By Besa Luci
Monday, August 18, 2008
Activists are using the summer months to rally younger women's involvement in the November elections, with ballot initiatives in Colorado, South Dakota and California stirring special interest.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Some women's groups with campus affiliations have been keeping busy through the summer break.
Ahead of the November presidential elections they are mobilizing registration drives, planning fall events and raising awareness about what's at stake in state ballot propositions on abortion laws.
"In 2004, 20 million unmarried women did not vote, and 15 million of that 20 were unregistered," said Page Gardner, president of Women's Voices, Women Vote, a Washington-based group that works to increase unmarried women's voting rates. The group aims to spur 7 million new voters to the polls in November with its "You Count. Be Counted!" registration campaign.
"In order to participate in democracy by voting you have to be registered," Gardner said. "Unmarried women are the largest group of unregistered people in this country and they are 9 percent less likely to register than married women."
The Feminist Majority Foundation, in Arlington, Va., is also keeping busy this summer. The group is running a "Get Out Her Vote" voter education and registration drive that plans to make its strongest push two weeks before Election Day.
"We've seen a huge increase in young people registering and participating in elections," said Kathy Spillar, the advocacy group's executive vice president. "We are going to be educating about what is at stake for young women and abortion rights is a major piece of that, from who constitutes the Supreme Court to what Congress is doing and what is on the ballot."
The Feminist Majority Foundation started campus leadership programs in 1997 and staged its first Get Out Her Vote campaigns during the 1998 midterm elections. Ten years later, it has around 220 alliances with groups at U.S. campuses that help their campaigns and use their voter-participation materials.
The group is putting particular effort into California, where it hopes to conduct campaigns at around 120 college campuses. Nationally, it is aiming to work with around 200 other affiliate groups throughout the country, including Texas, North Carolina, Missouri and Ohio.
Fighting state ballot initiatives, particularly in Arizona and Colorado, is a major focus.
Arizona's Civil Rights Initiative, for example, is opposed by the Feminist Majority Foundation because it would end the state's affirmative action programs, which help women and members of ethnic and racial minority groups.
Colorado Amendment 48, known as the "Personhood Initiative," proposes a constitutional change to define life as beginning with fertilization. Opponents say such initiatives not only put a woman's right to an abortion in danger but also threaten oral and emergency contraception, IUDs, and in vitro fertilization clinics.
Olivia Ortiz, national campus organizer with the Feminist Majority Foundation, calls the Colorado amendment a "wedge issue" that could work its way up to the federal level. "So it's a pretty dynamic reason for women's groups to vote and educate their peers about state ballot issues," she says. "We need to draw as many voters so that Roe vs. Wade is not taken from us."
Some college women in California and South Dakota are also working with Get Out Her Vote campaigns on state initiatives there.
California's Proposition 4 proposes parental notification before termination of a minor's pregnancy.
In South Dakota voters will face Measure 11, which resurrects a far-reaching abortion ban that voters rejected in 2006 by a margin of 12 percentage points. This time the wording adds exceptions in the case of rape, incest or to protect the life or health of the woman.
Female students working with the Get Out Her Vote campaign this summer have been preparing for the first couple of weeks of school at South Dakota State University, in Brookings, by making posters and flyers to hang around campus and hand out to students.
South Dakota State's Campus Women's Coalition launched a blog about Measure 11 in June, picking up its efforts to halt the abortion ban from 2006. That year the group mobilized a campaign that sent students into classrooms to emphasize election turnout. It ran phone banks to canvass voters and went door-to-door to reach the community as well. They claim to have mobilized to vote nearly one-fifth of the school's 5,000 undergraduate students.
Catherine Grandorff, president of the Campus Women's Coalition, said the new wording of this year's proposed ban on the ballot could mean it is more likely to pass.
"We are planning to do some of the same things from 2006 with the Get Out Her Vote campaign," Grandorff said. "But in October we are bringing a panel of experts and have them speak out why it's important to vote pro-choice and how it should always be a choice, no exceptions."
At University of California, Merced, the University Women of Merced Network is using the school's orientation period from late July through early August to distribute voter registration material and information on state ballot issues.
The network--about 15 year-round active members that also receives support from student, faculty and staff allies--is organizing competitions among dorms to see which can stir up the most votes as a way of pulling in freshmen, who are newly eligible to vote.
The Younger Women's Task Force, a nationwide grassroots movement to stimulate young women into political action, is running a "Voting Vixen" campaign to encourage voter participation and tries to reach women who are left out of political discussions rather than targeting campuses. While some chapters run only voting drives, other also focus specifically on the importance of women in the electoral process.
The first one was organized by the Miami chapter in 2006 as the group distributed 7,000 copies of a glossy magazine they produced. Though it mimicked the look of a fashion magazine, it contained voter registration information and featured female activists. "Be pro whatever it is you believe in and get out and vote" read a slogan.
"One of the things we think is cool about the Voting Vixen is that we were using consumer tactics that are used against us in terms of creating need and desire to purchase things, so we tried to use that and harvest that power for good," said Sophie Brion, director of the Miami Women's Movement Now.
This year the organization has embraced a more environmentally friendly approach and decided not to print magazine copies, Brion said. Instead, they plan to do most of the outreach by visiting places where younger women congregate, such as laundries, salons, doctor waiting rooms and spreading the word through their existing network of 200 women.
The Miami group has also partnered with the local chapter of Planned Parenthood, to raise awareness about the composition of the Supreme Court and the risks to women's right to a legal abortion.
On Aug. 7 the New York chapter of the Younger Women's Task Force held its voter registration training for members, and its first registration drive will be held on West 125th Street in the heart of New York's Harlem neighborhood.
"After that we'll be reaching out to the outer boroughs, Queens and the Bronx, places that aren't that well covered," said Rebecca Andruszka, the chapter's director of communications.
Besa Luci, a native of Kosovo, is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri's Graduate School of Journalism.
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