Power to the Polls for Mother Earth

Changing the power balance for women and the planet

Women’s March 2018 Seneca Falls. Credit: Mark Nozell, Merrimack, NY

A year ago, I joined millions of women making history as we marched in Washington, D.C. as part of the Women’s March. Women descended en masse on cities from Los Angeles to New York and small towns from Longeville, Minn., to Alpine, Tex. We all had our reasons for marching that day. I marched for myself, for my son, for the health and dignity of all women and for the future of our planet.

The sense of solidarity, empowerment and hope as we packed the streets was incredible, but the march was just the beginning. It sparked a movement that has demanded action across issues — from protecting reproductive rights to calling for an end to sexual harassment, protesting police violence to fighting environmental destruction. All of these fights for justice and the health of our bodies and our planet are intertwined.

Now, one year after the Women’s March, the movement is pushing for change at the polls. The focus is to make our government more representative and diverse.

I’m encouraged by this next step, not only as a woman but also as a physician and an environmentalist. Because those disproportionately affected by the politics of greed and profit — women, communities of color and frontline groups — are too often excluded from the political process. And in the past year, we’ve seen what government without real representation looks like.

States and the federal government have ruthlessly moved to make contraception prohibitively expensive or to eliminate access all together. Restricting access to birth control and comprehensive sex education contributes to the alarming rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States — nearly 50 percent, which is the highest rate in the developed world.

Medical Volunteers for DC Women’s March 2017

Women bear and raise children, frequently as the primary caregiver. Yet so often we don’t have the capacity to choose when, if or how many children we will have because our reproductive rights face an endless barrage of attacks.

There is often no safety net for women who experience these unplanned pregnancies. And unplanned births also contribute to a growing human population, which is paving over wild places, chopping down forests and worsening the effects of climate change. Women are on the frontlines of the environmental crisis — the ones bearing the brunt of caring for our families and communities in the wake of climate disasters and hazardous pollution.

Imbalanced power structures also threaten us in other ways. Women are subjected to sexual harassment, assault and coercion at alarming rates — rates that are even more severe for women of color. But this misconduct too frequently goes unaddressed because the structures meant to end abuses are woefully lacking or nonexistent.

Even when we’re not under attack, the needs of women and the consequences of policy that affect our bodies and our environment are often ignored by governmental bodies overwhelmingly controlled by men. They make these political moves with no concern over how they affect women, communities or the planet.

That’s why there is increasing urgency to bring power to the polls — to change the face of our democracy. And already there have been incredible electoral victories. Women, and notably those of color, won elections across the country this past November.

So this January we marched again. With the 2018 elections ahead of us, it’s time to shift the power to create an America that truly represents the health and rights of people, and cares for the future of the world we live in.

Catherine Thomasson is a senior population campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity.