Choice, Rights, and Grassroots Organizing

At my antiwar group meeting last night we had a really interesting discussion. Two of us who'd done GOTV work (that's "get-out-the-vote" for you apolitical types!), in Milwaukee and in rural South Dakota, found that the issue the Democrats seemed to be losing the most people on was abortion. I think that this was different in states where there were anti-gay referenda on the ballots, and where that was the "moral values" issue that the right whipped people up with.

It seems like abortion has been lost in the public discourse surrounding the election. It's a more difficult issue, in that I'm sure plenty of Dems are willing to jettison same-sex marriage as a priority, if not as a hoped-for goal. It's certainly not the biggest priority for everybody in the queer community. But what about abortion? Are women going to be sold out on this one? Are the Senate Democrats going to put up a stand in favor of Roe? In fact, I think not. I think Roe is almost certain to be struck down in the next four years (leaving us with de jure what we have de facto anyway -- a hierarchy of access that probably maps pretty well on the red state-blue state divide). Too much of the Democrats' discourse around it seems like half-hearted lesser-evilism.

So it's been over 30 years since Roe v. Wade, and most of us in my generation don't know people who had illegal abortions, or don't know that they did. Some of the women in my group suggested that we needed to hear from those women, especially survivors of botched back-alley abortions and other horrors of the pre-Roe era. I think this is right. (We are even thinking about doing a documentary with women -- including religious women -- discussing why they're pro-choice. Does such a thing already exist?)

I also think (with Tom Frank's book in mind) that the Democrats, or somebody, needs to get a populist economic message out there. But I don't think, frankly, that that will peel away enough of the anti-choice crowd. It's a really powerful, emotionally resonant issue. If you thought abortion was as bad as slavery and murder combined, and you thought you had it in your political power to make it illegal, wouldn't you sacrifice other things to that goal?

I mean, look at this.

We don't like to look at it, do we? What can we do in response -- pictures of maimed and dead Iraqis and American soldiers? Abu Ghraib? I'm not sure what I think about this.

Given what I said in a previous post about selfishness, I am starting to wonder whether pro-choice politics really undermines itself with the very notion of "choice." Choice, in some ways, is the bad guy for these people in more arenas than just this one; it's decadent, it's selfish. (Then again, these same people do seem to like school choice.) I'm reminded of the story -- I can't remember where it was, but it was circulating on the internet -- about the woman who had two of her triplet fetuses aborted and justified it by saying she'd have to shop at Costco if she had triplets. That's really a gift to fundy propaganda. What if we framed it in terms of rights instead of choice? Self-determination? Equality? Or is it better to suggest policies that would help reduce the numbers of abortions? I don't think the fetus is a person, but I don't like the idea of having an abortion too much more than I like the idea of cutting off my hand.

Anyway, most of us agreed that we want to do more grassroots work. Does anyone know of organizations that are really doing grassroots organizing on an ongoing basis? We'd love to know about it.


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