Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Missouri. Georgia. Alabama. Arkansas. Kentucky. Mississippi. Louisiana. Ohio. Utah. These are all states that have made news recently for passage or enactment of extreme abortion legislation.

It is important to understand that even in those states where such bills have been passed and signed into law, such as Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Ohio, those laws have not yet gone into effect. They will be challenged in court, and will likely be struck down, as recent attempts at such restrictive abortion laws have been in other states, including North Dakota and Iowa. The legality of abortion, as constitutionally guaranteed by Roe v. Wade since 1973, will not change… yet. Accessibility and affordability of safe and legal reproductive health care are other matters, but these laws will not be enforceable until and unless the Supreme Court decides to take one of them up.

What is more worrying right now is the hostility and hypocrisy of the purportedly “pro-life” legislators who have written, defended, and voted for these bills. There is no way to understand the abortion debate without recognizing that supporting these policies is exactly the opposite of life-affirming or life-supporting. When abortion is illegal or inaccessible, more women die. That’s it. More women die. This is a known fact, and has been for decades, and any legislator who writes or supports these laws, and any governor who signs them, is signaling as clearly as possible his or her belief that women’s health—women’s lives—are not worth protecting.

Restricting access to legal abortion has only a minimal effect on abortion rates. When they are denied access to reproductive care, including safe and legal abortion, women and girls are driven in desperation to ingesting toxic substances, self-inflicted abdominal trauma, other attempts at self-induced abortion by horrific means. They turn to unregulated “back alley” practitioners who may or may not have training, experience, or knowledge, who may or may not practice proper hygiene, who may or may not have benevolent motives, and who in all cases are unsupported and disincentivized to seek qualified medical support should something go wrong. So, more women and girls are injured, sometimes permanently. More women and girls die.

The Guttmacher Institute, one of the most widely respected and cited research organizations in the area of reproductive health and rights, reports that abortion rates remain about the same regardless of legality, concluding that “restrictions simply make the abortions that do occur more likely to be unsafe.” This reality is worth restating: restricting legal abortion does not appreciably lower abortion rates. It only increases rates of injury, illness, and death in women. Supporting restrictive abortion laws is not a pro-life position.

Debates rage in this country about basic issues concerning the well-being of children and parents, including maternity leave, subsidized child care, public preschool, and so many others. Policies that force women to give birth against their will are doubly cruel because they strip women of their rights to self-determination and bodily autonomy and then abandon mothers and babies to a system that is currently without strong social safety nets.  

The unfortunate conclusion to be drawn from this contradiction is that these anti-abortion policies do not arise from “pro-life” beliefs at all, but instead from a wish to control women’s lives through their bodies. Were this not the case, there would be far fewer examples of so-called “pro-life” politicians who have insisted on and paid for abortions for women in their lives—indeed in some cases, when the women did not want to terminate the pregnancy. Nor would legislation be written or enacted that forces women to carry to term fetuses that can never survive outside the womb.

There are many examples of laws and social standards that recognize the right of humans to protect their own lives when competing interests exist. We require prior permission or consent from immediate family to use the healthy organs of people who have passed away, even when people’s lives depend on those livers, hearts, and kidneys. We do not require bystanders to risk their own lives by entering a burning building to save others’. It is commonly accepted, even a cliché, to put on our own oxygen mask before helping someone else. Women need no less protection for their bodily safety and autonomy and their physical, economic, and social resources, and no less acknowledgement and respect for their inherent human rights.

Maria Wood returned to academic life in 2014, after a two-decade career in the music business, earning a BA in American Studies and a Certificate in Ethnomusicology from Smith College in 2018. Most recently, she served as Deputy Campaign Manager for Jesse Colvin for Congress.

Impeachment is Imperative by Maria Wood

Now that Congress is back in session, it is imperative that Members find within themselves the moral clarity to act on the release of the Mueller report and begin in earnest impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. Not to do so is insulting to voters, destructive to our democratic institutions, and political self-sabotage of the most breathtaking kind. Most importantly, it is a gross abdication of responsibility and a moral failure.

Every day that the Congress does not begin such proceedings, Members fail to uphold their oaths of office and neglect their obligations to do the job they were sent to Washington to do. The Congressional Oath of Office, taken by all Members of the House of Representatives, includes the words “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and “I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Members of Congress are elected by their districts to do the business of the government, to act in good faith and according to the law in the best interests of their constituents, and to adhere to the democratic institutions and norms of our democracy. The President of the United States has violated United States laws, institutional norms, democratic principles, and basic values of human decency since the moment he took office, and his misbehavior and mobster-style criminality is increasing by the day.

Let’s break down the reasons impeachment proceedings must begin immediately. First, anything less is an insult to voters. The American voting public deserve to make up their minds based on a full picture of the facts, with as much truth available as possible against the wall of lies erected by the Trump administration. To simply put the matter of blatant violations of American democratic values and norms on hold in order to wait for the next election is both supremely cynical and supremely disrespectful to the American people. It is also insulting and crass for Members of Congress to refuse to fulfill their duty in this matter and then ask to be re-elected.

Which leads us to the damage to democracy. Two elements of this damage are even now corroding the electorate’s faith in democratic processes. The more straightforward is the proven interference in the 2016 and 2018 elections by hostile foreign powers—interference that the Mueller report shows was welcomed and encouraged by the Trump campaign. For a candidate or his campaign to accept and participate in the undermining of American elections is patently anti-democratic and anti-American, and should be immediately disqualifying for holding elected office. Once these actions are revealed, the Congress has a duty to impeach to protect the integrity of future elections and assure the voting public that American elections are free of interference—otherwise, the logical conclusion is that voting is useless and futile.

The second element has to do with the trust and faith of the public in their Congressional representatives. Please recall the line in the oath of office: “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Duly elected representatives who abstain from this process abdicate a solemn promise made to their constituents. The least of the negative consequences of breaking this promise is the risk to individual Members’ re-election prospects. Far worse is the loss of faith in the institution itself and in democratic processes writ large. If elected officials are not going to do the job they’ve been chosen to do—why vote?

Finally, there is an important political argument for impeachment. Many discussions about whether to impeach or not impeach in recent weeks have centered on the political argument against the process. Looked at from another angle, though, the political calculus can be figured differently. The “blue wave” of the 2018 elections demonstrated the hunger among voters for elected officials willing to stand up and call out corruption and lies in government. Voters are more engaged than ever—although the danger that they will abandon the political process if they perceive that it is irrevocably broken is all too real. People of all political persuasions are calling for an end to the lies, bullying, self-dealing, nepotism, and performative provocation that characterize this White House and the party leadership that supports it. House leadership should consider that these voters will welcome and reward good-faith efforts to restore the rule of law and accountability to the highest office in the land. Should the Republican-led Senate refuse to uphold its duty by responding to the charges, House members should trust that the electorate will recognize where the process broke down, and who is to blame for the continued undermining of American democracy.

Call it moral clarity, call it leadership. But be assured, if there is a shred of our constitution still functioning when this tumultuous time in American history is over, we will owe our thanks to those who had the wisdom to recognize the existential threat of rampant corruption and manipulation at the highest levels of our government, and the courage and patriotism to take bold, decisive action on behalf of the best ideals of the American experiment.

Maria Wood returned to academic life in 2014, after a two-decade career in the music business, earning a BA in American Studies and a Certificate in Ethnomusicology from Smith College in 2018. Most recently, she served as Deputy Campaign Manager for Jesse Colvin for Congress.

Op-Ed: Us vs. Them by Maria Wood

Country music star Jason Isbell has a song on his most recent album titled “White Man’s World.” The song begins with the lyric “I’m a white man living in a white man’s world,” an acknowledgement of the systemic marginalization of those who are not male and are not white.

Rejecting the idea that this systemic oppression even exists is one of the tools of white nationalism, an ideology that holds that whiteness is an identity, not a construct, and that it should be the basis for our national identity. The gradual normalization of this ideology, clothed in the reassuring garments of patriotism and American exceptionalism, is one of the more insidious tools for the perpetuation of the power dynamics that have dismissed the traumatic legacy of brutality, oppression, and marginalization for centuries. It allows racist ideology to hide in the depths of an “us” versus “them” mindset, leaving the specifics of who is “us” and who is “them” unspoken but well understood.

A cruder and more predictable technique is the kind of “hate incident” experienced here on the Eastern Shore this week, in which residents of St. Michaels woke to find outlandishly racist literature, spouting hateful nonsense and exhorting people to join the KKK, waiting on their driveways and front porches. It is perhaps indicative of systemic racism at play that this vile and destructive act did not make the top of the front page of the Star Democrat on Tuesday. Other, smaller, acts are part of the local landscape. They go unnoticed except by those who endure them in a grinding and infuriating routine of logistical obstacles and low-level harassment: being subtly (or overtly) discouraged from patronizing a local business, or being explicitly, if indirectly banned by a property owner.

Is white nationalism on the rise? President Trump says no. But in February the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the number of white nationalist groups in the US grew by almost 50% in 2018. Data released by the Global Terrorism Database in 2018 showed that more than half the terrorist attacks in the US in 2017 were spurred by racist, anti-Muslim, homophobic, anti-Semitic, fascist, or xenophobic ideologies. Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, has said “modern white supremacy is an international threat that knows no borders, being exported and globalized like never before.” This opinion is reflected in statistics reported by the ADL showing a 182% increase in incidents of the distribution of white supremacist propaganda—incidents like we saw in St. Michaels this week.

There is no question that white nationalism is on the rise. Intellectual honesty and lived experience require us to accept this. Ethics, patriotism, and—for many people—religious practice demand that we resist it, as we must resist all injustice and inhumanity. In Christian parlance, we must remove the beam in our own eye before we concern ourselves with the mote in someone else’s. We have beams in our eyes in the United States, in the form of systemic and institutional racism, increasing hate crimes, the continued dehumanization of fellow citizens and fellow humans who have black and brown bodies, or who speak accented English, or who practice certain religions.

In patriotic terms, national principles of liberty and equality—not to mention the rule of law—tell us that ideologies of white pride and white nationalism have no place in a country founded on the principles of liberty and equality for all. Common sense tells us that we are a richer, better, more stable nation when we do not discriminate, when we resist instead of embrace hatred, violence, and division. Yet we continue to debate and equivocate on the topic of racism and bigotry while allowing ever more extremist ideologies into the mainstream of our public discourse.

In 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “for the good of America, it is necessary to refute the idea that the dominant ideology in our country even today is freedom and equality while racism is just an occasional departure from the norm on the part of a few bigoted extremists.” In 2019, we must continue to refute the idea that racism is an occasional departure from the norm. The KKK lit drop in St. Michaels was doubtless the work of a few bigoted extremists; it was also a tool to recruit more extremists, and it was another signal that we need to continue the work of eliminating the scourge of racism on the Eastern Shore.

Many people and groups on the Eastern Shore are working tirelessly and valiantly to improve things. The Coalition for Justice for Anton Black is actively pursuing justice for the death of 19 year old Kent County native Anton Black while in police custody, and going further, to seek legal recourse to prevent similar future tragedies. The Social Action Committee for Racial Justice in Kent County is working towards an anti-racist future in schools, with law enforcement, in businesses, and in communities at large. The Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River are hosting a series of book discussions and an art exhibition focused on anti-racism.

The efforts of these groups and many individuals all over the shore are how we achieve a better Eastern Shore, a better Maryland, and a better world. Progress is maddeningly slow, and sometimes seems to stop or reverse, but as Dr. King said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

Jason Isbell’s song concludes,

“I still have faith but I don’t know why
Maybe it’s the fire in my little girl’s eye”

That fire in any child’s eye is an unparalleled motivator for all of us to keep working and fighting for real justice and equality, and to defeat both the insidiousness of normalized discrimination and the dramatic violence of overt acts of hatred.

Maria Wood returned to academic life in 2014, after a two-decade career in the music business, earning a BA in American Studies and a Certificate in Ethnomusicology from Smith College in 2018. Most recently, she served as Deputy Campaign Manager for Jesse Colvin for Congress.

Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love by Maria Wood

There are moments when we are lucky enough to see just how much work we still have to do. These are the times that galvanize us out of the complacency of believing “it’s different here,” or “it’s different now.”  They are shocking and distressing, but we should appreciate these moments because they are preferable to the dull stagnancy of accepting a status quo as invisible as the air we breathe or, even worse, the quiet erosive slide of regression.

For some Chestertonians, news of the Town Council’s recent vote on permits for a Pride Celebration in Fountain Park was such a moment. To hear elected officials in this ostensibly close-knit, warm and friendly community espouse bigoted views and question their fellow citizens’—their constituents’—right to assemble in the public square for a family-friendly event designed to celebrate community members and build bridges among different parts of the population was disheartening and infuriating.

The second deadliest mass shooting in United States history took place at a gay nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando, Florida. 50 people died, and 53 more were injured. According to the FBI, more than 20% of hate crimes in the US are motivated by bias against sexual orientation or gender identity (commonly known as homophobia), second only to hate crimes motivated by racism. Even without considering acts and attitudes of discrimination and bigotry experienced by LGBTQ Americans that don’t rise to the level of hate crimes (including those displayed in the Chestertown Town Council last week), this statistic illustrates the significant hatred and intimidation that is directed towards LGBTQ people in America.

Leaving aside the panoply of legal and ethical reasons why denying a permit for this event would have been wrong and why the arguments that were made against it were destructive to the fabric of this community, this sobering statistic shows us why an enthusiastic and supportive YES to a Pride Celebration is the only correct answer if a town expects to be known as a place of acceptance, where all community members know that they can enjoy their full rights as citizens to a life free from intimidation and harassment. A resounding YES to a Pride Celebration is the only answer if a town wants to fight back against hatred and move toward a day when the promise of freedom, opportunity, and equality is a reality for all its citizens.

An unqualified YES is the only answer if a town wants to show its LGBTQ youth that they are championed, valued, and loved. And an emphatic YES is the only answer for a town that wants all its citizens and the wider world to know that bigotry and hatred of any kind have no home here. For if we allow discrimination and intolerance against one group, no group is safe.

The permit was granted, albeit by a close margin, and the event will go on. Chestertown excels at parades and festivals, and this one will surely not disappoint. It will be an affirmation of the right of all Chestertown residents to exist and to celebrate who they are and who they love. For after all, love is the operative word. As composer Lin-Manuel Miranda put it on the night of the Pulse nightclub shooting:

We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers,
Remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.

May the morning of May 4 dawn bright and clear this year, and may a beautiful spring afternoon provide the backdrop for a joyful celebration in Fountain Park, a celebration in which the LGBTQ people of this community can be themselves: openly, proudly, and secure in knowledge that their town accepts, appreciates, and embraces them.

Maria Wood returned to academic life in 2014, after a two-decade career in the music business, earning a BA in American Studies and a Certificate in Ethnomusicology from Smith College in 2018. Most recently, she served as Deputy Campaign Manager for Jesse Colvin for Congress.

All They Will Call You Will Be Deportees by Maria Wood

 

The shutdown is over—for the moment anyway—and the country is breathing a sigh of relief. However, the drama over the imaginary need for an ineffective, un-American “wall” (or steel slats, or intermittent fencing, or other symbolic barrier) continues.

We, the American public, are told that this “wall” is vital to our safety and security, that we are in grave, immediate danger from “caravans” composed of hordes of dangerous invaders. In reality, the wall is imaginary. Even the concept is fictitious. The language used to talk about “the wall” evokes the picture of an impenetrable concrete rampart along the length of the southern border, but this picture does not resemble any realistic possibility for a partition. “The wall” is a symbol which serves to stoke and capitalize on fear, insularity, and hatred born of racism and xenophobia. The rhetoric around it misleads the public, inflates and invents threats, and strips the humanity from the nameless Others against which it purports to defend.

In 1948, Woody Guthrie wrote a song, “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos),” about Mexican farm workers who died being deported from California. It begins,

The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They’re flying ’em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adiós mis amigos, Jesús y Maria;
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be deportees

and goes on to describe the pain caused by dehumanizing, othering and outright vilifying immigrant workers:

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract’s out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

In 2019 as in 1948, public discourse and escalating cruel policies toward immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers shape the public’s mental picture of these human beings—people who we need to make our economy work—into the worst kind of criminals. President Trump’s language in calling for “the wall” is as lurid and extreme as he can contrive, far harsher than “outlaws, rustlers, and thieves.” He plants images in the public imagination of horrific human trafficking practices, enormous loads of illegal drugs coming through unmonitored sections of the border, and hordes of crazed and violent gang members storming into the United States and wreaking untold criminal mayhem. These images are fictions that stoke fear and hatred among the public. They also draw attention away from real problems like the way human trafficking and drug smuggling actually happen at the border, and the real sources and causes of crime within the US. The more Americans’ anger and fear of immigrants is inflamed, the easier it is to accept and justify cruelty like family separation, caging and withholding care and medical attention from children, tear-gassing refugees on foreign soil and other atrocities.

Data tells us that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than US citizens. Our economy relies, as it always has, on the labor of immigrants, many of whom are unauthorized, to do the work that most Americans will not, at wages that most Americans will not accept. This labor force is as crucial on the Eastern Shore as it is in other parts of the country: crab picking, agriculture, construction, and many other industries cannot function without these workers. More importantly, basic human decency and American founding principles of equality, liberty, and an open society demand that we welcome those who come here seeking refuge or opportunity.

“The wall” does not need to be contiguous or unbreachable, or even built, to fulfill its true purpose. To people who wish to come to this country, “the wall” signals that while the rich and powerful American nation might be willing to allow desperate people who cross the treacherous desert with their children seeking refuge and safety to clean our toilets and pick our peaches at low wages, we will do so while communicating as brutally as possible that they are feared, hated, and unsafe on our shores. The message to the American public is that that we need extreme levels of protection, and that fear and hatred directed toward refugees and asylees is reasonable.

It is our American tradition and heritage, a primary defining component of our national identity, to enfold immigrants into our population. This tradition makes our national community stronger and healthier. It is also part of our history to exploit them, to abuse them, to bring our basest and most fearful instincts of insular hatred, racism, and distrust to bear on our treatment of newcomers. The first of these traditions moves us toward a more perfect union; the second holds us back and deepens a shameful stain on our history and our national character. Let us work to strengthen the former and extinguish the latter on the Eastern Shore and throughout the country.

Let us resist all encouragement to ignore or dismiss the humanity of those we perceive as foreign or different from ourselves. Let us remember that the people crossing the United States’ southern border have names and families and that America is strongest and healthiest when we treat everyone according to our best national ideals of equality, liberty, and opportunity

Maria Wood returned to academic life in 2014, after a two-decade career in the music business, earning a BA in American Studies and a Certificate in Ethnomusicology from Smith College in 2018. Most recently, she served as Deputy Campaign Manager for Jesse Colvin for Congress.

We need Stamina for the Presidential Election by Maria Wood

Editor’s Note: We are very pleased to welcome Maria Wood as a new contributor to the Spy.

With the onset of the 2020 election cycle and Elizabeth Warren’s ebullient entry into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, the world of political punditry has been filled with commentary about the sexist backlash she will face and the unfair standards women are held to in political races and the broader professional world.

I have long been a supporter of Warren’s, and while I am excited about her candidacy, I am already exhausted by the endless hot takes on the Oh! So! Exciting! prospect of a girl campaigning for the job of leader of the free world. The serious candidacy of a woman seems to inevitably bring out the David Attenborough in much of the national conversation, regardless of the serious female candidates we have already seen and the many women who will undoubtedly join the race this year.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull, who was the first woman to run for President in 1872. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I’m even more exhausted because questions about whether a woman can get a fair shot in American presidential politics are still so pertinent. We still need to continually underline the impossible standards to which the American power structure—and the American electorate—hold women, and the many unfair hurdles female candidates must clear to be taken seriously.

Warren is an eminently reasonable candidate for the presidency in this election cycle. She is a successful, high-profile, popular Senator in her second term, with both expertise and charisma. She knows the Constitution, she understands how government is supposed to work, and she has enormous fund-raising capacity. All of this is overshadowed by constant analysis of A Woman’s Chances and A Woman’s Strategy, by debate over whether criticism is warranted or stems from overt or implicit misogyny, and by gratuitous comparisons with the ghosts of other female candidates past, present, and future.

The most infuriating thing about the pieces that have already appeared and the many more that will be written over the next two years is that they will remain relevant. Candidates, spokespeople, and their supporters and detractors alike will have to respond to questions about “electability,” “likeability,” “relatability,” (is there even such a thing as a woman you’d want to grab a beer with?) as well as competence, trustworthiness, and warmth (or the lack thereof), along with a host of other gendered topics that will sometimes arise in the form of sympathetic questions and sometimes as bare-knuckled accusations.

As a woman, Warren will need to be perfect, and even if she is, she will face unending sexist criticisms. She will be distrusted: she’ll be called deceitful, duplicitous, and dishonest. She will be considered unlikable: cold, aloof, elitist, boring. She’ll be accused of “lecturing,” “haranguing,” and thinking she’s smarter than voters. She’ll also be accused of not being serious enough. When she laughs she’ll be frivolous, or inauthentic, or both.

She’ll be deemed incompetent. She’ll be accused of having lived in an ivory tower, and the claim will be made that she doesn’t know how the “real world” works. Her motherly and grandmotherly qualities will be discussed. Her emotional stability will be questioned. If she is sure of herself and speaks forcefully, she will be called angry. If she sheds a tear or lets her voice quaver, she’ll be painted as too emotional, even hysterical. On the other hand, if she doesn’t show emotion, she’ll be too detached, and that is when we’ll hear that she’s “cold” and “aloof.”

There will be less disguised and even proud misogyny. We’ll hear about whether she’s pretty, whether she dresses well, whether her makeup and hair are good. We’ll discuss whether she’s capable of being tough enough to handle macho adversaries like Putin and Kim Jong-Un.

Questions will be raised about whether she is too ambitious, whether she shouldn’t be satisfied as a Senator. Some of these debates will be confusing, because it’s not an unreasonable question, and not necessarily gendered: Good senatorial skills do not necessarily coincide with good presidential skills. Issues of temperament and competence and experience are crucial to any presidential candidacy. But, we will not be able to conscientiously consider these questions without first considering their gendered qualities.

Which brings me back to my exhaustion. Isn’t it time for Americans to put aside these ridiculous questions, and stop wondering whether we can be led by a woman? It is, of course, but we aren’t there yet, so we need to keep having these conversations, continuing to examine our words and our motives, because it is really important that we elect the most qualified and the most temperamentally suited candidate to the highest office in the land, regardless of gender. The stakes are too high to settle for anything less just because we are afraid to disrupt our antiquated national hierarchies.

Maria Wood returned to academic life in 2014, after a two-decade career in the music business, earning a BA in American Studies and a Certificate in Ethnomusicology from Smith College in 2018. Most recently, she served as Deputy Campaign Manager for Jesse Colvin for Congress.
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