MARQUETTE - Pushing what she termed a pro-equality agenda, social justice advocate Sandra Fluke offered a message of hope for the crowd gathered on Northern Michigan University's campus Wednesday evening.
"I see us moving toward a vision of equality, in what we want to see in our policies and what we want to see in our elected officials, in our representation," said Fluke, who was thrust into the national spotlight last year after testifying before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on the cost of birth control for women in America.
Fluke is most famous for being publicly vilified by conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.
Social justice advocate Sandra Fluke speaks with audience members about equality in America Wednesday evening on Northern Michigan University’s campus. Fluke was thrust into the national spotlight last year after testifying before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee about the cost of birth control. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
Fluke spoke inside the University Center's Great Lakes rooms about a legislative agenda that would serve the needs of the pro-equality coalition, a term she used to describe many minority groups in the country who heavily favored President Barack Obama both times he was elected.
She also discussed the number of minorities elected to Congress that year, highlighting the fact that 20 women are now a part of the U.S. Senate.
"Definitely all cause for celebration, and it's good to remember that this fantastic, record-breaking election in terms of women in the national legislature took us from 80th in the world to 79th. So, congratulations everybody," she said as the crowd laughed. "We do have something to celebrate, absolutely, but we've also got a long way to go."
Fluke spoke for roughly half an hour before opening up the floor to questions. The evening quickly turned into a conversation about public policy and what many felt was an ineffective Congress that had no interest in listening to their concerns.
"Talking to Congress is like talking to a stone wall," one audience member said as she asked Fluke for tips on how to make her voice heard, a topic which several people voiced their frustrations about.
"I know that there are these barriers," Fluke said. "But what's our alternative? Silence?"
People also asked Fluke her opinion on the effects of sequestration, the constitutionality of the filibuster and the 60-vote majority needed to end it, how to change the discourse surrounding women in America, the war in Afghanistan and education funding.
One woman asked Fluke about the difference in public outrage over the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case - in which two high school football players were convicted of raping a teenage girl - and the brutalization of a young woman in India, who was gang raped on a public bus and later died from her injuries.
"One of the things that we're really struggling with, I believe, around sexual assault, is our image of who commits a sexual assault," Fluke said. "What kind of person would do that? And it's a lot easier to think that only a monster would do that, not someone from one of our communities, someone that we know ... When it's someone who is a good student and a star athlete in a high school in a town that looks a lot like ours, we want to find a reason to say that it's not their fault."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.