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Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

AAUW Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Lisa Maatz reported from the Democratic National Convention this week and from the Republican National Convention last week. See her updates at AAUW Dialog, on Facebook, and @LisaMaatz on Twitter.

Politics matter. Don’t ever doubt it. We’ve all been through two weeks of carefully scripted theater, but politics and policy still matter. Leaders matter, and role models can still make a difference. This was abundantly clear in Tampa, Florida, where people gathered even in the face of a hurricane. It’s been true here in Charlotte, North Carolina, where grinning boys waved and yelled “four more years” at me as I walked by with convention signs. It heartens me that people are paying attention, but I wasn’t sure if that was true beyond the convention bubble.

Charlotte was buzzing with anticipation on Thursday, the culminating day of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were speaking in the arena that evening. First lady Michelle Obama and fair pay advocate Lilly Ledbetter headlined the Women’s Caucus in the morning. Cabinet secretaries walked the streets, and governors roamed the convention floor. Marc Anthony sang the national anthem, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords lead the Pledge of Allegiance, and Mary J. Blige did an amazing cover of U2’s “One” to a standing ovation. Celebrities were all around town despite the MTV Awards being held at the same time.

I spent the day surrounded by important people, but it was an interaction with a Rite Aid cashier named Sharon that will be my defining memory of Charlotte. I was in the checkout lane buying some medicinal chocolate and tweeting madly, just as I’d done all week. As she rang me up, Sharon asked good questions: What did I think of the convention, and will it matter in November? It brought me out of my Twitter fog and into an engaging conversation.

As we were chatting, it occurred to me that I still had an extra ticket for the evening’s festivities. In a wonderful twist of fate, I ended up with two DNC credentials every day. One of these I would typically trade for other tickets or give to friends who had not been as lucky. But as I talked to Sharon, I had an epiphany. Sharon needed to see Obama speak. More than anyone I’d seen or talked to that day, Sharon deserved to see Obama speak.

I asked Sharon about her schedule — when did the store close, and when was her shift over? In retrospect, she probably thought I was a bit odd, but I was trying to see if maybe I should offer the credential. It was the big ticket of the week, and spare credentials were few and far between. Finally, I just said, “I have an extra pass for tonight. Would you like to be in the hall to hear the president speak?”  At first, I think Sharon didn’t believe me. She stopped the transaction and just looked at me. “What?” she said. I repeated my offer and held out the green credential, which was covered with official DNC logos.

Sharon took the credential from me like I was offering her my first-born child. She held it carefully and just looked at it for a moment, clearly speechless. When she looked up, she said, “I think I may cry.” In fact, tears were already running down her face. We clasped hands and introduced ourselves, and I told her I hoped she could get off work early enough to go to the arena and grab a good seat. By this time, her co-workers had gathered around. This had become an event, when I really was just offering something in the moment. I didn’t do it for me — it just seemed like the right thing to do. It occurred to me that Sharon was exactly who needed to be in that arena for the president’s speech. Not well-heeled special interests or the party faithful or cynical lobbyists who take such opportunities for granted. Sharon.

I could tell that this opportunity meant the world to her, that it might be something Sharon told her grandchildren about someday. But no matter how important it was for her, in the end it was the sharing of this experience — the simple communion between complete strangers over the importance of politics to our everyday lives — that was the true highlight of both conventions.

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AAUW Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Lisa Maatz will report from the Democratic National Convention this week and reported from the Republican National Convention last week. Follow her updates at AAUW Dialog, on Facebook, and @LisaMaatz on Twitter.

“If Mitt Romney and Republicans played up their feminine side last week in Tampa, Democrats on Tuesday were utterly and unabashedly feminist.” So says the National Journal after the Democrats’ schmoozefest Tuesday night. I won’t lie — I enjoyed it. The Democratic women of the House were wonderful, a rainbow with superstars like pay-equity champion Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, choice champion (and my former boss) Carolyn Maloney of New York, and the always-feisty and on-point Gwen Moore of Wisconsin.

Lilly Ledbetter had the crowd jumping out of their seats, stating that “equal pay for equal work is an American value.” And of course, first lady Michelle Obama gave a tour-de-force defense of and case for her husband’s reelection. All were entertaining. All were feel good. But I would also say that Ann Romney’s speech was also very feel good, and the GOP trotted out lots of women as well.

Yes, yes, I know the substance of both conventions’ first nights was very different. The party platforms, both of which AAUW submitted comments on, are very different. While Tuesday night’s DNC lineup made for a fun evening — it’s never boring ­­­­­­watching lots of smart women speak snarky truth to power — I’ve gotten cranky. I want more from both parties!

The real question is what have you done for us lately? Yes, women will decide this election. But don’t just parade around your female celebrities and think that will satisfy us! The stakes are high; tell us why you deserve our vote! Don’t pander, and for goodness sake, don’t take us for granted. I’m so tired of lip service. While past achievements are nice and all, what’s your party’s plan for the future?

It’s time for the typical dog-and-pony show to stop. If indeed women decide this election — and it’s looking more and more like that will be the case — then we as women need to seize this opportunity to hold candidates accountable. Candidates from both parties need to tell us what their plans are for the economy, jobs, education, health care, responsible budgets, violence against women, national security, and other issues. They need to be clear about their positions on reproductive rights, pay equity, Title IX, child care, and food stamps. And women need to cast their votes accordingly.

Here’s the bottom line. The women of America have a real chance this time to turn the tide in our direction — in everyone’s direction, when it comes to equal rights. Both parties are scampering for our votes, and it’s our job not to give them away lightly. We need to cast them thoughtfully, deliberately, and every single woman of voting age in the nation needs to be registered and at the polls on November 6 or forever hold her peace.

But this journey doesn’t end with the election. Once women have chosen our president, our Senate, our House, and our state legislatures nationwide, the real work begins. AAUW plans to hold our legislators’ feet to the fire, based not only on their election-year promises but also on the fact that they owe their jobs to us. January is the time to start delivering. It’s like my wonderful mama always says: I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!

The AAUW Action Fund’s It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard voter education and turnout campaign represents an unprecedented investment in making women’s voices heard in the 2012 election. Follow us on Twitter and on Tumblr for the latest updates, and check out our biweekly Campaign Update for news, resources, and ideas.

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The Affordable Care Act prevents health insurance companies from denying me coverage or charging me higher rates because I happen to be a woman. I am grateful for this, and you should be too. Vocalize your appreciation for the ACA on Tuesday, March 27, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. outside of the U.S. Supreme Court, where oral arguments regarding the law will be heard. Come show the media and the world that you support the ACA and its benefits, which are already improving the lives of millions of Americans.

Thanks to the ACA, earning valuable internship experience and maintaining my health care coverage are not mutually exclusive. Under a provision of the law, I’ve maintained health insurance coverage through my mother’s plan and can continue to do so until I turn 26. Having health insurance has enabled me to accept low-paying internships — amazing learning opportunities that would be financially beyond my reach if I were among the millions of uninsured Americans struggling under the burden of their health care costs. Under my mom’s plan, my prescriptions remain covered, and I can see my doctor without facing exorbitant walk-in rates or co-pays. Those savings help me manage other expenses like groceries, rent, and student loan payments.

Americans around the country are doing fantastic work to educate our citizens about the benefits they’re now entitled to under the Affordable Care Act. I was lucky enough to attend the White House Champions of Change event, where 10 inspiring individuals from the medical, nursing, social services, advocacy, and faith communities were honored for going above and beyond to ensure that Americans understand how the ACA helps them manage their health care needs.

As implementation of the ACA continues, the law’s champions recognize the critical need for America’s medical professionals, nurses, public servants, and community leaders to educate their patients, colleagues, families, and friends about the numerous consumer protections and benefits that the law provides. Sharing personal stories about the law’s benefits — like I have above — helps strengthen public understanding of how the ACA already has and will continue to save and improve the lives of American citizens.

Learn about how your state is implementing the ACA, recognize its benefits in your life, and rally in support of the Affordable Care Act outside of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, March 27, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Julie Seger.

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“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

—    Benjamin Franklin

AAUW is disappointed that President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal would dramatically reduce the budget and the role of the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor, the  only federal office exclusively concerned with serving women in the workforce. The president’s budget proposes to slash the bureau’s budget by 22 percent and its complement of full-time staff by nearly 37.5 percent. This is unacceptable. The bureau is already a small agency with a big goal — such large cuts would cripple it.

In its budget statement, the Department of Labor says that the bureau’s reduced funds will be reallocated to “increase enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Family Medical Leave Act — two laws of critical importance to working women.” But women are not the only beneficiaries of FLSA and FMLA — these programs are important to all working families, and enforcement should not be funded at women’s expense.

Furthermore, although enforcement is extremely important, so too is the bureau’s work on public education, research, and outreach to affirmatively counteract individual and institutional barriers such as the pay gap, career gender bias, and other factors that fall outside of enforcement but are just as critical to women’s economic equity. Prevention is critical to enforcement, and the proposed budget cuts would weaken the government’s ability to prevent pay inequity.

The Department of Labor also proposes to consolidate the regional offices of five agencies to reduce costs. Yet of all these agencies, only the Women’s Bureau budget and staff levels are affected. The other agencies’ budgets and staff levels are either increased or remain constant. The work of the bureau is extremely important, particularly since women are having a much harder time in the economic recovery than men. AAUW believes we need more research to be done on women’s access to well-paying jobs in the workplace, not less.

AAUW will continue to work toward pay equity, and we hope to work with the Obama administration on this goal. Yet the key to this pathway is the full funding of the Women’s Bureau and recognition of its important role in promoting pay equity for America’s women.

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This afternoon, the Obama administration decided to exempt religious employers from covering birth control for employees, but the new rules will require insurance companies to provide free contraception.

The president’s decision is the perfect foil to the political games we’ve seen this past month, and it’s a relief to see women’s health prioritized over politics. People are going to see real benefits from this decision, which will likely lead to fewer unintended pregnancies, fewer abortions, and a better quality of life for women. Unlike the recent congressional bills around the issue of birth control, this decision is not a compromise on women’s health. Instead, it is an accommodation for people who are truly concerned about religious liberty.

The details of the decision will need to be worked out in the next year. But what is clear is that all insured women will be able to access birth control — without a co-pay — regardless of where they work or learn. Furthermore, important religious liberties continue to be appropriately respected and reflected in the policy. AAUW applauds both outcomes.

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The Obama administration will release its budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 in the next few weeks. This will be the first budget proposed since last summer’s agreement to raise the debt ceiling, which committed the federal government to reducing spending by $1 trillion over the next decade. No doubt the new budget will receive a chilly reception from Congress, which will likely attempt to cut funding for many federal agencies, particularly those charged with protecting our rights. AAUW urges the administration to defend Americans’ civil rights by fully funding government agencies that protect and enforce those rights and by opposing congressional attempts to cut funding for these important programs.

AAUW opposes all forms of discrimination and supports constitutional protection for the civil rights of all individuals. Adequate enforcement of all civil rights laws requires full funding and staffing of federal civil rights agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs, and the civil rights divisions of various departments — especially the Department of Education and the Department of Justice.

These offices should be given the resources necessary to pursue their work. Some key initiatives include clarifying Title IX protections against the sexual harassment, assault, and bullying of students as well as updating affirmative action guidelines for federal contractors, developing a compensation data-collection tool to investigate wage discrimination, and adopting protections for pregnant workers and parents. In this economy, it is critical that the government make civil rights enforcement a priority because many workers are too scared to speak up for themselves in the workplace.

Americans deserve fair pay, equal access to education and employment, and vigorous protection of their civil rights. The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund has worked for decades to combat sex discrimination in education and in the workplace. Additionally, the AAUW Action Fund has launched My Vote, a nationwide voter education and turnout campaign. Women wield great power in America, and our voices will be heard in 2012. More than ever before, women are registering to vote and casting ballots in greater numbers and with more consistency than men. We are a powerful and influential bloc of voters. The national budget should reflect women’s priorities — including full funding for civil rights enforcement.

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Have you ever had to choose whether you would keep a roof over your family’s head versus paying for medical insurance? I hope not. One woman did have this dilemma and told first lady Michelle Obama about it. Tina Tchen, Obama’s chief of staff, shared the story last night during the White House Champions of Change: Leaders in the Fight against Breast Cancer event. The woman’s choice? After learning she had been dropped by her insurance when diagnosed with breast cancer, she chose a home for her family.

This was only one of many incredible stories told during this “champions” reception. The champions included activists, scientists, health care providers, leaders in their fields, and survivors — all of whom seek to inspire and empower their communities. At the event, we were told that 230,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States this year, and 110 women will die of this disease today. In 1975, one in 11 women were diagnosed with breast cancer; now it’s one in eight women.

“I decided I would live my disease out loud,” Ellen Stephenson said after letting us know treatment was no longer possible for her. “I will continue to walk the halls of Congress to do everything to influence them to use their voice to bring cancer into the history books.” I loved the concept — make cancer a thing of the past, not of the present, and especially not of the future. We then learned of the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s goal of ending breast cancer by January 1, 2020. Wow.

“Breast cancer is an expensive illness to survive,” whispered a survivor sitting next to me. A few minutes later, one of the champions said she didn’t think the public understood insurance’s lifetime limits and that “no one has the conception of the costs of cancer treatments.” Tchen also talked about the cost of treatment as she referred to the Affordable Care Act’s goals. “We only have that and will only keep it through our grassroots efforts,” she urged the attendees.

After hearing the champions’ stories, Tchen asked them what best practices would they recommend. Here’s what they said:

  • Give patients time to understand the decisions facing them and take away the fear of the unknown.
  • We need to reach people where they are and provide training to be more culturally sensitive.
  • Resources need to be focused, interdisciplinary specialists need to come together, and health care providers need to work closer together.
  • Make sure educated advocates are involved in research decisions, including what gets priority and what gets funding.
  • Is every mammogram created equal? Cancer diagnoses are more likely to be “missed” in poorer communities or for the uninsured.
  • The subject of the current drug shortage issue was raised: “Make sure decisions are made with what’s best for me, not what’s available at the pharmacy.”

One of the champions even asked if the “first grandmother” could do a public service announcement or if any of the “first anybodys” could! Chuckles erupted, breaking the intensity. I can tell you there were few dry eyes in the house, including mine, as we heard these amazing women tell of their research, advocacy, or education efforts. Especially inspiring, most of the advocates continued their work through their own battles with breast cancer.

AAUW was invited to this reception for our own efforts on behalf of women, families, and health issues. Help us keep up that reputation — take a moment to take action!

Have your own story? Please share.

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