Dear Gwen Ifill,
It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, the national media were fixated on lipstick. What a difference a Wall Street crash makes. It’s been remarkable to hear conservatives on the Sunday talk shows discuss the growing income gap, stagnant wages, and job losses. If it weren’t for the economic crisis, who knows what the inane topic of the day would be.
It’s a good time to be the moderator of such an important debate. If the lead story were lipstick, you’d probably be criticized for asking “gotcha” questions, but because this country is on a downward spiral, I’d be willing to bet that most people expect you to ask tough questions about issues that actually matter.
The women I’ve interviewed over the past few months are tired of questions about flag lapel pins and the petty back and forth. They’re also tired of being ignored. Other than polls, it’s all too rare to hear from actual voters.
Over the past few days, I've asked women, both in person and over the phone, what question they would like you to ask Sarah Palin at tonight’s debate. These women have dedicated their lives to fighting for the poor, affordable housing, abused and neglected children, the constitution, social justice, equal pay, veterans, equal rights for all, the uninsured, reproductive rights, civil rights, and innocent civilians whose lives have been forever changed by U.S. sanctions and bombs.
When I tell women about this article, they first chuckle, then take a deep breath, and say, “Where do I begin?” You're probably experiencing similar feelings. I would love to know what your preparation process has been like.
Here are the questions the women I interviewed would like you to ask Sarah Palin:
“Could you please describe your understanding of the obligations and authority assigned to the three branches of U.S. government as set forth in the Constitution?”
-Elizabeth de la Vega, former federal prosecutor, Los Gatos, CA
“Governor Palin, 248,000 children in Ohio are without health insurance. How do you stand on funding programs to help our poor and disadvantaged children? Senator McCain supported President Bush when he vetoed SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Where do you stand on SCHIP?
-Marian Hann, Receptionist, Children's Defense Fund-Ohio, Columbus, OH –- Senator John McCain received a 10 percent rating from the Defense Fund -- Alaska ranks near the bottom for providing children's health care
“John Mccain’s voting record on veterans does not reflect what comes out of his mouth. How will you improve care for veterans' families left hanging? What will you do to ensure the VA hospitals give the vets the treatment they deserve so they don’t have to jump through hoops to get it? The VA didn’t treat our son. The number of veterans committing suicide is on the rise. A lot more needs to be done.”
-Joyce Lucey is the mother of Jeffrey Lucey, who committed suicide after being in Iraq for five months in 2004, Western Massachusetts
"If you were to become Commander-in-Chief, would you require military women who've been raped to pay for their own rape investigation kits as the constituents of Wasilla do? Nearly all soldiers found guilty of raping a fellow soldier do no jail/brig time. What would you do to change this policy to serve justice? Do you think this is justice? There are reports of female soldiers dying of dehydration due to fear of being raped on the way to the porta-johns. Would you appoint an independent investigator to look into both this and the claims that women servicemembers who are murdered in country are being wrongly classified as suicides? Why did you delete rape kit funding from the budget when you were mayor? Alaska's rape rate is 2.5 times the national average."
-Wendy Barranco, 22, President, Los Angeles Chapter of Iraq Vets Against the War, Los Angeles, CA -- Wendy Barranco served as an anesthesia technician at a Tikrit field hospital from October 2005 to July 2006
“What’s your platform for issues of importance to Native Americans and Indian health services? It’s getting worse here. We’re constantly losing our funding.”
-Naomi Harjo, Patient Service Coordinator, Native American Health Center, a nonprofit, community-based organization, San Francisco, CA
"Even in the current free-market some cancer medicines - like Avastin - cost $100,000 a year. What would the Governor do to make sure that everybody - rich and poor - gets the medication they need?
"Consumers are worried about chemicals being added to the food supply which may cause cancer and other diseases. Children are particularly at risk. And there's ample science to support these concerns. What would you do to make our food less dangerous?"
-Barbara Brenner, Executive Director, Breast Cancer Action, San Francisco, CA
“Governor Palin, this is the first time I’ve paid such close attention to politics. I was shocked to learn that you allow people to shoot animals from airplanes in Alaska. Why do you allow aerial hunting? How many animals have been killed as a result?”
-Angela, 70, Thrift Shop Volunteer, Petaluma, CA
“Even though the U.S. has for decades been the richest nation the world has ever seen, it has never been able to eliminate poverty by depending on trickle-down from wealthier sections of the economy. Now that poverty is growing again, and a rising number of people with full-time jobs are in poverty, and the burden of poverty falls most heavily on women and their children, what are the proposals to get these women on their feet and out of poverty?
Our country's escalating health care crisis - 47 million uninsured, many millions underinsured and health care benefits under siege from employers - has just as devastating an impact on women and their families as the financial crisis has on people in the finance industry. Maybe more of an impact. Would you say it's time for the institutions that are bailing out Wall Street to also rescue the people of Main Street from our failing health care system?”
-Ethel Long-Scott, Executive Director of the Women’s Economic Agenda Project, an organization committed to attaining economic human rights for all people, Oakland, CA
“Will the McCain/Palin ticket implement work supports--especially paid maternity/parental leave?”
-Sylvia Allegretto, Economist, Institute for Research on Labor & Employment at UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
“Governor Palin, you have said that you believe that climate change is a real occurrence and the immediate effects can be felt all across your own state of Alaska, but when asked if ‘man’ is the cause of climate change, you argue that it matters not who or what is ultimately to blame for this phenomenon, rather, that we accept it as a reality and move on from there. Simultaneously, you are a firm believer in ‘drill here, drill now’ as the solution to our nation's energy crisis. How do you reconcile these two positions, particularly given that there is scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels, primarily oil, gasoline and coal, is the primary cause of climate change and, more importantly given your position on offshore drilling, that drilling in waters depths greater than 500 feet releases methane, a green house gas at least twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide in its contribution to global warming? If we do not acknowledge that the oil, gas, and coal industries and the consumers of these products are the cause of climate change, but rather aggressively pursue the expansion of these industries, how can we possibly expect to change course and save your state from melting in the ocean in the process?”
-Antonia Juhasz, 37, Activist and Author of The Tyranny of Oil, San Francisco, CA
“If you’re so pro-life, why are you so pro-war?”
-Pauline, 72, Real Estate Agent, Petaluma, CA
“Congratulations on being able to pull off being a working mother of five children. As vice-president, what are you going to do to guarantee that all American women have access to the same kind of childcare that you clearly have access to?”
-Jo Kreiter, 43, Choreographer, San Francisco, CA
“How do you intend to address the fact that an estimated 10,000,000 American children a day go hungry? What is your policy on helping working mothers get affordable childcare? What are your views on the successful re-entry of prisoners back to the community? What are your views on drug laws? Are they effective in stemming crime? Is incarceration the best way to deal with drug-related crimes? How should girls be protected from sexually abusive male relatives/fathers so that they don't get pregnant?”
-Margo Perin, Restorative Justice Teacher, CA
“According to an Alaska Eagle Forum questionnaire you completed in 2006, when you were running for governor, you said you opposed hate crime legislation. You were asked, “Will you support an effort to expand hate crimes laws?” You answered, “No, as I believe all heinous crime is based on hate.” If someone is physically assaulted because she is Jewish, Christian, African American, a woman, or gay, why shouldn't the law provide for an increased penalty?”
-Kathryn Russell-Brown, Professor and Director, Center for the Study of Race & Race Relations, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
“If you were to become President, and then you were offered the opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court Justice, whom would you pick, and why?”
-Joni Eisen, 61, President, Potrero Hill Democratic Club, San Francisco, CA
“Do you have any friends who are pro-choice? How do you feel about women who are pro-choice?”
“How would you ensure that U.S. intelligence agencies focus their warrantless surveillance resources on real terrorism threats rather than on prying into the private lives of law-abiding Americans?”
-Nancy Talanian, Director, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Northampton, MA
“Women across the country are battling low-wage or lower-paying jobs while often being the sole provider of the family. What is your position on wages and the right to organize, particularly as it affects women?”
-Sushma Sheth, Miami Workers Center, Miami, FL
“Do you truly believe that the earth was formed 6000 years ago with all flora and fauna in place? What do you make of all the scientific studies on the age of the earth?”
-Bea Kreloff, Art Workshop International, New York, NY
“What is the job of the vice-president? What are five qualities of a good leader and how do you exemplify them? Where have you traveled? Why should I vote for you?”
-Mary McGloin, 35, Actor and Grad Student, Washington DC
“You campaigned for governor of Alaska on a ticket of open and transparent government. Yet, you are now refusing to cooperate with a bi-partisan investigation into your own abuse of power and instead allowing Senator McCain's campaign such interference that the legislature has asked the Alaska State Troopers to look into witness tampering. How can the American people trust you?”
“You publicly acknowledge that Alaska, as the only Arctic state, is suffering from the effects of global warming. You also like to champion yourself as having taken on the oil industry. Yet, you recently challenged a Bush Administration attempt to list polar bears as a threatened species, citing studies by scientists known to question the human contribution to climate change and stating the designation would "deter activities such as...oil and gas exploration and development". Explain these contradictory positions.”
“You've stated that you don't support a women's right to have an abortion, even if she is a minor who's been raped by her father. Would you, as vice-president, seek to uphold the law, which protects a women's right to choose or would you seek to overturn Roe v Wade?”
-Karen Button, Writer and Activist, Spenard, AK
“What are your plans to strengthen services to help women and children recover from abuse?”
-Cathi Martarella, Invest in Kids Education Coordinator, Every Child Matters, St. Louis, MO
“Why won’t you give other women the same choice you made when you decided to have your latest child?”
-Lisa Soldavinia, Yes! on Prop 2, Petaluma, CA
“You don’t support reproductive rights or raising the minimum wage, so why are you capitalizing on running as a female candidate? Your policies run counter to the interests of women. Please explain.
-Loretta Ross, Founding Member and National Coordinator of Sister Song: Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, a network of grassroots agencies representing women of color -- Loretta was one of the first African American women to direct the first rape crisis center in the United States in the 1970s
“Governor Palin, I’m very concerned about our country and the impact we are having on the rest of the world. What foreign policy issue is at the top of your list? Not Senator McCain’s list. Your list.”
-Tina, Concerned Citizen
“Do you support the Community Choice Act and the right of people with disabilities to live free from fear of living incarcerated and in institutions? Senator McCain opposes it. How do you feel? Also, please share your plan for affordable and accessible housing.”
-Marsha Katz, Community Organizer, ADAPT, a grassroots group fighting for people with disabilities, Missoula, Montana
“What would you do to support women who are struggling to support their families?”
-Susannah Morgan, Executive Director, Food Bank of Alaska, Anchorage, AK -- the food bank serves 83,174 people annually -- demand is growing
“What’s our responsibility to the promises we made to Afghan women, many of whom have seen no improvement? The situation is actually getting much worse. It was safer to be in Afghanistan in 2002 than it was in 2007. Also, there’s never any mention of the lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan due to the U.S. invasions. What role should the U.S. play in ensuring the safety and security of the civilians living in the countries we enter?”
-Anne Brodsky, Associate Professor of Psychology, The University of Maryland, Author of With All Our Strength, Baltimore, MD
“What is your position on the bailout plan? What do you think of Reagan’s deregulation position? Are you in favor of deregulation? Also, what do you think about the crisis that’s happening across this country? The unemployment rate is 11 percent in the African-American community. If you look at black men between the ages of 18-35, it’s at 35 percent. People are hurting.”
-Jeanette Foreman, Media Justice Activist, Prometheus Project, Atlanta, Georgia
“John McCain has said he would like to close Guantanamo. What should happen to the approximately 250 detainees who are being held there?”
-Stacy Sullivan, Counterterrorism Advisor, Human Rights Watch, New York, NY -- she recently returned from Guantanamo
“As a woman and a mother who has a disabled child, what do you think about the impact the war and the sanctions have had on the Iraqi people? Over 500,000 Iraqi kids were killed during 12 years of sanctions. Tens of thousands of children have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. What is your response to this violence? Also, you say you prefer adoption to abortion. What do you think of the United States’ adoption policies? What should change?
-Malihe Razazan, Host, Voices of the Middle East on KPFA 94.1 FM, Oakland, CA
“You told Katie Couric that you consider yourself a feminist. What does feminism mean to you? You also said you have a gay friend who ‘chose’ to be gay. Do you really think that being gay is a choice? Do you think gay Americans should be treated with the same equality as everyone else? Why do you think the vicinity of Alaska and Russia being close gives you foreign policy experience?”
-Candace Nichols, Executive Director, The Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada
Feel free to share this list with your colleagues. As painful as they've been to watch, we’re hoping the McCain campaign 'allows' Sarah Palin to do a few more interviews before the election.
Good luck tonight. We’ll be watching.
Rose Aguilar is the host of Your Call, a daily call-in radio show on KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco, and author of the new book, Red Highways: A Liberal's Journey into the Heartland