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Wednesday, June 20,2012

Pubic debate

With eyes on the November election cycle, thousands of women gather at the Capitol to protest censorship and heavy-handed abortion legislation; female politicians read from "The Vagina Monologues"

by Sam Inglot

You’ve never seen the word in one area so much in your life, let alone at the foot of the Capitol steps.

Vagina.

Signs and chants echoed the word across the front lawn of the Capitol in downtown Lansing on Monday night. Several thousand people showed up to support Rep. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, and Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, after they were banned from speaking on the House floor last week for a day because they said “vagina” and “vasectomy,” respectively. 

The legislators were speaking in opposition to Republican-led bills that, as Brown put it, “turn back the clock” on women’s reproductive rights, essentially undoing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade.

The ban has sparked national media attention and Brown has appeared on several national news programs to talk about the incident. Comedian Jon Stewart quipped on “The Daily Show” Monday night: “Vaginas aren’t like Voldemort or Beetlejuice. Invoking the name vagina doesn’t make them suddenly appear. Believe me, if they did, high school would have been very different for me.” 

With so much energy turned toward the issue, Eve Ensler, playwright of the famous production, “The Vagina Monologues,” decided to come to Lansing and help the female legislators of Michigan put on a performance of their own.

“I’m beyond excited,” said Maggie Martin, a Michigan State University arts and humanities major, before the show. “I was involved with the MSU production of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and it changed my life. The show speaks to the issue of not saying ‘vagina,’ how fear of the word is damaging and how embracing the word is actually very empowering.”

The fear and stigma surrounding the word is used to make bad decisions on women’s behalf, Martin said.

The situation involving Brown and Byrum has Martin “appalled,” but she said the “backlash has been extraordinary.”

“There has been a terrific response to such a horrible thing. What the House is doing is wrong but the opposition to those who don’t support it is even worse,” she said about the ban of representatives.

“What we have seen in Michigan … is an embarrassment,” said Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, to the roaring crowd. “We need to take a stand, and that begins tonight.”

On the steps of the Capitol, Byrum, standing next to Brown, made it clear that the controversial legislation — coupled with the silencing of legislators — will be prime cannon fodder for the upcoming political battles during election season.

“There are two words that they don’t want to hear on the House floor, and those are ‘vagina,’ ‘vasectomy.’ But my friends, there is one thing they don’t want us to do in November — and that’s vote!” Byrum shouted over the cheers and applause.

Hundreds of signs amongst the thousands of supporters — like “Remember in November” and “Vaginas Vote” — preached to the looming election cycle. 

“I am overwhelmed with the amount of support that we’re receiving,” Byrum said. “Not just in Michigan but around the United States and around the world. It is so humbling, for a woman like me, it makes me speechless — which is very hard to do.”

Byrum then introduced Eve Ensler, “The Vagina Monologues” playwright, to the steps.

“Are there any Michigan vaginas in the house?” Ensler belted into the mic, causing a roar of cheers from the crowd. “Any Michigan vagina-friendly men in the house? Michigan rocks!”

Ensler reminded everyone who attended that they have “sheroes” in Michigan, applauding the efforts of Byrum and Brown and other female legislators.

“I literally had one day off but I had to be here,” Ensler said. “You know why? These women stood up for our rights. They voiced what we want, and they were shut down, and no one can put the genie back in the bottle. The vaginas are out — and we are here to stay!”

Ensler also encouraged the crowd to demand a “direct, open apology from the people who made this ban happen.” 

Brown, Whitmer and Byrum partnered up with Ensler, eight other female legislators and 21 actors to perform “The Vagina Monologues” on the steps of the Capitol. The cheers from the performance could be heard nearly a mile away.


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