goodman, the late feminist journalist for the Boston Globe, satirized the media’s bizarre view of a “woman who had it all:”

" The all-around Supermom rises, dresses in her vivid pants suit, oversees breakfast and then searches for the sneakers and then goes off to her glamorous high-paying job at an advertisement agency where she seeks Personal Fulfillment and kids’ college tuition. She has, of course, previously found a Mary Poppins figure to take care of the kids after school. Mary Poppins takes care of them as if they were her own, works for a mere pittance and is utterly reliable.

Supermom II comes home from work at 5:30, just as fresh as a daisy, and then spends a truly creative hour with her children. After all, it’s not the quantity of the time, but the quality. She catches up on their day, soothes their disputes and helps with their homework, while creating something imaginative in her Cuisinart (with her left hand tied behind her back). After dinner—during which she teaches them about the checks and balances of our system of government--she bathes and reads to them, and puts the clothes in the dryer. She then turns to her husband and eagerly suggests that they explore some vaguely kind of kinky sexual fantasy.”

The feminist-- as remade by the media and popular culture-- emerged as a superwoman, who then turned into a scapegoat for a nation’s consumerism, the decline of families, and the country’s therapeutic culture. For this, the women’s movement’s was blamed, even though this selfish superwoman who neglected her family seemed bizarre, not to say repellent, to most of the early activists.

The backlash again feminism, directed as it was against the women’s movement, reflected a moral revulsion against the shallow self-absorption of America’s consumer and therapeutic culture. And when Americans took a good hard look at this narcissistic superwoman who embraced the values of the dominant culture, they grew anxious and frightened. For they no longer saw loyal mothers and wives who would care for their communities, but a dangerous individual, unplugged from home and hearth, in other words, the female version of America’ ambitious but lonely organization man. Thus was born the cultural wars between stay-at-home moms and career women.

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, like most women who have complained about how hard it is to “have it all,” focused on an elite group of female professionals who have the means to outsource parts of their job as mother, cook, cleaner and caretaker of the home. What she and others have failed to understand is that the original women’s movement sought an economic and social revolution that would create equality at home and at the workplace. Nor have most critics of feminism understood that the so-called “Mommy Wars” --battles fought between those who worked outside the home and those who were “stay-at-home” moms-- have also been fueled by the media.

Missing from the media’s coverage of these Mommy Wars are the millions of working mothers who will never have it all, but still must do it all. Millions of women cannot afford to care for the children they have, work dead-end jobs, and cannot begin to imagine living the life of a superwoman. These are the women that the radical women’s liberation movement addressed and for whom they sought decent jobs, sustainable wages, and government training, social services and child care. These are the women who are stuck on the sticky floor, not held back by a glass ceiling.

Are Male Baby Boomers Doomed To Become Lonely Seniors?

It’s not just the young in the Occupy Movement who fear for their futures. Many older people, who are marching with them, dread retirement, even if they hate their jobs. They fear social isolation, the loss of friends they enjoyed at work and the freedom of too much unstructured time. The good news is that women are already preparing for what is often called the "third chapter” of their lives. What’s sad is that men of the same age, for a variety of reasons, are largely unprepared and less likely to participate in activities that offer stimulation and friendship.

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What Obama Can Learn from the Social Movements That Changed the World

In the wake of the election, progressive movements and their members are debating what went wrong. Some say the media amplified the bizarre statements of the Tea Party. Still others argue that Obama didn’t offer sufficient leadership or remind us what he had actually achieved during his first 18 months in office. Many blame no one, knowing that midterm elections bring a backlash, regardless of who is in power.

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Why Women Dominate the Right-Wing Tea Party

Why have American women become so active in the right-wing Tea Party movement? Could it be that they are drawn to the new conservative Christian feminism publicized by Sarah Palin? Without its grassroots female supporters, the Tea Party would have far less appeal to voters who are frightened by economic insecurity, threats to moral purity and the gradual disappearance of a national white Christian culture.

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What Kind of Economic Stimulus Do American Women Want?

Ever since Barack Obama won the presidency, American women -- battered by the George W. Bush administration's assaults on their rights --  have sensed the possibility of change and mobilized to make sure that the new president hear their voices and recognize their needs.

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Women Ignored in VP Debate

Astonishing. Women are more than half the population. Yet the vice-presidential debate, which featured a woman running for the VP, and moderated by a respected female journalist, barely even mentioned any of the issues that concern female voters.

Amazingly, it was Sarah Palin who uttered the words "women's rights" as part of her robotic explanation as to why the world doesn't like the United States. Sen. Joseph Biden, who authored the Violence Against Women Act, hardly took the time to stress the significance of what he had achieved.

And though Biden briefly mentioned the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal in the U.S. in 1973, the moderator, PBS's Gwen Ifill, never asked these two candidates their views on women's rights to make their own reproductive choices.

Palin, as everyone knows, is against women's right to make those choices. Yet Ifill spared her public moment of having to tell the American people that she supports anti-abortion policies.

Of course Palin was spared much, much more. But for this very brief piece, I simply want to register my astonishment that no questions were asked about abortion, women's reproductive health care, equal pay for women, child care or family friendly policies.

Yes, there's an economic collapse. Yes, we're mired in two disastrous wars. But not every woman is a hockey mom. Most women, including mothers, however, are genuinely worried about the minimum wage, keeping their jobs, finding child care and many other issues that daily affect their lives.

Both parties know that in the end, it is women who will swing this election. Might be a good moment to start speaking to them.

Sarah Palin and Feminists for Life

Many people are unfamiliar with Feminists for Life and wonder what the choice of Sarah Palin, who is against abortion rights, signals to the electorate.

Well, let me tell you something about Feminists for Life. In 2003, I decided to investigate this group and its energetic leader, Serrin Foster. What did it mean, I wondered, to be a feminist and actively fight against the right to choose when or whether to have a child?

So I went to a church in sprawling, suburban, wealthy Danville, California to hear Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life, speak on "The Feminist Case Against Abortion" to a huge crowd of mainly high-school students.

Founded in 1972, one year before the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the historic Roe vs. Wade decision that made abortion legal in the United States, Feminists for Life now focuses exclusively on practical alternatives to abortion for college-age women.

No woman, argues Foster, should ever have to choose between having a child and a career. "Abortion is a reflection that society has failed women," she tells high school and college students as she tours the country.

"Women deserve better choices," she says and points to practical alternatives and resources available to a young woman who has an unwanted pregnancy. She can choose single parenthood and use food stamps or temporary assistance to needy families. She can choose adoption. Or, college-age women can pressure school campuses to offer child care and family housing so that they never, ever, have to choose between a pregnancy and an education.

Feminism is all about having choices, Foster told me, after her talk. I couldn't agree more. Young women, she says, should have the right to bear a child and have access to high-quality, affordable child care. Again, I heartily agreed.

But Foster is cleverly disingenuous. When I asked what she does to promote child care, her answers were vague and evasive. When I read the organization's brochures aimed at campus physicians and psychologists, I found nothing about campaigning for child care. The real goal is to convince professionals to persuade young women to "choose" to bear a baby.

Despite its protestations, Feminists for Life is not really about choice. You can see this on its Web site, where the slogan "refuse to choose" appeared repeatedly. Nor does the organization challenge the real difficulties working mothers face. Instead, it cleverly appropriates the words "feminist" and "choice" to convince young women that abortion is always an unacceptable choice.

Part of the problem is that Foster either does not know her history or purposefully distorts the past. She spoke that night as though she had invented the idea of child care and describes pioneer feminists of the 1960s and 1970s as selfish, diabolical creatures who never wanted women to have the choice to bear a child.

But she's wrong. The three demands made at the first national march in New York City in 1970 included child care, equal pay for equal work and the legal right to "choose" an abortion. Many feminists, moreover, spent years trying to persuade the institutions where they worked that real equality for women required family-friendly policies, including child care.

Foster also accused Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America of supporting abortion in order to stay in business. But I had to wonder about her own financial goals when I saw, in the organization's magazine, that I could buy a "stunning new logo pin" in either sterling silver or 24-carat gold for $75.

In the end, I decided that Feminists for Life is neither about feminism nor about choice. It is a cunning attempt to convince young women that choice means giving up the right to "choose."

Sarah Palin is the inexperienced woman Sen. John McCain has chosen as his running mate, hoping that she will attract the vital female vote.. It's the worst kind of affirmative action, choosing a person he barely knows, who is completely unprepared to assume any national office. It's like nominating Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court. It's all about ideology and not about competence.

To put it bluntly, Sarah Palin is no Hillary Clinton. Nor does she have the vision and brilliance of Barack Obama. This is an incredible insult to most American women. Just how stupid does he think we are?

Why Working Women Are Stuck in the 1950s

A baby is born. A child develops a high fever. A spouse breaks a leg. A parent suffers a stroke. These are the events that throw a working woman's delicate balance between work and family into chaos.

Although we read endless stories and reports about the problems faced by working women, we possess inadequate language for what most people view as a private rather than a political problem. "That's life," we tell each other, instead of trying to forge common solutions to these dilemmas.

That's exactly what housewives used to say when they felt unhappy and unfulfilled in the 1950s: "That's life." Although magazines often referred to housewives' unexplained depressions, it took Betty Friedan's 1963 bestseller to turn "the problem that has no name" into a household phrase, "the feminine mystique" -- the belief that a woman should find identity and fulfillment exclusively through her family and home.

The great accomplishment of the modern women's movement was to name such private experiences -- domestic violence, sexual harassment, economic discrimination, date rape -- and turn them into public problems that could be debated, changed by new laws and policies or altered by social customs. That is how the personal became political.

Although we have shelves full of books that address work/family problems, we still have not named the burdens that affect most of America's working families.

Call it the care crisis.

For four decades, American women have entered the paid workforce -- on men's terms, not their own -- yet we have done precious little as a society to restructure the workplace or family life. The consequence of this "stalled revolution," a term coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, is a profound "care deficit." A broken healthcare system, which has left 47 million Americans without health coverage, means this care crisis is often a matter of life and death. Today the care crisis has replaced the feminine mystique as women's "problem that has no name." It is the elephant in the room -- at home, at work and in national politics -- gigantic but ignored.

Three decades after Congress passed comprehensive childcare legislation in 1971 -- Nixon vetoed it -- childcare has simply dropped off the national agenda. And in the intervening years, the political atmosphere has only grown more hostile to the idea of using federal funds to subsidize the lives of working families.

The result? People suffer their private crises alone, without realizing that the care crisis is a problem of national significance. Many young women agonize about how to combine work and family but view the question of how to raise children as a personal dilemma, to which they need to find an individual solution. Most cannot imagine turning it into a political debate. More than a few young women have told me that the lack of affordable childcare has made them reconsider plans to become parents. Annie Tummino, a young feminist active in New York, put it this way: "I feel terrified of the patchwork situation women are forced to rely upon. Many young women are deciding not to have children or waiting until they are well established in their careers."

Now that the Democrats are running both houses of Congress, we finally have an opportunity to expose the Right's cynical appropriation of "family values" by creating real solutions to the care crisis and making them central to the Democratic agenda. The obstacles, of course, are formidable, given that government and businesses -- as well as many men -- have found it profitable and convenient for women to shoulder the burden of housework and caregiving.

It is as though Americans are trapped in a time warp, still convinced that women should and will care for children, the elderly, homes and communities. But of course they can't, now that most women have entered the workforce. In 1950 less than a fifth of mothers with children under age 6 worked in the labor force. By 2000 two-thirds of these mothers worked in the paid labor market.

Men in dual-income couples have increased their participation in household chores and childcare. But women still manage and organize much of family life, returning home after work to a "second shift" of housework and childcare -- often compounded by a "third shift," caring for aging parents.

Conservatives typically blame the care crisis on the women's movement for creating the impossible ideal of "having it all." But it was women's magazines and popular writers, not feminists, who created the myth of the Superwoman. Feminists of the 1960s and '70s knew they couldn't do it alone. In fact, they insisted that men share the housework and child-rearing and that government and business subsidize childcare.

A few decades later, America's working women feel burdened and exhausted, desperate for sleep and leisure, but they have made few collective protests for government-funded childcare or family-friendly workplace policies. As American corporations compete for profits through layoffs and outsourcing, most workers hesitate to make waves for fear of losing their jobs.

Single mothers naturally suffer the most from the care crisis. But even families with two working parents face what Hochschild has called a "time bind." Americans' yearly work hours increased by more than three weeks between 1989 and 1996, leaving no time for a balanced life. Parents become overwhelmed and cranky, gulping antacids and sleeping pills, while children feel neglected and volunteerism in community life declines.

Meanwhile, the right wins the rhetorical battle by stressing "values" and "faith." In the name of the family they campaign to ban gay marriage and save unborn children. Yet they refuse to embrace public policies that could actually help working families regain stability and balance.

For the very wealthy, the care crisis is not so dire. They solve their care deficit by hiring full-time nannies or home-care attendants, often from developing countries, to care for their children or parents. The irony is that even as these immigrant women make it easier for well-off Americans to ease their own care burdens, their long hours of paid caregiving often force them to leave their own children with relatives in other countries. They also suffer from extremely low wages, job insecurity and employer exploitation.

Middle- and working-class families, with fewer resources, try to patch together care for their children and aging parents with relatives and baby sitters. The very poor sometimes gain access to federal or state programs for childcare or eldercare; but women who work in the low-wage service sector, without adequate sick leave, generally lose their jobs when children or parents require urgent attention. As of 2005, 21 million women lived below the poverty line -- many of them mothers working in these vulnerable situations.

The care crisis starkly exposes how much of the feminist agenda of gender equality remains woefully unfinished. True, some businesses have taken steps to ease the care burden. Every year, Working Mother publishes a list of the 100 most "family friendly" companies. In 2000 the magazine reported that companies that had made "significant improvements in 'quality of life' benefits such as telecommuting, onsite childcare, career training, and flextime" were "saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in recruitment in the long run."

Some universities, law firms and hospitals have also made career adjustments for working mothers, but women's career demands still tend to collide with their most intensive child-rearing years. Many women end up feeling they have failed rather than struggled against a setup designed for a male worker with few family responsibilities.

The fact is, market fundamentalism -- the irrational belief that markets solve all problems -- has succeeded in dismantling federal regulations and services but has failed to answer the question, Who will care for America's children and elderly?

As a result, this country's family policies lag far behind those of the rest of the world. A just-released study by researchers at Harvard and McGill found that of 173 countries studied, 168 guarantee paid maternal leave -- with the United States joining Lesotho and Swaziland among the laggards. At least 145 countries mandate paid sick days for short- or long-term illnesses -- but not the United States. One hundred thirty-four countries legislate a maximum length for the workweek; not us.

The media constantly reinforce the conventional wisdom that the care crisis is an individual problem. Books, magazines and newspapers offer American women an endless stream of advice about how to maintain their "balancing act," how to be better organized and more efficient or how to meditate, exercise and pamper themselves to relieve their mounting stress. Missing is the very pragmatic proposal that American society needs new policies that will restructure the workplace and reorganize family life.

Another slew of stories insist that there simply is no problem: Women have gained equality and passed into a postfeminist era. Such claims are hardly new. Ever since 1970 the mainstream media have been pronouncing the death of feminism and reporting that working women have returned home to care for their children. Now such stories describe, based on scraps of anecdotal data, how elite (predominantly white) women are "choosing" to "opt out," ditching their career opportunities in favor of home and children or to care for aging parents. In 2000 Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute in New York, wearily responded to reporters, "I still meet people all the time who believe that the trend has turned, that more women are staying home with their kids, that there are going to be fewer dual-income families. But it's just not true."

Such contentious stories conveniently mask the reality that most women have to work, regardless of their preference. They also obscure the fact that an absence of quality, affordable childcare and flexible working hours, among other family-friendly policies, greatly contributes to women's so-called "choice" to stay at home.

In the past few years, a series of sensational stories have pitted stay-at-home mothers against "working women" in what the media coyly call the "mommy wars." When the New York Times ran a story on the controversy, one woman wrote the editor, "The word 'choice' has been used ... as a euphemism for unpaid labor, with no job security, no health or vacation benefits and no retirement plans. No wonder men are not clamoring for this 'choice.' Many jobs in the workplace also involve drudgery, but do not leave one financially dependent on another person."

Most institutions, in fact, have not implemented policies that support family life. As a result, many women do feel compelled to choose between work and family. In Scandinavian countries, where laws provide for generous parental leave and subsidized childcare, women participate in the labor force at far greater rates than here -- evidence that "opting out" is, more often than not, the result of a poverty of acceptable options.

American women who do leave their jobs find that they cannot easily re-enter the labor force. The European Union has established that parents who take a leave from work have a right to return to an equivalent job. Not so in the United States. According to a 2005 study by the Wharton Center for Leadership and Change and the Forte Foundation, those who held advanced degrees in law, medicine or education often faced a frosty reception and found themselves shut out of their careers. In her 2005 book Bait and Switch, Barbara Ehrenreich describes how difficult it was for her to find employment as a midlevel manager, despite waving an excellent résumé at potential employers. "The prohibition on [résumé] gaps is pretty great," she says. "You have to be getting an education or making money for somebody all along, every minute."

Some legislation passed by Congress has exacerbated the care crisis rather than ameliorated it. Consider the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which eliminated guaranteed welfare, replaced it with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and set a five-year lifetime limit on benefits. Administered by the states, TANF aimed to reduce the number of mothers on welfare rolls, not to reduce poverty.

TANF was supposed to provide self-sufficiency for poor women. But most states forced recipients into unskilled, low-wage jobs, where they joined the working poor. By 2002 one in ten former welfare recipients in seven Midwestern states had become homeless, even though they were now employed.

TANF also disqualified higher education as a work-related activity, which robbed many poor women of an opportunity for upward mobility. Even as the media celebrate highly educated career women who leave their jobs to become stay-at-home moms, TANF requires single mothers to leave their children somewhere, anywhere, so they can fulfill their workfare requirement and receive benefits. TANF issues vouchers that force women to leave their children with dubious childcare providers or baby sitters they have good reasons not to trust.

Some readers may recall the 1970 Women's Strike for Equality, when up to 50,000 women exuberantly marched down New York's Fifth Avenue to issue three core demands for improving their lives: the right to an abortion, equal pay for equal work and universal childcare. The event received so much media attention that it turned the women's movement into a household word.

A generation later, women activists know how far we are from achieving those goals. Abortion is under serious legal attack, and one-third of American women no longer have access to a provider in the county in which they live. Women still make only 77 percent of what men do for the same job; and after they have a child, they suffer from an additional "mother's wage gap," which shows up in fewer promotions, smaller pensions and lower Social Security benefits. Universal childcare isn't even on the agenda of the Democrats.

Goals proposed in 1970, however unrealized, are no longer sufficient for the new century. Even during these bleak Bush years, many writers, activists and organizations have begun planning for a different future. If women really mattered, they ask, how would we change public policy and society? As one writer puts it, "What would the brave new world look like if women could press reboot and rewrite all the rules?"

Though no widely accepted manifesto exists, many advocacy organizations -- such as the Institute for Women's Policy Research, the Children's Defense Fund, the National Partnership for Women and Families, Take Care Net and MomsRising -- have argued that universal healthcare, paid parental leave, high-quality subsidized on-the-job and community childcare, a living wage, job training and education, flexible work hours and greater opportunities for part-time work, investment in affordable housing and mass transit, and the reinstatement of a progressive tax structure would go a long way toward supporting working mothers and their families. (In these pages in 2003, Deborah Stone documented campaigns on many of these issues by organizations in California, Massachusetts and Washington.)

Democrats don't need to reinvent the wheel; these groups have already provided the basis for a new progressive domestic agenda. And if Democrats embrace large portions of this program, they might attract enough women to widen the gender gap in voting, which shrank from 14 percent in 1996 to only 7 percent in 2004.

This is an expensive agenda, but the money is there if we end tax cuts for the wealthy and reduce expenditures for unnecessary wars, space-based weapons and the hundreds of American bases that circle the globe. If we also reinstate a progressive tax structure, this wealthy nation would have enough resources to care for all its citizens. It's a question of political will.

Confronting the care crisis and reinvigorating the struggle for gender equality should be central to the broad progressive effort to restore belief in the "common good." Although Americans famously root for the underdog, they have shown far less compassion for the poor, the vulnerable and the homeless in recent years. Social conservatives, moreover, have persuaded many Americans that they -- and not liberals -- are the ones who embody morality, that an activist government is the problem rather than the solution and that good people don't ask for help.

The problem is that many Democrats, along with prominent liberal men in the media, don't view women's lives as part of the common good. Consciously or unconsciously, they have dismissed women as an "interest group" and treated women's struggle for equality as "identity politics" rather than part of a common national project. Last April Michael Tomasky, then editor of The American Prospect, penned an essay on the "common good" that is typical of such manifestoes. It never once addressed any aspect of the care crisis. Such writers don't seem to grasp that a campaign to end the care crisis could mobilize massive support for this idea of the common good, because it affects almost all working families.

Now that Democrats are emerging from the wilderness, there are scattered indications they are willing to use their power to address the mounting care crisis. The Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, one of the largest caucuses, has access to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has supported previous efforts to address the care crisis. The Senate has just created a new Caucus on Children, Work and Family, a sign, says Valerie Young, a lobbyist with the National Association of Mothers' Centers, that "this is no longer a personal problem -- it's a national problem." Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd says he will introduce legislation that would provide paid leave for workers who need to care for sick family members, newborns or newly adopted children. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas has just introduced the Small Business Child Care Act, which would help employers provide childcare for their workers. Members in both houses of Congress are reopening the discussion of universal healthcare reform.

The truth is, we're living with the legacy of an unfinished gender revolution. Real equality for women, who increasingly work outside the home, requires that liberals place the care crisis at the core of their agenda and take back "family values" from the right. So far, no presidential candidate has made the care crisis a significant part of his or her political agenda. So it's up to us, the millions of Americans who experience the care crisis every day, to take every opportunity -- through electoral campaigns and grassroots activism -- to turn "the problem that has no name" into a household word.

Feminist Rebel Reveals Past of Incest

Part of this review appeared on Dec. 3 in the book review section of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Bettina Aptheker adored her political, erudite father, who was a well-known Communist. "When I was a little girl I wanted to be just like my father," Aptheker writes. "Whatever he did, I did, or tried to do." And one thing that Herbert Aptheker did extremely well, according to Bettina, was to deny any reality he didn't want to acknowledge.

Emulating her father, then, meant sharing his denial of the many questionable political realities, evading intellectual complexities she could not yet articulate, ignoring her own feminist observations of women's lives, restraining her sexual desire for women and, most of all, repressing childhood memories of her father's sexual abuse.

Determined to be his loyal, perfect daughter, Aptheker writes that she repressed this memory, so that she could function in her father's world. Her denial allowed her to become one of the few female leaders of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964 and to play a major role in the trial of her childhood friend and comrade Angela Davis, who was acquitted of murder charges. Her denial of her deepest desires and memories also allowed her to marry and raise two children.

But denial eventually catches up. Outside, Bettina Aptheker appeared confident and productive. Inside, she lived with constant anxiety and serious depression. "Incest survivors know despair," she writes. "It is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill despair. ... It's a different feeling. All through childhood, all through my twenties, I had this feeling. It was bottomless, endless, bone-deep, down to the marrow. I choked on it, fell prostrate with it. It was connected to a self-loathing so deep, so limitless, so without end that suicide seemed the only possible relief."

As she began to sift through her childhood materials and memories to write her memoir, Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech and Became a Feminist Rebel, Aptheker suddenly remembered what she had repressed all those years. The memory was not recovered by therapy; it just suddenly appeared, and she collapsed to the ground:

"My father and I played other games too, beside baseball. I was three or four years old when we began playing 'choo-choo train.' ... My father was behind me, and then the train arrived 'at the station,' and we had to wait for the 'passengers' to get off and on. Our train rocked back and forth, back and forth, and my father had his right arm tightly around me. He was the 'locomotive' even though he was behind me. Our train shuddered just before it was supposed to leave 'the station,' except it didn't leave. ... And then he stood me up and we went into the bathroom and he washed me off, very gently. It didn't hurt. He never hurt me. And I knew not to tell. As I grew bigger we played different games, but they all had the shudder. Older still, I knew it was not a game. I still knew not to tell because he told me 'terrible things will happen.' My father stopped molesting me when I was thirteen and we moved to a new house."

Soon after I read this shocking revelation, a colleague asked me whether it was really necessary for her to reveal this incest to the world. The answer, I believe, is that Bettina Aptheker's life and intellectual biography make no sense without understanding what she suffered and repressed. Although she describes this incest in one short account, it is a thread running through her efforts to become her own person.

Her revelation is not an act of vengeance. Nor does she write with rancor, but rather with boundless love and forgiveness that grew as she acknowledged her love for women, embraced feminism and moved in new intellectual directions. She never brought it up for discussion with her father. On the contrary, it was Herbert Aptheker, during the last year of his life, who asked if he had hurt her during her childhood. She told him the truth, and assured him that she had long forgiven him. He believed her, but couldn't remember the events. Gradually, that changed:

"After his heart attack, still in the hospital, he said, 'you've forgiven me.' It wasn't a question. It was a statement. I said, 'Yes, I have forgiven you.' He made the statement repeatedly in the months following, reassuring himself. That was how I came to realize that he had hid own knowledge of the incest. It was always present in his consciousness, just under the surface, as it had been in mine."

To be a successful and loyal daughter, Bettina Aptheker needed to repress these childhood memories. As she freed herself of her father's rigid Marxist worldview, she gained a new freedom to integrate a feminist analysis into her intellectual work, to embrace aspects of her Jewish heritage, as well as Buddhist practices, and to create a lasting partnership with a woman who "taught her the meaning of hope."

Though she describes episodes of debilitating despair, Aptheker's stunning memoir is not primarily about incest; it is ultimately a political, intellectual and emotional story of one woman's redemption. Once read, it is not easily forgotten.

Bush Dismantles Child Care

What kind of society have we become? Before members of Congress departed for recess, they gave President George W. Bush -- hardly known for his wisdom or compassion -- the right to define what constitutes torture and to suspend the constitutional right of habeas corpus. But our elected representatives couldn't find time to pass the Labor, Health and Human Service appropriations bill which, among things, funds child care.

The "Child Care Crisis" -- the absence of anyone to care for America's children, elderly and disabled -- has turned into the new millennium's version of the "Problem That Has No Name," It is the 800-pound elephant that sits in Congress, our homes and offices -- gigantic, but ignored.

And, it keeps getting worse. According to a new 50-state report on child care policies just released by the National Women's Law Center, the Bush administration has successfully dismantled government services for children. State funds for child care assistance have fallen for the fifth year in a row. The problem will soon become catastrophic when large numbers of single mothers bump up against their five-year life limit on welfare.

The report portrays a bleak picture of our national child care deficit. Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of NWLC, says that: "The new federal welfare work requirement [passed this year] creates more demand for child care assistance without providing enough funding to meet that demand." No big surprise here. Many of us always knew that the elimination of guaranteed welfare -- replaced by Temporary Assistance to Need Families -- was designed to reduce the number of women on the welfare rolls, not to reduce poverty.

The report also finds that states are failing to adequately compensate providers. Helen Blank, NWLC director of leadership and public policy, describes the consequences of paying child care workers such poor wages:

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A Wave of Sexual Terrorism In Iraq

Abu Ghraib. Haditha. Guantanamo. These are words that shame our country. Now, add to them Mahmudiya, a town 20 miles south of Baghdad. There, this March, a group of five American soldiers allegedly were involved in the rape and murder of Abeer Qassim Hamza, a young Iraqi girl. Her body was then set on fire to cover up their crimes, her father, mother, and sister murdered. The rape of this one girl, if proven true, is probably not simply an isolated incident. But how would we know? In Iraq, rape is a taboo subject. Shamed by the rape, relatives of this girl wouldn't even hold a public funeral and were reluctant to reveal where she is buried.

Like women everywhere, Iraqi women have always been vulnerable to rape. But since the American invasion of their country, the reported incidence of sexual terrorism has accelerated markedly -- and this despite the fact that few Iraqi women are willing to report rapes either to Iraqi officials or to occupation forces, fearing to bring dishonor upon their families. In rural areas, female rape victims may also be vulnerable to "honor killings" in which male relatives murder them in order to restore the family's honor. "For women in Iraq," Amnesty International concluded in a 2005 report, "the stigma frequently attached to the victims instead of the perpetrators of sexual crimes makes reporting such abuses especially daunting."

This specific rape of one Iraqi girl, however, is now becoming symbolic of the way the Bush administration has violated Iraq's honor; Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has already launched an inquest into the crime. In an administration that normally doesn't know the meaning of an apology, the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad and the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. both publicly apologized. In a fierce condemnation, the Muslim Scholars Association in Iraq denounced the crime: "This act, committed by the occupying soldiers, from raping the girl to mutilating her body and killing her family, should make all humanity feel ashamed."

Shame, yes, but that is hardly sufficient. After all, rape is now considered a war crime by the International Criminal Court.

It wasn't always that way. Soldiers have long viewed women as the spoils of war, even when civilian or military leaders condemned such behavior, but in the early 1990s, a new international consensus began to emerge on the act of rape. Prodded by an energized global women's movement, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 1993. Subsequent statutes in the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, as well as the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court in July 2002, all defined rape as a crime against humanity or a war crime.

No one accuses American soldiers of running through the streets of Iraq, raping women as an instrument of war against the insurgents (though such acts are what caused three Bosnian soldiers, for the first time in history, to be indicted in 2001 for the war crime of rape).

Still, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has had the effect of humiliating, endangering, and repressing Iraqi women in ways that have not been widely publicized in the mainstream media: As detainees in prisons run by Americans, they have been sexually abused and raped; as civilians, they have been kidnapped, raped, and then sometimes sold for prostitution; and as women -- and, in particular, as among the more liberated women in the Arab world -- they have increasingly disappeared from public life, many becoming shut-ins in their own homes.

Rape and sexual humiliation in prisons

The scandal of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib focused on the torture, sexual abuse, and humiliation of Iraqi men. A variety of sources suggest that female prisoners suffered similar treatment, including rape.

Few Americans probably realize that the American-run prison at Abu Ghraib also held female detainees. Some of them were arrested by Americans for political reasons -- because they were relatives of Baathist leaders or because the occupying forces thought they could use them as bargaining chips to force male relatives to inform on insurgents or give themselves up.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, the secrecy surrounding female detentions "resulted from a collusion of the families and the occupying forces." Families feared social stigma; the occupying forces feared condemnation by human rights groups and anger from Iraqis who saw such treatment of women by foreigners as a special act of violation.

On the condition of anonymity and in great fear, some female detainees nevertheless did speak with human rights workers after being released from detention. They have described beatings, torture, and isolation. Like their male counterparts, they reserve their greatest bitterness for sexual humiliations suffered in American custody. Nearly all female detainees reported being threatened with rape. Some women were interrogated naked and subjected to derision and humiliating remarks by soldiers.

The British Guardian reported that one female prisoner managed to smuggle a note out of Abu Ghraib. She claimed that American guards were raping the few female detainees held in the prison and that some of them were now pregnant. In desperation, she urged the Iraqi resistance to bomb the jail in order to spare the women further shame.

Amal Kadham Swadi, one of seven Iraqi female attorneys attempting to represent imprisoned women, told the Guardian that only one woman she met with was willing to speak about rape. "She was crying. She told us she had been raped. Several American soldiers had raped her. She had tried to fight them off, and they had hurt her arm. She showed us the stitches. She told us, 'We have daughters and husbands. For God's sake don't tell anyone about this.'"

Professor Huda Shaker, a political scientist at Baghdad University, also told the Guardian that women in Abu Ghraib have been sexually abused and raped. She identified one woman, in particular, who was raped by an American military policeman, became pregnant, and later disappeared.

Professor Shaker added, "A female colleague of mine was arrested and taken there. When I asked her after she was released what happened at Abu Ghraib, she started crying. Ladies here are afraid and shy of talking about such subjects. They say everything is OK. Even in a very advanced society in the west it is very difficult to talk about rape."

Shaker, herself, encountered a milder form of sexual abuse at the hands of one American soldier. At a checkpoint, she said, an American soldier "pointed the laser sight [of his gun] directly in the middle of my chest... Then he pointed to his penis. He told me, 'Come here, bitch, I'm going to fuck you.'"

Writing from Baghdad, Luke Hardin of the Guardian reported that at Abu Ghraib journalists have been forbidden from talking to female detainees, who are cloistered in tiny windowless cells. Senior US military officers who have escorted journalists around Abu Ghraib, however, have admitted that rapes of women took place in the cellblock where 19 "high-value" male detainees were also being held. Asked how such abuse could have happened, Colonel Dave Quantock, now in charge of the prison's detention facilities, responded, "I don't know. It's all about leadership. Apparently it wasn't there."

No one should be surprised that women detainees, like male ones, were subjected to sexual abuse at Abu Ghraib. Think of the photographs we've already seen from that prison. If acts of ritual humiliation could be used to "soften up" men, then the rape of female detainees is hardly unimaginable.

But how can we be sure? In January, 2004, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the senior U.S. military official in Iraq, ordered Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba to investigate persistent allegations of human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib. The Taguba Report confirmed that in at least one instance a U.S. military policeman had raped at least one female prisoner and that guards had videotaped and photographed naked female detainees. Seymour Hersh also reported in a 2004 issue of the New Yorker magazine that these secret photos and videos, most of which still remain under wraps by the Pentagon, show American soldiers "having sex with a female Iraqi prisoner." Additional photos have made their way to the web sites of and In one photograph, a woman is raising her shirt, baring her breasts, presumably as she was ordered to do.

The full range of pictures and videotapes are likely to show a great deal more. Members of Congress who viewed all the pictures and videotapes from Abu Ghraib seemed genuinely shaken and sickened by what they saw. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn called them "appalling;" then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle described them as "horrific." Ever since the scandal broke in April 2004, human rights and civil liberties groups have been engaged in a legal battle with the Department of Defense, demanding that it release the rest of the visual documents. Only when all those documents are available to the general public will we have a clearer ¬and undoubtedly more ghastly ¬record of the sexual acts forced upon both female and male detainees.

Sexual Terrorism on the Streets

Meanwhile, the chaos of the war has also led to a rash of kidnappings and rapes of women outside of prison walls. After interviewing rape and abduction victims, as well as eyewitnesses, Iraqi police and health professionals, and U.S. military police and civil affairs officers, Human Rights Watch released a report in July, 2003, titled Climate of Fear: Sexual Violence and Abduction of Women and Girls in Baghdad. Only months after Baghdad fell to U.S. forces, they had already learned of twenty-five credible allegations of the rape and/or abduction of Iraqi women. Not surprisingly, the report found that "police officers gave low priority to allegations of sexual violence and abduction, that the police were under-resourced, and that victims of sexual violence confronted indifference and sexism from Iraqi law enforcement personnel." Since then, as chaos, violence, and bloodletting have descended on Iraq, matters have only gotten worse.

After the American invasion, local gangs began roaming Baghdad, snatching girls and women from the street. Interviews with human rights investigators have produced some horrifying stories. Typical was nine-year-old "Saba A." who was abducted from the stairs of the building where she lives, taken to an abandoned building nearby, and raped. A family friend who saw Saba A. immediately following the rape told Human Rights Watch:

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The Care Crisis

If you think its about sexual prowess, you'd be wrong. If you think it's about size, forget it. And if you imagine we follow the various pissing contests going on among male liberals, you're too self-absorbed. It's about what I call the Care Crisis.

During the last week, I've had a series of conversations with intellectual, liberal women who, like most of our male friends, companions and husbands, want to restore American democracy, end the war and free up our nation's wealth to support the health and well being of our nation's citizens.

We care about the common good. We believe in a public good. We agree with those liberal men who are writing about how Democrats will have to be more than a "collection of aggrieved out-groups," to quote David Brooks (New York Times, April 27). We agree with Brooks that "the message voters respond to best is notions of shared sacrifice for the common good...people are ready for an appeal to citizenship."

Multiculturalism and identity politics, gloats Brooks, are dead. Fine by me. Gleefully, Brooks announces that "Democrats are purging the last vestiges of the New Left and returning to the older civic liberalism of the 1950s and early 1960s."

But here's the rub: Notice the years Brooks chooses as the historical moment to which we should return--before American women began demanding the equality that is essential to their citizenship.

In these conversations you men never hear, this is what we discuss: For four decades, working women have poured into the paid labor force. Yet American society has done precious little to restructure the workplace or family life. The result? Working mothers are burdened and exhausted, families are fractured and children are often neglected. The dirty little secret, we repeatedly tell each other, is that it is both profitable and convenient to our government, business and many men, for women to wear themselves out trying to do the unpaid work of caring for children, caring for the elderly and caring about the social networks of our communities.

It's as though Americans are trapped in a time warp, certain that women will still do all this caring, even though they can't, because more than half are outside their homes working in the paid workplace. And so, we have the mounting Care Crisis.

But somehow male progressives and liberals continue to view these problems as those of a special interest group and part of identity politics. Yet it is the core dilemma faced by most middle class and working class American families, all along the political spectrum.

These are some of the war stories we share with each other:

A distinguished op-ed editor rejects an opinion piece that describes the need for high-quality, affordable, accessible child care because "It's been written about thousands of times." He's right. But nothing's changed.

A distinguished editor tells a journalist that he doesn't really want articles about "women's" problems because he's more interested in addressing the public good. Hasn't he heard that women hold up half the sky and then-some?

Fortunately, one person may have found a way around these gatekeepers who are so bored with vital changes that have never been addressed and implemented.

Joan Blades, co-founder of the online activist web movement,, has launched a grassroots virtual campaign dedicated to making working mothers's private choices and dilemmas a central part of our national conversation and political agenda.

She and her co-author Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner have just published The Motherhood Manifesto (Nation Books), a book filled with elegantly accessible stories that reveal the problems faced by working mothers in the early 21st century Without using the F word, they also prescribe such essential changes as paid parental leave, flexible working conditions, after-school programs, universal health care, excellent, affordable and accessible child care and realistic living wages.

Maybe, just maybe, you'll finally hear us. True, it's boring to discuss the vital needs of working mothers and families, when nothing ever changes. But while you're talking about the common good, consider this: There is nothing more vital to the common good of our nation than the well-being of our working mothers and their families. And that, dear gentlemen, is where the votes are.

Talking Taxes

I don't need to remind anyone that it's time to pay your taxes. But when will progressive politicians, intellectuals and activists learn to counter the Right's mantra that we get nothing for our hard-earned tax dollars?

What we all need to do, however, is to figure out how to explain to ordinary Americans why, in fact, we do pay taxes. The Republican mantra -- "shrink government and lower taxes" -- is fundamentally dishonest. They want us to believe that we are heavily taxed by an oppressive government and get nothing in return.

The truth is, our quality of life is far safer and more convenient because of government ordinances, regulations and inspections. Follow me through a typical day and I'll show you what I mean. Government services and regulations may seem invisible, but they're everywhere you look.

I wake up and brush my teeth with water whose purity is inspected by government agencies. I pour some cereal and milk into a bowl. No creepy crawlers appear; both are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Federally mandated labels on the cereal box and milk container, moreover, list the ingredients contained inside.

I leave home and in the middle of the street intersection are city workers doing maintenance on the sewer system after California's most recent ferocious winter storms. I get in my car, reassured that the smog device in my 20 year-old care recently passed the state's stringent test. On the way to the BART station, I look across the bay and see a breathtaking view of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge. When I first arrived in California, some 30 years ago, before the state enacted stricter pollution controls, a brownish haze masked such magnificent vistas.

As I drive, I slow down for city workers fixing potholes. I pass the public library where I often do research. I stop at lights and signs that regulate traffic and keep drivers from murdering all the kids walking to public schools. I park and walk to a Bay Area Rapit Transit subsway station, financed with public money. From the window of the train, I see cars locked in gridlock on an interstate freeway funded by the federal government.

In a café, I turn on my computer, remembering that a Pentagon agency created the Internet and that the federal government subsidized the development of the chips that now drive my laptop. To complete some research, I call a colleague at the University of California at Berkeley, the world's premier public university. The U.C. system has educated hundreds of thousands of undergraduates who, as educated and skilled workers, have fueled this state's economy.

By now, I have a headache. So I take some ibuprofen, tested and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

It's time for lunch, and I'm meeting a former graduate student from China, who is now an American-based professor. I don't even think about the hygiene regulations or public health inspections that allow us to enjoy eating in a restaurant without worrying about getting sick from contaminated food. She asks if it's possible to earmark your taxes so that you don't pay for the war in Iraq. I wish.

On a walk between storms, I see San Francisco police officers dealing with a car accident and hear the shrill siren of a fire truck racing toward some emergency. We stop at a corner convenience store that's prohibited by law from selling liquor and tobacco to minors.

Once at home, I make a reservation for a future holiday hiking in one of our great national parks, paid for by tax dollars. Last month, I spent four glorious days cross-country skiing in Yosemite, yet another taxpayer supported national park.

I finish reading my students' papers for tomorrow's seminar. Rarely do I remember that it's the taxpayers of California who pay my salary and give me the opportunity to teach and write. I finally put those envelopes with my tax checks -- my dues for using all these services and infrastructure -- into the mail.

As a slip them into the mailbox, I think about the right-wing's unbelievable success at persuading Americans to believe that they are heavily taxed and receive nothing in return for their hard-earned dollars.

What progressive politicians, intellectuals and activists need to do, perhaps every day, is to remind Americans how many times, during a single day, they actually see their tax dollars at work. Otherwise, the idea of a public good will simply become one of those quaint phrases from a distant past.

Old Women Out in the Cold

My 91-year-old friend Alice, like many elderly women, has outlived her modest savings. All that stands between her and destitution is the $800 check she receives from Social Security and small contributions from a handful of caring friends and relatives. She is not alone. The Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, D.C., estimates that half the women over 65 would fall into poverty without Social Security income because 70 percent of Social Security beneficiaries over 85 are women. For one-third of all unmarried female seniors, Social Security is, in fact, their only source of income.

Worried that his privatization plan is in peril, George W. Bush has been touting its benefits to widows. But they regard his proposals with particular suspicion. Since women tend to live longer than men and spend fewer years in the workforce, they depend more heavily on Social Security during the last years of their lives. They therefore stand to lose the most if they don't have a guaranteed safety net when they are seniors.

But do women of all ages understand their stake in this debate? An army of economists and pundits have vigorously debunked the president's spurious claims that Social Security is in "crisis" and that its trust fund will go "bankrupt" in 2042. What they don't publicize, however, is that the President's plan for private accounts would deepen the crisis faced by vast numbers of elderly women.

To educate women, the National Council of Women's Organizations, which represents almost 200 women's groups with more than 10 million members, held a national press conference in early February to express its strong opposition to private accounts. Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, wants women�who earn a median salary of $30,000�to understand that "Social Security provides women with life insurance, disability income, and spousal benefits, and all of these will be at risk if privatizers have their way."

The Bush administration naturally has it own network of female cheerleaders. Among them is the Independent Women's Forum, whose job is to fabricate the ideal of the self-made woman who requires no help from anyone, a rugged individualist who can pull herself up by the straps on her stiletto pumps. Just who is this independent self-made woman? Ask the millions of working women who do the unpaid work of caring for their children and their elderly parents or spouses if they need any assistance from social services. Ask the millions of women who work for low wages at Wal-Mart, nursing homes or other women's homes if they feel like independent self-made women.

Professional women�the real target audience courted by the Independent Women's Forum�may seem like rugged individualists, but scratch the veneer and you'll often find that they have benefited from generous state fellowships, government loans, parental sacrifice or wealthy husbands. Scratch a little deeper and you'll also discover that it was the women's movement and affirmative action that gave the "self-made woman" a chance to walk through what were once closed doors. The Independent Women's Forum, for example, wants to persuade me that I'm a self-made woman. But I'm not. Back when Nelson Rockefeller, a moderate Republican, was governor, New York State paid for my undergraduate education. The citizens of California, who once understood that a highly-skilled workforce is what would fuel California's economic engine, funded my doctoral education. As a result of affirmative action, universities began hiring women faculty members, and I repaid my debt for all this assistance by teaching thousands of university students. The truth is that hardly anyone is "self-made." Every day, we use sewer systems, ride on interstate highways or subways, surf the internet and send kids to schools that we created by investing in our society's public life.

Crucial as it is for women's long-term economic security, Social Security is not perfect; even now it discriminates against low-income workers, the majority of whom are women, because they pay more than their fair share of the payroll taxes that fund the system. So what's the solution? Why not exempt people who earn less than $30,000 from payroll taxes? Instead of keeping the cap at $90,000, why not raise it so that the wealthiest among us, those with the greatest financial security, can help those with the least? With this one progressive change, Social Security would bulge with surplus funds well into the next century.

We live in a world in which none of us know who will lose a job or become ill and need a helping hand. Real reform in Social Security should express our core conviction that we're not isolated, self-made men and women but a society of individuals who should care for the most vulnerable. It is not only unfair to allow elderly women to live in poverty�it's also immoral.

The Summer When Everything Changed

Even though we're rapidly approaching the 2004 presidential election, it often seems as though we're still shadowboxing over the meaning of the 1960s.

This is the 40th anniversary of a momentous summer that created many of the cultural, social and political divisions that make it so difficult to find independent voters who haven't yet decided how they'll vote in November.

Consider what happened during the summer of 1964. More than 1,000 Northern college students, black and white, "went South" for Mississippi Freedom Summer. They lived among the segregated Southern rural poor, taught in Freedom Schools, and tried to register black citizens who had been denied the vote. Every day, their lives were at risk. At night, cars filled with armed white vigilantes chased them down dark, single-lane country roads.

My parents would not sign the consent form required to join Freedom Summer. "I'm not allowing my daughter to enter a war zone unarmed," my father said.

Though I vehemently disagreed, he wasn't entirely wrong. Some activists died. Early in the summer, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three civil-rights workers, disappeared and were later unearthed from a dam in August. (Schwerner's mother had been my biology teacher in high school). The deaths and beatings of white young people forced a nation still indifferent to black casualties to recognize the violence that had terrorized the Southern civil-rights movement.

Many of these college students returned home transformed. They had stood up to authority and challenged received wisdom about racial superiority. No surprise, then, that many of the leaders of the Free Speech Movement, which erupted in early fall at the University of California at Berkeley, had been among those who had fought segregation in the South. No surprise, either, that some of the young women in the civil rights movement jump-started the feminist revolution after they had learned to question the "natural order of things" and because some felt they had been subordinated or exploited during Freedom Summer.

In early August came the surprising news that Vietnam, a country most of us couldn't find on a map, had attacked one or more U.S. Navy destroyers. On August 7th, Congress, with only two dissenting votes, quickly passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that authorized the funding of the Vietnam War. Few of us who opposed the war the very next day could have imagined that it would shadow the next decade of our lives. And even now, after former Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara and many others have acknowledged that those attacks never happened, it's hard to believe how little it took to convince Congress and the American people that Vietnam, like Iraq, represented an imminent threat to our country.

Later that month, the dream of a racially integrated society also collapsed at the Democratic National Convention, held in Atlantic City. Long excluded from the political process, African Americans had formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and demanded to replace the state's all-white delegation at the convention. Afraid to lose Southern whites to Republicans (which happened anyway when Richard Nixon launched his infamous "Southern Strategy" in 1968), the Democratic Party shamelessly granted the MDFP token representation and refused to seat the delegation. Many African Americans in the party felt betrayed. The alliance with white liberal Democrats was shattered and many date the growth of separatism and black power from that humiliating moment in Atlantic City.

As the summer turned into autumn, the country was at war. The media began to notice that a new "sexual revolution" was gradually changing campus culture. At the same time, the news of the Free Speech Movement, just then erupting in Berkeley, rapidly spread across American college campuses. Police hauled off 800 students for protesting the university's prohibition against recruiting civil rights activities on campus.

Across the nation small groups of students, inspired by the news of a youth movement, joined local civil rights movements and began protesting an escalating war. In the wake of the student movement came new struggles to protect and expand the rights of women, gays, and the environment.

The summer of 1964 is when the sleepy 1950's ended. During those months, and in the years that followed, many of us lost our innocence. Official lies led to skepticism, which eventually gave way to cynicism and political indifference for too many Americans. The demand for equality – for minorities and women – created new fault lines and irreversibly altered the political landscape.

The two presidential candidates both came of age during this decade. But President George W. Bush essentially skipped "the sixties." He drank, rather than inhaled. He played fraternity pranks, honed his cheerleading skills, and later ducked the draft, even though he didn't oppose the war.

Unlike Bush, Sen. John Kerry fought in Vietnam. Later, he risked his future by joining other anti-war veterans; he even testified before Congress about why that war had to end.

In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, John Kerry identified himself with the dreams of a generation of young people who had hoped to change the world: "It was the beginning of a great journey – a time to march for civil rights, for voting rights, for the environment, for women, and for peace. We believed we could change the world. And you know what? We did. But we're not finished. The journey isn't complete. The march isn't over. The promise isn't perfected."

Bush, by contrast, is a master at exploiting the politics of fear, and has instead tried to repeal or restrict – by law or executive order – women's reproductive rights, protection of the environment, freedom of information, and has promoted a foreign policy guaranteed to give peace not much of a chance.

To be sure, the summer of 1964 was less sexy and far less photogenic than Woodstock, the event that has become the stock image of the 1960s with its half-naked, drugged and dazed young people writhing in the mud. But if you want to understand the present, you should never forget that it was the summer of 1964 that changed the trajectory of our country. From that decisive summer sprang new demands for an expanded democracy. But it also ignited the cultural wars and political divisions that still separate us today, forty years after the battles of the sixties began.

Bush Mobilizes Women

George W. Bush didn't seek office hoping to launch a new wave of the women's movement. But the president has angered so many girls and women that he has helped mobilize a national march to protect women's rights.

On Sunday, April 25, an expected 1 million marchers will stream into the streets of the nation's capital for what is billed as the "March for Women's Lives." The last large pro-choice march drew 750,000 people in 1992.

According to Alice Cohan, the event's director, the march's major sponsors -- NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, the Feminist Majority, the National Organization for Women, the Black Women's Health Imperative, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the ACLU -- will ensure that "we get numbers too large to ignore."

"Many people," says Cohan, "now realize that Bush could actually succeed in banning abortion. We've got to remind people of what life was like before, when women died from illegal abortions."

Many older women, of course, remember those desperate times and will be marching to defend Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal.

But one-third of the participants, according to Krystal Lander, the campus program director of Feminist Majority, will be college-age students, many of whom have fund-raised to pay for their plane or bus fares to Washington. Among them are students from nearly all of the University of California and California State University campuses.

"The response has just been amazing," says Lander. "Bush's relentless attempts to confer personhood on the fetus and to choose judges who are opposed to abortion have galvanized young women all over the nation. They get it now; it's real. Bush is educating a whole new wave of young women, more than anyone could have imagined."

Juliet Linderman, a 17-year-old senior at San Francisco's Lowell High School, is one of those young women who is outraged by Bush's attempts to make abortion illegal. She couldn't afford to travel to Washington and knew that many other young people would also want to have an event in San Francisco.

So, with two of her friends, Juliet has organized a rally, especially designed for people her age, for noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 24, in Dolores Park.

"It's personal now," she says. "I don't take women's rights for granted anymore." The aspiring journalist is also worried about "Bush's attacks on the environment, education and health, the war in Iraq, tax cuts and, well, everything else I care about."

With a certain sense of excitement, she adds, "Thank goodness, I can finally vote in November!"

Heidi Seick, a 32-year-old technology analyst, is another youthful San Franciscan mobilized by Bush's assault on women's rights. She has organized some 20 friends, all professional young women, who will join the march as a delegation. They've named themselves "San Francisco Choice Chicks."

Linderman and Seick are hardly alone in worrying about the many ways the Bush administration has tried to roll back women's rights. Last week, the National Women's Law Center, a nonprofit research and policy center in Washington, released a report that details how Bush's policies have adversely affected American women. In addition to the administration's attempt to ban sex education and abortion, these are some of the "low profile" examples cited in the report:

-- Bush's budget would cut funding for emergency shelters, rape crisis hot lines and other domestic violence services.

-- The administration's political agenda has distorted scientific information. The National Institute of Cancer, for example, posted an inaccurate statement that abortion causes breast cancer.

-- A plan to privatize Social Security would particularly harm women workers, who generally earn less than men.

-- Budget and tax cuts will reduce or end services and programs needed by working mothers.

-- The U.S. Department of Justice has dropped cases challenging sex discrimination in employment.

The list is not short, and covers 10 key areas that affect women.

Here, then, is a success story for President Bush to publicize as he campaigns for re-election. In three years, he has managed to mobilize several generations of women -- a feat not matched by feminists for more than 30 years.

Ruth Rosen is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Battle Over the Sixties

Although we're rapidly approaching the 2004 presidential election, it often seems that we're still shadowboxing over the 1960s.

Whoever becomes the Democratic presidential candidate will be drawn into a political and cultural fray over racial equality, abortion, gay rights, environmental sustainability and economic justice -- all issues that galvanized a generation during that tumultuous decade of 1963-1973.

The two leading candidates, in addition to the president, are Baby Boomers. Yet, the experience of that generation has affected them differently.

George W. Bush basically skipped the 1960s. He drank, rather than inhaled. He played fraternity pranks while others boogied to the Stones. He was a cheerleader while his classmates protested official lies. He didn't fight in -- or against -- the war in Vietnam. He never joined movements that promoted first-class citizenship for racial minorities, women or gays and lesbians. He never fought for new protections for the environment.

Nor was he part of the Silent Majority of Baby Boomers who avoided the chaos of the era, led sober, responsible lives and went on to join the workforce and raise families.

Bush, instead, was a privileged son who took for granted his eventuall entitlement to power. He did some sporadic time in the Texas Air National Guard while others worked in the Peace Corps or fought in the war against poverty. He worked, off and on, at businesses his father gave him to run, while many of his classmates carved out careers dedicated to changing society.

Truth be told, he didn't really become a responsible man until he was forty.

Call him the anti-'60s president. His views on abortion, same-sex marriage, waging war and social and economic justice were not forged during his youth. They were hatched as part of a middle-aged quest to pursue his family's dynastic political power. His views are far more conservative than most of the huge generation that embraced greater tolerance and liberal social attitudes.

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination must be able to demonstrate that Bush's views are outside the mainstream of American society and that he has shown precious little of the "character" or compassionate conservatism on which he based his 2000 campaign.

Fortunately, we have two Democratic candidates superbly prepared for the battle that lies ahead.

Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) clearly grasps the changes that have transformed our society. He embraces racial and gender equality, as well as gay civil rights. He understands the critical necessity for environmental protection and energy independence. He comprehends, at a visceral level, the daily struggle waged by the working poor for economic dignity. He instinctively knows why our national security requires that the rest of the world respect -- not resent -- the United States.

A charismatic and charming campaigner, Edwards has helped remind many Americans of their core principles and values. Unlike the president, who works hard to manipulate our fears, Edwards appeals to our hopes for greater fairness and a safer future.

With a few minor exceptions, the views and positions of Sen. John Kerry (D- Mass.) closely mirror those of his younger rival. Kerry is also a forceful and articulate campaigner who has proven his ability to respond to political attacks with a rapid and powerful response.

Like Bush, Kerry was also a privileged son. But the choices Kerry made tested his character and gave him a well-deserved reputation as a man of courage and conscience.

Unlike Bush, Kerry was a bona fide member of the Vietnam generation who fought both in and against the war. As a decorated veteran and distinguished anti-war activist, Kerry has been able to appeal to large segments of his generation, particularly Vietnam veterans, who previously remained fairly detached from the electoral politics.

Bush never expected that a former Green Beret would stand on a Des Moines stage and tell an audience how John Kerry saved his life in Vietnam. As Robert Poe recently wrote in, "By the time he was finished, something remarkable had happened: A presidential challenger had, as the world watched, grown larger than the incumbent president."

Afterward, the 2004 presidential election suddenly morphed into a referendum on character.

Kerry's engagement on both sides of the Vietnam War -- in addition to his decades of experience in the Senate and expertise in national security -- is the major advantage he brings to the cultural wars still at the center of American politics.

Ruth Rosen is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Suffering Suffrage

While we're all focused on elections, can you guess which Californians are prohibited, by law, from voting? People you may not know: every prison inmate and former felon who is still on parole.

Few people realize that voting rights are left up to the states -- a legacy of the South's post-Civil War effort to prohibit newly freed slaves from voting.

California's voting laws, however, are relatively liberal compared to the 14 states that permanently bar ex-felons from voting and the 29 states that prevent criminals from voting while on probation. Only two states -- Maine and Vermont -- follow the European pattern of allowing all inmates and ex-convicts to vote.

You're probably thinking this has nothing to do with you. But you would be wrong. It could affect your troubled teenager. As New York defense attorney Andrew Shapiro has noted, "An 18-year-old first-time offender who trades a guilty plea for a nonprison sentence may unwittingly sacrifice forever his right to vote."

That's right: In some states, your child could finish probation, work and pay taxes, but never be able to vote again -- a clear instance of taxation without representation.

The people most affected by these laws, as you might suspect, are not white-collar criminals or suburban teenagers. In California, they are disproportionately African American and Hispanic men, part of the exploding population of people on parole for past drug crimes.

Nationally, almost 4.7 million adults are barred from voting. Of that number, 13 percent of African American men -- 1.4 million individuals -- are disenfranchised because they are in prison, on parole or on probation.

"This is not just a criminal justice issue, but one of basic democracy,'' said Marc Mauer, assistant director of the Sentencing Project in Washington, a nonprofit research organization on criminal justice.

We should never underestimate the impact of such widespread disenfranchisement on our electoral process. According to Human Rights Watch, Florida law -- which permanently denies the vote to ex-offenders -- prevented more than 400,000 people (including one-third of Florida's black men, or 200,000 residents) from casting a vote in the 2000 presidential election.

Human Rights Watch concluded "that the inability of these ex-offenders to vote had a significant impact on the number voting for Vice President Gore." Chris Uggen, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota, found that if ex- convicts had been allowed to vote in the last presidential election, Gore would now be sitting in the White House.

We began this nation with the rather narrow view that only white men who owned property could vote. Since then, we have extended suffrage to all citizens, but not to former criminals.

These laws originated during one of our least glorious historical periods. Between 1890 and 1910, Southern states crafted criminal disenfranchisement laws -- along with literacy tests and poll taxes -- that made it nearly impossible for African Americans to wield any political power.

In 1901, Alabama lawmakers even inserted a provision in the state constitution that disenfranchised any person guilty of the felonious crime of "moral turpitude.'' (In the South, that could be attributed to a black man who directly spoke to a white woman.) The Alabama legislature declared that its goal was to establish and preserve white supremacy.

We are the heirs of this shameful legacy. We are also the only democratic society that indefinitely bars so many felons from re-entering society, endowed with the rights and responsibilities of their citizenship.

Widespread disenfranchisement in poor communities also tends to lower voter turnout in general. "The reason," Mauer told me, "is that there is little interest in elections when so many men cannot cast a vote. And that's not going to lower recidivism rates. We want parolees to be more -- not less -- connected to society and to assume the obligations of citizenship."

Politicians and strategists agree that the major parties refuse to address this blight on our democratic process. Republicans resist giving the vote to ex-convicts because they know they will lose political power. Democrats, for their part, have hesitated to take on the issue, for fear of appearing soft on crime and because former offenders don't contribute to their campaign coffers.

But denying the vote to an entire class of Americans is indefensible and profoundly undemocratic. Joe Loya, a disenfranchised felon, eloquently expressed this sentiment a few years ago:

"Without a vote, a voice, I am a ghost inhabiting a citizen's space. I want to walk calmly into a polling place with other citizens, to carry my placid ballot into the booth, check off my choices, then drop my conscience in the common box."

Hear his words. They may be the battle cry for the next struggle for universal suffrage.

Why Single Women Must Vote

Forget the angry white men of 1994, the soccer moms of 1998 or the NASCAR dads of 2002. This year, Democrats believe that single women -- one- fifth of the nation's population and 42 percent of all registered women voters -- are the demographic-swing group that could decide a close election, oust President Bush and alter the political landscape in Congress.

Who are these unmarried women? They are never-married working women, divorced working mothers raising kids alone and widows who are worried about their economic security.

Last December, Celinda Lake and Stan Greenberg, two well-known Democratic pollsters, released the results of a survey that Democrats are taking to heart. "Unmarried women represent millions more voters with very clear concerns about the economy, health care and education," said Lake.

To this, Greenberg added, "If unmarried women voted at the same rate as married women, they would have a decisive impact on this (2004) election and could be the most important agents of change in modern politics."

The problem is that single women just don't exercise their electoral power. In the 2000 presidential election, 68 percent of married women went to the voting booth but only 52 percent of single women cast a vote.

That means that 6 million single women failed to vote in an election that hinged on a little more than half a million votes nationally and a few hundred votes in Florida.

The survey showed that single women could have altered the outcome of the 2000 election. Had single women -- who favored former Vice President Al Gore by 31 points -- voted at the same rate as married women in Florida and other swing states, Gore now would be sitting in the Oval Office.

How do we know that single women would help elect a Democratic president? We don't necessarily; they are not particularly tied to any one party. But 65 percent of the single women surveyed -- a diverse group that crossed class, regional, ethnic and racial lines -- said the country is headed in the wrong direction.

The reasons for their disgruntlement are not hard to fathom. Single women, who mostly earn modest salaries, are not great supporters of either tax cuts for the wealthy or huge expenditures for war or the military.

Instead, they worry about economic security, health care, good schools and Social Security. They are also more likely to hold progressive views on abortion, gun control and gay rights -- all wedge issues that will influence voters' decisions in the next election.

So how do we mobilize this huge and diverse group of single women, described by Page Gardner, who manages the Women's Vote project, a nonpartisan research organization, as "the single largest demographic group of nonvoters?"

Democrats have already started reaching out to this untapped group, which includes 16 million unregistered single women and 22 million who are registered but don't vote.

In 2002, the Democratic National Committee launched a training program called Democratic Voices to prepare women to spread the Democratic Party's message to their friends and co-workers. The DNC plans to expand this outreach during the 2004 election.

But the party must be strategic. It needs to discover why this group feels so detached from politics or what keeps these women from registering and voting. Democrats also need to be more inclusive and explain how their policies and goals would address and improve the lives of single women, not only those of "working families."

They also might remind single women of the three generations of women and (a few good men) who braved relentless ridicule, social stigma and personal ostracism during the 70 years they campaigned for a woman's right to cast a vote. Although they launched the struggle for suffrage in 1848, it wasn't until 1920 that women became full-fledged citizens who could vote.

Opponents of suffrage, amplified by millions of female voices, argued that women didn't really want to participate in the political process and were quite happy, thank you very much, to let men make the decisions and shape the future of the nation.

Single women need to prove these opponents were dead wrong. If she were still alive, Abigail Scott Dunaway, the 19th-century Oregon suffragist would explain that they also have a debt to those who came before us. Speaking to the single women of her time, she said:

"The young women of today, free to study, to speak, to write, to choose their occupation, should remember that every inch of this freedom was bought for them at a great price. It is for them to show their gratitude by helping onward the reforms of their own times ... The debt that each generation owes to the past it must pay to the future."

Spread the word: Single women could elect the next president.

Leave No Worker Behind

Cynthia Hernandez, a petite and pretty 21-year-old grocery worker, felt exhilarated, rather than weary, after traveling by bus from Los Angeles to Northern California. Riding with her were her 2-year-old daughter, 50 other union members and religious leaders of all denominations from Southern California.

She was part of the "Grocery Workers' Justice Pilgrimage," representing 70,000 workers who have been striking Safeway and have been locked out from other Southern Californian supermarkets for the last four months. They're struggling to keep their health-care benefits, a problem that will eventually affect many middle-class workers.

The pilgrimage journeyed north to persuade Steven Burd, president, chairman and CEO of Safeway, who lives in Alamo, to return to the negotiating table. Knowing that Burd is a devout evangelical Christian, religious leaders hoped to "change his heart" and to appeal to the faith he professes.

They also came to deliver 10,000 cards -- written by shoppers, children and congregants -- that asked Burd to resume bargaining until labor and management reach a fair settlement that protects the health care of all workers.

As the bus arrived in Alamo on a chilly but sunny morning Wednesday, they were warmly greeted by Northern Californian religious leaders and community supporters. Together, they held a prayer vigil in front of Alamo's Safeway.

"Mr. Burd, lift up your eyes and see the people who are suffering, " said a rabbi. "We need affordable health care," said a minister. After each religious leader spoke, the crowd of several hundred chanted, "Do not close your ears to the cry of the needy."

The 4-month-old strike has, in fact, devastated the lives of many workers, some of whom have lost their homes and had their cars repossessed. Many can no longer feed their families and are deeply in debt. "I don't know how I'll pay the rent next month," Hernandez told me. "I have nothing left."

Then, the peaceful crowd marched toward Burd's home, chanting "Health care now!" To their delight, passing drivers honked in solidarity and a few neighbors rushed out of magnificent homes to offer unexpected words of support.

Because only a small delegation of religious leaders were allowed to climb the private road to the gated Alamo Ridge community, the striking workers never saw the wooded forests and rolling hills that shelter the 15 families who live in this exclusive enclave.

Stationed at the gate was Guy Worth, who would only describe himself as "Mr. Burd's personal representative," but who turned out to be a Safeway security guard. He received the bins of cards and then, much to his evident discomfort, found himself drawn into a prayer circle with religious leaders.

On the way back, I asked Hernandez what we in Northern California should understand about the grocery workers' strike.

"What happens to us," she said, "will happen to everyone else in the country. If our strike is broken, then employers will know they can end health care for all workers."

The grocery workers oppose Safeway's effort to raise the amount they must contribute to their health-care costs. The union also refuses to accept a "two-tier" system in which future employees will receive lower wages and benefits than current workers.

With a turnover rate of 30 percent a year, grocery workers would soon be reduced to the kind of subsistence-level pay earned by nonunion workers at Wal-Mart, which, says Safeway, is why the corporation, to stay competitive, must curtail wages and benefits.

"It's a race to the bottom," said Hernandez, as she wheeled her sleeping daughter in her stroller. "If we 70,000 workers don't get decent wages and health-care benefits, some of us will end up on welfare and most of us will use the public health care system. And who's going to pay for all these public services? The taxpayers, of course! Well, I don't want to live like that. Why shouldn't our employer pay a living wage and health benefits so that we can retain our dignity as workers?"

The Rev. Carol Been, a Lutheran minister in the Bay Area, echoed Hernandez's sense of urgency. "There's a race to see which employer can pay the least to its workers and the real issue, of course, is health care."

The striking workers certainly know that. So, by the way, did voters in New Hampshire's primary, who told pollsters that health care was even more important than the economy and the war in Iraq.

Workers such as Hernandez are desperately trying to hang on to their middle-class dignity. They deserve our support. There, but for good fortune, go the rest of us -- and probably sooner than we may realize.

Wal-Mart Shops for Voters

Imagine that you earn $8 an hour working for Wal-Mart. Then, you learn that the store is recruiting workers, at $10 an hour, to convince neighbors and shoppers to vote against a law that would limit the size of "big- box'' stores in unincorporated areas of Contra Costa County, in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Great, you think. I'll apply. But Wal-Mart won't hire its own workers because the corporation isn't sure it's legal to use them to promote a political campaign.

When you realize that Wal-Mart will pay higher wages to those campaigning to keep your wages low, you get angry -- which is how I've learned about the Arkansas retailer's countywide plans to repeal the ordinance.

Last June, the Contra Costa Country Board of Supervisors passed the ban when it recognized that Wal-Mart's seductive low prices come with hidden costs to residents. The retailer's subsistence wages drive down the pay of other workers; its huge super-centers undermine local small businesses and create more traffic congestion. Taxpayers, moreover, end up paying for workers' health care because they can't afford costly benefits on such low pay.

In response, Wal-Mart -- which never takes no for an answer -- immediately parachuted in paid workers to gather 27,000 signatures to force supervisors to either rescind the ban or place the issue before the voters. Supervisors have put the question on the March 2 ballot.

To fight off these restrictions, Wal-Mart has just launched a campaign to convince the community to vote "no." At its Martinez, Pittsburg and Antioch stores, Wal-Mart has hung banners and posters advertising its new "Consumer Action Network (CAN)," a rather transparent effort to persuade shoppers to vote against the limiting ordinance.

Last week, workers at Wal-Mart handed out flyers that describe CAN as a "good government" program. (Many low-income shoppers, who receive some form of government assistance, might mistakenly think CAN is a government-sponsored program.)

In exchange for signing a membership card (and providing your personal information), you get "a personal membership card, free newsletters, important bulletins and an invitation to special events."

You also get a chance to fill out a voter registration application, which is conveniently mailed to Wal-Mart's CAN, rather than to the registrar of voters. If you want more information, you are referred to an 800 telephone number.

But 20 calls to the number elicited the same response: "Only 'Kathy' knows about the program, she's on the other line, so just leave your name and number." Is it conceivable that Wal-Mart has hired only one person who is familiar with CAN? Or is this just a ploy to gather names and phone numbers to enlist shoppers in its political campaign?

Meanwhile, a coalition of community activists is gearing up to support the ordinance. They include the nonprofit group ACORN, which promotes affordable housing and open space; union members; and religious, environmental and "smart growth" organizations. But they face a formidable enemy -- the largest corporation in the world, which has unlimited funds to reach their intended goal of building 40 new super-centers in California.

Supervisor John Gioia knows that "Wal-Mart will have a great advantage. It will also turn it into an anti-union campaign. So we need to appeal to the good sense of Contra Costa County voters and explain that this is about losing open space and taxpayers subsidizing Wal-Mart. It's also about Contra Costa County -- not Wal-Mart executives in Bentonville, Ark. -- having the right to make its own decisions about local planning. "

Now, the challenge is to convince Contra Costa County voters that the lowest possible prices come at a steep price for the entire community.

Bush Doublespeak

I'm re-reading George Orwell's classic dystopian novel, "1984," so I may be a bit sensitive to official language that masks what's really going on. In the bleak world of "1984," as you may remember, the Ministry of Truth publishes lies, the Ministry of Love tortures people and the Ministry of Peace wages perpetual war.

I'm hardly the first to notice that the Bush administration has excelled at using language to say one thing and mean its opposite -- now popularly known as doublespeak. The "Healthy Forests" program, for example, allows increased logging of protected wilderness. The "Clear Skies" initiative permits greater industrial air pollution.

Last week, the president employed doublespeak again. In the name of "improving" Head Start -- the federally funded preschool program that provides early educational, health and nutrition services to 1 million impoverished children -- he pressed Congress to pass legislation that would allow states to "opt in" and to match block grants to participate in the program.

"Opt in." Sounds generous and inclusive, doesn't it? But what it really means is shifting responsibility for Head Start to the states, most of which are crushed by budget deficits and don't have the money to fund the quality programs that prepare poor children to arrive at school ready to learn. The result? The quality of Head Start program would vary widely, with cuts decided by individual states.

Shifting funds to California, according to Amy Dominguez-Arms, vice president of Oakland's Children Now, "could undo a comprehensive preschool program with proven positive results for children. What we're worried about is that it would lower quality standards and that the state would use the funds for other purposes."

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, sees Bush's legislative proposal as an attempt to dismantle Head Start and as "part of a bold plan to break the sacred covenant between people and their federal government. If it ain't broke, don't fix it," says Edelman. "More importantly, if it ain't broke, don't break it."

She's right. Head Start enjoys the highest customer satisfaction score of any federal agency. Even the Bush administration's own Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) concedes that Head Start provides our poorest children a quality early childhood education.

So why is the president willing to dismantle Head Start? "Management flexibility," he says. More doublespeak. The president's real agenda is to starve and shrink federal programs and get out of the business of providing services to the poor. The problem is, the poor can't afford to pay for the private services that might replace public ones.

Since it began in 1965 as part of Lyndon B. Johnson's war on poverty, Head Start has benefited 20 million at-risk kids and families. Studies have shown that kids who participate in Head Start commit fewer juvenile crimes, need less special education, are more likely to graduate from high school, and that every dollar invested during the first seven years of a child's life saves $2 to $4 of federal dollars later on.

"Leave no child behind," Bush promised during his campaign, stealing the decades-old slogan of the Children's Defense Fund. Well, right now, Head Start serves 3 out of 5 eligible children. Yet it would only cost $2 billion a year to give all eligible kids the chance to participate in Head Start.

What does it say about the values of our society that we are willing to spend $4 billion dollars a month waging war in Iraq and give huge tax breaks to millionaires, but don't have enough money to give American children the benefit of early education that prepares them for learning in school?

Doublespeak is dangerous: Bush's "opt in" proposal is designed to dismantle Head Start, hardly what the American people expect from a president who calls himself a compassionate conservative, devoted to improving children's education.

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