By Shirley Chisholm
U.S. House Representative Of New York
Address To The United States House Of Representatives
May 21, 1969
Mr.Speaker, when a young woman graduates from college and starts looking for a job, she is likely to have a frustrating and even demeaning experience ahead of her. If she walks into an office for an interview, the first question she will be asked is, "Do you type?''
There is a calculated system of prejudice that lies unspoken behind that question. Why is it acceptable for women to be secretaries, librarians, and teachers, but totally unacceptable for them to be managers, administrators, doctors, lawyers, and Members of Congress.
The unspoken assumption is that women are different. They do not have executive ability orderly minds, stability, leadership skills, and they are too emotional.
It has been observed before, that society for a long time, discriminated against another minority, the blacks, on the same basis - that they were different and inferior. The happy little homemaker and the contented "old darkey" on the plantation were both produced by prejudice.
As a black person, I am no stranger to race prejudice. But the truth is that in the political world I have been far oftener discriminated against because I am a woman than because I am black.
Prejudice against blacks is becoming unacceptable although it will take years to eliminate it. But it is doomed because, slowly, white America is beginning to admit that it exists. Prejudice against women is still acceptable. There is very little understanding yet of the immorality involved in double pay scales and the classification of most of the better jobs as "for men only."
More than half of the population of the United States is female. But women occupy only 2 percent of the managerial positions. They have not even reached the level of tokenism yet No women sit on the AFL-CIO council or Supreme Court There have been only two women who have held Cabinet rank, and at present there are none. Only two women now hold ambassadorial rank in the diplomatic corps. In Congress, we are down to one Senator and 10 Representatives.
Considering that there are about 3 1/2 million more women in the United States than men, this situation is outrageous.
It is true that part of the problem has been that women have not been aggressive in demanding their rights. This was also true of the black population for many years. They submitted to oppression and even cooperated with it. Women have done the same thing. But now there is an awareness of this situation particularly among the younger segment of the population.
As in the field of equal rights for blacks, Spanish-Americans, the Indians, and other groups, laws will not change such deep-seated problems overnight But they can be used to provide protection for those who are most abused, and to begin the process of evolutionary change by compelling the insensitive majority to reexamine it's unconscious attitudes.
It is for this reason that I wish to introduce today a proposal that has been before every Congress for the last 40 years and that sooner or later must become part of the basic law of the land -- the equal rights amendment.
Let me note and try to refute two of the commonest arguments that are offered against this amendment. One is that women are already protected under the law and do not need legislation. Existing laws are not adequate to secure equal rights for women. Sufficient proof of this is the concentration of women in lower paying, menial, unrewarding jobs and their incredible scarcity in the upper level jobs. If women are already equal, why is it such an event whenever one happens to be elected to Congress?
It is obvious that discrimination exists. Women do not have the opportunities that men do. And women that do not conform to the system, who try to break with the accepted patterns, are stigmatized as ''odd'' and "unfeminine." The fact is that a woman who aspires to be chairman of the board, or a Member of the House, does so for exactly the same reasons as any man. Basically, these are that she thinks she can do the job and she wants to try.
A second argument often heard against the equal rights amendment is that is would eliminate legislation that many States and the Federal Government have enacted giving special protection to women and that it would throw the marriage and divorce laws into chaos.
As for the marriage laws, they are due for a sweeping reform, and an excellent beginning would be to wipe the existing ones off the books. Regarding special protection for working women, I cannot understand why it should be needed. Women need no protection that men do not need. What we need are laws to protect working people, to guarantee them fair pay, safe working conditions, protection against sickness and layoffs, and provision for dignified, comfortable retirement. Men and women need these things equally. That one sex needs protection more than the other is a male supremacist myth as ridiculous and unworthy of respect as the white supremacist myths that society is trying to cure itself of at this time.
Congresswoman (D-NY); Co-founder, National Women's Political Caucus; Author, 'Unbought and Unbossed'
May 6, 1972
Ladies and gentlemen, I am very glad to be here this afternoon. As all of you are well aware of the fact by now, inspite of what has been said about my candidacy, I indeed am a very serious candidate for the presidency of this country. It's recognized that it takes a little bit of time for people to get over a few psychological shocks now and then. But then, if we're going to be able to effect change within the system, even though said system has not given a lot of people hope because of color, sex or other factors, that they have to be people who are just merely Catholics and there have to be people who say, We dare. They have to be people who just say, Look we're just as good as the rest of you and even though you may snicker and laugh, you're going to take a try at it. So I'm out here, having lots of fun, giving a message to people in this country; a message that is sorely needed; a message which reflected itself last night in terms of the unfortunate incident with respect to one of the other candidates who was running for this office - a clear indication of the malaise in America today, an indication that you certainly need new input on the top level in this country, that you certainly need the creative capacities and other kinds of solutions to peoples who have not had the opportunity to have some input in this government on the highest level. So today I just want to talk a little bit about the whole economy. I want to say to you that we can't do anything about the problems confronting us here at home until we are able to end that atrocious war which takes 70 cents out of every dollar that we pay into the Federal Treasury.
And thus, and thus part of the reason for the disquietude, the anxiety and the concerns of the American people have to do with the fact that their tax dollars that are being paid into the Federal Treasury are not being returned to them in terms of what it is that they should get out of this government, which is their government, and which is supposedly government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
The disastrous performance of the economy under the current administration can be largely understood as the result of the big business orientation of this government and its utter disregard for critical problems of the consumer. Millions of low-income Americans have deeply suffered from the administration's callous handling of the economy and the recession has, of course, created very tragic side effects: increased crime, increased welfare roles, and widespread despair among the poor and the unemployed of America over the moral intentions of this administration. And more and more Americans are beginning to realize how close the Nixon administration's alliance is with the huge corporate and business interest of this nation. They remember clearly when six days after his inauguration the president announced that the government would not intervene in price and wage discussions, and they remember very clearly when the administration calmly admitted that an increase in unemployment in America would be necessary to reduce inflation - and the result of this passivity towards the rich on one hand and the incomprehensible cold-bloodedness towards the worker and the poor on the other hand has been the worst possible economic crisis: virtually complete economic stagnation, increased and continuing inflation, record high unemployment, the first trade deficit since 1893, a huge balance of payment deficits, a world monetary crisis and the forced devaluation of the dollar. And the economic record of the administration is very clear and its statistics are appalling for the average American taxpayer. The cost of living in America has risen under this administration at a rate double that during the previous one. Food prices have skyrocketed, the cost of owning a home has soared. Medical and hospital costs have now shot completely beyond control. Local transit fees have gone up 18 percent. Basic commodities such as copper and steel mill products increased in the first year of this administration to the percentage increase during the entire eight-year period from 1961 to 1968.
The policies of this administration have caused the largest increase in unemployment in over a decade, an increase from 3.5 percent to over 6 percent of the labor force, or two million jobless working right now in America. The unemployment rate for construction workers has more than doubled. The unemployment rate for manufacturing employees has almost doubled. The number of workers forced to live on unemployment compensation has doubled. The unemployment rate for black Americans has climbed to over 10 percent. Black teenage unemployment is at an intolerable 38 percent. There is little sign that this administration has any real concern for the personal impact of unemployment in terms of relatives out of work, while prices have soared and the low-income worker has lost his job.
The Nixon administration's bungling has virtually halted our nation's economic growth. The industrial production index fell steadily during the past three years and the real gross national product has declined. The cost of just borrowing has risen at an alarming rate, with interest rates soaring to the highest level in 100 years in this country. Housing construction has fallen more than 20 percent. State and local governments have been unable to borrow for vital public projects so they've had to close schools or to saddle the taxpayers with burdensome interest costs.
This recession represents the fourth major recession in this country of the past 20 years - all having occurred under Republican administrations. But at the root of it all is the unique privileged relationship which these administrations have enjoyed with the nation's giant corporate and industrial interest, whose arrogant power has for too long been permitted to control Washington and thus all of our lives. In the time-honored tradition of what is good for General Motors is good for the country, this administration refused to act when at the outset of its first year in office, big business coolly and confidently proceeded to announce huge price increases on a wide range of products.
And as prices began to rise along the entire economic front, the administration then began to cut back on government spending in an effort to cool inflation. Which were the federal programs to be cut first of all? Federal assistance to libraries and related community services, education centers, aid for handicapped children, bilingual education, community health centers, medical libraries and health research facilities, assistance to medical schools and consumer assistance. Everything that has to do with the conservation and preservation of the human resources in this country. Many jobs in these vital fields were abolished, people were thrown out of work. The Job Corps program was substantially reduced and the OEO office is just about gutted. And at the same time that this was going on, the administration energetically pushed those rates with enormously expensive programs benefiting the big business constituency. The ABM, the SST, the C5A, highway construction and the continued unjustifiable subsidies for corporate farms in this nation, while the Indians up on the reservations can't even get enough food to eat. And by slashing domestic programs, by continuing the 10 percent income tax surcharge and by its tight money policy of high interest rates, the Nixon Administration has by record - not by rhetoric, but by record - sacrificed the ambitions and energies of millions of low-income Americans: those who could at least afford to bear the burden of such a sacrifice.
We heard much in the 1968 campaign of the Nixon promises of jobs and training for black Americans, and of his firm support for black capitalism. One look at the record and at the ghettos of America's cities shows the utter emptiness of these campaign promises. The only action by the administration to promote black capitalism was the creation of an Office of Minority Business Enterprise in the Commerce Department, an office with no authority to make loans or to fund or supervise the programs. One after another the helpless officials of this program have not surprisingly been forced to quit the program. And with, the administration, having virtually destroyed any hope for improvement in the miserable economic position of poor of this country, Congress acted. It passed the law to provide hundreds of thousands of immediate jobs to the unemployed and the president vetoed it. Congress passed a bill providing daycare centers for children whose mothers could then join the workforce and get the kind of training and skills that are necessary to cope in a very highly automated society, because after all haven't many Americans been saying, "What are we going to do with the bums and the lazy people on welfare?" Well, we're here to tell you that they don't want welfare, and many of them have been on public assistance because of the presence in this country of an economy and of a system which relegated thousands of poor people to second-class citizenship status and people who never had the opportunity to really realize what this American dream everybody talks about is really meaningful to them. People don't want welfare, believe it or not, even poor people. They have pride, they have dignity, but if by virtue of a society that has had inherent racism in the society, they have not had the same kind of equality of opportunities through the years; of course they're caught in a situation. We're in a highly automated society; they need training; they need skills and they don't have it because the unions won't even open up to let them in for apprentice and journeyman training programs. So we have to stop scapegoating and generalizing about people and say that the republic is in trouble. It hasn't always treated everybody well.
The administration then turned around, and showing where its real interest lay, acted to give billions of dollars of tax relief to business via the 10 percent investment credit, on top of its $4 billion a year depreciation reform. So this incredible story ends. If the chairman of the board of General Motors, earning a salary of three-quarters of a million of dollars in 1971, at the same time that the unemployed in Seattle have so little to eat that Japan feels obligated to ship some food over here to help them survive, gosh. More and more thoughtful Americans, including a growing number of businessmen, have been shocked to learn of the economic inequality and exploitation, which is destroying the very fabric of American society. They have come to realize that this is a government of, by and for big business. The Nixon Cabinet and other top officials in the administration represent one of the greatest concentrations of individual wealth in the world. For the past one year I've been studying this and someday we'll be able to really see what I've come up with. And as such, they predictably resisted for so long, the use of the powers of the presidency in curbing the inflationary pressures that have been destroying the value of the American dollar. The economic philosophy of the administration is based on the principle that the business of America is business, and this being the case, the economic reality for the inexperienced and the untrained black man and the Indian and the Chicanos and the poor will have to continue to be: the last hired and the first fired. This is an administration which ignores the social and psychological costs of its policies to the common man. It is an empty shell; the tool of slick advertising techniques; the prisoner of narrow political allegiances and the faithful servant of those privileged and selfish economic interests, which systematically block every attempt to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor in this country.
Rebuilding and revitalizing this society after four traumatic years depends more than anything else on meaningful changes in our economic priorities and this, the Nixon administration by its very nature can really never accept. A government so heavily dependent on a small clique of corporate millionaires, industrial polluters and privileged power brokers can never be seriously expected to concern itself with the day-to-day problems of the poor, the working man, the unemployed, the black, the young or the elderly pensioner.
I believe that the future of our great society depends upon the ending of government by the conservative, repressive and selfish. It depends upon the ending of economic exploitation of the common man, both black and white, by those privileged powers which now rule in Washington. Of course, for people who have not really known what it is to be poor or for people who do not really understand the significance of the rumblings of the veritable social revolution that is going through this country, it is impossible for you to understand the outrage - the outrage of people who are saying that they're sick and tired of tokenism. They're sick and tired of "see how far you've comeism." But they want their just share of that dream and that pride that everybody talks about.
If you've traveled in this country you've seen how the Indians are living. Do you know that this country belongs to the Indians? And to see how these people are living and to realize that the latest Department of Labor statistics indicate quite clearly that close to 70 percent of these people do not live to see the age of 40. You could never come back here in this room and feel the same when you visit the reservations and see what is happening to these people. You go into the Appalachia region of the country, this most affluent society, and see the numbers, the numbers of poor Whites. And I have visited with them. They haven't seen politicians in 50 years, and many of them are a little bit surprised when they saw me because what am I doing, a black woman, coming into a poor white community? And I've said to them, "I'm concerned about your humanity. Of course, You're not going to see politicians; haven't you read the message? You're not important, you're poor. You'll see them every four years when it's time for votes." But to go into those areas and to see how those people are living in West Virginia and the hills of Kentucky: no floors, dirt. You walk into their place - it's dirt. No modern sanitary plumbing facilities, you have to go out in the back. America, this land of the free and the home of the brave. And to see how we can send so many care packages abroad. We have a sense, a deep sense of our moral obligation to people who are less fortunate than we are, and to thank God that we're able to extend a helping hand. But have you thought recently of sending care packages to America's children in the hinterlands of this country? And so, I say that the time has come in America when those of us who by dint of economic security, financial stability, have a responsibility, a gut commitment if you will, to help in this country to readdress itself to the priorities of human beings first of all, particularly the human beings who are in need of so much help, particularly the helpless and the powerless. The time has come in America when we must recognize that vacuums in this society are being filled all over America by white extremists and by black extremists and this should be a clear indication to all of us that you are not assuming your correct role of leadership because you're so contented, perhaps, in your own little worlds, that you don't even recognize that those who have been relatively helpless and/or powerless are taking over completely because they can't depend on you any longer to give a sense of direction and to take them by the hand and say, "Come along, we will help."
The republic is in deep trouble. It takes a great many things for me to get upset, but I've never been so upset as I have been the past seven months as I've gone up and down the length and the breadth of this country, to realize that we just put $225 billion the other day into a space program. Where are we going? And in cities of this country to realize that so many thousands of Americans take two to three hours daily to go to work from their places of residence back home again. The whole day? That money should be utilized for the development of massive transportation facilities in this country in areas that at least have a population of 250,000 people or better. What are we building going up there for when right here on earth our people can't even get transportation to go to work. What madness are we on? And to watch how people have to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning in many areas of this country to get to work to a job that starts at 7 a.m. There's no reason for that. Our priorities are all mixed up, ladies and gentlemen. This is why we need some people now with common sense. We need people who are not merely academicians and theoreticians and bureaucrats drawing up blueprints for change in this country, when these people have absolutely no attunement or sensitivity to the kinds of programs and projects that are necessary to help America. I'm not talking about black people. At least black people are just asking for in because they've been left out. But a lot of your own folks are saying what is wrong that government is not addressing itself to the needs of the American people, and I just hope that we really begin to realize what is really happening to all of us at this hour in America.
The time has come when we can be no longer the passive recipients of whatever the politics or the morals of a nation may decree for us as a people. But if we have the courage of our convictions and if we believe in the Judeo-Christian doctrine, and if you believe just simply in man's humanity to man; if you believe that it is time to really save America's children, that a lot of us will go home and reassess our own commitments and our own priorities and move in a different sense of direction to help to save our country. The challenge is here for all of us. Will we merely continue just to use the powerless and the helpless as scapegoats, or using generalizations against them or about them? Or will we now take the bull by the horns and say that we have failed in certain areas but we will come together and make the American dream, at least in this generation, become some kind of reality for lots of folks. Thank you.