Other issues in which we have been involved, or which may be candidates for potential Advocacy consideration:
Women's Voices Warns Against Privatizing Water Supply
For several months, St. Louis City officials have been investigating the possibility of completing a contract with Veolia Environment, a multi-national company with a dismal track record of operations in other cities. Members of our Environment Focus Group drafted the following statement in opposition to the proposed contract. It was sent to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, Comptroller Darlene Green and President of the Board of Alderman Lewis Reed.
St. Louis has excellent water. Why would we let it be jeopardized?
BACKGROUND: In 2007 the U.S. Conference of Mayors tested water from 93 cities and voted St. Louis water the "best tasting city water in America." In 2009, when the Environmental Working Group rated the safety of the water in the 100 largest U.S. cities, the City of St. Louis ranked #9. No other city ranked in the top 10% on both lists. Clearly, the St. Louis Water Division knows how to do its job.
THE ISSUE: St. Louis, like most other major American cities, has infrastructure problems that will be expensive to address. Like other cities, we need a plan to address these problems and funding to carry it out. Currently, the City is considering a contract with Veolia Environment, a multi-national French corporation. If this contract is finalized, it will result in privatizing our water supply.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay insists that the proposed contract with Veolia is only a consulting contract. But this is what the contract actually says:
ARTICLE 8 - INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY 8.1 Veolia Intellectual Property. The City agrees that Veolia shall be entitled to all right, title, and interest in and to all ideas, conceptions, discoveries, inventions, improvements, designs, methods, techniques, processes, and software, whether or not subject to patent or copyright protection, that are developed by Veolia alone, with the City or jointly with others as part of the Services (Veolia Intellectual Property).
This language makes it clear that when the "consulting" contract ends Veolia must be hired to implement anything about which they consulted because all the information and ideas will belong to them. This proposed contract is the first step to privatizing the water supply in the city of St. Louis and turning this resource over to a for-profit corporation.
History can teach us much here. Virtually every time a public water system is turned over to a for-profit corporation workers lose jobs and benefits, the quality of the water declines and the rates paid by consumers increase dramatically.
Veolia has a particularly dismal record. This corporation was managing the water supply in Indianapolis when that city was rated 90 out of 100 in the Environmental Working Group's safety ratings. Among the problems and complaints that caused Indianapolis to pay $29 million to terminate its contract with Veolia ten years early are these: customer complaints doubled in the first 10 months of the contract; non-union employees benefit packages were gutted; records were falsified; staffing, water testing, chemicals and maintenance were cut back; customers were overcharged; and an erroneous boil-water alert was issued that closed schools for 40,000 students.
News sources and respected non-profits have reported warnings and tales of mismanagement from around the globe about Veolia operations. Even Paris, the corporation's home city, has dumped Veolia. That is exactly what St. Louis should do, right now, before the entanglement becomes official.
St. Louis officials should pay attention to this company's track record and the dangers that this proposed relationship will pose to one of our city's finest assets.
We urge St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, not to sign any contracts with Veolia Water.
Minimum Wage - Workers Deserve Economic Dignity
Women's Voices joined Jobs With Justice and Metropolitan Congregations United in the spring of 2012, endorsing a ballot initiative to raise Missouri's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 per hour.
Missouri workers need a raise, as the full-time annual salary of a minimum wage worker is only $15,080. This is below the poverty level of $18,310 for a family of three in Missouri. Seventy-two percent of minimum wage workers in Missouri are adults over 20 years old, and fifty-nine percent head households. Almost a half million Missouri families would have received a raise through this initiative, pumping millions into the state's economy.
Unfortunately, this initiative petition failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the Nov. 2012 ballot.
Of all the social justice issues Women's Voices has studied during the past few years....health care, housing, education, criminal justice, immigration, economic security, etc.....the overarching issue that encompasses all of these is poverty. The problem is so huge, and so multifaceted, that it's difficult to know where to begin. As individuals, most of us work to ease the plight of poverty when and where we can, by contributing time, talent, money, or other resources to direct-service agencies. As an organization, Women's Voices has contributed funds to several direct-service agencies. But these actions, worthwhile as they are, do little or nothing to solve the real problem. Real solutions can only be realized through political will and legislative action, and it takes advocacy to influence these efforts.
Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice has joined a number of other St. Louis organizations comprising Community Against Poverty (CAP), an umbrella group which sponsors events to help bring public attention to the issue of poverty in our community, including so far a Candidate Forum on Poverty Issues in September 2008 and annual Volunteer Fairs since March 2009.
"Poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn't commit." ... Eli Khamarov
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations
Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice joined with several other organizations to support a screening of the film "Farming Was My Life: The Hidden Costs of CAFOs" in June, 2009. The film was produced by Missouri Rural Crisis Center and Violet Productions.
The film and the panel discussion which followed pointed out some very troublesome and often unknown facts about Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Here are some facts about CAFOs, which are changing the air we breathe, the water we drink, the foods we put on our tables, and the landscape of rural America.
What is a CAFO?
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations. CAFOs congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures, fields, or on rangeland.(1)
Some of the many concerns about the proliferation of CAFOs include:
Corporations use CAFOs to raise thousands of animals in warehouses.
Most hogs and poultry are raised in complete confinement with no access to fresh air and sunlight.
Many farmers and communities have no control over whether a CAFO will move into their area.
Some farmers have been forced to sell their farms when CAFOs move into their communities, usually at a loss due to the decline of property values because of the presence of the CAFO.
As a result of increased corporate control of agriculture, the number of hog farmers in Missouri declined by 89% between 1985 and 2006.
According to an EPA study, a CAFO with 4,000 hogs can generate as much waste as a city of 16,000 people. A Class 1A CAFO (17,500 hogs and above) can generate as much waste as the city of St. Louis. This results in contamination of water and air as well as increasing greenhouse gases.
Health studies in North Carolina and Iowa have found that people living near CAFOs suffer significantly higher levels of upper respiratory ailments than people living near other farming areas.
A health study in Iowa found that children living near CAFOs have higher rates of asthma than do other farm children. 19.7% of children who attended schools near CAFOs had asthma, while only 7.3% of children attending school at least 10 miles from a CAFO had asthma.
Antibiotic resistant genes leaking from swine waste lagoons have been found in groundwater wells near Illinois hog facilities.
The Center for Disease Control reports that contaminates, including pathogens, metals, antibiotics, bacteria, and parasites, are found in CAFO lagoons and surrounding wells, drainage ditches, and underground water.
Water pollution from livestock operations remains a serious national problem. In 1998, EPA and USDA reported that livestock pollution affected about 35,000 river miles in 22 states that categorized impacts from specific types of agriculture. In 2003, when EPA published its CAFO permitting rules, it said that 29 states had specifically cited livestock operations as contributing to water quality impairments. (2)
The top four beef packers control 84% of steer and heifer slaughter. Smithfield Corporation alone controls over 16% of the genetics of all hogs processed in the USA. (3)
Taxpayer dollars, in the form of government subsidies, are being used to prop up CAFO operations. In recent months the pork and poultry industries have asked USDA for millions of dollars for bonus pork and poultry buys in order to stabilize prices resulting from overproduction. On March 31, 2009, USDA committed to a $25 million bonus pork buy, and in May the industry asked for an additional $50 million pork buy. At the same time the USDA is continuing to guarantee loans to new and expanding specialized hog and poultry facilities, which are contributing to the very overproduction that taxpayer dollars are being used to try to remedy the problem of overproduction.
To oppose taxpayer dollars being used to guarantee loans to factory farms, you may contact Tim Gibbons at email@example.com for more information.
Missouri Rural Crisis Center (MRCC) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1985. It is a progressive, statewide membership organization that works to empower farmers and other rural people. The mission of MRCC is to preserve family farms, promote stewardship of the land and environmental integrity, and strive for economic and social justice by building unity and mutual understanding among diverse groups, both rural and urban. MRCC currently has 5,500 member families.
Submitted by Alice Serrano, 2008-09 chair of the Women's Voices Environment Focus Group
Visit The Literacy Sitedaily and click the red "Give Free Books" button. This quick, simple action helps give a book to a child in need, at no cost to you. Funding for the books is paid by site sponsors.
Members of Women's Voices are concerned about the quality of education available to all children, but especially children in the St. Louis Public Schools. In 2006-2007 we "adopted" a fourth grade classroom in a city school where parental support was minimal and supplies were lacking. Our members brought school supplies to general meetings, and some members went to the classroom and told stories, led student discussion groups, and planned special parties.
An initiative called Book by Book was carried out for one year. We attempted to match book clubs in the St. Louis area with classrooms in our adopted school. The teachers let us know what kind of enrichment books they needed in their classrooms, and Women's Voices, with the help of area book clubs, purchased the books and delivered them to the school.
"As long as there is poverty in the world, I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars...I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be." ... Rev. Martin Luther King
Concerns About Reproductive Choice Continue
Women's Voices has a position on reproductive choice, and we believe that contraceptive coverage, as outlined in the Affordable Care Act, should be provided at no cost to every woman who wants it.
In April, 2013, President Mary Clemons, with assistance from our member Ruth Ehresman, submitted comments to the Department of Health and Human Services, urging that no exemptions be given to for-profit organizations or individual employers which would enable them to deny coverage based on religious values. Read the text of the letter here.
In January, 2011, members of Women's Voices were privileged to hear a compelling talk by Pamela Sumners, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri. One year later, in a letter to supporters of reproductive choice, Sumners described the continuing "war on women." Her concerns include the following:
Twenty-four states have filed 59 bills to ban insurance coverage for abortion services in the state-based insurance exchanges.
In 2011, 14 states considered bills that would have required a woman to view a mandatory ultrasound before having an abortion (even if she doesn't want it or her physician doesn't recommend it).
Sixty-two anti-choice laws were passed in state legislatures in 2011.
Fourteen states, including Missouri, had "personhood" laws or ballot initiatives introduced.
Ninety-six percent of Missouri counties lack an abortion provider.
In the last three decades, eight abortion doctors and reproductive health workers have been murdered. There were 17 attempted murders, 41 clinic bombings, 175 clinic arsons, and more than 400 death threats to doctors and clinic staff.
Members of Women's Voices continue to support a woman's right to make her own decisions about her reproductive health, and we decry the continuing violence against women and their health care providers. We are proud to be a member of the Freedom of Choice Council of Greater St. Louis.
We believe that the current debate surrounding reproductive choice speaks to one of the basic foundations upon which our country was established: the freedom of religion. We believe that religious matters are best left to religious communities, and not to politicians, and we are concerned about the increasing influence of the "radical right" being manifested today and the increasing tendency to blur the lines between religious belief and government.
In 2006 and 2007 many of our members turned out for rallies on reproductive choice in downtown Kirkwood. At the 2006 "Put Prevention First" rally, they listened to a speech by Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization of Women, and vowed to continue working for increased funding for family planning clinics, comprehensive sex education, and access to emergency contraception.
Every year since 2005 our members have joined with Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri and Faith Aloud (formerly the Missouri Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) to talk to state legislators in Jefferson City during debate on bills that would make access to abortion more difficult for women in Missouri.
We have worked with Planned Parenthood and NARAL to call attention to the difficulties women encounter when pharmacists, because of religious reasons, refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraceptives. We support the efforts of the Missouri Women's Coalition and other groups that are working to ensure that emergency contraception is available to all women who need it.
For complete information about the organization's stance on women's reproductive rights, read our position paper on this issue.
Stem Cell Research
In April 2006 Women's Voices, along with the St. Louis Chapter of Hadassah, the Ethical Action Commitee of the St. Louis Ethical Society and Friends of the First Unitarian Church, sponsored a public seminar on stem cell research. More than 100 people turned out to learn about stem cell research, its possibilities and limitations, and the ballot initiative that was decided by Missouri voters in November, 2006.
"When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion." ... Abraham Lincoln
Members of Women's Voices are committed to supporting organizations and legislation that further the cause of racial justice and protect the civil rights of all citizens.
We acknowledge the many ways that our society discriminates, sometimes intentionally, sometimes thoughtlessly, in housing, employment, education, health care, and perhaps most disgracefully, within the justice system. We believe that individually and collectively we must raise our voices to oppose discrimination in all its manifestations, small and large, individual and institutional.
Members of Women's Voices marched in the Annie Malone parade in 2006, and have joined the National Conference for Community and Justice of Metropolitan St. Louis for its "Walk as One" event to express our commitment to fighting bias, bigotry and racism.
We will continue to have monthly educational programs that focus on disparities in health care, education, housing and other services in our community.
Women's Voices had a presence in Washington, DC, in April 2012, when our member Alice Serrano attended a week-long advocacy event sponsored by the Rights Working Group and the ACLU. The group met with members of Congress and urged them to take action to prohibit profiling based on race, religion, ethnicity and national origin, and encouraged them to pass the "End Racial Profiling Act." Alice presented written testimony on behalf of Women's Voices to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
In June, 2012, President Mary Clemons wrote letters to Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, urging them to support the "End Racial Profiling Act."
"Racial profiling is wrong," she wrote. "This bill (S1670) would make it clear that it will not be tolerated. Please join our neighbor Senator (Dick) Durbin and our own Lacy Clay in supporting an end to racial profiling."
Members of Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice fully support the rights of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered individuals to participate fully in society and enjoy the rights and benefits available to other Americans. Members of the organization showed their support by participating in the PrideFest parade in St. Louis every year since 2005.
Members of Women's Voices have voted to endorse the Uniting American Families Act. Hundreds of other local, state and national organizations have endorsed this proposition, which would end discrimination against gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered persons who are seeking to become legal permanent residents of the United States.
Current immigration laws deny GLBT individuals the right to petition for a green card to bring their partners into the country. Twenty-three other nations do allow their gay and lesbian citizens to sponsor their foreign-born partners in seeking residency.
The Uniting American Families Act would end this discrimination. The act has 124 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.
More than 36,000 bi- national same-sex couples are affected by the current restrictions. Almost half of them are raising children, and there are a number of these individuals in the St. Louis area.
Fall 2011 - The Voter Protection Act ... Fact or Fiction???
by Jeanne Bubb
A legal challenge by the American's Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Eastern Missouri charges that the proposed changes to the voter requirements of the Missouri Constitution misleads voters and would restrict the voting rights of many Missourians (Aziz et al. v. Mayer et al.)
Who are supposedly being "protected" by the changes proposed in Senate Joint Resolution No. 2? Certainly not the disabled like E.A., one of the plaintiffs in the ACLU suit, who has multiple sclerosis, is confined to a wheelchair, whose ID has expired and would have great difficulty, both physically and financially, obtaining a new state ID as required under the new legislation. Not much protection for M.B.S., another plaintiff, a naturalized citizen who has had difficulty renewing her driver's license because of problems with her Russian birth certificate. And what about plaintiff T.B. a college student whose out-of-state and student photo ID's, which are now accepted for voting, would no longer be valid! Then there is L.B. who won't be able to renew her ID because the name under which she registered to vote is different than the one on her birth certificate and whose hand tremor could result in rejection at the polls if signatures don't match up
Let me back up and give you a little history. In 2006, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a law requiring that Missouri citizens show government issued photo ID's when voting. The court found that this was a "heavy and substantial" burden on the right to vote. The court further stated, "The exercise of fundamental rights cannot be conditioned on financial expense" (think poll tax). It costs money to get the birth certificate or passport necessary to secure a Missouri photo ID.
In order to circumvent the 2006 Supreme Court decision, the 2011 law, SJR 2 or The Voter Protection Act, seeks to amend the Missouri constitution. Although, SJR2 still requires that voters present a government issued photo ID, it does allow for exceptions to be made by general law, namely for citizens who are unable to obtain proper ID due to physical or mental problems, financial limitations, religious beliefs, or if the voter was born before January 1, 1941. These individuals could vote by provisional ballot. Sounds good, until you realize that a high percentage of provisional ballots are never counted. In addition, many disabled and older adults are not able to consistently replicate their signatures as required for a provisional ballot to be counted.
What is behind this initiative? Proponents claim that it will prevent voter fraud.
Opponents ask, "What fraud"! Ron Berry of the Secretary of State's office states that, "not a single case of voter impersonation has ever been prosecuted in the state of Missouri". So what is behind this? Some say it is voter suppression for political gain.
Another frightening consideration ... the cost! Missouri recently estimated that implementation of the legislation would cost the state more than $20 million in just the first three years! Missouri, strapped for money, can ill afford this expense.
The good news is that Governor Nixon vetoed this legislation. As a result of his veto the ballot measure cannot be implemented even if passed by the voters. However, House Speaker Tilley, R-Perryville, one of the leaders advocating government issued photo ID's, stated that he hopes lawmakers will revisit the matter again before the voters go to the polls. So, it appears that this fight is not over!
(Information from the ACLU website, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Kansas City Monitor, the St. Louis Beacon, and the Fair Elections Legal Network.)
May 2011 - Voter Id Revisited; Still A Bad Idea
The voter ID issue has once again made its way through the Missouri legislature. WV President Mary Clemons has written to Gov. Jay Nixon to make him aware that our opposition to this legislation still stands. Here is the text of her letter, sent to the Governor in May.
2009 - Can We Change the Way We Vote? Maybe!
Shortly after the 2008 November general election, all dues-paying members of Women's Voices were polled to determine whether they thought the organization should work on a project to change the way Missouri votes in general elections. The result of this poll was an overwhelming (but not unanimous) "yes."
During the winter of 2009 a group of concerned citizens in St. Louis met to investigate the possibility of launching a ballot initiative to bring Missouri's voting system into the 21st century. There are several advantages to a ballot initiative: it enables voters to bypass the state legislature, which is dominated by rural and conservative interests in Missouri, and it is a great organizing vehicle for progressive causes. There is one huge disadvantage: it is very expensive, both in terms of money and people-power.
Changing the way Missouri votes would include the ability to have early voting at satellite locations in large metropolitan areas, and "no excuse" absentee voting. Some organizations also favor same-day registration of voters.
During the 2009 legislative session several early voting bills were introduced, but none advanced through the legislative process.
November 2006 - Missouri Voter ID Law
Missouri's proposed Voter ID law was ruled an unconstitutional infringement on the right to vote by a Circuit Court in Cole County in September 2006. This ruling was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court in a 6-1 decision in October 2006.
Members of Women's Voices had a stake in this legal proceeding, as members unanimously voted to file a Friend of the Court brief on behalf of those who would be victimized by the proposed legislation.
As it was written and passed by the state Legislature, the law would have required every voter to have either:
a Missouri drivers license,
a state-issued non-drivers identification card,
a U. S. passport, or
a military ID.
Without one of these forms of identification, voters would only be permitted to cast a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots are not counted unless authorities can verify the signature.
Members of Women's Voices believe that this law was a "poll tax in disguise," because in order to get a state-issued non-drivers identification card, voters would have had to produce a birth certificate with an embossed seal. In Missouri, it costs $15 to get a birth certificate; in other states, it costs more. Individuals who were not born in a hospital seldom have birth certificates and frequently have difficulty obtaining documentation.
In addition, members believe that the law placed an undue burden on those who do not drive: the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. It posed additional burdens on women who have married or divorced, because it required them to produce copies of marriage licenses or divorce decrees to document name changes.
Finally, we believe that the law was discriminatory because it imposed no photo identification requirement on those who vote by absentee ballot.
On Sept. 21, 2012, Women's Voices co-sponsored a Missouri Budget Project program titled "Cutting to the Chase: What Multi-Year Budget Reductions Mean for Missourians."
According to Amy Blouin, MBP executive director, state revenue is beginning to improve but children born today will be 17 years old by the time Missouri achieves the purchasing power it had in 2008. Because of recent massive reductions in education and health care spending, many worthwhile groups and organizations are competing for the same slice of the pie. The conversation needs to shift to increasing the size of the pie, Blouin said.
At the present time, there are two logical ways to increase Missouri revenue. Proposition B on the November ballot would increase the tobacco tax and provide as much as $283 million for education and smoking cessation programs. (Unfortunately, Missouri voters narrowly defeated Proposition B at the polls, so this revenue stream cannot be realized in the near future). A marketplace fairness law could produce as much as $400 million every year in sales tax revenue from internet sales. Women's Voices supported the tobacco tax increase and continues to endorse the marketplace fairness effort.
According to Tom George, chancellor of the University of Missouri St. Louis, in the mid-nineteenth century land grant colleges were created to provide educational opportunities at a reasonable price for young people. Now, because of declining revenues and cuts in higher education funding, tuition at four-year universities has doubled in the last 11 years. Mike Jones, a member of the State Board of Education, said that when he went to UMSL many years ago, he could catch the bus and go to school for less than $200 a semester. Today, few working-class students can afford the more than $3,500 tuition bill for a semester of school.
In February, 2010, members of Women's Voices voted to take a position opposing proposals introduced in the Missouri legislature to eliminate state individual and corporate income taxes and replace them with an expanded sales tax. (See our position paper Missouri Tax Structure.) Now we are faced with a similar proposal in the form of a proposed amendment to the state constitution. It too would replace the state income tax with a new, statewide sales tax that increases the price of nearly everything you buy.
Members of the Women's Voices Board voted to add our name to the list of member oganizations of The Coalition for Missouri's Future - an organization working to keep this proposed amendment off the 2012 ballot.
As the Coalition website says, "Right now, many Missourians are struggling to make ends meet, but the Everything Tax would only make things worse by creating a new 10-percent sales tax. Imagine having to find more money in your family budget for things like milk, bread, baby food, diapers, emergency room visits, in-home care, and car repairs, just to name a few. "The Everything Tax hits senior citizens especially hard. Living on a fixed income, the Everything Tax would add a new tax on their food, medicine, and in-home care."
If you would like to add your name to the list of individuals opposing this ballot measure, go to missourifuture.org and SIGN UP.
"We're seeing people we didn't know existed!" ... Former FEMA Director Michael Brown