WASHINGTON – Thousands of women who expect they will put John Kerry (search) in the White House say a war is on, but it's not in Iraq; it's a gender war that continues to be waged despite gains since the feminist movement launched its activist script over 30 years ago.
“I don’t think the feminist movement is over, particularly while [President] Bush is in office,” said Becca Gerner, who with co-volunteer Judy Grant was handing out stickers and signs for NARAL: Pro-Choice America (search) that read “Pro Kerry. Pro Edwards. Pro Choice.”
“He’s clearly not interested in women’s issues,” she added about Bush.
The issues are familiar, but the decades-old themes face new variations — equal pay for equal work, better access to health care and child care. The issues could be construed as causes for men, minorities and immigrants too. That's okay, said Gerner, because women can fight for them all the same.
"Actually, all issues are women's issues," she said. "It's all about the big picture to me."
The one remaining issue considered by many to be “for women only” is reproductive rights (search), or access to legalized abortions and on-demand birth control. It also appears to still be the most contentious, as Democrats assert that under a Republican administration, the right to abortion (search) is one Supreme Court vote away from becoming a footnote of history.
“How many of you are happy that women’s reproductive rights have gone back 30 years because of executive orders in this White House?” asked Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who spoke before a contingent of women at a workshop sponsored by the non-profit Revolutionary Women Boston (search) project at the Boston Convention Center Tuesday.
She referred in part to a pair of executive orders by President Bush in 2000 and 2002 that restricted U.S funding for international aid groups that provide abortion services. Lincoln did vote for the ban on late-term, or "partial-birth" abortions, passed into law last year.
"Women are more comfortable in the Democratic Party — they are pro-choice, where Republicans are staunchly pro-life, which they are not comfortable with," said Brooke Taney, a painter from Manhattan. She was handing out pro-choice stickers with Marnie Weiss, who was dressed as Lady Liberty with her torch aloft, waving to passersby on Boylston Street Monday.
Not so fast, countered Nina Broz, 18, and Emily Bissonnette, 20, who stopped in Boston in the middle of a 1,300-mile anti-abortion march from Augusta, Maine, to Washington, D.C. They sported pro-life T-shirts in stark contrast to those of the NARAL volunteers around them.
Their presence also reminded passersby that being a woman did not automatically require them to sign on with the Democratic agenda.
"I think one of the things we get is they think we are women haters," said Broz. "But we are women, look at us. We like our choices, too. But abortion is an entirely different issue."
Tuesday also featured a rally for the Women’s Caucus at the Sheraton Hotel Boston and a string of women speakers at the convention floor podium. Former first lady and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton (search) received thunderous applause just at the mention of her name.
Several other favorite Democratic women, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, were also billed as the top draws at the giant harborside convention center late Tuesday afternoon.
Clinton's appearance with the other nine Democratic women senators raised the roof at the FleetCenter on Monday night, mostly because aside from abortion rights, getting more women in higher office and perhaps the highest office, appeared to be a top item on the agenda.
"We're going to have to work very hard," said Georgia State Sen. Faye Smith, who explained that Georgia has only five women state senators, down from 13 after a series of retirements and resignations from women running for higher office.
"It's a continual effort," she said, noting that in her state, issues important to females continue to be domestic and sexual violence.
"I think if we had more women leaders we would have less problems," Gerner said.
The former first lady's name is often used in the same breath as any hopeful mention of a "first woman president." Though not mentioning her by name, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland told a reporter Tuesday that the Democratic Party "was already ready" to elect a woman — but not until 2012, when the team of John Kerry and John Edwards finished an eight-year term in the White House.
According to Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, 60 percent of undecided voters today are unmarried women. If history is any indication, they will go with Democrat Kerry. Vice President Al Gore (search) won among unmarried females in 2000.
But when it comes to married white women, Bush has the edge, because he won this group four years ago over Gore. Either way, women say they have a role to play and they are not about to let the country forget it.
"We're banding together, we're standing together," said Maxine Goldstein, a Georgia delegate attending her 10th presidential convention. "But we're not militant — we're nice ladies."