Though we just inaugurated the new president, it feels as if we just threw away our barf bags after his less-than-glorious election. With a mandate-less president and a sharply divided Congress, we women need to watch our elected officials carefully. As a former member of Congress, I know what it feels like to be watched, so I can tell you the best way to apply pressure. Gather like-minded friends and form a monitoring cabal. Think up a creative name for the group. And make sure young women are represented. Remember, we never would have gotten the vote if younger women hadn't taken up the cause.
Here are some watchdog techniques:
*If your elected officials aren't to your liking, meet with them as a group and give them a chance to "court" you. All federal representatives have offices in their local districts and all are interested in expanding their base. But since they don't read brain waves, you'll have to tell them why you didn't support them. This is crucial because "I never knew this was important to you" is a politician's favorite excuse.
*Even if your candidate won, she or he still needs reminding that your continued support is based on kept promises.
*If your attempts to meet are thwarted, write letters to the editor relating your experience. Run an ad with the politician's picture, offering a reward for anyone who can supply information on the whereabouts of this person. You'll be called troublemakers—a badge that you should wear proudly.
*Whenever an issue comes up that you care about, alert your elected representatives. If they vote incorrectly, print up flyers describing the issue and telling people how their legislator voted. Send a copy to that legislator and say that you posted hundreds all over the district. Extending tentacles into the community is a politician's worst nightmare, and most will want to know how to stop you.
Now, which issues should we be watchdogging? With everyone sprinting toward the center, many of our concerns are going to be far to the left of anything this president and Congress can deal with. Given the realities of this political climate, first we need to preserve some rights—like Roe v. Wade, affirmative action, Title IX, and the Violence Against Women Act—that we've already won. Use all the techniques I mentioned to hold the line on this woman-friendly legislation.
In a less deadlock-prone environment, I might have proposed lobbying for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, but now that seems like a fruitless gesture. Instead, work toward the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. With women still making only about 76 cents to a man's dollar, it's a no-brainer. And while we're talking about wages, how about pushing for the government to give more contracts to the growing number of women-owned businesses?
Get your legislators to improve women's health care. In August 2000, the National Women's Law Center and other groups released a report called "Making the Grade on Women's Health." Eight states and the District of Columbia failed, 42 states got an Unsatisfactory, and not one got a Satisfactory. Policymakers, meanwhile, deal mostly with our reproductive organs, even though heart disease, for example, is the number one killer of women.
Just think of all the votes Congress has taken on abortion, teen abstinence, the abortion pill, and family planning, while Viagra has almost no FDA restrictions and is covered by many insurance programs. Wouldn't you think they could connect the dots between Viagra and family planning? So, here's your homework assignment. On February 15, the new administration is deciding whether to release funding for international family-planning programs. Congress has consistently refused to support any international programs that fund abortions. This is how politicians have it both ways: they tell the left they voted for international family planning, and they tell the right they r