Monday, October 31, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, Meet the Reproductive Justice Movement

"If we do not have democracy in the family, which means each individual's right to control their physical selves, we do not have a model for democracy in the rest of society."

These powerful words, spoken by Ms. Gloria Steinem, reflect not only our struggle in the reproductive justice movement, but also connect to the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Our reproductive justice movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement are more alike than one would think. Certainly, there is some overlap between supporters of both movements, but both share the fundamental principle that “we the people” should be free from the controls of the government – in body, mind, and soul. Like Ms. Steinem said, unless we have the autonomy to govern ourselves, how can we expect to uphold our democracy?

While our movement is a little more straightforward and definitive of goals, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been criticized for being unclear and vague as to what its purpose is. Ask anyone on the street what the Occupy Wall Street movement is, and you'll get a colorful range of answers.

After visiting Kiener Plaza in downtown St. Louis, I have heard more negative reflections on the movement by people who are totally unaware of what the movement actually stands for. So here's the gist of it: Occupy Wall Street participants, who have made themselves more than present in every major American city, protest the notion that money controls everything in our society, especially Washington politics. Admittedly, there is no unifying platform, but they believe that mega-corporations like the big banks are responsible for the economic hardships faced by today's Americans. They represent thousands of Americans, young and old, who believe that the big corporations' influence is so far-reaching and wide-spread that they have infiltrated our everyday lives.

I'll give you an example. Wal-Mart, an Arkansas-based corporation that has become one of the largest names in America, is vilely prolife and anti-women's rights (see my blog on meeting Ms. Betty Dukes.) Wal-Mart is one of Occupy Wall Street's biggest targets, and for good reason. From barring prochoice groups like Planned Parenthood from having bake sales and fundraisers outside their doors (which is what they allow the anti-abortion groups to do) to actively choosing male over more qualified female candidates for better jobs, Wal-Mart blatantly and openly violates federal and state laws concerning gender and racial equality, labor standards, and social practices. But Wal-Mart's executives LOVE politics. In 2004, the mega-corporation ranked as the #2 top campaign donator to the Republican party. By giving such huge sums they are guaranteeing that the GOP promote policies that are anti-woman and anti-labor.

Wal-Mart is not the only common target of the reproductive justice and Occupy Wall Street movement. Koch Industries, News Corporation, the "Big Four" accountancy firms, the oil industry, and, of course, the majority of Wall Street corporations are all responsible for Americans losing rights.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters are not today's "hippies," bums, dropouts, whatever. Many of them have college degrees (and NOT in English, like I had originally assumed). In St. Louis, many of them are veterans who are fed up with big corporations receiving bailouts while their earned benefits are being slashed. These are our neighbors, our plumbers, our teachers, our doctors, and our freedom fighters who believe that their voices have been lost among the wealth and power with which Washington politics have become obsessed.

In a country that so values its rights and freedoms as a democracy, how ironic is it that our government indiscriminately takes them away? No longer are we the America our Forefathers and Foremothers envisioned, where everyone was equal regardless of the amount of money or influence they possessed. Nay, our government is controlled entirely by the wealthy, who pour millions into the system to ensure their agendas are fulfilled, without any regard as to who they trample, impoverish, and constitutionally violate.

Returning to Ms. Steinem's words, I ask this of you: how do we get our government to respect "we the people"?

We rise up.

We do what the first patriots did, what the abolitionists did, what the suffragists did, what the civil rights leaders did, what Arab Spring did in Africa, what the Occupy Wall Street protesters are doing now. We who care about women's role in society, about personal autonomy, about the right of every person to make the families of their own choosing, must also rise up because, as a people who have lost our ability to govern our own bodies, our own minds, and our own activities, we have nothing to lose.

We cannot hope to change the anti-woman tide of events by complaining to our prochoice
friends. Nor can we hope to change things by writing letters to Congress. Neither party is listening. We must show that we are a force to be reckoned with.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Thomas Jefferson. I ask you to consider it, with respect to the reproductive justice movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement: "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."

Our government no longer fears us. Washington politicians have grown comfortable because we have allowed ourselves to become so passive. But for my generation’s sake, and those who follow me, rise up.

- Chelsea

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Is This Really the Word of God? A Seminarian’s Take on Anti-Choice Protesters

My first assignment as an intern at Faith Aloud was to participate in a peaceful presence demonstration at a women's health clinic in Granite City that performs abortions. Our purpose is to show the women that come for abortions that there is an alternative voice to the Christians that are shouting that God hates them.

As a part of the demonstration, we are instructed to remain silent. The idea of this concept is that we can get our point across without needing to scream at others. Instead we hold signs that express our thoughts. The sign I chose said, “Jesus did not shame women.”

When I arrived, I was nervous because I had no idea what to expect. Abortion is a very heated topic for many people and can even lead to violence. About an hour into our demonstration a man from the protesters side came right up to the building and confronted me about my sign. Following the rules, I chose not to respond to him. When one of the clinic employees noticed what was happening, she came over and informed the man that he had to leave clinic property. He did leave but not quietly. The entire time, he was shouting back at me “are you proud of this?!”

The rest of the morning went by without incident until we started to leave. The same man decided to follow us to our cars. He shouted, “Are you proud of what you have done here today and how can you call yourself a Christian?” Although, it was hard, I decided to ignore his comments-- getting into a confrontation would not show my idea of who God is to anyone. My understanding of God as loving and forgiving does not need words to convey. Silence sometimes speaks louder than words, and I believe that simply being present can be just as powerful for the people I am supporting.

The “shouting man” (as I will call him) and I have a very different view of God. The “shouting man” sees God as Judge and feels the need to convince the women that if they have an abortion they will receive God’s judgment. He feels that his job is to “lead” the women away from “sin.” As frightening as it seems, the “shouting man” believes that he is doing the will of God.

I believe that we both see these women as neighbors in need, but the heart of the matter as I see it is that I want to embrace the woman entirely as she is and the “shouting man” wants to change her, and make her conform to his personal ideals.

The women that come to this clinic have had to make a difficult decision that will change their lives, and they need to be nurtured and cared for emotionally and physically. They have the right to be loved and valued unconditionally. My greatest fear is that the women who come to this clinic will see people like the “shouting man” as the only representative of the church; my fear is that these women would see the “shouting man” as the only church that there is. My need is to communicate to the women having the abortion that they are not being condemned by this decision and that God loves them completely. I want them to know that the God of judgment that the “shouting man” represents is not the only voice for God that Christianity has to offer.

To me, Christianity is about unconditional love, and true acceptance of people means going to wherever they are on their journey.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Holding the Pro-Life Movement Legally Responsible for Harassment and Violence

The Ku Klux Klan. Church of the Creator. Ranch Rescue. Aryan Nations. The YMCA.

Question: What do these organizations have to do with each other?
Answer: They all were either totally or nearly bankrupted by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of a civil law suit.

Most of the cases mentioned above were racially-charged, but go with me on this one: what if they were based on gender and the right to privacy?
According the US Census Bureau, women make up 50.7% of the American population, making them the largest targeted demographic for gender-based hate organizations like Operation Rescue, Youth Ministries, Inc., Lambs of Christ, and even the local Small Victories. These terrorist groups aim their hate speech, fists, guns, and bombs at women, their doctors, and their rights, yet they somehow manage to avoid being criminally prosecuted.

I have a crazy thought - what if we held these organizations, linked to assault, battery, harassment, arson, and murder, to the same standards held to the KKK, Christian Knights, and other organizations of the like? As in, we go for their pocketbooks, just as the SPLC did to take down racism in the South. Civil lawsuits do not always end in loads of punitive damages, but a handful of them end up in social change. For an example, see Brown v. Board of Education, any case about creationism being taught in public schools, and of course, Roe v. Wade. Few end up with huge awards, like the crown jewel of the SPLC's legal repertoire, Macedonia Baptist Church v. Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which resulted in the largest civil damages award ever in the amount of $37.8 million. Obviously, this bankrupted the KKK in South Carolina, which was forced to give up all property holdings and its headquarters to barely make a dent in the awarded damages.

I'll give you a very relevant example, VanDuyn v. Smith (Ill. Appellate Court, 1988). Margaret VanDuyn, a director of an ambulatory surgical treatment center that offered first trimester abortions, who filed suit against Pro-Life Action League activist Gerald T. Smith in 1988. Smith had followed Ms. VanDuyn in her car, to her home, to the airport, and to work, in addition to picketing in front of her house and outside of her workplace (admitting to violating Illinois state law). Smith also posted "Wanted" posters around Ms. VanDuyn's neighborhood and gave them to her friends, family, and acquaintances. Smith publicly accused Ms. VanDuyn of killing more than 50,000 "children" for profit and included false information about abortion procedures, none of which were performed in the medical center.

Ms. VanDuyn, as a result, suffered severe emotional distress, experiencing panic attacks, irregular hypertension, insomnia, and hospitalization. She brought a suit against Smith, and was able to successfully prove intentional infliction of emotional distress as a result of the defendant's actions against her. The court reasoned that, since Ms. VanDuyn was not a public official or figure, she had a reasonable expectation of privacy which was blatantly violated by Smith and the pro-life movement. Ms. VanDuyn's suit was for $15,000 - which is money that a lot of pro-life organizations don't have. Unfortunately, Ms. VanDuyn's National Health Care Services Clinic was firebombed in 1993, but you better believe the ATF and FBI had a good clue as to who was behind the terrorism (

I can tell you exactly where the pro-choice movement has it all wrong: we rely too much on the police and the government to intervene and assert our rights and protections as American citizens. But guess what. Abortion is still too touchy of an issue for anyone to have the chutzpah to step up and stand for women's rights. This is where we take our fate into our own hands, and file civil suits against these misogynist, criminal bullies.

Now, I will issue a disclaimer that just because you take some photos or video footage doesn't mean you have a guaranteed case. No lawsuit is ever guaranteed, no matter how solid the evidence. But with a fed-up clinic employee, a passionate lawyer, and some sound logic and proof, you have the potential for a strong case. And never, ever incite violence or retribution. Just like the KKK and other domestic terrorist organizations, pro-life groups want our protesters to "violate" their civil rights. We in the pro-choice movement must always take the high road.

To me, this whole issue is full of irony and hypocrisy. Pro-lifers can infiltrate our legislature, assault and bomb their way to the top, and pass laws that restrict our legal right to autonomous decisions, but heaven forbid if we step on their toes a little bit to assert that right.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Anti-Choice Protesters: "Freedom of Speech" vs. "Abuse"

A few weeks ago I drove out to Granite City, along with our newest seminary interns, Chris and Arik, to support the Hope Clinic during their morning appointments. For three hours, me and a bunch of seminary students stood in front of the clinic holding signs that said, “My Church is Pro-Choice,” “Women Deserve Compassion, Not Condemnation” and “Abortion is a Moral Choice.”

On the sidewalk outside the clinic, a crowd of at least 70 protesters gathered to sing and preach and scream at the women walking into the clinic. They told the women they hoped when they went to hell, they’d have to look into the face of the fetus they aborted and hear it’s screams for eternity. How horrible is that? Even worse, they were especially hostile towards the African American women walking into the clinic-- accusing them of being racist by aborting a black baby (yet this was not an argument they used for white women). They tried every tactic, getting as personal as possible in order to get the woman’s attention. Several times they got personal enough to hit a nerve, and the woman they targeted burst into tears. And when there were no women to harass, they started in on us.

When I woke up that morning I was feeling as emotionally strong as I ever have. Yet driving home from the clinic, I found myself feeling sad and dejected, and I didn’t know why.
I asked myself:
“Do I whole-heartedly believe in a woman’s right to choose?”
“Do I think the women coming into the Clinic were doing something wrong?”
Absolutely not.
“Do I feel like I was doing something good by being at the clinic and supporting the patients, staff and doctors?”
So why do I feel so bad right now?

The fact is, even when you whole-heartedly believe in your cause, being screamed at is awful. Even when you know the words that are being screamed at you are not true, having that much hate directed at you hurts. After three hours of being emotionally bullied, those negative comments do make you feel like crap.

This especially made me feel for the women there for an appointment. Honestly, I don’t know how I would be able to deal with all that hatred if I were already feeling emotionally strained from the stressful experience of an unplanned pregnancy-- a time when I know any unkind word would be especially hurtful and damaging to my ability to cope with the situation. It especially made me feel for the many women who grew up attending a church that spouted similar condemning rhetoric, but still found themselves needing abortion care.

As I watched woman after woman being yelled at, approached, and even getting her picture taken by the protesters, I kept wondering, “How in the world is this legal?” Many clinics have attempted to protect their patients with criminal lawsuits against protesters. But unfortunately, by invoking their first amendment, most of the protesters have gotten away with what I see as very un-American, intolerant behavior. I do believe in freedom of speech, but I don’t believe in freedom of abuse. And the words spoken by the protesters was nothing short of abusive.