Category Archives: Politics

Women in Secularism Conference 2012

ImageTomorrow I’m going to be getting up bright and early to do all of those things I haven’t finished doing tonight in order to only be woefully behind when I get back home on Sunday, because I’m driving up to Washington, DC to go to the Women in Secularism Conference.

I was going to just do a list of people who I am excited to hear speak, but then I realized that it was everyone whose name I recognized, which meant that basically everyone, so I’m just pasting the whole list here for you!

If you’re in the DC area at all, you should make an effort to come, it’s going to be AWESOME.  Also, I’m hoping that I will get to meet Edwina Rogers.  Really, really hoping that happens because I’d love to report what she’s like in real life.

I will be live-blogging, which will probably translate to Twitter: @ashleyfmiller

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SCA: Really? Seriously? What are you doing?

The communications director at the SCA has just posted a blog post about the importance of bipartisanship.  In which she somehow fails to mention Edwina Rogers once AND uses stats that prove exactly how wrong she is.  This is a nightmare.

I think that it is more reasonable to say that the secular movement needs to be “non-partisan” rather than “bipartisan”, but I agree with her conclusion — we need to be reaching out to everyone of every party.

However, the statistics she uses only serve to emphasize the point that the Republican party and Republicans in general are much worse on secular issues than others.

But the GOP is not comprised of only conservative Christians. Another recent study found that 34 percent of Republicans (and 51 percent of the general public) agree that religious conservatives have too much control over the GOP.

One cannot use a statistic that says Republicans are far behind the rest of America in thinking that there is too much religion in government as a positive stat on the Republican stance on religion. And you’re just comparing them to a statistic which they are a part of, compare them to Democrats (60%) and you see an even more telling difference.

Then, she points to 30% of nones who are Republican.

As a result, we haven’t been able to reach quite a few on the conservative side who are either nontheists, or who may be receptive to the secular agenda. And there are quite a few. Nearly 30 percent of “nones”—people who do not identify with any religious affiliation—identify as Republican.

To begin with, the nones include atheists, agnostics, secular unaffiliated, and religious unaffiliated.  Oh, religious you ask?  Yes, in fact over 36% of the nones are religious.  So there are more religious nones than there are Republican nones.

But let us move beyond the fact that having a no affiliation doesn’t make you secular, and address the fact that this is still less than a third of the nones. I’m not saying they don’t matter, but to act like this supports the idea that Republicans are not incredibly anti-secular is absurd.

Finally, and this is a horrific misrepresentation of the data, she writes:

Between the Republican “nones” and the 34 percent of Republicans that don’t like where the Religious Right is taking their party– that’s a lot of people we’re missing if we work with only the other side.

Firstly, there is no reason to believe that the nones and the 34% of Republicans don’t overlap entirely.  Secondly, the way it’s worded is incredibly unclear and makes it seem like the 30% nones is a percentage of the Republican party and should be added to the 34%, it at least makes it look like those two things don’t overlap. Finally, it completely overstates the percentage of nones in the Republican party.  Nones make up 16% of the population, and none Republicans would therefore be 4.8% of the population.  36.4% of the population considers itself Republican, making the nones maybe 13% of Republicans.  And again, no reason to think that they aren’t part of the 34% and no reason to think that they are secular.

To pretend that those happy to mix church and state aren’t the vast majority of the Republican party and establishment is disingenuous, at best, and at worst, it is a transparent lie in an attempt to get us to support Edwina Rogers. Misrepresenting statistics is not the way to rally the community around her.  And it wouldn’t hurt to make this more explicitly an endorsement of your new executive director, because not saying it directly makes this seem a lot less honest.

The SCA should stick to their main argument, which is that we should be reaching out to everyone regardless of party.  Instead they’re playing a game of Lying with Statistics and avoiding every opportunity to be straightforward.  I am so very disappointed in them.

And I want to like Edwina Rogers, I really do.  I love the idea of a Republican on our side, I really do.  But the constant dissembling from her and the SCA is making it absolutely impossible to be on their side, and it’s really quite heartbreaking.

What I would like to hear from Edwina Rogers

Yes, I’ve written an imaginary PR e-mail from Edwina Rogers, the controversial new Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America, based on conjectures and false hopes and a little bit of AbFab.  It seemed the thing to do.

Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the SCA

“I want to start off with an apology for something I feel like I, and the SCA, have done a poor job of.  We’ve done a poor job of introducing me and an incredibly poor job of reaching out to opinion leaders in the atheist movement.  Undoubtedly, the behind-closed-doors decision to make what was bound to be a controversial hiring decision should have been tempered by a more comprehensive and immediate introduction and explanation of why I, of all people, was chosen for this position.

I have identified as a non-theist for a long time, but I am very new to this movement.  This is not because I don’t care about the issues you care about, I very much do, but they have not been my focus and, because of that, I really didn’t realize how bad things were until recently.  My career and my focus have been very issue centered, some of these issues overlapped with my own secular beliefs, but the fact is that issue-focused work tends to create a very insular worldview.  So, in many ways, I am a recent convert, not to your beliefs, but to your cause.

Which is where I have made another mistake.  This community is very engaged and very well-informed and I have done my best to educate myself quickly, but there are things I have missed on the way.  My recollection of statistics about Republicans from 20 years ago, for example, is not really the best gauge of Republicans now.  Sometimes I forget that that was an entire generation ago, it doesn’t seem that long to me.  And I have to admit that my claims that the majority of Republicans are pro-choice, OK with gay rights, and for the separation of church and state were as much a result of wishful thinking as they were of ignorance.  I have had statistics shown to me that do indeed prove I was dead wrong on this front.

And I need your help on this front.  I am trying, but I just am not as well-educated about this as those people who have focused on this cause their whole lives.  I know the goals of the coalition and am well-versed in those goals and don’t doubt my ability to execute them, but as for the wider culture of the secular movement and the less specific goals thereof, I will need more time to learn the nuances, and I hope you will help me rather than condemning me for my neophyte status.

My final big mistake is that I’ve been trying to focus exclusively on my positives without acknowledging my negatives and without engaging with them openly and honestly.  This is a fault of being in politics, it makes you quite the bullshit artist.  I should have known better in this community than to think I could dance around questions without being called on it.  So let me say that you are right.  You are right that I’ve worked for and support a party that disagrees, in majority but not in totality, with many of your goals.  But I was working for causes that I cared very deeply about, and I will not apologize for doing that.  And I will not abandon my party because other people have taken it in a direction I disagree with.  It is better for all of us if we can bring the party back in line with the goals of the secular community and I really do think that is possible.

So, just to recap, I haven’t done a good enough job introducing myself, I haven’t had the time to educate myself as thoroughly as the community is educated, and I have not been clear on acknowledging that there were some negatives to my background.  That said, I think I bring a lot to the table that I hope you can appreciate.

I am an experienced lobbyist and I know the workings of DC very well.  I have led coalitions in the past and had great success.  Although my work with Republicans is difficult for many of you to accept, it gives me an in to people who might not otherwise be as interested in hearing what we have to say.  And I am legitimately, passionately interested in promoting this cause.  I did not simply apply because I needed a job — I had a job, one that was a lot less contentious — I applied because I have become aware of some of the horrible inequities in this country for people who are secular.  I am just as horrified as all of you at the degree of influence the Christian Right has on the government, and I want to change that.  I have the credentials to do the job from a strictly political side, but I promise you that I am here because I want to be, because this cause is important to me, and because I think that I personally can make a difference through this position with the SCA.

The SCA chose me because I was, in their opinion, the best person for the job.  I wouldn’t dream of asking you to take it on faith that theirs was the best choice, but I hope that you can give me a chance and the benefit of the doubt for a little while.  I look forward to talking with you at conferences and through our local organizations.  Together, I really do think we can change this country in meaningful ways on important issues.

Best,
Eddie”

My Unite Against the War on Women Coverage

I am everywhere today, it seems.

I am quoted in the front page story of our local independent paper, the Free Times.

The couple watches as women’s advocate Ashley F. Miller, a doctoral candidate in mass communications at the University of South Carolina, stands at a podium on the State House steps and declares, “This is not just a war on women: This is a war on dignity … 88 percent of the jobs in the recovery have gone to men. Our poverty rate is 25 percent higher than men’s poverty rate. In South Carolina, we’re still only making 76 cents on the dollar.”

America, Miller says, could turn into a place where women in some states could be arrested for having a miscarriage, while the killing of abortion doctors in others could be considered justifiable homicide. (Indeed, lawmakers in Utah and South Dakota, respectively, have introduced legislation to such effect.)

I was interviewed for Voices of Russia Radio about the rally and why it is important.  I have actually managed to sit and listen to the whole thing.  I will try to get a transcript of this for you, I thought I acquitted myself quite well.

Finally! You can watch me give my speech from the rally.  Here is a livestream video of the entire event, my speech starts at around 57 minutes.

Unitewomen.org

This is not just a war on women

This isn’t just a war on women, it’s a war on dignity, it’s a war on common decency, it’s a war on the GOP’s own conservative principles.  When someone accuses liberals of being smug and turning our country into a “nanny state”, ask them which party thinks women are too stupid to make their own decisions about their body.

Ask them which party thinks a woman needs a sonogram, an intravaginal ultrasound, a lecture, and a 72-hour waiting period to be able to make a choice about their body.

This is not just a war on women, it’s a war against progress, it’s a war against economic recovery, it’s a war of obstructionism. It’s a war for gaining political points instead of actually helping people.

In 2011, there were 1100 bills about reproductive rights introduced at the state level; 135 passed.  So far this year, 45 states have considered 944 bills about reproductive rights.  Tell me, which of these bills created a job?  These jaded conservatives don’t think all of these bills will pass, they just want to prevent anyone else from actually governing.

Nikki Haley was almost right — women don’t care ONLY about contraception — so give us our rights so that you can get on with real legislation.

Women are not doing OK.  Our unemployment rate has stayed stagnate in the past three years.  88% of the jobs in the recovery have gone to men.  The rate of poverty for women is over 25% higher than that of men.  In South Carolina, we still make only 76 cents to the dollar.

This is not just a war on women, this is a war on the first amendment — on freedom of speech, on freedom of religion.

This is a war trying to force the Christian version of Sharia law into our secular constitution.

This is a war trying to make it so the 1960s never happened.  To take the US back to an imaginary time when women held “aspirin between their knees” and didn’t have sex.  Where it’s ok to repeal equal pay laws because QUOTE “men care more about money.”  In a country where 2/3 of women are the primary or co-breadwinners of their family.  It’s a war to make women’s only function to be married with children.

To create a world where we can arrest women for having a miscarriage and make killing abortion doctors Justifiable Homicide.  Where Maryland can justify cutting pre-school funding because women should be at home, NOT working.  Where Wisconsin can introduce a bill designating single parenting as child abuse.

Where Arizona can demand women prove they’re taking birth control for a REAL medical reason, as though NOT GETTING PREGNANT wasn’t a real medical concern.  This in a country where a woman is fourteen times more likely to die in childbirth than if she lived in Greece.  That sounds like a real medical concern to me.

They want to create a land where Arizona doctors can legally lie to women if they think it will prevent them from getting an abortion.  Where wife beating is LEGAL in Topeka, KS.  Where the ER can refuse to save a woman’s life if it might kill her unborn child.

Where democrats are so afraid of the religious right that the Obama administration ignored science and the advice of the medical community and prevented Plan B from being over-the-counter.  WHAT IS SCIENCE FOR?  Apparently just for Christian Conservatives to dismiss as a “liberal agenda”, the facts so rarely being on their side.

This is not just a war on women, it is a war on facts, it is a war on reality, it is a war on America.  Where women are worth less than fetuses, where Congress fights for horse contraception but not for women’s contraception.  Where conservatives are either ignorant or liars about how birth control works.  Where Susan Komen would rather cut funding to save women from breast cancer than be associated with Planned Parenthood.

This is not just a war on women.  It is not a war on women’s rights, it is a war on human rights.

But it is not hopeless.

Planned Parenthood raised over $400,000 when Susan Komen dropped them.  Republican women are starting to speak out for women, women like us.  Women like Senators Olympia Snowe and Lisa Murkowski. Women like Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Though it had opposition — far more opposition than I am comfortable with — the Violence Against Women Act passed the US Senate.  And there are things we can do.  We can vote this November for the president.

The Supreme Court has four justices over 70 and Mitt Romney’s chair of judiciary appointments is Robert Bork.

Robert Bork, the man Reagan failed to get on the Supreme Court 15 years ago.  Robert Bork who doesn’t believe in the right to contraception, much less abortion, who thinks discriminating against women is QUOTE “not possible”, who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  I know who I don’t want putting people on our already too anti-woman court.

We can vote.  We can run.  We can refuse to shut up.  We can tell our friends, our lovers, our husbands, our brothers, our sons.

We can fight and we will fight.

We’ve been sitting still for too long, but now we’re standing up and we will not be silenced.  I can’t speak for you, but I have no intention of sitting back down.

Thank you.

(Speech given at the Unite Against the War on Women Rally in SC)

SATURDAY: I’m Speaking Against the War on Women

The following is from the press release from the SC part of the Unite Against the War on Women.  I will be speaking at the State House on Saturday, at some point between 11:30AM and 1PM.  If you are in South Carolina, please come, if you are elsewhere, please find your local event and participate.  It seems the white male Christian establishment is determined to take away women’s control of their own bodies, women and men need to stand up for rights that we shouldn’t have to fight for in the first place.

The religious right shouldn’t be imposing their version of sharia on my body.

South Carolina Answers the CALL TO ACTION: UniteWomen.org Rally at Statehouse 4/28

A rapidly growing movement called UniteWomen.org is poised to push back on legislative efforts to erode women’s access to equal pay, reproductive healthcare, and protection from violence, with protest marches and rallies across the country on Saturday, April 28. The SC Rally will be held on the Statehouse grounds, Gervais Street side, from 11:30-1:00, with live music beginning at 11:00. This action is joined by 55 concurrent events planned nationwide and includes many high profile state and national leaders – a historic event that South Carolinians are proud to join and support.

The newly-minted organization has garnered more than 21,000 members nationally in less than two months, demonstrating the tremendous political will and commitment across the country to fight back against attempts to turn back the clock on women’s rights.

In addition to the April 28 actions, UniteWomen.org is also looking long-term to future actions and activity for the group. “We will not suffer the burdens of those whose ambitions would be fulfilled by the destruction of the human worth of mothers, sisters and daughters of this great nation,” founder Karen Teegarden said.

This all hits close to home for South Carolinians. Governor Nikki Haley has made the inaccurate statement that “Women don’t care about contraception.” This is actually of great concern for our state, where 3 out of 10 women will become pregnant by the age of twenty and 58 percent of all pregnancies are unintentional. Unintended pregnancies have a huge economic impact on our state. Births to teen mothers alone cost South Carolina taxpayers $197 million annually.

In addition:

 Nearly half of new sexually transmitted diseases in SC are diagnosed in young people age 15 to 24. South Carolina is also considered an HIV “Hot Spot”, with the 8th highest AIDS rate in the U.S., and 1 out of 5 new AIDS cases here are in people age 25 and under, with minority women especially at risk.

Yet despite all of these grim statistics, legislative support remains for abstinence-only sex education, an obvious disservice to our communities. To make matters worse, for 6 out of 10 women of all ages in the state, family planning clinics are their only source of healthcare, yet the clinics remain a target for budget cuts and legislative restrictions.

The time is right for such an event to stem the rising tide against women’s rights. SC Rally Organizer, Chris Cherry, has only just taken the reins of the South Carolina event and found tremendous enthusiasm in the community. In addition to support from volunteer organizations all over the state, many community leaders are stepping forward to join in the fight to protect the civil liberties of South Carolina women. Pioneers of the women’s rights movement in the 1970’s have answered the call toaction and will be speaking at this rally. “This is a fight that we thought was already won,” Chris said, “and now it is more evident than ever that we have to be firm in our resolve to secure those protections for American women.”

Chris has appeared on Progressive Talk Radio 1230 with Frank Knapp and the Power Hour Call-in show to discuss the upcoming rally. She’s participating in a round table on the War on Women and women’s rights issues on Thursday April 19th at 1:00pm PST/ 4:00pm EST with Steve Gelder of New Dissident Radio (http://www.newdissidentradio.com/ listen live or podcast). Chris will have a follow-up interview with Frank and making announcements regarding special guests and speakers for the Rally on Thursday, April 26th at 5:44 pm. Contact her directly to book speaking engagements or for quotes.

A full list of national endorsements and national media coverage can be found at UniteWomen.org.

Send an Atheist to Church: Ashley survives Brookland Baptist Church

As part of a fundraising effort for a cancer charity, the local Pastafarians at USC group took donations, in exchange for which the atheist members agreed to be sent to church.  I was sent, along with three other students, to Brookland Baptist church, in West Columbia, SC.

Brookland Baptist Church

I have not been to church in a long time. The closest I’ve been in the last five years is probably the local Unitarian Universalist fellowship, but as their minister is an atheist, I’m not sure how much that counts.  I have actually been to Brookland Baptist before, at the very end of 2006, when John Edwards was speaking there.  I was highly skeptical of him, but after seeing him demand healthcare for all and declare we needed a way to be patriotic besides war, I absolutely fell in love.  Which turned out real well.

Back to the church:

Brookland Baptist Church is a largely African American megachurch, founded in 1902. On Sunday, not only are the parking lots full, but the lots across the street are not enough. The church claims 5,300 members, seats 1,600 on the floor and 500 in the balcony.

Dove with laser beams

I arrived before my fellow heathens and had to wait outside for them.  Initially, I was quite self-conscious because everyone was staring at me, but when I realized it was just because I was the only white person there, not because I was an atheist, it became less worrisome.  For better or for worse, church services seem to be very heavily segregated.  Just as you’d only find one or two African-Americans at your average Episcopalian service, you’ll only find one or two white people at your average Baptist service.  They were, despite the staring, very nice and friendly.

The rest of the cohort arrived and we were sent up to the balcony because one of our members wanted to film some of the service.  I was a little disappointed not to be in the middle of the throng of people, but also relieved that no one would be judging me for being on Facebook during the boring parts.

And boy were there boring parts!

I am a temporally minded person and therefore was already highly irked that the service started 15 minutes late.  I was even more irked when it turned out that the service lasted nearly two and a half hours.  I would have much rather re-watched The Hunger Games with that time!  How someone sits through that every Sunday is beyond me.

Aside from the absurd length, I didn’t really note too many significant differences in the structure and audience participation than the last time I went to an Episcopalian service.  Admittedly, that service was at one of the churches that left the American Episcopalian church to join the Rwandan one because they hate gays so much, but you know, Episcopalianish.  Brookland did, however, have one of the best announcement voices I’ve ever heard — it was like the “In a world” voice, but he was just reading the locations and dates of events.  It was awesome.

This is the song that never ends

There was a lot of singing.  Interminable singing while the collection plate went around.  As much as comedians joke around that the Anglican church is joyless, but the Baptist church goes crazy with the music, there was no evidence of that.  The musak style choir songs were not joyful, just very long.  Fortunately, I had a book, since we were subjected to what probably added up to over an hour of this.

We were, however, very fortunate to have attended the day that we did because the focus was on education and they were recognizing the scholastic achievements of their students.  I don’t know what there normal services and sermons look like, but this was a perfect illustration of how important churches are to the minority community here.  It’s heartwarming to see an institution take so much time and effort to help children succeed and overcome the shortcomings of their schools and local environments.  It is a real shame that, in most cases, the only place they can find this support is in churches.  I know I’ve said it before, but I will say it again, secularists need to pick up minority causes — they are basic human rights issues and we should be on the front lines supporting them.

The church gave out scholarships to graduating high school seniors, and then had a college graduate come and deliver the speech for the day.  Anrae Jamon Motes graduated from MIT in 2010 and currently works as a consultant; he came to give advice to students in the congregation.  He was fantastic.

Motes plays with legos; I love the internet

The entire thrust of the speech was about using education to empower yourself, especially economically.  This is an important message to this community, a community that does not generally have economic power.  He did not really talk about religion until the very end of the speech, where he focused on the support system that the church had given him.  Truly it is not faith that changes these people’s lives, but the actions and support of this community, and that’s something that is quite moving.

That said, he did give some of the credit to Jesus, but I was very impressed by how pragmatic and practical the overall message of the entire day was.  This was not a day about God’s achievements, it was a day about people’s achievements, and much more enticing to an outsider for being so.

At the very end, the deacon made a call for people to join at a protest/celebration for the arrest that has finally come in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case.  There was a general call for people to be more proactive, to do more than just talk and complain and protest, to actually get out there and vote to change things.  Their goal is to empower people through evangelism, education, and economic change and they emphasized that their community “is about more than winning souls for Christ, it’s about changing lives.”  And to that I can certainly say, “Amen.”

South Carolina Democrats Fail Shamefully

My representative

Not one Democrat has entered the race for the US House of Representatives against Joe Wilson.  The party has entirely failed to recruit or field a candidate for a national office against a man who is an absolute disgrace to this state.  They also have not responded to my inquiries as to why they’ve failed to do so.  This shows not only a flagrant disregard for the state, but also a complete failure of priorities.

Normally when I am embarrassed at politics in my home state of South Carolina, it is because an individual Republican politician has done something that makes me cringe.  They disappear on the Appalachian Trail, say women don’t care about contraception, or scream “You lie!” during the State of the Union.  I am a generous person and I’m willing to allow that it’s really none of my business that Mark Sanford was having an affair, though there were some legitimate governmental interests involved in that story, and maybe Nikki Haley really meant to say women don’t only care about contraception, but other things as well.  But there is nothing about Joe Wilson’s outburst that is forgivable.

I care deeply about the truth, but there is a time and a place for pointing out perceived falsehoods and if a Democrat had screamed “You lie!” during one of George W. Bush’s State of the Union addresses, I would have condemned them as well.  There is a rebuttal aired immediately after the address just for such claims!  You’ve got a platform that doesn’t require being rude!

Of course, caring deeply about the truth, I should also point out that Joe Wilson was monstrously incorrect when he claimed that President Obama was lying.  If you’re going to be completely unnecessarily rude, at least get your facts straight first!

There’s nothing about Joe Wilson’s political career that redeems him from this behavior.  He is a supporter of keeping the treasonous rebel flag on Statehouse grounds.  He’s repeatedly voted to limit the rights of his gay constituents and of the country, he’s voted to make the PATRIOT act permanent and to remove our fourth amendment constitutional right to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure, he does not support scientific research, he does not support women’s rights, he consistently votes against education in a state that desperately needs better education, and he is a religious fundamentalist who doesn’t believe in separation of church and state.

The filing deadline has passed and I wish someone with any basic decency had taken the opportunity to use the public platform to bring some truth and dignity to the race, rather than more of the cowardly lies that Joe Wilson has to offer.  I wish I’d had $3,500 dollars and any knowledge of how to run a campaign or join a race because he’s the representative of MY district and I am mad as hell.  Perhaps Dick Harpootlian, the SCDem chair, should spend more time trying to get Democrats elected and less time insulting women, accusing Republicans of being gay, and schmoozing with Stephen Colbert.

South Carolinians deserve choices when it comes to sending a representative to Washington DC, but it looks like the 40% my district and of the state that votes blue is going to continue to be disenfranchised by a failure of the party and a failure of the system.

Ron Paul: Best of Comments as Interpreted by a Hippo

You may recall my post about why I think Ron Paul is a bad choice for secular voters and the horrific responses I got.  So did this hippo.  I could set it up more than that, but why?  Everyone should watch this.  It’s amazing.

Ron Paul: People seriously vote for this guy

This screencap alone speaks volumes.