AN OPEN LETTER TO NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN PRESIDENT PATRICIA IRELAND

by Sunil Sharma
Dissident Voice

September 27, 2000

 

 

 

Patricia Ireland

President

National Organization for Women

Re: Comments about Ralph Nader

 

 

Dear Patricia,

 

My name is Sunil Sharma. I am a thirty-year-old Asian-American, and I am an independent political activist. It is with great exasperation that I write you, about comments you made regarding Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader to the San Francisco Chronicle. (1) You claimed that Nader is indifferent or worse on matters of importance to women and minorities. You stated that he is "ill-informed about abortion rights", and that on gay and lesbian issues Nader suffers not from "just an indifference," but that his is an "ignorance that's almost willful." You also argued that on the matter of reproductive rights "It would be one thing to say [Nader] hasn't worked on the issues; it's another thing to be talking about issues you don't know anything about."

 

The Chronicle noted that these comments were "mirrored in recent mailings by NOW" to its members. Human Rights Campaign has also joined in on the attacks against Nader, claiming he is uninterested in gay, lesbian, and transgender issues. Both NOW and HRC endorse Democratic Party presidential hopeful Al Gore.

 

It is clear that the Democrats are alarmed by the prospect of votes for Nader translating into a loss for Gore to the repellent George W. Bush. As the election approaches, the attacks on Nader in the press are getting more shrill, and because of political expediency and pressuring from the Democrats, advocacy groups such as NOW and HRC are being trotted out to attack Nader and flack for Gore. This disgusting display from NOW and HRC is really a slap in the face to the constituents you represent, and worst of all it's a ringing endorsement for "business as usual" politics in a steadily declining, retrograde political system and culture where women and minorities suffer most.

 

For starters, unlike Gore or Bush, Nader's Vice Presidential running mate is a Native-American woman, Winona LaDuke. LaDuke is nobody's idea of a token choice, nor would she allow herself to be used as such. She is a highly regarded, courageous activist and author of two books on the tragic situation facing Native Americans, the environment, and dominant culture exploitation of Third and Fourth World peoples.

 

Second, Nader has endorsed the NOW political agenda, which has been downloaded and placed on the official Nader website. Perhaps you could deign to take a look: www.votenader.org/issues/women-issues_NOW.html

 

Third, on reproductive rights Nader has unequivocally stated in numerous speeches, some televised on CSPAN, that he is for a woman's right to choose, and that the State should stay out of the private lives of women. As stated above, he endorses the NOW political agenda: "NOW supports access to safe and legal abortion, to effective birth control, to reproductive health and education. We oppose attempts to restrict these rights through legislation, regulation (like the gag rule) or Constitutional amendment."

 

Where does Albert Gore stand on the matter? His rap sheet is hardly encouraging. As a Congressman, Gore had trumpeted his belief in "the fetus's right to life." Gore voted for the infamous Hyde Amendment, which banned federal funding for abortions.(2) Gore was so extreme, that he opposed language in an earlier version of the Hyde bill that allowed exceptions to the ban in the case of rape. (3) Poor and minority women have borne the brunt of the terrible consequences since the Amendment's passage in 1977. The tragic story of the Hyde Amendment's first victim, Rosie Jimenez, which NOW is very well familiar with, is but one example. In 1977, Jimenez, a 27 year-old, Mexican-American single mother and college student attempted to get an abortion. The passage of the Hyde Amendment meant that she could not get Medicaid funding for the procedure. Given the fact Jimenez was poor, her only choice was to get an illegal abortion. In the course of the unsanitary and unsafe procedure, Jimenez contracted Clostridium perfringens, a rare infection. She died eight days later, suffering a long and very agonizing death. (4) Every Congressman who voted for that hideous piece of legislation has the blood of Jimenez -- and many other women -- on their hands.

 

Gore supported one of the most monstrous attacks on Roe v Wade in 1984, when he voted for an amendment presented to Congress by Michigan Republican Mark Siljander. The amendment packed a lethal one-two punch: first, by defining the term "person" to include "unborn children from the moment of conception," and secondly by prohibiting any federal funding to any clinic or hospital that performed an abortion. Jennifer L. Pozner, head of the Women's Desk at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), notes that Gore's support of this amendment is a "chilling thought in today's spate of so-called 'fetal protection' bills that are thinly-veiled attempts to criminalize abortion." (5)

 

During his 1988 presidential campaign, Gore tried to deny his previous voting record, fearing it would be used by his Democratic opponents during the primaries. An aide to Gore informed US News & World Report in March of 1988 that "Since there's a record of that vote, in effect what we have to do is deny, deny, deny."

 

In a debate in NY during the 2000 Democratic primaries, presidential hopeful Bill Brady brandished a letter Gore had written to a Tennessee constituent on the topic: "It is my deep personal conviction that abortion is wrong. I hope that some day we will see the current outrageously large number of abortions drop sharply. Let me assure you that I share your belief that innocent human life must be protected and I have an open mind on how to further this goal." (6)

 

As a Congressman, Gore's anti-abortion stance earned him an 84% Right to Life rating. Gore now claims he is pro-choice. It is interesting to note, however, that when repeatedly pounded on this matter by Bradley, an embarrassed NARAL, which endorses Gore, tried to explain away his contortions by claiming he had "evolved". Only then did Gore adopt the "I've evolved" stance. Is he sincere or is it just election year pandering? In obvious response to the Nader challenge, Gore has lately been talking a populist, anti-corporate talk. However, a recent article in Business Week makes it evident that Gore's rhetoric is just that. A couple of months back, the Wall St. Journal published an interview with Gore's VP selection, Joseph Lieberman, in which he informed Corporate America that despite the populist rhetoric, Al Gore is (as he has always been) on their side.

 

Such two-facedness has been a defining quality of Al Gore's political career.(7) On such an important issue to women, can a man like Al Gore be trusted, especially if he were to preside with a Republican dominated Congress, and given the spineless collusion with the Republicans on just about every issue -- always in "the spirit of bipartisanship," a hallmark of the Clinton/Gore years?

 

Point four, Nader applauded the Vermont Supreme Court's recent decision legalizing same-sex marriages: "I think homosexuals have the right of civil union. There are economic reasons for that and there are humanitarian reasons for that, and I think the Vermont decision is a good one, and I think homosexuals should be given equal rights and equal responsibilities." (8) Nader stated "It was a right, a humane and touching decision with a very searching rationale -- it is not only a matter of affinity, but of economics on health care and other issues, which makes it all the more needed." (9)

 

How has Al Gore fared on issues of concern to gays and lesbians? Gore has in the past called homosexuality "abnormal sexual behavior." In 1980, Congressman Gore voted in favor of an amendment prohibiting the Legal Services Corporation from providing assistance to homosexuals who were discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. As a Senator, Gore locked arms with that noted friend of gays and lesbians, Senator Jesse Helms, backing three anti-homosexual measures Helms introduced: 1) an August 1986 amendment that overturned the District of Columbia's law prohibiting health, life, and disability insurance programs from using a new HIV test to reject insurance applicants. 2) A 1987 "amendment requiring HIV testing for immigrants, effectively prohibiting HIV+ people from settling in the US." 3) Helms' 1988 amendment to the Fair Housing Bill, preventing its anti-discrimination section from protecting "an individual solely because that individual is a transvestite." Gore also backed Helms' Bill attacking the National Endowment for the Arts for its funding of the controversial Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit in 1989. Gay Weekly, from Gore's home state of Tennessee, observed that "Even our own Tennessee Senators, Jim Sasser, and Albert Gore, Jr., did nothing to try to stop the vicious North Carolinians' bigoted, dangerous foolishness."' Active support for Helms' bigotry can hardly be described as doing nothing.

 

During the 1992 presidential race, the gay and lesbian community was told that they had a friend in team Clinton/Gore. What they got was a slap in the face called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue." A 1999 study by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, cited by Jennifer Pozner, reported an 86% increase in the number of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals tossed out of the military in the five years following the implementation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Pozner notes that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has "disproportionately affected women: though female officers represent 14 percent of the active duty force, they comprised 28 percent of gay discharges. (l1)

 

Fifth, Ralph Nader has been on the right side of issues of importance to women. Nader is the only candidate that supports passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). He has authored a couple of books on the subject of marketplace discrimination of women, the most noteworthy being Why Women Pay More, published in 1993. (12) Attached is Nader's Introduction to the book. Going back further, in 1957, Nader played a leading role in challenging laws that barred women from participating in juries in eleven states.

 

If you want to criticize Ralph Nader by saying he doesn't utter the words "women," "minorities," "gays and lesbians" often enough, then perhaps you have a point. What cannot be said, though, is that Nader is uninterested or indifferent to issues that affect women, minorities, and homosexuals the most. Nader has been a relentless critic of the immense power corporations wield in American social, political, and personal life and the abuses that are concomitant with such unchecked power. One consequence of this dramatic imbalance of power is the ever widening gulf between the rich and poor in the US. The income gap and the levels of poverty in the US are by far the worst in the Western world. As you well know, women, children, and minorities are the hardest hit by the crushing impact of poverty, and they are the ones most adversely affected by cuts in social spending and welfare.

 

Nader is the only candidate who is sincerely and substantively addressing poverty in the United States. In contrast, the economic policies of the Clinton/Gore Administration have exacerbated poverty, all the triumphant talk of recovery and boom notwithstanding. Clinton/Gore came into office promising to "end welfare as we know it." What followed was a savage assault on the social safety net, the likes of which the Reagan and Bush Administrations could never have dreamt of getting away with. In effect, the battered remains of the New Deal that survived the Carter, Reagan, and Bush onslaughts were gleefully finished off by Clinton and Gore.

 

The "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act" (PRA) of 1996 (commonly known as "welfare-to-work") has been an unmitigated disaster for women and children, particularly those of color. The PRA was the creation of the Republican-dominated Congress, far worse than similar Republican proposals the Clinton Administration had previously vetoed. There was no good reason to pass such a dreadful bill. The Act was signed late in the presidential election campaign, at a time when polls showed Clinton was far in the lead of Republican challenger Bob Dole. There was no need to show that he was standing "tough" against that perennial punching bag, the "welfare mother." The Republicans were in a more vulnerable position to compromise because Dole was desperate for his party to win at least one legislative victory during an election season. Many Congressional Democrats thought Clinton would veto the Act.

 

Before signing the PRA, Clinton had just commissioned the Urban Institute to do a survey on the likely impact of the Act. The Administration was informed that 2.6 million people, 1.1 million of them children, would be pushed further into poverty if the bill was signed. The study predicted that, overall, 11 million families would lose income, far more if there were a recession. One of the most dreadful provisions in the Act would deny legal immigrants federal assistance (e.g. foodstamps). Another provision called for slashing the Food Stamp program by $25 billion. Gore supported these provisions, and successfully urged the President to sign the bill, despite the objections of most of his Cabinet, including its conservative wing (Laura Tyson, Leon Panetta, and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin). Bill Clinton and Al Gore were, in effect, sending a clear message that the PRA was in line with their political philosophy. National Urban League President Hugh Price blasted the bill as "an abomination for America' s most vulnerable mothers and children." Price rebuked Clinton, Gore, and Congress for "waging a war against poor people." (13)

 

Four years later, with Gore running as the standard-bearer of the "party that reformed welfare," the fallout from the PRA is a silent national scandal. A grassroots coalition of over 40 organizations run by and for the poor, the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC), has undertaken a campaign to obtain international censure of the US by filing a petition with the Inter-American Commission of the Organization of American States. The petition charges that US welfare law and policy, "in particular the changes wrought by the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act," violate the right of all US citizens and residents to an adequate standard of living, the right to health, the right to protection for familial relations, the right to work under just and reasonable conditions, the right to education, the right to food, the right to housing, the right to social security, and the right to be free from discrimination.'' (l4) This puts the US in violation of articles 23, 25, and 26 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UD), to which the US is a signatory. (15)

 

As part of its suit against the US, the PPEHRC is collecting hundreds of stories of people affected by the PRA. To cite but just one example: Kristen Lombardi of the Boston Phoenix reported the story of a single mother of three who was forced off of family cash assistance under the PRA's harsh "work first" requirements. "After months of fruitless job searching," the mother "received the final blow: an eviction notice. Distraught and broke, she handed over her children to the Department of Social Services." A friend recalled that the mother felt like she couldn't go on, "and she just gave up. (16)

 

Paul Street observes that "A plethora of troubling news can be culled by reading between the lines of state and local studies produced by and for public agencies with a political interest in selling Clinton's 'happy scenario. One study by Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development revealed a 38% jobless rate among a sample of 375 people they interviewed, who left welfare in the first quarter of 1998. "The respondents actually reported an increase in five basic depravation experience - 'period without money to buy food,' 'behind in rent or housing payment,' 'behind in utility bill,' 'lack of money for child care,' and 'could not pay for medical care."' These findings are echoed in many other studies across the country. There is also much to fear for longterm welfare recipients "who will be hitting the PRA's five-year limits on total lifetime family cash assistance in the year 2002." (17)

 

There is no reason to believe Al Gore will try to ameliorate what he, Clinton, and Congress have done given that he thinks welfare "reform" was one of the great achievements of the Administration. Nor is there much reason to believe Gore won't get worse on the issue.

 

While scanning the NOW website, I was struck by a September 5, 2000 press release regarding NOW's opposition to Bristol-Myers Squibb's monopoly over the life-sustaining drug Taxol, prescribed mostly to women suffering from breast and ovarian cancer. Taxol is also used for AIDS patients with Karposa Sarcoma. As you know, Taxol was invented by the National Institute of Health in l991, its R&D funded mostly by the taxpayer. It was then handed over to Bristol-Myers Squibb who now charges an outrageous price for this badly needed drug. The drug costs less than 40 cents per milligram to manufacture, but Bristol-Myers Squibb charges $5 a milligram in wholesale markets, while the cost to consumers is close to $9 per milligram. The Consumer Project on Technology, based in Washington DC, documented one case in which an insured breast cancer patient was told to fork over $2,324.70 for nine thirty milligram vials of Taxol - "a dosage level often prescribed every three weeks over an eighteen month period." (18) You're familiar with many other examples like this I'm sure.

 

The same story is true of zidovudine (AZT), the first drug effective in slowing the development of AIDS. The drug was first developed by a government-funded scientist in Detroit back in the 1960s to fight cancer. The drug was useless against cancer, and was forgotten until the early 70s when pharmaceutical giant BurroughsWellcome acquired AZT, with the intention of developing it as an antibacterial. The company later bagged that idea. In 1981, the first AIDS cases were officially recognized. Shortly after, the National Cancer Institute issued an appeal to drug companies to submit compounds that might be utilized in combating the new virus. Burroughs Wellcome supplied the Institute with AZT. The drug was discovered to be effective in slowing down the progression of the AIDS virus in humans. Despite all the federal (i.e. taxpayer) funding for this research and development of AZT as an AIDS drug, Burroughs-Wellcome was allowed, in 1986, to set the initial price forAZT treatment at $ 10,000 a year. The price would shoot up dramatically in the years that followed, where it now hovers around $20,000 a year for treatment.

 

The Clinton Administration has showered the pharmaceutical industry with all sorts of subsidies and corporate welfare. The Taxol and AZT stories are quite the norm. Ralph Nader has always been opposed to such criminal giveaways of the fruits of publicly funded R&D, and has been citing the Taxol and AZT cases for years. While election-year Gore rails against large pharmaceutical companies, conveniently glossing over his years of whoring for them in the White House, "most industry reps in Washington dismiss his over heated rhetoric as 'phony populism', according to one prominent drug-company lobbyist." This lobbyist points out the crucial fact that Gore "never talks about price controls. He never suggests that he will do anything other than make drugs available and affordable." (19)

 

Pharmaceutical giants such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, and Schering-Plough sponsored mega-dollar events at the Democratic Convention. A Center for Responsive Politics survey shows Gore has thus far received $87,350 from the pharmaceuticals industry for the presidential campaign, while the Democratic Party has raised $2,671,778. Joe Lieberman took in $91,150 from the industry for his 2000 Senate race. As Business Week notes, "Lieberman in particular is a corporate money-raising machine. In his past two Senate elections in Connecticut, he has accepted more than $333,000 in political action committee gifts from two of [populist] Gore's top targets, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries - and has been their frequent ally in legislative battles." (20)

 

Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich sums up Gore's election year populism: "If you lined up the human species according to populist inclination, [1896 Democratic Party champion] William Jennings Bryan would be on one end. Al Gore might be on another." "I don't recall a single issue on which the VicePresident has taken what might be called a populist stance. Business should rest assured that if Al Gore is elected, they will not have a populist at the helm." (21)

 

Is Al Gore really the man who will stand up to companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, cutting off their umbilical cord to the public trough?

 

On race issues, Nader is clearly superior to Gore. (22) In a September 20 campaign stop in Wisconsin, Nader denounced racial profiling of Latino and African-American motorists by the police. He blasted racial disparity in sentencing, particularly among youthful offenders, citing data compiled by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency which shows that African-American youths with no prior record were six times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. Nader endorses the American Civil Liberties Union's agenda to end racial profiling:

 

The end of pretextual traffic stops -- using a minor traffic violation, real or alleged, as an excuse to stop a car and search passengers -- as a crime-fighting tactic;

 

Passage of the Traffic Stops Statistics Study Act, which would require the Justice Department to collect data on traffic stops;

 

and Justice Department action to ensure that racial profiling is not used in federally funded drug interdiction programs.

 

Nader has also denounced federal sentencing laws that contain harsher penalties for crack cocaine possession and distribution than powder cocaine possession and distribution. Crack tends to be used more by AfricanAmericans, while powdered cocaine is the drug of choice among whites. Current federal law stipulates a 100-to-l ratio between the amount of crack and powdered cocaine needed for a mandatory sentence to kick in. Nader is the only candidate calling for the adoption of House Resolution 939, which would end the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Nader has also been calling for the decriminalization of simple possession (small quantities, no intent to sell), which would significantly lower the prison population, while ending the disproportionate convictions of African-Americans. Gore is opposed to all of this, and it was during the Clinton/Gore years that we've witnessed the greatest increase in incarcerations of people for minor drug offenses.

 

While Al Gore and Bill Clinton like to claim their policies have resulted in the lowest Black unemployment rate in history (currently around 7.9 percent), they fail to mention that the Black unemployment rate would be about 10 percent, if the increased Black incarcerations occurring during their terms in office were accounted for.

 

For years, Ralph Nader has worked to bring attention to and fight the racial discriminatory practices of banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions known as "redlining." He has called for strengthening of the Community Reinvestment Act, passed by Congress in the late 1970s to impose on banks and other financial institutions an affirmative obligation to help meet the credit needs of local communities, including low and moderate income areas.

The CRA has been under unremitting attack by Republican Senator Phil Gramm, point man for the banking industry. Amendments have been passed weakening the CRA, with Clinton-Gore approval. In a time where Congressional legislation allows giant banks, securities firms and insurance companies to merge and form financial conglomerates, Clinton-Gore have ignored the pleas of community groups to strengthen the CRA by extending CRA regulations to the insurance companies and security firms that have merged with the banks to form these mega-conglomerates. The Clinton administration refused to endorse an amendment by Democratic Representative Maxine Waters that would've required banks to provide basic banking accounts for low-income citizens. The defeat means millions of low-income families will continue to be victimized by predatory lenders, loan sharks and costly check cashing firms.

 

An issue of major importance to minority communities is the deadly impact of environmental racism. Nader's commitment to the environment and ending business criminality in this area is well known and unassailable. Al Gore is widely considered by the public to be a staunch environmentalist, after all he did write a book on the environment. The reality of Al Gore's purported environmentalism is something else entirely, and a look at the Clinton Administration's sorry record on the environment speaks volumes about Gore given that he was put in charge of environmental policy. (23)

 

In 1987, a landmark study called Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States, put out by the Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ, buttressed an earlier US Government Accounting Office (GAO) finding that race was the single most important factor associated with where a toxic facility was located. According to the UCC study, three out of five of the nation's largest commercial waste landfills were located in black and Hispanic communities. Furthermore, roughly 60 percent of all African and Hispanic Americans, and nearly half of all Asian, Pacific Island, and Native-Americans were living in communities with abandoned toxic-waste sites. The 1994 revised edition of the UCC study found that, despite all the Clinton/Gore talk of commitment to the environment, the situation had worsened. (24)

 

During the 1992 election campaign, Gore's first environmental promise was to the residents of East Liverpool, Ohio, a densely populated working class neighborhood. The promise centered around the Waste Technologies Industries (WTI) hazardous waste incinerator, located on a floodplain near the Ohio River. Less than 400 yards away from the incinerator is East Elementary School. The incinerator, one of the largest in the world, burns over 60,000 tons of hazardous waste a year. In his July 19, 1992 campaign speech, Gore blasted the Bush Administration for planning to give the incinerator a federal air permit. Gore said "The very idea is just unbelievable to me." He promised the East Liverpool residents that "a Clinton-Gore Administration is going to give you an environmental presidency to deal with these problems. We'll be on your side for a change." After the election Gore wrote that the incoming administration "will not issue the plant a test burn permit until all questions concerning compliance with the plant have been answered." Gore requested that the GAO launch an investigation of the WTI facility.

 

The first environmental promise made by Clinton-Gore was the first broken, a harbinger of what was to be the norm over the next eight years. On January 8, 1993, despite Bush's EPA chief William Reilly's promises of a smooth transition and cooperation on the environment with the incoming administration, and after having met with Gore's top environmental aide Katie McGinty, the EPA quietly issued the burn permit to WTI. The two trial-burns conducted in 1993 failed. Cockburn and St. Clair report that, "In one trial burn, the incinerator eradicated only 7 percent of the mercury found in the waste, when it was supposed to burn away 99.9 percent. A few weeks later the EPA granted WTI a commercial permit anyway. They didn't tell the public about the failed tests until afterward." (25) The high levels of dioxin and mercury gave the Clinton Administration a perfect reason to shut down the facility. Gore falsely stated that the permit was the Bush Administration's doing, and that there was nothing he could do. In fact, a 1994 GAO study -- commissioned by Gore himself -- revealed that Gore's EPA lowered the toxic emissions standards so as to allow the facility to continue operating: "EPA responded to the trial burn results by changing the operating conditions under which the incinerator could continue to operate." Gore to this day refuses to respond to the dogged requests of Ohio River activists led by registered nurse Terri Swearington to own up to his broken promise, and to deal with the issue. The WTI incinerator has burned about 500,000 tons of toxic wastes since 1993.

During the 1996 presidential race, David Brower, grandfather of the modern environmental movement in the US, penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times listing the many reasons why he could not support team Clinton-Gore. He concluded, "President Clinton has done more harm to the environment and to weaken environmental regulations in three years than Presidents Bush and Reagan did in 12 years. After an interim of reading lips, we have seen the regimes of environmental destruction move from the Great Communicator to the Great Capitulator. Even so, Clinton has tried to 'greenwash' his record, claiming to be on the side of the environment.... In response, I am supporting a real alternative in 1996. I have known Ralph Nader for nearly 30 years, and in that time, he has never let me or the environment down.... Nader understands that until we rein in the far-flung empires of multinational corporations and subject them to international sustainable environmental standards, the planet will continue to suffer. (26) Perhaps Bill Clinton being the focus of Brower's criticism was a bit unfair given the fact that Al Gore was in control of the administration's environmental policy.

 

One can go on and on about how poorly Albert Gore stacks up against Ralph Nader on issues of importance to women, minorities, and gays and lesbians. What is really pathetic about groups like NOW and Human Rights Campaign is the contempt you folks have for the constituents you claim to represent by defending a man whose political record has always been inimical to your stated agendas, while attacking a man who more-or-less supports those agendas. This servile drop to the knees every four years to the "lesser evil" that throws you a few more crumbs than the allegedly worse "evil" does not at all befit an erstwhile democracy. NOW's myopic focus on reproductive rights as being central to the Women vote ignores big picture issues that affect women, particularly women of color and the poor: poverty, globalization, the State-Corporate evisceration of the social contract, and so on.

 

Responding to a NOW spokesperson's scaremongering about barbarians at the gates of the

Supreme Court if Bush is elected, Linda Burnham, Director of the Berkeley, CA-based Women of Color Resource Center, summed the matter up perfectly on a recent Democracy Now ! radio program:

 

Looking at women's issues, narrowly defilned, does not provide us with sufficient orientation to these elections... [T]here are a couple of additional issues we need to look at in assessing the candidates... [W]hat do the candidates or the parties have to offer poor people in the United States; low and no-income people? What do the candidates or the parties have to offer on issues of racial justice? And, what will advance the development of a greater voice and a greater role for progressive politics at the national level? ...What do the candidates have to say about the dirty side of globalization; in terms of our foreign policy, and is there any check on corporate depredations around the world? I think those are some of the other additional issues, all of which, I think, are also women's issues. I think that what happens to us during presidential elections, and it's happened now for nigh on to thirty years, is that the issues of Supreme Court is invoked, the protection in particular of reproductive rights, and the Democrats end up very secure in having the feminist vote in their pockets, and see no need to address us on some of these other issues... I think that the Democratic Party has become far too comfortable with the feminist vote, the mainstream feminist vote, and don't feel they've got to produce on any of these other issues, and in fact take positions that are directly in opposition to poor women in particular. (27)

 

In the Spring of 1985, the Democratic Leadership Council was formed. Its explicit goal was to move the Democratic Party to the Right, and to shed the influence of the "special interests" who, they claimed, had a stranglehold on the party since the New Deal. The "special interests" the DLC had in mind were spelled out clearly: Blacks, women, labor unions, and the poor. In effect, the general population. The DLC averred that the Democrats must become more "moderate" ( a euphemism for "move to the right") and square themselves more firmly with Big Business and other privileged sectors. The founders of the DLC included William Jefferson Clinton, Albert Gore Jr., Joseph Lieberman, and Paul Kirk, the former Democratic National Committee Chair, who now sits on the board of the "non-partisan" Commission for Public Debates, which is barring viable third party candidates like Ralph Nader from participating in the presidential debates. Gore is proud to have been the author of the DLC's inaugural press release. (28)

 

Given everything discussed here, I am astounded that advocacy groups like NOW can continue to hold the illusion that the Democrats are worthy of support, while getting slapped in the face time and time again. Excuse the analogy, but it's like we're talking battered wife syndrome here. If groups like NOW and HRC don't want to endorse a real alternative to status quo politics like Ralph Nader and the large movement behind him, that's perfectly fine. But to publicly impugn Nader by distorting his positions on issues that matter to women, minorities, and gays and lesbians, while flacking for a candidate who has made a career out of being an antagonist to those constituencies is more than "just an indifference" to a truly informed and democratic process, it's an obstruction that's "almost willful." To also attack a person who you know doesn't have the type of media access that a mainstream candidate or policy advocate has to rebut such attacks is simply cowardly. In doing this, NOW and HRC are doing a great disservice not only to the many members you represent, but to the democratic process in general. NOW and HRC's unseemly display is exactly what makes many people feel powerless and eventually apathetic when it comes to the political arena.

 

What the "lesser of two evils" argument completely misses is the entire history of positive change in this country. It didn't come from the sympathetic hearts of people in power, be they Presidents, Congresspeople, or Supreme Court judges. It didn't come from a mass base that acted "pragmatically" and in deference to the lesser of two evils. We are not worthy of a real democracy if this is how we think and act. Positive change has always been the result of committed, relentless agitation by mass movements. Privilege and power fear that more than anything else, and it is our democratic responsibility to make their worst nightmares come true when they do not represent our interests.

 

I firmly believe that peace and social justice will some day be ours. However, it will be to your shame when the people of that day look back and reflect on those individuals and organizations that stood in the way of change. It is not too late to alter course and work for a real democracy, rather than merely paying lip service to it. The choice is yours.

 

Sincerely,

 

Sunil Sharma

 

Sunil Sharma is the editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: editor@dissidentvoice.org

 

ENDNOTES

 

[1] Carla Marinucci, "Women, Gays Say Nader Not Defending Their Rights", San Francisco Chronicle, September 14, 2000.

 

[2] New York Times, February 25, 2000.

 

[3] Cockburn, Alexander and Jeffrey St. Clair. Al Gore: A User's Manual (Verso, 2000), pp. 56-58.

 

[4] Bernstein, Dennis and Leslie Kean. Henry Hyde's Moral Universe. (Common Courage Press, 1999), Chapter One.

 

[5] Cockburn and St. Clair, pp. 56-57. Jennifer L. Pozner, Women's Review of Books, July 2000.

 

[6] Cockburn and St. Clair, pp57-58.

 

[7] "Is Al Gore Really the Voice of the People", Business Week, September 18, 2000. On Gore's phony populism generally, see Cockburn and St. Clair.

 

[8] Meet the Press, ABC Television, May 7, 2000.

 

[9] POZ Magazine, May 2000.

 

[10] Cockburn and St. Clair, pp. 58-59.

 

[11] Pozner, op cit.

 

[12] Nader, Ralph and Frances Cerra Whittelsey. Why Women Pay More. (Center for the Study of Responsive Law, 1993).

 

[13] Cockburn and St.Clair, pp.193-200.

 

[14] Poor People's Human Rights Campaign, Kensington Welfare Rights Union, Cheri Honkala, Joy Butts, National Employment Law Project, The Urban Justice Center, and the Center for Constitutional Rights vs. The United States of America, Petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, October 1, 1999.

 

[15] On the United States' five-decade long history of violating and attempting to undermine the UD, see Chomsky, Noam. The Umbrella of U.S. Power: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Contradictions of U.S. Policy. Open Pamphlet Series (Seven Stories Press, 1999).

 

[16] Cited in Paul Street, "The Not-So Unintended Consequences of Welfare Reform", Z Magazine, September 2000.

 

[17] ibid.

 

[18] Mokhiber, Russell and Robert Weisman. Corporate Predators: The Hunt for Mega-Profits and the Attack on Democracy. (Common Courage Press, 1999), pp.102-104.

 

[19] "Is Al Gore Really the Voice of the People", Business Week, September 18, 2000.

 

[20] ibid.

 

[21] ibid.

 

[22] Much of what follows can be found at the official Nader for President website:

http://www.votenader.com/issues/racism.html

 

[23] By far the best work exposing Clinton/Gore's assaults on the environment, while posing as green saviors, has come from Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, editors of the investigative newsletter Counterpunch: www.counterpunch.org. See also their Al Gore: A User's Manual, chapter 15.

 

[24] UCC study cited in Dowie, Mark. Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century (MIT Press, 1996), pp. 102-104. On the 1994 edition, see Tokar, Brian. Earth for Sale: Reclaiming Ecology in the Age of Corporate Greenwash (South End Press, 1997), pp.131-132.

 

[25] Cockburn and St. Clair, pp. 246-247.

 

[26] David Brower, "Why I Won't Vote for Clinton," Los Angeles Times, July 22, 1996

 

[27] Democracy Now!, Pacifica Radio, 9/21/2000.

 

[28] A landmark study of the DLC and the Democratic Party's conscious drift to the Right is, Ferguson, Thomas and Joel Rogers. Right Turn: The Decline of the Democrats and the Future of American Politics (Hill & Wang, 1986).

 

______________________________________________________________________

 

Introduction to the book, Why Women Pay More and How to Put a Stop to It by Ralph Nader

 

A long cross-cultural tradition of marketplace exploitation of woman, where sellers of goods and services overcharge, cheat, or damage women's health and safety, deserves closer scrutiny and correction than the medical community, women's rights groups, consumer associations, and the law have provided thus far. Too many merchants of repair, financial, and legal services, driven by stereotypes of female flightiness, insecurity, ignorance, and inexperience, are defrauding women. Too many other merchants of medical, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic goods and services harm as well as gouge.

 

Since our report on this subject came out a decade ago, there has been some progress in awareness among both sellers and women buyers. Some women are asking more questions about certain unnecessary medical procedures and are developing an interest in learning more about their options in ordering their finances within a marriage or during a divorce proceeding. These initiatives, however, are just smatterings amidst the massive, daily routines of merchants who mistreat women as compared to men simply because they are women. Some of these commercial injustices are episodic incidents created by bad merchants and hucksters. Other injustices are rooted so deeply in stereotypical images and prejudice that they have become full-blown merchandising strategies across entire lines of commerce and industries. Billions of design and promotion dollars turn these patterns of discrimination into big profits for sellers of modes of exclusion against equal opportunities for women.

 

Recent trends are in the right direction, to be sure. Glib obfuscations such as, "Well, women Will pay a lot more than men," "Women are just more emotional, you know, it's just part of being feminine," or "Women can't be expected to know about technical things like cars or plumbing or the law," are less tolerated as excuses for cheating. Moreover, women are moving into the legal and medical professions, as well as other trades, in greater numbers and are sometimes chipping away at long-held biases. And laws are on the books, such as the Equal Credit opportunity Act of 1974, which give some merchants pause.

 

Nonetheless, gender-based selling, where none is called for, keeps bouncing back on Main Street, notwithstanding what laws there are or what liberationist attitudes are nominally displayed. To expose and avoid this bias in the marketplace, nothing can surpass sharper shopping, questioning, and acting. If more women, knowing their rights and equities, individually reject the notion that to have taste means you can be taken, then the practice of change would become widely emulated. Girls would learn these wiser ways from their mothers. Mothers could press for more education in the schools as part of existing courses to teach their daughters about this discrimination in the marketplace and how to end it. Billions of dollars of wasteful promotion, poor quality merchandise, and unnecessary surgery, drugs and car/home repairs would be squeezed out of the economy. Greater health, safety, efficiency, and peace of mind would be achieved.

 

As this book demonstrates, time and time again sellers will exploit women's vulnerabilities, anxieties, and passive self-images as long as they can profitably get away with such practices. But if they are challenged by the rugged sawy of women taking charge, then sellers will be obligated to win their sales by concentrating more on quality, durability, price competition, safety, truth, competent service, and useful product information. Tough shopping tends to alert law enforcement agencies as well: the Food and Drug Administration likely would be more vigilant in safeguarding consumer interests than it has been with such products as silicone-gel breast implants, drugs, and cosmetics.

 

Let this book further the fair and competent treatment of women in stores, clinics, and hospitals. By using its information to hone their consumer skills, women will be contributing to their own well-being, their children's protection, and the economy's overall quality and prudence.

 

(Source: Ralph Nader's Introduction to Why Women Pay More And How to Put a Stop to It, by Frances Cerra Whittelsey and Marcia Carroll (The New Press, 1995)

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