The last 18 months have seen a remarkable development in the men's and father's movement. For the first time in our era a large group of men have come together with discipline and courage and ingenuity to fight for their rights as men.
So many activists, including many in this room, have worked hard for years and decades to address the many legitimate grievances which men and particularly fathers face. Yet in less than a week, with one bold and courageous act, an uneducated, unsophisticated window washer achieved something which none of us has ever been able to accomplish--to focus the attention of a nation on the greatest social injustice in the Anglo-American world today--the way decent, loving fathers are driven out of the lives of the children who love them and need them.
I speak, of course, of Spiderman. David Chick launched a world famous six day, one man protest atop a 150 foot high crane near the Tower Bridge in London last fall. Dressed as Spiderman because he is his four year-old daughter's favorite comic book character, Chick had been to court 25 times and spent the equivalent of $30,000 in unsuccessful attempts to get English courts to enforce his visitation rights.
The Mayor of London and the police vilified Chick, but the mute agony of Spiderman, the image of a man so desperate that he would risk his life and risk prison to be with the little girl he loves moved millions. Polls show that Chick is wildly popular, and last month he was acquitted by an English jury, some of whom were reportedly moved to tears by his testimony.
David Chick is not alone. Jolly Stansby, another Fathers 4 Justice protestor, made headlines when he spent seven freezing days aloft Tamar Bridge in Plymouth, England, in January. In Stansby's case the injustice is perhaps the clearest--Stansby is a registered child care provider, and is thus allowed to care for any child in England except his own, who he is barred from calling, and is allowed to see only a few days a month.
And of course, last month Powderman Ron Davies, who hasn't seen his daughter in five years, made headlines around the world when he hit British Prime Minister Tony Blair with a packet of purple flour as Blair answered questions on the floor of the House of Commons.
Chick eloquently described the plight of the modern disenfranchised father. He said:
"[My daughter] is the most precious thing in my world. I was there for the scans when she was still in the womb, I was there for her birth. I fed her, bathed her, got up in the night with her, cuddled her when she cried.
"Now I'm just another statistic--another dad who has no part in his daughter's life. For me, it is a living bereavement."
Many Fathers 4 Justice protestors know that they will never get their own children back. David Chick has told me that he doesn’t believe he will ever be reunited with his daughter, but that he continues to fight for other fathers, so that they will not have to endure what he has endured. When David Chick talks about his little girl I think of the millions of other fathers who have been forced out of their children's lives and I burn with anger. I think of my little girl, and I burn with anger over the idea--the idea!--that because I'm male my love for my daughter and my son is somehow cheaper, lesser, not as good, not up to par, not as important. I burn with anger over the hatred and vilification our society has poured on fathers over the past three decades. I burn with anger over the idea that my father is somehow lesser than my mother, and not as important. That it's OK to dismiss my father, denigrate my father, disregard my father, disrespect my father, hate my father. Hate my father? Hate MY father? (holds out hand waist high) From the time I could walk I would have walked through the gates of hell for my father, and I would still do it today, I would still do it today!
Fathers 4 Justice has been unbelievably effective. Eighteen months ago Matt O'Connor and his people looked like hopeless dreamers. Today many prominent British citizens, including Prince Charles, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sir Bob Geldof, and actor Pierce Brosnan, have spoken out in favor of the campaign for fathers' rights. Last week Michael Howard, the leader of the English Conservative Party, issued a statement endorsing shared parenting. Judges and lawyers and politicians who didn’t give a damn about fathers a year ago are paying attention to fathers' rights and voicing their sympathies. Some of them genuinely support fathers, while others feel the need to give at least it lip service in the hope they can make Fathers 4 Justice go away.
I have high hopes for this, because England is probably the only foreign country that Americans respect and pay attention to. If shared parenting becomes the norm there, if Fathers 4 Justice accomplishes its goals, it will create a powerful argument for fathers here at home. And we have so many injustices to fight here at home. Of these I will mention only a couple, both from my home state of California.
As many of you know, move-aways have been a hot issue In California, and we recently won the LaMusga move-away case in the California Supreme Court. The legislature has already begun to hatch plans to destroy LaMusga and return to the Dark Ages when mothers had nearly unbridled right to move children thousands of miles away from their fathers. Given the pathetic performance of the fathers' movement in trying to block a move-away bill last year, it's going to take a real fight to win this year.
In the case of DeBrenes v. Traub, a divorced custodial mother remarried and seeks to move with her 13 year-old daughter. Get this--first mom moved, and dad uprooted himself and moved to be with his daughter. Then mom moved again, and dad uprooted himself and moved again to be with his daughter. And now mom wants to move again--to Costa Rica! Yes you heard right, Costa Rica! They have no ties in Costa Rica, the girl doesn’t speak Spanish and doesn’t want to go, but mom remarried recently and her new husband lived in Costa Rica 58 years ago--yes, 58 years ago--and he wants to go back.
In any rational country the judge would have laughed the mother out of the courtroom, told her she must be joking, or suggested she put the wine bottle down and go sleep it off. Instead the court GRANTED her request, only stipulating that the girl, who is learning disabled, be allowed to finish in her studies at her special school. In other words, Eric Traub's 13 years of loving fatherhood are to be bundled up and thrown away the moment the strong, loving bond he shares with his daughter became inconvenient for mom.
Kim Robinson, the anti-male feminist attorney who represented the selfish move-away mom in LaMusga, represents the mother in Traub. She actually had the goddmaned gall to protest this ridiculous anti-father ruling and appeal it, saying the move should be allowed to go through immediately!
One more injustice--as many of you know, in ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance case this week, the US Supreme Court spat on all noncustodial parents, and on fathers, and on men. I don’t care about the pledge issue, what I care about is the noncustodial parent issue. Michael Newdow spends 10 days a month with his daughter, and doesn’t spend more only because the child's mother won’t let him. In fact, Newdow has had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for her attorneys--in other words, he has to pay for her lawyers to work to drive him out of his daughter's life.
According to the US Supreme Court, Newdow's bond with his little daughter, and Newdow's time with his daughter mean nothing. I co-authored a column on this which came out in a couple of newspapers this week. In it we wrote:
"In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in the Dred Scott decision that Scott had no standing to bring the case and that 'a black man has no rights a white man need respect.' On Monday, in deciding Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that noncustodial parent Michael Newdow has no standing, and that a noncustodial parent has no rights a court need respect.
"Since most of America's 14 million noncustodial parents are fathers, the court's decision represents an exceptionally bitter Father's Day 'gift'……
"The court's ruling also highlights the hypocrisy of the current public policy and discourse on fatherhood, wherein men are lectured to take responsibility for their children while at the same time courts and lawmakers disregard their right to play a meaningful role in their children's lives.
"…the court used the issue of standing as a way to sidestep making a decision on the thorny issue of the 'one nation, under God' passage in the Pledge of Allegiance. In other words, noncustodial parents are of such little concern that the court found it more expedient to undercut their rights than to decide the Pledge case."
Despite these outrages, I am very encouraged by the developments in the men's movement. Fathers 4 Justice has shown that men CAN fight for themselves as men and men CAN win. It takes a strategy, it takes discipline, and it takes unity. Matt O'Connor is sometimes criticized for being too demanding and too strong-fisted. I've told Matt that an intelligent leadership that is demanding and strong-fisted is EXACTLY what the men's and fathers' movement needs.
I want to see us take the fight here, and I want us to fight with the same courage, the same discipline, the same humanity, the same humor, and the same conviction our brothers in England have employed.
Part of our problem is that we've waited for large numbers, and felt that if we don’t have them we can’t fight. And because we feel we can only do a little we do nothing. What Fathers 4 Justice has shown us is that you don’t need large numbers of people--what you need is a cause which resonates with a lot of people--and God knows the mistreatment of fathers certainly does--and you need a small, disciplined group willing to take dramatic action to fight. I want to see David Chicks and Jolly Stansbys and Ron Davises and Spidermen and Powdermen in every American city and in every legislature and family court in the country. We can fight, we should fight, we must fight, and the men in this room right now should form the core leadership of that fight. As you are here today and as you go back to your cities and families I want you to consider this question--"what action could I organize and lead in my city to begin this fight?" Thank you.