Women take lead in Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall journey

power of girls

Women of all ages, colors, national origins and class status were a critical piece of the coalition that propelled President Barack Obama into his second term. Certainly much of that support came from the president's record, as well as disgust towards the Stone Age alternative offered by the Republican Party.

President Obama's inaugural speech outlined in broad strokes some of the key democratic struggles on which he will lead in these next four years. Women's, voter, immigrant and LGBT rights were front and center, interwoven in a vision of expanding democracy.

"We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth," Obama said.

"It is now our generation's task to carry on what those pioneers began, for our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts," he said.

The day after the president said that line the Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced into Congress. Campaigns are already under way to make sure that bill becomes law.

Other significant milestones this week mark key steps in this "journey."

* Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that for the first time in American history, women will be eligible for combat duty. We strongly oppose war and militarism. At the same time, this order is a victory for democratic rights, much in the same vein as repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and the desegregation of our armed forces - which provided gays/lesbians and African Americans, respectively, the same opportunities to serve in the military as others.
Women soldiers have already been injured or died on the front lines, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq. Twenty thousand women have served in those wars, with 800 wounded in combat and more than 130 killed. But women were denied the additional combat pay and advancement opportunities that come with being in combat.

* This week is the 40th anniversary of a keystone in women's equality in America: the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision. In essence that legal rullng said women are human beings and equal citizens who should be trusted to make their own decisions regarding reproduction. Unfortunately that basic human right has been chipped away over the years through state and federal laws that limit and confine women's freedom. There are more battles ahead. Right-wingers in Congress are already plotting to deny medical access to women and endanger their lives.

* The Violence Against Women Act was reintroduced into Congress this week after Republicans forced its expiration last year. They refused to include, and therefore protect, undocumented women, Native American women, lesbians, transgendered women and college students - 30 million women - strictly for rigid political and ideological reasons. With the Republicans still in charge in the House and other anti-women forces still operating in the wings, it's going to take organized political pressure to guarantee VAWA's passage.

Whether on gun violence or violence against women, the coalition of voters that re-elected the president has to stay engaged. New coalitions and democratic forces will also emerge in the course of these interrelated struggles. These continuing movements are necessary for protecting and expanding democratic rights, and for any progress to be made. Indeed, as some have said, a Women's Spring may be under way.

Photo: President Barack Obama congratulates Google Science Fair winners, from left, Naomi Shah, Shree Bose, and Lauren Hodge in the Oval Office, Oct. 3, 2011. (Pete Souza/White House)

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