Laura Scher

SAN FRANCISCO (WOMENSENEWS)–This Fourth of July, sometime before the fireworks and after the barbeque, my 13-year-old daughter and I will reminisce about the last time we celebrated our liberty: at the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., on April 25.

We were among the more than a million demonstrators who carried signs, many linked to such well-known sponsors as the ACLU, NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Planned Parenthood Federationof America. The signs we carried were green with purple writing, colors of the 10,000 Working Assets delegation.

Working Assets is something of a rarity. We are a for-profit phone company that is also pro-choice. And I am perhaps even rarer still: a pro-choice female CEO who publicly opposes any misguided limitation on women’s personal choices.

While most companies hide from controversy, Working Assets, based in San Francisco, has always been on the frontlines for change and unapologetically pro-choice. While this has made us the wrong service provider for some people, hundreds of thousands of customers are proud to connect with a company that reflects their values.

Plowing Profits into Choice

Supporting choice and many other progressive issues has been part of our mission from our start in 1985. We do this by donating a portion of our customers’ charges to thousands of social change groups. Over $2 million of that has gone to pro-choice groups alone and $40 million to pro-choice and progressive organizations around the globe.

We made one of our proudest contributions in 1988, after a rival provider, AT and T, succumbed to pressure from the religious right and cut off its donation to Planned Parenthood. Working Assets has since replaced and exceeded that donation by giving $1 million to the organization over the last 16 years.

We also give our customers easy ways to speak out to decision-makers on key issues, by offering free telephone calls and pre-printed letters that we send on our customers’ behalf. Through these efforts, we generated over 3 million calls, faxes, e-mails and letters to elected officials and other leaders in 2003 on such issues as the repeated appointment of right-wing judges and the government’s refusal to allow over-the-counter emergency contraception. Our collective action has made us one of the largest progressive citizen action groups in the country.

In this era when a woman’s right to control her life is challenged in the White House, Congress, the Judiciary and in the churches, often with tacit corporate support, Working Assets can make a tremendous difference to an organization carrying out crucial work. Last month, pro-choice organizations we support were vindicated by a federal judge in California who firmly rejected the 2003 federal ban on abortion. This fight will most likely end up in the Supreme Court, and we’ll continue to support organizations working to counter this egregious law.

Allegiance to Controversy

Yes, our allegiance to controversial issues means we’ve fielded our share of bomb threats, but it also means that, when it mattered most, we’ve put our money where our mouth is.

That’s why, on that historic day in April, I walked the length of the Mall with my daughter and the Working Assets contingent, alongside many of the organizations we’ve supported over the years, working–as one of our banners read–for choice, together.

As a mother, I marched because I want my son and daughter to grow up in a world that offers more freedom than the one I grew up in.

As a person of conscience, I marched because I want all women in this country to have access to reproductive health care. And because I want women around the world to stop suffering, and even dying, as a result of President Bush’s support of the “global gag” rule. That policy requires health professionals around the globe to either shut their doors for lack of funds or accept U.S. aid and shut their mouths and remain quiet about women’s health options.

As the chief executive officer of Working Assets, I marched because our customers are caring, committed and outspoken on the issue of reproductive rights and wanted to make their voices heard on this crucial issue.

The march was a vivid demonstration of how we are truly a pro-choice majority. But it’s also a reminder of how we need to turn the overwhelming support on the streets into an overwhelming presence at the polls this coming election.

Around the picnic table this weekend, my daughter and I will discuss what next steps are required now that we have marched in Washington. She is too young to vote, but not too young to appreciate the importance of doing so, and to share her ideas on our company’s campaign to encourage all those who care about women’s reproductive freedom to register and vote in November.

My family and my company will keep working on the issue of choice until there is no more work to be done.

This weekend, use your time with your family to talk about the importance of freedom–especially reproductive freedom–for all women and the necessity to protect those liberties by registering to vote in the November election.

Then, be the best defender of freedom and liberty you can be, and go vote.

Laura Scher is CEO of Working Assets, a phone, wireless and credit card company that donates a portion of its customers’ charges to progressive causes. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two children.

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