This has already been covered in numerous other places, so you probably haven’t seen it here first. Nonetheless it reminded me of something a wise lesbian activist said to me when I was newly arrived in D.C.
The gist of it was that it’s incredibly important that when policy decisions are being made people from those groups affected at at the table and engaged in making those decisions. It was a statement, at the time, about the importance of getting gays & lesbians elected to public office. It’s not that someone who doesn’t belong to a particular group can’t advocate effectively for that group. But advocacy (and policy) based in the direct experiences of the people who are impacted by can often address more specific needs.
In other words, if you want a voice when it comes to making policy, you gotta get people elected. Because if you got something that looks like this:
You’re a lot more likely to end up with something like this:
In a spectacular act of complicity with the religious right, the Department of Health and Human Services Monday released a proposal that allows any federal grant recipient to obstruct a woman’s access to contraception. In order to do this, the Department is attempting to redefine many forms of contraception, the birth control 40 percent of Americans use, as abortion. Doing so protects extremists under the Weldon and Church amendments. Those laws prohibit federal grant recipients from requiring employees to help provide or refer for abortion services. The “Definitions” section of the HHS proposal states,
Abortion: An abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. There are two commonly held views on the question of when a pregnancy begins. Some consider a pregnancy to begin at conception (that is, the fertilization of the egg by the sperm), while others consider it to begin with implantation (when the embryo implants in the lining of the uterus). A 2001 Zogby International American Values poll revealed that 49 percent of Americans believe that human life begins at conception. Presumably many who hold this belief think that any action that destroys human life after conception is the termination of a pregnancy, and so would be included in their definition of the term “abortion.” Those who believe pregnancy begins at implantation believe the term “abortion” only includes the destruction of a human being after it has implanted in the lining of the uterus.
And you’re liable to have policy made by people who say stuff like this.
Back in 1990, the Republican candidate for Governor of Texas, Clayton Williams, likened rape to bad weather, saying, “As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”
When that joke came to light in June, John McCain was forced to “postpone” a fundraiser in Midland hosted by Williams. McCain spokesman Brian Rogers called the joke “incredibly offensive.”
But what Williams said in 1990 is not all that different than a joke McCain made about rape in 1986. According to the Tucson Citizen, here’s what McCain, then a two-term Congressman from Mesa, said during his run for the Senate:
Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, ‘Where is that marvelous ape?’
And people who know who don’t even know stuff like this.
The bus had been rolling for a half-hour and McCain was holding court on everything from Iraq to college basketball. (“Who woulda thought? VCU,” he exclaimed upon boarding.) And then someone asked about public funding for contraception in Africa to prevent the spread of AIDS.
“I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it in the past,” he stammered as he looked to his communications director. “I’m sure I’m opposed to government funding.”
Sensing a vulnerable moment, reporters kept the questions coming. What about sex education in the schools? Should it mention contraceptives? Or only abstinence, like President Bush wants?
“I think I support the president’s present policy,” he said, tentatively.
More questions: Do condoms stop sexually transmitted disease?
A long pause.
A stern look.
“I’ve never gotten into these issues or thought much about them,” he said, almost crying uncle.
And who can’t answer questions like this.
So, yeah. Getting the right (or not right, in this case) people elected matters.