When John McCain campaigned at the Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia on September 10, he was greeted by a vociferous crowd of protesters carrying signs and shouting, "O-ba-ma," so loudly that he could not hear his own voice. Among the supporters was a woman in her sixties carrying a sign that was almost as big as she was and that featured the photo of McCain embracing George W. Bush and the words, "No more of the same." Later, I stood on a street corner and talked with the woman and her friend, a Republican, also in her sixties and also supporting Obama-Biden. Both women represent the demographic McCain hopes to capture by adding Palin to the ticket -- white women over fifty. After talking with them, I decided to seek out and interview more women in this demographic who support Obama and listen to their perspectives on the election, the issues that matter to them, and what they have to say to other women. I sent out a request to a small band of women who passed it to others. The response was more than I'd expected and I can't fit all of them into one post. So, for the moment, I am including the perspectives from two of the many women who shared their thoughts with me. Such is the political climate in the United States today that both of the women featured here prefer that I not use their real names. We now live in a country where citizens who disagree with the government fear reprisal.
Sloane is a 61-year-old professor of nursing in New Jersey and married. A native of Wyoming, she was a Republican, supported Hillary in the primaries, and is voting for Obama. Explaining that she was a Republican when the GOP was fiscally conservative, she says, "The current Republican Party has destroyed the country economically," adding that, "The religious right now owns the GOP."
The stakes in this election, she says, are too high for women to allow themselves to be blinded by anger that makes them vote against their best interests. "When Hillary was defeated, I was sad for one day," Sloane says, "and then I got over it and threw my support to Obama."
She is most concerned about women's rights in this election. "As go women's rights, so go children's rights," she points out, and the next justices appointed to the Supreme Court will have a major impact on women and children. One more conservative justice could tip the balance of the court even more than the current, fragile 5/4 split. "I don't care how religious you are, or how anti-choice you are -- the problem is when you position yourself so that you are forcing your positions on us," she said of the anti-choice justices on the Court." The next president will also appoint justices to district and circuit courts.
Sloane points out that women born after 1973 were born with reproductive rights; they don't know what it would be like to not have them. This means they were born with access to accurate information about anatomy and physiology, about STDs, human sexuality, and personal responsibility; access to birth control (where abstinence is an option, but not the only one); and access to termination of pregnancy options. "If Roe v. Wade is overturned, women will not own their own bodies," Sloane explains, "And if you don't own your body, you don't own your destiny -- you're not in the game. Everything else, like education and employment, becomes secondary." She points out that the percentage of abortions since 1973 has not changed -- but the safety of them has changed a great deal and for the better. Sloane believes Sarah Palin is taking women backward. Most women are not fortunate enough to have the economic means to rear five children and work full time because not every woman has a stay-at-home husband and staff. "We are fighting for our lives in this election," Sloane explains passionately.
She does not understand fellow Hillary supporters who now say they will vote for McCain-Palin just because they are angry with the media. Why punish themselves and other women for what they perceive as media bias? "I hope other Hillary supporters liked her for her policies and the way she wanted to change the world," Sloane says. "Obama stands for the same policies and changes. He will be a leader with the intelligence, grace, compassion and empathy we need right now." She adds emphatically, "Any Hillary supporter who turns to McCain-Palin dishonors Hillary and everything she stands for."
Rebecca is 60, married, and a Philadelphia lawyer and writer. She, too, is concerned about the justices the next president will appoint to district, circuit and the Supreme Court, but not because of their impact on Roe v Wade alone. Under the Bush administration, Rebecca explains, the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution have been compromised, the Ninth, which applies to Roe, is under threat, and the separation of church and state is in jeopardy. McCain is certain to appoint more conservative justices.
"It is important to have district and circuit court justices more diverse in their opinions than they have been during the past eight years," she explains, "the Supreme Court is the court of last resort." Because so many of the justices currently on the court are older and will be leaving, and with the 5/4 decisions so close, whoever replaces them will have a monumental impact on the Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments and the separation of church and state. She points out that the Fourth Amendment, which is the right of the people to be protected against unreasonable searches and seizures, has already eroded under the Patriot Act.
Rebecca expressed dismay and outrage over the "amazingly divisive and mocking way" Sarah Palin, at the Republican convention, said Obama, "wants to read them their rights." Palin was in fact mocking the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution that guarantee one's right against self-incrimination, to be informed of one's rights when arrested and accused of a crime, and ensures that everyone is aware of his or her right to counsel. The fact that Palin would ridicule these basic, fundamental rights should frighten every American citizen. "Anyone of us would want to know that we can call a lawyer if we are accused of a crime," Rebecca says, "because in the United States everyone is innocent until proven guilty."
"As a Jewish woman -- as an American citizen -- the separation of church and state is important to me," Rebecca says. "This country was founded on religious freedom... I don't want people running the country who have a mission to convert me." She says she wants religion to stay out of government and government to stay out of religion, which has worked well for over two-hundred years. Rebecca is amazed that there are Jewish voters who believe the viral e-mails about Obama and are afraid to vote for him because they think he is a Muslim.
"Jewish women who are afraid of Obama don't understand that they are responding to propaganda," Rebecca explains, "As a lawyer, if someone were to tell me he was a Muslim, I'd say, "Prove it." In fact, she says, "Under an Obama administration I'll feel much more secure that I don't live in a country that imposes a state religion."
The federally enforced right to privacy, which according to Justice William O. Douglas writing in 1973, "is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy," is especially significant to Rebecca. "In 1966, when I came home from college, I read in a newspaper item that a friend I'd known in elementary school had died in a backroom abortion," she explains. I feel strongly about this because now, if a woman chooses to have an abortion, she doesn't have to die for it. If we reverse Roe v Wade, more women will resort to coat hangers and other desperate measures -- and some will die."
When women-- when all voters -- step into the voting booth in November, Rebecca advises that they think carefully about the issues that affect them and their families including the amendment rights outlined above, freedom of religion, and a beloved daughter or granddaughter's right to choose if faced with an unwanted pregnancy. "Hillary's supporters," Rebecca says, "should look at these issues and remember what is really important in this election -- it is about more than loyalty to one person."
"Sarah Palin's views on the issues from basic rights, to opposing abortion for victims of rape and incest, to opposing equal pay for women -- are as far from feminist as she can get," says Rebecca. "Just because someone is a woman doesn't mean she's deserving of support from all women... It is sexist to not hold Palin to the same standard to which we hold male candidates. If we really think women are equal to men under the law, then we should be able to criticize a female candidate as freely, thoroughly and strongly as we would a male candidate."