On a sunny, summer Saturday presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama returned to the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield to announce to a crowd of thousands why he believed U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., fit the bill for vice president.
Obama told the crowd that Biden exuded the characteristics of a great leader — courage, integrity, strength — and delved into the elder senator's 36 years of experience on Capitol Hill. One of Biden's key initiatives hit especially close to home for countless people across Illinois.
"For far too long, millions of women suffered
abuse in the shadows," Obama said. "So Joe Biden wrote the
Violence Against Women Act, so every woman would have a place to turn for
Polly Poskin, who listened in the audience, knows this act inside-and-out. The executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault for the past 26 years, Poskin says Biden's measure brought national attention to violence against women issues, and on a local scale, awarded much-needed resources to her organization.
"The thing about Joe Biden is in the violence
against women work, he was clearly the persistent, tenacious advocate and
really pushed through groundbreaking laws and a funding source,"
Poskin says. "It put domestic violence and the sexual assault of
women on the national agenda."
"And what we love about him," Poskin
adds, "is that years later, he still maintains his commitment."
After the VAWA was drafted by Biden and signed by President Bill Clinton in September 1994, ICASA received $1.8 million to distribute to 30 rape crisis centers across the state. The centers used these funds to hire prevention educators to work with teenagers and college students, a first for the organization, as well as to develop a special high school curriculum for expanding awareness about rape.
Biden's legislation also created funding for law enforcement and prosecutors' offices, and for training and services. ICASA used its original $625,000 grant to start up satellite offices in lesser served counties and neighborhoods.
Poskin says that this movement would have occurred much later without Biden, and perhaps without the same success and recognition, as violence against women activism was under-acknowledged in the early 1990s.
Even though Poskin would have probably attended the
Obama rally anyway, she says, Biden's appearance added an extra
element of electricity and hope. She says that if Obama is elected in
November, his vice-presidential choice ensures that women's issues
will remain a top priority.
Poskin remembers a trip to Washington, D.C. in 2005, when she and other advocates worked for reauthorization of the VAWA (which Obama co-sponsored). Biden came to a breakfast sponsored by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and asked members: how can we improve the VAWA? What are some areas that need strengthening?
"He can speak to every section of that bill, and it's a huge bill," Poskin says. "He knows what's in it and he knows what's being prioritized. We are lucky."