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Take Up The Song

Below the Belt: A Biweekly Column by NOW President Kim Gandy

July 14, 2008

In my January Below the Belt column called "Maddening Reminder," I wrote about the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the countless forms of violence against women internationally - from acid and bride burning, to genital mutilation, to sexual slavery, murder and more. Most recently, a painful reminder has me looking closer to home.

Two weeks ago, 25-year-old Jana Mackey was found dead in the home of the boyfriend she had broken up with a few weeks earlier.

Jana changed a lot of lives in her 25 short years. She had been the Kansas NOW lobbyist, co-president of the Lawrence NOW chapter, and was a volunteer advocate at a safe house helping victims of sexual assault. Jana had organized a Kansas contingent to the 2004 March for Women's lives, lobbied against anti-abortion legislation, and in favor of equal marriage. And she was entering her second year of law school, so she could be an even better advocate for women.

A quick internet search turned up half a dozen news stories in the last few days - all young women who had been murdered or abducted, likely by husbands or boyfriends from whom they were estranged. Yet the Violence Against Women Act still doesn't contain enough protections for women who are fleeing violence. In Jana's honor, we need to do more.

The statistics of domestic violence against women in the United States are staggering - where three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day. And yet we hear constantly that judges are refusing protective orders to frightened women, and even ordering continued contact with batterers in order to accomplish custody or visitation exchanges. Some judges even turn over custody to the abuser. In Jana's memory, we must do more.

I've read many blog discussions of Jana and her fate, and some of them devolved into victim-blaming of the "she knew so much about domestic violence, so how did she get herself into this situation" variety. On the contrary, the real point is that if this can happen to someone like Jana, it truly can happen to any woman. None of us are immune to partner violence, and each of us has an obligation to work to eliminate this scourge.

A few final words about Jana, who is being remembered by NOW leaders across the country. Gina Austin-Fresh, National NOW Board member, remembers Jana as, "...a remarkable young woman and a devoted advocate of women's rights." A close friend of Jana, Marla Patrick, the State Coordinator of Kansas NOW, remarked, "Jana was a daily inspiration. She worked so hard to ensure the women of Kansas would know a better future. We have lost a champion. The world is truly dimmer without her."

One of the blog writers posted a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, which had been written in honor of suffragist Inez Milholland, who died at age 30 while campaigning for womens' right to vote.

It is a fitting tribute to our friend and sister in the struggle, Jana Mackey:
Upon this marble bust that is not I
Lay the round, formal wreath that is not fame;
But in the forum of my silenced cry
Root ye the living tree whose sap is flame.
I, that was proud and valiant, am no more -
Save as a dream that wanders wide and late,
Save as a wind that rattles the stout door,
Troubling the ashes in the sheltered grate.
The stone will perish; I shall be twice dust.
Only my standard on a taken hill
Can cheat the mildew and the red-brown rust
And make immortal my adventurous will.
Even now the silk is tugging at the staff;
Take up the song; forget the epitaph.

Will you take up Jana's song? If you're not already involved, what better time to find out how you can help. Check with your local NOW chapter or your community's anti-violence program to find out whether they need volunteers, whether there is legislation pending that could use your advocacy, or whether you can use your networks to spread the word.

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