Merlene Davis: Here's a new cause for the women who rose up against Limbaugh

They rally swiftly against Limbaugh

Herald-Leader columnistMarch 5, 2012 

There was something about the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy that surprised me.

In case you haven't heard, last week the conservative talk show host described as a "slut" the law-school student invited by House Democrats to testify in support of birth control.

No, it wasn't how crude and uninformed Limbaugh is as evidenced by the way he disparaged the young law student or how limp his unapologetic apology was over the weekend.

What pleasantly surprised me was how women have emerged as a formidable force.

On Facebook and on Twitter, a campaign led by mostly young women boasted of having applied enough pressure to Limbaugh's advertisers to have eight of them, at last count, abandon his radio show.

I hadn't seen women so active so quickly since my younger years when we fought for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA, which passed Congress in 1972, still isn't a part of the U.S. Constitution, though. After 40 years, it still requires three more states to ratify it to make ERA the 28th Amendment.

We fought for a while, but then we went home.

That's what I thought women would do with Limbaugh, but they didn't.

"We go through waves of awareness," said Darlene Thomas, executive director of the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program. "Maybe we are finding our voices again."

Will the pressure be enough to shut Limbaugh's mouth forever? Of course not. And it shouldn't be. But it would be nice if that pressure would make him re-think the words he uses and their effect on non-politians.

That's neither here nor there, however.

With this new sense of empowerment or outrage, women might want to direct those fervent efforts toward another issue that is under attack.

Some politicians want to chip away at the Violence Against Women Act which is up for re-authorization.

"For young women, (this protection) is all they have ever known," Thomas said. "It is just like Civil Rights for young people of color. They reap the benefits, but we haven't really told them how hard the fight was."

VAWA was sponsored by then-Sen. Joe Biden in 1994 and signed into law that year by then-President Bill Clinton. It has become the tool used by states and law enforcement agencies to respond to domestic and dating violence, stalking and sexual assaults, and help for victims of those crimes.

Every few years, it comes up for re-authorization, as it did in 2000 and 2005, and this year. Usually, it breezes through Congress with bipartisan support. Violence doesn't ask for your political affiliation before administering physical harm.

This year, however, attempts are being made to have Congress vote along party lines. When it came up for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, the measure, sponsored by committee chair Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.), and Sen. Mike Crapo, (R-Idaho), barely passed. Ten Democrats were for the measure and eight Republicans against.

Sen. Charles Grassley, (R-Iowa), who is leading the opposition, said in a letter to the New York Times, that the bill "fails to recognize the dire fiscal situation, fails to ensure the taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and adds unjustifiable controversial provisions."

Supporters say the "controversial provisions," added by Leahy and Crapo, include raising the number of visas for undocumented immigrants who are battered or sexually abused to 15,000 from the current 10,000; forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; and giving Tribal jurisdiction in cases of violence between Indian and non-Indian individuals.

"When I was a prosecutor and I saw somebody who is a victim, I didn't ask, are you a Democrat or a Republican, are you gay or are you straight?" Leahy said on radio on The Diane Rehm Show recently. "I saw a victim, and I saw a perpetrator. And I wanted to prosecute who did it. If we started saying in this country, OK, if you fit in this category, you can be beaten up, you can be killed, you can be stabbed, you can be murdered, and we won't do anything about it, that demeans us as Americans."

Grassley offered an alternative bill that would both cut the new "controversial" additions as well as reduce the federal funding by eliminating the Justice Department office coordinating the nation's response to domestic violence and sexual assaults. That alternative was defeated along party lines as well.

So, as it stands, reauthorization of VAWA is on the Senate calendar, with no certain date for it to come to the floor.

"It is four votes away from being re-authorized," Thomas said. "It is one thing to fight for rights that you have never had, but it is another to have them taken away from you."

We cannot allow politics to take back rights that have been fought for and enjoyed, whether those are reproductive rights or rights to be protected from violence.

The last thing we need is for all those well-traveled roads older women forged in the past, to be closed in the future. And from my viewpoint, it doesn't look like that will happen.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com

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