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VOLUME 2, NUMBER 16    <>  MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2001

The weakest link

Consider these random clippings from recent publications:

Sarah Weddington, the attorney who won the landmark Roe vs. Wade case, looks at President Bush with trepidation. … “What Bush is trying to do now is hit at the choice issue but in ways that don’t get the American people riled up.”

San Francisco Chronicle, April 18, 2001

WASHINGTON  (AP)— Family-planning advocates said yesterday that President Bush’s budget eliminated a Clinton-era program providing prescription contraceptives to federal employees. … Bush’s budget proposal doesn’t call for an end to Viagra coverage.

— San Francisco Chronicle, April 12, 2001

It is American medicine’s dirty little secret. A two-tiered system of care, based not on whether you are rich or poor, but on the color of your skin, or your gender. In America in the year 2001, if you are a minority or a woman, statistics show you have greatly reduced the odds of receiving competent, timely, aggressive, rock-solid medical care.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel , April 15, 2001

An explosion of Latino voting in Providence, Rhode Island this fall should have been a cause for celebration. Instead, it has revealed an electoral quicksand that pits Latinos against African Americans and separates identity from ideology — conditions ripe for manipulation by an entrenched white power structure whose corruption is legendary.

ColorLines, Spring 2001

April 22, 2001. Spring in Quebec City and Washington, D.C. Two very different mobilizations. Or were they?

Thousands of protestors — including environmentalists, farmers, and workers — filled the streets of Quebec this weekend, gathering in frustration before a six-foot high “wall of shame,” a chain-linked fence erected to keep them at a safe distance. Inside, 34 heads of state were busily compiling the rules for a Free Trade Area of the Americas. The mood in the Canadian city had been tense for weeks, and police started arresting suspicious-looking people well before the dignitaries arrived.

Thousands of marchers — men and women — filled the streets of Washington this weekend, parading past the Senate office buildings, the Supreme Court, and the Capitol to a reproductive health fair on the National Mall. This Emergency Action for Women’s Lives set in motion an intense four-year campaign for reproductive rights. Nevertheless, following a tradition established many years ago, the demonstration was seen as kind of spring festival, with singers and other performers lightening the serious atmosphere.

But if you strip away the fence and the fragrant spring flowers, you’ll find that the concerns of the two groups are similar. They know their welfare is expendable. They have a common enemy, and they are both fighting for survival.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that, right now, there’s a whole lotta jockeying for power goin’ on. Around the world, but particularly in Europe and the Americas, relationships are being redefined. Even national governments have become local when confronted with the demands of international corporations. And groups once considered local are finding that the government — their accustomed ally or familiar adversary — is dancing a frantic jig of its own, to someone else’s tune.

The name of the new band is a boring cliché — Wealthy White Males — but a look at the composition of corporate boardrooms says it’s accurate. The tunes it plays are pretty old hat as well, and they all elicit the same dance, an American fandango that’s worked well in the past.

Here’s how it goes. Take the dancers and divide them into groups, each with its own slogans, signs, and songs. Cultivate differences, never allowing one group to notice how it resembles another. Cultivate differences into animosities. Cultivate rivalries into hostilities. Encourage pecking orders, especially if they draw blood. Show the dancers the blood on the floor. Keep them dancing. Don’t give them a chance to think. Let them drive each other off the floor.

It worked in the U.S. labor movement: Greeks fought Italians, whites fought blacks, and they all fought Mexicans and Asians. It worked in the U.S. women’s movement: rich fought poor, straights fought lesbians, and whites fought women of color. Identity politics became politically correct, erasing years of class and gender consciousness-raising. Movements — national or international unions of like-minded people — disintegrated, leaving the bosses, the chauvinists, the powerful unopposed.

But today, just as the guys on the stage are redefining their relationship to the people on the dance floor, the dancers are also beginning to move into new configurations. They’re making connections they hadn’t noticed before, between farmers in Bolivia and homeless people in Milwaukee, between factory workers in Mexico and single mothers in Las Vegas. They’re discovering new dance steps. If the guys in the band aren’t careful, these dancers will start making their own music. It may not sound like anything you’re accustomed to, but it’s bound to set your feet tapping.

Shall we dance?

Betsey Culp




NOW declares state of emergency