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Posts Tagged ‘Justice’

I had the pleasure of speaking at the Western Regional Conference for Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) at UCLA on Sunday, January 31st.

I started my presentation by doing something I never do, which is to outline what it was I would *not* be talking about. I’m not a lawyer or a policy advocate so I let them know I wouldn’t be speaking about rights or the law. Instead, I talked about the growing pro-voice movement and the importance of building a cultural climate that supports and respects each individuals unique experience with abortion. I talked about the role of stories, comforting those who have been stigmatized and the need to build community. I talked about the danger of a single story, shame and advocacy.

When a woman’s story with abortion is only seen as a tool to be used to further political goals, we erode the strength of our own social movement. Pro-Voice is a public stand with each and every woman who has had an abortion, no matter how much her story makes us uncomfortable. We are for all the stories.

Lauren Mendonsa, a Law Student and Member of Law Students for Reproductive Justice, was present and wrote a blog post in response to the question I posed to the group:

“What do you think is the role of law students and the legal community in creating a more supportive and respectful social climate around abortion?”

She writes:

I don’t have a good answer to Aspen’s question, but it has prompted self-reflection and criticism of my profession, which teaches its members to speak on behalf of our clients, emphasizing the “good” facts, minimizing the “bad,” and discarding the irrelevant. A supportive environment around abortion requires listening to women’s stories without an ear toward the legal hook, and refraining from ascribing our own values to the details. I need to work on this, and I’m going to encourage my peers and colleagues to do the same. As the decades since Roe v. Wade have shown, a legal right to abortion does little to engender support for women who choose to have one.

I look forward to a pro-voice future where reproductive justice lawyers like Ms. Mendonsa take an active role in creating a social climate that is able and willing to listen and learn from all abortion stories.

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On November 28, 2009, the New York Times Sunday edition featured an editorial “In Support of Abortion, It’s Personal vs. Political” in the Week in Review. While there were some things I liked about this editorial, there was much to dislike. First and foremost being the fact that Post-Roe women are defined only by what we have NOT experienced, not defined by what we have experienced. Instead of going on and on about what bugged me about this article, I decided instead to re-write it, the way that I believe it should be written. This article reflects elements of my vision for how the changing landscape of the abortion debate should be investigated and reported. This is a work of fiction, which means I have created new lines of dialogue and quotes from actual people listed in the original article – what I wish they would say from a strength and asset-based perspective, instead of the deficit-approach featured.

Enjoy.

“In Support of Wellbeing, Abortion Matters to Women & Families”
By Cheryl Straight Stobilt

In 1999, an airline pilot’s daughter named Aspen Baker was attending college in Northern California when she had a safe and legal abortion at a local hospital. She had been raised a pro-life Christian in Southern California and while she never believed she could make a pregnancy decision for another person, she never believed she would have an abortion herself, until she did. While she was relieved when the procedure was finally over, she found herself with a lot of difficult emotions about the experience and because of the stigma and politics surrounding her decision she was unable to find someone who would listen to her, without judgment or bias.

Today, Aspen Baker is the Founder and Executive Director of Exhale, an organization whose mission is to create a more supportive and respectful social climate around personal experiences with abortion and which runs a national, multilingual post-abortion talkline. At 33-years old, Baker is a member of what many feminist leaders call the “Third Wave,” though Ms. Baker rarely uses the term herself.

(more…)

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Feminist blogger Kate Harding often takes issue with how cynical the progressives on Daily Kos write about abortion politics, but on Nov. 10, they found some common ground. Two days after the House voted to approve health care reform and the Stupak Amendment, which seemed to catch so many by surprise, Kate wrote on Salon and David Waldman wrote on Daily Kos that the passage of Stupak was entirely predictable. Not a shock. Not a surprise. Disappointing, frustrating, and infuriating, perhaps, but certainly, they agreed, everyone should have seen the Stupak Amendment coming.

According to David, the “lavishly-funded national network of professional abortion rights advocacy groups … somehow found themselves blindsided and rolled by a situation that was 100% predictable (not to mention 35 years in the making).” And Kate wrote, “We were rolled with, like, 35 years of advance warning” and she decried Democrats who “will sacrifice pretty much everything they claim to believe in, just because the words ‘Democratic majority’ sound so much better than the alternative.”

Let’s all get over our collective surprise and admit we need an entirely new strategy. The Stupak Amendment represents our decades-long national reality: deep political divisions about abortion rights and moral judgments against women who have had abortions. If we really want different results, we need different strategies. We can’t count on a president, professional lobbyists, or politicians to transform the abortion conflict or assure justice. We can’t even count on ourselves if our only strategy is to “get angry and gear up for a fight.” What we need to do is change the conversation about abortion.

If we don’t fundamentally and proactively change the conversation we risk deepening political divisions and forcing more people to their own sides, leaving out, yet again, the silenced voices we need most: the voices of women who have had abortions.

If we want to transform the conflict, the voices of these women need to take center stage. A true conflict-transformation approach, according to Eyal Rabinovitch, an expert on this approach, “focuses less on solving the conflict than changing how we engage with one another when we are in it. [It works by] giving voice to all affected by a given conflict and enabling open communication between them.”

Note that it does not work by giving voice to those “who speak on behalf of” or “advocate for” a particular group; those speakers certainly have not been silenced in public discussion. Neither are their voices the ones who need reassurance of open communication. Conflict transformation does not try to force opponents to comprise or agree with each other.

A conflict transformation approach on abortion enables open communication for those who have personally experienced abortion, the people whose voices have been silenced most as a result of the Abortion War. Today’s abortion conflict replaces their voices with stigma, isolation, judgment, myths, stereotypes, and the belief that women are best used as case studies to “prove” that one side or the other is right. Every day at Exhale, the organization I lead, women and their loved ones call our national talkline after an abortion to find the nonjudgmental comfort and support they are unable to find in their everyday lives. At Exhale, we witness the personal impact of this war on a woman’s life and her well-being.

Conflict transformation ensures that every story, every voice, is heard, and that each person’s dignity and humanity is respected.

We transform conflict when we take a public stand for each and every woman who has had an abortion, despite how uncomfortable her story makes us feel, or how inconvenient her truth may be to our position. We humanize the issue of abortion when we create room for those who have had abortions to feel supported, respected, and connected to one another.

Personal stories have the potential to change the way we think about abortion and the women who have them, and we must elicit them with openness and an authentic desire to learn. Because it is through personal stories that we can explore the real impact of abortion—positive, negative, and everything in between—in the lives of women and their families, and find new solutions to promote their health and well-being.

We should expect this new strategy to be messy—in fact, we should hope for that. Thelar Pekar, a communications expert, writes: “Story sharing, if done correctly, results in chaos. … Story begets story, which begets story, which eventually … begets chaos. [We should be] surprised, delighted, and frightened by what [we hear.]. Only then, out of chaos, will clarity, innovation, and/or change emerge.”

The impact of this approach on our cultural conversation about abortion will not be predictable like the Stupak Amendment or the political motivations of Democratic leaders. It gives us a real choice with real consequences, just like abortion: we can choose the same battles and get entirely predictable results or we can take a risk and try different strategies with unpredictable outcomes. Listening to personal abortion stories and enabling communication between women who have had abortions is messy, and it grows the possibilities for peace.

This is Pro-Voice.

If you want to be a part of transforming the abortion conflict and building peace, start by being pro-voice in your online discussions about abortion. Here are 5 simple tips:

• Be Authentic—Speak from your own personal experience.
• Be Respectful—Be aware of times you’re reinforcing an “us-versus-them” mentality.
• Avoid Jargon—It tends to be alienating at worst and boring at best.
• Remember Your Readers—Online, your readers could be your friends or family, even your daughter or mother. What would you want them to read?
• Practice Self-Care—If you find yourself drawn into a frustrating or infuriating online discussion, take a deep breath. Allow yourself to back away.

Whether or not you have personally experienced abortion, you can be a champion for women’s voices. Speak from your own personal experience and tell a story about a time you felt heard, truly heard. How did it change the conversation? How did it change your life?

The Abortion War today needs this pro-voice strategy. Instead of seeking only political solutions—where we end up “blindsided” by political sacrifices like the Stupak Amendment—we need a strategy for deep, fundamental culture change. We need to transform hearts and minds.

We start by taking the idea of the Abortion War seriously. Very, very seriously. We must recognize that we are a nation deep in conflict, and instead of trying to win with politics, we must work towards building peace. I believe we can do that by being pro-voice.

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A woman who has had an abortion and who goes online in search of support and connection will undoubtedly find everything that is wrong with the abortion debate in this country. Shame, stigma, anger, violence, and judgment around abortion are the status quo online. Imagine if instead each woman found what she really needs: respect and understanding. Exhale envisions a better online world for women and their loved ones post-abortion and we need your help!

Exhale is in the running to receive a free, new website through the Free Range Youtopia Grant program, worth $15,000! There are more than 400 great ideas competing for the prize, and we need your vote!

Vote for Exhale today and you will take us one-step further towards our goal of a new social website that champions listening, promotes storytelling and builds empathy for every woman who has had an abortion.

Vote!

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I live in Oakland, California and I love it. Lake Merrit is one of my favorite spots. Because I grew up on the ocean I need to be around water and so I always pretend the Lake is the ocean. It works, especially on hot summer days.

If you haven’t been here, you should check it out the next time you visit the Bay Area. There is a gondola, a bird sanctuary, and it’s regularly used for exercise. Families, women, men, couples, and people with dogs, strollers or on bikes take the 3-mile journey around the Lake on a daily basis.

Sometimes, driving by at night, I will see a man running, alone, listening to his music on an ipod. And I will be jealous. So jealous.

I will be jealous because that man is doing something that I will never in my life have the chance to experience. I will never run, alone, around the Lake at night, oblivious to my surroundings while enjoying music on my ipod. Never. Not a chance.

Not because it’s Oakland. Because I am a woman and rape is always a threat.

I was probably about 12-yrs old the first time I took a self-defense class. I learned a lot of tricks to stay aware of my surroundings and how to fight back. But the thing that sticks out most in my mind all these years later is what I was told to scream, should I ever find myself attacked.

“Never,” the instructor said, “should you yell RAPE. Always, yell FIRE.” If you yell RAPE, no one wants to be involved, but if you yell FIRE, everyone wants to be a hero.

To this day, if I ever find myself walking to my car at night, alone, I repeat “FIRE, FIRE, FIRE” in my mind over and over in case someone attacks me. I want to be ready with the right word. I want someone to want to be a hero.

The fact that I haven’t been raped has everything to do with luck. It could happen at any time, in any city, day or night. These are the statistics. While never running alone at night or being prepared to yell FIRE may make me feel better and more in control, I don’t know that it’s actually lowering my risks of being attacked.

When I look back on life, especially all the times I was drunk in high school hanging out with the guys, I’m actually quite amazed that I escaped without assault. How sad is it, that I see this as lucky, instead of normal? I know it’s not normal. Almost every friend of mine from high school has a story, a story of a time when they felt threatened, when they went farther than they wanted to because they were afraid, and when they were forced to perform against their will. Almost every friend. I don’t think a single one of them ever reported it. We probably just avoided those guys in the future. We didn’t go to their party.

When I think about how lucky I am to have escaped rape on those drunken nights in high school, I know that I have yet to escape the threat of rape. No one really does. Even if I make it to 90, rape-free, and end up in a nice, quiet nursing home, my chances of being abused may have actually increased. Sexual assault and abuse of elders is on the rise.

This is what it’s like to be a woman in a rape culture.

When I think of the young woman in Richmond who was attacked, it is hard for me to describe my feelings. Pain. Agony. Sadness. Horror.

I think of all the women I talked to when I was a sexual assault counselor at BAWAR, and I know that healing is possible, and I know the road can be long.

I think about her family, her friends, and her community. I think about the family members of those young men who attacked her and how mortified and disappointed they must feel and I know that healing is possible for them too and that their road is also long.

Rape is not only a product of urban environments. Neither is being bystander. It is not just young black men perpetuating violence against young women. Rape happens in every community, in every environment, within and between every race. It is worldwide.

Rape, as every anti-violence advocate knows, is never about sex and always about power and control. It is used as a weapon. It is used to intimidate and to hurt others. It can be used by a husband against a wife, a famous celebrity against a promiscuous groupee, an uncle against a niece, a militia against a community, a prisoner against a fellow inmate. It knows no bounds across race or sexual orientation – straight men can rape other straight men.

It’s about power, not about sex.

None of these forms of rape are acceptable. It will not be OK for these young men to have done to them in jail what they did to the young woman. Violence as revenge, to exert power and control, is not the way to transform a culture from one that accepts rape as the status quo into a culture that supports bystanders willing to intervene when someone yells – or sees – RAPE.

Most of all, it does not help to have people like Deepak Chopra say on national television that these rapists and bystanders are emotionally retarded. This makes my stomach hurt. If one in six women will be assaulted in their life, we are all bystanders. We have all stood by and watched, and laughed and took pictures because if we haven’t done something to end violence against women and communities of color, then we may as well have. Because we’re standing by, letting it happen.

So, what do we do? We do as Akua Jackson, Director of Programs for Youth Together said in her CNN interview: we all take responsibility. Parents, teachers, youth, organizations, law enforcement, elected officials, clergy, community members. Preventing rape, stopping rape, is everyone’s responsibility.

Each of us can stop being a bystander. We can be an ally. An advocate.

What I remember most from my days as a rape-crisis counselor was how few women who are raped are believed, and how few report (and often, for good reason). The primary thing we did on the BAWAR hotline is believe callers when no one else would. Rape is so horrible and unimaginable in most of our minds that we would rather play tricks on ourselves than deal with the reality of a rape of someone we love, or of the truth of someone we love being a rapist.

That night in Richmond, it seems that every single person made the wrong choice. The wrong choice to rape. The wrong choice to watch. The wrong choice to laugh. The wrong choice not to act.

Luckily, we get to make the right choice.

We can start by showing our support for this community and these families and the many people, leaders, youth and organizations who have made significant progress in creating a safer, more just community in Richmond. We can let them know we are with them and we believe.

Community Healing Event and Candlelight Vigil at Richmond High School

What: Community Healing Event
When: Tuesday, November 3, 2009, 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Where: Richmond High School (back Football Field), 1250 23rd Street, Richmond, CA
Who: Students, Teachers, Community Leaders, and Public Officials

Then, perhaps, I can achieve my dream. To run at night, alone, without fear. And a smile.

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I couldn’t agree more.

Glamour Magazine is well on its way to becoming my favorite magazine of all time. It was just a few short months ago that they featured the stories of women post-abortion. Now, they seek advice from experts on conflict resolution in order to create a more “thoughtful and productive dialogue” in a special editorial on page 207 of their September issue (featuring Jessica Simpson on the cover).

Glamour Mag’s Top 5 Tips for Productive Dialouge include:

Respect the Other Side. Believe others care like you do.
Go Ahead. Make it About You. Tell a Personal Story.
Wait. Listen Really Listen (not just wait to talk).
Don’t Let it Escalate No Hate Speech.
Realize the Debate Is Worth It. We can all grow from these experiences.

Sure looks to me like Glamour Magazine is practicing a Pro-Voice approach to their abortion coverage.

But not all dialogue happens in person. These days more dialogue is taking place online. That’s why back in April, Exhale published 5 Tips to be Pro-Voice Online to support the online organizing of peace-makers and pro-voice advocates.

If you agree with me and Glamour Magazine that its time to create abortion peace, then practice the 5-steps for peace outlined by Glamour, and head online with these 5-tips to be Pro-Voice from Exhale:

Be Authentic
Be Respectful
Avoid Jargon
Remember Your Readers
Practice Self-Care

Together, we can, as Glamour Magazine says, “learn to talk about our differences.”

Michael John Aloi, the President-elect of the Assocation for Conflict Resolution, wisely asserts that “being able to have meaningful discussions with someone whose beliefs are the opposite of yours can be rewarding. You can grow from it. You can become more tolerant – just be listening. And that’s its own reward.”

Thanks Glamour. Keep it up! Can’t wait for the next Pro-Voice article.

personal-growth-support

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On February 27th, I attended Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s briefing on the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. There was only a couple of days notice about the briefing and I had no idea what to expect. When I showed up at the Asian Cultural Center in the Chinatown section of downtown Oakland, I saw there was going to be a 12-person panel!

handout

The briefing started almost an hour late and they had to bring in more chairs. But there were lots of luminaries in attendance, including representatives from East Bay MUD, BART, Hayward Schools, the Oakland Mayor’s office, Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, Oakland City Councilmember Pat Kernighan, and many, many more, all of whose names I couldn’t write down fast enough. When Barbara Lee took to the podium she got a standing ovation!

Aranthan S. Jones, II, otherwise known as “A.J.” is the Director of Policy and Research for Majority Whip, Congressman James Clyburn from South Carolina. Clyburn and Lee serve together on the Congressional Black Caucus, of which Lee is the Chairwoman. A.J gave the real overview of the Recovery Act and the mandate they followed from President Obama to get it done. Basically, he says they were given an 8 day deadline to come up with a one trillion dollar bill. A.J. was adamant that there are no apologies on the size of the bill or the speed in which it was created.

In the end, they didn’t get the whole trillion, but they did get $787 Billion.

Each member of the 12-person panel represented a government agency and with AJ, Lee and each panelist, we got a good idea for where the money is going in California, the Bay Area and Oakland specifically, and what it means.

leepanel

Representatives included:

Ms. Leslie Walker, Regional Communications Director, Social Security Administration
Mr. Mark Quinn, Regional Director, Small Business Administration
Ms. Karen Schwinn, Associate Director of the Water Division, Environmental Protection Agency
Ms. Caroline Krewson, Deputy Regional Director, Department of Housing and Urban Development
Mr. Richard Trigg, Regional Administrator, Department of Labor
Mr. Emory Lee, Acting Regional Director, Department of Health and Human Services
Mr. Billy Beaver, San Francisco Regional Director, Department of Labor
Phyllis Farrell, Supervisor, Veterans Administration Regional Office
Dr. Donald Medley, Berkeley Lawrence Laboratory, Department of Energy
Bernice Fischer, Governmental Liaison Area Manager, Internal Revenue Service
Mr. Will Kempton, Director, California Department of Transportation.

Here are some of the highlights:

If you are a university or organization that already gets money from the government for science, math, engineering, or green energy, you will get more money.
$ 30 million for micro-finance
$ 2.1 Billion for HeadStart
$120 Million for community-service jobs for low-income, older Americans
81% of state stabilization funds for local education agencies will be spent on construction.
$ 20 billion for foodstamps – increases individual benefit by 13%
$ 87 billion for Medicaid – 30% held for areas with high poverty, the rest is a 9% federal reimbursement to states
$ 7.2 billion to EPA
$ 13.6 billion to HUD – 75% already allocated (!)
$ 4 million to community development block grants and
$ 4.5 billion to labor, $ 500 million goes to green jobs. Labor money will come by March 19th and will have to be expended within 30 days.
$ 38 billion to health and human services, focusing on health information technology, wellness and prevention.
New VA benefits for Filipino vets
IRS had new withholding tables up on their website within 4 days of bill signing (!)

Here are a couple important points for Oakland:

Oakland renters are facing serious problems when the homes they rent are foreclosed upon and banks try to kick them out. Recovery Act includes protections for renters and forces banks to uphold the lease when owners foreclose. There is also 11 million for public housing in the 9th District.

Also, in the Bay Area, the Social Security Administration is hiring 100 people by April 1. Get out your resumes! In California there is $ 4.6 billion to California for transportation infrastructure, which will be creating lots of construction jobs.

If you need a job, government is the place to get one right now. Which, I guess is the point of this bill. I’m wondering how its all going to look in 2 years when the money is gone. Will it have created the stimulus the economy needed and generated new jobs, so those being hired or contracted by government agencies will find new employment, or will this become the new way of doing business? Did the government need to inflate after 8 years of neglect which let more and more and more people fall through the cracks until it didn’t just effect one person or one family or one community, but the whole nation and thus the world? Is this the kind of infrastructure we need to keep up with a growing, changing world? Or, will we just be creating more bureaucracy and pork that needs to feed itself in the years to come?

These were some of the questions going through my mind as I pondered these HUGE sums of money and what they meant for the poor, middle-class and the state of California. Overall, most Americans are going to get a significant tax cut from the Recovery Act. And, just to give you a sense of where California is on all things taxes: California takes in over $8,000 per person a year in revenue, though they only collect about $3,000 of that from individual taxes. The state spends nearly $6,500 a year per person. Yet, for every federal dollar we give in taxes, we get back only $0.78 in federal spending. I am SUPER CURIOUS about how all this will change with the Recovery Act.

Overall, what I heard from Lee and the panelists at the briefing was SPEED, GREEN, TRANSPARENCY. The speed of which the bill was created, signed and money has been sent, and the speed to which government agencies are required to spend it. Really, I can’t tell you how many times my jaw was literally hanging open as panelist after panelist talked about having already received millions of dollars and how quickly they plan to spend it. Shocking for government, just shocking.

Green jobs & energy was mentioned by almost every panelist and it was clear that this is a priority throughout every agency. Amazing to just hear green energy being the status quo in everything from labor to the EPA. And there is a clear process of accountability for all the money and how and where it is spent. These folks seemed determined to do it right.

I also got the sense that a lot of this money was for things that the Democrats have been wanting to accomplish over the last 8 years – like increasing food stamp benefits – but weren’t able to because of Bush’s “starve the beast” approach to government programs for things other than war and defense. I am so proud to be a constituent of Barbara Lee and to hear what she was able to accomplish for Oakland, and other urban areas, to better serve and meet the needs of the poor. In everything from housing and food stamps to job training and health care, Lee took a strong stand and got real results. These are the things that can make all the difference not only in one person’s life but for the whole community in which they are members. We struggle together, we thrive together.

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