INTERVIEW: Rep. Barb Byrum on being silenced a second time on the House floor yesterday


Drunk with power, House Republicans continue to silence their opposition

Yesterday the Michigan Legislature met for one day before reconvening again on August 15th. This occasion brought several protests to the Capitol, mainly from groups supporting women’s rights and disgusted with the way female legislators are being treated by their Republican colleagues.

The first event of the day began around 9:30 when Democracy for America (DFA) and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) joined with Representative Barb Byrum to deliver well over 100,000 petition signatures demanding an apology from House Speaker Jase Bolger for banning Reps. Lisa Brown and Byrum from speaking on the floor of the House last month. They described the ban as “like giving a kid a time out for a day” saying the women threw “temper tantrums”.

These offensive and sexist references have people across our state and across the country outraged at the misogynistic attitude displayed by male Republican “leadership” in Michigan. Referring to women lawmakers as if they were children in need of a good spanking has put them in the national spotlight.

Before delivering the petitions, Rep. Byrum delivered the following remarks:

Thank you so much for being here today. I appreciate the support of Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

The House Republicans silenced two female legislators last month just because we ‘dared’ voice our opposition to a bill that would directly affect me, my health, and the health of all Michigan women. They thought they could simply sweep this extreme anti-choice bill under the rug but they were wrong.

Because of their actions, thousands of you signed a petition calling on Speaker Bolger to apologize.

This is just another example of the majority’s misogynistic and cowardly tactics. The House Republicans have made it their standard practice to silence those who do not agree with them.

I was sent here to represent not only the women of Michigan but all middle class families and I hold that as one of my greatest responsibilities.

It is my sincere hope that in my lifetime we will see the day when little girls can grow up and be seen as equals in the workplace alongside their male counterparts. I had believed that day had already come, but it is clear to me, now that we have more work to do.

Thank you again!

I spoke with Matt Wall, Press Associate wihth PCCC about the petition delivery.

How did the PCCC and DFA get involved with this issue and connect with Rep. Barb Byrum and other female Michigan legislators?

We heard about it via local and national media reports. We first reached out to our membership to make sure that they agreed with us, and the response we got was decisive. We saw the silencing of women as emblematic of the Republican Party and their War on Women and thought it was the right time to hold them accountable.

Over what period of time were the signatures collected and how were they collected?

We first sent out an email to our members on June 18th and within 24 hours we got 18,000 signatures, and the momentum really kept up. By the end of the week we had over 40,000 signers, and the number kept going up, and is still going up because Speaker Bolger and House Majority Leader Stamas have still not apologized. The petition signatures were all collected online through a combination of emailing our members, reaching out to folks on social media and placing hard hitting online ads in Lansing, and the districts of Rep. Stamas and Speaker Bolger.

What was the response from Bolger’s staffers when the petitions were delivered?

They accepted the petition, but refused to offer any form of apology for silencing women.

What are the next steps? It’s clear that House Republicans continue to silence female Democrats. What can be done and will PCCC remain involved?

We’re going to continue to hold the Republicans accountable, we’ve kept it in the media and we’ve made sure they can’t pretend this didn’t happen. PCCC members donated over $1,000 for Lisa Brown. We’ll remind our members of this Republican War on Women before election day so voters will have the final say, because voters won’t be silenced at the polls.

What are suggesting Michiganders do to change this situation and to ensure that ALL legislators are treated equally and fairly in Michigan?

Hold republicans accountable at the polls. Go out and vote these GOP legislators that think it is OK to silence women out of office.

After this event, there was an event called “Women Take Back the Capitol”, billed as a day of rallies and lobbying. The event drew over 150 people despite thunderstorms and rain, and speakers addressed a whole range of issues affecting women. You can see a video recap of the event that the Lansing National Organization for Women (NOW) chapter put together HERE.

I spoke with Representative Byrum by phone this morning to ask her about yesterday’s events and her being silenced once again by the Republican “leadership” in the House.

You had a busy day yesterday, it seems. Tell me about the first event.

The day started out early, at around 9:30, where members of Democracy for America (DFA) and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) delivered 115,000 signatures calling for House Speaker Jase Bolger to apologize for banning me an Representative Lisa Brown from speaking on the House floor.” After a short gathering on the steps of the Capitol, we went inside and delivered the petitions to the office of Speaker Bolger.

How did they respond? Was Speaker Bolger there?

Well, they knew we were coming so he wasn’t there. We were very respectful but, as you’ve probably read, he did not apologize. Frankly, I didn’t expect he would apologize. He didn’t even have the courage to tell me to my face that I was banned from speaking last month so I didn’t expect him to have the courage to apologize for it. It’s so indicative of the GOP leadership. They are so arrogant, so sure of themselves, so sure “the voters spoke” in November 2010 that they won’t even speak with us. It’s astounding.

But, as we all know, not all of the voters actually DID speak in 2010. But I think they’re going to in 2012!

Did you attend the “Women Take Over the Capitol” rally later that morning?

Yes, I stopped by and said ‘hello’ and offered my support and encouragement. There were people speaking on a whole range of topics from reproductive rights to breastfeeding, etc.

I understand you were prevented from speaking on the House floor again yesterday. What happened there?

Yes, I was prevented from speaking. We were dealing with House Bill 4611 which addresses pay equity. I stood at the podium trying to speak, waving and jumping, trying to get Speaker Bolger’s attention. He wouldn’t even look at me or toward our side of the room. I mean, I was wearing a bright pink scarf. I couldn’t possibly have blended in!

Finally someone suggested that I move to Rep. Kate Segal’s position which was more in his direct line of site. He finally recognized me. I asked for a motion to suspend the rules, which was granted. I then asked to discharge House Bill 4611 [to release it from committee to the full House] and that was rejected. They then immediately postponed it for the day which means they basically put it off until later in order to prevent discussion and would not allow me to speak on the bill. Because they postponed it for the day, it won’t be taken up again until we meet again on August 15th and they could postpone it indefinitely.

So they did this to stop you from speaking on a bill that would establish pay equity for all Michiganders, regardless of their gender or for other reasons?

That’s right. We are still being silenced by the Republican leaders in the House.

What advice do you have for the citizens of Michigan to stop this silencing of elected officials in our state legislature?

I would tell them to talk to their neighbors. Talk to your coworkers. Talk to your family. Talk to your friends and talk to your enemies! Tell them that elected officials are STILL being silenced in the legislature. My word, Speaker Bolger and the other Republican leaders won’t even speak to me!

I would also encourage them to keep coming to the Capitol to have THEIR voices heard. Come out when we reconvene on August 15th and demand that all elected representatives are treated equally and be allowed to speak.

You know, so many people are outraged by this. When they called us “childish” and said we were “throwing temper tantrums”, those comments are so sexist. I mean I’m one of the most senior members of the legislature! To suggest that I was disrupting the decorum is ridiculous.

This isn’t happening in another country. This is happening in MICHIGAN! It’s happening in AMERICA, not some foreign country.

How have people from your district been responding to all of this? Are you getting any feedback from your constituents? Are you being supported, in general, in your efforts?

The response I have been getting has been extremely positive — from throughout my district, the state, the country and, quite frankly, the world. Remember, this is America and we are in the year 2012! People that historically been on the opposite of issues as I am are supporting me on this!

Rep. Byrum’s treatment, along with that of her female colleagues and, indeed, all Democrats in the legislature has been scandalous. It’s entirely appropriate that it is getting the national coverage and derision that it has. Her final comment, that people who are normally on the opposite side of issues are supporting her on this is spot on, too. As well they should be.

Her assessment was echoed in an experience my wife Anne had yesterday. She attended the rally at the Capitol and overheard a woman behind her say that she was “probably on the ‘other side'” politically from most of the other attendees. Her curiosity piqued, Anne approached her. “I’m curious why you came today,” she asked her.

“Because I am a woman,” the woman responded.

This has gone beyond partisan politics. This is gender politics. The patriarchal Republicans are treating their female colleagues as less than equal; as if they were children who need to be shown how to act, what to believe, when to talk, and when to be quiet.

The War on Women is real and nowhere is it more obvious and blatant and insulting than right here in Michigan. From what I am seeing and hearing, any Republican who will appear on the ballot in November should be very afraid of losing their seats because not only are Democrats motivated and energized to vote them out of office, their female constituents have had enough, too.

The pendulum that swung to the right in 2010 is about to swing back to the left with a vengeance in 2012. We only need ten seats to regain the House and the likelihood of that looks better and better every time House Speaker Jase Bolger and his male colleagues make the headlines.