Bump+: Finding Common Ground Through Reality TV?

Sarah Seltzer

Bump+'s Creative Director Chris Riley talks about the show's intentions to open a "common ground" discussion on abortion based solely on the stories of characters portrayed.

Last week I wrote a piece for Alternet about a new web series called
Bump+
, a
"fake" reality show. Three actresses play women facing accidental
pregnancies, women who have agreed to be reality show contestants. The web
audience gets to weigh in on these faux contestants’ ultimate decision.
Needless to say, the format hasn’t endeared the show to either camp in the
abortion debate. I talked to Bump+’s Creative Director Chris Riley about the
writers’ intentions to open a "common ground" discussion based solely
on the stories of these characters, and whether the show’s reliance on reality
TV tropes is getting the message through. He stressed a desire to reach out to
pro-choicers, who are staying away from the site’s commenting forums. Here is
our full conversation for Rewire readers to weigh for themselves.

Tell me about how you came up with the idea for the show–was it actually 
inspired by Obama?

One inspiration was his speech at Notre Dame–a call for a more civil
conversation looking for common ground between people who have been shouting at
each other. I also read The Audacity of
Hope
, the part where he describes his views on abortion and his
interactions with people who disagreed with his position. I was struck by the
respect he had for people who disagreed with him. I thought that was
remarkable. And then I saw an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart where
he had Mike Huckabee on and they talked about abortion. It was fascinating to
see people who saw the issue differently but were still able to talk about it.
So an idea occurred to me–why don’t we just follow three women, as honestly
and fairly as we possibly can, not have it be about politics, and neither for
or against any version of the law. Let’s just tell the stories of women and see
what kind of conversation we might be able to spark.

One thing I noticed about those examples
you just cited is all of these people having "civil" conversation
were men, and so are a lot of the visible writers and producers on your site. Do
you think it might be harder for women, whose lives and bodies are affected, to
step back and have that kind of detached intellectual conversation about it?

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That’s a good point. First of all, we made sure we had a lot of women on our
team [producers, directors, and actors]. A lot of this show was scripted, a lot
was improvised. The actresses have been bringing a lot of their personal
viewpoints into this.  I readily admit I’m a man, and that can’t be helped. But I didn’t want to
disqualify myself because of that.
I have never been in the position our characters are in, but I’ve reached out
to hear real stories from people who have faced unintended pregnancies in
various ways. We certainly haven’t told every possible story, but the
interactivity allows us to invite anyone to tell their story on the website. We
may cut stories into future episodes. So we’re not the only storytellers.

Can you talk about the "their
choice is up to you" concept of viewers weighing in? That ruffled some
feathers in the pro-choice camp.

Their choice is up to you–we don’t mean it in the sense of a vote. We
have shot multiple endings, and we’ve shot 50 hours of which we’ll only see
about 75 minutes. So in post-production we’ll have a lot of latitude to shape
things in terms of what happens and the input we get, but as characters these women will fully make their choices on
their own
. We as storytellers will be listening to everyone’s voices. We’re
finding on our site, when we turn the volume down then different people do step
into the conversation.

If the characters are
"written" and fictional, why the real-fake reality TV?

We chose the format because it’s more interesting. We are a web series with a
very low budget. We had to be provocative in order to get noticed. This was our
way into the stories, and we felt it was an "of the moment" idea. We
knew it was provocative concept on all ends of the spectrum, but it was an
artistic choice–to tell stories and invite viewer reaction.
The most obvious controversy would be get pro-choicers and pro-lifers to just
argue on television. We decided we’d rather let the controversy be about us.

Do you think people will be able to
sympathize with these characters, these women who have agreed to let this
decision be out of their hands?

Yes, if this were real, it would be outrageous. For the women to volunteer to
be on the show, that’s not a likable move. That is a challenge we have. But we
as writers have a tremendous amount of affection for these characters. What
will happen over episodes is that viewers will come to see them as more and
more three-dimensional. You’re going to start to root for these women and care
about them. Nobody’s going to be hitting anybody over the head with a folding
chair. The more you hear their stories, you think "wow, that’s really
tough." Even Katie, who cheated on her husband. You’re going to get that
there’s no easy solution to their problems. From those who oppose abortion, I
hope it creates more sympathy for kinds of real dilemmas people find themselves
in.

While looking over the site, most of the comments I’ve seen have come from one
side, which is the "pro-life" side. I have to wonder if that’s
because on that side, people are comfortable telling women what to do with
their pregnancies while on the pro-choice side, we believe it’s a private
decision that we shouldn’t have input in.

We have noticed that. It was not completely unexpected for the reasons you’ve
articulated. We want find ways to reach out to more pro-choice voices and
invite those kinds of stories to be posted. There’s stigma attached to those
stories, and people may be less willing to share one of those stories.
But  hopefully online there is enough anonymity for that to happen. We
have one [anti-abortion] commenter, "sister Mary Agnes" who keeps posting,
saying "please, even though I may not agree with you, I want to
understand."

Anything else you might want to say to a progressive, pro-choice audience?

Everyone involved said let’s be as honest as possibly be, as fair as we can
possibly be. At every decision point, we’ve stuck by that
doesn’t mean we know everything, been able to say everything. Whatever we’ve
missed, please bring it to the conversation. We all have so much in common,
communication would be impossible if we didn’t. Please don’t make the mistake
that Fox News readers [who condemned the site] made which was deciding on the
basis of a headline decide that we were completely partisan. Check it out, then
make your own decision, and by all means, if we’re missing something, tell us
your story because we desperately need to hear it.

 

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.”