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Why This Feminist Is Voting for Bernie Sanders

The policies and overall message of the Sanders campaign will benefit all Americans, but it's easy to see how his policy proposals will benefit women.
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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign stop Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign stop Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Last July, I had the opportunity to attend Netroots Nation,(NN) and while having lunch with a group of colleagues, Bernie Sanders walked into the restaurant. The group I was with started cheering and Bernie waved to us. As an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) activist and the spokesperson for the women's advocacy group We Are Woman, I wanted to ask Sanders if he would endorse the ERA on the campaign trail.

The president of We Are Woman, Wendy Cartwright, and I quickly made our way to Sanders as he was leaving and I asked him my question: "Will you endorse the ratification of the ERA?"

He replied, "Okay!"

Wendy asked if his answer was enough of an endorsement to create a graphic to post on Facebook. I told her I didn't think it was. He'd been gracious enough to give us an answer, but I felt we really had to nail it down.

Sanders spoke to an enormous crowd later that night. Tenacious Wendy managed to get into the front row and she once again had the opportunity to ask Sanders if he would endorse the ERA. He shook her hand, looked directly into her eyes and said, "Yes, I will." A few weeks later, this quote appeared on his website:

"Not only are we going to expand policies that advance gender equality, we are going to fight to pass the long-overdue Equal Rights Amendment and vigorously defend the critical laws and programs which protect all working people in our country."

By the way, earlier in 2015, Sanders signed on as a co-sponsor to the joint resolution to remove the congressionally imposed deadline to the ERA.

I'm not aware of other ERA activists who may have quizzed Sanders on this issue, but his actions showed me that he listens to and considers the priorities of the average citizen. I'm well aware of the fact that Hillary Clinton is also a long-time supporter of the amendment and is a champion for women, but Sanders is currently the only candidate who's talking about this issue on the campaign trail and the only candidate who has included working to ratify the ERA into the Constitution as part of his campaign platform.

My personal encounter with Sanders is anecdotal, sure, but it's one of many reasons why Sanders will get my vote in the primaries.

The policies and overall message of the Sanders campaign will benefit all Americans, but it's easy to see how his policy proposals will benefit women, ERA or not. He wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. He wants to break up the big banks and take the power away from Wall Street. He wants to implement single-payer healthcare and make state college tuition free for students. His goal is take the power away from billionaires and put that power back into the hands of the people, thereby strengthening the disappearing middle class. All of his top-shelf policies will benefit single moms, working women and especially millennial women.

When comparing Sanders' messaging to remarks delivered by some very prominent feminists, you'll see they are (or once were) in alignment:

Cecile Richards, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood:

"Health-care decisions should be made by women, with their doctors and families -- not politicians. Lawmakers should stop playing politics with women's health and lives."

"We are not going back. We are not returning to the days of back-room abortions, when countless women died or were maimed. The decision about abortion must remain a decision for the woman, her family and a physician to make, not the government."

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice:

"If I could choose an amendment to add to the Constitution, it would be the Equal Rights Amendment . . . So I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notion - that women and men are persons of equal stature - I'd like them to see that is a basic principle of our society."

"Not only are we going to expand policies that advance gender equality, we are going to fight to pass the long-overdue Equal Rights Amendment and vigorously defend the critical laws and programs which protect all working people in our country."

Shirley Chisholm, former presidential candidate and New York congresswoman:

"When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses."

"It is morally repugnant and a national tragedy that we have privatized prisons all over America. In my view, corporations should not be allowed to make a profit by building more jails and keeping more Americans behind bars. We have got to end the private-for-profit prison racket in America!"

Hillary Clinton, Former New York senator and Secretary of State:

" . . . I believe, and I may be totally off base on this, but I believe that by the year 2000, we will have a single payer system. I don't think it's -- I don't even think it's a close call politically.

I think the momentum for a single payer system will sweep the country. And regardless of the referendum outcome in California, it will be such a huge popular issue in the sense of populist issue that even if it's not successful the first time, it will eventually be. So for those who think that building on the existing public-private system with an employer mandate is radical, I think they are extremely short-sighted, but that is their choice."

"The only long-term solution to America's healthcare crisis is a single-payer national healthcare program.

The good news is that, in fact, a large-scale single-payer system already exists in the United States and its enrollees love it. It is called Medicare. Open to all Americans over 65 years of age, the program has been a resounding success since its introduction 48 years ago. Medicare should be expanded to cover all Americans."

Jenni Siri, co-founder of Women for Bernie Sanders told me:

"Bernie's and Hillary's platforms overlap with mainstream women's rights, such as reproductive freedom and equal pay for equal work. However, when there's an issue like reproductive justice, which is important to women of color and lower income women, Bernie's platform far exceeds any other candidate's. He fights for the minimum wage, and he wants to make childcare and education affordable and, in some cases, free. He fights for racial justice, economic justice and for reforming our criminal justice system. This matters to women who struggle every day and never seem able to get ahead.

He not only wants to level the playing field between men and women, but he also wants justice and equality -- racially, economically and educationally. Women's needs include reproduction and pay, but also go so much deeper. Bernie is the only candidate that covers all areas for all women."

As if that isn't enough, Sanders enumerated his goals and accomplishments on gender equality in an interview with The Washington Post: 100 percent pro-choice voting record; more family and medical leave; a $15 minimum wage; equal pay; quality universal and affordable child care and pre-K education.

A small sample of Sanders' voting record reveals his consistent dedication to gender equality:
(YES) Equal pay for equal work by women. (Mar 2015)
(YES) Constitutional Amendment for equal rights by gender. (Mar 2001)
(YES) on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. (Feb 2013)
(YES) Enforce against wage discrimination based on gender. (Jan 2013)
(YES) Re-introduce the Equal Rights Amendment. (Mar 2007)

I was in the NN audience when the Black Lives Matter activists interrupted both Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders. It was a tense moment. My first first reaction was frustration with the BLM strategy, however after I thought about it, I changed my stance and I understood that agitation and forcing an uncomfortable message is often how change occurs. I was reminded of the American suffragists who took on the brave task of standing outside of the White House in 1917, picketing President Woodrow Wilson six days a week for six months. Back then, the bold actions were viewed as disruptive and uncomfortable. In the end, the voting rights activists won and women got the right to vote.

Bernie Sanders was backstage waiting to speak when the BLM activists made their unforgettable entrance and interrupted the O'Malley interview. Sanders used that time to prepare and did his best to address their concerns in that heated, uncomfortable moment. What he did after Netroots illustrated for me the integrity of his character and how he handles difficult, impromptu scenarios. He later met with BLM activists and also met with Sandra Bland's mother without fanfare.

He listened and took seriously what they had to say, just as he listened to Wendy and me when we approached him about supporting constitutional gender equality. It is the combination of his progressive plan for a revolution, his consistent congressional record and his willingness to consider what voters are saying that earn him my primary vote.

The growing list of individuals, organizations and media sites endorsing Sanders is long and impressive, including over 170 prominent economists who believe he is the best person for the job, Democracy For America, former Democratic Party Chair Paul Kirk, MoveOn.org, The Nation and a slew of others. View the full list here.

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