My name is Yuri Rashkin and I was born in the Soviet Union. Though Joseph Stalin was dead for 5 years when my mom was old enough to go to college, his campaign of antisemitism was alive and well, and because my mother was Jewish, she could not follow her dream of becoming a doctor. Instead, my mother became a great piano player graduating from the Moscow Conservatory, and she worked at ballet school of Bolshoi theater in Moscow – one of the best in the world.
In 1988, when I was 13, my mother and father, sold most of our possessions to move the family to the United States. We turned our apartment over to the government and paid 500 rubles per person – several times what my parents earned per month – to surrender our Soviet citizenships.
My mother said it was the best money she ever spent.
At 47, my mother left behind her job, her friends and family, expecting to never see them again, all to give her children the best possible chance to succeed in this world, and that meant coming to America.
Had we stayed, at 16 I would’ve had to register for military service, which in Russia is compulsory, and would’ve probably ended up serving in Chechnya during the war. To pay for our journey from Russia, my mom and dad sold all of our furniture, and our large library – my parents were avid book collectors. All we could take with us when we left the Soviet Union was what we could carry in our suitcases and a few packages we sent by mail.
My mom’s dad survived Stalin’s concentration camps because my grandmother was an attorney and would not let his file get lost with millions of others. So it’s a result of some dedicated action by several women that I stand here before you today. I am forever grateful to my mom and my grandmother for the opportunity they gave me, to be here, and to run for office, and to make a difference in the country where I can be involved without being afraid for my life.
Today, is the day we celebrate standing together, united against the war on women. But who will put an end to this bizarre attack on women’s rights?
It is up to us, men and women together, to take a stand. We all have a role to play in demanding respect for our wives, sisters, mothers and daughters! We can’t stand silent and hope that these attacks that we know in our hearts make no sense, simply end.
German pastor Martin Niemoller is famous for this quote: First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
We, men, cannot pretend that this attack on women, does not concern us or that it does not attack our freedoms. These are our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters and their welfare is our welfare. Their happiness and safety is our happiness and safety. Their confidence in the future is our confidence in the future.
A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a nice older gentleman back in Janesville. I was expressing my disappointment because our local newspaper did not endorse a female candidate I supported in her race for the council. I said to the man that not only is it sad that this woman did not get the endorsement, but that we need to have more women on the council. The man looked me straight in the eye and said “No we do not. We need more men on the council.” At this point my jaw has hit the floor but the man continued. “The men have really dropped the ball lately and we need to step up and accept our responsibility to lead because women just aren’t good at making these kinds of decisions. They take things too personally.” I looked at him in disbelieve. This is not 1952, this is 2012! Yet these attitudes are all around us and people feel that it is okay to express these kinds of notions.
Those who attack the right of women to control their bodies or to make as much as men for the same work, are making a huge mistake because you do not attack icebergs if you’re Titanic. Since 1964, women voted in higher numbers and at higher rates then men, and more women register to vote then men. You do not make most voters into scapegoats. Those who stand firm for women’s issues must remember that there are far more of us and we must exercise our common sense, our ability to vote, and our power to make change!
I want to tell you a story about a friend of mine. Her name is Stephanie and she lives in Appleton. Stephanie was not particularly curious about politics and since she is a single mother of five kids, you know she’s got things to worry about. And then one day she came to school to drop off her kids and found out that teachers were gone to protest to Madison. And she thought “wow, these teachers are going to protest, to stand up for my kids!” And Stephanie got involved. She started making posts on her Facebook page, and in fact she was posting so often that she decided to start her own page where she would share those things that she cares about. Stephanie needed a good name for her page, and after thinking about it for a bit, she decided to start a page dedicated to news that she cared about. Stephanie called her Facebook page “I will get more “likes” than Scott Walker.” You may have heard of it.
Now Stephanie has over 11,000 fans who read her page and who know what’s going on with Wisconsin protests because of her page. Out of those 11,000 fans, there are a few who she makes really mad. They call her names, they make fun of her, they question her judgment, and they threaten her life. They have contacted her children and they broke into her online accounts. Why? Because they want her to stop speaking out. One woman in Appleton, Wisconsin, a single mother of five kids, is driving these big grown men up a tree because she won’t stop sharing the information and expressing her opinion. And that’s what one person can do.
Here, today and across this great state and across this amazing country, there are millions of us who will go, vote and make our voices heard. We can make an incredible amount of positive difference and we must do that. We need to do it for Stephanie, we need to do it for every woman that has ever spoken up, ran for office, or tried to live her life without government trying to interfere with her freedoms. But we also need to do this for ourselves, for our children and for our country. We must stand up for women because without women, we are just a lonely bunch of guys, wondering around, trying to figure out what to do with ourselves.