Woman-the-Barricades: We Need a Reinvigorated Women's Movement

I had the opportunity and the honor of working for and with Congresswoman Bella S. Abzug (D-NY) during the height of the women's movement. The strong and outspoken women in that movement would never have stood by silently, or allowed the men that respected them to do so, if faced with some of the outrageous actions of Republican politicians today who are once again trying to put women into the role of second-class citizens.

Bella, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Betty Ford and so many others would have already called for action; maybe a march on Washington, or on the statehouses of those governors who would dare to sign bills that take away rights and prerogatives that women for decades have assumed they have. Maybe the time is here for women to again woman-the-barricades, as Bella would have said, and to speak out in large numbers for the right of women to control their own bodies and tell the men who would challenge that to back off (a polite word, maybe not the one Bella would have used). A prime example of the need for mass action now is the recent vote of the United States Senate which only narrowly defeated 51-48 a Republican effort to let employers and health insurance companies deny coverage for contraceptives and other services to which they have religious or moral objections. Add to that the disgusting recent comments of Rush Limbaugh and no one should stand idly by any more.

2012 would seem to be the year to organize women's actions and marches across the nation and to make their strength known through their voices and their votes. If NARAL and NOW and other progressive women's organizations across the nation begin to plan for this millions of men will join them in speaking out and march alongside them. I remember how excited women were after the 1977 federally funded National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas when over 20,000 gathered to celebrate the International Year of the Woman and plan for the future. It was a memorable event when Bella, who introduced the bill in Congress to fund the conference, presented the final report to President Carter in the White House. It is now 35 years later and reading newspapers or listening to media reports one could almost think we were back in the '70s -- the 1870s.

When Republican candidates for president campaign on limiting a women's right to contraception; when a state legislature considers passing a bill that would require women to undergo an invasive procedure; when a governor can sign an anti-abortion bill that would include a provision allowing doctors to withhold information from patients; the time to take to the streets would seem to be at hand.

One must legitimately ask where this assault on women will stop. What will conservative Republicans think they can get away with next if there isn't an uprising saying, "We will not accept this attack on women and it must end now!" Over the years women have had a huge role in fighting for and successfully working towards a more peaceful world. They have done this while at the same time fighting for their own civil and human rights. In 1961 Bella was one of the founders of Women Strike for Peace, an organization mobilizing women against nuclear testing. They then joined in the movement to oppose the Vietnam War and helped to organize massive anti-war demonstrations.

Today many of the women of the movement are no longer with us. One can fairly ask who are the women of today that will be out there manning the battle lines for their rights. Where are the children and grandchildren of all those courageous women who fought so that we could have a better world? We have gone through an era of complacency where we thought that the rights these women fought for and won would be forever secure. We are now finding out that isn't the case. It is time that we must once again make it clear that one of the real conservative battles we can all support is to keep the government out of all our bedrooms and keep government from taking control over a woman's body.

The battles must be couched in more than just a fight for adequate healthcare. They must be fought over women's rights and rights of families to make their own decisions. It seems we must again make the fight for a clear separation of church and state that our founding fathers made and understood. They knew what could happen if that clear separation wasn't there and we are hearing from candidates who would like to pretend it doesn't exist how far they will go to control the lives of others who don't share their religious beliefs.

This election year is about these battles and the future of our nation. It is time that once again the women of the nation take the lead not only for their own sake but to ensure for all of us a better and freer life.