Weekly Pulse: The U.S. Social Forum Tackles Health Issues

Lindsay Beyerstein

Is healthcare reform in danger and should birth control be available over the counter?  These questions and more are examined in this week's The Pulse.

This article was originally published by The Media Consortium, of which Rewire is a member.

Tens of thousands of progressive activists are converging on Detroit this week for the U.S. Social Forum to envision a better future. In the fight for social justice and sustainability, health and health care are at the forefront. During the meeting, the Washtenaw Reds plan to launch a free clinic in Detroit. They envision the facility as a center of healing and a nexus of political organizing. The USSF also features workshops on reproductive justice and drug policy issues. Urban farming and food justice are also key items on the agenda, Paul Abowd of In These Times reports.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the Republicans are still scheming to overturn health care reform. The GOP leadership and its allies in the health care industry plan to use the upcoming confirmation fight over Dr. Donald Berwick, Obama’s nominee to run Medicare and Medicaid, as an opportunity to air their grievances about health care reform, Jamelle Bouie reports in the Washington Independent.

Deadly pollutants

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As oil continues to spurt from the wrecked oil well in the Gulf, everyone is wondering how the disaster will affect human health. The scary part is, nobody really knows. The Climate Desk at Mother Jones says that more than 20,000 workers are slogging through as they attempt to clean up the mess. Fresh crude oil contains a many volatile chemicals, some of which have been shown to be carcinogenic. Over 100 workers have already complained of illnesses that may be connected to their work on the cleanup project, according to Louisiana public health authorities.

The Real News Network takes us on a tour of some of the deadliest pollutants in our air. Guest Michael Ash of the Corporate Toxics Information Project (CTIP) at Amherst University takes host Paul Jay on a guided tour of the nastiest gunk in our lungs. U.S.-based corporations emit over 4.5 billion pounds of toxic chemicals into the air every year. Bayer Aspirin and ExxonMobil are two of the biggest air polluters in the U.S., according to EPA emissions statistics. CTIP uses massive amounts of data that the EPA already collects to educate the public and investors about pollution. Ash hopes that socially responsible investors will decline to invest in dirty industries.

Over the counter birth control?

Finally, at Rewire, Kathleen Reeves argues that the birth control pill should be available over the counter. Reeves maintains that anything a doctor might tell a woman about risk factors could be summarized on the package insert: Don’t smoke, use condoms to protect against STIs, and so on. I would argue that full OTC status might be a step too far. When it comes to hormonal contraception, one size does not fit all. Patients need to discuss their options with a health care professional who can explain the risks and benefits associated with each. Of course it’s silly to make a woman go back to her doctor every 6 months to renew a prescription she’s been taking every day for the last decade. A sensible compromise might to extend the length of prescriptions and the number of times they can be renewed following.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Commentary Human Rights

The Obama Administration’s False Excuses on Affordable Housing Hurt Families Like Mine: Why I’m Suing

Danielle Stelluto

You think raising toddlers as a single mom is difficult? Try doing it without a home.

You think raising toddlers as a single mom is difficult? Try doing it without a home.

I have been going through the shelter system since 2010, stuck in a revolving door of shelters, city systems, federal systems, temporary jobs, odd jobs, different schools for my children, and more.

I have two small children—my son is five, and my daughter is three. The economy hit my family pretty hard, and I work every job I find to keep us afloat. Making $10 per hour as an at-home care worker for an elderly woman just doesn’t cover rent.

Despite the fact that three million Americans will experience homelessness this year, President Obama’s Federal Housing and Finance Administration (FHFA) has refused to fund one of the best lifelines to affordable housing we have at the federal level: the National Housing Trust Fund.

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I keep working, but my jobs don’t pay the rent.

On July 8, I joined a national lawsuit against the FHFA and its acting director, Ed Demarco, to demand these funds be restored. I joined to give voice to the millions of Americans like me left out of President Obama’s economic recovery.

I never thought I would be homeless. I work hard for my family and I want a better life for them.

When I first lost my job as a telemarketer in Florida and made the hard decision to move home to New York, we were placed in a shelter in the Bronx. I was qualified for the Child Advantage Program, which would give me two years in an affordable home before turning into a spot in Section 8 housing.

But just one year later the voucher program was discontinued by Mayor Bloomberg, and our shot at a home was destroyed.

I kept a roof over our head for two additional months by taking our case to housing court. But in March of 2012, my family and I again ended up in the Prevention and Temporary Housing (PATH) shelter system. Yet again, we moved to a new school district.

I’ve been working irregular part-time jobs and, to the best of my ability, have been striving to get through. It has been extremely difficult—at times, I have felt ridiculed. Even living in a homeless shelter, I fear we could be given the boot at any moment.

As a single mother of two, affordable housing has been basically impossible to find in New York City. I lived in Florida for years, but that state does not have a safety net at all for families like mine. Regardless, uprooting my family is expensive and very difficult. I don’t know where to turn.

I’m a hard worker, and I’m actually trying everything in my power to bring myself up for my two children. I want to prosper and make the best life for them. I need stability in my life. I need affordable housing.

The Obama Administration has the money to fully fund the housing trust fund but is choosing to deny those funds for the country’s most vulnerable residents: people like me and millions of others. President Obama and his acting director for the Federal Housing and Finance Administration have withheld at least $382 million from low-income families and seniors in need.

I’ve chosen to speak up and join the Homes for All Campaign, a coalition of families, seniors, tenants, and underwater homeowners fighting for affordable housing for all Americans. We are suing the FHFA to right this wrong and restore much-needed funding to affordable housing.

With so many of us still facing a housing crisis, affordable housing needs to be a top priority—not cuts. President Obama and his administration need to stop making excuses for cutting assistance for families like mine struggling to get by.

I will keep working every day to give my children a bright future, but they deserve better. The Obama Administration, the FHFA, and FHFA Acting Director Ed DeMarco need to change course and fund the National Housing Trust Fund. No one should be homeless.

Right to the City also launched a petition to demand DeMarco pay back the millions owed to the National Housing Trust Fund. For more information email info@righttothecity.org.

Q & A Abortion

Inside the Bro-Choice Campaign: Giving Men the Green Light to Step Up for Reproductive Justice

Erin Matson

"Reproductive justice isn’t just a women’s issue; it’s a people issue."

It’s no secret that reproductive rights are often coded as “women’s issues,” and the face of advocacy tends to be feminine. However, since reproductive oppression affects both women and men, and is experienced by women and men, it has been routinely argued that advocates need to do a better job integrating men into the movement. Recently, youth-centered reproductive rights organization Choice USA launched a campaign called Bro-Choice to do just that.

Rewire spoke with Choice USA Executive Director Kierra Johnson to learn more about the campaign.

Rewire: When I hear Bro-Choice, I think: The more men working for abortion rights and healthy sexuality, the better. But not everyone might get that. Why is it important to draw in and lift up young men in the reproductive justice movement?

Kierra Johnson: No one can win alone. We strongly believe that the more people (including men) working for reproductive justice, the better. Without substantively and authentically incorporating men of color, low-income men, young men, gay men, transgender men, and, yes, white straight men, how can we expect to shift a paradigm toward true gender justice? When we don’t engage men in strategic ways, we miss out on opportunities for new ideas and perhaps new solutions to old problems.

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Reproductive oppression affects everyone. Men can serve our movement in better ways than as pantomime allies. Men are directly impacted by sexual and reproductive health policies set at the local, state, and national level. Men and boys are survivors of sexual assault. There should be a bigger spotlight on men who are already doing cutting-edge work to interrupt the cycle of violence and misogyny in their communities so that we can learn from and replicate what is working.

We all stand to gain a lot by together redefining and embracing healthy visions of masculinity. But that can only begin to happen when men have the space to discuss, unpack, and grapple with how they benefit and are hurt by traditional stereotypes, expectations, and cultural norms associated with modern-day concepts of masculinity.

We all deserve a new frame where we get to see men as a part of the solution and not just the problem. And so many of them want to be a part of the solution; young men are pro-choice and they care about ending violence. There are so many young men who right now who are passive supporters of reproductive justice simply because they aren’t sure how they can be active.

Rewire: So what is the long-term vision for the Bro-Choice campaign?

KJ: We hope that this program can catalyze the men who aren’t yet, but want to be, speaking out on sexism and rape culture. We want to inspire them to become active stakeholders in the fight against sexual assault. We also want to work with them to figure out the appropriate roles to play in fighting for abortion rights, contraceptive access, and the right to strong families. It is true that more men are interviewed about abortion than women. As long as that’s the case, the short-term goal is to get more pro-choice men in front of the camera and legislators. The long-term vision is cultural revolution! We want to do our part to support women and men working to prepare young people of all genders to be ambassadors for sexual health, reproductive rights, and communities free of sexual violence.

Rewire: Let’s back up to the beginning of this campaign. Last year you hosted a Bro-Choice panel discussion that led to the creation of a more formal campaign. Tell me about the themes that came up in that first discussion, and how you knew there was more to explore.

KJ: This idea came out of two separate conversations students were having with us simultaneously. Women in our chapters were looking for ways to authentically engage men on campus, and men were looking for opportunities to work on issues that impact their friends, partners, classmates, and selves. So the original panel, named by students, was held more than a year ago to talk about engaging men in reproductive rights and the challenges of that. After that conversation we knew that there were a lot of people thirsty to talk about these subjects, so the one discussion turned into a series of panels. Then, after so many horrendous episodes of sexual assault drew national attention, it’s evolved into a broader conversation about masculinity and sexual assault.

The national conversations that have happened in the wake of Steubenville are so important, but we’re not sure they are reaching the people that need to hear it most.

Men and gender non-conforming people are affected by these issues and care about these issues. We want to see changes on campuses and in the culture that embrace many ways to “be a man.” We want to see colleges and universities taking sexual assault seriously and eradicating rape culture and victim blaming. We want to see all types of gender identities and expressions respected. Obviously these are very big goals, but we hope that by starting these conversations with Bro-Choice we can be one small part of making them a reality.

Rewire: Choice USA works with a lot of students. What kind of issues do you see resonating with young men on campus, and why?

KJ: Students everywhere are taking action against epidemic levels of sexual assault on campuses and the perceived indifference of administrations and law enforcement. Young people are fired up about this. And we talk to many young men who recognize the sexism and rape culture operating on their campus and in their social circles—even if they wouldn’t use those terms.

Environmental rights, the school-to-prison pipeline, voter disenfranchisement, racial profiling, LGBTQ rights, and education access are also all issues that young progressive men are talking about on college campuses. While Bro-Choice is a relatively new campaign, we are excited at the possibility of working with men and women who are passionate about all of these issues to find some new, creative work at the intersections.brochoiceevent2

Rewire: So is this any different from young women’s activism against sexual oppression? Are there differences in approaches or issues that we should be aware of as we work to build a more inclusive movement for reproductive justice?

KJ: Reproductive justice isn’t just a women’s issue; it’s a people issue. And organizing and advocacy is about meeting people where they are. To do that, you cannot make any part of a person’s identity invisible. You have to be willing to see them, hear them. Even when it is hard and painful, and especially when you disagree or when you are uncomfortable.

Organizing with men is no different.

But that doesn’t mean that male-identified folks joining the Bro-Choice campaign will always find this advocacy easy. Examining gender roles in pursuit of reproductive justice challenges ideas so deeply ingrained in our culture that they are invisible to most. Those who choose to do so may find that they need to step back and listen at times. It won’t always be comfortable, but that’s really true of all social justice work when it’s done right.

Women have been the champions of issues that affect both men and women for decades: sex education, family leave policies, sexual assault, and more. Women are uniquely impacted by these issues, and they should continue to be advocates. It will always be appropriate and necessary for women to be visible and vocal leaders in this work. Women will always need to be true mentors and guides of new activists and leaders entering into this work. But we hope Bro-Choice will offer a new point of entry that gives men the green light to engage more actively with us in the fight for justice for all.

Rewire: It was recently Bro-Choice Week, and eight of your student chapters took action. What are some examples of what they did?

KJ: Our students did organizing at eight schools in four states (the University of Kansas, Ohio State, Georgia Southern University, Sacramento State, Cal State Long Beach, Cal Poly, Colorado College, and Stanford). Each of them did different things, mostly discussion events, panels, and tabling. Most of them did events where they could talk honestly about issues facing men who want to get involved with reproductive justice and sexual assault prevention. They also collected Bro-Choice pledges, and throughout the week we had almost 500 people sign the Bro-Choice Pledge.

Rewire: How were these actions received on campus? What can we all learn from these experiences?

KJ: Our students had great reactions to these events on campus. At Georgia Southern University we have a new chapter that has been having some trouble getting traction on campus. They teamed up with their Gay Straight Alliance and held a discussion event, which had a huge turnout—they got 75 new members in one day! Our chapter at Cal Poly also held a discussion event, and they intentionally reached out to groups that were not the usual targets to attend: the Greek community, sports teams, and the gym. They had about 50 people show up and were able to have a very honest, open conversation with these young men. Our chapter leader there described the way that many of the men seemed to be expressing out loud for the first time the pressures they felt and the discomfort they sometimes have in their social circles.

I think the real lesson here is that there are so many young men who are hungry to have the conversations and have a safe place to talk openly about masculinity, sexuality, and violence; even those who seem like the most unlikely suspects for this campaign are finding value in it.

Rewire: Tell us about the other actions Choice USA led online during Bro-Choice Week. What kind of reactions have you been getting to the campaign online?

KJ: Online we held a blog series and some social media elements, including a Twitterstorm and Facebook images. We saw huge numbers of people engaged with us through these avenues, and tons of great discussions were sparked. We saw some of the same discourse that played out in micro settings also play out as the week of action rolled out last month. Some people are excited to see the campaign and are eager to participate; others are triggered at the suggestion that men take on active visible roles in fighting for contraceptive access, abortion policy, and for better responses to violence on and off campuses. Generally, people seem comfortable coming to the table with their passion and having real conversations.

Rewire: So what’s the next step, if you’re ready to tell us?

This summer we’ll be hosting our national membership conference, and chapter leaders from all over the country will come to D.C. to plan this and other campaigns for the 2013-14 academic year. We plan to roll out a public education campaign in the fall that we hope will be fun and impactful in changing attitudes and campus policies regarding sexual assault.

We will also be reaching out to people who signed the Bro-Choice Pledge as we roll out that phase with ways to get involved.

Rewire: What should readers do if they want to get involved? Anything else we should know?

KJ: The best way to get involved is to sign the Bro-Choice Pledge and declare that you want to be part of the solution to work toward reproductive justice and ending sexual violence.