Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Whatever happens next...

I'm writing this on election day, four hours before the polls close.

Whatever happens next for the abortion ban, the pro-choice movement needs to make some changes (especially in South Dakota).

The Campaign for Healthy Families has been fighting the good fight, mostly focusing on getting out the vote. They have been the ones pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, calling folks, and putting the truth about the abortion ban into the hands of the voters. And that's been important work, and I, for one, am grateful. And I want to make clear that the remarks that follow are not criticisms of Campaign workers and volunteers. They are criticisms of Campaign leaders, who didn't lead well and who, therefore, may have lost us this fight.

Campaign was run like - well, like an election campaign (hence the thoroughly imaginative name for last week's rally: "Election Campaign to Repeal the Abortion Ban." Makes you want to jump right up and get involved, doesn't it?).

Because of this, Campaign has had no room and no patience for pro-choice activism. (In fact, activists with "pro-choice" signs at a recent pro-choice protest were told by Campaign staff that no signs with the word "choice" on them would be allowed.)

To put it plainly, everyone involved, including several of the people working for the Campaign, think it was a "piss-poor organizing effort" (in the words of an activist colleague of mine working West River). I mean EVERYONE thinks the Campaign sucked. What they did was to completely squelch the growing pro-choice movement in South Dakota. They frequently did not allow pro-choice representatives to debate VoteYes representatives or even to appear on the same platform with them, so that what could have been public forums and opportunities to counter misinformation became one-sided presentations. The challenges to VoteYes' lies that did come were too little, too late.

Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the Feminist Majority let them do it. They agreed to work in partnership with Campaign, and they agreed to let Campaign hold the reins. And when local chapters protested, they were told by their National HQs to let Campaign make the decisions.

Further, it's important to note that, while the name of the Campaign has been on every pro-choice effort we've seen, it has been largely due to the struggles of Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and Feminist Majority leaders and volunteers (local and out-of-state) that anything other than GOTV calls and lit drops got done at all. Campaign quickly earned a reputation for organizing events at the last minute, which were then poorly attended and not well-covered in the media. (Last week's rally was an exception only because other activists convinced Campaign that announcing it with less than a week's notice and planning to hold it indoors would be a bad idea.)

Campaign was afraid antis would show up. They were terrified of antis.

Maybe this is a good place to say that, in my experience with the movement, there are ALWAYS antis, and they always come to pro-choice events, and they always make their presence felt. Outside of South Dakota, pro-choicers do the same thing to them: the point is to always make a presence of the opposition. But we don't do that here, and people are always surprised and dismayed that the antis have, yet again, figured out where and when to show up with their (mostly not graphic) signs. But despite Campaign's fear, the most confrontational experience I've had here has been having a passing driver yell "Babykiller!" at me. In other places, pro-choice protestors are physically assaulted, spat on, and continually verbally harassed by mobs. That has, for the most part, not happened here. What has happened at organized protests is that, sometimes, pro-choicers have been outnumbered by anti-choicers, who insist on standing next to us and who try to cover our signs with theirs.

What Campaign didn't understand is that pro-choice activism means getting out there with a sign DESPITE the fact that you are outnumbered. Being visible reminds folks that there are dissenting opinions. It gives the people who see you hope. It makes them maybe want to come out and join you. If all the pro-choice activists simply gave up whenever they were outnumbered, Roe would have been overturned long ago.

And last spring, pro-choice activists in South Dakota were visible. We had huge rallies (for SD, anyway), and people who had never before been involved in activism and politics were coming out and holding signs and wearing buttons and t-shirts and telling their grammas why they should oppose the ban. (And I met some grammas who were out there telling teenagers whey *they* should oppose the ban, too.)

And then Campaign took over. And all that visibility just evaporated. Suddenly, the local pro-choice network was no longer calling the shots, and everything was about voter registration and lit drops.

I won't take away from Campaign what they did well, which was exactly this GOTV effort. Clearly, that effort was crucial. But it should not have happened at the expense of continued activism, continued visibility, continued morale-boosting of the pro-choice community. We lost energy, and we lost volunteers, because of that total and complete shift in focus.

Whether we win or lose, the vote will be too close. The Nationals are still spouting the line that SD voters will overwhelmingly reject the ban. It won't be overwhelming. It will be a thin margin. And this isn't over. We either face a long and expensive court battle that could threaten Roe, or we face a new ban with exceptions for rape/incest survivors (but not women's health, I'm predicting). South Dakota clearly needs help from the outside if we are to maintain women's right to make decisions about whether or not to bear children - that much was clear last January. But let's not make the same mistake again. We have a pro-choice community in SD. We have activists that are ready to go. We need our leadership to come from within and for those leaders to be supported by the national organizations, not the other way around (which is what happened this fall).

We need to get ahead of this one. And the strategizing starts now.


Anonymous said...

The campaign had a purpose. Defeat the ban - period. They did that and by a decent margin when it was all done. The campaign to defeat the ban was not all about the reproductive rights movement even though they were heavily involved. Had that done what you seemed to be suggesting I hate to say it but we would have lost.

Something to keep in mind about the confrontation issues is that people in South Dakota generally just are not going to spit on each other and get that mean. The non confrontational mentality around here runs deep. This is why you see people cringe so hard when confronted by someone clearly looking for a fight. Your not going to see people itching for a confrontation but I think people are gaining more spine in standing up against these people in their own more midwest ways. I had a confrontation with some Yes protesters last weekend. Anywhere else in the country it would have ended up in punches or a dent in the door of my car. The dweeb called me a baby killer in front of my kids and then ducked behind his sign.

The exceptions debate I agree is problematic and it will be used against us as soon as possible. We need to control the conversation though. Instead of letting them go running in with a ban with some exceptions and starting this all over again it needs to get headed off. The legislature needs to know its not a popular idea and that the need to quit playing with reproductive issues like they have.

This is also a good time to continue to educate the public. Make sure the public starts to fully understand that emergency contraception is not an abortion and not an exception. Educate the public that prevention is better than a ban. Educate the public that this pro life agenda is based in a fringe religious view, not anything secular or medical. We also need to keep reminding people how totaly crazy those in SD pushing these laws are. Leslee Unruh and Roger Hunt are crazy and the public needs to be reminded any time they show their face.

This ban did have a good benefit. It has brought out so many people that never were involved in reproductive rights before. There are tons of people that are now active and if kept in the loop can continue to be there to help NARAL, Planned Parenthood and other groups educate and show others in the state that they are not alone in fighting the good fight.

There needs to be more opportunities though to talk about reproductive rights and womens issues in the state. They need to become more open in the community. Maybe even things as simple as some open discussion nights at a coffee house. We also need to look at how we can actively help women in South Dakota. We have so many low income women with kids in the state that are caught in this never ending cycle of trying to get out of poverty with no real help or encouragement. We need to look at what we can do to encourage teen girls and to help undo some of the screwed up ideas forced into their heads about gender roles, careers and their own identity. Colleges do a good job of this. It does not exist at the high school level. We also need to push to make sure every women in South Dakota can obtain contraception without guilt, harassment or financial issue.
Now is the time to jump on the momentum and keep it going. We have the chance right in front of us to make a profound change in South Dakota.

Anonymous said...

The campaign had a purpose. Defeat the ban - period. They did that and by a decent margin when it was all done.

One worries that we won the battle while hurting the war effort, though. I'm pretty optimistic about the opportunities we have from here on out, but I'm not going to give the Campaign a free pass for the damage they may have done, just because the voters of South Dakota figured it out in spite of them.

Plain(s)feminist said...

I have to agree with Anon 9:02 on the Campaign - the Campaign didn't defeat the ban. The ban was defeated in spite of the Campaign.

Many Campaign staffers are saying the same thing.

Anon 8:47, had they done what I'm suggesting - had a much more visible presence, done much more education about fetal anomalies that are incompatible with life and about EC - we would have won by a far greater margin.

Your comment about the non-confrontation in SD is exactly my point. This is not a confrontational place. That's why I was really staggered when the Campaign leaders pulled No on 6 people off a street corner because there were more Yes than No folks there. They thought being outnumbered was confrontational. They explicitly said this. My point: the Campaign leaders (and I'm not talking about the spokespeople, like Maria Bell and Casey Murschel, by the way, but about the hired guns) had no interest in or familiarity with pro-choice activism, and they nearly screwed the whole thing with their incompetence.

Anon 8:47, I agree with just about everything else you write.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:47, had they done what I'm suggesting - had a much more visible presence, done much more education about fetal anomalies that are incompatible with life and about EC - we would have won by a far greater margin.

Oh your so right. There was so much information out there already it was mind boggling even for someone who understands the details of the issue. Imagine someone with no clue. But now would be a great time to start some educational campaigns to help the public understand the other details of the issue. An educated public can't be duped by lies. If the public can fully understand things like fetal anomolies, severe pregnancy complications and the new kinds of contraception they won't buy the misinformation next time. It would be wonderful if we could get either the drug manufacturers to heavily run commercials in South Dakota or get some of the reproductive awareness groups to do so we could educate so many people. How many beer swilling Nascar guys know that there is a new implant out that is good for 3 years?
Many of the public still do not understand EC, how it works or how hard it is to get. Public service type messages could change that. Non campaign public service type information could totally change the landscape.
I too had frustration with the campaign at times. There were many missed opportunities to rally people and do things. I think now people in the campaign and the general public know they don't have to be afraid and they are not alone and that is monumental. People need to start working on this part NOW. You would know who is equipped to start the ball rolling and get other entities involved or PSA announcements etc. Give people an outlet NOW to act on the victory and take some small steps to change the landscape. Even if it is just something like Naral holding meetings or trying to gather new members. People also need to be ready to go to Pierre swinging in January and pressure their legislators not to do this again. Hunt is already talking about some Health department restrictions on abortion clinics. No clue if that is something the legislature has to pass, guessing so. Everyone is tired and burnt out from the campaign. Someone should hold a meeting within the next two weeks if nothing else just so people can kinda figure out where to go next. Something like NARAL or associated groups, not a campaign run meeting since they are technically done.