The history of American democracy, to say the least, has been checkered. Our nation was founded at a time when people of African descent were held in bondage. After slavery was abolished, they were forced to endure legal discrimination for another 100 years.
When our country was formed, women were not just second-class citizens. They were third- or fourth-class citizens. Women couldn't vote or play a significant role in the political life of the nation. Women, in many cases, couldn't own property and were legally regarded as subservient in marriage. The educational and economic opportunities open to women were extremely limited. And, of course, women were unable to have control over their own bodies.
In the last 50 years, as the result of an enormous amount of effort on the part of the women's movement and its male allies, we as a nation have made significant progress in the fight for gender equality. Clearly, much, much more needs to be done, but few would deny that our country has come a very long way in this struggle. In Vermont, Governor Madeleine Kunin has given years of service to our state after becoming the state's first female governor in 1985. She is an inspiration to girls throughout Vermont and the country in allowing them to know that the opportunities they have are unlimited.
At rallies in Vermont and across the country this weekend, our message was clear. We are not going back. Not only are we not going to retreat on women's rights, we are going to expand them. We are going forward, not backward.
We are not returning to the days of back-room abortions, when countless women died or were maimed. The decision about abortion must remain a decision for the woman, her family and physician to make, not the government.
We are not going back to the days when women could not have full access to birth control. Incredibly, here in the year 2012, that is exactly what the Blunt Amendment, which we defeated last month in the Senate, was all about. The Blunt Amendment would have allowed any employer who provided health insurance, or any insurance company, the right to deny coverage for contraception or any other kind of procedure if the employer had a "moral" objection to it. While I am glad that we defeated this horrendous amendment, it certainly was a sad day in our country when every Republican, save one, voted for it.
We are not going back to the days of wide-scale domestic violence, even if 31 Republican men in the Senate recently voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it expanded coverage to the gay community and Native Americans.
We are not going back to the days when it was legal for women to be paid less for doing the same work as men, even if the governor of Wisconsin recently signed a bill to repeal that state's pay-equity law.
Further, not only are we going to protect and expand those laws which deal directly with women's rights, we are going to vigorously defend the important laws and programs which protect all working people in our country - women and men alike.
In the midst of this terrible recession we say NO to cuts in Social Security, a program which is so important to all of our seniors, but especially to women.
When 50 million Americans have no health insurance we say NO to cuts in Medicare and Medicaid which protect tens of millions of Americans, but is especially important to women and their children.
The right-wing in this country is waging a war against women and, let me be very clear, it is not a war that we are going to allow them to win.
But if they want political warfare, we must expand the field of battle, and we must be on the offensive.
Let us wage a moral and political war against the billionaires and corporate leaders, on Wall Street and elsewhere, whose policies and greed are destroying the middle class of America.
Let us wage a moral and political war against the gross wealth and income inequality in America, the worst in the industrialized world, which is tearing this country and our economy apart.
Let us wage a moral and political war against a dysfunctional health care system and fight for a Medicare-for-all single-payer system.
Let us wage a moral and political war against war itself, so that we can cut military spending and use that money for human needs.
Finally, let understand that when we stand together, we will always win. When men and women stand together for justice, we win. When blacks, whites and Hispanics stand together for justice, we win. When straights and gays stand together for justice, we win. When young and old stand together for justice, we win. When working families stand together, we win.
Vermont is a national leader in the fight for a new health care system, for the transformation of our energy system, and in support of family farming and organic agriculture. We were the first state in the country to pass a civil union law and the first state to pass gay marriage legislation without a court order.
Now, we must continue and expand our efforts to be national leaders in the fight for gender equality.
I have seven beautiful grandchildren, four of whom are girls. Let us all work together in making sure that those four girls, and every girl in our state and country, has the same opportunity as anyone else to fulfill their dreams and live their lives without gender discrimination of any kind.