As I have watched, mostly from a distance, the reckless and destructive political actions of the current N.C. General Assembly leadership, I must say that, while disturbing, very little has surprised me considering who now controls the two chambers and governor’s office.
However, what has and continues to amaze me are not merely the hubris, callous, and outright mean-spirited social policies that threaten to obliterate the safety nets for North Carolina’s most vulnerable citizens – the poor, children, elderly, and disabled – but the fact that women legislators are co-conspirators in this diabolical political scheme. No matter what her political party affiliation, it defies rational behavior when a woman votes for any legislation she knows could harm other women and their children.
The legislation and policy proposals that have come out of the 2013-14 General Assembly have been an all-out vicious attack against women, children and the poor, and implicated in the assault are women who happen to be Republican (not all Republican women agree with the actions of our current Republican women legislators):
• Eliminating thousands of teacher’s assistant positions for the second and third grades, which are the gateway grades to educational success;
• Closing alcohol and drug treatment centers while at the same time requiring people on public assistance to pay for drug tests as a condition of their application for assistance;
• Refusing to compensate the victims of the state’s horrific eugenics program (which by the way was modeled after Hitler’s Nazi Eugenics program);
• Refusing Medicaid expansion;
• Turning down $700 million federal dollars in unemployment insurance forcing an estimated 171,000 NC citizens to lose their benefits; and
• The state Senate’s passing HB695, a regressive piece of legislation that further attempts to restrict a woman’s right to make decisions about her reproductive health.
Each of these policies will have severe consequences for women. Women are more likely to be teacher’s assistants and make up the majority of eligible Medicaid recipients. It was women who suffered as victims of the horrendous eugenics project. And, when you eliminate unemployment insurance in large part you are jeopardizing women, equally likely to be unemployed than men and who are more likely than men to be heads of households and vital financial contributors to their families in North Carolina.
Women who face extreme or persistent financial disadvantage are at risk of becoming victims of domestic violence and perpetrators of crime. I once asked a young woman who was a sex worker (prostitute) on the streets in Durham: “You are so beautiful, why are you out here?” Her response to me was “I got to do what I got to do to feed my kids.” True story. And thanks to the actions of this General Assembly, there will be many young (and old) women like her who will be forced to make similar choices.
I am cognizant of the fact that party lines are defining lines as far as politics go and regardless of gender – in order to maintain power to any degree, especially in a divided legislative assembly – you have to stick with the party that brought you to the big dance.
Women make up approximately 54 percent of eligible registered voters in North Carolina. Democrats make up 41 percent and Republicans make up 30 percent of registered voters in North Carolina. I contend that it is impossible for any party to win without the women’s vote. It is also impossible for a Republican to win a statewide seat like governor or a seat in Congress without the help of Democrats.
Despite the current political climate that is particular hostile toward women, North Carolina women have made significant progress, socially and economically. However, we have done so when women have worked together across party lines and not in silos based on partisan interests.
I hope that whatever the women Republicans in the General Assembly got in return for their harmful votes against women and their children was worth it.
Michelle Laws is a longtime women and children rights advocate. She is a native of Chapel Hill and lives in Durham. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org