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Tatyana Ali: ‘What Hurts My Sister, Hurts Me’

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Tatyana Ali

Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC was revelatory and inspiring. I felt empowered to write this.

It enraged me to see women at the Republic National Convention last week stand beside men who have promised again and again to take us back into the dark ages when it comes to reproductive rights, access to education, access to adequate health care and arts funding. I thought about it long and hard and then I realized that many of these women of means have no idea what their sisters who live blocks away in neighboring districts will have to go through if these men are elected to office. The idea of not being able to afford contraception, or potentially life-saving tests like cervical cancer screenings, pap smears or mammograms is so foreign to them that they could laugh and clap in Tampa all the while knowing that these policy proposals loom in the horizon.

This is as much a matter of class as it is about women’s rights, health care, budget cuts in education and the arts and humanities. The folks who would suffer most from the Romney-Ryan policy proposals are low-income and middle class, hard-working women and families.

Think about it. If you cut access to adequate health care by repealing the Affordable Care Act, gutting Planned Parenthood and turning Medicaid into a voucher program, you are essentially pinning low income and middle-class families to their current economic reality. How can a woman move her family into higher economic strata, generationally speaking, if she has no access to contraceptives? Without reasonable access to birth control, without the ability to end an unwanted pregnancy even in the cases of rape and incest, without being able to afford the maintenance of her own good health and the health of her children, how can she put food on the table and raise her family up?

Budget cuts in education and the arts and humanities are also class issues. Public education needs more funding, not less. Education is a democracy’s most essential tool to upward mobility. It is the great equalizer. My parents came to this country from Panama and Trinidad believing that they could educate themselves and their children and make a better life for themselves. And they did. The case for education’s impact on maintaining the health and vibrancy of our democracy has been stated time and time again from the very beginning of our nations founding. Thomas Jefferson understood this to be of core importance. Our universities and institutions of higher learning attract people from all over the world seeking opportunity and freedom. And, the Republican answer to a steadily recovering economy is to cut the grants that make these colleges accessible?

My favorite has to be the cuts to the arts and public broadcasting. The arts are often our greatest vehicles of change. They are a means by which we re-invent and re-tool, even castrate old and unnecessary ideologies. They provide cultural reform, education, transformation and, the greatest of our tenets, free expression.

The arts provide a glimpse into other worlds of thought. They have the potential to create empathy in us for people in circumstances our own life experiences would never allow us to understand. They have the power to galvanize us into collective action and give hope and strength in the most intimate ways.

All these cuts Republicans propose, and why? To give the richest more tax breaks?

We have sisters out there who have no idea that their rights and opportunities are in great jeopardy. They are low-income and they are the primary targets of these policies. They are working as hard as they can to put food on the table and to care for themselves and their families the best that they know how. I know this because I have met many while going door to door to register new voters. I have been inside their homes and on their porches, educating them with other Obama Campaign volunteers sharing what I know so that my own freedoms will not be taken away.

We didn’t build this individually, we built this together and we have to continue building. This sentiment is what made Michelle Obama’s speech so emotional, rich and unapologetic. There is a type of careful work that is required, the type of careful work that women do best: the work of empowering one another and leading our communities into a future filled with promise and hope, because what hurts my sister also hurts me.

Best known for her role as “Ashley Banks” on the iconic TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, actress and Harvard grad Tatyana Ali will spend this summer and fall as a surrogate for the Obama for America campaign, speaking to communities about the importance of voting. She can soon be seen in the highly anticipated BET comedy, Second Generation Wayans.

The above post is the opinion of actress Tatyana Ali, a surrogate for President Obama's "Young America Effort." Stay tuned to ESSENCE.com during the presidential campaign to read more interviews and points of view, including some from Black supporters of Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

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