11.25.14 - A recent Wall Street Journal article takes a look at some of the big-picture issues around the recent tragedy in Bilaspur, India, where 13 women died and dozens of others seriously fell ill while undergoing coerced sterilization at one of the country’s government-sponsored sterilization “camps.”
Although investigators have now zeroed in on tainted antibiotics as a possible cause for the mass sickening, the horrendous event brings to light questions about why female sterilization remains a cornerstone of Indian family planning in the first place.
“We only know the world of sterilization,” said the mother of 26-year-old Janaki Suryavanshi, one of the women who died following the procedure. According to a recent government survey, 34% of households nationwide said female sterilization was their current method of family planning.
Suryavanshi, who was a mother of three, had been told that surgical sterilization was her only option when she asked health workers in her community about birth control. According to the Wall Street Journal, many of the women sterilized in Bilaspur said they had never used a condom, birth-control pills, or an IUD.
In an effort to address overpopulation, India’s government offers money to women and health workers who take part in the surgeries. The women who were sterilized at the camp in Bilaspur earlier this month were each paid the equivalent of approximately $22 to have the procedure.
However, a number of women in the region said that the primary reason they agreed to be sterilized was the lack of birth control alternatives.
Around 4.5 million women were sterilized in India last year.
In the aftermath of Bilaspur, activists hoped that the Indian government would be prompted to more closely examine the safety and quality of health care, the nation’s health priorities, and the country’s overall accountability towards people's lives and human rights.
An investigation of the camp after the incident found that the facility was shockingly out of date, with broken windows, cobweb-laden equipment, and floors covered in animal feces.
Unfortunately, on November 18, the Indian daily newspaper Dainik Bhaskar reported another mass sterilization at a camp in a neighboring state.
One hundred thirty-two women were hastily operated on over a period of just five hours in the middle of the night, despite express government guidelines that instruct surgical teams to perform no more than 50 procedures a day. It was also reported that the camp did not have basic essentials such as the stretchers to carry women out of the operation room.
While no deaths or mishaps have been reported following the most recent incident, the continued precarious conditions to which woman are routinely exposed to as a result of the lack of birth control choices points to significant deficits in the Indian government’s accountability towards women's lives and reproductive health rights.Center for Reproductive Rights Brings Forced Sterilization Case of HIV Positive Woman to Human Rights Commission Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity India Pushed to Prioritize Women’s Health
A new poll finds that an overwhelming majority of Latino voters support the president’s decision to take action, even though many immigration advocates wanted President Obama’s immigration executive order to go further.
The poll, conducted by Latino Decisions and commissioned by the Latino social justice group Presente, found that 89 percent of registered Latino voters support the president’s executive action to shield about five million unauthorized immigrants from deportation and allow them to get work permits.
That’s the highest level of support Latino Decisions has ever recorded for any public policy, Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration group America’s Voice, told reporters on Monday.
The action has support from 76 percent of Latino Republicans. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said immigration was one of the most important factors in deciding who to vote for.
“So as the Republicans gear up to try to challenge and kill this thing, they might want to take note of that,” Sharry said.
The surveyed voters opposed Republican efforts to block the legislation—80 percent said they were against a bill that de-funds the action and keeps the government from issuing work permits.
Pro-immigration lawmakers told reporters during a Monday press call that while they wish the action had gone further, it’s still a victory, and they don’t blame the president for being as cautious as he was.
“He erred on the side of making sure that if there were five million he offered something to, that that would be sustained in any courtroom,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).
The president’s Office of Legal Counsel advised against that option, though, and Gutierrez said the conversation would now be about nothing else if Obama had ignored their advice.
“We’re certainly disappointed that the parents of DREAMers couldn’t make it,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). But that’s why Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform, he said, adding that the president’s order is still “a game-changer for millions.”
Many also pushed to give newly-protected immigrants access to affordable health care, but that was regarded as even more of a political non-starter than protecting the parents of DACA recipients.
DACA recipients, and those newly protected by the president’s action, are specifically locked out of affordable federal health-care programs like the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid.
This is the case even though they pay taxes that support those programs, and even though immigrants with other kinds of deferred deportation status can access them.
“It doesn’t make much sense from a health-care perspective or from a fiscal perspective” to bar these people from accessing affordable health care, “but it was never really something that the Congress or the president would have entertained,” Douglas Rivlin, director of communications for Gutierrez, told RH Reality Check.
Despite Republican talking points about tyranny and monarchy, the action is clearly legal, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) told reporters.
“There are multiple examples going back to 1952 where presidents have used this very same authority granted to them to bring relief to individuals,” Lofgren said.
The closest parallels to what Obama’s executive order are the actions Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush took, Lofgren said. Congress had deliberately excluded family members from its legislative amnesty in 1986, but less than a year after that, Reagan “just decided he didn’t agree with what Congress did.”
Combined, Reagan and Bush’s executive authority legalized about 42 percent of the country’s undocumented population at the time. Obama’s action would protect, but not fully legalize, about 45 percent of today’s undocumented population.
But that protection will only matter if unauthorized immigrants actually sign up for the new program, Gutierrez said.
“The fear campaign is just starting, and they’re trying to keep our immigrants from signing up,” Gutierrez said. “There hasn’t been one person saved from deportation. … The only way we do that is by signing people up.”
The post GOP Take Note: Latinos Support Obama’s Immigration Action, Poll Finds appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The reality of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson’s non-indictment is settling in, and the enormous task of undoing the structural racism and oppression that brought us to this point sits especially heavy on the shoulders of many in the aftermath. But if there’s one glimmer of hope to come from witnessing white power structures in Missouri circle their wagons to protect one of their own, it is the transformative power of digital media. In fact, the power of digital media and social media to speak truth to power and create systems to hold Wilson and his protectors accountable is so great that St. Louis County and Wilson-apologist Robert McCulloch blamed social media for making an indictment of Wilson impossible because it basically created too much evidence to sift through. A cynic might think that McCulloch’s statements—made Monday evening, well after the grand jury decision had been reached but not yet announced—were simply looking for cover from criticism that, as far as any justice for Mike Brown and his family, the fix was in.
A cynic would be right.
But thanks to the power of digital journalism and social media today, we’re having a different conversation—a tough one, a necessary one—about the value of Black lives and what justice looks like now. Below is a roundup of some of the best and most thought-provoking reading on the aftermath of the Ferguson grand jury travesty.
Jamelle Bouie at Slate reminds us that it’s not just the courts that can create justice. “It would have been powerful to see charges filed against Darren Wilson,” writes Bouie. “At the same time, actual justice for Michael Brown—a world in which young men like Michael Brown can’t be gunned down without consequences—won’t come from the criminal justice system. Our courts and juries aren’t impartial arbiters—they exist inside society, not outside of it—and they can only provide as much justice as society is willing to give.”
Brittney Cooper goes right for the gut punch of truth, here: “If I have to begin by convincing you that Black Lives Matter, we have all already lost, haven’t we?”
The Ferguson grand jury’s openness was a farce, no matter if they posted the evidence online after their deliberation.
Even Ezra Klein thinks Darren Wilson is full of it.
Meanwhile, the National Bar Association calls on the Department of Justice to keep up their investigation and pursue federal charges against Wilson.
Because, as the Ferguson protesters said, “we still don’t have justice.”
As we suspected, grand juries almost always indict, unless, apparently, the target of the grand jury investigation is a cop.
White people, if you’re still wondering, here are 12 things you can do right now in the face of the outrage that is Ferguson.
Syreeta McFadden, at The Guardian, has this must-read.
ProPublica’s analysis of killings by police show Black men at a distinctly higher risk of extrajudicial murder.
One of CNN’s legal analysts described Wilson’s testimony as “fanciful and not credible.”
That’s more generous than the “pack of damn lies” that I can muster.
There are still a couple of ways Wilson could be held accountable, but it’s an uphill climb.
Jay Smooth has some tips for having the “that sounds racist” conversation, which is especially helpful before Thanksgiving with relatives.
Let’s take a moment to revisit this powerful piece by Katherine Cross on why Ferguson is a reproductive justice issue.
If you suspected an inherent conflict of interest in prosecutors who rely on cops to be trusted with aggressively prosecuting one, you’re right.
Katie McDonough at Salon has this great piece on how Darren Wilson and “being afraid for your life” is the ultimate expression of white privilege.
Finally, let’s give CNN legal analyst Lisa Bloom the last word because hers is one of the best and most thorough takedowns of the grand jury testimony and McCulloch’s performance (or lack thereof) as a prosecutor.
The post Legal Wrap: With No Indictment for Darren Wilson, What Comes Next? appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Low-income Maryland trans* residents may for the first time get health insurance coverage for transition-related services, after the state moved forward with new regulations expanding health-care services covered by Medicaid.
The Medicaid expansion would kick off in April, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The action comes on the heels of a similar decision the state made this year to provide coverage for transition-related health-care services of state employees. As a result of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a transgender University of Maryland employee, the state agreed to add language to its health insurance plans that expands coverage of services for transgender people, including hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery.
Karen Black, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told the Sun that the “same terms” of coverage would be applied to Medicaid patients, assuming that the federal government approves the changes.
The federal government seems likely to approve the expansion. In June, transgender exclusions were removed from federal employees’ health plans. And a month earlier, the exclusions were removed from Medicare coverage.
Trans* people often face significant barriers to accessing health care, both transition-related and not. From explicit exclusion of care in health plans, to the denial of coverage for transgender people altogether, to provider transphobia and a lack of understanding of gender outside of a binary, the medical system in the United States often falls far short of providing quality care for trans* patients.
Only a few states have made similar changes, including California, Massachusetts, and Oregon. And in June, a lawsuit was filed against New York that seeks to expand Medicaid coverage for transition-related care.
The post Maryland Moves to Expand Health Coverage to Low-Income Trans* Residents appeared first on RH Reality Check.
11.25.14 - Following the raid of a health clinic in Penang, Malaysia, a young woman has been wrongfully arrested and sentenced to 12 months in prison for obtaining a legal abortion.
Twenty-four-year-old Nirmala and her husband came to Malaysia from their home country of Nepal as legal migrant workers. Nirmala is an operator at the Sony factory. Her husband works as a security guard.
Last month, shortly after discovering she was pregnant and fearing that she would lose her job as a result, Nirmala sought an abortion at a local clinic. While she was resting in recovery following the procedure, officials from the Malaysian ministry of health entered the clinic, arresting both Nirmala and the doctor.
Since 1989, abortion in Malaysia has been legal in circumstances when a qualified doctor considers the pregnancy to pose a risk to the mental or physical health of the woman.
The doctor reports that he considered the risks of Nirmala losing her job, having to pay compensation to her employer, and being sent back home if found pregnant—and decided she was legally justified to have a termination. Nirmala was only six weeks into the pregnancy at the time of the procedure.
Following her arrest on October 9, Nirmala was swiftly charged and convicted in the absence of legal representation, and has since been imprisoned. After repeated attempts to determine her whereabouts, human rights advocates located Nirmala in prison, reporting that she is in deep distress over her situation.
According to an abortion rights activist from the Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia who is working with the Center for Reproductive Rights to find answers, Nirmala was convicted under a law that states: “It is a criminal offense to prevent a child being born alive.”
A Malaysian expert on comparative abortion laws says that this law only applies later in pregnancy. Nirmala’s case clearly does not fit this category. Her arrest and conviction indicate a sudden reinterpretation of Malaysia’s penal code. Authorities have not enforced the law this way in 25 years.
When attempting to determine the reason for Nirmala’s conviction and why there was no counsel at her court hearing, the abortion rights activist was stonewalled by a health ministry official claiming to know nothing about the raid or Nirmala’s case.
As a migrant worker, Nirmala does not have access to many legal protections or rights. Migrant workers are frequently at risk of abuse in Malaysia.
“The arrest and conviction of Nirmala reeks of discrimination and impunity. We are deeply concerned about Nirmala’s safety and health,” says Melissa Upreti, the Center’s regional director for Asia. “When abortion is criminalized, it is women who suffer the most.”
The government of Malaysia has a binding obligation under international law to ensure that no woman is discriminated against, denied due process, and subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment for having an abortion.Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting their Reproductive Lives East and Southeast Asia
When referring to physiologic birth, media outlets and journalists often use the words “natural” or “naturally.” What they mean, however, is this: A baby came out of a vagina.
In May, Anemona Hartocollis used “natural” to mean “vaginal” in the very first sentence of a New York Times article. A few months later, Darlene Cunha did the same thing several times in her op-ed for the Washington Post. Here’s another example over at Yahoo! News. And yet another, from South Africa’s Times Live. There are exceptions, of course, but all too often, “natural” is synonymous with “vaginal,” creating a convoluted, confusing, and highly value-laden judgment of women’s experiences and women’s bodies, which can lead to compromised emotional and physical health. And in a country where one in three women will give birth via surgery, the words we use to talk about how babies are born matter.
First of all, the avoidance of proper terms for cisgender female anatomy in relation to childbirth is indicative of a serious, profoundly scary misogyny embedded in our cultural vocabulary. Acting as if the word “vaginal” is too dirty, too shameful, or too embarrassing to say in mixed company (or in newsprint) reflects a real fear of female bodies and their capabilities. In turn, this fear creates a psychological and sociocultural distance from our female bodies, both in the context of childbirth and the rest of our lives.
Proper terminology aside, the common conflation of “natural” with vaginal is problematic in other ways too. Sure, a birth that happens with medical interventions, including surgery, isn’t how “nature” intended babies to be born. But in the context of our contemporary language, “natural” no longer means “as occurring in nature.” There is no universal connotation of the word “natural,” other than that it’s supposed to be wholesome and good. It’s like labeling a food as “natural” as opposed to, say, organic: Organic means food that is grown without pesticides, while “natural” means whatever the hell the manufacturer wants it to mean. And in the same vein, conflating “natural” birth with vaginal birth implies that other ways of being born are “unnatural”—in other words, inferior.
In every birth, a baby was grown inside of a body and it came out of that body. That is beautiful, however it happens. Using “natural birth” as a synonym for vaginal birth, the way media outlets and everyday people frequently do, can traumatize many women whose births do not happen vaginally. Giving birth is an extremely personal experience; some people who need or request medical intervention during the process might not mind at all if they end up with a cesarean birth, while others may feel as if they missed out on the “rite of passage” of vaginal birth, a biological process that they very much wanted to experience. When these women share their birth stories with friends and family later, they can again have feelings of shame or guilt at having “failed” at something female bodies are “supposed” to be able to do.
I am a certified birth doula. I am a strong supporter of physiologic (defined by midwives as “powered by the innate human capacity of the woman and fetus”), unmedicated, vaginal birth. But I am also a strong supporter of birthing where, how, and with whom you feel comfortable, whether that is “natural” or not.
To complicate things even further, in the birth professional community that I am a part of, “natural birth” often specifically means vaginal birth that happens without the use of pain medication or medical intervention. This adds yet another layer to the convoluted terminology that can lead to families feeling confused and hurt after the births of their children. Privileging drug-free birth in this way—again, by referring to it as “natural” and therefore “better”—can leave individuals feeling as if they weren’t strong enough or brave enough if they do request medication.
As a whole, splitting birth into “natural” and “unnatural” contributes to the dangerous, ever-present dichotomy between medicalized and non-medicalized birth. That dichotomy contributes to a mainstream stereotype of birth professionals and activists as believing that doctors are evil and that epidurals are poison. This false binary vastly oversimplifies the complex web of caregiving and decision-making that leads to healthy mothers and healthy babies, both individually and on a systemic level. I think you’ll find that doctors and doulas, nurses and midwives, birth centers, hospitals, and parents are united in their desire for birthing people to have healthy, happy, and fulfilling experiences, whatever that may look like for them. The idea that you must align with one side—one birth ideology—reduces the very real power that pregnant people have to make dynamic, evolving choices and decisions about their own care and that of their baby.
There should be room in our culture for birthing choices and experiences that incorporate both the primal instincts that have guided birth since humankind began and the amazing medical care we are lucky to be able to use at the beginning of the 21st century. I believe that there are many, many problems with the maternity care system and the way we look at birth today in the United States, including the astronomical rise in cesarean rates and continued violations of the right to informed consent—but I also believe that the multiplicity of options and feelings involved in pregnancy and childbirth should be treated with respect. Respect begins with language. The language we use now is convoluted and confusing, infused with implicit judgments that can both alienate and upset birthing people.
I advocate for the use of the term “unmedicated birth” for birth that happens without pain medication, because unmedicated is a more neutral word that’s based in fact rather than in significance. I advocate for the use of “surgical birth” or “cesarean birth” rather than “c-section”: Remember, it’s a birth, not just a procedure! I think that when we are talking about a baby coming out of a cisgendered women’s vagina, whether interventions are involved or not, we should be saying “vaginal birth.” I also think if someone who is transgender or gender variant is giving birth, we should be using the terminology that person prefers, whether it is vaginal or some other term that resonates with the individual. And I think the word natural, which is an increasingly loaded term in our culture, generally shouldn’t be used in conjunction with childbirth. There are so many more precise ways we can talk about the life-changing experience of giving birth, so much possibility for opening up the discussion to include clarity and compassion rather than categorization and judgment.
Language matters. Language shapes our lives and our perceptions of our lives. Let’s pay more attention to the words we use when we speak about women’s bodies and childbirth and maybe, just maybe, we’ll start to change the way we think about them, too.
The post A Baby Coming Out of a Vagina Is a Vaginal Birth: There’s No Such Thing as ‘Natural’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Activists and citizens in Ferguson, Missouri, and around the country gathered in the streets Monday night to protest the killing of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer.
In the months since Brown was killed, activists used social media to organize protesters, held trainings in nonviolent civil disobedience techniques, and made preparations to ensure the safety of protesters less than 90 days after local police deployed a military-style crackdown on local residents.
A grand jury declined to indict Wilson for the killing of Brown, igniting protests in Ferguson and across the country.
Social justice activists in Ferguson had organized protests in response to the announcement both in Ferguson and throughout the country. The Ferguson National Response Network aggregated dozens of organized actions.
At least 61 people were arrested in the Ferguson area overnight, according to reporting by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Law enforcement there once again responded to protesters with tear gas and militarized tactics.
Tensions in Ferguson had grown more and more intense in the week leading up to the grand jury’s decision.
Larry Fellows III, an organizer from St. Louis, told RH Reality Check in an interview that the mood before the announcement was “tense and very eerie” and that not one person on the ground was expecting an indictment.
The reactions and tactics of local law enforcement were a major concern for Fellows, as activists planned for protests Monday evening in response to the announcement. Fellows said he was worried about police violence more than violence from protesters.
Ferguson’s law enforcement tactics had grown more aggressive in the days leading up to grand jury’s verdict, according to reports, with police showing up to small local protests heavily armed and dressed in riot gear.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called in the National Guard and declared a preemptive state of emergency, and directed the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County Police Department, and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to “operate as a Unified Command.”
Many thousands gathered in the streets of Ferguson Monday night heard the verdict broadcast over car radios. Fellows said that the people gathered were upset but largely peaceful.
Within the first few hours after the verdict was announced, social media was flooded with reports of aggressive police tactics and tear gas being used on protesters as well as reports of cars set on fire and businesses vandalized.
The Brown family lawyer told MSNBC that relatives were “praying for an indictment” and were “trying to put their faith in the justice system.” At least for the time being, the family’s prayers have not been answered, though federal charges could still be filed against Wilson.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch gave an extensive statement Monday night describing the entire investigation and grand jury process, before revealing that the grand jury had not returned an indictment.
McCulloch laid blame for the unrest in Ferguson on the media, claiming that “the 24-hour news cycle” contributed to misinformation. McCulloch never mentioned the leaks from sources within Ferguson law enforcement that have fueled rampant media speculation.
On August 20, the jury began hearing evidence related to Wilson shooting and killing Brown 11 days earlier. The jury was tasked to determine “whether a crime was committed and whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed it.”
The jury consisted of three Black members and nine white members. An indictment requires nine of those 12 votes.
Evidence was presented to the jury by two assistant prosecutors from McCulloch’s office. McCulloch has a long controversial history in the community, and faced accusations of bias and siding with local law enforcement in cases of police brutality and violence.
McCulloch took questions from the media following his prepared statement. The prosecutor refused to engage questions about the racial disparities in police violence or the problematic nature of a justice system that allows police officers to often shoot and kill civilians with impunity.
After the verdict was announced, the Brown family released a statement that said they were “profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.”
Shortly after McCulloch’s press conference, President Obama gave a televised statement addressing the verdict, during which he extended his sympathy to the Brown family but warned against civil unrest. “First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law,” Obama said. “And so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.”
Image: Breaking News/Youtube
Two days after the most recent election, I traveled to the Reproductive Justice Leadership Summit and 20th Anniversary Celebration, or “RJ at 20,” to meet with fellow reproductive justice warriors in Chicago. I had just spent months working hard alongside other members, partners, and allies of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) to defeat a dangerous and deceptive amendment that would have added fetal “personhood” to the Colorado Constitution. This was the third time “personhood” amendments have appeared on the Colorado ballot, and COLOR has been part of the coalition working to defeat them each time; this year, it also led a robust grassroots effort focused on Latina voters in eight counties throughout the state.
After appearing on a “Movement Stories, Our Work with Allies” panel at RJ at 20, which was hosted by the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, I was touched by a movement sister who told me I was dropping truth about working with allies that we all know and live but rarely speak. I then reflected on our recent campaign battle, along with the countless other experiences I’ve had during my years of movement building work as a queer Latina activist. With that in mind, I’ve created a fusion of lessons learned from the past and advice for the fights of the future.
I present this with sincerity and respect for my sisters and brothers in the struggle—some of whom inspired this list with words of advice—in addition to our allies who join us on the journey toward reproductive justice.
Racism is real. So are oppression, microaggressions, and macroaggressions. It’s important to call out racist moments, publicly and privately. Knowing when to do so, however, is an art I’m still mastering. Partners can be well-intended and still make racist statements or perform racist actions. Worse yet, they can become radio silent in the face of oppression.
The issue of language translation of campaign literature, for example, is a perennial one. This year, I finally landed on the best way to challenge the question of whether we would translate all anti-personhood materials and messages into Spanish, considering the importance of the Latino electorate in Colorado. I felt a breakthrough moment when stating, “By not translating ALL campaign materials and messages, you’re saying that Spanish-speakers deserve a lesser campaign experience.”
Not only is language translation an issue, so are assumptions about whose job it is. It’s time for people to stop assuming that it’s the de facto job of Latino organizations—or any other organization or person representing an important community whose dominant language is not English—to provide translation services. Translation and interpretation are professional services with standards that campaigns and coalitions should prioritize and invest in from the outset, rather than naively burdening native speakers or groups representing these communities with this “task.” Instead of minimizing the importance of translation, it’s time we see it as critical to ensuring that key communities, no matter their language, are treated fairly. I’m happy to say that this happened for Spanish-speakers in Colorado this election season.
Who are your people? Find and befriend allies. Find those partners and individuals who will lift up your message when you’re not in a room and amplify your message when you are. Too often, we have the experience as women of color of saying something in a meeting or discussion and effectively being met with silence—only to have our white counterpart say it seconds later and receive the acknowledgement of a “great idea, great statement, or excellent contribution.” Plan for those infuriating and oppressive moments by inviting trusted allies to strategically amplify your messages. Who are your people? Find them, befriend them, thank them for being an ally.
Hustle, baby! Forget gatekeepers; open your own damn gate. For many women of color, the personal is political. Own this truth and make your own movement happen. Don’t allow others, such as pollsters, campaign consultants, or reporters, to be gatekeepers of spaces or relationships that are yours to claim. We have power to open our own gates or hurdle over them when necessary. Request meetings with power brokers. Trust your knowledge and expertise of the communities you serve and represent.
I was pleasantly surprised that doing this led to new campaign advancements for COLOR: By meeting with pollsters and campaign managers, we put ourselves in the position to advocate for and advise on Latina focus groups in English and Spanish, while earning respect for the work we do with Latinas. We forged ties that will benefit our community for future battles and victories. By opening our own gates and taking control of these relationships, we win for our community while building new alliances.
When kindness isn’t enough, kill ‘em with culture. Family, funk, and fire is what I think of when I remember one of the best cafecito/canvasses COLOR hosted during the campaign season. Joined by friends and families we played funk music, lit an outdoor fire, and we generated a buzz that we know how to throw a party and host a fiercely effective, intersectional canvass. Grounded in cultura, we employed our cafecito model of having comida, pan dulce, and musica as an entrée to our canvass kickoffs. We hosted in our own homes and opened the doors to a diverse set of partners with delicious comida and cultural flair; we ate, danced, and rallied. We also got nods from national organization representatives for “revolutionizing the way Latinas organize in Colorado” by doing what we do—both during and beyond campaign season. For us, it was breathing culture into our work; for our partners it was a warm experience that differed from more mainstream events.
Find common ground. No matter where we stand, under our feet is common ground. Find it. For this past election, that common ground was a shared passion for the protection of women and families and the engagement of Colorado’s rising American electorate (RAE). Our organization mobilizes and represents Latinos, young people, and women—a huge part of our state’s RAE. We, too, have a shared desire to keep all Colorado women and families free of threats to their autonomy. We can find common ground while holding our ground. Don’t confuse finding common ground with compromising values, however. Allyship needs to happen on our own terms and benefit our communities too. We win not by compromising values, but by uniting behind them.
Movement building is about community liberation. As a queer activist from the border who is passionate about intersections, I live this mantra and challenge allies to do the same: “We don’t advance unless we all advance together.” Or, to borrow Audre Lorde’s powerful message, “Without community, there is no liberation.” In other words, my liberation depends on yours. Liberation is not just racial equality or relationship recognition. It is justice for everyone. It has no borders; it acknowledges that we are all citizens of this planet and we don’t advance unless we all advance together.
Own your story. If we don’t tell our own stories, no one else will. History shows us that our work and contributions are either erased or never told. Combat this by telling your stories at every turn. This election, we used social and earned media, wrote blogs, gave presentations and staged conversations at conferences, and showed up to the table to tell our story. Whether we experience victory or heartbreaking defeats, it’s critical we talk about it formally and informally. Don’t let shadows of larger partners dim your truth. And model good allyship by finding time to engage partners and acknowledging their efforts.
Reflect and share. I penned this piece because I believe in the importance of reflecting on and sharing lessons learned. Much of this list comes from discussions with other activist leaders and friends across many different movements who are en la lucha (in the struggle) working to make the world a better place. Taking time to reflect inspired deep gratitude to my RJ family who live this work, share in similar experiences, and are committed to peacefully and collaboratively advancing the beautiful and diverse communities we represent.
I hope these lessons learned are helpful to you as you take on your work. I am ever encouraged by the strong women of our movement. Adelante!
The post Lessons From the Fight Against Colorado’s ‘Personhood’ Amendment appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Merry Thankschrismakuh! The holiday season of hollering about politics at, with, and around our beloved relatives is among us. In keeping with the season, it is appropriate, I think, that I begin this piece with a parable. A tale as old as time, a story we all know so well. Children are involved:
On Sunday morning, I had the pleasure of joining a panel of Texas political experts, party leaders, and writers for a discussion about the recent midterm elections at the fall Texas Junior State of America conference for high school students.
It was pretty cool. Students got to fill up the seats on the Texas House of Representatives floor, where our actual state reps sit in during our legislative session. They had the opportunity to ask questions of Will Hailer, the executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, and John McCord, the political director of the Republican Party of Texas.
They also got to see, live and in person, what happens when a Democrat tries to argue about facts with a Republican. This is where the tale-as-old-as-time part comes in. Or at least the tale as old as Texas Democrats losing every statewide race in the last two decades to Republicans.
In the course of the panel discussion, Hailer launched into a pointed criticism of Texas’ voter ID law and noted that a federal judge had called the law a racist “poll tax.” Not surprisingly, McCord jumped at the opportunity to refute Hailer’s claims, taking particular issue with a figure Hailer had mentioned—specifically, the number of people who didn’t have a valid photo identification when the voter ID law was passed. Then, of course, it was Hailer’s turn to explain his side.
Suffice to say that what ensued was a pretty predictable pissing match, with each guy jumping up to the microphone to address the other guy’s claims. Things got a little testy. A little awkward. And, frankly, kind of boring for a lot of people.
You will probably not be shocked to learn, for that matter, that Hailer wasn’t able to get McCord to concede the point he wanted him to concede: that the voter ID law is intended to disenfranchise minority voters. Instead, I watched a couple hundred politically motivated, go-getter high school eyes glaze over.
It was an instructive moment in a larger conversation about what progressives could do to encourage more Democrats and left-leaning voters to get out to the polls—something we’d discussed just minutes earlier on the same panel. And Hailer demonstrated precisely what doesn’t, and hasn’t, worked. He walked into the trap that liberals and progressives set for ourselves time and time again: He tried to use facts and logic to win a policy argument with a conservative. In the process, he lost the support—and the interest—of all the neutral potential allies standing by.
I want you to remember this throughout this holiday season, when you’re sitting down to break bread with your Tea Party uncle, your Republican aunt, or your libertarian cousin. You will never win the fights you have with these people, even if you ultimately “win” them. Hours, days, weeks later—however long it takes, you might eventually secure a grudging concession. But even if, under the best and most unlikely of circumstances, you eventually get your opponent, as it were, to agree to any part of your argument, you will have lost the ears of those around you—and a very important opportunity in the process.
What opportunity? The opportunity to stop talking about policy on conservative terms, and to shift the conversation to something more productive: offering affirmative progressive alternatives.
Sure, the Democrats in that audience on Sunday probably felt validated to hear Hailer say what was on their minds. I know I did. And no doubt the Republicans enjoyed seeing McCord refute his points; certainly McCord seemed pleased at the opportunity to tout the necessity of voter ID laws. But the debate was beneficial for us—people who already knew the answers we were looking for. It wasn’t for folks who are looking for something more relevant to their daily lives, like the high schoolers in the audience.
And I’m certainly not saying that we shouldn’t have discussions—even heated discussions—about voter ID, or any other political issue. I’m not saying that those topics don’t have an impact on folks’ everyday existence. They do. But although having these arguments is a necessary and important part of civic engagement, they rarely show unengaged voters a new path. Instead, they help people who have already made up their minds shore up their own points of view.
So this kind of dialogue, where folks are entrenched in their own beliefs and interested only in scoring points with the other side—if it can be called a “dialogue” at all—doesn’t advance the ball. At least, not in the meaningful way that Democrats need to advance it if, in Texas, they’re ever going to end the GOP domination of politics in a state with the lowest voter turnout in the country. People on the outside of these debates aren’t seeking “gotcha” points. They’re looking for reasons to vote for a person who espouses a policy that will help them in their daily lives. And I think a lot of what they hear when these conversations happen is something akin to Charlie Brown’s teacher: wooaaaahh waaaah waaaaaaaaah, with a Democratic or Republican accent.
Instead of getting into weedy and wonky arguments that put Republican policies and ideologies front-and-center, Democrats need to start a new conversation about what they’d like to see happen. We need to stop getting defensive, or putting Republicans on the defensive.
This holiday season—and, hell, in the months that follow—stop engaging in bad-faith debates about whether Republican policy is bad, and start talking about progressive solutions to the problems presented and magnified by right-wing legislators. There’s a fundamental disconnect that I see when progressives engage conservatives, and it has to do with the fact that we’re not engaging each other on the same basic terms. Liberals believe in battling systemic oppression perpetuated by the state, for example, in the form of things like voter ID laws and abortion restrictions; Republicans, on the other hand, couch these things as protecting fundamental freedoms.
We’re not on the same starting line. We’re not even playing on the same field when it comes to our respective political ideologies. When Democrats try to argue that voter ID laws are racist, or that abortion restrictions are meant to, well, restrict abortion access, they expect that Republicans are playing the same game. They’re not. They’re not even playing the same sport. And honestly, there are barely any spectators.
By contrast, we’ve seen that when Democrats propose progressive changes, or take bold stances on issues like abortion and immigration, the response is positive, and people who otherwise might not take an interest in politics get engaged and excited. We saw it in Texas at the state capitol during Wendy Davis’ filibuster. We’ve seen it in the days since Obama’s immigration reform announcement.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t criticisms to be made, or that every progressive is pleased with any given Democratic policy, but it shows people—potential voters who are exhausted by the talking-heads game and turned off by negative political advertising—that there’s more to politics than tit-for-tat exchanges that inevitably put Democrats on the defensive.
What if people like us simply said: I believe in ending private prisons, implementing a minimum wage increase, same-day voter registration, marriage equality, immigration reform, or affordable health care, and talked about why, and let those ideas simmer with our friends and loved ones?
Here’s what I suggest: if the conversation turns, over turkey, to the Fox News Headlines of the Day, refuse to engage. And y’all know this kind of thing is coming for you, because ole’ Uncle Tri-Corner Hat has already spent every day since last Thanksgiving thinking of new ways to get the mouthy feminist at the table all riled up over abortion again. Then he gets to give his impassioned lecture about the baybeeeees again, and you get to throw up your hands in frustration because that’s what happens when you try to argue with a self-aggrandizing brick wall.
I don’t mean refuse to speak. I don’t mean change the subject to the great Black Friday deals at Kohl’s tomorrow. I mean refuse to engage with the idea that you, as a progressive or a feminist or a liberal or a Democrat owe anyone, least of all Auntie Anchor Babies, a full accounting of your personal political beliefs.
Yes, talk about why you believe the things you do. But don’t feel obligated to respond to right-wing talking points that presume you’re the bad guy, that force you to defend positions you don’t have. Yes, Grandma They’re Taking Our Jobs thinks you want to chew the U.S. Constitution to tiny bits and grant asylum to serial killers. It’s tempting to try and refute those claims, because they feel so wrong and so hurtful. You know they don’t reflect your beliefs or your actions. Don’t give them the opportunity to entertain the idea in the first place.
What do we get at the end of these kinds of arguments, most of the time? Bad feelings, frustration, and antagonism. Maybe some validation. Maybe some more wine. What we don’t get are new conversations about solutions that might help people live more economically sound, healthier lives.
Have a look around at some proposals that Democrats have made in your particular geographic area. If you live in Texas, you can check out some of the bills that have already been filed in advance of the 84th Legislature coming up in January. Rep. Celia Israel has proposed a bill that would allow for electronic voter registration. Rep. Mary Gonzalez filed a bill that will lower the age requirement for participation in the Texas Women’s Health Program. A number of Democrats have proposed raising the minimum wage and starting universal pre-K programs for underprivileged and at-risk kids.
Talk about why you support these ideas. Talk about why you think they’re good for your city, your county, your state. Acknowledge that Cousin Pull Up Your Pants disagrees, and move on.
Because somebody at your table is dying to witness more than a pissing match that taints the gravy. Somebody at your table is dying to hear new alternatives, and they’re anxious to hear about them from someone they love.
The post Progressives: Don’t Talk Turkey This Holiday Season appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Following Monday night’s grand jury decision that brought no criminal charges against Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9, protesters and supporters in Ferguson released an open letter.
“For 108 days, we have continuously been admonished that we should ‘let the system work,’ and wait to see what the results are,” they explain. “The results are in.”
“And we still don’t have justice.”
Read the full letter here: The Results Are in Open Letter 11.24.14
The post ‘We Still Don’t Have Justice’: An Open Letter From Ferguson Protesters and Supporters appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Walmart, for the second consecutive year, is holding a holiday food drive for its own employees. The retail giant has decided once again that instead of raising the wages of its 2.1 million employees, it will ask workers with a bit more disposable income to donate food to their associates with less.
A Walmart store in Ohio gained national attention last year when it hosted a Thanksgiving food drive for workers who don’t make enough money at the store to buy food for dinners. About 825,000 hourly employees at Walmart, the country’s largest private employer, make less than $25,000 a year.
OUR Walmart, a union-backed organizing group, has estimated that most employees make less than $9 per hour.
An Oklahoma store this month is hosting a similar drive. A picture of a bin reading “Let’s succeed by donating to associates in need!!!” was posted to the Making Change Facebook page and attributed to a Walmart in the state.
The company is owned by the six members of the Walton family, who, in 2012 had a collective net worth of $90 billion, or more than the combined income of the lowest-earning 42 percent of Americans. That year, Walmart’s net sales added up to $419 billion, more than the GDP of Norway.
Walmart employees and labor justice groups have targeted the company for its low-wage jobs and lack of support for employees. Since 2012, Walmart workers and allies have organized one-day walkout protests, culminating in strikes during Black Friday, the largest retail event of the year, starting the day after Thanksgiving.
Democrats in the U.S. Committee on Education and the Workforce concluded in a 2013 study that Walmart’s low wages and benefits force its employees to turn to government aid and cost taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million per store, every year.
Speaking out for better working conditions comes with a price; early this year, the National Labor Relations Board found that Walmart illegally fired, disciplined, or threatened at least 60 employees for complaining publicly about wages.
“The Walmart economy—a business model where a few profit significantly on the backs of the working poor and a diminishing middle class—perpetuates the income inequality problems that are devastating our country,” OUR Walmart and the United Food and Commercial Workers union said in a statement Monday.
The supplementing of Walmart workers comes during a national economic recovery fueled mostly by low-paying jobs. And it’s a recovery that has left many groups behind.
The unemployment rates from August to September went down about a full percentage point for African-American women (down from 10.6 to 9.6 percent), Hispanic women (down from 8.1 to 7.2 percent) and Hispanic men (down from 5.9 to 4.8 percent), and single mothers (down from 9.3 to 8.3 percent).
Bill Cosby has donated millions and been involved with myriad charitable organizations over his decades-long career. Yet few organizations are publicly distancing themselves in the wake of sexual assault allegations made against the comedian and former sitcom star, which have both increased in number and received a greater amount of media attention in recent weeks.
At least 13 women have said publicly that Cosby sexually assaulted them, including several who have come forward over the past week alone, while nine others have made similar allegations anonymously.
A defiant Cosby has largely responded to these allegations with silence.
The allegations have led some larger companies to cancel projects and appearances tied to Cosby: NBC cancelled a comedy special that was under development, and TV Land will stop airing reruns of The Cosby Show, while Netflix indefinitely postponed a Cosby stand-up comedy special.
But colleges and charitable organizations that are affiliated with Cosby have, for the most part, not responded in the same way.
This is perhaps most notable at Temple University, home to the Camille and Bill Cosby Scholarship in Science and where Cosby has in other ways been an active member of the campus community, a significant donor, and a member of the school’s board of trustees. As the Washington Post reported this weekend, Andrea Constand, the school’s former basketball operations director, who had gotten to know Cosby in his capacity as a supporter of the school’s basketball team, sued Cosby in 2005, alleging sexual assault; she is the only person so far to file suit against Cosby for sexual assault.
Constand and Cosby settled their case, which at the time “largely made the Cosby story go away,” as the Post reports.
The topic of sexual assault at Temple has recently resurfaced for a very different reason: Temple is one of 55 colleges under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for allegedly mishandling students’ sexual assault claims, which is a violation of the Title IX federal statute. Temple was cited for a Title IX violation in 2007, and promised to reform its policies.
The university seems to be standing behind Cosby; when asked for comment by RH Reality Check, the college responded by email and said only that “Bill Cosby remains a member of the Temple University Board of Trustees.” However, faculty at the college are raising questions about that decision.
“Given the very disturbing history of women who have been sexually assaulted having their credibility doubted and given how many women have come forward [to accuse Cosby] both in the past and now, I think the board of trustees should think hard about Mr. Cosby’s status and not wait on the courts to have that discussion,” Steve Newman, an associate professor of English and acting president of the faculty union, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Harmony Rodriguez, one of the Title IX complainants at Temple, told RH Reality Check that because of her experienced with Temple University’s “hostile environment,” she was not surprised by the decision made by campus officials.
“Temple has a major problem with gendered violence, including rape, that they address only with platitudes and bluster,” Rodriguez said. “[Cosby] fits in perfectly with frat boys, athletes, professors, and other serial rapists and abusers that are given sanctuary at Temple University.”
She said Temple officials have repeatedly vowed to “fight sexual assault,” but allowing Cosby to continue his association with the college has caused her to question the school’s dedication to that fight.
“They’re not dedicated at all,” said Rodriguez. “Temple University doesn’t stand with survivors, it stands with rapists and abusers, so it fits their M.O. perfectly to keep Cosby on the board of trustees.”
Meanwhile, a Change.org petition posted Monday is calling for Temple to drop Cosby from its board.
Other schools and organizations that have benefited from Cosby’s largesse have similarly declined to address the allegations.
Cosby donated $20 million to Spelman College in 1989—money that was used to construct the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby, Ed.D. Academic Center and create the the $4 million program called the William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship in Fine Arts.
Spelman College officials declined to respond to RH Reality Check’s request for comment on whether the college would continue the program and keep Cosby’s name on the academic facility. “Spelman College has no comment on the Bill Cosby matter,” a spokesperson said in an email.
Cosby earned master’s and doctorate degrees in education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In the years since has had significant involvement on campus including often leading student discussions. When asked for comment, a spokesperson said in an email that “the university is not commenting on the matter.”
“UMass Amherst having ‘No Comment’ on Bill Cosby’s allegations seems to be an attempt to ‘stay out of it,'”Liz Mungovan, Vice President of the Coalition to End Rape Culture (CERC) at UMass Amherst told RH Reality Check.
Mungovan said that the unwillingness of the university to speak out “speaks volumes” about the university’s commitment to help survivors of sexual violence. “By refusing to comment, UMass is silencing the survivors who attend the university,” Mungovan said. “Institutions remaining silent in the face of rape allegations perpetuates an environment where survivors’ stories are not being heard, validated or legitimized.”
St. Frances Academy is a Catholic school that serves mostly low-income high school students in the Baltimore area. Cosby is the largest donor in the school’s history, and the Drs. Camille and Bill Cosby Community Center was named in his and his wife’s honor.
St. Frances has not responded to RH Reality Check’s request for comment on the allegations.
Prevent Child Abuse America is a national organization that works to prevent instances of abuse and neglect around the country. Cosby was previously a member of the group’s National Honor Board, but his name has since been removed from that list. It is unclear when he name was scrubbed from the group’s website, but Cosby was mentioned as a member of the board as recently as December 2013.
When asked for comment, James M. Hmurovich, president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America, said in an email only that Cosby “has been removed from the Prevent Child Abuse America Honorary Board”; he declined to say why.
Jumpstart is an early education organization that uses college students to serve children in low-income neighborhoods. Cosby has been involved with the organization for the past few years, mostly consisting of promotional appearances for Jumpstart’s “Read for the Record” program.
Jumpstart declined to comment for this story.
The Berklee College of Music did withdraw Cosby’s sponsorship of Berklee Online, as reported in the International Business Times. “With the best of intentions for our student population at heart, we’re going to withdraw Mr. Cosby’s scholarship while things get sorted out,” Allen Bush, Berklee College of Music spokesman, told the Times.
The post Temple University Facing Scrutiny for Cosby Ties, Title IX Sexual Assault Complaints appeared first on RH Reality Check.