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The Unfinished Business of Seneca Falls

What Would Elizabeth Cady Stanton Make of Kerry?

by BRANDY BAKER

July 19 marks the 156th anniversary of the Seneca Falls convention, which took place July 19-20 in 1848 with about 300 in attendance. The idea for the convention sprang out of the earlier collaboration between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. (Stanton and Mott met eight years before at the World Anti-Slavery convention in London where women delegates were not allowed to participate in the debates).

All of the resolutions that Stanton drew up (titled the "Declaration of Sentiments") were approved unanimously at Seneca Falls except for resolution nine: women’s suffrage. Even Lucretia Mott expressed trepidation at the idea: "Why, Lizzie, thee will make us ridiculous!" But the resolution finally passed at the convention with the help of Rochester North Star editor, Fredrick Douglas who swayed enough people to get the resolution passed by a majority vote.

As it always has been the case with the women’s movement in the United States, the convention was scorned by the media. Douglas, in the Star noted: "A discussion of the rights of animals would be regarded with far more complacency by many of what are called the wise and the good of our land, than would be a discussion of the rights of woman."

So how is the 148th anniversary of such an important event now being celebrated? By standing in front of Wal-Mart and bringing notice to their discrimination against women? By calling on both presidential candidates to support abortion rights? To support free child and health care? By calling on the end of exploitation of womens’ suffering in order to start wars (i.e. Afghanistan)?

No to all, for Saturday July 17 is "Women For Kerry Action Day." The John Kerry for President campaign is aggressively chasing the women’s votes this year, but you wouldn’t know it from the recent statements that Kerry has given. Not long after Kerry said that he would be open to appointing anti-abortion judges, Kerry told an Iowa newspaper: "I oppose abortion personally. I don’t like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception." But on his website, Kerry "John Kerry believes that women have the right to control their own bodies, their own lives, and their own destinies." So which is it? Kerry may say that life begins at conception, but he now has no qualms about ending it. He now believes that "terrorists" can be candidates for the death penalty; this doesn’t seem to bother the Catholic leaders who denounced his previous abortion stance.

The Kerry Camp has also been putting John Kerry’s billionaire wife, Teresa Heinz-Kerry in the spotlight in order to capture more womens’ votes. Author Gail Sheehy interviewed Heinz-Kerry for a piece for Mother Jones magazine, which was nothing more than a sugary, substance-free bio that belonged in People magazine instead of a "progressive" publication that boasts of its’ "solidly reported, hard-hitting, ground-breaking news stories".

Wal-Mart has long been recognized for its many abuses of its employees and factory workers abroad. The world’s largest retailer now faces the largest civil rights class action suit in this country’s history on behalf of 1.6 million women. Women in the company are paid and promoted far less than their male counterparts. The anti-Wal-Mart rhetoric espoused by both Kerry and Heinz-Kerry earlier this year proved to be meaningless in light of the revelation that Heinz-Kerry owns a million dollars worth of Wal-Mart stock; some of this stock, Heinz-Kerry acquired as recently as 2002.

There are many reasons to celebrate the anniversary of the Seneca Falls convention, but it would make us ridiculous to associate this weekend in any way with John Kerry or the Democratic Party.

BRANDY BAKER, a contributor to CounterPunch’s forthcoming book, A Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, can be reached at: deliciouspekingduck@excite.com.