Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Save money. Take away rights. Walmart.

I have had many life-changing experiences throughout my short 23 years. Meeting the Rev. Rebecca Turner in 2009 was one of those days - Faith Aloud helped me to realize that I don't have to compromise my beliefs. Living for three months in a developing Latin American country was another eye-opener. Ranking among my life-defining moments was meeting Betty Dukes. Unless you've lived under a rock for the past 10 years, her name should ring a bell. She is the named plaintiff in the landmark case, *Dukes v. Walmart*, originally a race discrimination suit but was expanded to include the 1.5 million female Walmart employees and former employees who were passed up on wage increases and job promotions, which were given to male counterparts. Ms. Dukes claimed that Walmart Stores, Inc., violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with its clear and obvious bias against women.

Betty Dukes is the Rosa Parks of our generation, and is exactly the kick in the pants that our country needs. A humble, working-class woman from California, Ms. Dukes was scraping by off the multi-billion dollar megacorporation's meager minimum wage salary. She loved her job, and performed well. There were no legitimate cited reasons from the defendant Walmart that would indicate why Ms. Dukes would not receive a promotion or pay raise. But she didn't. So she fought back

And that woman fought hard. Ms. Dukes made connections with Equal Rights Advocates to represent her, won at trial court level, at the appellate level, and so on- then took her case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Until Walmart reared its ugly, discriminating head and made Ms. Dukes' case into something so far off-base from its original claim. Walmart said that Betty Dukes' case violated the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and its guidelines on class action suits.

Never mind that she was making minimum wage while the Walton family squandered its wealth. Forget that she was denied job promotions, pay increases, and project assignments. And ignore the fact that Walmart uses sweatshops, undercuts competitors, destroys jobs (and lives), and violates EPA and labor guidelines. Instead of owning up to the fact that the Arkansas-based mega-corporation violated multiple federal laws, Walmart's lawyers turn the tables in true lawyer fashion and make the issue about something that has absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand.

The turned-around, newly-dubbed "Walmart v. Dukes" redefined that federal standards for class-action suits, making it harder for the middle-class worker to file suit against his mega-employer.

And the four conservative, anti-women, anti-labor, anti-rights judges agreed with Walmart, and somehow got Kennedy to agree with them.

If you're not fired up yet, you're not paying attention. Your purchase at Walmart has cost a qualified woman a pay raise, a job promotion, and so on. Those bananas that cost you $0.89 just cost a woman her ability to feed her children. You could have spent $1 at a farmer's market or local grocer. Is someone's rights worth the $0.11 deficit? That's what you do, that's how your Walmart purchases, are helping to bring America down.

I love my country. I truly, honestly do. But our nickel-and-diming to save a few bucks at Walmart and other mega-retailers have cost us dearly. I've heard from many conservative friends and family members that "ObamaCare" is cutting jobs. Well guess what. Increasing national healthcare coverage doesn't kill jobs; your shopping at Walmart does.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Coming out of the Pro-Choice Closet

Last weekend, Chelsea and I packed our purses full of Faith Aloud merchandise and excitedly headed to the 24th annual Equality Day Brunch at the Crown Plaza Hotel. There we munched and mingled with our fellow feminists while we heard rousing speeches from the incredible women who have worked tirelessly to protect our rights. We had the very special opportunity to hear an inspiring speech from Betty Dukes, the woman who sued Walmart, the largest private employer in the world, in the largest class action lawsuit in America's history. Dukes, like the 1.5 million female Walmart employees she is representing, had been denied raises and equal opportunity to promotions simply because she is a woman. Unfortunately, in a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court voted in favor of Walmart, but Betty reminded us that the fight is not over. Only someone like Betty can turn a loss into a source of drive and inspiration.

In a strike of fortune, we got the opportunity to talk to Betty Dukes herself. I felt humbled and awed at the prospect of meeting the woman who dared to take on Walmart. Betty is sweet, charming, and feisty (a winning personality trio I've noticed in many of the self-proclaimed feminists I work with). She grasped my hand affectionately and said, "It's so good to see some young people here." She looked around the room and laughed, "So where are all your friends? Where are all the rest of the young people?" She had a point; of the 200 people at the event, Chelsea and I were the youngest by at least 20 years. Although Betty's comment was only meant as a good-natured jab at the aging status of her cohorts, this simple question has been nagging me ever since. Seriously, where are all the young people? Hearing all those amazing women talk about fighting tooth and nail to get the privileges I take for granted made me wonder, what has happened to the women's movement? As I have learned from working at Faith Aloud, there is a wonderful network of pro-choice organizations that work their butts off. But where are the average, everyday pro-choice people?

NARAL's poll from 2010 reports that 59% of young people identify as pro-choice (8 points higher than the average for all ages). Yet why don't I feel like I'm part of the majority on this issue?

Pro-choicers tend to be quiet. Since we support a view that a woman should be trusted to make her own reproductive choices and do what is best for herself and her family, it makes sense that we'd take a laid back approach. We're not standing on street corners shouting at passersby or wielding signs that say, "Women better be able to exercise their reproductive freedom, or else!" ... But maybe we should be.

In the last ten years abortion has become one of the most controversial political issues in our country. And as a result, abortion has become a taboo topic amongst my generation, even for people who support reproductive rights. No one wants to talk about it openly because they don't want to invite the attacks of a very loud and very intimidating anti-choice opposition. Until I started working at Faith Aloud, I myself was largely silent about my feelings on the issue, mostly because I didn't want it to be something that unnecessarily divided me from my pro-life friends. I was also cautious about talking about abortion to people whose political stance I wasn't sure about, for fear that they may start quoting the Bible to me (yes, thank you, I've read it too, you don't need to tell me about it). I agree that it is much more comfortable to just be a quiet supporter of women's rights. However, with the constant barrage of anti-choice bills that keep ending up on the senate floor, and as the religious opposition gets louder and louder, our silence on the topic may end up costing us our freedoms. Therefore, I think it's about time we start coming out of the pro-choice closet, so to speak.

So today, on Equality Day and the 91st anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, I, Allison Pikaard, am ready to shout from the metaphorical rooftops of social media:


Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Call for Integrity

Yesterday, our good friend Rev. Krista Taves headed out to a town hall meeting to talk to Representative Todd Akin about his recent votes to cut funding for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Rep. Akin has been incredibly elusive as of late, refusing on numerous occasions to speak with his constituents about his recent voting record. Rev. Taves was looking forward to finally get the opportunity to meet with the representative in person to voice some of her concerns about the effect of Akin's voting on the community at large.

Upon arrival, however, Krista and the other 100 concerned citizens with her were appalled to be greeted, not by Akin or his staff, but by the police.

Akin claims his reason for calling the cops was that he saw the town hall meeting as a "protest." However, there is a clear difference between a protest and a meeting. The constituents delivered him a peaceful invitation in person, giving him full details about the purpose of the meeting; they simply had concerns they wanted to formally present to their representative.

But since his polarizing statement, "behind liberalism is the hatred of God" back in June, Todd Akin continues to needlessly turn politics into a battleground that seeks to divide people rather than to unite them for the common good. "Rather than respond with dignity and respect to those he represents," says Taves," he chose to treat us as an enemy and to turn us away... This is not the kind of person we should entrust with the privilege and responsibility of serving us."

Simply put, Todd Akin is not doing his job. By refusing to speak with his constituents, he is not fulfilling his duty to represent his district with integrity. The beauty of democracy is that it is meant to give all citizens the opportunity to participate in government through fair representation-- and he is blatantly denying this right. We would like to remind Akin that it is a representative's duty to serve and respect all of his (or her) constituents, even if they hold different values. We certainly don't all have to agree, but like it or not, we do have to work together.

Monday, August 22, 2011

No-cost contraception

The FDA, in accordance with HHS and other medical entities, has announced that as of August 2012, insurance companies will have to provide all forms of medical contraception to the consumer without a co-pay. This is a part of the Health Care Reform plan that is gradually taking effect.

In this move, the FDA has made it clear that contraception is classified as preventive medicine.

This is an important development for all women. 99% of American women use medical contraceptives at some point in their reproductive years. This includes women of every religious persuasion.

Too often, when we hear the word "contraception" we automatically think, "the Pill". But there are many other contraceptive methods approved by the FDA, and for many women the cost of these was prohibitive. Not every woman wants to have to remember to take a pill everyday at the same time, and some women should not use hormones.

Women do not all need the same form of contraception. A woman who does not ever want children may prefer a permanent method of birth control. A woman who is interested in postponing childbirth for a few years may choose a longer-lasting contraception like an IUD. Women who have sex infrequently may prefer a method like the diaphragm.

For the first time, regardless of income, women will truly have "freedom of choice" when it comes to contraception!

That is, unless she happens to work for a Catholic institution! Because already, Catholic groups with health care plans have demanded "religious exemption" from complying with this new mandate. If they only hired Catholics, they might have an argument. But thousands of doctors, nurses, bookkeepers, educators, students, and janitors who are not Catholic will be denied coverage for contraception based upon the archaic, misogynist views of their employers. This is immoral and unjust.

These "religious exemptions" that are being applied to health care around the country need to be abolished by the courts. No institution should be able to force a religious practice upon its employees, clients, or customers. Freedom of religion has always been for the individual, not the corporation. Any individual may abstain from the use of contraception based upon her personal religious beliefs. But to have her rights limited by the religious practices of an employers is wrong.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Trying to Keep Up

Say what you want about the Kardashians, but that family is as ingrained into American culture as the Kennedys or Roosevelts. From Robert Sr.'s representation of O.J. Simpson to Kim's notorious sex tape, the Kardashians have been in the spotlight for nearly two decades. Their show "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" airs every Sunday night on E!, and of course, has drawn plenty of criticism. Whatever. The show appeals to me, both on an entertainment level and a social level. I relate to Khloe's weird humor, Kim's business sense, and Kourtney's ability to keep life in perspective, but what I most appreciate is how the family uses the show to address social issues like alcoholism, unplanned pregnancies & infertility, and balancing career decisions with love lives. These aren't "rich people problems," or issues faced by a small population in America. The issues brought up on "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" are real American problems faced by a real American family.

For those of you who aren't frequent viewers, the show follows the three Kardashian sisters, Kourtney, Kim, and Khloe, their mother Kris Jenner, who is married to Olympic champion Bruce Jenner, and their younger half-sisters, Kendall and Kylie. A few Sundays back, Kendall gets put on birth control by her doctor. Papa Jenner absolutely freaks out, naively thinking that his daughter is out having rampant, shameless sex. Bruce's reaction is not uncommon among American fathers; mine freaked out, too, when I got put on "The Pill" less than a year after I started my period at 16. Usually, it takes the mother figure to explain to the horrified father that birth control pills are used to do more for women than just what the name implies, but in the Kardashian case, Bruce still doesn't seem to comprehend, and Khloe, the instigator that she is, suggests that the younger sisters finally get "The Talk." If you're a big Kardashian fan, you will remember that endometriosis runs in the family, and was addressed by Khloe in an episode; hormonal contraception is the most prescribed treatment to control the genetic ailment. While it's not explicitly said in the episode, that's what I assumed the problem was, as "cramps" are the cited problem. I digress - not a rich person's problem. The Kardashians/Jenners simply take the opportunity to use their very public platform to open dialogue about problems that affect everyone in America, rich or poor.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 62% of women in childbearing years use some sort of contraception method, and 28% of those women use the hormonal contraception, or "The Pill." That's more than 10 million American women using birth control pills, for contraception, treatment for a gynecological disease, acne - whatever. But I uncovered an interesting side fact from Guttmacher: teens who don't use contraception are twice as likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy than teens who do use a method of contraception. Nearly 3 million teenage women actually use contraception, and more than half of them use "The Pill." And with the rate of teen motherhood on the rise, Kendall and Kylie Jenner deserve some credit for taking their fertility into their own hands. I think it's safe to say that the Kardashians are more in touch with American life than most of our politicians in Washington! Keeping up with them may not be as hard for most of us to do.

While, certainly, the Kardashian sisters have been known to slip up or say something really, really stupid, but that's what makes them that much more appealing to me and millions of other Sunday night viewers of E! They're relatable, hilarious, and deal with the same problems that everyone else does. We're just lucky enough to not have a camera around when we deliver an oratory gem to the world.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mayberry Had It All Wrong.

Domestic abuse. It's the small town gossip that no one seems to want to talk about. As a product of a small town, with a mom and female relatives from various other small towns, I knew many women who had been abused as children, teens, and adults. Some of the aforementioned female relatives even suffered through abuse, violence, and rape (not by men in my family, thank God).

If a small-town woman hasn't been abused, she certainly knows women in her community who have been. Domestic and sexual violence happens much more than you'd like to think in Heartland America, and unfortunately, is talked about even less.

These are the good Christian women, their daughters and their granddaughters, who held down the homestead during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War. They've survived through economic depressions, inflation, and the Cold War. These women are not vapid, weak, or complacent - these are the strong, resourceful, and empowered country women who raised me - a rookie city slicker - who was inspired by their wisdom, tenacity, and positivity. But it wasn't until I was much older that I understood that they have this outer shell that they put up to hide something much, much deeper.

Maybe it was the community in which I lived, a run-down former coal mining town that fell apart after the southern Indiana coal boom in the 50s and 60s. Most of the townsfolk live below the federally-established poverty line, didn't graduate high school, never considered college - very blue collar yet struggling. Maybe it was the fact that only men held elected positions in the county, which is still pretty much the case. Or perhaps the overpowering, general attitude of machismo that can be blamed. Many abuse cases can be traced back to these elements, but they are certainly not limited to the things that I noticed as an observant kid. So I did my own thing, loved and appreciated my mother, graduated from high school at the top of my class, and prepared to go off to a huge state university to ultimately go to law school.

Before I took off, one of my family members sat me down for a serious talk about what to expect in college. She simply said to me, "don't get raped."
That's the pre-college advice I was given, as I prepared to saunter off to become a student? But indeed, it was. I was told not to get raped. College is supposed to be a wonderful time for young men and women to blossom into the compassionate, intelligent Americans that they are meant to be and to explore the big, bright world, but I was simply told not to get raped. That female relative spoke from her own college freshman experience, as a naive country girl going to a small Christian university, who was brutally raped and beaten and left on the side of a back country road to die.

When most country folk like myself move to big cities, they're worried about being mugged, gunned down, held up, and so on.

Not me. I embraced city life, because to me, country life didn't embody the openness, freedom, and hospitality that most people associate with it.

No. To me, small towns and country life meant that women were still oppressed, forced to put on their happy faces, and pretend like nothing terrible was happening in middle-class America.
Now I realize that it's those women I worry most about.

Obviously, I understand that this doesn't happen everywhere, but it does happen and needs to be addressed now more than ever. Women are strong, beautiful creatures that put others before themselves, make sacrifices for their families, and put up a tragic fa├žade like nothing is wrong.

The women in my life embody the famous verse below:

"Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)"

But what love doesn't do is yell, hit, or strangle. If there is a woman in your life who is abused, please, step up and help her find her voice. It's hard as a kid to sit back and watch bruises form on friends' moms' arms and face, but now I wish that the 10-year old me would have had the courage to do something then.

For Missouri residents, a great organization to contact is the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence. There is a great map on their page that shows the specific regional hotlines to call if you or a woman you know is being abused.

If you are not a Missouri resident, you can contact the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, or a simple Google search for "[your state] hotline for domestic violence." For the love of God, please do not remain silent if you or someone you know is suffering!