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Commentary by Jane Midgley

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Commentary by Jane Midgley
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Jane Midgley

Joined: 28 Sep 2006
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Since my book Women and the US Budget came out almost a year ago, I have had a chance to speak to in-person and radio audiences across the country. My overall conclusion from this experience is that there is a tremendous interest in anything that touches on “women and money.” The source of this interest really varies depending on gender, class, race, etc. Despite the rhetoric from the right that women have made it economically and at the expense of men, the vast majority of people know that many women are one paycheck away from poverty – especially those supporting children on their own – and that basic human needs such as adequate housing and comprehensive health care are prohibitive for millions of Americans.

One angry man who called into a radio show in Philadelphia said “women get all the money in the federal budget” and went on to say he hated social security because it gives “a bad return on investment.” This pointed to how important it is to make the budget transparent so that people can see the fullness and complexity of it. Everyone contributes to and benefits from the budget, but class and race are big determinants to who “gets” what in the end. As imperfect a program as it is, Social Security gives us the best return any society could want: millions of the elderly who worked hard but may not have had a pension or retirement savings– primarily women – have been able to survive in their later years.

The need for understanding and organizing around budget and economic issues has never been greater. The moves toward privatization, destroying the public tax base, and cuts to vital programs for women and children such as Medicaid, make the stakes very high. The good news is that a lot of creative initiatives are happening in the US and around the world, including those led by women to establish basic human rights for women and all people as a basis for budget and economic policies.
Thu Sep 28, 2006 8:59 am View user's profile Send private message
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Joined: 31 Dec 1969
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In mid October I had the honor of being the first speaker for the newly created Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research at the University of Louisville. The Institute director is Catherine Fosl who was a friend and colleague of Anne’s and the author of her biography Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South. She also worked for the WILPF Legislative Office in the 1980s and is the author of Women for All Seasons: The Story of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. For those of you who don’t know, Anne Braden was one of the few whites ever to devote their entire lives to ending white supremacy and was founder and organizer for many anti-racist organizations in Kentucky and the south.

The reason I am raising this in the context of the book read is that I spoke to the interracial audience about how we might re-conceptualize the national budget to include things like reparations for slavery, and for the stealing of native lands. Although not the only aspect of the healing that needs to happen in this country, making investments in communities that were forced to provide the foundation of the wealth of the United States could be one important step. We know over $100 billion is owed to Native Americans whose land was supposed to be held in trust by the US government, so that is a good place to start. One hundred billion is really nothing in the context of the huge yearly budgets we have now.

One of the reasons I like to use the concept of abundance is so that when we think about Creating the Future we can have some breathing space to consider how we might define, collect, use and account for our common resources. I believe that we might have a very different take on what are “contributions” and “investments.” Most women have been forced to give their unpaid labor in myriad ways, and have been forced to work in low wage jobs. This is a deliberate structure to insure the continuation of the status quo wealth distribution. How do we want to address this injustice, and in a way that doesn’t devalue the contributions women provide? And how do we address it in a way that provides equity for all people. These are questions that obviously have a bigger scope than the budget but the budget is a tool for making it real, and a crucial arena for the struggle. I think the success of the participatory budgets in Brazil is so inspiring because it combines the necessary elements of taking charge of the use of common resources and the democratic mechanism to make it fair. One of the key reasons this has been able to unfold in Brazil is because of the huge success of the Worker’s Party. We are in such a quandary here because of our two party system that actually suppresses democratic participation.

Jane Midgley
Sat Oct 28, 2006 3:54 pm View user's profile Send private message
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