Men Who Stare at Votes: The Men of Michigan’s Republican Legislature Can’t Look Their Female Constituents in the Eye

by Emily Kellogg Magner

Michigan HB 5711 protest women sufferage

 

On November 28th a group of social work students and myself woke up at 3:30 am, drove on unplowed and unsalted roads to talk to our representatives about HB 5711.

We studied and analyzed this 60+ page bill and found that it would regulate women’s health centers out of existence, limit abortion access for women in rural areas, prevent private insurance companies from covering any abortion services, give a tax credit for fetuses (but not for children), and it would allow medical providers to deny any health care service they deem objectionable.

After careful analysis we believed this bill to be nothing but harmful to Michigan women, families, and communities.

Our first visit was with Senator Howard Walker. We started our meeting wholeheartedly thanking him for taking the time to meet with us. I talked about the importance of hearing both sides to an issue. I talked about ethical obligations- I believe social workers and politicians have something in common.

What a mental health professional says to a client has a different weight to it than if a friend or family member were to say something to them, the same goes for a politician. When a politician speaks, they speak for everyone in their district.

I told Howard that as social workers, in order to preserve the integrity of our profession we follow the National Association of Social Workers code of ethics. This code tells us in order to help our clients achieve self-determination we must leave our personal opinions at the door.

Howard Walker looked at us blankly. He glanced at his watch. He fussed with his phone.

We went on to talk specifically about how this bill will harm Michigan women, disproportionately women living in rural areas like ours. After we brought up a few of these points he put up his hands and said that he couldn’t really speak to those topics … he had not read the bill.

In front of him was a one paragraph synopsis I assume was from the Right to Life special interest organization who drafted the bill.

Howard Walker had not even bothered to read it.

We spoke with him for 20 minutes, the whole time he was dismissive, misinformed, and rude. When his handler told him, “5 more minutes,” I told him that I would never ask him to change his beliefs on abortion, I would protect his right to believe whatever he wanted, but I did want him to consider the harmful implications that this legislation would have on women and consider his ethical obligation to his field to leave his personal views at the door.

Before I could finish my sentence, he waved his hand dismissively and interrupted, “THIS ISN’T ABOUT WOMEN! THIS IS ABOUT PROTECTING FETUSES!”

We were all silent. Shocked.

I calmly put my palm down on the table, spoke gently, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Howard, you do know where babies come from don’t you?”

I went on. “Do not try to tell me that this isn’t about women, about families, about communities, and yes, about me, a woman. A woman you represent.”

We have elected lawmakers who do not care, who do not read bills, and who do not represent us. They admit this openly. Our representatives can’t even be bothered to be respectful when we travel from their home districts to offer an opposing view.

Our next stop was State Representative Wayne Schmidt’s office. After hounding his office with e-mails and phone messages for over 3 weeks we were finally able to get an appointment to meet with him.

What a different experience we had there.

Our group had just left the office of a man who ideologically believed in this bill … it was quickly made apparent that Wayne Schmidt is merely a puppet.

Right off the bat, as we sat down, Wayne told us that he did not want to talk about HB 5711. He told us it wasn’t going to come up in lame duck. “It’s a bad bill. It is not going to be voted on.”

Wait– a bad bill? He voted for it! We were stunned.

The man representing us gave his vote for HB 5711 and then openly admitted to our faces that he believed it to be a bad bill! He even went so far as to point out different aspects of the bill that he disagreed with- such as the one million dollars of insurance a doctor would be required to purchase in order to provide Emergency Contraception to a patient, yet Wayne voted yes!

I had to ask the question, “Why?”

He told us that it was “just politics.” He said that he needs the Right to Life endorsement, so he voted for it.

Again. We were shocked. Absolutely floored.

He admitted to five of his constituents’ faces that he supported a bill that he knew to be wrong because he needed a special interest’s endorsement.

This is criminal.

Before we left I told Wayne Schmidt that if he was a good politician he wouldn’t need a special interest’s endorsement to win. I looked him square in the eye and told him that he will never get my vote (should he run for office again). He has not earned my vote and he does not deserve it.

Those of us who took the time to make appointments to go and visit face-to-face with our lawmakers feel a true loss.

We are not being represented by qualified people. They are men who vote with their religion, men who vote with their pocketbooks.

These are men who don’t read bills, who don’t listen to us, who don’t trust women, or care what we think.

I sign petitions, I write letters, I make phone calls, I write articles, I mobilized a group of my peers to join me in the three and a half hour drive to talk to our representatives in person, and all I have learned is that they do not care.

I have learned that that we, the people they represent, the people in their home district, don’t matter to them. Our voices are not heard.

By showing their true colors they gave me a gift–

I am now inspired like never before to encourage qualified women to run for office.

Our current representatives modeled for me the type of person I never want to be.

They showed me that someday, I will have what it takes to be a real leader for my community.

Michigan HB 5711 protest women

Emily Magner is a social work student at Ferris State University in Traverse City, Michigan. She has a propensity for social activism in regards to protecting women’s access to safe and comprehensive health care.  She works to stop violence towards women through information and activism. Also, she loves her dogs Coochie and Tippy.

 

The feature photo was used with Creative Commons, thank you to westbendnews.

No ordinary state of emergency

Originally in the White Pine Press 3-22-12

http://www.whitepinepress.org/feature-columns/archives/2012-03-22/musings.html

 

Earlier this month we woke up to a thick, fuzzy, 25-inch blanket of snow that was unrolled onto northern Michigan. It was the heavy wet kind of snow, and it plastered itself to everything. Nearly 200,000 people lost power here in the mitten, myself included.

Branches and trees were down everywhere. The poor trees- when winter comes they look dead, but life still pulses under their bark…all over town you could smell pine and see the brightly colored raw pulp exposed where limbs had broken off under the weight of the snow. Giant trees were resting on people’s roofs and demolished decks.

Everything in town slowed dramatically, some people couldn’t even get out of their driveways. It seemed like everyone with power opened their arms to those of us who lost it. Warming stations popped up all over town. Hotels were completely booked and stores ran out of water and generators.
Everywhere you went people were asking…do you have power? Are you all right? The news told us we were in a “state of emergency.”

In America, we call this week of snowy weather and temporary loss of power an emergency.  Sometimes it takes events like this to remind me how fortunate we are. With the words “state of emergency” ringing in my ears I thought of the women of Haiti.

In January 2010 an earthquake devastated Haiti, killing 230,000 people and injuring 300,000. Presently, there are more than 1 million people still living in makeshift tent cities. Since the day that Mother Nature shook the earth in Haiti, the needs of women and girls living in makeshift tent cities have been largely neglected. These women and girls are at serious risk of sexual attacks at the hands of armed men who roam their camps at night.

According to Amnesty International, more than 250 cases of rape were reported in the first 150 days after the earthquake. It is believed that many more rapes were committed but they went unreported.
“Women, already struggling to come to terms with losing their loved ones, homes and livelihoods in the earthquake, now face the additional trauma of living under the constant threat of sexual attack,” said Gerardo Ducos, a researcher for Amnesty International.

“Sexual violence is widely present in camps where some of Haiti’s most vulnerable live,” said Chiara Liguori, a researcher at Amnesty International in Port-au-Prince. “It was already a major concern in the country before the earthquake but the situation in which displaced people are living exposes women and girls to even greater risks.”

Many survivors of assault live with the constant knowledge that there is no security for them. This population is vulnerable to attack; armed gangs know that there is little chance that law enforcement will confront their acts of violence.

In America, we call a snowstorm a state of emergency, which I am truly silenced by the far-reaching extent of our privilege. We are, in fact, so privileged we don’t even know how fortunate we really are.
The women and children of Haiti are not able to sleep without fear of sexual assault. It is impossible to even comprehend such a reality, unless you have seen it or lived it. Still, the Haitian women are strong.  They persevere. They live to dream of better times.

As we move towards a global economy, let us remember about the greater community around us; let us remember that there are those who are suffering. As the reminders of our “state of emergency” melt away, I ask that you join me in remembering the women of Haiti who are still surviving in a real state of emergency.