By Laura Youngs
Until a fight over union rights broke out, unions were often regarded as a relic of the country’s past, increasingly irrelevant and lessening in influence. Then Gov. Scott Walker was voted into office and one of his first moves was to offer a budget bill that aimed to strip unions of much of their power. Supporters – including education, faith and community groups – came out of the woodwork to fight tooth and nail for those rights. A recent pre-election Mother Jones article highlights the intense effort by a wide range of volunteers to recall supporters of the bill.
The fight led to a number of recall elections for state senate seats, and while Walker got much of what he wanted and the Republicans kept a majority – albeit by only one seat – Democrats were able to unseat two Republicans and hold on to some of their seats. The shift will hopefully force Walker to create a more balanced agenda, making it harder to pass legislation attacking abortion rights or illegal immigrants.
The events in Wisconsin, while not entirely successful, showed that unions still matter and when progressive-minded groups push back collectively, it can impact the direction of policy.
What does that have to do with women? On a day that celebrates the 19th Amendment – which in 1920 gave women the long-deserved right to vote – the battles in Wisconsin remind us that voting is a critical tool in ensuring women hold on to hard-won rights that are under attack. That throwing their support behind women’s and civil rights groups – as well as other progressive movements – matters.
U.S. women in their teens, 20s or 30s often grew up in an environment in which women had many basic rights established. Pay scales and sexual harassment, among other things, are quite clearly still problems, but major barriers had been broken. Many of us take our rights for granted. As a result, women’s rights groups haven’t always seemed to need our support or time.
But the last several years have shown that passivity allows opponents to slowly chip away at rights, fighting against everything from equal pay and discrimination laws to abortion rights. Such attempts – going as far as trying to outright ban abortion in some states – show how critical it is that women not only vote for elected officials who support women, but that they throw their support, time and money behind women’s groups.
But that support must extend to other progressive causes, such as environmental protection, which can help one another. Even if you don’t agree with every element of other progressive movements, building a large progressive base creates a broader range of support to protect women’s rights. Wisconsin isn’t the only example of groups and individuals coming together. In fact, the Tea Party is a key example of what can happen when a disgruntled group bands together and forces people to listen.
We on the other side should take note – we can’t do it alone. If more progressive individuals and groups started working together, it could build a bigger base to effect better, smarter policy and legislation.