An interesting process, especially to an election/political junkie!
I thought I had it together. I thought I was moving on, “getting over it” as the world kept telling me to. She lost, he won. The only thing we can do is keep fighting. We are seeds, we are safety pins, we are stronger together. So I picked myself up from the black hole of despair I had fallen into after Trump won and I got back to the business of life.
I worked on a new script. I took my three-year old daughter to preschool. I drove out to a kids’ consignment sale in the valley. Because the fact that a racist, misogynistic ignorant hatred-spewing demagogue has been elected president doesn’t change the fact that my kid needed a new booster seat and jammies that fit.
The LA traffic was thick and my mind, as it does in heavy traffic, started to wander. I’m a comedy writer, but suddenly I was thinking up stories about post-apocalyptic worlds where women revolt and take over the planet. I started thinking about writing a song. Something that captured everything I was feeling. A love song, a fight song. Something to show the world that I was still with Her.
I am her. The words flashed through my head. And suddenly, there on the 101 freeway, I was down the hole again. Tears streaming, sobs choking, heart breaking. The realization hitting me. I am Her.
And here was the root of my pain. This wasn’t just about the disappointment that my candidate lost. Or the fear of what Trump will do to this country. It felt like my very soul hurt and I realized that it was because of what this election said to me as a woman. It said no.
No, woman, stay in your place. No, woman, you are not good enough. No, woman, no matter what you do, you will not win, you will not be the boss of me.
It crushed a part of my female core to realize that yes, the world at large really does hate women that much. And while there are other reasons to dislike Hilary Clinton and disagree with her policies, misogyny and sexism are the gas that fuels the fire they burned her with.
We are supposed to stay quiet and not ask for much. Stay in our place and say please and thank you and don’t challenge anyone. We must be perfect, ten times more perfect than the man beside us. And then we must wait for them to give us permission to follow their orders.
I have always been both a strong woman and a good girl. I got straight A’s. I was class president. I went to an Ivy League school and even gave the commencement address, just like Hillary. I sailed through a hurricane off the Cape of Good Hope as the only woman on a crew of eight men. I sold everything I owned and moved across the country in order to pursue my dream of being a screenwriter. I put my husband through nursing school while raising a daughter who doesn’t believe in sleeping through the night. I dream big dreams. I make hard choices. I don’t give up. Just like Hillary.
And yet every time I walk into a meeting, usually to try and sell a female driven story, I have to sell my “likability” because I know only 26% of creators, writers, directors and producers in TV are women. And every time I walk down the street alone at night I have to hold my phone in my hand, finger ready to dial 911 should that man walking towards me decide that he’d like to converse with me with some “locker room talk.”
Hillary Clinton did everything they told her to do. She smiled, she worked hard, she was polite and caring, she stayed calm. She was not a Bitch, even when she had every right to be. She wore just the right amount of make up, kept every hair in place. She did her best. She did the best. And still.
She sat in the front row, having studied and done all her homework. She raised her hand and the world would not call on her. Instead they pulled the bully, the lazy lying jerk, cheating on his test and blowing spitballs from the back of the class and made him the principal. Made him the President.
I am Her. Every woman is, whether they know it or not. Every woman has been held back by, pushed down by, grabbed in the pussy by sexism that cannot, will not, allow a woman to rise higher than a man. The misogyny that pulses through this world, the blood that keeps the dick of American patriarchy hard, it penetrates us from the day we are born. Smile pretty. Be good. Be quiet.
Hillary gave me hope. Things were going to be different. For me and my daughter. The broken shards of the glass ceiling would crumble to glitter dust beneath our empowered feet. We were going to dance together in the fresh air of that open sky, nothing to keep our hands from reaching for the sun. It was an exciting, inspiring time to be a woman.
But now that hope feels gone. Every day a new story about a woman being harassed or assaulted in the name of Trump. A new promise to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, to abolish Roe v. Wade. A new appointment of someone like Steve Bannon, an open misogynist. We cracked the ceiling and now the ceiling wants us to bleed.
Hillary Clinton stood up for women and when the world slapped her back down, my cheek felt the sting. I know that there is work to be done, battles to fight, toddlers to raise into Nasty Women. And so I keep driving. But even now as I seek the horizon, the words keep going through my head. I am Her. I am Her. I am Her. And the tears keep falling.
Writer, fighter, mother, lover. Collector of all things wicked awesome.
She would change it not just by signing petitions, or protesting, or calling her legislators. For the first time, she sketched out a plan to run for elected office.
In 2020, Hernández intends to make a bid for a seat on the San Jose City Council or the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Her focus will be reproductive rights and community empowerment, she said.
“Everybody says organize, don’t mourn, make a change,” said Hernández, 22, a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz. “So I said to myself, ‘How am I going to be an active member in this? You know what, I need to run for office. I need to be a part of that decision-making. I need to make sure Trump’s voice is not the only voice out there.’ ”
Among young, liberal women who expected to see the country elect its first female president Nov. 8, Hernández is not alone; many are responding to Hillary Clinton’s defeat with a new sense of obligation to seek political power. After years of never imagining a career in the public eye or only vaguely entertaining the idea of working in politics, these women are determined to run for elected office.
They don’t speak for all women, many of whom voted for Trump — 42 percent of them, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research. Notably, a majority of white women favored the Republican. But Clinton still benefited from an overall gender gap, and young women supported her by a margin of 32 percentage points.
For many of those rooting for Clinton to break the glass ceiling her campaign repeatedly invoked, her loss, painful as it was, could be an even greater mobilizing force than a victory might have been.
“It’s incredibly ironic,” said Alexandra Melnick, a 22-year-old from Florida who recently decided to run for a spot on a local school board after she obtains her master’s degree in education. “But to think this could inspire women like me to run for office — it’s the only belief one can have without losing hope.”
For Hernández, the ascent of a man she sees as menacing to her full inclusion in American society as a Latina — and menacing to the safety of her undocumented friends — has changed everything.
Her focus had not been on electoral politics. She considered herself an activist, concentrating on rent and eviction issues in her home town of San Jose. She used to spurn city council members and state legislators, politicians against whom she had “spent so much time fighting.” But the election convinced her that these offices wield unparalleled influence, and it made clear to her the scope of the power she could exert and the scale of her responsibility.
Michele L. Swers, a professor of government at Georgetown University who specializes in gender and policymaking, said this response has historical precedent.
In the early 1990s, televised hearings brought the Senate debate over the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court into living rooms across the country. The all-male Judiciary Committee’s treatment of Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment, helped motivate women to run for office, Swers said. In 1992, four successfully ran for the U.S. Senate, increasing the number of women in that body threefold. They were Patty Murray of Washington, Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California, all Democrats. Their electoral success branded 1992 the “Year of the Woman.”
“You had people who decided they didn’t like what they saw,” Swers said. “In general in politics, anger is a very motivating factor.”
Swers said this year’s election may be another pivotal consciousness-raising event for women “deciding the only way to change things is to get into the halls of power.”
The volume of calls and the amount of cash coming in to Emily’s List, a political action committee that seeks to elect Democratic women, testify to this effect, said the organization’s spokeswoman, Marcy Stech.
“We have heard from women across the country who are raising their hands to be part of the solution,” she said.
Although women remain underrepresented at all levels of government, Stech said, young women searching for role models can look to the slate of Democratic women who found success on Election Day. She pointed in particular to Stephanie Murphy, who unseated Rep. John L. Mica, a Florida Republican nearly twice her age, to become the first Vietnamese American woman elected to Congress. Women like Murphy, Stech predicted, will play a major part in the evolution of the Democratic Party as it aims to represent the growing diversity of the electorate while making renewed overtures to working-class voters forfeited to Trump.
“We’re going to have to fire on all cylinders,” Stech said.
More than 1,000 miles from Santa Cruz, where Hernández watched the election returns in her dorm room, Emily Sheridan, a student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, sat in a crowded theater and watched Trump notch a victory in Florida. Then she saw Pennsylvania begin to take on a red tint.
It was then she decided she would stay in Boulder after graduation and run for a position at the county level.
“I wanted desperately to be able to do something but I couldn’t. . . . I felt so powerless as something so historic for all the wrong reasons was happening,” said Sheridan, 21, who studies evolutionary ecology and biology and serves as president of the campus’s college Democrats.
Many young people are motivated but directionless, Sheridan said. They’re angry but lack an outlet for that anger; they flocked to Bernie Sanders but disengaged from the election after he failed to win the Democratic nomination. Sheridan said the election’s outcome could be a wake-up call.
“I’m hoping the revolution starts the day after. That’s what Bernie said,” Sheridan said. “What I’m hoping is that the biggest thing that comes out of this is a change in the idea that it’s not cool to be in politics.”
It wasn’t concern for her social capital that kept Lindsay Fletcher, 30, away from politics. It was the sleepless nights staying up with her two children. After four years in the Air Force, Fletcher now cares full-time for her children — a 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son — at Sheppard Air Force Base in north Texas, where her husband is stationed.
She feels called to politics, which she sees as an extension of her responsibilities as a parent. After the election, she started a list on her phone of military spouses who have run for office.
“I want to show my little girl that you stand up for what you believe in,” she said. “I’ve never been involved in politics. My focus has been on my home. But my kids are getting older, and I’m getting antsy. I’m ready to get out and do something.”
In a year and a half, Fletcher and her family will relocate. Once they’re settled, she plans to explore local races, perhaps starting at the city level. Fletcher said she would like to focus on women’s issues — from parental leave to health care — as well as the treatment of veterans.
Years from now, she sees herself competing for a seat in the U.S. Senate, she said, in the model of Elizabeth Warren, the liberal firebrand from Massachusetts whom she admires.
For young women with more long-standing political ambitions, the election results solidified their plans — while also laying bare the obstacles they may face.
It has been Aurea Bolaños Perea’s dream to be a congresswoman virtually since she immigrated to the United States from Mexico about a decade ago. On Wednesday she set a deadline: A graduate student at California State University at Chico, she plans to run for a local position in the San Joaquin Valley or San Diego area in the next four years, before ultimately moving to the federal level.
She sees her life story as a refutation of Trump’s rhetoric. For immigrants who fear for their safety under his presidency, she said, “there needs to be someone in power who will understand. That has to be me.”
But she now knows how difficult her path will be.
“You see men who do not internalize failure like women do,” Bolaños Perea said. “If before I thought I would need to prove myself five times over, now I see that it’s more like 10 times.”
“Prison got me sober, but it didn’t get me anywhere.”
TULSA, Okla. — The women’s wing of the jail here exhales sadness. The inmates, wearing identical orange uniforms, ache as they undergo withdrawal from drugs, as they eye one another suspiciously, and as they while away the days stripped of freedom, dignity, privacy and, most painful of all, their children.
“She’s disappointed in me,” Janay Manning, 29, a drug offender shackled to a wall for an interview, said of her eldest daughter, a 13-year-old. And then she started crying, and we paused our interview.
Of all America’s various policy missteps in my lifetime, perhaps the most catastrophic was mass incarceration. It has had devastating consequences for families, and it costs the average American household $600 a year.
The United States has recently come to its senses and begun dialing back on the number of male prisoners. But we have continued to increase the number of women behind bars; two-thirds of women in state prisons are there for nonviolent offenses. America now incarcerates eight times as many women as in 1980, and only Thailand seems to imprison women at a higher rate.
And the situation may well worsen under the Trump administration; the president-elect’s nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has in effect defended mass incarceration.
The global capital for female incarceration may be right here in Oklahoma, which incarcerates 142 out of every 100,000 women, about 10 times the rate of low-ranking states like Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I wouldn’t argue that mass female incarceration is worse than mass male incarceration — they’re both counterproductive — but the imprisonment of women has heartbreaking collateral damage, because women are disproportionately likely to be primary caregivers, and 60 percent of American women in state prisons have children under 18.
“There’s a devastating impact on the children,” said Amy Santee of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which supports an alternative to imprisonment for women. “They’re put in chaotic homes, they’re more likely to be sexually abused, they’re more likely to be imprisoned themselves.”
Research shows that prison routinely fails at helping women straighten out their lives — although it does mess up their children.
“I felt my life was going to repeat my mom’s, and it did,” said Alisia Hunter, 37, who said her mother was imprisoned for financial offenses while she was a child. Hunter then ended up having a baby at age 16 by one of her father’s buddies, and she soon began doing stints in prison for drug offenses.
“Prison got me sober, but it didn’t get me anywhere,” Hunter told me. Each time she went to prison, she would get clean, and then once out she would return to drugs.
She did try to get into a drug rehabilitation program. But the state, while willing to pay to imprison her, was unwilling to pay for drug rehab except for the most serious addicts; she didn’t qualify.
One reason mass incarceration doesn’t get fixed is that society regards felons with a mix of fear and contempt. In fact, the women should evoke sympathy; even more than male prisoners, they have been through the wringer.
A quarter of women in state prisons reported having been sexually abused as children, one 1999 Justice Department study found. A different study found that 43 percent of women in jails that were examined had serious mental health problems, and 82 percent had drug or alcohol problems.
Anessa Rabbit, 31, says she grew up in a family of addicts and was born with drugs in her system. I can’t confirm her life story, but she told how she was molested by her father beginning when she was 7, began smoking methamphetamine daily when she was 11, moved in with a man when she was 13 and dropped out of school in the ninth grade.
Like many female felons, Rabbit seems to have gotten in trouble because of a boyfriend who manipulated her into committing crimes.
“He always put me in the position of doing the dirty work,” Rabbit said, speaking of a boyfriend who used to choke and beat her when he wasn’t coercing her to commit crimes. She says they committed robberies and other offenses, sometimes she at his behest; he ended up with a sentence of four years probation and she faced a possible sentence of 26 years in prison.
Prosecutors often understand what’s going on but threaten the women with long sentences (sometimes based on conspiracy laws) to get them to testify against their men. That’s how the criminal justice system works, but when the women refuse to cave, they go to prison for many years — and the guys then drop them.
When men are in prison, they seem to get visits frequently from girlfriends, who also add money into their commissary accounts so they can buy small items and make phone calls. But the prisoners and social workers I spoke to said that when women are imprisoned, they get fewer visitors and their accounts are often empty.
Mass incarceration also has an abysmal record. Recidivism is high, and imprisonment breaks up and impoverishes families. A newly published study from the Russell Sage Foundationfound that incarceration of a family member is associated with a 64 percent decline in household assets, magnifying poverty and the race gap in America. And the 2.6 million American children who have a parent in prison or jail pay an enormous price — which, as Rabbit’s story shows, isn’t always necessary.
Rabbit was diverted from prison to a model program in Tulsa called Women in Recovery. (Hunter also is in the program.) It reduces the numbers of women in prison, saves money and has had remarkable success helping troubled women shake drugs and restart their lives.
It has a two-generation approach that works with both the women and their children. The program offers counseling, intensive support, coaching on budgeting and conflict resolution, and help getting high school equivalency diplomas, housing and jobs.
The upshot is that Rabbit has now been clean of drugs for nine months — the longest since she was a young child — and has a job in a warehouse with some prospects for promotion. She has custody on weekends of her son, 12, and daughter, 11, and is trying to rebuild relationships with them.
Women in Recovery programs last 17 months and cost $19,700 on average; after that, the woman is in a job, and recidivism over the next three years is just 4.9 percent. Without the program, the state might imprison the women for years at a much greater cost — and end up with a much higher recidivism rate.
So if we want to reduce female incarceration, we have a solution here in Tulsa that will also reduce crime and pay for itself.
I know some of you are glaring at this article and thinking: It’s their own fault. If they don’t want to go to prison, they shouldn’t commit crimes!
That scorn derives partly from a misunderstanding of drug abuse, which is a central reason for mass female incarceration in America (and a major reason for mass incarceration of men as well, although to a lesser degree). As Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the surgeon general, noted in releasing a major report this month: “It’s time to change how we view addiction. Not as a moral failing but as a chronic illness.” In short, we should think of drugs not primarily through the criminal justice lens but as a public health crisis.
If you think all this is just coddling criminals, consider for a moment Michelle Vavrick, 24. I can’t independently verify her story, but her counselors believe it, and it tracks what many other women in her position have experienced.
Vavrick says she was raised in a chaotic and violent home with alcohol and drugs. Beginning at age 7, she says, a pedophile named Sean began picking her up at her house and taking her away to rape her on an almost daily basis. She responded by acting out, self-mutilating and becoming violent.
“At 10, I became uncontrollable,” Vavrick remembered. “Sean and his friends would shoot me with heroin so they could do what they wanted to me. Six of them.”
Vavrick self-medicated with alcohol and drugs, went through rehab programs that didn’t work and ran away at 18. She lived on a park bench, sold sex, connected with a gang and robbed people. “I was a big ball of anger,” she recalled. “I couldn’t stand being in my own skin.”
Last year she was finally arrested for drug running and faced a sentence of 15 years to life. Fortunately, she was diverted to Women in Recovery, underwent intensive cognitive processing therapy — and transformed. She has now been clean for 10 months and is warm and hopeful. Instead of sitting sullenly in a prison cell, she works in a bakery, loves it, and hopes to run her own bakery some day.
At one point when I was interviewing her about her past, she began crying. Alarmed, I quickly apologized, but she shushed me up. “This is progress,” she said, beaming through her tears. She wants to let herself feel again.
Reporting these kinds of topics is often tough: I see people stuck in cycles of poverty, drugs and incarceration, with their children often headed in the same direction. Even well-meaning help is sometimes rejected, for we humans have an astonishing capacity for self-destructive behavior — just as society does, with policies like mass incarceration. That backdrop makes it exhilarating to see a program like Women in Recovery succeed, and an individual like Michelle Vavrick blossom through it into a new future.
“I know how precious my life is, and I never want to stick a needle in my arm again,” she said. “I want to live.”
Poland has one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. Recently, a government-backed bill sought to go further, punishing women who had abortions with up to five years in prison. Last month, Polish women responded with a one-day strike. On Oct. 3, tens of thousands of people, most of them women dressed in black, protested in major cities.
Poland is run by a nationalist, right-wing Roman Catholic party that controls Parliament, has taken over independent media, is disregarding rulings of the Constitutional Court and now proposes creating a militia outside the command of the armed forces.
It would not seem to be a government that would listen to such a protest. But three days later, its legislators voted down the abortion bill. Why? The government saw the size and speed of the mobilization, and its high concentration of young people, as a threat — one it worried could grow.
The current relevance of this to America, which enshrines in its Constitution the right to peacefully voice protest to check government power, will escape no one. The Republican Party will soon control the presidency, Congress, most governorships and state legislatures; in all probability, there will be a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Given Donald J. Trump’s approval of advisers from the white nationalist far right, following his vitriolic attacks on the policies of the Obama administration, Democrats, independents and even some Republicans are bracing for assaults on — everything.
Yet they are not powerless. Seldom, in fact, has an out-of-power opposition been able to count on more resources — in broad support, political clout and moral authority.
But how these resources are used is what matters.
If the purpose is to allow despondent or angry people to vent and show solidarity, then the anti-Trump protests going on in major cities already do that. But they will not reverse the election results, or alter what President-elect Trump seeks to do.
Protests can change policies, however — and often have. In other countries and throughout American history, ordinary citizens banding together have triumphed over governments, even when a single party holds sweeping control. Many of those protests used resources that the opposition to President-elect Trump enjoys today. They can learn from how those victories were won.
Plan, plan, plan. A half-century after the street struggles in Birmingham, no American movement has yet surpassed the strategic mastery of the civil rights movement. Civil rights leaders were fighting a war — nonviolently, but a war nevertheless — and they planned it as such. They mapped out protests to create escalating drama and pressure. They ran training schools for activists, teaching them how to ignore provocations to violence, among other lessons.
Provoke your opponent, if necessary. The turning point for civil rights came when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference allowed children to march in Birmingham (a decision criticized by many, including Malcolm X). Bull Connor, the city’s commissioner of public safety, ordered the police to turn attack dogs, nightsticks and fire hoses on children marching peacefully — some of them 6 years old. The scenes made the nightly news and the front page of newspapers around the country.
The movement won by making a strong moral appeal to public opinion. It showed protesters making sacrifices for their cause. It lured opponents into violence that finally swayed the views of whites — a tactic similar to the playbook of Mahatma Gandhi in India, of forcing an oppressor to show his ugliest face. When that sight tips public opinion, government often listens.
Think national, act local. Protests are most effective when they aim for an achievable goal in one location, knowing that the real battle is for national public opinion. Movements work on two distinct levels, Mark and Paul Engler wrote in their important analysis of nonviolent strategy, This Is an Uprising. On a local level, the civil rights movement often failed; for example, the concessions won by the Birmingham protesters were vague and modest. But it was Birmingham that finally gave momentum to the passage of federal civil rights legislation.
Use humor. In Serbia, the Otpor movement mobilized the country against the dictator Slobodan Milosevic by using pranks to cut through fear. Its daily fare consisted of street actions that painted Milosevic as absurd: When the tyrant dedicated a new bridge, Otpor built one out of Styrofoam and held its own ceremony.
Srdja Popovic, an Otpor leader, calls this “laughtivism.” (Here is a Fixes column about his strategies.) It does more than counter fear. Humor breaks down defenses, creating an openness that allows people to consider your argument. “If the joke is good, even the police get it,” said Ivan Marovic, another Otpor leader.
When appropriate, be confrontational. It is hard to imagine how marginalized people with AIDS were during the Reagan administration — and how hopeless their cause, both medically and politically.
No group more proudly claimed the title of “outsider” than Act Up, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, founded in March 1987 in New York. Many of its members were dying. They were despised and reviled.
The Englers call Act Up an example of the power of the extreme outsider strategy: change through confrontation. It was noisy and angry. It was the first group ever to close down the New York Stock Exchange. Members scattered the ashes of loved ones on the White House lawn. They held a “Stop the Church” demonstration in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Act Up’s polarizing language, actions and style put off even some influential gay men, who told the group it was hurting the cause. (The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had heard the same criticisms.) But even many who were repelled by Act Up’s approach still heard its message.
Although people condemn your tactics, they can still support your issue, the Englers wrote.
By pulling from one extreme, Act Up shifted broad public opinion. The group started a global AIDS activist movement. It played a major role in changing the rules to expedite new AIDS medicines — and then it helped to bring down their cost. It forced insurance companies to cover treatment. It procured a patient voice in treatment. It was a major force behind the Ryan White CARE Act, a federal program for uninsured and underinsured people with AIDS.
Pull out the pillars. Gene Sharp, an American academic who is the guru of strategic nonviolence, argues that every leader, no matter his power, relies on obedience. Without the consent of the governed, power disappears. The goal of a civic movement should be to withdraw consent. Pull out the pillars, and the whole structure falls.
Senior citizens and his police were two of Milosevic’s most important pillars. Otpor members worked on both whenever they were arrested (which was quite often). Grandparents got angry when high-school students were repeatedly arrested or accused of terrorism.
And every arrest presented a chance to talk to the police. At the barricades, Otpor led cheers for the police. Over time, the police got to know the students they kept arresting, and some came to admire the youths’ commitment to nonviolence. “Police officers would complain to us about their salaries,” said Slobodan Homen, an Otpor leader. He offered some advice for Milosevic: “If later you order these people to shoot us — well, don’t count on it.”
This strategy also works for policy change. Advocates for gay marriage won early victories among many churches, the American Bar Association and child development experts. This helped transform influential opponents of gay marriage into influential allies.
The most important pillar on policy matters is Congress: Presidents need to pass their bills. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush failed to pass signal legislative priorities, despite controlling Congress. This was not because of grass-roots activism, but because of lobbying and spending by powerful and wealthy groups.
Under Mr. Clinton, health care reform fell victim to, among other things, “Harry and Louise” ads featuring a fictional couple, financed by the health insurance industry.
Mr. Bush’s top priority in 2005, when he had just won re-election and control of Congress, was to allow people to invest their Social Security contributions in private accounts. It was the focus of his State of the Union speech and town meetings he attended around the country. Yet he could not get it through Congress. “The simplest explanation is that President Bush overestimated the amount of political capital he had banked,” wrote William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution. “After all, he had prevailed by the smallest popular vote margin of any president re-elected in the 20th century. And there was evidence that the campaign’s bitter, divisive tone had taken its toll. As President Bush’s second term began, he enjoyed the lowest approval rating — just 50 percent — of any just-re-elected president since modern polling began.”
Exploit galvanizing events. During the 1970s, the United States built nuclear power plants. Lots of them. The first major protests came from the Clamshell Alliance, formed in 1976 to oppose the construction of the Seabrook Station plant in New Hampshire.
The Clamshell Alliance failed to stop Seabrook’s construction, but it gave rise to a grass-roots antinuclear movement. Groups around the country staged protests and sit-ins that slowed the pace of new reactor construction.
Then on March 28, 1979, Reactor Number 2 at the Three Mile Island station lost coolant and suffered a partial meltdown. The nuclear reactor industry never recovered.
Three Mile Island came 13 years after another partial meltdown, at the Fermi 1 reactor outside Detroit. Haven’t heard of it? One reason is that at the time, there was no movement ready to respond.
Events that galvanize public attention occur frequently. Most lead to nothing. But a few become sparks for sweeping change. What makes the difference is the existence of a prepared movement.
Thankfully, a galvanizing event need not be a nuclear meltdown. It does need to be an attention-grabbing drama where one side holds the moral advantage. When activists don’t have one, they have sometimes created one: think Bull Connor’s dogs, or Gandhi’s Salt March.
President-elect Trump has no popular mandate (Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a margin larger than John F. Kennedy in 1960, Richard M. Nixon in 1968, or Al Gore in 2000). Even many who voted for him do not endorse some of what he advocates or represents. Many traditional pillars of Republican administrations are less than firm in their support, beginning with the wary Republicans in Congress — and some are starting out opposed, notably much of the foreign policy establishment. The president-elect, as Mrs. Clinton said, can be “provoked by a tweet.” He is impulsive. His campaign set a new standard for what Galston called a “bitter, divisive tone.” He and his advisers hold bigoted views that overwhelming majorities of the American people reject as immoral.
What terrifies many people about a President Trump, in other words, is also what makes, for civil resistance, a uniquely promising moment.
Ensuring the Right to Reproductive Health: The American Public Health Association Takes a Stand With Planned Parenthood
On October 30, I walked along 14th Street in the heart of downtown Denver, Colorado, a notably progressive city, heading to hear the opening address of the 144th annual American Public Health Association (APHA) Conference; and out of the many years of this organization’s operations, this proved to be one of the most controversial opening sessions. Before reaching the convention center, I was bombarded by protestors who were yelling, shouting through bullhorns, attempting to shove flyers into my hand, and also standing next to quite large placards with graphic images on them. One of the protestors who reached out to me, couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old. They all had assembled to protest the invitation of keynote speakers, Cecile Richards, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood; and I was of course on my way, along with many other public health professionals — a mix bag of clinicians, social workers, researchers, scholars, and policymakers — who more so than others, know the importance of the critical services that Planned Parenthood provides.
I have attended the APHA Conference for a number of years, and I could not recall a scene like this before, and it led me to wonder about these protestors, who choose to choose to show up, at the largest public health convening in the nation; in an attempt to convince the professionals, those working on the ground to improve health outcomes — that they know what is best. Much like President-elect Donald Trump, who boasts about not having to consult with anyone, and that he “knows more than the generals,” it was a moment where the ignorant and uninformed, once again decided that they “knew best.”
I had to ask — where were these protestors, why were they silent when APHA has speakers and initiatives around the topics of climate change, health inequity, gun violence, and so on; since they are so concerned about the preservation of life? I wondered if they are even aware of the fact that the United States ranks 26th among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, in infant mortality rates,
A new report reveals that the United States has the highest first-day infant death rate out of all the industrialized countries in the world. Further, the 14th annual “State of the World’s Mothers” report, put together by nonprofit organization Save the Children, ranked 168 countries, and found that the United States had the highest rate of first-day death, finding that about 11,300 newborns die within 24 hours of their birth in the US each year — 50 percent more first-day deaths than all other industrialized countries combined. These statistics can be attributed to pregnant women’s lack of access to prenatal care — services that Planned Parenthood and other women’s clinics provide. It is all too typical for groups like this, who are often religiously motivated to “Love the Fetus, and Hate the Child.” Somehow, being pro-life stops at the point of birth, and a testimony to this nonsensical way of thinking is that cuts in social safety net funding, and human services budgets, that would help children, as well as adults, who are undergoing hardships, never seem to be met with the same level of outcry and protest. Instead, those type of policies are often championed by these groups.
Nevertheless, I considered this hypocrisy once again, as I made my way towards the Belasco Theater of the Convention Center; and the line forming just to reach the entry doors was massive. For the first time, I witnessed as the increases security measures were put in place. I couldn’t recall having what seemed like APHA’s entire staff on-hand checking our conference badges — with calls to make sure they are on and facing up — in order to enter.
The conference’s theme was “Creating the healthiest nation: Ensuring the right to health,” thus it seemed perfectly fitting that they would invite Cecile Richards, an ardent champion of women’s rights, human rights, LGBTQ rights, and the rights to health; which are all linked. To understand this interrelationship, one needs to first realize that health is far more than just the absence of disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) it is defined as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. So, health encompases all the factors that allows us to have an optimal well-being. Further, according to the WHO health (and access) to health is deemed a human right. The WHO states the following:
The right to the highest attainable standard of health” requires a set of social criteria that is conducive to the health of all people, including the availability of health services, safe working conditions, adequate housing and nutritious foods.
Achieving the right to health is closely related to that of other human rights, including the right to food, housing, work, education, non-discrimination, access to information, and participation.
The right to health includes both freedoms and entitlements.
- Freedoms include the right to control one’s health and body (e.g. sexual and reproductive rights) and to be free from interference (e.g. free from torture and from non-consensual medical treatment and experimentation).
- Entitlements include the right to a system of health protection that gives everyone an equal opportunity to enjoy the highest attainable level of health.
So, what are human rights? The United Nations Human Rights Office defined themas: “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.” Unfortunately, and despite the general consensus across nations that states that there is a fundamental human to health, we still see opposition to this declaration at every turn, particularly when it comes to women’s rights to reproductive health.
It is these issues that Cecile Richards was asked to come and speak about, and an APHA Conference was indeed a perfect place to address them. The American Public Health Association is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization that champions the health of all people and all communities, strengthen the public health profession, and speak out for public health issues and policies backed by science. They are the only organization that influences federal policy, has a 140-plus year perspective and brings together members from all fields of public health, and their mission is “to improve the health of the public and achieve equity in health status.” In adhering to that mission, APHA has begun to increase and strengthen their efforts on advocacy around social determinants of health, healthography (which links health outcomes to where one resides), and health equity. Out of necessity and the understanding that more than 75% of health and well-being is not attributed to genetics or biological factors, but social determinants of health, including health behaviors; APHA and many other public health organizations have stepped into this role. They have realized that the focus, outside of what is viewed as the “traditional” public health model are needed to affect change in health outcomes. And that change includes improving the social status of women and girls. This understanding aligns with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which includes stated goals that directly impact this population. For example, Planned Parenthood’s work actually covers four of the stated 8 goals:
- Goal 3 Provide gender equality and empower women.
- Goal 4 Reduce child mortality.
- Goal 5 Improve maternal health.
- Goal 6 Combat HIV/AIDS.
These goals come with the understanding that education, financial independence, contraceptive use, and family planning options allow for social mobility; which is tied to improved health outcomes.
Much like the selection in speaker, the leadership of APHA couldn’t have picked a more suitable city than Denver, Colorado, to host this 144th Conference. Denver — and Colorado in general — stands out as a progressive Western state. In terms of public health and women’s health, they are really excelling. There is an effort to maintain walkable communities, comprehensive and integrated mental health services; many of which focus on the specific needs of women, and more. Below is a short overview of how Colorado has led the way:
- Colorado is a pioneer in terms of birth control access;
- Walkable communities and a general focus on active living;
- Decriminalization of marijuana — and utilizing the $121 million in tax revenue to provide health services.
- Baby-friendly hospitals.
A Look Back at the Status of Women
In order to achieve or even consider this goal of “creating the healthiest nation,” there must be efforts that safeguard and work to improve the health of women and girls, who account for 50.4% of the United States population. This is the main focus of Planned Parenthood, which has offered life-saving services to women who would not otherwise be able to access care. Seventy-nine percent of clients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Planned Parenthood, like other organizations dedicated to women’s health and reproductive justice, do so with the understanding that the clinical services that they provide are indeed linked to other health indicators. These indicators help to determine the “status of women,” and much has changed in that status since the inception of Planned Parenthood 100 years ago. Consider the following:
- Family size declined between 1800 and 1900 from 7.0 to 3.5 children. In 1900, six to nine of every 1000 women died in childbirth, and one in five children died during the first 5 years of life.
- In 1916, the leading cause of death for women was tuberculosis and complications from pregnancy and childbirth.
- Now contrast that to the fact that in 2016, women in the US live 30 years longer than they did in 2016.
- In 1916, many women did not have a post-secondary education, but now women earn the majority of Masters and Doctoral degrees conferred in the US. Even more amazing is that Black women, despite the historical legacy of racism, sexism, classism, and anti-Blackness that they have been subjected to, are now considered to be the most educated group in the US. However, this advancement in education has yet to materialize into improvements in social and health status for a number of reasons.
What Has Accounted for This Change in Status?
The recognition that women’s rights are indeed human rights — and the orchestrated efforts of social justice and reproductive health activists, public health advocates, as well as clinicians who provide compassionate and quality services outside of a restrictive religious model, which help to sustain the problems of stigma and shame that is tied to women’s bodies and sexuality. These are the people who have mobilized and continue to advocate for the human right to health care for women. And they represent those who realize something as simplistic as abstinence being an unrealistic form of birth control, and further — they recognize that telling women that they should only practice abstinence is actually offensive; and ignores the fact that women also enjoy sex as a pleasurable experience, not one that is simply tied to reproduction.
Thus, this change in status was aided by the disassociation of sex from reproduction through family planning and reduction in family size. The point that these factors have helped to improve health outcomes across the life trajectory, as well as in the health of babies, is well documented and understood. See here, here, and here.
For that reason, many interventions efforts focus on the dissemination of condoms, increasing access to birth control, as well as working to abolish practices such as child marriage. The underlying framework is one of reproductive justice, which works towards women and girls having every opportunity to thrive. According to Dr. Camara Jones, President of APHA, this is the basis for health equity. Which she defines as “the assurance of the conditions for optimal health.”
An Overview of Planned Parenthood’s Services
All of the failed efforts to dismantle and defund Planned Parenthood are extremely short-sighted and uninformed, in that they focus on only one aspect of the services that the organization provides: Abortion. Never mind this tidbit shared by Cecile Richards: “80% of US counties do not have abortion providers.” With the way that those who try to trump on women’s reproductive rights try to frame abortions as some kind of epidemic, you would think that there were millions of providers. And the attacks against the organization are filled with misinformation, and do not consider the fact that abortions are one of the safest medical procedures in the US, and that they are also performed to save the lives of pregnant women. Again, the fact that pregnancy complications use to account for the vast majority of premature deaths of women cannot be ignored.
Still, Planned Parenthood provides a plethora of health and educational services to women — as well as men. Yes! Men actually go to Planned Parenthood for services as well, such as affordable vasectomies; realizing that family planning is not a responsibility that is tied to gender/sex. Here is a list of services offered by Planned Parenthood:
- Health care services: STD testing and treatment, contraception, mammogram screenings, pap smears (cervical cancer screenings), and accompanying health care
- Prenatal services
- Health education services
- HPV vaccinations
- Here are also other exciting and innovative services offered by Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health organizations:
- Skype accessible consultations for birth control prescriptions — provided online.
- Telehealth abortion services — with mailed medications.
- The “Spot On” app that serves as a period tracker, but also teaches users about birth control. It will also “ping” users when it is time to take their pill. And it is available for free download.
41% of unintended pregnancies actually occur due to inaccurate use of birth control, and this points to three things: (1) women continue to want and have a need for access to family planning services and resources; (2) most women are utilizing these services; (3) far much more needs to be done in terms of education of both patient and clinicians.
Therefore, it is imperative that we approach women’s health and human rights with the understanding that access will continue to be key. Access to care, resources, and education. We have far to go to make health care access a reality for all, thus ensuring this right to women’s reproductive health will also require changes in sociocultural attitudes to help to remove stigma and shame, and guarantee equity in access regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, income, immigration status, and where one resides. There are 18 available birth control methods, and they are utilized by 90% of American women, which makes the Affordable Care Act’s universal coverage of contraceptives for all women, regardless of insurer; another monumental public health policy that will ultimately help to further improve the status of women.
With gains in education, income, body autonomy, and other health indicators, and overall status — the future may prove to be FEMININE.
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.
Cherise Charleswell, MPH is a Womanist, author/writer, poet, blogger, entrepreneur, host & producer of the Wombanist Views radio show, public health practitioner; with a background in the biological sciences and cultural anthropology. Her primary interests include epidemiological research, particularly the analysis of health inequities, womens studies and health, social determinants of health, and community outreach. Her current book projects focus on women and marginalized populations: The Link Between Food, Culture & Health Inequities in the African Diaspora, and Walking in the Feminine: A Stepping into Our Shoes Anthology.