News Media

For Wichita’s South Wind Women’s Center, a Victory Against Clear Channel

Carole Joffe

Tony Matteo, Clear Channel's operations manager in Wichita, Kansas, announced Tuesday a reversal of the company’s earlier decision to drop the radio ads of the South Wind Women’s Center.

Tony Matteo, Clear Channel’s operations manager in Wichita, Kansas, announced Tuesday a reversal of the company’s earlier decision to drop the radio ads of the South Wind Women’s Center. “[A]s a responsible broadcaster we should use our best judgment to accept and run ads that do not violate the law or FCC standards and which are not intentionally hateful or incendiary,” he said.

The recently opened health center, which offers both abortion care and other reproductive health services, holds huge symbolic significance because it is housed in the facility formerly occupied by Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated by an anti-choice extremist in 2009. South Wind carries practical significance as well, being the only abortion provider in Wichita.

The ads ran for only one day before the Clear Channel station pulled them, presumably in response to pressure from anti-choice groups. According to the Wichita Eagle, the ads did not mention abortion. As the clinic’s director, Julie Burkhart, told the paper, “We wanted to use language that would appeal to the most people and not offend people who might be opposed to one of the services we offer.”

But of course anti-choice activists know exactly what transpires at South Wind. The clinic’s opponents unsuccessfully tried to have the area around the clinic re-zoned, and Burkhart herself has been targeted by anti-choice extremists, including at her home, for which one protester is facing stalking charges.

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Moreover, abortion opponents had every reason to believe their demands to Clear Channel would be met—and sustained. Kansas is one of the most hostile states for abortion providers, though there is fierce competition for that “honor.” The slaying of Dr. Tiller has been followed by the relentless persecution of his former associate, Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus, who gave the second opinion on his post-22-week procedures, as required by Kansas law. Acting on a complaint by a well-known Operation Rescue operative (the same person whose phone number was found in the car of Dr. Tiller’s murderer), the Kansas Board of Healing Arts revoked Dr. Neuhaus’ medical license, and she now faces economic ruin.

As a U.S. senator, Sam Brownback, who is now the state’s governor, was known as one of the most extreme anti-choice crusaders in that legislative body. (He is remembered for, among other things, holding up on the floor of the Senate a drawing of an embryo made by a 7-year-old, and asking on behalf of the embryo, “Are you going to kill me?”) Upon becoming governor in 2010, Brownback made clear his eagerness to sign anti-choice legislation. He recently signed a highly restrictive measure, some portions of which are currently under litigation, that includes a provision now in effect forbidding employees and abortion providers from participating in school activities such as chaperoning field trips.

But probably the main reason anti-choice forces assumed their demands to Clear Channel would work is that this tactic has a long history in Wichita. As Rewire has previously reported, Operation Rescue and other anti-choice groups in Wichita used threats of boycotts and other forms of intimidation to pressure local businesses to not service Dr. Tiller’s clinic. Though not all businesses succumbed to this pressure, some did; for example, clinic staff could no longer count on lunch being delivered to the clinic, and they had to scramble to find garbage removal services.

So what turned things around for South Wind in this inhospitable environment? Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!), a group committed to gender justice in the media, and Trust Women PAC launched a campaign to force a reversal of Clear Channel’s decision. Thousands of people from Wichita and around the country tweeted, emailed, and called Clear Channel to protest the dropping of South Wind’s ads. WAM! said it and its partners in the effort collected some 68,000 petition signatures targeting the company.

The ads will resume after Labor Day. As Ariel Dougherty, a longtime activist in the feminist media community who initially suggested this campaign to WAM!, said, “This is an important victory for the unity among feminist media activists and feminist health care activists on the ground protecting our reproductive [and media] rights.”

In the midst of the battles over ads, zoning, and meeting the demands of the new Kansas anti-choice law, Burkhart and her staff continue the daily work of running a women’s health center in a volatile environment. Burkhart said that since its April opening, South Wind has seen about 600 patients, two-thirds of them for abortions and the rest for other reproductive services. “We are right about on target where we wanted to be,” she said.

Burkhart and her staff are well aware that the Clear Channel battle is just one of many to be faced. But for them, victory is sweet. The outpouring of support from all over the country, she said, “makes me feel good about what we do. … It gives me a glimmer of hope.”

Commentary Media

Raymond Moore May Have Resigned, But His Comments About Women’s Tennis Betray a Broader Problem

Shireen Ahmed

What this situation makes clear is the glaring reality that women's tennis players often don't have institutionalized support or solidarity from their male colleagues.

Just before the final match of the BNP Paribas Open Tournament in Indian Wells, California, on March 20, tournament director Raymond Moore stunned the tennis world with misguided, sexist comments regarding women’s tennis. The aftermath is somewhat reminiscent of a shoddy political campaigncomplete with inappropriate gaffes, a deluge of critiques, apologies, and then a resignation.

Sexism in sports is quite prevalent, so women are accustomed to seeing reports of asinine commentary. The frequency of such attitudes does not mean that such remarks are not harmful to women’s sports or that they ought to be taken lightly. What this situation makes clear, however, is the glaring reality that women’s tennis players often don’t have institutionalized support or solidarity from their male colleagues. This is discouraging, as tennis is widely regarded by members of the media as the sport that other federations should look to as an example of pay equity and camaraderie. Women consistently fight battles on their own with little backup from male players, men’s tennis associations, and other athletes. This is part of the problem in a system that allows sexism to flourish in women’s sports.

Moore chose to make mind-bogglingly misplaced comments to the usual media scrum that precedes the final match. His comments were unprovoked and unrelated to any specific issue. Instead, he simply offered his observations on female players: “I think the WTA [Women’s Tennis Association] … you know, in my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA, because they ride on the coattails of the men,” Moore said. “They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have.”

To add insult to injury, Moore proceeded to comment on—wait for itthe level of physical beauty of specific players. Moore named Eugenie Bouchard of Canada and Garbine Muguruza of Spain as being among the “attractive prospects” on the tour. When asked to clarify about what he meant by attractive. Moore replied, “They are physically attractive and competitively attractive,” he said. “They can assume the mantle of leadership once Serena [Williams] decides to stop. They really have quite a few very, very attractive players.”

As a fan of tennis, I was aghast. And as a feminist sports writer, I was horrified.

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In addition to being inappropriate and insulting, Moore’s comments were factually incorrect. When I think of this sport, I think of a legendary history of advocacy coupled with enthralling athleticism displayed by female tennis superstars. In 1956, Althea Gibson became the first Black woman to win a major international tournament after years of being shut out by the all-white U.S. Lawn Tennis Association. She battled racist systems and even against hotels who would refuse to book a space in their establishments for a luncheon to honor her and her accomplishments. Gibson certainly helped to elevate the standards of the game.

Perhaps Moore also forgot about Billie Jean King. King engulfed herself in advocating for women’s rights after realizing that a woman’s place in tennis was economically restricted. When King won Wimbledon in 1968, she received £750, but her male counterpart Rod Laver won £2000. In 1973, she famously accepted a challenge from self-proclaimed “male chauvinist” Bobby Riggs and won in three straight sets. Not only did an estimated 50 million people across 37 countries watch the epic “Battle of the Sexes,” but King drew much-needed attention to financial inequality and created the WTA. Former professional tennis player Chris Evert has said of King’s contributions: “Everybody should thank her and shake her hand. She put money in our pockets and provided a living for hundreds and hundreds of female athletes.”

And then there is Serena Williams, who was competing at the tournament in question and who has been hailed by tennis pundits as the best player the United States has ever produced of all time. The 21-time Grand Slam winner is not only a champion of women’s sports; she is a one of the female athletes who routinely speaks up about issues that affect them. Williams has been the target of ruthless and racist sports media. She has been maligned, yet still uses her platform to connect with important organizations such as Equal Justice Initiative and has boycotted major tournaments because of her convictions. And Williams enthralls and inspires million of people with her grace, strength, and top form.

Thanks in part to the work of Gibson, King, Williams, and others, gender inequity is not as stark in tennis as it is in other sports. Tennis associations are reputed to be the most even-salaried for women and their male counterparts. However, if Moore’s comment and others are any indication, it seems as if ingrained sexist ideologies simmer under the lid.

The reactions to Moore’s comments, from King, Evert, and Martina Navratilova, to name a few players, were swift and appropriately angry:

Williams, meanwhile, was very eloquent in her reaction to Moore’s comments: “You know, there’s only one way to interpret that. Get on your knees, which is offensive enough, and thank a man, which is not—we, as women, have come a long way. We shouldn’t have to drop to our knees at any point.”

Williams reiterated the point that the 2015 U.S. Open women’s finals sold out before the men’s. It is not the case that men shoulder more responsibility or interest in tennis more so than women. And, as Jane McManus of espnW noted, Moore’s comments call into question his ability to be an effective tournament director for a co-ed event that relies on the celebrity of the women’s game. “You can’t have a tournament director for a men’s and women’s tournament who doesn’t believe the women carry their weight,” McManus wrote.

In the midst of this criticism, Moore issued an eager apology.

While Moore was trying to navigate through the mess he created, sports media outlets asked other prominent players what they thought of his comments. Very unfortunately, the world’s number-one ranked male player, Novak Djokovic, used the opportunity to lecture awkwardly about how pay inequality would be justified because men garner more income than women on the tennis circuit.

“I think that our men’s tennis world … should fight for more, because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches,” Djokovic said. “I think that’s one of the, you know, reasons why maybe we should get awarded more.”

Djokovic also added in some inexplicable comments about women’s bodies and their hormones—yes, hormones—going through “different things.” He ended his obtuse statement with the very subtle: “Ladies know what I am talking about.”

The stream of off-the-cuff sexist remarks and subsequent apologies is very popular, apparently. After being counseled by fellow tennis player Andy Murray, Djokovic insisted in a Facebook post that he never meant any offense or “negative connotations.”

But his knee-jerk reaction was also to insist that his comments were taken out of context. Instead of stating that he was wrong and will not repeat the same mistake, he placed the burden on others who might have been offended for taking his comments “the wrong way.”

I don’t believe his comments were interpreted incorrectly; I believe he, like many male sports stars, was simply unwilling to own up to his comments.

Sports writer and tennis enthusiast Lindsay Gibbs reported for ThinkProgress that when the Association of Tennis Professionals was asked to comment on Moore or Djokovic’s remarks, its statement was a baffling argument against equal prize money.

“That’s right—given a very obvious opportunity to take a strong stand against sexism and promote equality, men’s tennis instead decided to make the argument against equal prize money,” Gibbs wrote. “This cycle is as exhausting as it is self-defeating.”

There are those who avoid these messes by educating themselves and properly articulating their support of women’s tennis. Former pro tennis player Patrick McEnroe said he was “livid” at Moore’s comments and publicly called for him to resign.

WTA Tour Chief Executive Steve Simon also declared his unwavering endorsement of equal pay for female players before the start of the Miami Open. And Murray was quick to denounce Djokovic’s position and insisted that his words “do not stack up.” He mentioned that quite often, tennis fans come to watch Williams specifically.

Overall, though, the advocacy offered to women is unstable and inconsistent. While discussing how women mobilized to earn a proper salary, King told espnW during an interview at Wimbledon last year, “The men will never give us credit.”

The dim silver lining of all this seems to be that wider discussions of gender inequality in pay and institutionalized sexism have been prevalent in mainstream, male-dominated sports media, which would otherwise seldom address such topics. But so long as there are men in positions of power asked to comment on issues in women’s sports—as is the case with tennis—they also need to participate in vocalizing their support for female athletes. Solidarity with women, which includes not maligning the efforts of female athletes, is important to ensuring consistent growth of the sport. For men at all levels to reiterate that women’s sports are powerful and exciting goes a long way in dismantling sexist ideology suggesting women’s sports do not hold broad appeal, that they are somehow less “interesting” than men’s sports, or that, like Moore suggested, they are piggybacking off male athletes’ success.

While men remain in the roles of executive directors, administrators, and decision makers, it is crucial for them to back up female playersparticularly because that recognition is well deserved.

So many women’s tennis players have brought issues of social justice to the forefront. They are addressing pressing issues of sexism but also of race, class, and gender identity. These feats go far beyond only winning trophies. These women are fostering change in society through sports.

How unjust and ignorant of Moore to erase these accomplishments.

On March 21, Moore resigned as tournament director of Indian Wells. I sincerely hope that the next tournament director is far more enlightened of the enormous contributions to tennis and sports that female players have had.

Moore’s initial comments ballooned into an issue involving other men and highlighted the recurring sexism that plagues sports. Their mea culpas ring hollow at a time when women’s tennis features brilliant female players. The point is certainly not to avoid making sexist comments in front of the cameras. It is to understand that sexist comments are doing a disservice to the sport and are incorrect and unjust, and must be addressed and corrected by everyone, not just the women they affect directly.

It was not only Title IX nor the “coattails of men” that created the genius and success of women’s tennis; it was the women themselves.

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?