Women Bring Their Voices to the Policy Table – Women’s Moral Monday 2015

If you’ve been following the 2015 NC General Assembly “long session“…..well, you may not be very happy with what you’ve seen coming from our state legislative body these days. State-sanctioned discrimination is now the law of the land (and the legislators really wanted that one); and the Governor, again, signed into law additional restrictions on access to abortion, despite a campaign promise not to do so. Meanwhile, there was a big push to make accessing a firearm easier – certainly easier than accessing an abortion, or even easier than voting. Fortunately people power – in the form of many tough mothers - successfully pushed back on many of the most troubling aspects of that particular bill. But with a proposed Senate budget gutting education funding, laws targeting environmental protections, and more proposed tax cuts, 2015 is shaping up to be a session that will leave its (regressive) mark on North Carolina for some time.

With over 1600 bills introduced this session, and almost 500 making it to “crossover”, we do wonder how it was that so many good bills that actually would benefit NC women and families – such as a law making it easier for domestic violence victims to obtain a divorce; laws to increase worker protections and the minimum wage; and legislation to reinstate the Earned Income Tax Credit, among others - were left to die in various committees.

We’ve already talked about this, at a demonstration commemorating the 2nd anniversary of the Moral Monday movement on April 29. With its focus on policy and on holding legislators accountable for their policy decisions, the Moral Monday movement has been a good partner for NCWU and our work to bring women’s voices to the policy table.  We were excited to partner with the NC NAACP to develop a Women’s Moral Monday rally on June 10. Two years on from the start of the Moral Monday movement, we’re evolving the way we are staging protests. New rules and practices at the NCGA – mostly in response to the movement – mean we are now there on Wednesdays, where we gather inside at the rotunda to exercise our First Amendment rights with shorter, smaller, but steady, protests. The goal is to keep the light shining on what is going on at the General Assembly, and we’ve been able to do that.

The new demonstration model meant that we could in no way cover all the issues NC women are facing (we had 30 minutes, and since every issue is  a women’s issue in some way, we’re not sure if even 30 hours would have been enough). Our goal was instead – as always – to highlight issues we think don’t get enough attention otherwise. Reproductive justice, food insecurity, equal pay, ERA, toxic chemicals, family leave, education, child care – we had a full agenda just with these few topics. And we had fantastic speakers, which certainly helps.

Food insecurity – With approximately 17% of North Carolinians facing food insecurity, this is certainly an issue that deserves more attention than it gets from policymakers. Everyone deserves access to healthy, sufficient and affordable food, and in a country as rich in resources as ours, there is no reason for this to be an unattainable goal. With women still primarily filling the role of family caretakers, being able to provide adequate and nutritious food for the family is most certainly a women’s issue.  Zulayka Santiago, program director with SE Raleigh’s Fertile Ground Food Co-op, spoke to the values of food security, healthy communities, economic justice and collective action that are the foundation for their work, and how public policy can reflect those issues via good legislation. Public policy like HB250, the Healthy Food Small Retailer/Corner Store Act, which is currently in the NC Senate Rules Committee (at least it made it through crossover).  An effort by the state to bring affordable, healthy food to the communities that need it most, be sure to contact your reps about your support of this bill.

 

Jina Dhillon

Jina Dhillon, past NCWU president, and NARAL Board

Reproductive Justice – More than abortion rights, reproductive justice (RJ) is about the right to have children, the right to not have children, and the right to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments. It’s also about the right to express your sexuality as you want to, without societal shaming, and the right to live free from sexual and domestic violence. For a long time, women of color in particular have worked to expand the dialogue around reproductive issues to mean more than just the ability to obtain an abortion. HB465 – a bill that is now law – again restricted abortion access, while a few provisions from our 2015 legislative agenda regarding increased safety for victims of domestic and sexual violence (DV/SV) were added at the last minute (and in a process that was not known to the legislator that originally introduced those provisions as a separate bill). In addition to this being an underhanded and purely political way to provide gains to some women at the expense of others, it also undermines protections for SV/DV victims. Women who are victims of SV and/or DV also sometimes seek abortions, and abortion care is a part of the support these victims need. Subjecting these women to further restrictions on their bodily autonomy is a continuation of that loss of control they experienced as a DV/SV victim. Read Jina Dhillon’s (board of NARAL NC and staff at Ipas) remarks here.

Toxic Chemicals – While many toxic chemicals have been regulated, at least somewhat, in many workplaces, women and families are still exposed to a wide array of dangerous, unregulated and untested chemicals in the home. Baby, hair care, skin care, and cleaning products are easily accessible and widely used, but how much do we really know about the health risks these products pose to us at different stages of our lives? And for the health risks we do know about, why aren’t we doing anything about them as a society? Stephanie Lormand, MomsRising NC, posed those questions in her rally remarks. And read more about the SB81, the NC Toxic Free Kids Act, which didn’t get out of committee this session.

Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) – This – still – has not been passed in NC, and subsequently, women are still not in the US Constitution. Who would have thought the phrase “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” could cause so much controversy? Madison Kimrey, youth activist, spoke of why she believes the passage of the ERA is still relevant to the women’s movement; watch video of her speech here. Technically, SB184, for NC to adopt the ERA, is still in play this session.

Tina Sherman

Tina Sherman, MomsRising NC

Economic Security for Families – It’s been well-established in 2015 America – we hope – that many women both raise families and work outside of the home. And many of those women are bringing home income that substantially contributes to the economic security of their families. In about 40% of families across the nation, these mothers are providing the entirety of the economic security for their families.  Raising the minimum wage, reinstating the EITC, guaranteeing paid sick and family leave, guaranteeing equal pay, and  providing access to affordable, quality child care are all important and vital ways we can support families, and how we earn the title of a “family friendly society” (just throwing around the term is not enough). Tina Sherman, MomsRising NC, outlined all of theses issues in her remarks.

Equality of Education – Nashonda Cooke, MomsRising NC and local public school teacher, spoke about our declining investments in public education, including early education, and the detrimental effects that lack of support is having and will continue to have on our society. The constitution of North Carolina directs us to provide a free, quality education for all children in the state, and recent NCGA attempts to funnel tax money to private schools (via vouchers), slash public education funding, and decrease access to early education programs are preventing us from reaching that worthy and necessary goal.

Gun SafetyHB562 was still being heard in the General Assembly at the time of the rally,  and many of our partners’ members were there to voice their opposition to many provisions of the bill. Beth Messersmith, MomsRising NC, wasn’t a speaker, but did jump in to share an update on the bill, and to encourage people to contact their lawmakers about their concerns (and it worked – HB562 did finally pass the House, but with many of its most dangerous provisions removed. People power can and does work!)

We are well aware we left out many issues – voting rights, marriage equality, fair tax reform, campus sexual assault, police brutality, and many more. But we only had 30 minutes; we did what we could. Thank you to everyone who came out and raised your voice for NC women!

Tara Romano

Tara Romano, President NCWU

Read NCWU president Tara Romano’s closing remarks here. Good public policy isn’t the only way we are going to achieve the full political, social and economic equality for the women of North Carolina, but it is one part of the work. Watch video of the deliveries of our agenda to NCGA leadership and the fully rally speeches here. And see you at the next rally!