Author of Anti-Obama Book Lies About Stance on Abortion

Scott Swenson

Media Matters catches Jerome Corsi, author of Obama Nation, lying about Sen. Barack Obama's Illinois legislative record on abortion. He's not the first to do it, nor will he likely be the last. The extreme rhetoric will not save one life, but it is not intended to. Division and misinformation is all the far-right seeks.

Media Matters catches Jerome Corsi, author of Obama Nation, lying about Sen. Barack Obama’s Illinois legislative record on abortion. He’s not the first to do it, nor will he likely be the last. The extreme rhetoric will not save one life, but it is not intended to. Division and misinformation is all the far-right seeks.

Culture & Conversation Media

‘Winning Lies Not in a Single Victory,’ Writes Author of Buoyant New Book on Activism

Eleanor J. Bader

An inspiring—if perhaps overly optimistic—book, When We Fight We Win!: Twenty-First-Century Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World, showcases six areas in which progressive shifts have already happened or are possible thanks to long-range activism and political vision.

On any given day, all it takes is a quick look at the headlines to see the sorry state of world politics: Hunger, poverty, war, environmental degradation, campus shootings and stabbings, child abuse and neglect, and police brutality are just some of the atrocities that make the future seem bleak, if not hopeless.

But not everyone is filled with despair.

For one, Schott Foundation for Public Education Board Co-Chair Greg Jobin-Leeds, himself a seasoned Cambridge, Massachusetts-based community organizer, sees numerous possibilities in today’s political morass. Indeed, his inspiring—if perhaps overly optimistic—new book, When We Fight We Win!: Twenty-First-Century Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World, showcases six areas in which he believes progressive shifts have already happened or are possible thanks to long-range activism and political vision. These include campaigns for LGBTQ equality; efforts to preserve and defend public education; challenges to mass incarceration and prison privatization; immigrant rights; and the promotion of economic and environmental justice. Each section includes interviews and case studies, as well as illustrations by members of AgitArte, an activist art collective with chapters in Puerto Rico and Massachusetts, underscoring the role of visual culture in popularizing activism.

“I asked leaders of … thriving social movements, ‘What are the lessons you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to new activists?'” Jobin-Leeds writes in an introduction to the text. Eager to parse organizing strategies and better understand the incremental steps that lead to bigger, bolder victories, Jobin-Leeds interrogates what successful campaigners have done to increase the likelihood of victory, and questions how they remain upbeat despite working in a less-than-progressive political milieu. He was not looking for conformity, he writes: Instead, he was eager to capture a range of organizing experiences.

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In the book’s foreword, for example, Rinku Sen, publisher of Colorlines and president and executive director of Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation, takes a measured approach when compared with Jobin-Leeds’ buoyant point of view. She notes the enormity of challenging the status quo, writing, “Whether or not we win will be based on many things other than our own strategy and strength. Even strong, huge movements sometimes fail.” She continues, “There is, however, no path to victory without trying.”

Tapping into the desire to push back rather than fold in the face of obstacles is at the heart of When We Fight We Win! and Jobin-Leeds spent years interviewing activists to try and determine why they feel compelled to do this work. He also wanted to better understand how movements can create real and enduring change; tease out strategies that are consistently successful; and find effective tools to deflect apathy. These in-depth interviews supplement Jobin-Leeds’ more general points and give a hands-on immediacy to the stories and research he presents.

His introduction sets the stage and posits the benefits gleaned from organizing:

When we fight—building an organization, joining a community of activists—we win not only communal victories but also our own personal transformation, enabling us to discover common root causes to problems that had seemed unconnected before. Understanding root causes can ally us with others—across issues, cultures, identities. This aggregates individual fights into broad movement struggles, and by working in solidarity together we can realize far-reaching, systemic change. Winning lies not in a single victory, but in many victories and the lifelong struggle to change injustice and create a future based on a bold, transformative vision.

This philosophy, of course, requires us to celebrate incremental wins, no matter how small. It also requires us to acknowledge the enormous rush that comes from disrupting business-as-usual and its powerful enforcers. After all, if fighting back is joyless, why do it?

Case in point: the movement for LGBTQ equality.

Jobin-Leeds reminds us that five decades ago, sodomy was a crime in every U.S. state and the idea of marriage equality was a pipe dream writ large. So what happened? In a word, he says, AIDS: an unanticipated health crisis and mass tragedy that gave the LGBTQ community new prominence in the public eye. Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, tells Jobin-Leeds that when people started becoming ill, “There were a lot of men—including men in urban areas who had some level of class or race privilege—who were being denied access to their partners as they were dying in hospitals because they weren’t ‘family.’” Their stories of emotional trauma were heartbreaking and led, years later, to a demand that their relationships be recognized and validated.

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, agrees with Carey, adding, “AIDS broke the silence about gay people’s lives and really prompted non-gay people to think about gay people in a different way. It prompted gay people to embrace this language of inclusion, most preeminently marriage. That, in turn, accelerated our inclusion in society and the change in attitudes.”

AIDS’ public accounting of love and loss presaged a dramatic shift in assumptions and ideas about what it meant to be queer. It also went hand-in-hand with thrillingly defiant public actions in streets, pharmaceutical company boardrooms, and government offices throughout the country.

Of course, homophobia has not been eradicated; nor has AIDS stigma. But as a result of ACT UP and other queer-led organizations, access to life-changing drugs increased. In addition, as family and friends pushed their way into hospital rooms, the broadening of the definition of “kin” took root: Jobin-Leeds and his activist contacts theorize that this is part of what eventually led to marriage equality. All of this is surely worth celebrating; at the same time, progressives understand that the right to wed is but one demand on a long roster of LGBTQ needs.

As Carey explains, “We can’t ask someone to be an undocumented immigrant one day, a lesbian the next, and a mom on the third day … Our vision is about … transforming society so that she can be all of those things every single day and that there would be a connectedness among social justice workers and among the organizations and agendas, if you will, to make her life whole.”

These linkages, Carey said, have led the Task Force to work on a range of issues, including criminal justice reform, liberalized immigration, public education, and economic justice—issues that, she says, the largely white male activists who founded the Task Force initially considered tangential to LGBTQ rights.

Still, both Carey and others stress that not every campaign will result in victory. Paulina Helm-Hernández of Southerners on New Ground (SONG) tells Jobin-Leeds about a 2012 campaign against a same-sex marriage ban in North Carolina, a battle she says the activists anticipated losing. Nonetheless, SONG committed itself to reaching one million people to discuss “the future of our state, and about the divisive tactics of the Right, and about the reality of how integrated LGBT communities in North Carolina actually are to immigrant communities, to other communities of color—it really just became a huge opportunity for us, and I would say a success in terms of helping not just amplify the grassroots organizing that makes moments like that possible, but to say it does matter.” In essence, despite losing the war, they won what they hope will be lasting personal connections with local residents.

What’s more, Helm-Hernández emphasizes another secondary gain: When other folks saw that it was possible for individuals and organizations to stand up and speak out, it empowered them to do likewise.

Among today’s most motivated activists, Jobin-Leeds writes, are the DREAMers, young immigrant women and men whose efforts have led many people to think differently about immigration policy. Although Jobin-Leeds concedes that the United States has still not enacted meaningful reform, he reports that hundreds of immigrant youth have bravely declared themselves not only undocumented, but unafraid. They’ve told their stories, and those of their parents and grandparents, to audiences throughout the country—as well as before Congress—and their efforts have begun to pay off. The New York Times, for one, has stopped using the term “illegal” to describe undocumented people, and several states now allow undocumented residents to pay in-state tuition rates, a change that has allowed many to enroll in two- and four-year degree programs.

“DREAMers from across the country have profoundly changed the national discourse and influenced organizing tactics around immigration—catapulting an issue forward,” Jobin-Leeds reports. “Storytelling combined with direct action transforms people into activists.”

And although obtaining citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented U.S residents is proving difficult in today’s political climate, Jobin-Leeds writes that it remains a long-term goal.

Like the DREAMers, activists working on other issues also sometimes set their sights on local gains—targeting a recalcitrant landlord or a bank that is threatening foreclosure, for example—rather than attempting to change national policy, and Jobin-Leeds chronicles the successful efforts of the Boston-based City Life/Vida Urbana to create eviction-free zones in low-income areas. Similarly, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United have driven companies like the Fireman Hospitality Group to settle claims for back wages and tips, and develop policies to curtail sexual harassment and discrimination. Equally significant, environmental groups such as 350.org have pushed colleges and philanthropies to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

Drops in the bucket? Maybe. But as the organizers in When We Fight We Win! repeatedly remind readers, small changes often lead to bigger ones. Furthermore, organizing requires us to take a long view of history to forestall becoming demoralized. After all, given today’s Republican assault on reproductive justice; the overt expressions of racism and xenophobia by political office holders, presidential candidates, and everyday individuals; the non-stop push to privatize once-public services; and our seemingly endless involvement in numerous wars, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, angry, and powerless.

When We Fight We Win! admits this, albeit indirectly, and recognizes that there are no guaranteed victories. Nonetheless, the book enthusiastically celebrates activism as personally and politically invigorating. Indeed, when all is said and done, we have two choices: We can either accept the current state of affairs or try to foment change. If we opt for the latter, we may not win everything we dream of, but at least we’ll know we tried. Isn’t that better than languishing in grief and anger?

Commentary Health Systems

Conservatives Suspicious of the Concept of Health, But Anti-Choice Extremists Beat Them to It

Amanda Marcotte

It's not an illusion: Conservatives have started to exhibit hostility toward the concept of health itself, implying that being healthy is scary and somehow anti-freedom. This shouldn't be a surprise, however, as anti-choicers have been saying similar things for decades now.

Looking back, it now seems inevitable that the conservative rhetoric against Obamacare would drift away from attacking the policy and toward casting aspersions on the concept of getting health care itself. It’s a structural issue at its core—without Obamacare, tens of millions of people will remain uninsured. As Slate‘s Matt Yglesias wrote recently, “Conservatives need to persuade people not just that Obamacare plans are inferior to some hypothetical amazing health insurance plan that some other, much more prosperous people have, but actually worse than having no health insurance at all.” It’s actually amazing that the argument hasn’t been trotted out before—probably because even right-wingers know what a hard sell that is.

Now the Koch-linked anti-Obamacare group Generation Opportunity has decided to experiment with trying to convince young people of just that. The group’s recent ad, showing a patient basically being tortured by a creepy Uncle Sam at the doctor’s office, has some surface plausibility that the group is only denouncing medical care if you get it through health insurance purchased on the health-care exchanges. But the obvious emotional pitch of the ad is that going to the doctor itself is bad, so you’re better off never doing it. Like James Poniewozik of TIME said, “[T]he apparent takeaway—besides several nights’ of puppet nightmares—is that you should actually prefer no insurance coverage or doctor visits at all.” The hope is clearly that by exploiting people’s already existing dislike of seeing a doctor, Generation Opportunity can convince them to just skip the health insurance thing altogether—which is doubly disturbing when you remember that those who do are facing fines from the government.

The ugly, hostile attitude toward medical professionals that’s evident in the Generation Opportunity ad is quite reminiscent of the hostility toward the medical profession that has been part of the anti-choice movement since protesters began picketing abortion clinics. Bloody fetus pictures are waved around, with the implication being clear: Since surgery is gross, it’s best avoided, even if you dislike the alternative. One of the absolute most common tactics among anti-choicers is to demonize abortion and contraception care as painful, scary, and gross—as if the alternative of pregnancy and childbirth is a walk in the park.

No surprise, then, that Generation Opportunity hired the former vice president of Americans United for Life. If you want  someone with a lot of experience trying to scare people out of getting the care necessary for them to have full, healthy lives, then of course you call an anti-choice activist. They’ve been leading the way on trying to intimidate Americans from getting health care.

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It’s not just the anti-choicers, of course. For years now, there’s been a streak of conservative rhetoric that is openly suspicious of health itself, especially the idea that everyone—whether rich or poor—deserves good health. There’s always been a tendency to be hostile toward good health on the right, though it only cropped up on those occasions where there was a conflict between big business and people’s health. Conservatives consistently defend corporate profits over people’s health in battles over things like pollution, tobacco, gun safety, and now junk food. But in recent years, this tendency has taken a turn toward the radical side, with the very concept of healthiness increasingly becoming an object of scorn and mockery on the right, with dark intimations that a healthy lifestyle is somehow a threat to their nebulous, ill-defined concept of “freedom.”

Indeed, it’s common for anti-choicers to imply that using contraception is a form of “enslavement.” No wonder the same notion—that voluntarily choosing to take care of your health is somehow a capitulation to fascism—cropped up with the attacks on Michelle Obama’s healthy eating programs.

Michelle Obama decided to make nutrition and exercise, especially for the young, her official priority as First Lady. Obama’s program is focused on education, and also includes some rules requiring schools to offer fruits and vegetables, though there’s no requirement students have to eat them. Being told that eating vegetables is good for you, however, has been received on the right as if Obama was showing up at your house and forcing Brussels sprouts down your throat. As Media Matters reported last week, Fox News has been regularly trying to convince its audience we’re on the verge of facing fines and even jail time for buying french fries or salty foods, and that assigned marriages are next. Rush Limbaugh tried to convince his audience that they would be personally monitored by the food police.

Michelle Obama has also been pushing Americans to drink more water, saying that one more glass a day will make you feel better. The possibility that people might listen to her, drink more water, and feel better was clearly more than conservatives could bear. Conservative media went absolutely nuts, as Roy Edroso at the Village Voice‘s Runnin’ Scared blog documented recently, comparing the suggestion to drink more water to “torture” and implying that voluntarily pouring yourself a glass of water was capitulation to fascism. True patriots are forever dehydrated, I guess.

Still, anti-choicers did it first and do it best. While the phrase “anti-choice” is nice shorthand, part of the anti-choice agenda is a movement against sexual health. While the abortion fight is the most prominent, anti-choice activists also object to contraception, sexually transmitted infection education, and basically anything that makes it easier for sexually active people—a group that nearly all human beings will join at some point in time, including anti-choicers themselves—to maintain good health. This is especially true when it comes to low-income people, whose access to sexual health care is under relentless attack from the right, especially with the war on family planning funding and the fight over contraception coverage in insurance. Young people are also a favorite target, which is why lying to young people about sexual health under the umbrella of “abstinence-only” is such a big deal for anti-choicers. The lies they tell could encourage young people to make unhealthy choices, such as skipping condoms after being told at school they don’t work. This appears to be a feature and not a bug, since conservatives doubled down on the lies after pro-choicers proved they were harmful.

The moral of the story is simple: To know where the mainstream conservative movement is heading in its rightward drift, look to the anti-choice movement. So often the ideas and the rhetoric that crop up among mainstream conservatives started in the fringes of anti-choice extremism.