“Kill the Bill.” “Baby Killer.” Let’s Stop the Killing.
Pillar of Peace: Conflict Transformation, Health and Well-Being
Commentary by Alicia Simoni
Community Manager and Staff Writer
It’s a peaceful spring day in Washington, DC. A steady stream of bright sunshine flows through my window, accompanied by a picturesque view of budding trees and the melodious sound of birds chirping.
With this as the backdrop it’s hard to imagine that I live in a country actively engaged in two wars; in a city that less than ten years ago was known as the “murder capital” and currently has violent crime rates three times higher than the national average; in a neighborhood where 5 incidences of violent crime occurred within 3 blocks of my home during March; and in a culture where violent rhetoric, death threats, and racist, sexist, homophobic slurs such as “nigger,” “faggot,” and “bitch” all seem to be part of democratic politics.
Previously I wrote about the sense of optimism that the recent health care reform had instilled in me. As always, there are two sides to every story. This week I can’t ignore the vitriol and violence that the very same debate has unleashed – or perhaps simply shed light on – in this country.
Prior to, during, and since the passage of the health care bill things have gotten ugly. The hostility and lack of civic virtue on display in the halls of Congress – one example being the highly publicized incident of Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) shouting “baby killer” during Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich.) speech on the floor of the House of Representatives – is mirrored in rallies, town hall meetings, talk shows, and the blogosphere.
Today’s Washington Post reports that in recent months anger over the health-care overhaul has led to a nearly threefold increase in the number of serious threats against members of Congress.
Last week a 64-year old man was charged with making death threats to Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) – Washington State’s first female Senator and one of the few to vote against the bill authorizing the war in Iraq in 2002. Among the dozens of messages he left for Murray was this one: “Not only do I say, “Kill the bill!” I say: “Kill the (expletive) senator! Hang the (expletive) bitch! Hang that mother-(expletive) bitch from a (expletive) gallows!” Kill the bill, kill the senator, too.”… “Baby killer, Murray. I hope somebody gets through your security and blows your (expletive) brains out, you (expletive) baby killing (expletive) bitch. Yeah, you (expletive) spineless (expletive) whore… I hope somebody gets through your security and blows your (expletive) brains out, you (expletive) baby killer.”
Gasp. I wish someone could explain this all away as the work of one, or maybe even a few, deranged individuals. Unfortunately they can’t.
The use of threats and violence that is increasingly common in the thriving Tea Party movement has long been an accepted strategy among anti-abortion extremists. A recent post in RH Reality Check points out that “the vitriol hurled at Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) over his months-long obstruction of the congressional health reform bill looks pretty familiar to those on the front lines of the reproductive justice movement. Death threats. Insults. Stalking. Harassment.” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow also recently discussed the connections between threats of violence against U.S. lawmakers and other Americans by the right wing fringe and those made by anti-abortion fanatics.
It is one thing to discuss the fact that anti-abortion and right-wing extremist movements draw from the same segment of the American population, utilize the same rhetoric, and rely on the same rallying cries. What we need to do is acknowledge that violence directed toward women’s rights advocates (including women’s health care providers and clinic escorts) is part of a larger, systematic continuum of violence.
The current situation in the United States reminds me of something I’ve often heard Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International, say (using Afghanistan as an example): “In hindsight, you can see how it all started with women. I see it in all these places, a pattern that starts with women and spreads. Women are the softest door. The kitchen door. Nobody pays attention when it’s opened.”
I wish the current displays of vitriol and violence in the United States were an aberration. Unfortunately, I think the truth is that they reflect a widespread acceptance of violence that is endemic to American society – and that women and women’s rights advocates are often the first victims.
What do others think?