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Category Archives: African American Politics

The Diversity Gap In American Politics Will Shock You (INFOGRAPHIC)

By Dominique Mosbergen

About 50 percent of Americans are female; 13 percent are black, 17 percent are Hispanic or Latino, and 5 percent are Asian.

Yet when you take a look at the leaders of the nation — the politicians who, representing the electorate, influence public policy and make the decisions that impact every American’s life — you’ll find that they are predominantly white and overwhelmingly male.

Only 8 percent of Congress is African American, for example. There are also only two Congresswomen for every 8 male representatives.

A new infographic by Lee & Low Books is showcasing these staggering statistics and more, highlighting the jaw-dropping diversity gap that still exists in American politics:

politics diversity

The infographic is part of Lee & Low Books’ “Diversity Gap” study series. The company, an independent children’s book publisher that specializes in diversity, has previously released infographics about the diversity gap in the Emmy Awards, the Tony Awards and thechildren’s book industry.

“The Diversity Gap studies show a distinct, societal problem that pervades entertainment, media and even our government,” a spokesman for the company told The Huffington Post Thursday. “The problems of representation, inequality, and social justice all stem from not having a seat at the proverbial table. But there are a lot of people who just don’t think there’s a problem — and you have to admit that there is a problem before you can attempt to fix it. While some would argue that we live in a ‘post racial society’ and discussions concerning race are past tense, why do the numbers look like they do?”

“Each study we do strengthens our argument that the diversity gap exists,” he added.

According to a post on Lee & Low’s blog, gerrymandering, discriminatory voter ID laws, low voter turnout rates, campaign finance rules that favor corporations and the wealthy, as well racism and sexism, are some of the major driving forces behind the government’s lack of diversity.

“Inequality in the representation of women and people of color is an entrenched societal problem,” the blog states. “The million dollar question is: Do US leaders and citizens have the will to make the necessary changes to fix government and make it an apparatus that works for all people and not just a chosen few?”

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Full text: President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union


Posted by CNN Political Unit

(CNN) – On Tuesday, President Barack Obama delivered his fourth State of the Union address, and his seventh address to a joint session of Congress. His remarks, as prepared, are after the jump.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, fellow citizens:

Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that “the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress…It is my task,” he said, “to report the State of the Union – to improve it is the task of us all.”

Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report. After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home. After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs. We buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in twenty. Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before.

Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.

But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs – but too many people still can’t find full-time employment. Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs – but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.

It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.

It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.

It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.

The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem. They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can. For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.

Our work must begin by making some basic decisions about our budget – decisions that will have a huge impact on the strength of our recovery.

Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion – mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. As a result, we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.

Now we need to finish the job. And the question is, how?

In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They’d devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. That’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as “the sequester,” are a really bad idea.

Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits.

That idea is even worse. Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population. And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms – otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.

But we can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful. We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters. Most Americans – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that’s the approach I offer tonight.

On Medicare, I’m prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs. The reforms I’m proposing go even further. We’ll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors. We’ll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn’t be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital – they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive. And I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don’t violate the guarantee of a secure retirement. Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep – but we must keep the promises we’ve already made.

To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected. After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? How is that fair? How does that promote growth?

Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit. The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring; a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can’t pay a lower rate than their hard-working secretaries; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America. That’s what tax reform can deliver. That’s what we can do together.

I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform won’t be easy. The politics will be hard for both sides. None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt our economy, and visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans. So let’s set party interests aside, and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future. And let’s do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors. The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. Let’s agree, right here, right now, to keep the people’s government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another.

Now, most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda. But let’s be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan. A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?

A year and a half ago, I put forward an American Jobs Act that independent economists said would create more than one million new jobs. I thank the last Congress for passing some of that agenda, and I urge this Congress to pass the rest. Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat – nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.

Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.

After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again.

There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns. So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America.

If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas. Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s; developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries ten times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.

After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.

The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.

Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.

America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America – a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina – has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts. I’ve seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.

Tonight, I propose a “Fix-It-First” program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Let’s prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let’s start right away.

Part of our rebuilding effort must also involve our housing sector. Today, our housing market is finally healing from the collapse of 2007. Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in six years, home purchases are up nearly 50 percent, and construction is expanding again.

But even with mortgage rates near a 50-year low, too many families with solid credit who want to buy a home are being rejected. Too many families who have never missed a payment and want to refinance are being told no. That’s holding our entire economy back, and we need to fix it. Right now, there’s a bill in this Congress that would give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by refinancing at today’s rates. Democrats and Republicans have supported it before. What are we waiting for? Take a vote, and send me that bill. Right now, overlapping regulations keep responsible young families from buying their first home. What’s holding us back? Let’s streamline the process, and help our economy grow.

These initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, and housing will help entrepreneurs and small business owners expand and create new jobs. But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs. And that has to start at the earliest possible age.

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.

Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

We need to give every American student opportunities like this. Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year. Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education. It’s a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class. But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years. But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do. Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

To grow our middle class, our citizens must have access to the education and training that today’s jobs require. But we also have to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who’s willing to work hard has the chance to get ahead.

Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants. And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.

Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.

And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

In other words, we know what needs to be done. As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts. Now let’s get this done. Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.

But we can’t stop there. We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence. Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago. I urge the House to do the same. And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.

We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.

Tonight, let’s also recognize that there are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it’s virtually impossible to get ahead. Factory towns decimated from years of plants packing up. Inescapable pockets of poverty, urban and rural, where young adults are still fighting for their first job. America is not a place where chance of birth or circumstance should decide our destiny. And that is why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.

Let’s offer incentives to companies that hire Americans who’ve got what it takes to fill that job opening, but have been out of work so long that no one will give them a chance. Let’s put people back to work rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighborhoods. And this year, my Administration will begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet. We’ll work with local leaders to target resources at public safety, education, and housing. We’ll give new tax credits to businesses that hire and invest. And we’ll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood – because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child; it’s having the courage to raise one.

Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger America. It is this kind of prosperity – broad, shared, and built on a thriving middle class – that has always been the source of our progress at home. It is also the foundation of our power and influence throughout the world.

Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda. Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women. This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.

Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.

Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self. Different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged – from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.

As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

Of course, our challenges don’t end with al Qaeda. America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons. The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations. Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.

Likewise, the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon. At the same time, we will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands – because our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead.

America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks. We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.

That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy. Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.

Even as we protect our people, we should remember that today’s world presents not only dangers, but opportunities. To boost American exports, support American jobs, and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership. And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union – because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.

We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.

Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change. I saw the power of hope last year in Rangoon – when Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed an American President into the home where she had been imprisoned for years; when thousands of Burmese lined the streets, waving American flags, including a man who said, “There is justice and law in the United States. I want our country to be like that.”

In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia. In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy. The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can – and will – insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people. We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian. And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace. These are the messages I will deliver when I travel to the Middle East next month.

All this work depends on the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in dangerous places at great personal risk – our diplomats, our intelligence officers, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. As long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world. We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending. We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight. We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat. We will keep faith with our veterans – investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned. And I want to thank my wife Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden for their continued dedication to serving our military families as well as they serve us.

But defending our freedom is not the job of our military alone. We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home. That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote. When any Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals. That’s why, tonight, I’m announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And I’m asking two long-time experts in the field, who’ve recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign, to lead it. We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy.

Of course, what I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource – our children.

It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.

Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.

Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.

We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day, usually without fanfare, all across this country. We should follow their example.

We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu Sanchez. When Hurricane Sandy plunged her hospital into darkness, her thoughts were not with how her own home was faring – they were with the twenty precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that kept them all safe.

We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor. When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours. And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say. Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her. Because Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read “I Voted.”

We should follow the example of a police officer named Brian Murphy. When a gunman opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and Brian was the first to arrive, he did not consider his own safety. He fought back until help arrived, and ordered his fellow officers to protect the safety of the Americans worshiping inside – even as he lay bleeding from twelve bullet wounds.

When asked how he did that, Brian said, “That’s just the way we’re made.”

That’s just the way we’re made.

We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title:

We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

 
 

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Martin Luther King’s dream is alive

by Kevin Powell/CNN

(CNN) — The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would hardly recognize America in 2013, the 50th anniversary year of his world-famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

The efforts of King and countless others have not only made it possible for Barack Obama to become the first black president of the United States, but also created unprecedented opportunities for the likes of Oprah Winfrey,

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and virtually anyone who had previously been given a check that has, as King put it, “come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”

I personally cannot think of MLK Day without reflecting on my life as a product of post-civil rights America: I was conceived on the coattails of that movement to a single mother, absent father, horrific poverty, and despair and fear I would not wish upon anyone.

Yet here I am, a direct beneficiary of King’s legacy. I do not take the opportunities given to me lightly.

Especially since my mother, born in South Carolina in the Jim Crow-era, has sickening memories of the racial oppression back in those days. Her family had no electricity, no indoor running water and no television.

The day that King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, my mother turned 20.

“We knew there was colored folks marching in Washington,” my mother told me. “We just did not know what for exactly.”

The what for had everything to do with democracy, freedom, voting and citizenship rights, for a group longed blocked from the doors of the American dream.

It means the only way we could ever come to “a beautiful symphony of brotherhood” that King spoke of is for each of us, no matter our background, to honor and recognize who we are, including very uncomfortable parts of our history, like slavery, which was depicted in recent films like Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” We cannot sit at the table of diversity and multiculturalism if we are not even clear what we are bringing to share.

In King’s speeches and writings in the last years of his life, he wanted people, including black people, to embrace and appreciate their culture and heritage.

But it was never an either or for him. King worked for and loved Black America, and he worked for and loved America.

From 1963 to the present, the United States has changed dramatically.

When I attended integrated schools, I remember sitting elbow to elbow with children of different races, something my mother could not have fathomed in her childhood dominated by “Whites Only” and “Coloreds Only” signs everywhere.

But the work is far from over.

I think King would be saddened that the poverty and economic disparities he fought against at the end of his life are still here.

He would be outraged by the kind of racism that routinely profiles young black and Latino males and fills our nation’s prison system with black and brown bodies.

He would be awestruck and angered by the visionless black leadership that has come to dominate black communities nationwide, more concerned with media moments and money than solutions.

He would wonder how black culture has deteriorated from Harry Belafonte, Motown and Nina Simone to Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, and reality TV shows that present utterly destructive black images.

I think he would be disheartened by the numerous wars that have occurred since Vietnam and by the fact that more than one million Americans have died by gun violence since he himself was shot and murdered in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

And moreover, he would be very outspoken about how some Americans treat immigrants, and our inability to see their plights as great civil rights issues of our time.

But, King would smile broadly, in that way he did, as we witnessed the stunning rainbow coalition of Americans who voted Barack Obama into office in 2008, as a direct extension of King’s prophetic dream.

Despite the historical significance of electing Barack Obama into the Oval Office twice, and the great victories we accomplished together as a nation in the past 50 years, King would urge us to continue his work since a lot more needs to be done.

The harsh reality is that Martin Luther King Jr. is never coming back. We have a federal holiday dedicated to him, we have the moral authority of his spoken and written words, and we have his mighty spirit hovering over our nation like an uninterrupted sheet of light.

But I sincerely believe that if we are going to live up to the extraordinary vision of King, then we must open our hearts more to each other, as sisters and brothers, as part of the human family.

We know, as he knew, that love must be a living and breathing thing. In celebration of his legacy, let’s keep in mind that service to others must become as natural to us as breathing, for the good of America and for the good of all of us.

 
 

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Bending the Arc Toward Reproductive Justice

Pro-choice rally

SOURCE: AP/Rogelio V. Solis

As we pause to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade this week, let us remember that the path we share leads to justice for all.

There has been much discussion recently regarding the usefulness of the two labels most commonly employed in the abortion debate: pro-choice and pro-life. In all of the back and forth, however, there has been little mention of a term that has become increasingly popular among a younger and more diverse generation of activists—reproductive justice—which merges social justice concerns with a traditional reproductive-rights agenda; emphasizes the right to be a parent, as well as the right not to be; and places those most marginalized in our society at the center of its analysis.

Polls have shown time and again that the pro-choice and pro-life labels do not resonate with most Americans. While a majority of Americans support legal abortion and agree with the ruling in the Supreme Court’s 40-year-old groundbreaking privacy-rights case Roe v. Wade—which recognized women’s constitutional right to abortion—many people do not identify with either label, and some others claim that both descriptors simultaneously apply to them.

As we argued when we released our report, “More than a Choice: A Progressive Vision for Reproductive Health and Rights,” in 2006, the term “choice” falls short in a number of ways—most importantly because many women do not truly have meaningful reproductive choices in our society. When a woman would rather have a child but chooses abortion because she feels she cannot afford to raise that child, is that really a choice? And when she is forced to bring a pregnancy to term against her better judgment because she has no access to an abortion provider or cannot afford an abortion, what then of her constitutional right to “choose?”

That is why we laid out a vision in our report for a holistic policy agenda that, if carried out, would result in truly meaningful reproductive choices for all Americans. A group of primarily young, grassroots, and women-of-color reproductive justice leaders helped us shape this vision, and we grounded it in basic constitutional and human-rights principles and in a broad range of progressive values: fairness, opportunity, individual liberty, and dignity.

Our report set forth four cornerstones, all of which are critical to a fully developed reproductive-rights agenda, as well as to a progressive agenda overall:

  • The ability to become a parent and to parent with dignity
  • The ability to determine whether or when to have children
  • The ability to have a healthy pregnancy
  • The ability to have healthy and safe families and relationships

This is an ambitious and sweeping agenda to be sure, yet striking progress has been made in all of these areas in the more than six years since our report was first issued. Under the Affordable Care Act, for example, maternity coverage will be guaranteed in qualified health plans starting in 2014—something that is obviously a critical component of having a healthy pregnancy and becoming a parent. In addition, the Affordable Care Actalready requires no-cost coverage of preventive services, including contraception—an incredible step forward in ensuring that everyone has the tools needed to determine whether to become a parent and when.

Indeed, passage of health reform was one of the biggest policy items that we called for in the report. That one accomplishment alone brings us much closer to realizing each of the four cornerstones.

Other recent advances include state laws that guarantee paid sick days to workers, and campaigns and business initiatives to remove the chemical Bisphenol A, more commonly known as BPA, from plastics in order to protect fertility and children’s health. Add to that the marriage equality laws that have passed in several states and the cultural shifts that enabled President Barack Obama to call for respect for gay, lesbian, and bisexual families and relationships in his second Inaugural Address earlier this week, and we have made significant progress toward a world of safer and healthier families and relationships.

This is not to overlook the serious setbacks that have also emerged in the past few years, including a terrible recession that has thrown even more families into poverty and further exacerbated economic disparities in our country—especially for women of color, who already suffer from stark economic and health disparities; new restrictions on abortion coverage in the private insurance market under the Affordable Care Act, as well as anunprecedented number of attacks on abortion at the state level, from 20-week bans to ultrasound bills; multiple challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement; and increased rates of detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, which literally tear families apart. Finally, let’s not forget Congress’s failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act simply because the bill sought to extend protections of the law to gay, Native American, and immigrant survivors of abuse.

President Obama could not have made the connections between social-justice movements—and the fates of all our rights—more clear than when, during his second inaugural speech, given on the day of observance of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, he said: “Through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” We would add the Roedecision to that list of milestones in what Rev. King called the “arc of the moral universe [that] bends toward justice.”

The fights for women’s rights, civil rights, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights, and reproductive rights are integrally related, and they are interwoven throughout the reproductive-justice movement. If we must reduce our cause to a label, then we should choose one that is truly inclusive. As we pause to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade this week, let us remember that the path we share leads to justice for all.

Jessica Arons is the Director and Shira Saperstein is a Senior Fellow with the Women’s Health and Rights program at the Center for American Progress.

 
 

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President Barack Obama takes oath in a position of strength

 

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier January 20, 2013 in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. Both Obama and Biden will be sworn in today for a second term in office. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

by Steven R. Hurst, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Battered yet still popular after a bruising first term as president, Barack Obama raises his right hand Sunday to be sworn in for another four years as the leader of an America that is, perhaps, as divided politically and socially as at any time since the U.S. Civil War more than 150 years ago.

When Obama first took office as the 44th U.S. president, many Americans hoped the symbolism of the first black man in the White House was a turning point in the country’s deeply troubled racial history. Obama vowed to moderate the partisanship that was engulfing the country, but, four years later, the nation is only more divided. While Obama convincingly won a second term, the jubilation that surrounded him four years ago is subdued this time around.

Obama guided the country through many crushing challenges after taking office in 2009: ending the Iraq war, putting the Afghan war on a course toward U.S. withdrawal and saving the collapsing economy. He won approval for a sweeping health care overhaul. Yet onerous problems remain, and his success in resolving them will define his place in history.

He faces fights with opposition Republicans over gun control, avoiding a default on the nation’s debts, cutting the spiraling federal deficit and preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon.

Obama begins his second term at noon (1700 GMT) on Jan. 20, the date and time specified by law. He will take his oath in a simple White House ceremony. On Monday, he will repeat the oath and give his inaugural speech on the steps of the U.S. Capitol before hundreds of thousands of people. He then makes the traditional journey, part of it on foot, down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Fancy dress balls, fewer than in 2009, consume the evening hours. Monday is also the holiday marking the birth of Martin Luther King, the revered civil right leader who was assassinated in 1968.

Joe Biden was sworn in for his second term as vice president shortly after 8 a.m. (1300GMT) on Sunday, taking the oath from Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor at his official residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory.

Before taking the oath himself, Obama and his family attended church services at the historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. Earlier, Obama and Biden laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.

Americans increasingly see Obama as a strong leader, someone who stands up for his beliefs and is able to get things done, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The survey shows him with a 52 percent job approval rating, among the highest rankings since early in his presidency. His personal favorability, 59 percent, has rebounded from a low of 50 percent in the 2012 campaign against Republican Mitt Romney.

Domestic issues, notably the economy and health care, dominated Obama’s first term, but there were also critical international issues that could define his next four years. Obama may have to decide whether to launch a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, something he is loath to do. Washington and its allies believe Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its program is intended for producing electricity. Obama has vowed to keep Iran from crossing the line to nuclear-armed status, but insists there is still time for diplomacy. But Israel is pressuring him to take military action sooner rather than later.

Obama will also have to deal with the civil war in Syria, Israel-Palestinian tensions, a chill in relations with Russia and a series of maritime disputes in Asia. The administration has long talked of making a “pivot” toward Asia after the U.S. has directed much of its energy to the Middle East in the past decade.

Yet the political battles at home continue to dominate Obama’s attention. He faces tough opposition from Republicans, especially from among its tea party wing — lawmakers determined to shrink government and reduce the taxes. Republicans are themselves divided between tea party loyalists adamantly opposed to compromises on taxes and spending and mainstream Republicans more open to negotiations.

A confrontation is brewing on the need for Congress to raise the limit on U.S. borrowing. Republicans now plan to avoid a fight in the short term, but they will raise the issue again before summer and will again demand steep spending cuts to reduce the government’s debt. Obama has said he won’t allow them to hold the nation’s economy hostage and will not negotiate, as he did in 2011. A failure to reach an agreement could leave the government without money to pay its debts and lead to the first-ever U.S. default or a government shutdown.

Beyond the debt-ceiling debate are other big budget fights. Looming in the coming weeks are automatic cuts to defense and domestic programs, originally scheduled for Jan. 1, unless Congress and the president act. And the U.S. budget runs dry in March, leading again to a potential shutdown unless both sides agree on new legislation.

Obama is also seeking new restrictions on guns and ammunition, a move opposed by most Republicans and the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobbying group which believes any limits would violate constitutional protections for gun owners. Obama was spurred to action by the massacre last month of 20 children and six adults at their school in Newtown, Connecticut. He has pledged to use “whatever weight this office holds” to fight for his proposals.

Among the second term’s other top-tier issues, immigration may be the one in which Obama enjoys the most leverage. That’s a dramatic change from his first term, when it was relegated to the background.

The White House is hinting at a comprehensive bill this year that would include a path toward citizenship for millions of immigrants now in the country illegally. Republicans, stung by heavy losses among Hispanic voters in the last two presidential elections, say they also want to revamp immigration laws.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

 
 

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BET Founder Pressures President to Act on Black Job Gap

Business leader says Fiscal Cliff Still Exists for Blacks
by Barry Cooper, The NorthStar News & Analysis
Last-minute legislation by Congress at year’s end helped the United States avoid a so-called “fiscal cliff,” but African-Americans remain in financial peril, according to Robert L. Johnson, chairman of The RLJ Companies and founder of Black Entertainment Television.  Johnson, in a news release intended to put pressure on President Barack Obama, cited a Dec. 14, 2012, article in the Washington Post that noted that the black unemployment rate is twice the rate of whites.

Johnson wants Obama to pass what Johnson calls “The RLJ Rule”  to accelerate the hiring of African-Americans. In his press release, Johnson wrote:

“The RLJ Rule (1) encourages companies to voluntarily implement a plan to interview a minimum of two qualified minority candidates for every job opening at the vice president level and above; and, (2) companies would interview at least two qualified minority-owned firms for vendor supplier/services contracts before awarding a new company contract to a vendor. The RLJ Rule is an adaptation of the National Football League’s (NFL) Rooney Rule , which afforded minority candidates seeking head-coaching or general manager positions within the League to be considered before a final hiring decision.”

Johnson said he met with President Obama a year ago to discuss his concerns about black unemployment. The meeting took place at the White House, Johnson said, and was attended by a number of black business owners and members of the Congressional Black Caucus. It was part of an effort to encourage Obama, as the nation’s first African-American president, to create a program that would appeal directly to black men and women.
“We as Black Americans are facing a fiscal cliff of our own in the disparity of unemployment,” Johnson said. “In my lifetime, Black unemployment has always been twice that of White Americans. This is an unjustified disparity that must not be allowed to continue unless we are willing to accept once again a nation that is economically separate and unequal.”

In his press release, Johnson cited several passages from the Washington Post story:

•   The African American jobless rate is about twice that of whites, a disparity that has barely budged since the government began tracking the data in 1972. In last week’s jobs report, the black unemployment rate was 13.2 percent, while the white rate stood at 6.8 percent.
•   Discrimination has long been seen as the primary reason for this disparity, which is evident among workers from engineers to laborers. But fresh research has led scholars to conclude that African Americans also suffer in the labor market because they have weaker social networks than other groups.
•   The racial gap in the unemployment rate defies educational attainment and occupational endeavor. African Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree had a 7.1 percent jobless rate in 2011, while the white rate was 3.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
•   Similarly, black workers with only a high school education had a jobless rate of 15.5 percent, while similarly educated white workers had an unemployment rate of 8.4 percent.
•   Black workers in computer and mathematical occupations — which job-training officials say are hard to fill — had an 8.1 percent jobless rate last year, while for whites the rate was 4.1 percent.
•   Among construction workers, who were hard hit by the recession, the black jobless rate was 30.4 percent, compared with 15.3 percent for whites.

Johnson’s push for an RLJ rule has been endorsed, Johnson says, by the Congressional Black Caucus; the National Urban League led by Marc Morial, and the U.S. Black Chamber, Inc. led by Ron Busby. Whether President Obama will act on the suggestion or support similar legislation is debatable. Since taking office, the president has adopted a “rising tide lifts all boats” approach, meaning he feels that as the country improves overall, then so will the lives of African-Americans. But Johnson and others say they will continue to press Obama to address the needs of African-Americans directly, especially on unemployment.

The end — or temporary end — of the fiscal crisis did help some blacks by keeping unemployment benefits in place for more than 2 million Americans. However, Johnson points out that permanent, well-paying jobs are more important for blacks than are unemployment benefits, which are temporary.

Johnson said in his news release: “The RLJ Rule, if embraced by all U.S. companies large and small, can point the way as President Obama noted in his 2011 remarks at Osawatomie, Kansas, that ‘In America we are greater together – when everyone engages in fair play and everybody gets a fair shot and everybody does their fair share… everyone in America gets a fair shot at success.’”

“If companies voluntarily implement the RLJ Rule they can further their commitment to reduce the employment disparity among African Americans, and in doing so, we can demonstrate the fact that talented African-Americans, if given the opportunity, can succeed at the highest levels, and we will close the employment gap between Black and White Americans.”

 

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12 Reproductive Justice and Faith Victories of 2012

Nancy PelosiSOURCE: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reflects on the Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, Thursday, June 28, 2012. By allowing women to make decisions based on their conscience on key matters of family and health, the act was a monumental victory for both women’s health and religious liberty.

Rhetorical and legislative attacks this year on women’s health and reproductive rights—known as the war on women—have had real and dire effects on women and their families. These attacks have been waged across the country, whether through attempts to restrict women’s access to contraception or cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, through numerous state restrictions on abortion such as state-mandated, medically unnecessary ultrasounds and abortion waiting periods, or through prohibiting insurance companies from including abortion coverage in their policies. Despite these challenges and setbacks, women and health advocates have made their voices heard, fighting hard to protect their health and their rights. Here are 12 victories faith leaders have helped win in the fight for reproductive justice for all.

1. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, women have access to contraception at no cost, enabling them to make important decisions about becoming a parent according to their conscience. On August 1 a provision of the Affordable Care Act went into effect that requires women to have access to a range of preventive health services at no cost. All health care plans are now required to include annual well-woman visits; screenings for gestational diabetes and HIV; testing for the human papillomavirus, or HPV; and breastfeeding support, among other services. The new law also requires coverage for all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods and family planning counseling for women. It includes a religious exemption for houses of worship and related institutions that morally object to contraception, and it makes provisions for religiously affiliated institutions with similar objections by offering contraceptive coverage directly from the insurer. By allowing women to make decisions based on their conscience on key matters of family and health, the Affordable Care Act was a monumental victory for both women’s health and religious liberty.

2. Religious leaders and denominations defend their support for family planning. Although religious women and men have long supported and used contraceptive services in the United States, the onslaught of attacks from conservative politicians and leaders spurred many religious leaders to stand up and defend contraception as a moral choice. Leaders of national Christian, Jewish, and Muslim organizations released a public statement that affirmed the importance of access to contraception and their support for the Affordable Care Act provision. A coalition of evangelicals also voiced their support for contraception in a 15-page document that defended family planning on religious grounds and as important to the health of mothers and children. Polls show that almost all of America’s major religious denominations support contraception. Additionally, anoverwhelming majority of sexually active religious women who do not want to become pregnant are using a contraceptive method. Eighty-eight percent of evangelicals support contraception, as do 82 percent of Catholics.

3. Several states have moved away from abstinence-only programs toward more comprehensive sex education. As Mississippi struggles with the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation, nearly half of the state’s school districts are taking advantage of a measure that went into effect this year. The measure allows districts to adopt “abstinence-plus” education that will add mention of some forms of contraception to the curriculum. In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) vetoed an abstinence-only bill that would have made all sex education classes “opt-in” instead of “opt-out” and that would have prohibited any discussions of contraception or homosexuality. Passing such a law would have made Utah the first state to specifically ban instruction about contraception. More than 40,000 individuals signed a petition urging Gov. Herbert’s veto of the bill, and 58 percent of poll respondents supported the teaching of contraception.

4. The Unitarian Universalist Association made reproductive justice a denominational priority. At this year’s national conference, the Unitarian Universalist Association voted to make reproductive justice their next issue for congregational action and study. Over the next four years, Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country will study, reflect on, and act on issues of reproductive justice. The church has already produced in-depth study and reflection materials on the issue.

5. The global United Methodist Church voted to support maternal health in the United States and around the world. At their convention this year, the denomination’s representatives voted to support a petition outlining the church’s role in reducing maternal and infant mortality and lowering health and cultural barriers to health services for women. The petition also called on congregations to support international and local health initiatives that provide information and services for women’s health and to urge policymakers to increase access to maternal health and family planning services.

6. Faith Aloud, a religious counseling organization, organized a prayer campaign to support women. In response to the barrage of verbal and legislative attacks against women, Faith Aloud created a 40 Days of Prayer to Stop the War on Women campaign, which called for women to be treated with respect and dignity and for compassionate religious voices to be advocates for women. Faith Aloud provides spiritual support to persons making reproductive decisions.

7. Congress worked to ensure that women in uniform receive the same insurance coverage as the civilians they protect. This year the Senate unanimously passed a National Defense authorization bill, including the Shaheen Amendment, which would allow the military’s health insurance plan to cover the cost of abortion for servicewomen and military dependents who are survivors of rape and incest. Women’s health advocates, faith communities, and dozens of military leaders, including former Secretary of State and retired Gen. Colin Powell, urged Congress to support abortion coverage for servicewomen in these cases and put the Department of Defense rules in line with other federal policies.

Reproductive health also achieved a number of victories in the 2012 elections:

8. Attempts to pass so-called personhood laws failed in all 11 states in which these laws were proposed. Health professionals, women, religious communities, and reproductive justice advocates stood up tooppose radical laws that would define personhood from the moment of fertilization and ban abortions in all circumstances. If they had passed, these laws could have also banned in-vitro fertilization and certain methods of birth control. Efforts to enact personhood laws through state legislatures or ballot initiatives failed in Arkansas,ColoradoCaliforniaFloridaKansasMontanaNevadaOhioOklahomaOregon, and Virginia. The legislation in Kansas didn’t even make it out of committee, and signature drives in states with ballot initiatives sometimes received fewer than half the signatures required.

9. Faith leaders publicly condemned politicians’ extremist views on rape. From Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) suggestion that women could not get pregnant from “legitimate rape” to Rep. Richard Mourdock’s (R-IN) statement that children conceived in rape were what “God intended,” candidates’ extremist views on abortion gained attention during the election season. Faith leaders spoke out against these inaccurate and cruel views, calling for compassion, care, and understanding for women facing difficult decisions—especially when they are victims of sexual assault. Ultimately, voters decided that Rep. Akin, Rep. Mourdock, and other like-minded candidates who voiced their radical theology on rape were simply too extreme, and they were defeated at the polls.

10. Voters in Florida rejected an extreme ballot measure that would have restricted a woman’s access to health care. Amendment 6 would have denied insurance coverage for abortion services and removed from the state constitution a woman’s right to reproductive “privacy,” thus weakening the state court’s ability to block potential abortion restrictions such as mandatory ultrasound laws or gestational bans on abortion. This would have paved the way for a full ban on abortion if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned in the future. More than 100 clergy joined women’s health professionals and advocates in opposition to the “unnecessary and dangerous” amendment and instead called for laws that ensure access to health care and respect women’s decision making about their own health. Amendment 6 failed to receive 60 percent of the vote.

11. Women made their voices heard in the 2012 elections regarding health and reproductive issues.Women constituted a majority of voters in this year’s elections, and 55 percent of them voted for President Barack Obama, who openly campaigned as a pro-choice and health care reform leader. According to official 2012 exit polls, President Obama had a 10-point lead among women voters. Additionally, a Planned Parenthood postelection survey found strong support for the organization’s work, with 66 percent of voters disagreeing with candidate Romney’s proposal to end funding for Planned Parenthood.

12. The voices of faith-based groups were stronger than ever in speaking out for women’s reproductive health. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice worked nationally and in several states to connect faith, family, and reproductive rights. Catholics for Choice continued to be a strong defender of women’s reproductive health and rights, setting forth pro-Catholic and pro-women’s health arguments and pushing back against conservative Catholic leaders who claimed to be speaking for the entire church. The Religious Institute worked to educate clergy and the public about faith and sexuality, offering strong religious and moral arguments in its public campaigns around family planning, gay and transgender inclusion, domestic violence, and more. And the National Council of Jewish Women was a strong defender of women’s reproductive rights and was a co-founder—with Catholics for Choice—of the Coalition for Liberty and Justice, a group that defends religious liberty and reproductive health.

The Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute at the Center for American Progress has strengthened and raised the visibility of faith voices for reproductive justice. From testifying before state legislators to writing, speaking, and collaborating with others, our leaders are providing an alternative narrative to reproductive rights that emphasizes justice, conscience, and faith.

These leaders will continue to work with other people of faith in the new year to ensure that reproductive justice victories are championed and that we continue to advocate for women’s reproductive health and justice in 2013 and beyond.

Eleni Towns is a Research Assistant with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. For more on this initiative, please see its project page.

 

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