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Feeling Freer in a House of Mirrors

As much as I malign the empty pointlessness of U.S. politics and elections, like most people I know I am glad that the Repugs lost their majorities in Tuesday’s election. In fact, looking at various results from Tuesday indicates that a slumbering majority of “normal” Americans finally decided they’d had enough of cowering before a theocratic authoritarianism and threw the bums out… no more Santorum or the rest of those patently insane politicians who lost…instead we get a host of slimy hypocrites who want to ‘reach across the aisle’ and ‘find common ground’ and ‘govern from the center’… aaack. I actually did vote against Nancy Pelosi, a vote which means nothing, but one I’ll feel better and better about in coming months.

But the small bounce in my step doesn’t have as much to do with the Repugs loss as it does with the tide turning on the abortion rights votes. South Dakota defeated the draconian law there, in California Prop 85 lost (another attempt to force female minors to negotiate with their father-rapists to get an abortion!), and the defeat of a number of the more vitriolic anti-women votes in DC all amounts to a real (momentary) victory for rationality and personal freedom.

Last night at CounterPULSE we had an incredibly moving and fascinating Talk on “Sexual and Reproductive Freedom 1960s to now”… when we scheduled it months ago we knew it would be the night after the election, but we surely didn’t know that the news would be as good as it was for this topic. Patricia Maginnis gave an incredible presentation about her years in the 1950s and 1960s going around giving abortion classes to women, teaching them how to self-induce (!), where to go outside of the U.S. to get an abortion, etc. Maginnis is quite elderly but she was scintillating with her stories of confronting police and district attorneys and speaking up against the Catholic priests she had all too much experience with, coming from a big Irish Catholic family. I got goosebumps listening to her living history unfold before us.


Ruth Mahaney followed with her own tale of helping start a women’s group in Indiana in the mid-1960s, how they heard from another woman in Florida that they should sit in a circle, that there should be a question and that everyone should take a turn answering it. My friend Allyson and I turned to each other, acknowledging our mutual amazement to hear the origins of the circle that is such a basic component of our political and social world now. Mahaney described how her phone number was printed on stickers and put in public bathrooms all over the state of Indiana and how she’d get phone calls from women who hemmed and hawed before finally coming out and saying they needed help to find an abortion.

In the Q&A a woman in the audience (the nearly 40 people were mostly young women from classes at SF State and City College–giving the Shaping SF series of Talks its real purpose of being a transmission belt of generational and class memory) asked if there had been any issue about early vs. second trimester abortion in those days, and Maginnis and Mahaney both emphasized that no woman ever wants to delay getting the abortion, but sometimes it can’t be helped. Mahaney described a woman who got up every day for 5 months and started driving around Indiana from 8 a.m. to dinnertime, “looking for an abortion”, before she finally found Mahaney’s phone number… obviously her’s was a late-term abortion by the time it happened (which also made it much more expensive).

Elizabeth Creely, who did a splendid job of preparing a question-and-answer format to organize the presentation, pointed out that a lot of the laws since Roe v. Wade have further restricted availability and often force women into waiting periods, which leads to later abortions, too. And then there was Maginnis’ angry account of the many doctors and nurses she’d met over the years who lied (L-I-E!) to women, saying they weren’t pregnant, in order to prolong the pregnancy and try to ‘get them to term–goddammit!’… Maginnis was hilarious and inspiring and incredibly moving.

Anyway, we’re a mighty long way from any kind of meaningful political change. Just this morning, Democracy Now did a great job of uncovering the sordid background of Bob Gates, the replacement for the madman and war criminal Rumsfeld, and surprise surprise, Gates is another of the old Nixon-Reagan-Iran/Contra guys, one of the inner circle of crooks (like Elliot Abrams and Oliver North and Otto Reich) who were doing their nefarious deeds in the 1980s and are now back running the government again. Luckily they are amazingly incompetent and will only make things worse (which is anything BUT lucky for the people of Iraq or Nicaragua or Venezuela or anywhere else they direct their twisted attention to). Looks like a “bipartisan” group on the Senate Armed Services Committee will rush through the confirmation before the next Congress gets seated. Would it be any different in the next Congress? I seriously doubt it. There are some new faces and voices that we can hope will not be tightly controlled by the bland Mormon Harry Reid in the Senate, or the plutocratic liberal Pelosi in the House, but I’ll be surprised. The Netroots enthusiasts like Howie Klein, the gals and guys at FireDogLake, the Kos-sacks, et al, really believe these people will stand up to the war criminals and stop the barbarism. I think the newly elected class of 06 will fall in line and do as they’re told, with all eyes on getting a centrist Dem elected in 08… better than more Bush Dynasty and/or Theocracy, sure, but when are we ever going to reconfigure politics to reflect our real possibilities? Not through elections and the state, that’s for sure!

That said, it’s interesting to note that the expectations of widespread fraud (that I bought into too) that the Repugs would use to hold power didn’t materialize. I think there are a few House races still being recounted that show signs of some of the shenanigans that were expected, but nothing like the massive fraud of Ohio in 04 or Florida in 00… Greg Palast and others have done a good job of showing how the Repugs have worked overtime to suppress the vote, to disqualify legitimate voters, etc., but this election either indicates a failure of their ‘machine’ or that some truly Machiavellian power broker saw the advantage of letting the pseudo-opposition have a couple of years in control of the budget to get blamed for the mess before the next Presidential election. Who knows? But it feels a bit better to live in a fake two-party system than in an unabashed one-party state… even if they’re only two wings of the same dysfunctional beast…

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