10/04/2012 12:44 pm ET Updated Dec 04, 2012

Women Must Vote Their Values in 2012

I recently met with Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. It was a sobering conversation.

As women, we know how fragile our economic security is. We know how uneven the playing field is. We know how formidable the glass ceiling remains. We know what it is like to earn less than 100 cents on the dollar, year after year, decade after decade.

And now, thanks to the right-wing Republican Party agenda and that of the growing, ultra conservative Tea Party, we know what it is like to see our personal freedoms, as upheld in Roe v. Wade, come under fierce attack.

We must be vigilant to what is happening to the status of women in America in 2012.

The economic security issues for American women in the 21st century are dire and could become dramatically worse under the proposed Romney-Ryan budget. Social Security and Medicare, collective bargaining, the minimum wage, child care, health care -- all these areas loom large in the economic security of women. And all are under assault by the Republican ticket.

Foremost is the Republican pledge to repeal President Obama's Affordable Care Act, or ACA. This would be a terrible setback for women. It would deprive millions of women from taking advantage of critical health care services that the new health care reform law is just now making affordable to us.

We cannot go backward. We must unite behind President Obama and we must move forward.

Women voters need to fully recognize what is at stake in this election. We need to understand the significant policy differences between the Republican presidential ticket and that of our Democratic team -- President Obama and Vice President Biden. Here's what I want to share from my talk with Terry. Did you know that:
  • Women are increasingly the major breadwinners in their families, supporting their children, their parents and their spouses.
  • Women comprise 49 percent of the U.S. labor force. And in 63 percent of families with children, women are either sole breadwinners or co-breadwinners.
  • Women's careers are often stunted, stuck in a cluster of just 25 of the more than 500 job classifications recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of the jobs that women do are in sectors like retail, hospitality and service. That means women often cannot earn decent pay or good benefits and are prevented from having a fair shot at any career advancement.
  • Women are still paid 77 cents on the dollar, on average, compared to men. And that statistic is even worse for women of color: African-American women are paid just 68 cents -- and Latinas 59 cents -- for every dollar, or 100 cents, paid to men.
  • It is not at all unusual for women to file for bankruptcy at least once in their lives.
  • Millions of women and families today live below the poverty line. Many, many more are just one health scare or one job crisis away from joining the ranks of the poor.
Do you know women like that? I do.

Do you fear becoming a woman in those circumstances? I do.

As Terry has written:

Women need better-paying jobs and benefits, and they need to know there is a safety net to keep them from falling when times get tough and life doesn't go quite as planned. Relying on the kindness of friends and family is a nice concept, but what happens when everyone you know is barely getting by?

The United States is the richest nation in the world. It is the most inventive, robust and open nation in the world. But it lags behind in its treatment, recognition and nurturing of the talents and works of women.

And this election year, we have seen an open war on women. In fact, the phrase, War on Women, is such a frequent topic of discussion that we often forget how shocking it is that this conversation is even being held. It seems normal, but it shouldn't.

When did this slippage in the economic and civil liberties of women begin to happen? Why is it now such an accepted part of our political debate that we converse about it as though it has always been this way?

It has not always been this way. And it is important to understand how we, as progressive and Democratic women, can change our future. We can change the future for ourselves, for our children, for our families, for our parents, for our spouses.

But we need to gather our strength into a political nexus in order to achieve this change. We need to come together under shared values and fight for our economic freedom as women.

This is part of the reason that I am running for the U.S. Senate for Maine. I am an underdog. Of course. I have always played that role, it seems. It is a role that many women learn to play over the course of their lifetimes.

I am the long-shot Democratic nominee who represents a new generation of leadership. I realize that most national political organizations are content to "horse race" the campaign, getting the open U.S. Senate seats down to a safe, manageable kind of calculus.

These groups are counting seats, and I am merely a number. Politics is a tough business, and national groups are seeking power.

I understand their interests are not aligned with mine, nor the voters of Maine. National political groups want a majority in the U.S. Senate, but Maine people tell me that they want a U.S. Senator who is in touch with their day-to-day challenges.

That is why I am running.

I am running for Maine voters, not national interest groups. I am running for Maine's working families, our middle class, our labor force, our communities -- not big lobbying firms.

My interest is in representing Maine's working families and small businesses in Washington, D.C., and to give voice to ordinary Americans.

No matter what happens in the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Maine, the long-term issues of economic justice for women remain.

We need to address those issues and come together as a strong political front. We need to stand up to people who would take away our rights, who would erode our financial security further, who would limit our opportunities in the workforce, who would harm our abilities to care for our families and children.

We live in a two-party form of government. Allegiances matter. Values matter. How you vote matters.

Remember that on Election Day. And on each day thereafter.

And remember that when you stand up as a woman, you stand up for every woman -- every girl, every daughter, every mother, every grandmother.

We must fight to sustain what rights we have and we must always remain vigilant.