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A Letter to Gloria Steinem

by Ellen Johnson

Dear Ms. Steinem:

Congratulations! Having received dozens of emails this week asking me to “do the right thing” and vote for Gore, I rate your “Top Ten Reasons Why I’m not Voting for Nader” as the most inane. Allow me to respond.

10) “He’s not running for President, he’s running for federal matching funds for the Green Party!”

Last I checked Nader was on the ballot in 46 states and will heartily accept the job if elected. Nevertheless, working for matching funds next round is a worthy goal since Nader doesn’t take tainted money like your candidate of choice, Al Gore. Unlike the shortsighted view NOW is taking, Nader and the Greens understand that doing the job right will take time. Choosing between the lesser of two evils only weakens democracy and erodes the economic and social status women have earned.

9) “He was able to take all those perfect progressive positions of the past because he never had to build an electoral coalition, earn a majority vote, or otherwise submit to democracy. “

What I hear you saying is that Nader would have to give up his principles to be effective. Like you, for instance? If Nader is not practicing democracy then why is Gore sending out an army of emissaries to scare Nader voters into submission? If an incumbent vice-president, in a popular administration, running against a lightweight and spending over 200 million dollars in the process is afraid of Nader, I call that democracy at work.

8) “By condemning Gore for ever having taken a different position –for example, for voting against access to legal abortion when he was a Congressman from Tennessee–actually dissuades others from changing their minds and joining us. “

On the contrary, Nader supporters have already exercised their right to change their minds and rejected Gore.

7) “Nader is rightly obsessed with economic and corporate control, yet he belittles a deeper form of control – control of reproduction, the most intimate parts of our lives. “

What I see is the reverse–you are too obsessed with the control of reproduction and belittle concerns about the corporate control of children that are already born, whose daily struggles with the effects of poverty, pollution and a culture of violence have fallen on the deaf ears of the corporately controlled Clinton/Gore administration.

6. “The issues of corporate control can only be addressed by voting for candidates who will pass campaign-funding restrictions, and by conducting grassroots boycotts and consumer campaigns against sweatshops – -not by voting for one man who will never become President.”

Gee, I’m laughing so hard I can barely type. Are you suggesting that Al Gore will work to achieve these goals? Gore promised that his first act as president would be to pass the McCain-Feingold bill, although he ignored Nader’s challenge that he set an example by giving back all the corporate funding he received during this campaign. Gore’s support of NAFTA and the WTO proliferates sweatshop labor. And the words consumer and Gore used in the same sentence is oxymoronic.

5. “Toby Moffett, a longtime Nader Raider who also served in Congress, wrote that Nader’s “Tweedledum and Tweedledee assertion that there is no important difference between the major Presidential candidates would be laughable if being even-handedly negative. There is a far greater gulf between Bush and Gore than between Nixon and Kennedy – and what did that mean to history?”

Yes, from God’s lips to Toby Moffett’s ears! As significant as Moffett’s opinion is to my political decision-making process (who is he again, a flack for Monsanto, isn’t it?), let’s run down the list: WTO and NAFTA, the death penalty, same sex marriages, drug policy, the Middle East, bloating the military budget and welfare reform represent just a handful of issues they agree on. And let’s not forget both Bush and Gore’s conspiracy of silence, keeping Nader out of the debates so they wouldn’t have to explain their striking similarities. Their differences regarding abortion can hardly be compared to a gulf. It’s more like a babbling brook that both Bush and Gore can easily bridge whenever a poll tells them to cross to the other side. The far greater gulf is between your idea of “choice” and the real needs of women. While you trump up women’s fears that they will lose their right to abortion, you neglect to mention the rights women have already lost under the Clinton/Gore welfare reform plan. Forget a living wage, health care and quality day care. Are you concerned about all the women who can’t escape abusive relationships because they have no safety net? But, thank goodness they still have access to abortion.

4) Nader asked Winona LaDuke, an important Native American leader, to support and run with him, despite his likely contribution to the victory of George W. Bush, a man who has stated that “state law is supreme when to comes to Indians.”

This one takes my breath away. Are you suggesting that Winona LaDuke had no agency in her decision to accept the position as Nader’s running mate? Perhaps, unlike Native American activist Wilma Mankiller (who also has an email campaign for Gore), LaDuke recognizes that Nader is the only candidate who has discussed Native American issues during the campaign, not to mention his position advocating immediate reparations to Native Americans.

3) If I were to run for President in the same symbolic way, I would hope my friends and colleagues would have the sense to vote against me, too, saving me from waking up to discover that I had helped send George W. Bush to the most powerful position in the world. Bush will be running for reelection the day after his inauguration.

To suggest that this weak and ineffectual man would challenge the will of seventy percent of the people (who support women’s reproductive freedom) is absurd. Did your friends ask you to abandon your idealism when you fought for Roe vs. Wade? How many desperate emails and bogus voting scheme alerts have you received from the Green Party? While I’m debating your position, I fully respect your right to free speech without harassment.

2) There are one, two, three, or even four lifetime Supreme Court Justices who are likely to be appointed by the next President. Bush has made clear by his record as Governor and appeals to the ultra-rightwing that his appointments would overturn Roe v. Wade and reproductive freedom.

You are beginning to repeat yourself. But at least you didn’t say five appointments like Gore did last week as he was “spinning” out of control. And why stop at five. Maybe all the justices will die or retire in the next four years-it could happen, right? Regardless, Orrin Hatch can flummox any Gore appointment.

1. The art of behaving ethically is behaving as if everything we do matters. If we want Gore and not Bush in the White House, we have to vote for Gore and not Bush — out of self-respect. I’m not telling you how to vote by sharing these reasons. The essence of feminism is the power to decide for ourselves. It’s also taking responsibility for our actions. Perhaps there’s a reason why Nader rallies seem so white, middle class, and disproportionately male; in short, so supported by those who wouldn’t be hurt if Bush were in the White House. Think self-respect. Think about the impact of our vote on the weakest among us. Then we can’t go wrong.

People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, Ms. Steinem. What race and class of people benefit from abortion rights? Thank you for the eight-grade lecture about self-respect. But since you mentioned this elusive character trait, for the first time in many years I can’t wait to vote for Nader and can do it with pride. Can you really say the same? In the last week I’ve been told by my feminist sisters to “calm down and think,” “take a deep breath and consider what you’re doing,” “work from within instead of being reactionary,” and “you will have blood on your hands if you help elect George Bush.” (These are direct quotes.) Is this the “essence of feminism” you speak of? CP

Ellen Johnson teaches at Arizona State University.


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