“Lean to the left, lean to the right, stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight!” — Popular sports’ fight chant.
During this 2012 election campaign, is it any wonder that I find myself hearing that chant ringing over and over in my head? Politically, some of us lean to the left, some to the right, some do stand up, too many just sit down, and some do indeed fight, fight, fight!
The problem with just sitting down this year is that one of the teams on the field is fighting to exclude large numbers of people from their hard-fought position of equality under the laws. In recent years, the Republican Party has taken particular aim at women, among other groups, and is fighting to roll back women’s rights to an era when women were routinely treated as less worthy than their male counterparts.
Women have seen concerted attacks on their access to reproductive health care; on health care for families and particularly children; on their children’s access to strong public education programs, including sex education; and on their potential to receive equal pay for equal work.
Nor have we seen this Republican hostility to women only at the national level. On the issue of early child care and education, funding for Head Start has been cut in Maine. This move drives many women out of the workforce since they often can’t afford the price of child care.
And what about those employed in the child care industry? Ninety-eight percent are women, and in 2011 Maine’s Republican Legislature stripped child care providers of collective bargaining rights.
Such attacks on the fundamental rights of workers are now widespread in Maine. For example, in 2011 the governor mounted a raid on teacher retirement plans that drastically reduced benefits and health insurance for retirees (again, predominantly women). And in 2011 the GOP defeated a measure that would have increased the minimum wage by 25 cents per hour, while also attempting to weaken public employee unions’ ability to represent their members.
Women in Maine have seen the health care safety net dismantled as MaineCare is curtailed and access is restricted. “By their deeds ye shall know them” (Matthew, 12:50).
The Republican war on the “other” – women, the poor, teachers and other public employees – is well under way, and they make no bones about it.
Is this how we want our state to be?
We all win when we are treated as valued human beings, no matter our age, our gender, our religious creed, our ethnic heritage or our individual ability to contribute to society. But it’s clear that in the eyes of the Republican leadership, many people in our communities have lesser value. Women are one of the largest targets this political year. In fact, women are well represented in every group coming under attack. We are not so myopic as to miss the connections between child care and women, health care and women, and equality in the workplace and women.
In short, “sitting down” is not an option this year. As Mainers, and as Maine women, we still have the right to vote. Republican efforts to suppress the vote failed in Maine this year. Given the trends in other states where the Republican Party holds the seats of power, we should expect to see this effort again in Maine, masquerading as an effort to combat (nonexistent) voter fraud. That is if the Republican candidates for office are elected to those seats on Nov. 6.
This year is not the year to think, “My vote won’t matter” or, “They’re all alike, it won’t matter who wins.” This year it matters more than ever. Take a good look at the record the Republican administration in Augusta has compiled in the last two years. Then look at the national trends, and you will see more of the same for women and other targeted groups in the future unless voters send a clear message that this “government by exclusion” is not supported by the people of Maine.
Maude March, of Seal Harbor, has lived and worked on Mount Desert Island for 45 years. She volunteers and works for many nonprofits.