Saturday, August 26, 2006

special elections: an undemocratic process

The August 26 DN reports that in November 2006 three special elections will be held, including one to fill the 7th Council District seat formerly held by Rick Mariano.

The 7th Council District is over 50% Latino and one of the candidates vying for the seat is Maria Quinones Sanchez, a strong progressive candidate endorsed by Philadelphia NOW and Pennsylvania NOW.

Yet despite Quinones Sanchez’ stellar credentials and the demographics of the district, it appears that the Democratic nominee may be one of two non-Latino ward leaders, neither of whom can match Quinones Sanchez’ record of service to the community.

Our process is fundamentally undemocratic. The Democratic and Republican ward leaders choose the nominees for their parties and the voters decide between the Democrat chosen by the Democratic ward leaders and the Republican chosen by the Republican Party ward leaders. And ward leaders have a tendency to nominate other ward leaders.

May be this would make sense if we had a two party system in this town. At least the voters would play some role in the decision making process. But in most districts, the decision is made in the Democratic primary and winning the Democratic nomination is tantamount to winning the election.

So the ward leaders make the choice—not the voters. True, there will be an opportunity for the voters to make a choice in Spring 2007 primary election, but the winner of the 2006 special election will as an incumbent have a considerable advantage.

The voters of the 7th district and indeed all Philadelphia voters should be outraged.

Karen Bojar
President, Phila NOW

Today is women’s equality day!

August 26, 1920, after 72 years of lobbying and protest, women finally won the right to vote in the United States. In 1971, the late, great Rep. Bella Abzug convinced Congress to designate Aug. 26 as Women's Equality Day. Women's lives have changed dramatically since 1920. But, we still have a long way to go.

Until women earn the same wages as men . . . until reproductive justice is assured . . . until racism and sexism and violence are eradicated . . . until lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people have equal rights . . . until women are included in the U.S. Constitution . . . women's equality will not be realized.

The following article was written by Kathy Black, VP of Phila NOW and President of Phila. Chapter of Coalition of labor union Women on the continuing pay gap:

Despite women’s educational advancements, our record numbers in the professions, and federal prohibitions against wage discrimination, pay equity remains a distant goal. Last year women’s full time median earnings were 77% of men’s median earnings. For minority women, the gap is even greater. Over a lifetime, this disparity costs women workers $700,000 to $2,000,000.

Part of this gap is explained by differences in experience, education or time in the workforce. But pay differentials also persist because women and people of color predominate in historically undervalued jobs, like clerical, nursing and teaching. Using a standard job evaluation system, the state of Minnesota found “women’s jobs” paid 20% less than male-dominated jobs, even when they scored equally. Wages were increased over four years to eliminate discrimination without breaking the state budget. Many states and businesses have made similar adjustments.

The market is not immune to bias, and it has failed to provide pay equity in the 40 years since the Equal Pay and Civil Rights Acts became law. We need more employers to use sex and race-neutral criteria to set wages, and Congress must adopt The Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act, for better enforcement of wage discrimination violations. Establishing pay equity would lift thousands of women, many sole supporters of families, out of poverty, provide a secure retirement and reduce public assistance costs. Our entire economy and society will benefit when women become true equals in the workplace.

Kathy Black, President
Philadelphia Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW)

Friday, August 25, 2006

The War on Drugs: A War Against Women

This article by Karen Bojar appeared in DailyNews on Mon, Jul. 31, 2006

War on drugs: Time for boomers to 'fess up

An article in the July 25 Daily News reported that prisons in Philadelphia are about 1,000 over capacity.There is an obvious solution to this overcrowding: end mandatory minimums for low-level drug offenses. The war on drugs has had a devastating impact on increasing numbers of women who have been incarcerated as a result of these policies.

Unfortunately, many women's organizations have not paid enough attention to the impact of the drug war on women and their families. At its 2005 convention, the National Organization for Women passed a resolution called "Women's rights: Another casualty of the 'War on Drugs.' "

The resolution says that "the incarceration rate of women convicted of low-level drug-related offenses has increased dramatically in the past decade as a result of our nation's relentless 'War on Drugs.' Poor women and women of color have been disproportionately targeted for drug law enforcement and receive long mandatory prison sentences that have little relationship to their actions or culpability."

The NOW resolution also says that "two-thirds of women in prison have at least two children who are displaced as a result of their incarceration, often forced to live in the care of family, friends, or state-sponsored foster care where they may be at increased risk of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse."

Yet the policies continue and attempts to end mandatory minimums for low-level drug offenses have been largely unsuccessful. Philadelphia NOW has tried to implement this resolution by educating our members and the broader public, yet it has been difficult to get this issue on the radar screen.

The willingness to incarcerate large numbers of people for minor drug offenses is the shame of the baby-boom generation.A generation of young people in the '60s and early '70s experimented with drugs and for the most part did so with impunity.

Many powerful and successful women and men in our society experimented with drugs in their youth. But their careers were not derailed; their families were not torn apart. Sadly, they are now willing to ignore the fact that another generation of women and men are being incarcerated in appalling numbers for drug-related crimes.

In 1972, Ms. Magazine published a petition headlined: "We have had abortions." Fifty-three well-known U.S. women declared that they had undergone abortions - despite state laws rendering the procedure illegal.

Perhaps we need a petition like this to address the issue of illegal drugs. (I'm not equating abortion with using illegal drugs, just suggesting a strategy to call attention to a problem.)

We need people who experimented with drugs and became productive citizens who are willing to say, "I used illegal drugs and went on to become a productive member of society. I and other members of my generation were not incarcerated for long periods of time for what would be considered low-level drug offenses. The current war on drug is having a devastating impact on low-income families (particularly low-income communities of color) and our current policy of mass incarceration must be stopped."

Such a petition might be what we need to get action on Pennsylvania House Bill HB 751, which seeks to address prison overcrowding by abolishing mandatory minimums for certain non-violent offenses. Any takers?

Karen Bojar, President of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women.