Noted activists visit the Cities

Tracy Ellingson

Michelle Kibiger

Nationally-known feminists Gloria Steinem and Candace Gingrich spent Wednesday in the Twin Cities, asking Minnesotans to get out the vote for Senator Paul Wellstone.
Gingrich, the sister of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, endorsed Wellstone’s re-election bid at a rally with about 500 attendees in south Minneapolis. Steinem, who attended Wednesday night’s rally along with Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. Allan Spear, DFL-Minneapolis, spoke earlier that day to about 150 University students on the importance of voting.
Steinem told students attending the speech in Smith Hall that this election season is a “time of both maximum danger and maximum opportunity.”
Steinem said the danger is that a disproportionately loud voice of party extremists exists in American politics today. She said that two-thirds of the voting population have started voting less in elections while the other third have increased their voter turnout. This third, according to Steinem, represents extreme, right-wing voters who generally don’t share the same view as even many members of their own party.
“That’s not to say that everybody’s views shouldn’t have weight. On the contrary, everybody’s should have weight,” Steinem said. “But if only particular groups are voting, then we essentially give up our ability to defend our own weight.”
Steinem and Gingrich pointed out to students that America has a lower rate of voter turnout than most other democratic nations. Voter turnout is higher in such countries as South Africa, Russia and India, Steinem said.
The media, Steinem said, is partly to blame for poor voter turnout in the United States.
“The media really treats objectivity as if it means to be equally negative to both candidates,” Steinem said. By making politics look like a dirty game worthy of derision, she said, the media encourage indifference among potential voters.
Gingrich addressed the way in which the media analyze the gay vote in the United States. She emphasized that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans are not the only ones who vote — their family members do, too.
“Do they think we don’t have friends?” she said. “Do they think we don’t have families? Do they think we don’t have people who care about us?”
Gingrich works in the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C. gay and lesbian political group, on its voter mobilization campaign. She and Steinem, an author and consulting editor of Ms. Magazine, have been traveling across the country to emphasize the importance of voting for candidates who support equal rights for all Americans.
Gingrich said she has only recently paid attention to political issues. She said it took one Thanksgiving dinner conversation to open her eyes to what was going on around her. One of her sisters pointed out what her brother Newt had said in the paper that morning — “that homosexuals should be tolerated,” she said, “not celebrated and not condemned, but tolerated like our society tolerates alcoholics.”
“I really wasn’t even aware of what was going on,” Gingrich said. “It takes something to happen to us in our lives before we realize that there is a need for us to be active.”
At the end of Steinem’s talk students questioned her warning against voting for third-party candidates. Steinem said that those who vote for third-party candidates might actually be helping the major party candidate furthest from their own views.
In response to an audience question about Wellstone’s support of the Defense of Marriage Act, Steinem said that everyone must work to convince elected officials that homosexuals deserve equal rights and representation in Congress.
Steinem and Gingrich hoped their comments would serve to counter the influence of the right wing in American politics.
Gay and lesbian issues were the focus of the Gingrich’s rally in support of Wellstone’s reelection bid. Speakers at the event each noted Wellstone’s opposition to same-sex marriage, but said that his overall record makes him the best candidate to represent their interests.
“One vote does not a record make,” said Spear, who is also a University history professor. “One vote should not decide who our friends are.”
Wellstone appeared at the rally to thank Gingrich and Steinem for working to help him get reelected. He said that Minnesota was leading the way in the nation not only because of grassroots politics, but its intolerance for negative campaigning.
“Minnesotans don’t go for the politics of hatred,” Wellstone said.