Tuesday, March 28, 2006

SD Women Silenced

Disclaimer: some of this is speculation, and it is all still unfolding. I will post corrections in the event that I've gotten any of this wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, a Wisconsin group - Basic Abortion Rights Group (headed, I think, by a man) - announced that it would begin petitioning to bring the SD ban to a referendum vote. Last week, Focus South Dakota (headed by Jeff Masten) said that it would start petitioning for a referendum if no one else did. This forced the SD prochoice movement - made up of a lot of SD women and some men - to push for a referendum. A failed referendum campaign would be bad for morale: only since the ban have people begun to stand up out of sheer anger and be counted as pro-choice. Until now, each prochoice person here thought s/he was the only one.

But the referendum was not necessarily what the SD movement wanted to do - at least, we certainly hadn't decided on this course of action (Kate Looby of Planned Parenthood noted, when the Wisconsin group came forward, that SD voters hadn't yet even had a chance to decide how to proceed.) Many of us had been anticipating a court challenge and focusing our efforts on electing Dem/prochoice mayors and legislators, as well as a prochoice governor. The referendum will be successful, I believe, but it is going to be a huge expenditure of time and money, and it would be frustrating to lose these elections because of it - because these candidates really have a good chance of winning, and that would turn things around out here. So, many people would have preferred to fight the ban through the courts instead.

A referendum is actually not a bad political strategy, however, because if the ban is overturned by the voters that will send a strong message to the anti-choice community here. And if it is upheld, it is still an unconstitutional law and it can still be challenged in court.

But what I think is interesting here is how the actions of these two groups, who have not been players in SD reproductive rights politics until now (it's possible that Focus may have been involved, but many of us who have been working on these issues for the past several years have never heard of them before now), have effectively silenced SD women's voices in this debate. On top of this, Focus South Dakota, the group that decided that the referendum campaign would happen, is reportedly lobbying NARAL's national office to be hired to work the referendum campaign...

There has got to be a lesson in here somewhere for political organizing. It's not that we won't work together in unity - we will and we are - the petitions are circulating. But I, for one, am pretty angry about how all of this came to pass.


Anonymous said...

But they are concerned citizens trying to do something about what they see as a bad situation.

Maybe they didn't know a lot of people in SD, maybe they just wanted to act fast, maybe they were concerned that the SD weren't able to stop the bill from being passed and signed in the first place.

But I do think you've got to let go of your ego here. Sometimes the best ideas do come from the outside the movement, the system, the country.


Plain(s)feminist said...

By this logic, it would be fine for anyone to come into any community and try to force through any action regardless of what the people who live there think is the best approach. Is that really what you are saying?

In point of fact, this was not the best idea, regardless of where it came from. And there are no altruistic motives, here.

Anonymous said...

I can't pretend to speak for others but I do know that outside organizers do come into communities, sometimes with good results, like with enviromental regulation, labor laws, public health initiatives.

And I don't know what the bad is here except that some local citizens got their feelings hurt by not being consulted by this group. Or is it much more complex than that?

Because I'd say the #1 priority is for women to have the right to abortion in South Dakota. By any means necessary.


Plain(s)feminist said...

Yes, it is much more complex than that. Access to abortion isn't the issue at all, and the referendum wasn't - isn't - the only or necessarily best way to accomplish that.

Carrie said...

I'm completely with plain(s)feminist on this one. I've been on both sides of this conflict between outside/professional organizers and local communities that are facing big challenges. There's a tendency on the part of people who've never lived in a small town or a rural area or even a sparsely populated state to think that the hicks out there don't know what to do and need someone smart from, oh, New York or DC or even Madison to come in and take charge.

Unfortunately, that's a wrong assumption and a lousy tactic on the part of the professional activist. A situation like the one in SD is an opportunity for home-grown activists to take leadership roles, get new funding for their organizations, get experience and become better prepared for the next battle down the road, when the outside professionals will be nowhere in sight.