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…to make Illinois the safest state for women and girls?

That’s the question that the Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW) is going to be asking all year long with their What Will It Take? campaign. Thanks to a hefty grant from good ol‘ G-Rod, CFW has $2 million to spend to help ask that question. They kicked off their initiative on March 8th (International Women’s Day in every country but the US) and have been going strong ever since, already having hosted seven town hall meetings around the state (including places like Champaign, Macomb, and the south side of Chicago) and doling out $1 million in grants to organizations helping ask and answer the question, “What will it take?”

There are many amazing things about this campaign, and I’d like to go through just a few of them. First of all, the idea of having an initiative that asks a question instead of giving an answer is amazing. They’re stimulating dialogue throughout the state and really trying to get as much input as possible to answer that question. They hope to reach 4 million people by the end of the campaign, and with such a rigorous schedule, I’m confident they will. They launched an intense ad campaign, putting posters on public transportation, producing PSAs for both the radio and television, and taking out full-page ads in many of Chicago’s print media. They’re getting in our faces about it because it seems like such a silent question- everybody’s complaining about it, but nobody’s facing up to the fact that the answer to that question is us. We are what it will take to make Illinois the safest state for women and girls, and we are what will make this world safer for women and girls. We just need to own up to it.

Another amazing aspect of this initiative is that they have an entire Men’s Initative included in it. CFW feels that men have not really been considered allies in the fight against gender-based violence, and they’re right. We are such a victim-blaming society (What was she wearing? Was she drunk? Was she leading him on? Did she deserve it?), that the perpetrators, who are mostly men, are never considered. So, CFW wants to change that by taking the question to men and boys as well. They’re asking men what will it take, and they’re reaching out to boys to show them early on that gender-based violence is unacceptable. By reaching them earlier, it helps instill the message before they are bombarded by mainstream media and other forms of influence in this society.

I attended one of their town hall meetings the other night and was so impressed with the program. There were multiple performance artists there to speak about different issues in women’s lives, such as body image, sexual assault, prostitution, and even men’s views of women’s issues. They then opened the floor up to everyone in the audience to voice their own concerns and comments about the issues in their lives regarding women’s rights. It was great to hear so many men and women talk about what they see the biggest concern is in the fight for women’s rights and to hear the different challenges and hopes that exist.

As Hannah Rosenthal, the fabulous executive director for Chicago Foundation for Women said, “Asking a question begs an answer.” So, please check out the website for What Will It Take? . Attend a town hall, attend their events, give them your ideas and comments, get involved. Let’s all start asking the question; to ourselves, to our friends, our family, our coworkers, strangers on the street, everyone around us. Let’s start shouting the questions, screaming the question, until we start coming up with answers and actions that will help make Illinois the safest state in the country for women and girls. Because once we do that, the next step is the country, then the world.

Two steps forward:

This past February, Illinois General Assembly Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the only openly gay and HIV-positive representative in the Assembly, introduced the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act. This would make civil unions legal in Illinois. This is a pretty freakin‘ big deal. It would make Illinois the first state in the Midwest to have such a law, and it’s very, very close to taking it’s first giant step towards becoming a reality here. I spent this past Wednesday in Springfield lobbying with Equality Illinois for this cause. Lobbying is a really interesting process. Basically, when the representatives are in session and on the floor, you have to go to a roped-off door that leads to the floor. You then hand your business card with your rep’s name on it to the security guard there, who gives it to a page, who gives it to the rep on the floor. If the rep is able, he/she comes out to speak with his/her constituent. Sounds like a very calm, regulated process, right? It would be, if there weren’t at least ten other groups trying to lobby for different bills. It’s pretty much a madhouse with people pushing against each other in a small space, shoving their cards in front of them so someone can pass it on to the security guard.

While my rock star representative is already a co-sponsor of the bill, I decided to visit the white Republican land of Lake County representatives. I tried to speak with the representatives where both sets of my parents live as well as the representative from where I grew up. Unfortunately, I was only able to get one representative, Sid Mathias (R-Arlington Heights) to come out and speak with me. I tried to explain to him how important this bill was, and he told me that he hadn’t made his decision one way or another about the matter and that he was waiting for the debates and keeping an open mind. His tone of voice and demeanor gave me the impression that he’s already decided to vote against the bill, but you never know.

So what happens next? We’ve been told that we only need about 12 more strong supporters before they feel comfortable to call a vote to this bill, which will probably happen in the end of May. Next, it goes to the Senate to be voted on some time in November. Once it passes through the Senate, Governor Rod Blagojevich will sign it into law. And that’s it, folks. Civil Unions in Illinois for Christmas.

Want to help? Check out Equality Illinois and sign up for their updates. They’re the ones with their fingers on the pulse of this issue and will let everyone know as soon as they know who we need to lobby again, when a vote will happen, and other ways to help. This is a huge deal. Please, try and do your part to be a part of Illinois and Midwest history.

Two steps back:

Just one day before we were lobbying for civil unions in Illinois, another bill was being debated on the floor, introduced by the aforementioned rock star representative of mine, Sara Feigenholtz (with help from the ACLU). This bill, called the Vital Records Act would have made easier for people to change the gender on their birth certificate after undergoing a sex change. Currently, Illinois law allows this to happen if the person presents an affidavit from the doctor who performed the procedure. This process, however, does not recognize affidavits from foreign doctors. This bill would have allowed US doctors to examine those interested and sign an affidavit affirming that they’d undergone a permanent sex change through surgery or hormone treatments. The bill failed by a vote of 32-78.

But wait, there’s more. Three particular representatives, two Republicans and one Chicago Democrat (!!!), completely demeaned the bill and those it was supporting by saying outrageous comments on the floor, in public view. Here’s a little snapshot of the incredibly asinine and insensitive things they said (taken from the Chicago Tribune article linked above):

Rep. Bill Black, a Danville Republican, said he objects to recognizing non-surgical sex changes. “Maybe you went somewhere and a voodoo doctor said you were now a man, where you had been a woman,” Black said. “I’ve often thought that perhaps I was a female trapped in a male body. I know — it scares me, too,” he said to hoots from his colleagues. “I wish I didn’t have to shave every day. … I’d like to smell better. I’d like to have softer skin.”

The legislation came up shortly after a debate about neutering deer to control their population. Mahomet Republican Rep. Chapin Rose, joked that the state might start issuing sex-change documents to deer. He complained about spending time on the issue when bigger problems, such as electricity prices, remain unresolved. “How do you possibly — possibly — bring this forward when there’s so much this body needs to be considering?” Rose asked Feigenholtz.

Rep. Art Turner, a Chicago Democrat, was presiding over the chamber during the debate and switched to a falsetto voice to ask, “Have all voted who wish?” Turner voted for the measure and said he didn’t mean to offend anyone.

Seriously, these guys run our state? This is absolutely unacceptable. If you live in Illinois, please write your representative and tell them how you won’t stand for this kind of insensitivity and bigotry. Here’s a sample text you can use:

Dear Representative __________:

The behavior that took place during the discussion of HB1732 is beyond disgusting and has no place in our House of Representatives. Rep. Bill Black (R-Danville) , Rep. Chapin Rose (R-Mohamet), and Rep. Art Turner (D-Chicago) should be censored for their comments and actions.

It is this kind of hurtful language that dehumanizes people and perpetuates and legitimizes a culture of hate. Please let your “colleagues” know that people in your district are appalled. Did they not learn anything during the Imus incident?

Please if this ever happens again have the courage to stand up and stop it — rules or no rules.

Sincerely,
(Your name here)

These people are in place because we made it so. They have an obligation to listen to us. They’re not going to hear us if we don’t speak up. Please do your part.

For those of you in the Chicago area, you may or may not know about Women and Children First. It’s one of the world’s largest feminist bookstores, and it’s located right here in Chicago, in the heart of Andersonville. This book store is absolutely amazing: the owners and staff are incredibly helpful and always willing to give suggestions. They host a number of different monthly book clubs, including an Inter-generational Feminist Book Club, A Teen Feminist Book Club, and a Religious Feminist Book Club. They host readings from well-known authors, both local and national, and Eve Ensler, my absolute idol and the founder of the V-Day movement and the Vagina Monologues, has spoken there multiple times. They are true supporters of Chicago non-profits. Every month, they sponsor a different non-profit that affects women’s lives and not only set up a display of information about that organization, but they also donate 10% of their profits from that month to them.

But, as many of you may or may not know, local bookstores are in a total crisis right now. Due to super bookstore conglomerates like Barnes and Noble, Borders and Amazon.com, people have forgotten about their local bookstores, which were there, providing books loooooong before Barnes and Noble or Borders ever set up shop (Hey, wasn’t there a movie about this?)

Here’s an excerpt from an article in the amazing Windy City Times:

“People don’t know perhaps the breadth of our stock. They may well find things that they don’t expect to,” said co-owner Ann Christophersen. “Our identity has shifted a bit since moving to Andersonville. We still are a specialty—a feminist store. We carry a lot of books by and about women in a depth and breadth that you just won’t find at other general bookstores. But, since moving to this location, we’re functioning more as a neighborhood bookstore and Women & Children First doesn’t quite capture that fact. It just shows our focus, but not our entire store.”

Underscoring that statement is the fact that the store’s customer base is about 40 percent men. W&CF has a diverse stock of books, including some sports titles that, no doubt, would appeal to male consumers. W&CF also has a deep selection of contemporary politics and loads of fiction titles.“We certainly have a lot of male customers these days. Heck, there are times when there are only male [ customers ] in the store, and that wasn’t the case in the early days,” Christophersen said. “Our male customer-base has risen significantly over the years because we carry a very diverse selection of books.”

The staff at W&CF includes two full-timers, including Bubon, as well as six part-timers. The staff is knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. One thing that has affected independent bookstores over the past few years is a decline in sales—and W&CF is no exception. “At the end of the 1990s, we were at a good place [ financially ] ,” Bubon said. “We maintained [ that level ] for the first few years [ of the 2000s ] , but the last three years have been a downward trend in sales.” One factor hurting sales at W&CF is competition, of course. Borders Books & Music, for instance, has four locations—all within four miles of W&CF. The Internet is also a significant factor because it’s made book-shopping simple and cheaper, especially for those who know exactly what they want. “It’s extremely hard to compete with [ the Internet ] ,” Bubon said.

W&CF was one of the first Chicago-area bookstores to sell online, and it still does.“We’re working as smartly and operating as smartly as, frankly, we know how to,” Christophersen said. “We have done everything we can think of to cut our operating costs, including my salary.” Things have gotten so bad at W&CF that both confirm the store must now plan month-to-month, not long-term. And the possibility that W&CF might close before the end of the summer is very real, they confirmed. “What it ultimately comes down to is: whether people in the community, and the city as a whole, decide it matters enough that we exist and then make their shopping decisions based on that,” Christophersen said. “We want people’s support, and we need it now. By that we mean, that they buy their books here. “What we offer that none of the Internet sites offer is: an actual place where people can look at books they may be interested in, see other people, and hear book suggestions.”

Here are some helpful tips from one of the owners on how to save this store:

1. Choose to shop at our store. Besides great books, we also carry a hand-picked selection of new release independent music by women, jewelry, buttons and bumper stickers, all the cool magazines, and a children’s section we are famous for.

2. Talk us up to your friends, or, better yet, bring them in.

3. When you attend free programs at our store, please buy a book! This not only supports our programming endeavors, it also supports the writer and tells the publisher that it is worthwhile to send their authors to us.

4. Sign up on our website for our free e-newsletter to keep up to date with what’s happening at the store: www.womenandchildrenfirst.com

5. Be our MySpace friend and subscribe to our MySpace blog for same reason as above.

6. Become a bookstore member. Annual membership costs $25 and gets you 10% off of all your book purchases, plus inclusion in the annual member’s-only sale and a free subscription to More Books For Women(a $35 value!), a monthly round-up of recommendations from feminist bookstores around the country. Keep up with the latest new releases!

7. Show your love: put us in your top “My Space” friends.

8. If you are in a position to do corporate gift giving, consider our “Books by the Box” program. We offer direct to business delivery and substantial discounts on 20 or more copies of a single book.

9. Support the Women’s Voices Fund, our not-for-profit programming arm, which helps sustain our active free programming schedule. Donations of over $50 are tax deductible when made out the the Crossroads Foundation (they manage the Women’s Voices Fund). This also helps insure the future and diversity of feminist programming in Chicago!

10. We can offer bulk discounts to libraries, social service organizations, schools, and more. If you have a bulk book order to place, come to us first.

11. Tell us what we need to do to be your dream bookstore. If there is anyway that we can serve you better, let us know. Your opinion matters to us. Our ability to meet your needs is essential right now to our survival. Help us make that happen!

12. For birthdays and holidays tell your friends and family that you want a Women & Children First Gift Card!

13. Repost this with your own testimonies, and share this info with your friends, colleagues, classmates, and strangers on the street.

My life in Chicago would be drastically different if it weren’t for Women and Children First. This is just as much a local business and sustainability issue as it is a feminist issue. Please, try and help a struggling star stay burning bright admist the vast array of shiny, cold corporate supernovas.

First of all, thanks to Robby for showing me this article in the most recent issue of Mother Jones:

The Gay Marriage Stimulus Package
Cameron Scott March 01 , 2007

Gay marriage is usually cast as an issue of human rights (for supporters) or immorality (for opponents), but what about fiscal responsibility? Herewith, some of the annual economic benefits of legalizing gay marriage:

  • Same-sex couples marry and move into a higher tax bracket, boosting federal taxes by: $400 to $700 million
  • Newly formed gay households move up in income and are cut from programs such as Medicaid, resulting in savings of: $50 to $200 million
  • Uninsured gays and lesbians, whose health care costs are now paid by the government, join their spouses’ insurance plans. If a third do so, federal costs drop by: $190 million
  • If half the same-sex couples now living together get married (the rate seen in Vermont and Massachusetts) and spend a quarter of what straight couples do, it results in a wedding-industry boon of: $2 billion
  • TOTAL: Up to $3.1 billion

Sources: Congressional Budget Office, Williams Institute

Who thinks that will help convince Congress? Anyone? Funnily enough, these stats were developed using information from the Congressional Budget Office, meaning that those folks up there on the hill have access to it pretty easily. I wonder why it hasn’t come up at all?

In more local news, I’ll be down in Springfield next week with Equality Illinois lobbying for the passage of the Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act, which would extend legal recognition and many benefits of civil marriage to same sex couples. The fact that it made it his far in the Illinois government is pretty exciting. Check out the Equality Illinois site to see what you can do to help.

I was walking down Madison St. the other day on my way to work from the train station, just minding my own business and letting the cold city weather wake me up, when, after crossing over the river, I found myself face-to-face with a 6-ft. tall anti-abortion sign. It was an enormous poster of a dead fetus next to a ruler with the words ABORTION written across the top. I look another five feet down the street and see another sign, and then another, and another, every five feet going down Madison. Some of the protesters had pamphlets that they were handing out to passers-by, but most just stood their defiantly with their signs. Not something I really want to be seeing at 8:00 am on my way to work.

Now, I respect every American’s right to protest and understand that there are many others in the world that don’t have such a right. I’ve been a part of a few myself, and hope to be part of many more in the future. I even respect the rights of those whose opinions I disagree with 1000%, such as the group mentioned above. That’s not what this post is about. As I turned the corner off of Madison, I passed a pile of the abortion signs all on the sidewalk, waiting to be picked up by more protesters. On top of this pile of signs was a boy who couldn’t have been older than eight or nine years old. Sitting on top of pile of 6-ft. signs with aborted babies on them. This is what I found to be extremely inappropriate. First of all, it was a pretty chilly morning, so this kid couldn’t have been very happy. Second of all, he’s just a kid!! Thank goodness he was sitting on a pile of graphic pictures of aborted babies rather than listening to rap music or watching The Sopranos.

I’m all about parents educating their children about the ways of the world, but I think there’s a tactfulness to it that obviously the parent of this child was missing. Let them grow and develop their own views instead of forcing them into a very controversial issue that they won’t understand for years. I love my parents and am unbelievably grateful that they tried their hardest not to force their values on me and instead let me be influenced by them in my own way. While we have our disagreements and differences of opinion, there is always a respect that I believe was fostered when they let me figure things out on my own. If this kid is getting this kind of rhetoric shoved down his throat at age nine, is it really going to help their cause, or just push him to the “other side”?

What Is This Girl Talking About??