Thursday, March 29, 2012

Georgia's SB 469 Defeated

ATLANTA, GA - SB 469, an anti-union and anti-protest bill, would had turn nonviolent civil disobedience into a felony punishable by imprisonment for one year and a fine of ten thousand dollars for organizations and one thousand dollars for individuals. It also has provisions intended to weaken unions. The Georgia General Assembly ended sessions and the bill that would had make Martha Burk a criminal was defeated.

The bill was introduced by State Reps. Don Balfour (R-Snellville), Bill Hamrick (R-Carrollton), Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), and Ross Tolleson (R-Perry). All four Senators are members of an organization called the American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC). ALEC bring corporations and lawmakers together to draft template legislation that is introduced in other states to change policy. ALEC claims to be nonpartisan but is funded by several right-wing thing tanks, according to the opposition.

It has been 9 years since Martha Burk, then the chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, famously led a Masters week demonstration outside Augusta National to protest the club's male-only membership policy. Many in the golf establishment and in the media, deemed Burk's efforts a failure because the rally drew just a few dozen protesters.

But for Burk, the demonstration in a muddy field down the road from the club's main gate was not the end of her campaign. The fight, the Texas native says, was just heating up.

In a wide-ranging interview in the past Burk took a critical look back at the 2003 Augusta protest that drew a Ku Klux Klan member who brought along pictures of his poodles, an Elvis impersonator, unabashed male chauvinists and international attention. She also talked about why she no longer respects Tiger Woods, sexual harassment at Madison Square Garden and how the 2008 presidential campaign proved sexism remains more palatable to Americans than racism.

The controversy began with a seemingly innocuous private letter, and spiraled into the biggest media event in golf history. The Augusta National membership dispute dominated headlines and water-cooler conversation for nearly a year, propelled by twenty-first-century hot-button issues and a pair of perfectly drawn foils in William (Hootie) Johnson and Martha Burk.

The Constitution allows Augusta's right to decide its membership, at the same time Augusta's policy is inappropriate since it is part of a golf world governed by a nondiscrimination policy. Is Augusta National receiving any special tax treatment or subsidies that furthers the cause of sexual discrimination?

Burk wanted to post 24 demonstrators outside the front gate of Augusta National and 200 more across the street during the Masters Tournament. Sheriff Ronald Strength, who has broad authority over public protests, said there's too much traffic in front of the club during the tournament to ensure safe protests. Strength told Burk and other groups they must gather at a 5.1-acre site nearly a half-mile from the gate.

A group headed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson also has been approved for a second site even further away from the club's main entrance. ACLU lawyers challenged the ordinance, saying it gives the sheriff too much power to approve or deny protests and dictate their location.

At the end, Martha Burk had won her 1st Amendment court case against the city of Augusta. Mayor Bob Young after one of the biggest PR debacle in Augusta government left town before ending his term for a more relaxing job.

Mr. Young is touring with his new book. Signing a check to the order of the taxpayers could be nice.

The irony 9 years later is that the General Assembly is trying to impose to women in Georgia one of the most intrusive form of government regulation in their health and private lives. The "war on women" is advancing with a proposed "fetal pain" bill that would tighten medical exemptions for abortion and reduce the period in which an abortion can be performed to 20 weeks. Forget the Augusta National all male stuff.

Georgia’s legislative session ended Thursday 29. Georgia’s state legislators withdrew S.B. 469.

The current chairman Billy Payne, who took the job in 2006 promising to stick to Masters traditions, has to face the issue from a far more modern angle: I.B.M.’s decision last year to name Virginia M. Rometty as its chief executive.

As Dan Wetzel writes on, sticking to the no-female members policy means excluding the head of its major corporate sponsor because she is a woman, which means elevating sexual discrimination above other priorities, including being the club of the business elite.

Traditionally, I.B.M. chief executives are invited to join Augusta, which isn’t a tradition that would get shoved aside lightly because I.B.M. remains one of only three main sponsors of the Masters.

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