Women Leaders Hold Press Conference on the Presidential Election

Washington – Top leaders from women’s rights groups gathered to announce their support of the Barack Obama – Joe Biden ticket at an emotionally charged press conference on Tuesday, September 16th. Qualifying that it was an unusual move for her organization to make an endorsement, Kim Gandy, chair of the NOW PAC (National Organization for Women Political Action Committee) stated, “This is an unprecedented candidate and an unprecedented time for our country.”

Gandy, who has spoken at length with Obama about his “commitment to women’s equality,” went on to present what she characterized as Obama’s record of saying “yes” to women’s rights. She focused on four primary categories: pay equity, reproductive rights, violence against women, and the Supreme Court.

Obama is a co-sponsor of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act – legislation designed to end wage discrimination against women. He has made it clear that he not only supports Roe v. Wade, but would also oppose any efforts to overturn it. Understanding that a component of the total picture is the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, Obama signed on as a co-sponsor of The Prevention First Act, which would strengthen access to contraception and reproductive health care.

Obama backs the continued reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (Joe Biden – Chief Sponsor). He stands behind the Security and Financial Empowerment Act (SAFE) – which would provide medical, legal, and financial support to domestic violence victims. Obama has opposed George Bush’s selection of candidates for the Supreme Court, who have espoused an “anti-choice” agenda.

Gandy completed her opening remarks referencing NOW’s support of Hillary Clinton in the primary, and said, “We proudly stand with her [Clinton] to support Barack Obama and our longtime friend and ally, Joe Biden.”

The Feminist Majority PAC chair, Eleanor Smeal, took her turn at the podium. “Hundreds of women’s groups are coming out,” she said. “McCain has a 26 year record of voting against women’s rights.” As an example, she pointed to a $214 million breast cancer research-funding bill that McCain had voted against. Smeal reiterated that Obama and Biden wanted to expand opportunities for women, which would close the pay gap. “This is a ticket that we know. They are standing on the strongest platform.”

Betsy Clark, Executive Director of NASW-PACE, which has 150,000 social worker members (81% are women), spoke about the “strength and power of women in this country.” Talking about her profession (600,000 practitioners nationwide) she explained, “We advocate; we promote social justice; we are committed to supporting children and families.” There are 13 million children who live below the poverty line, and Clark characterized Obama and Biden as those who “will do the most” for them. She ended her comments with, “The best hope for America is Barack Obama.”

CEO of Business and Professional Women/PAC Deborah Frett discussed her personal meetings with Obama and observed, “The return of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) to the Democratic Platform wouldn’t be there without Barack Obama’s support.” Having contacted both candidates with questions about their positions — including expanding sick leave, flexible work hours, and equity for women in the workplace — Frett mentioned that there had been no response from McCain. Another area of concern for Frett came out of her organization’s research on women veterans (numbering 200 million), which exposed their specific needs. She stressed Barack Obama’s election as essential for working women. “We need to ensure that our voices are heard loud and clear.”

Injecting a bit of humor into the proceedings, E. Faye Williams, National Chair of the National Congress of Black Women, said, “We know the difference between a zero and a hero.” “Obama,” she said, “is willing to listen to us. He has met with us, and he will support equal pay for equal work.” Emphatic about her vision for women she asserted, “We women — we stand ready, willing, and able to turn this country right side up again.”

Inevitably, during the Q & A, inquiries were posed about the latest polls and the Sarah Palin factor. Gandy replied that “polls will shift” when people find out more about Palin’s record. On an ironic note, Gandy opined, “I love it that the Republicans have discovered sexism. Before that…it was whining.” For her, the key to supporting Obama-Biden is that “they both stand up for women.”

Smeal spoke about “where people stand on issues, not gender.” Directly addressing the Palin query she maintained, “We are not against a women being on a ticket. Her [Palin] personal positions are extremely negative.” Discussing the top of the ticket, Smeal said, “Naral and Planned Parenthood gave zero to McCain on his voting record.”

There was definitely an air of urgency in the proffered comments. Smeal admitted, “We are worried to death,” alluding to the possibility of “losing the Supreme Court.” With an air of finality she concluded, “If you care about the rights of women, there is only one place to stand.”

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