Every once in a while I get cynical and depressed and think Twitter, Blogging etc. serve as little more than a pointless exercise- an echo chamber for people who already agree (or not) about certain things. Sometimes it seems that no matter what one does or how loud one yells, so long as the monied political elites, the mainstream media and their respective corporate benefactors control the debate, changing things is an uphill battle. There are obvious exceptions- the recent use of social media to get information out to help organize the Arab Uprising in Egypt, the use of YouTube and Twitter (and blogs) to get information out to the rest of the world about the Iranian crackdown on the Green Movement in 2009 etc.
And then this past week we had another example of the power of grass roots advocacy. You probably heard about the recent controversy about the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to withdraw funding from Planned Parenthood for their free breast cancer screening for mostly low-income women. Well, the resulting controversy which erupted caused the Komen Foundation to change their tune the other day. And while this issue was certainly covered in the MSM and other traditional outlets, it was nothing compared to that of the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook etc. The internet reverberated with calls to action- People sent a simple message- the anti-choice religious right has gone too far and if you believe that Komen’s political decision to break with Planned Parenthood will hurt women in the long run, then go give money right this minute to Planned Parenthood to make up for their new budgeting shortfall. That’s exactly what people did- in HUGE numbers. Yes, money played a big role in Komen’s reversal, but it was also clear that the outrage directed at them on their Twitter feed, website and on blogs, caught them totally off guard. That they underestimated this backlash is not a good sign for the future direction of Komen, which now will be under a microscope in a way it perhaps never envisioned.
The religious right has been slowly pivoting from simply opposing every aspect of abortion rights on all fronts to attacking all aspects of women’s reproductive health services. This has been achieved, in large part, by painting Planned Parenthood as a fetus-killing factory, despite the fact that they provide a broad spectrum of reproductive health services irrespective of ability to pay, a small portion of which falls under the rubric of abortion services.
This article in Salon sums up the importance of this rare victory in thewar against women:
The startling intensity that we saw this week in response to Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s decision to pull its grants from Planned Parenthood — an intensity that prompted the Komen foundation to reverse its decision today — may be the best thing that’s happened to the conversation about reproductive rights in this country for decades. It certainly should be.
The response to Komen was surely so tinderbox explosive because it had been building with every politically theatrical investigation launched by Cliff Stearns and every grisly abortion scene enacted on the House floor by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith. But it was not just Washington wonkery, and was not ginned up or amplified by professional political cranks. It was the reflexive kick of a shin hit just below the knee, and the visceral anger spilled everywhere, from a Planned Parenthood Saved Me tumblr and onto Facebook, where people posted images of Komen’s pink ribbon cut in half. It poured from bank accounts, including that of New York Mayor and former Republican Michael Bloomberg.
It came from often dispassionate media figures like Andrea Mitchell, was tweeted by novelists like Judy Blume, Terry McMillan and William Gibson, actors Ellen Barkin and Martha Plimpton, politicos like Donna Brazile, Reps. Gwen Moore and Jackie Speiers, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and from 22 senators including Frank Lautenberg, Al Franken and Kirsten Gillibrand, who signed a letter urging Komen to reverse its decision. It came from callers to radio programs, announcing their intentions to drop out of Komen races, and from the American Association of University Women, which canceled a scheduled service event with Komen. In the three days after Komen’s announcement of its Planned Parenthood break, Planned Parenthood received more than $3 million in donations, said PPFA president Cecile Richards in a press call on Friday.
More than that, though: The starkly observable attack against something as crucial and basic as breast exams for poor women, as well as the fact that so many divergent voices were pulled into it, meant that the conversation was not about partisan politics; it was about women. For the first time in what feels like forever, passion and fury were being loudly, proudly given in a full-throated voice, on behalf of women – women as moral actors; women as citizens with rights, health, bodies, freedoms; women as people with families and economic concerns.
Indeed. And that last highlighted bit is the point of all this. We women are more than the sum total of our parts- we are more than breasts, vaginas, uterus’- we are individuals with free will, we make choices based on our individual circumstances and we are tired of being condescended to.
Hopefully this recent right-wing attack on women’s health under the usual guise of “pro-life” advocacy will wake some of us out of our collective slumber- many of us have come to take abortion rights (Roe v. Wade), access to birth control and basic gynecological services for granted. Yet we have seen a huge spate of attacks against not only abortion rights, but access to contraceptives (including emergency contraception), medically-accurate sex education and even attempts to limit access to human papillomavirus vaccines to prevent cervical cancer.