Saturday, a crowd began swelling outside the gates of Jannus Live in downtown St. Petersburg. While that is certainly a familiar scene, this crowd wasn’t waiting to hear a big-name rock band hitting town.
They were waiting on an icon of another sort. Across the generational spectrum, women and men were talking of seeing an icon who has been championing the call for equality for the past 40 years: Gloria Steinem.
Steinem was in Florida, a key battleground state, to rally against Amendment 6, seen by opponents as tightening abortion restrictions. But the feminist legend also used her time before an adoring crowd to blast GOP presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney as "anti-equality."
Mitt Romney is “the most undemocratic, anti-equality, authoritarian, extremist candidate I have ever seen, and there is the most distance between what he says and what he does,” Steinmen said.
Steinem was introduced as a self-described “Hope-aholic.” Her name is synonymous with the feminist movement. She is known best as an activist and author. Steinem appeared before the crowd with eloquence and timeless messages, stating that she stands for equality and democracy.
“Do what Democracy demands,” said Steinem. “And, that is to make change from the bottom up. It is a lie that it comes from the top down. No. That’s what they want us to think—to disempower us. No, it comes from us. Like a tree, it comes from the bottom up.”
Here is an excerpt from Steinem’s speech:
[Romney] has the nerve to say he is for job creation. His entire career has been job elimination. He is not even willing to say he is for equal pay. And it happens that equal pay for women of all races is the greatest economic stimulus this country could ever have.
Equal pay, and I mean for equal work, would put $200 billion more into the economy every year. That means about $137 for every white woman per pay check—something like $300 for every woman of color who are doubly discriminated against. And you know that those women are not going to put that money into a Cayman Islands bank account—they are going to spend that money, and that is going to create jobs.
And he has the nerve, the nerve, and I have never seen anything like it, even in the Eisenhower era, anybody who refused to say they were for equal pay. Even if they didn’t do anything about it, they at least said they were for equal pay, and [Romney] refuses to support the Ruby Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which is crucial to gaining equal pay.
[Romney] has pledged, on the Republic Party platform, to go around the Supreme Court, and achieve the human life Amendment to the Constitution, which would declare the fertilized egg to be a person.
I would like to say that neither the corporation nor the fertilized egg is a person. Pregnant women do not have two votes.
By declaring the fertilized egg to be a person, he would effectively nationalize women’s bodies throughout our child-bearing years. We would be legally restrained for all nine months of our pregnancy if there were reasonable cause to believe we might damage the fertilized egg. And indeed this is already going on with women who are drug addicted. Who really have no options, and yet there is more concern about their pregnancy than there is about them and getting free from drugs on their own.
It would give the government the right to legally search our wombs. To see if we were pregnant or not and if you think that’s impossible, think about the trans-vaginal probe that is legalized rape.
Steinem wasn’t the only voice to grace the stage. Local politicians and community leaders stepped up to speak their mind as well.
Florida House Rep. Rick Kriseman, District 53, said, “It is critical that people get out and exercise their right to vote. The state government has done everything they can to suppress votes. We need to vote.” Kreiseman echoed the mission of I Am Choice to “no” on all amendments and “yes” to the justices and “yes” to the education referendum.
“You know, when I want to hear what a woman’s perspective is about something, I talk to real women, and I ask them what they think,” said St. Petersburg Councilmember Steve Kornell. “I don’t have to use a binder to know what matters to women. I just ask them.”
Kornell went on to describe how the last thing women need is Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan or the Florida legislature interfering with medical decisions that belong between a woman and her doctor.
Another prominent voice for the day belonged to Jessica Ehrlich who has been shaking up the scene here in Florida in her bid for United States Congress, 13th District of Florida, opposing C.W. Bill Young. She made a point to reference Young’s voting record.
“After 42 years, Bill Young has simply lost touch with who we are in Pinellas County and with what we need,” said Ehrlich. “Over half of Pinellas County is made up of women – over half of our workforce is made up of women.”
Ehrlich mentioned Young’s voting record stating that he voted against equal pay for women; voted to cut funding to Planned Parenthood to give women access to early detections to cancer and mammograms; co-sponsor a bill that tries to redefine legitimate rape with Todd Akin and Paul Ryan; voted twice for a budget that would essentially turn Medicare into a voucher program, do away with important programs like slashing funding for Pell Grants, for education, for college scholarships, and cause 200,000 children to go off of Head Start.
“This is not what we need. It is not who we are. And, it is not how we are going to move into the future,” said Ehrlich. She said that this election will determine what Pinellas County and the State of Florida will look like and be like for years to come.
“Are we going to go backwards to a time when the Vinoy was a boarded up building, and a relic of a faded past and there were empty lot all around here because of an economy that was so devastated, or are we going to work to make sure that we have a brighter future going forward?” asked Ehrlich.
'I Am Choice'
With Election Day less than 30 days away, I Am Choice organized Steinmen's visit, headlined as “GOTV Unplugged: Rally Our Way Forward.”
“This is a celebration of our ability to use our voice and our vote in the upcoming November election to make decisive change and move our community forward,” said Ayele Hunt, executive director of I Am Choice.
I Am Choice, located in St. Petersburg, was formed earlier this year with the goal of launching a grassroots campaign to defeat Amendment 6 on the state ballot. The amendment is seen as tightening restrictions on abortions.
Organizers of I Am Choice is clear that they want voters to say “no” to all 11 proposed amendments, and “yes” to returning the all three Florida Supreme Court Justices to the bench and "yes" on the referendum for education.
The event boasted an impressive line-up, including progressive politicians and community leaders and lined up The Betty Fox Band, voted Best Blues Band in Creative Loafing’s “Best of the Bay,” but most importantly, the headliner, Gloria Steinem, brought the house down.