signs of life in the lower 48: congressperson jackie speier and wisconsin labour: we are with you!

I've been breathlessly following the news from Wisconsin for a week, and it just keeps getting better. Canadian readers may not know that the capital of this once (and future?) liberal US state has been a battleground for labour rights and public services, ever since Governor Scott Walker declared war on public-sector workers.
First, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) announced a state budget plan that strips state workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights, cuts pay and benefits and says there will be no negotiations.

Today, he took it even further: He announced he has alerted the National Guard to be ready in case state workers strike or rise in protest. He told the Associated Press he’s been working on contingency plans for months.

The last time the National Guard was used against public workers was the Postal Workers strike in 1970. The last time the Guard was called out in Wisconsin to quell a labor dispute was the 1934 Kohler strike by the UAW.

A few days later, more than 10,000 protesters descended on the capitol building in Madison, carrying signs and chanting "recall Walker". Inside, thousands crowded into the rotunda and watched a feed of the public hearing on the governor’s proposal. Firefighters joined them in solidarity. Then nurses. And construction workers. Then teachers, as one of the states largest school districts was shut down by a teacher sick-out.

Today, the protests were estimated at 40,000 people. Democrat state legislators "fled" the state, but this wasn't their party's trademark cowardice: it was staged to deny the state's Republican-controlled Senate enough votes to pass the anti-labour bill. (It was thought that if the Democrats were still in Wisconsin, state police could force them to return to vote!)

Faith groups in Illinois offered the lawmakers sanctuary, and the most recent report is that the Republicans have quit until Tuesday.

Supposedly formerly liberal states like Wisconsin are now havens for reactionary populism. Not so fast?

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The US House of Representatives voted to de-fund Planned Parenthood today, a horrific salvo on the war against women (my extended thoughts here). Whether or not this becomes law, California Representative Jackie Speiers made millions of us proud by speaking about her own abortion during the House debate.

Rep. Jackie Speier listened to debate on the House floor on Thursday evening as a Republican Rep. Chris Smith read a long, detailed description of an abortion and a "mangled image of a dead, tiny baby." Finally, Speier stood up and told her colleagues she had undergone an abortion in the early 1990s following a complication nearly four months into her pregnancy.

"As the night wore on, the vitriol and grotesque commentary got worse and worse," Speier, a second-term Democrat from California, told HuffPost. "I sat there thinking, none of these men on the other side have even come close to experiencing this, and yet they can pontificate about what it's like. It just overwhelmed me."

Speier underwent an abortion in her early 40s, while she was serving in the California State Assembly. The procedure used to terminate the pregnancy was the same type that Smith's book described. As she listened, Speier said she became more emotional and made the decision to speak out.

"This was a wanted pregnancy, it was the second miscarriage I had had," she told HuffPost. "What they express doesn't come close to the experience that a woman goes through when she is losing a baby or when a pregnancy is terminated. It's a painful, gut-wrenching loss."

She said she had spoken publicly about her experience with abortion only once before, while debating late-term abortion in the California state legislature.

After she told her story, Speier said many colleagues -- both male and female -- offered their support, some saying she put tears in their eyes. One Republican told her the amendment was inappropriate, she said, while Smith, whose remarks caused her to speak up, said nothing.

As a longtime supporter of abortion rights, Speier said she was frustrated to see a debate over funding descend into a moral debate over a woman's right to choose. The amendment under debate, proposed by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), was to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funds -- even though they are already barred from being used for abortion.

Speier crossed a seemingly uncrossable boundary. Speaking publicly about one's own abortion is the last taboo, tackled by feminists in various projects, but almost never heard in the mainstream. Speier will receive hate mail, for sure, but she'll also receive an outpouring of support, along with the silent gratitude of millions of women who are thinking, "Yes! It's about time!"

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