Feminism, Women’s Rights and Peace in the Mid-term Election

November 1, 2010

Hours remain until the polls open and Peace Action’s organizers, members and volunteers are knocking on doors, making phone calls and doing last-minute campaign work for peace-minded Congressional candidates across the country. In the past week, however, Peace Action has drawn critical attention and much needed resources to five candidates running in close Congressional and Senate races in Arizona, New Hampshire, California, Washington and North Carolina. These candidates, whom Peace Action endorsed, are Suzan DelBene (D) in Washington’s 8th Congressional District; incumbent Raul Grijalva (D-Az. Dist.7); North Carolina’s Democratic Senatorial candidate Elaine Marshall; Ann McLane Kuster (D) running to represent New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional district; and Steve Pougnet (D) running for California’s 45th District.

As Judith LeBlanc, Peace Action field organizer, wrote last week from the Grijalva campaign in Arizona, losing peace-minded candidates like Grijalva will be a setback not only for the country but also for the peace movement. But as a feminist activist and scholar working on peace issues, I argue that losing any of these five candidates will be a further blow to the peace movement and the feminist women’s movement in the U.S. Aside from the fact that three of these Peace Action-endorsed candidates are women, all of them support feminist issues of pay equity, improved health care access for women, reducing unintended pregnancies and protecting abortion rights. DelBene, Marshall and Kuster also support an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a policy that disproportionally affects female soldiers in our military. In 2008, The New York Times reported that 46 percent of Army soldiers discharged under this policy in 2007 were women, although women make up 14 percent of Army personnel. Although many feminists vigorously debate the issue of women in the military, the high number of women discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation deserves swift attention and action.

As Representative of Arizona’s 7th Congressional District, Grijalva co-sponsored the Security and Financial Empowerment (SAFE) Act to promote the economic security and safety of victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Violence against women within our own borders is a huge problem that is ignored in our national consciousness and often portrayed as something that happens to other women in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, 1 in 6 American women will be a victim of sexual assault, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

As the economy struggles to get out from the grip of the Great Recession, the stakes couldn’t be any higher for American women, who now comprise nearly 50 percent of the workforce but still earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same job. Depending on a woman’s race or ethnicity, her share of earnings could get smaller. So what do these feminist issues have to do with peace?

Peace is more than just the absence of war, the withdrawal of American and foreign troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the beginning of diplomatic and humanitarian solutions. For American women in this mid-term election, peace is also about ending economic and social violence that subordinates women to a lower paycheck, targets them for rape and sexual assault and discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. Peace begins at home and in our relations between men and women. Feminism is the goal of challenging and changing women’s subordination to men, which is often embedded in larger macro-political and economic structures like war, militarism, poverty and globalization. For women, the fight for gender justice is inherently a part of the broad, humanistic goals of the peace movement that seeks to end war, outrageous military spending and the development of nuclear weapons.

David Broder, Really? Obama Should Threaten War with Iran to Stimulate the Economy and Improve his Re-election Prospects?

November 1, 2010

Veteran Washington Post writer David Broder is generally thought to be a decent guy, one of the “deans” of Washington journalism and punditry. I’m not a huge fan of his, I think his politics are kind of “high-brow moderate,” but his colums in the Post and appearances on TV are generally okay, at least reasonable, even if one disagrees with his viewpoint (and his campaign trail reporting usually rings true).

So his Post column yesterday advocating President Obama threaten war with Iran in order to improve the economy and his re-election prospects was a bit of a shocker to read over my morning coffee.  I was tempted to ask what he was smoking, but Harvard Professor Stephen Walt beat me to it with his blog for  Foreign Policy.

Lots of activists and bloggers are refuting Broder, which is good and necessary, and it’s possible Broder may even decide to retract or “advise and extend his remarks” as they say in Washington. A few good ones I’ve read are from Juan Cole, Dean Baker and Marc Lynch, which take on the economic and moral aspects of Broder’s “argument.”

I wrote a letter to the editor to the Post, so I need to be careful not to reveal too much here (as they won’t print anything that has already been published elsewhere), though I did bring in an element I haven’t seen in other blogs so far, that the solution to Iran’s possible pursuit of nuclear weapons is to establish a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East (a conference is to be convened in 2012 to do just that). After you read Broder’s column, please write a letter to the editor (send it to letters@washpost.com and Cc Broder at davidbroder@washpost.com), it would be great for the paper and for Mr. Broder to hear from a lot of folks with better ideas about resolving conflict with Iran, rejuvenating the economy and, if you wish, how the president might get re-elected.

UPDATE: The Post published two other pretty good letters challenging Broder today, so they likely won’t print mine. Here’s what I sent in:

To the editor:
David Broder (“The war recovery,” Op-Ed, October 31) ends his column about the economy, President Obama’s 2012 re-election prospects and Iran stating that he does not advocate the president “incite a war to get re-elected.” Yet how else would the reader interpret Broder’s suggestion that the president spend the next two years “orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs” which will “help him (the president) politically?”

Broder’s column troubles me on so many levels it’s hard to de-construct them all, but here are three aspects for starters. Number one, independent economic studies over the last few decades have shown military spending is just about the worst way to stimulate the economy. Investing a given amount of money in any other sector of the economy (education, infrastructure or health care for example), or just giving a broad tax cut, stimulates more jobs and economic activity than military spending.

Broder’s argument is also extremely troubling, both morally and practically, in a “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” kind of way. Would he advocate Iran’s “orchestrating a showdown” with Israel or other neighbors as a way to stimulate its faltering economy? How about India and Pakistan threatening each other with their nuclear arsenals in order to boost their economies? Japan and China are now arguing over islands each claim in the Pacific Ocean – should they threaten war over this, or over their interests in the region? All these conflicts need fewer, not more, military threats or orchestrated “showdowns.”

Finally, Broder ignores the most common sense way to deal with Iran’s possible nuclear weapons ambitions, the establishment of a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East. This has been advocated since the 1970’s, and it received renewed attention at last May’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which issued a call for a 2012 conference on this issue to be convened. Iran and nearly all the countries of the region, except Israel, the only current nuclear power in the Middle East, have endorsed the concept of a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone.

Broder noted the president is smarter than all his potential challengers. Let’s hope he’s also smarter than Broder, and decides negotiation rather than brinksmanship is the way to deal with Iran, and finds ways other than threatening another war to stimulate the economy. Coincidentally, those steps might well guarantee Mr. Obama’s re-election.


Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund



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