Commentary Race

Race, Class, and Rights in Mississippi: How A Reproductive Justice Campaign Can Save the Pill and Save the Vote

Loretta Ross

In Mississippi, two ballot initiatives threaten the health and lives of women across the state, and the disenfranchisement of the largest bloc of voters in the state. A campaign based on a reproductive justice model can defeat both.

See all our coverage on anti-choice efforts to pass egg-as-person (“personhood”) laws here.

See all our coverage of Mississippi Initiative (Prop) 26 here.

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.

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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 Rewire 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?

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Republican National Convention Edition

Ally Boguhn

The Trump family's RNC claims about crime and the presidential candidate's record on gender equality have kept fact-checkers busy.

Republicans came together in Cleveland this week to nominate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC), generating days of cringe-inducing falsehoods and misleading statements on crime, the nominee’s positions on gender equality, and LGBTQ people.

Trump’s Acceptance Speech Blasted for Making False Claims on Crime

Trump accepted the Republican nomination in a Thursday night speech at the RNC that drew harsh criticism for many of its misleading and outright false talking points.

Numerous fact-checkers took Trump to task, calling out many of his claims for being “wrong,” and “inflated or misleading.”

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 Among the most hotly contested of Trump’s claims was the assertion that crime has exploded across the country.

“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” Trump claimed, according to his prepared remarks, which were leaked ahead of his address. “Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”

Crime rates overall have been steadily declining for years.

“In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the 50 largest cities compared to the previous years. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore,” explained Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “But in the first months of 2016, homicide trends were about evenly split in the major cities. Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in first quarter 2016 and 31 saw an increase.”

Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, said in a statement posted to the organization’s website that 2016 statistics aren’t sufficient in declaring crime rate trends. 

“Overall, crime rates remain at historic lows. Fear-inducing soundbites are counterproductive, and distract from nuanced, data-driven, and solution-oriented conversations on how to build a smarter criminal justice system in America,” Grawert said. “It’s true that some cities saw an increase in murder rates last year, and that can’t be ignored, but it’s too early to say if that’s part of a national trend.” 

When Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, was confronted with the common Republican falsehoods on crime during a Thursday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he claimed that the FBI’s statistics were not to be trusted given that the organization recently advised against charges in connection with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

“According to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades,” Tapper told Manafort. “How can Republicans make the argument that it’s somehow more dangerous today when the facts don’t back that up?”

“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” said Manafort, going on to claim that “the FBI is certainly suspect these days after what they did with Hillary Clinton.”

There was at least one notable figure who wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s fearmongering: former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. “Great Trump Speech,” tweeted Duke on Thursday evening. “Couldn’t have said it better!”

Ben Carson Claims Transgender People Are Proof of “How Absurd We Have Become”

Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson criticized the existence of transgender people while speaking at the Florida delegation breakfast on Tuesday in Cleveland.  

“You know, we look at this whole transgender thing, I’ve got to tell you: For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don’t know anymore,” said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you’re a man or vice versa?”

“Wouldn’t that be the same as if you woke up tomorrow morning after seeing a movie about Afghanistan or reading some books and said, ‘You know what? I’m Afghanistan. Look, I know I don’t look that way. My ancestors came from Sweden, or something, I don’t know. But I really am. And if you say I’m not, you’re a racist,’” Carson said. “This is how absurd we have become.”

When confronted with his comments during an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric, Carson doubled down on his claims.“There are biological markers that tell us whether we are a male or a female,” said Carson. “And just because you wake up one day and you say, ‘I think I’m the other one,’ that doesn’t change it. Just, a leopard can’t change its spots.”

“It’s not as if they woke up one day and decided, ‘I’m going to be a male or I’m going to be a female,’” Couric countered, pointing out that transgender people do not suddenly choose to change their gender identities on a whim.

Carson made several similar comments last year while on the campaign trail.

In December, Carson criticized the suggested that allowing transgender people into the military amounted to using the armed services “as a laboratory for social experimentation.”

Carson once suggested that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity amounted to granting them “extra rights.”

Ivanka Trump Claims Her Father Supports Equal Pay, Access to Child Care

Ivanka Trump, the nominee’s daughter, made a pitch during her speech Thursday night at the RNC for why women voters should support her father.

“There have always been men of all background and ethnicities on my father’s job sites. And long before it was commonplace, you also saw women,” Ivanka Trump said. “At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.” 

“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all,” she continued before pivoting to address the gender wage gap. 

“Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties; they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”

However, Trump’s stated positions on the gender wage gap, pregnancy and mothers in the workplace, and child care don’t quite add up to the picture the Trumps tried to paint at the RNC.

In 2004, Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for employers. When a lawyer asked for a break during a deposition in 2011 to pump breast milk, Trump reportedly called her “disgusting.”

According to a June analysis conducted by the Boston Globe, the Trump campaign found that men who worked on Trump’s campaign “made nearly $6,100, or about 35 percent more [than women during the April payroll]. The disparity is slightly greater than the gender pay gap nationally.”

A former organizer for Trump also filed a discrimination complaint in January, alleging that she was paid less than her male counterparts.

When Trump was questioned about equal pay during a campaign stop last October, he did not outline his support for policies to address the issue. Instead, Trump suggested that, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Though he had previously stated that men and women who do the same job should be paid the same during an August 2015 interview on MSNBC, he also cautioned that determining whether people were doing the same jobs was “tricky.”

Trump has been all but completely silent on child care so far on the campaign trail. In contrast, Clinton released an agenda in May to address the soaring costs of child care in the United States.

Ivanka’s claims were not the only attempt that night by Trump’s inner circle to explain why women voters should turn to the Republican ticket. During an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Manafort said that women would vote for the Republican nominee because they “can’t afford their lives anymore.”

“Many women in this country feel they can’t afford their lives, their husbands can’t afford to be paying for the family bills,” claimed Manafort. “Hillary Clinton is guilty of being part of the establishment that created that problem. They’re going to hear the message. And as they hear the message, that’s how we are going to appeal to them.”

What Else We’re Reading

Vox’s Dara Lind explained how “Trump’s RNC speech turned his white supporters’ fear into a weapon.”

Now that Mike Pence is the Republican nominee for vice president, Indiana Republicans have faced “an intense, chaotic, awkward week of brazen lobbying at the breakfast buffet, in the hallways and on the elevators” at the convention as they grapple with who will run to replace the state’s governor, according to the New York Times.

“This is a party and a power structure that feels threatened with extinction, willing to do anything for survival,” wrote Rebecca Traister on Trump and the RNC for New York Magazine. “They may not love Trump, but he is leading them precisely because he embodies their grotesque dreams of the restoration of white, patriarchal power.”

Though Trump spent much of the primary season denouncing big money in politics, while at the RNC, he courted billionaires in hopes of having them donate to supporting super PACs.

Michael Kranish reported for the Washington Post that of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC, it is estimated that only 18 were Black.

Cosmopolitan highlighted nine of the most sexist things that could be found at the convention.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked, “Where are these contributions that have been made” by people of color to civilization?