If Ida B. Wells Were Alive Today

Dear Readers,

Here is the link to my February post for Today’s Chicago Woman: http://www.tcwmag.com/blogs/sivesiftings.

Ida B. Wells is inspiring in any month, but particularly so in this Black History Month, as women, all women, of all colors, gather together to figure out how to save healthcare reform, so that it will matter for women.

Ida B. Wells taught us both how to fight and how hard to fight: a writer, community organizer, and tireless advocate for justice, she never, ever, gave up.

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Here is my fan-letter post about Ida:

One of my favorite heroines of Chicago history–in fact, of all American history–is yesterday’s-Chicago-woman, Ida Barnett Wells. (See: http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/imagegallery.php?EntryID=W041.)

Ida B. Wells was born and educated in post-Reconstruction Mississippi, in a time when, and in a place where, African Americans experienced the very worst of what post-slavery white America offered-up to post-slavery black America. Lynching was common, and in Ida’s Mississippi homeplace, as well as in Memphis, Ida’s home as a young adult, all forms of public life were strictly segregated. (See: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_people_wells.html.)

Ida was a young woman when the U.S. Supreme Court infamously decided that “separate [could be] equal (for blacks and whites),” including in public transportation. (See: href=http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_plessy.html.

Indeed, Ida B. Wells first came to public notice when, still her 20s, and newly arrived in Memphis, she fought against just this kind of segregation, on the railroads.

Ida filed a lawsuit; she wrote editorials in the local newspaper; she spoke-out without fear. But, when a friend was lynched, and Wells spoke out against the lynching, Ida was forced to flee to safety, to Chicago.

In fact, Chicago was thought to be the “the promised land” for many of Mississippi’s African Americans.

The Chicago Daily Defender preached this message to Mississippians, distributing the newspaper at the very train stations where Mississippi’s African-American families boarded the (segregated) trains for Chicago.

Of course, times were tough in Chicago, too, but times weren’t nearly as tough as they were in Mississippi, where the sharecropping economy meant the meanest form of poverty.

Ida hit Chicago and started “blogging,” writing for the Chicago Daily Defender, among others.

And, girl(s), did she “blog.” Ida said what she thought, when she thought it. She was clear as a bell, at times caustic, and always, always, writing about the political matters of the day most important to African Americans. She was also a stirring and untiring voice for equality for women.

Fast-forward to today. At Today’s Chicago Woman, I try to say “…what time it is,” too.

And here’s what time it is, as I write in mid-January 2010: The U.S. Congress is about to come to agreement on a healthcare bill–with the votes of the women of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in-hand–a bill that renders American women separate and unequal (just what Ida fought against a hundred years ago), by virtue of its approach to reproductive healthcare to American women.

How can this be, you ask?

Here’s the back-story: According to Jessica Arons, writing for the Center for American Progress, (http://www.americanprogress.org/), and RH Reality Check, (http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/), federal legislators made a “deal” at the outset of developing the healthcare reform bill, a deal that included a commitment to maintaining the federal status quo regarding access to abortion.

That status quo is the deal made by an infamous Chicago Congressman, Henry Hyde. Why infamous? Well, “The Hyde Amendment” denies federal funding to Medicaid-covered poor women seeking abortions, while their richer sisters can continue to be reimbursed by their (private) health insurer.

Surprise, surprise: In the run-up to the healthcare reform bill, neither the anti-choice Republicans, nor the anti-choice Democrats, kept their end of the deal Jessica describes. Instead, they proposed new, and, again, surprise, surprise, worse terms.

To add insult to injury, instead of fighting these proposals, say, in the way Ida would have, the pro-choice women in the U.S. Congress basically folded. The result: “the Stupak Amendment” (see http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/, for a refresher on that one), as well as the Senator Ben Nelson deal (see same place for a refresher on that one), both amendments effectively eliminating–each in its own special way–the federally-guaranteed right to access to abortion.

THESE WOMEN LEGISLATORS, OUR SUPPOSED ADVOCATES, ENDORSED A HEALTHCARE SYSTEM IN WHICH ACCESS TO ABORTION, (A FORM OF HEALTHCARE, AFTER ALL), WOULD BE EXEMPTED, SOLELY, FROM THE ORDINARY COURSE OF HEALTHCARE TREATMENT AND PAYMENT.

NO HEALTHCARE FOR MEN, PILLS FOR IMPOTENCY, SAY, WOULD BE SUBJECT TO ANY RESTRICTIONS TO THE NORMAL COURSE OF TREATMENT OR PAYMENT: NONE, NONE, AND NONE.

As I write [in mid-January], we don’t know what the final version of the healthcare bill the Congress sends to the President will be. Nor do we know whether the President will wake-up and remember who elected him (among others, America’s women and African Americans), and, therefore, decide that he ought to lead, instead of to follow, when it comes to insuring our equal rights.

However, and in any event, we know this: As we celebrate Black History Month, and as we look ahead to next-month’s celebration of Women’s History Month, history is being rewritten, for the (way) worse.

Ida would rail against this rewrite, and so should you.

Ida wouldn’t have stood this for a hot minute. She would have said, plainly and forcefully:

WE WON’T, AT THE BEGINNING, MIDDLE, OR END OF ANY DISCUSSION IN WHICH WOMEN’S VERY LIVES ARE AT STAKE, ALLOW ANYONE TO SUBJUGATE US.

WE STAND FIRM AND UNITED. IF THE CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENT THINK OTHERWISE, JUST LET THEM TEST US.

WE WON’T MAKE DEALS. WE WILL MAKE WOMEN’S LIVES BETTER.

As your Today’s-Chicago-Woman Ida-surrogate, I say to you: Let’s do what Ida would do. Shout these words from the rooftops–in Black History Month, in Women’s History Month, in every month until the right deed is done.

Rebecca Sive

www.rebeccasive.com/blogSubscribe.htm

A Woman’s Nation

Three cheers for Maria Shriver and John Podesta for launching “A Woman’s Nation,” a Center for American Progress project to explore American women’s current status and opportunities. Go to http://www.americanprogress.org for more information.

But how do we get there from here? Here’s my (first) take on what it will take. This take focuses on lessons women seeking public office need to bear-in-mind.

“Be careful what you wish for”: As Caroline Kennedy’s recent experience teaches us, choose carefully lest you get tripped-up by the belief that all public service is equal in steeling one for the rigors of public scrutiny.

“Make no small plans”: As the Presidential election made clear, think big, and then move early and quickly, for day-to-day voting, fundraising and media exposure tar all and tar quickly.

“All politics is local”: Louisiana U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu’s recent re-election, in her ever-so-conservative state, suggests that creating an organizing plan–and compelling messages–for every single precinct— whether that precinct is defined by geography, demography, issue-interests, or any other measure that induces a crowd of potential voters to gather, can put one over-the-top in what otherwise looks like a very difficult situation.

“We don’t want nobody nobody sent”: Minnesota’s senior(and still only) U.S. Senator, Amy Klobuchar, spent years building her public policy and electoral experience. Now, by almost any measure, beginning with one created by the New York Times, Senator Klobuchar is on the short list of women who might become President one day.

For the numbers, go to:

Celinda Lake’s recent article in Women’s E-News,
http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm?aid=3938
, and to

Rutger’s Center for American Women and Poltics: http://www.cawp.org.

Rebecca Sive