Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Abortion a Woman's Right

Should Women Have the Right to Control Their Bodies?

Every month for the past year I’ve been volunteering to escort women who choose to have an abortion at a health clinic in Philadelphia. I do this because these women face a gauntlet of protesters who’s goal is to prevent any woman from having an abortion. These protesters, who are armed with their prayer beads, shout out that women who attempt to get an abortion will, “regret this decision for the rest of your lives.” They shout at the men who accompany these women with the words, “be a man and raise your child.” They hold up tiny figurines of fetuses and shout out, “don’t kill your baby.” All the while they join in a chorus of prayers which start with the words “holy mother Mary.”

These protesters have another goal. They would like to go back to the days when abortion was illegal. During that time women routinely filled emergency rooms because they had been mutilated by back alley abortionists. Hundreds of women died from these illegal procedures and thousands suffered from the effects of mutilations because abortion was illegal. In John Irving’s novel The Cider House Rules he gave a list of all the means women used to have abortions. Women who survived these procedures might suffer for the rest of their lives because they had been denied safe legal abortions. A grandmother of an escort at the clinic died because of a back alley abortion. She had nine children and did not want another.

A few years ago I listened to a Catholic nun who was opposed to abortion. This nun made a decision never to have sexual relations. She argued that women who are not nuns should only have sexual relations when they are planning to have children. Ultimately, this is the position of all those organizations that oppose a woman’s right to control her body. If this position were acknowledged, very few individuals would oppose abortion.

In order to fully appreciate this issue I believe we need to go back and look at the reasons why we are faced with this atmosphere today. Throughout most of human history women had real political power. Men were the hunters and women did everything else. This meant that women were the first farmers, construction workers, scientists, doctors, and ship builders. Because women were so influential in society they had real political power. Lewis Henry Morgan lived among the Iroquois and noticed that the women were organized into the Clan Mothers. No one could become a leader of the Iroquois without the approval of the Clan Mothers.

Throughout most of human history the idea of fatherhood did not exist. The uncle was the man who raised children. At this time, the idea of mine and yours was unknown and an entire clan took on many of the aspects of raising children. This state of affairs made things a lot easier for women because they did not need to be the only ones who cared for the children they gave birth to. Because everything was shared by all, when there were sufficient quantities of food, everyone understood that the necessities of life would be provided to all.

This all changed when men began to trade cattle for wives. It was only at this time that women began to be confined to domestic chores and were forced to take on the primary role of raising their children. This state of affairs found an extreme expression in China where the feet of women were bound and broken so they would not be able to leave the home.

Today, we think of this practice as barbaric. However, the Phillip Morris corporation advanced an advertizing campaign to promote their Virginia Slims cigarettes. Their main theme was “You’ve come a long way baby.” In other words, today corporations find it perfectly acceptable to promote a product to women that will cause lung cancer.

In this atmosphere, corporations view women as vessels that produce children. In most instances, women, not society as a whole, are the ones expected to raise children. Women’s bodies are routinely displayed to sell a wide variety of commodities. The idea that women should have rights that are equal to the rights of men is an idea that shakes the foundations of the capitalist system. While some women have managed to become professionals, government officials, or corporate officers, women are paid on the average about 80% of the salaries of men.

In the early 1970’s the Supreme Court ruled in Roe vs. Wade that abortion was legal in the United States. The court was clearly influenced by the woman’s movement which had been actively demanding this right for several years. We might also consider that the woman’s movement had been influenced by the civil rights and anti-war movements of that time.

Since the Roe vs. Wade decision, the government has worked consistently to compromise women’s right to abortion. In eighty percent of the counties in this country, there are no centers where women can have an abortion. Most hospitals do not provide abortions. We might note that hospitals could have a significant revenue from abortions since this is one of the most used medical procedures in this country. In fact, on the rare occasions where there are complications from abortions, it would be safer having these procedures in hospitals where any problems can be dealt with.

In order to pass his new so-called health care plan, President Obama used the issue of abortion as a sacrificial lamb. Now, women who want their health insurance coverage to include abortion will need to have a separate plan. This seemingly insane state of affairs came about so the government will not be accused of funding abortions in any way.

All these facts point to the reality that the most powerful people who oppose abortions are not the protesters who come to health clinics with their prayer beads. The government, at all levels, as well as corporate America, has worked to compromise a woman’s right to control her body.

If women do not have the right to control their bodies, we might ask the question, What rights do they have? When abortion was illegal, intelligent women risked their lives, rather than be forced to give birth to a baby they clearly did not want. Then and now, there are orphanages filled with children who are not wanted. These children are desperate to live in an environment where they would be nurtured and cared for. This state of affairs exists, not because of uncaring mothers, but because in the capitalist system profits are more important than human life.

In Cuba abortion is a woman’s right, and the government works to ensure that children are cared for. Cuba has more doctors and teachers per capita than any other nation in the world. The infant mortality rate in Cuba is lower than in the US, and the percentage of people who have HIV/AIDS is one-sixth the percentage in the US. Health care is not a commodity but a right for all. I met a Cuban worker who had four children. He was proud of the fact that all of his children will have a lifetime right to both health care and education. While Cuba has enormous problems, the Cuban government’s commitment to the defense of woman’s rights sets it apart from the consistent policies in this country that are hostile to woman’s rights. This state of affairs came about because Cuba had a revolution that overturned capitalist relations.

It is clear that the only way women will continue to have the right to control their bodies is if people stand up to defend this right, and work to roll back all the efforts aimed at compromising a woman’s right to abortion. Without this right, there is no women’s liberation. Without the liberation of women, humanity is not capable of moving forward.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Crossing Over

Crossing Over

A film directed by Wayne Kramer starring Harrison Ford

A review

Last evening I viewed Crossing Over, a 2009 film that gives a series of glimpses into the lives of people who live in the United States, but are not legal citizens. Today there are eleven million people living in the United States who were born in other countries and do not have documentation required by the government. Although this film is a work of fiction, all the events are based on the real life experiences of immigrants in this country.

One Mexican woman in the film was caught up in an INS raid and deported. Her son was left in this country without a mother. In order to provide for her family this woman needed to return to the United States and died in the desert in her attempt to re-enter. In the year 2009, 417 people died a similar death attempting to enter this country.

A young girl probably from Africa was sent to a detention center after her mother passed away. She was held in this center for immigrant children indefinitely.

An Australian woman was coerced into having sex with an immigration official in order to obtain a green card.

A girl who might have been a fourteen year old high school student from the Middle East gave a report in her class about September 11. While she was opposed to the September 11 bombings, she argued that these bombings were caused by people who responded to the repressive conditions in Palestine and Iraq. The principal of her school informed the FBI about this student’s report. A judge signed a warrant to search this student’s home. The FBI then ordered this student to be deported along with her mother. Never was there any allegation that any laws had been broken.

This year the administration of President Barack Obama has a goal of deporting more immigrants than ever before in history. With 393,000 deportations the Obama administration has already reached its goal.

There was another 2008 film titled Under the Same Moon which had a similar theme as Crossing Over. This was the story of nine-year old Carlos who traveled from Mexico to Los Angeles, California, so he could live with his mother. There was one scene in this film that I found particularly striking. The scene was of two Los Angeles police officers attempting to arrest young Carlos for sleeping on a park bench.

Seeing that scene, I thought of Martin Luther King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. At the time several people criticized King for violating the law in his protests against the system of Jim Crow segregation. They argued that King should be “patient” and that things would change eventually. King gave the following reason for why he was not going to be patient. He wrote about the time his daughter asked him if she could play in a local amusement park called Fun Town. King then went on to write about how he and his daughter felt about the fact that she was not allowed to play in Fun Town because she was Black. This was one of King’s reasons for why he was not patient and chose to break the law in the struggle to abolish Jim Crow.

I would say that there must also be at least 11 million people that are impatient about change that needs to take place with respect to the immigrant laws in this country. They would like children like young Carlos to be able to play in the parks of this country, just as Martin Luther King wanted his daughter to have the right to play in Fun Town.

Before I viewed the film Crossing Over I saw an interview with Angela Davis on the news show Democracy Now. Davis is promoting a new edition of Frederick Douglass’ autobiography.

Anyone who is familiar with the life of Frederick Douglass knows that he did not always abide by the laws of this country. Douglass was born Frederick Bailey, and violated the law at the age twelve when he learned to read. At that time it was illegal for slaves to learn to read. At the age of 19 he broke the law again and escaped slavery. He changed his name to Frederick Douglass to avoid the slave catchers who would have sent him back to slavery. When he wrote his autobiography, Douglass needed to leave the United States and moved to Britain because his autobiography was clear evidence that he was an escaped slave who was living in violation of the law. Douglass only returned to the US when his supporters purchased his freedom from a slave owner.

Angela Davis had her own problems with the law. California Governor and future President Ronald Regan openly supported firing Davis from her job as college professor because of her political views. At that time, Davis and the Los Angeles police department felt she needed to be defended from the numerous threats to her life. One of Davis’s weapons was used in a crime and Angela Davis was placed on the most wanted list of criminals by the FBI. She was incarcerated for sixteen months before she was found not guilty of any crime.

During this interview Davis stated that today there are more African Americans in prison, parole, or probation than there were slaves before the Civil War. In fact, if we read the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which abolishes slavery in this country, we will find an exception. According to the Thirteenth Amendment, slavery is acceptable in cases of penal servitude.

Today Davis advocates for the abolition of the prison system. She argues that the prison system is not about supporting the interests of workers, but is used to stifle descent in this country. We might also argue that the immigration laws that deny working people from other counties Constitutional rights in the United States are also used to stifle descent. In both instances the law is used to prevent the lowest paid workers from attaining legal rights that could be used to allow them to struggle for better conditions.

Every year on the fourth of July there is a national holiday celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. While the signers of the Declaration did not support giving rights to slaves, women, Native Americans, or men who did not own land, they did support immigration. One of the reasons given for the revolution in the Thirteen Colonies in this Declaration was that the King of England restricted immigration. This is what the Declaration of Independence said about one problem which provoked revolution:

“He has endeavored to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners. . .”

In the following passages of the Declaration of Independence we get a better idea of what the revolutionaries who created the United States had in mind:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, That all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such principles. . .”

“Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their Future Security.”

When we look at the reality of the life of Frederick Douglass, the theft of land from Native Americans, the gross disparities in income from rich to poor, from Black to white, from women to men, as well as the treatment of immigrant workers, as well as the growing unemployment we are exposed to, the above words have a bit of relevancy. These words were not just relevant in 1776 but also can be used today.

I will end this review with a quotation by Frederick Douglass:

“The struggle may be a moral one,

or it may be a physical one,

and it may be both moral and physical,

but it must be a struggle.

Power concedes nothing without a demand.

It never did and it never will.

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to

and you have found out the exact measure

of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them,

and these will continue

till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.”[1]

[1]The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Volume II, P. 104

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Capitalism & Hunger

Capitalism and Hunger

Every year the Philadelphia Inquirer has editorials that criticize the fact that tens of millions of people in this country go to bed hungry. This year the Inquirer ran an in depth article by Alfred Lubrano titled Portrait of Hunger. The Inquirer followed this article up with another editorial and argued that, “Far too many kids go to school hungry. For many children, a free meal at school could be their only food of the day.”

These articles and editorials failed to mention the most relevant facts concerning hunger in the United States. The facts are that the food that could be used to feed 34 million hungry people in this country has already been paid for. If this is the case, then why are there hungry people in this country, and why do so-called journalists fail to mention this fact when they write about hunger in this country? In order to answer this question we need to look at the facts.

Supermarkets and restaurants routinely purchase more food than these enterprises need. This means that routinely throwing out huge quantities of food is a routine expense of doing business. Therefore feeding hungry people would not cost any additional money. If you are scratching your head after reading this, there’s more.

Food production in this country is limited in order to keep prices high. Most farmers feel that they need high prices in order to barely meet their expenses. However, the money the farmer receives is only a small percentage of the price the consumer pays at the supermarket for food. If food was produced for human needs and not for profits, the prices for food would plummet and the farmers would live better than they ever lived before.

We can also generalize and say that health care for everyone in this country has also been paid for. The facts are that the United States pays significantly more for health care per person than any other nation in the world. Yet, other countries have nationalized systems where people have a right to health care. Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than the United States but spends a tiny percentage of the money that the US spends on health care per capita. Every Cuban has a lifetime right to health care.

When the newspapers argue that we are in an economic crisis, they never mention that there is no shortage of goods or workers who are willing and able to provide us with everything we need and want. In fact recessions and depressions happen because there are more commodities on the market than there are people willing to purchase those commodities. This means that in the capitalist system overproduction is the root cause of scarcity. This doesn’t mean that people have what we need. In the capitalist system, people can only have what we need when capitalists are maximizing profits.

We might also consider all of the things the government and corporations spend money on while 34 million people live in hunger.

· The city of Philadelphia has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in tax abatements. Most of these abatements enable some of the most affluent people in the region to refrain from paying taxes.

· The Philadelphia city government has given more hundreds of millions of dollars to the affluent in the form of money for sports complexes and the Convention Center.

· More millions are given away to the affluent in Philadelphia and other cities in interest payments on municipal bonds.

· The federal government under democratic and republican administrations has given away hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus money while unemployment has skyrocketed.

· Every year corporations pay out tens of trillions of dollars in advertisements in an effort to show how supposedly wonderful their commodities are.

· Every year more trillions are spent on interest to banks. This money in no way directly contributes to the production or distribution of commodities.

When corporate officers, politicians, journalists, or university professors argue that there is no money to profoundly improve the standard of living for everyone, we can recite the above information. Clearly the resources have been available for quite a long time to eliminate poverty in the world. It is clear that as long as we have governments that support the capitalist system, poverty will reside right next to those who live in opulence. Only a government of working people that believes that human needs are more important than profits can bring reason into politics. As the economic crisis deepens more and more people will be open to this kind of alternative.