Rewire: Welcome to Common Ground

Scott Swenson

Why is Rewire, a site founded and dedicated to promoting progressive ideas about the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health, engaging this discussion about common ground?

In so many ways, the election of President
Obama is viewed through a lens of its healing potential. No, racism
did not end with the election of our first President of Color, but many
people are looking at themselves and their beliefs about race differently.
No, his election did not automatically restore America as a beacon of
hope around the world after years of steady decline, but our global
neighbors are looking at us in a new light.  

President Obama is asking Americans to
seek common ground on one of the most controversial issues of our time,
abortion. Knowing we don’t all agree, Obama asks that we agree to
disagree, with civility, recognizing the dangerous place the extremism
surrounding this debate has taken our politics. 

For the entire political life of many
people around President Obama’s age, the politics of abortion has
seemed intractable, uncompromising, bitterly divisive. The first political
race I watched closely, at 11, ended with Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas using
pictures of aborted fetuses on door hangers in heavily Catholic precincts
to defeat Dr. Bill Roy, an obstetrician, Congressman and Catholic himself.
Dole won re-election by a handful of votes in 1974 on the politics of
insinuation. 

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Thirty-five years later, Dr. George Tiller
was assassinated in his Lutheran church because he performed legal abortions,
also in Kansas, the site of many far-right battles in those intervening
years.  Tiller is the latest victim of extremism on the far-right
that has its roots in the political rhetoric started in that first post-Roe
election. 

Many people on the right distance themselves
from anything having to do with clinic violence, but still
have their picture taken with politicians whose rhetoric foments it.  

So why is Rewire, a site founded
and dedicated to promoting progressive ideas about the full spectrum
of sexual and reproductive health, even engaging this discussion about
common ground?  

We believe by bringing voices from the
center and right of center, to mix with the leading voices of the progressive
movement promoting sexual and reproductive health, that our online community can play a small role in allowing a new way to look at these issues to emerge. It won’t
be easy.  

We are not defining, or buying into anyone’s
definition of common ground. We are facilitating a discussion that we
hope will allow all people to think differently about sexual and reproductive
health. 

Is it possible that in President Obama’s
election, Americans have a chance to heal the body politic from the
divisiveness the abortion issue has caused for a generation or more?
We don’t know, but one thing is certain: it won’t happen if we don’t
try.

We believe Rewire is well positioned to expand this
dialog to be more inclusive while holding to our progressive roots and
respecting those who believe differently but genuinely seek common ground. In the wake of the Tiller assassination, there
may be no better time to ask people to think anew about how we all communicate
these issues. 

It is, afterall is said and done, simply a choice we have before us, to continue the old paradigm of well worn and bitter divide, or stop and take a deep breath or two, and choose differently.

We are asking people from all political
perspectives to remain open to the possibility that we can let go of
the acrimony that brought us to this moment and envision a time when
these most personal life decisions are no longer used for political
manipulation, or domestic terrorism. 

The truth is, most Americans have already
found common ground. 

The best and brightest minds working
in philanthropy, non-profits and NGO’s, advocacy, law, health care,
research, politics and media, have invested tens if not hundreds of
millions of dollars in the most sophisticated public opinion research.
Staggering sums that could be used to actually help women and children,
not just hypothesize about how demographic groups respond to framing
or word choice. 

Most legitimate surveys, right, left, and non-partisan,
indicate Americans are closer to consensus on many social issues than our politics indicates,
which doesn’t mean that everyone agrees. But it does mean we should move
beyond questions of legality versus prohibition, toward policies that promote safety,
health, responsibility, respect, and rights. Our energy should focus on making sure all Americans have access
to factual information and education, reliable prevention and reproductive health care with the recognition
that sexually healthy societies foster respect for everyone. Choices that are made from a place of respect and facts will naturally be better than those made from fear or misinformation.  Biology is easier than wisdom and we should focus on helping people understand how to make better choices, understanding not denying human nature.

In the middle, away from the passions of the right or left, most Americans are already building
common ground around shared understanding, compassion and empathy for
the journey their neighbors are on, hoping that when their family faces difficult
life decisions, others will be similarly supportive. By listening to
voices genuinely seeking common ground, Rewire hopes to provide a platform for civil discussion.  We know the
bitterness will continue on some levels, we only seek to expand the potential for something
new to emerge, to remain open to the possibility that we can choose a healing path that could change the way we all dicuss these issues in a healthy, respectful way, thus allowing
us to see sexual and reproductive health in a new light.

We hope you too will choose a path that can lead to real change and give this discussion a chance. 

Be the change you seek.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”