There is a lot of activity this weekend to show support for two important progressive causes, and I am proud to be taking part in both.
Over the past month, we've seen women's reproductive freedom and health care come under assault, most notably from John Boehner's House of Representatives (where Republicans don't seem interested in doing any real work to help move the country forward, but only to take symbolic negative votes designed to polarize the country and ignite their base).
Planned Parenthood, which provides a wide range of health care services to women, has been particularly singled out for attack, both by extremist "activists" trying to discredit their work, and by Republicans in Congress, who just this week voted to deny all funding to Planned Parenthood. Just to be clear, this is funding that goes 100% towards health care and family planning, and towards mammograms, annual check-ups and birth control consultations. Without this federal funding, clinics across the country will be forced to close, and hundreds of thousands of women will be denied health care. Reproductive rights and women's health are at very real risk, and it is time for us to stand up. That's why on Saturday, from 1-3 pm at Foley Square, I'll be joining Planned Parenthood, NARAL, NOW and a wide range other groups to stand up for women's health.
And on Sunday (at 1:30 pm at City Hall), I will join other elected officials in solidarity with public sector workers and unions in Wisconsin.
All over the country, governors and mayors are using tough fiscal times as an excuse to bash public sector workers. Rather than correctly placing the blame on financial institutions for the subprime lending and credit default swaps that actually caused the current economic crisis, these elected officials are choosing instead to fan the flames of working and middle-class resentment against cops, teachers, and firefighters, for the modest retirement security they have bargained for.
Yes, tough times call for shared sacrifice. The union leaders I have spoken to recognize this, have already made many concessions, and know they must come to the bargaining table willing to compromise. But when Governor Cuomo's proposed New York State budget, with Mayor Bloomberg's support, proposes to give a multi-billion tax break, this year, to the very wealthiest households, where is the shared sacrifice? (If you're interested in a few more of my thoughts on this, check out my segment on the New York budget on the WNYC Brian Lehrer show from last Friday).
Of course, what's proposed by Governor Walker in Wisconsin is far worse -- so outrageous that even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie can't support it -- using the fiscal challenge as an excuse for union-busting, trying to take away the rights of workers to bargain for their retirement security, and doing everything possible to paint public sectors workers as the enemy.
These attacks are an assault on our democratic social contract itself. Educating our kids, keeping our neighborhoods safe, assisting seniors and the most vulnerable among us are noble jobs -- so important that we've organized ourselves into a democracy and agreed to pay collectively for these public services. Demonizing the people who provide them -- as though they are to blame for what ails us -- is not only an attack on workers, but an attempt to demonize the idea of government, and undermine the social contract. If we don't want Walmart and JP Morgan Chase making decisions about what is worth valuing in a democracy, then it is an important moment to stand up and be counted.
I'm proud to be attending both of these events this weekend, and to live in a city with a deep tradition of ambitious collective goals and solidarity for just causes. But I'm also distressed. These are defensive battles, seeking to hold onto basic rights, like collective bargaining and reproductive rights, that were achieved long ago, and have made millions of lives better. I was hoping we could be working on getting the economic going, creating jobs and making our neighborhoods stronger.
I know I will be joined by many others this weekend at these and similar events so we can make clear where we stand and then soon get back to moving forward.
Oh, and in the spirit of full disclosure: I've got some "skin in the game," as they say, on both counts. My wife works at Planned Parenthood NYC, where this year they will provide health care services to tens of thousands of New York women. And my sister is an educator in Wisconsin, who works with public school teachers teaching literacy to low-income students in Milwaukee and Madison. I couldn't be prouder.