The 2011 Mississippi ballot Initiative 26 on Personhood and Initiative 27 on Voter ID exclusions may be one of the most important opportunities on the ground for the Pro-Choice and Reproductive Justice Movements to work together. In Mississippi, we are witnessing the intersection of race and gender politics in a campaign in which African American voters are probably the most critical constituents when they go to the polls on November 8. It’s a case study on Roe v. Wade intersecting with the Voting Rights Act and the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.
For the Reproductive Justice movement, this is an example of theory meeting practice in which we have an opportunity to link our human rights struggles in a statewide campaign. The best spokespeople are readily talking about both ballot initiatives consistently by bringing together women, families, race, and poverty. By co-joining race (Voter ID-27) with gender (Personhood-26), we have an excellent opportunity to experience an example of intersectionality in practice in an electoral campaign in which black women may be the very voters we need to move the needle against our opponents’ long-term manipulation of the African American electorate.
We have to strengthen the common ground between the Reproductive Justice and Pro-Choice movements based on linking human rights issues together. Reproductive Justice is our best opportunity to join middle-class women with poor women so that we can win for all women.
I believe we have a strong chance of winning in Mississippi because I trust that African American people, especially black women, will do the right thing and vote against these initiatives if they are given the opportunity to vote, the motivation to vote, and the right information with which to vote. In Mississippi, with its troublesome history of denying black people the right to vote, disenfranchisement through Voter ID is a very important issue that will bring them to the polls. Our task is to convince them to also vote against the Personhood Initiative.
We’re at a great time because the media outlets want to talk about this. We don’t lack an audience. What we lack is a unified message that is intersectional, credible and legitimate and that includes everyone’s concerns. We have to make parallels between race and gender so that people easily understand that we take their human rights seriously.
African Americans are the largest bloc of Democratic voters in the state, far outnumbering pro-choice voters in the Republican Party. Nationally, African Americans are consistently pro-choice and outpace every other racial group in research polls. In addition, it’s easier to vote “no” on two co-joined initiatives that are so vague and lead to disastrous and unknown consequences.
While racial indifference might fly below the radar in another state, Mississippi is more than one-third African American, the highest concentration of black people in the country. The majority of white voters in Mississippi are Republican. The majority of Democratic voters are African Americans who should not be taken for granted or for fools. Both ballot initiatives violate basic human rights. The implications of ignoring the twinned priorities of the African American community are enormous.
In Mississippi, voters are asked by our mutual opponents to vote yes to support a deeply flawed, unconstitutional ballot initiative declaring the fertilized egg as a person from the moment of conception. This creates dangerous unintended consequences for women, doctors, families, and communities. Such government intrusion is bad for our health decisions, bad decision making by the government that should create jobs, and not in line with our values. When the government goes too far, anti-abortion bans cause it to lack compassion for rape and incest victims, and women needing life-saving medical treatments that doctors may be forced to deny to save a fertilized egg. It will force young girls to have kids, and outlaw basic services like birth control pills or emergency contraception.
Personhood efforts actually attempt to trump women’s biology – the vast majority of “fertilized eggs” are lost through menstruation or absorbed into the woman’s body so that only a tiny fraction go on to become pregnancies. Ironically, it will also prevent women who want to become pregnant from using in-vitro fertilization.
Similarly, consequences for Voter ID are grim. If people are kept from voting – because of the lack of government ID or missing birth certificates – then Mississippi returns to the sixties when voter denials based on race and gender were common and mocked our democracy. In the future, our movements will face an even more Republicanized state legislature, guaranteeing that women’s and civil rights will be violated.
What can we do to make our collective effort stronger now?
In message trainings, experts say to start with where the audience is, and then move them to where we want them to be. If campaigns are about communications, then our messages must link the racial and gender politics of Mississippi.
As said in the New York Times on October 25, anti-choice sentiments cross party and racial lines. As an activist who has worked more than 35 years in this movement, I don’t assume that when African Americans say they are “pro-life” that they mean implacable opposition to abortion. In fact, there are many circumstances, including saving a woman’s life, helping victims of rape or incest, or reducing the number of kids raising kids that are strong values in the African American community that convince them to be both pro-choice and pro-life. They have complicated positive and negative feelings about abortion like most people.
However, when it comes to passing laws controlling other people’s bodies and choices, the needle strongly moves to our side because African Americans have an atavistic rejection of anything resembling enslavement. We know that story very well.
In Mississippi, the proponents of the campaign on 26 are listening so that things are changing. Information linking 26 and 27 now appears on literature by the statewide campaign, Mississippians for Healthy Families (MHF). Forums in black churches are planned together by the leaders of the 26 and 27 initiatives in the week before the election, such as the NAACP working with MHF. The Feminist Majority Foundation sent campus organizers who immediately started organizing on both ballot measures distributing literature on both initiatives. The grassroots movement that Allison Korn from National Advocates for Pregnant Women spoke about in her earlier article on RH Reality Check is a strong testament. We must celebrate all sides coming together on the proverbial common ground.
These efforts to reach unity are welcome but come nearly at the goal line, if you will forgive the football analogy from a sports fan. How much more powerful and prepared could we have been together if we had recognized this incredible opportunity earlier?
Our movement’s messages must make clear how Mississippi’s proposed Voter ID ballot initiative will negatively affect seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, immigrants, transgendered people, and students. This is an excellent moment for our movement to show that we clearly recognize the Voter ID initiative in this state for what it really is – a racist attempt to cynically attack the African American electorate under the auspices of curbing voter fraud.
As feminists, we have to remember Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier’s admonition nearly 20 years ago when she warned us that the Voting Rights Act was under attack. Voting rights is a feminist issue because estimates say that 35 million women could lose their right to vote if such laws are passed across the country, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation. A century ago, our foremothers fought for the right to vote. Dare we take for granted that this basic human right is secure against attacks by Republicans?
A simple message might be: Vote NO! Save the Pill on 26! Save the Vote on 27! Or TWO NO’S MAKE A RIGHT! Clear, consistent, concise. While these types of messages lack the nuances that we who use too many words may prefer (and we know who we are!), they are simple, consistent and easily remembered memes for our audiences. We can add nuances in face-to-face and phone conversations because personal voices and heartfelt convictions are sincere in our grassroots mobilization efforts.
At the same time, both messages carry with them our central theme of unintended consequences. The supporters of both initiatives would rather ignore the probability that birth control will be outlawed and that voters without birth certificates could not vote. Women of color will be the first and majority of the casualties of the Personhood Initiative if women are investigated for miscarriages. Mississippi already has the highest rate of infant mortality in the country. If the Voter ID Initiative passes, it is highly likely that the voters most affected will be voters of color. We know this in our guts. Now we have to believe it with our higher reasoning brains.
Our job is to point out these second-order consequences, but our strategy has to be to link the two together.
Obviously, as I write this article I do not know whether we will win because we are only days from the election. But my stomach is churning with anxiety because I care so much. I’m part of a movement of black and white women who need to make a case study of Mississippi to learn what we need to do together when race intersects with abortion politics around the country. Other Personhood and Voter ID efforts will proliferate in 2012.
SisterSong and the Trust Black Women Partnership have folks on the ground in Mississippi doing grassroots advocacy. We’ve built bridges between black and white folks working on the same team for united work on 26 and 27. If the African Americans working on this campaign do not understand the logic of disconnecting the two issues, it is likely that voters we need may not understand our tortured logic as well.
In some ways, it’s ironic that when anti-abortion groups like the Radiance Foundation that put up the billboards accusing black women of committing genocide, the Trust Black Women Partnership easily decoded their fundamental message – they don’t trust black women. We cannot afford to send the same message – we don’t trust black women to understand the African American community.
Our movement needs a checks-and-balances system beyond the ballot box. This means we must learn the difference between the language of respect vs. the discipline of respect. Public displays of privilege, empty rhetoric, and group-think jeopardize our chances for success.
We have known for a year – probably back to 2009 – that Mississippi would be a battleground in our fight. After the election, we must work together to overcome our reluctance to talk about what we did or didn’t do, regardless of the outcome.
My fear is that if we win, some folks will fail to acknowledge that the African American voters delivered the victory. If we lose, then some may say it was similar to the California gay marriage ballot that some falsely claim was lost because of the black voters in California. In reality, it is the failure of those who run campaigns based on outdated campaign models to invest sufficient resources in the African American community to swing the pendulum our way among some of the most consistent and committed Democratic voters on human rights issues.
Southern African American activists have been sounding the alarm to invest much-needed dollars at the grassroots level in Mississippi and throughout the South for quite some time, recognizing that the Civil Rights movement is not over, and that the Women’s Rights movement is embryonic in our region. Those fighting against the Voter ID initiative around the country and especially in Mississippi are clearly under-funded and lack the resources to provide their own polling research, campaign offices, phone banks, etc. We have been forced to do “quick-fix” organizing and mobilizing in Mississippi; had the call of African American reproductive justice activists been heeded, we could have been stronger and united as two movements working together to save women’s lives and women’s votes.
As Celie famously said in The Color Purple, “Until you do right by us, nothing will go right for you.” To be heard, do black women have to bring Nina Simone back to sing her famous song about Mississippi?
Link to original article on RH Reality Check
In a major step forward, Mississippi banned slavery this week. This type of definite legislative action is ostensibly the type of thing to be excited about in an era of unprecedented political foot-dragging, so congratulations Mississippi for finally ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment. Sure, the state is a little behind the curve on this one, given that the nation is a full 148 years past the official end of slavery (more on that, in a second). But Mississippi isn’t the only state that took...
Laura Gottesdiener | AlterNet 21 Feb 2013 Hits:341 Mississippi
A lawmaker from Mississippi is coming under fire for voting against aid to Hurricane Sandy victims seven years after he pleaded with federal officials to fund the recovery in his storm-battered community after Hurricane Katrina. Talking Points Memo reports on the details today.
The lawmaker, Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), was Deputy Director and CFO of the Biloxi Housing Authority in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast. Biloxi, a city in Mississippi, was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. Talking Points Memo cites...
Alex Kane | AlterNet 07 Jan 2013 Hits:745 Mississippi
The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday sued the state of Mississippi, the city of Meridien, the county and several state agencies, alleging they "help[ed] to operate a school to prison pipeline" that routinely violated the rights of African-American children and children with disabilities in the city of Meridien.
"As a result," the court filing states, "children in Meridien have been systematically incarcerated for allegedly committing minor offenses, including school disciplinary infractions, and are punished disproportionately without due process of law. The students...
Common Dreams Staff 26 Oct 2012 Hits:579 Mississippi
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi has long been one of the sickest and poorest states in America, with some of the highest rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease and more than 1 in 7 residents without insurance. And so you might think Mississippi would jump at the prospect of billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid.
You'd be wrong.
Leaders of the deeply conservative state say that even if Mississippi receives boatloads of cash under President Barack Obama's health care law, it can't afford...
Emily Wagster Pettus | AP 20 Oct 2012 Hits:628 Mississippi
Michael Carter hardly evokes the Hollywood image of a podium-pounding, fire-breathing labor agitator. With his dark blue "New York" cap, light blue knit shirt, slight build and soft-spoken voice, he looks like what he is: a 38-year-old working man, husband and father of two.
He's talking with me in the United Auto Workers' newly opened office just off Nissan Parkway and within view of the 3.5 million square-foot Nissan plant. On the wall behind him is a framed, black-and-white photograph of Martin Luther King...
Joe Atkins | Labor South 17 Aug 2012 Hits:528 Mississippi
Mississippi's only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women's Health Organization, found itself the target of anti-choice legislators this year, who--after failing to ban abortion through the ballot---tried a back-door method to shut the clinic down, requiring its staff to gain admitting privileges at hospitals. For a while, it looked like Mississippi might be the only state in the union to have not a single abortion-providing facility. But a judge granted the clinic a reprieve, for now.
The law requires doctors who perform abortions to...
Sarah Seltzer | Sourced from AlterNet 15 Jul 2012 Hits:517 Mississippi
After months of speculation about where the United Auto Workers was going to focus its do-or-die Southern campaign to organize workers, the giant 3,000-worker Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., has emerged as Battleground No. 1.
The $1.4 billion, nine-year-old plant has been eyed by UAW leaders for several years as a potential prize in its efforts to regain ground it has lost over the past several decades. UAW membership has dropped 75 percent in the last 30 years, and that decline has been aggravated by...
Joe Atkins | The Institute of Southern Studies 03 Jul 2012 Hits:601 Mississippi
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi's only abortion clinic is open after a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of a law the clinic says could regulate it out of business.
The owner of Jackson Women's Health Organization says it was "business as usual" on Monday. Abortion opponents prayed outside.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan issued a temporary restraining order Sunday to stop Mississippi from enforcing a law requiring any physician doing abortions at the clinic to be an OB-GYN with privileges to admit patients to a local hospital.
Emily Wagster Pettus | Huffington Post 02 Jul 2012 Hits:465 Mississippi
A Mississippi jail is on lockdown today after a Sunday night riot left one prison guard dead and as many as 20 inmates and guards injured. According to sheriff’s reports, the violence began as a gang feud and soon engulfed the privately operated facility, which holds 2,500 non-citizens incarcerated for reentering the United States after deportation and for other charges. But the fragments of information that have emerged from inmates and advocates suggest that the violence had more to do with a pattern...
Seth Freed Wessler, Colorlines.com | Report 24 May 2012 Hits:529 Mississippi
Jackson, MS - March 30 - In a closed meeting lasting less than one minute, two Mississippi Public Service Commissioners voted to issue a temporary authorization to Mississippi Power Company to continue spending $3 million per day building the Kemper County coal plant, with no opportunity for public comment. This authorization allows Mississippi Power to continue construction of the $2.88 billion plant after the Mississippi Supreme Court revoked its initial permit in a ruling issued March 15 of this year. Since the ruling,...
The Sierra Club 30 Mar 2012 Hits:422 Mississippi
Yes, it's true, as BuzzFlash at Truthout documented a short time ago, the State of Mississippi (MS) "sucks up $2.73 in federal support for every dollar its residents pay in national taxes." In the dog-whistle language of the right wing, that makes the state where 66 percent of GOP voters believe in creationism, an official "welfare state."
In short, the MS state government run out of Jackson is a leech upon the US government, but try telling that to Mitt Romney.
While pandering for votes in Mississippi before the recent...
Mark Karlin | BuzzFlash Blog 17 Mar 2012 Hits:811 Mississippi
In November's elections, the national media gave extensive coverage to a proposed "personhood amendment" to Mississippi's state constitution. This extremist, anti-choice ballot initiative declared that a person's life begins not at birth, but at the very instant that a sperm meets the egg.
However, extending full personhood to two-cell zygotes was too far out even for many of Mississippi's anti-choice voters, so the proposition was voted down.
Meanwhile, the national media paid no attention to another "personhood" vote that took place on that...
Jim Hightower | Sourced from Other Words 20 Dec 2011 Hits:593 Mississippi
Mississippi’s “Personhood Amendment” self-imploded and succumbed to an unexpected defeat last night. Analysts are already dissecting the reasons for the collapse of an initiative that seemed a sure thing just a few weeks ago.
Yet this setback should not obscure a crucial truth: the hard Christian Right, which sponsored the Amendment 26, is the most swashbucklingest social movement out there. They will pull out all the stops, give you the razzle dazzle, double-down on doubling down. And, yes, they will be back, bigger and better than ever.
Jacques Berlinerblau | The Washington Post 09 Nov 2011 Hits:469 Mississippi
Tuesday’s ballot initiative in Mississippi regarding a constitutional amendment that would grant fertilized eggs legal personhood is polling right down to the wire, with 45% of Mississippians favoring it and 44% opposed. Gender influences opinion on this initiative somewhat, with men favoring it by six percentage points and women opposing it by four percentage points. Race and party affiliation has even more influence, with Democrats and African-Americans registering around 60% opposition to the amendment. This suggests that the racial and class-based aspects to this amendment...
Amanda Marcotte | AlterNet 08 Nov 2011 Hits:479 Mississippi
The New York Times has a story on something we've written about a bit before—the push to pass state-level constitutional "personhood" amendments to ban abortion (among other things) by defining life as beginning at conception. Previous initiatives have fallen short, but Mississippi's personhood movement, which was initiated by a one-time Christian secessionist who backed a plan to create an independent theocracy in upstate South Carolina, has a decent chance of passing this November—at least if its high-profile endorsers are any indication:
Mississippi will also elect a new...
Tim Murphy | Mother Jones 07 Nov 2011 Hits:472 Mississippi
The 2011 Mississippi ballot Initiative 26 on Personhood and Initiative 27 on Voter ID exclusions may be one of the most important opportunities on the ground for the…
KOSCIUSKO, Miss. (AP) — Mary Ikerd has lived in Kosciusko 17 years, and said she sees the same poll workers every election day. Because of that, she said…
Two years after the North Mississippi Rural Legal Services laid off workers, slashed wages up to 19 percent, and eliminated needed programs for the poor, the agency is…
Listen "Live" Monday 5/20 @ 9pm EETThe Women's Room - VA Candidate Freeda Cathcart
PDA is looking for leadership in your state. Please contact us if you are interested in organzing at the state or chapter level.
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to bring progressive change to your state? Start a PDA chapter; send us an email and we'll get you started.
PDA is organized around several core issues. These issues include:
Each team hosts a monthly conference call. Calls feature legislators, staffers and other policy experts. On these calls we determine PDA legislation to support as well as actions and future events.