Monday, October 4, 2010

Feminist Voting – One Woman’s Opinion By Jeanne Clark

Like most active feminists, I regard voting as a serious responsibility. I know that elections have consequences and that electing the wrong people to public office can have either good or very, very bad consequences for women.

Sometimes voting is easier than others. When candidates apply for and receive the endorsement of Pennsylvania NOW PAC or National NOW PAC, I know I can vote for those candidates with my whole heart and soul, knowing the candidate will not only be a vote for women’s rights, but will be an advocate for women’s rights as well.

That’s why I am so delighted that Joe Sestak is on the ballot for U.S. Senator. This election, I will proudly cast my vote for Joe. Joe will fight for women’s lives and women’s rights in the Senate and will be a great champion for us. And we have many great candidates running in Congressional Districts and for the General Assembly across the state who have the PAC endorsements. So feminists can vote for those candidates with no qualms.

But in too many races, we have no perfect endorsed candidate. One of those races is the race for Governor. Both candidates are opposed to abortion and have previously received the endorsement of the antiabortion forces. On the surface, this looks like a choice between a rock and hard place.

But a little involvement in the political process and talking to friends, as well as my own history, makes this decision actually pretty easy.

Because even though Dan Onorato says he is personally opposed to abortion, he has pledged that he will support the law, and oppose any more encroachment on our right to choose birth control and abortion. He has also promised not to use his appointment power to advance the antiabortion cause.

He made these promises to my friend Barbara Hafer, former state Treasurer and state Auditor General. He made the promises when he asked Barbara for her support for his first race for Allegheny County Executive and reiterated the same promises when he asked for her support for Governor.

So, how good is the promise? While there are no guarantees, Dan Onorato has kept his promise through his service as Allegheny County Executive. And with Barbara’s agreement to go public on the promise, it’s certainly not a secret – there are lots of us to keep his feet to the fire.

And Dan has become less conservative on social issues – if it didn’t sound so paternalistic, I would say he’s grown. He proudly signed the county legislation to create a county human relations commission which includes sexual orientation as a class protected from discrimination, and he appointed an LGBT attorney as chair. He is, I believe, listening and learning from the feminists around him.

So my decision to vote for Dan Onorato for governor turns out to be pretty easy.

And as to the rest of the ballot, that’s pretty easy this time, too. Because, in my forty years of voting, I’ve watched one party go from mild hostility to women rights to actually incorporating women rights into the basic DNA of the party beliefs, and the other party become the nation’s biggest opponent to women’s rights. I’ve seen the first women Speaker of the House incorporate feminist beliefs into the structure of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the current U.S. Secretary of State make women’s rights a basic, human right in our foreign policy and dealings with other nations – and I’ve seen the other party demonize those women for sport, and do everything they can to keep sexism alive.

As a public relations professional, I once represented the National Republican Coalition for Choice, and loved it. Those wonderful women warriors for women’s lives have now, by and large, been run out of the Republican Party.

I spent years of my life trying to start a new national political party – the 21st Century Party – which would have feminism and equality as bedrock principles and would require that the party nominate and support women in equal numbers to men. But after the Republicans were able to steal the presidential election from Al Gore, with clear evidence that well-meaning women and men inadvertently helped by voting for third party candidates with no hope of winning, I realized that the stakes are way too high to throw a vote away for a cause. Real women suffered as a result.

So – for the first time in my life I’m voting straight Democratic, with no office omitted. I invite other NOW members to join me.

- FYI, Jeanne Clark is a member of NOW and President of Squirrel Hill NOW in Pittsburgh, PA.  She also regularly blogs for Ms. Magazine at

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