Commentary Abortion

We Respected Albuquerque Women and Won: Lessons Learned From Albuquerque

Tannia Esparza

Young Women United and Strong Families New Mexico are two of the reproductive justice groups that recently helped defeat a significant anti-abortion ballot measure in Albuquerque. Here's how they won.

“Burque, I have one question for you: Se pudo?” Those were the first words I could manage to say to a crowd full of smiling New Mexican faces on November 19, as we received the joyful and shocking news that Albuquerque voters had defeated the harmful anti-abortion ballot measure by a ten-point margin.

Mamas hand-in-hand with their babies, young people jumping, and families holding closed fists in the air responded “Si se pudo, que viva la mujer!”

As a queer Xicana, and daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico, the joy in my heart at the sight of families like mine who showed up in droves to defend our bodies, our lives, and our decisions was unmatched by anything else I’d ever felt.

This ballot measure was the first municipal referendum in the country aimed at restricting access to safe abortion care. Albuquerque is one of four cities across the country that is home to a clinic providing abortions past 20 weeks. The ballot sought to eliminate access to such abortions under any circumstance other than a direct threat to a pregnant woman’s life. If it had passed, the ordinance would have eliminated access to abortion care at and beyond 20 weeks across the entire Southern corridor of the United States.

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We knew that attacks on access to abortion care in our city were part of a new strategy to restrict abortion access at the municipal level and that, if successful, the same tactics would be used in other cities and states. Early polling showed that the popular vote favored the ban by a wide margin. We faced a daunting task: Mobilizing voters in fewer than 12 weeks for a special election, just six weeks after a mayoral election. When we started out, a victory by more than ten points was unthinkable.

This incredible win is a testimony to the strength of local organizations and communities that have been building a strong movement for justice in New Mexico for many years. These organizations were at the nexus of the formation of the Respect ABQ Women campaign, the New Mexican-led effort of allied organizations that came together and defeated the ballot measure. Organizations on the campaign’s steering committee provided the strategic direction for all campaign efforts. The groups included the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Southwest Women’s Options, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, the Southwest Women’s Law Center, Young Women United, and Strong Families New Mexico.

From the beginning, the Respect ABQ Women campaign made the clear decision to prioritize the leadership of women of color. Much of this leadership came from Young Women United (YWU) and Strong Families New Mexico (SFNM), two reproductive justice organizations led by and accountable to women of color. Together, we played pivotal roles serving on the Respect ABQ Women campaign’s steering committee, fulfilling essential leadership positions, and implementing core parts of the campaign strategy.

YWU and SFNM decided early on that our goal in this campaign would be to move away from how short-term campaigns are usually run. Our model sought to ensure New Mexican leadership shaped and steered the campaign, shift the narrative on abortion, center the voices of those most affected, and garner the solidarity of national support and resources.

Leading With Local Infrastructure and Strategies

SFNM and YWU were clear that this campaign needed to be uniquely local, and uniquely New Mexican, to have any chance of succeeding. The Respect ABQ Women campaign came out of the pre-existing relationships between organizing and advocacy groups within the New Mexico Coalition for Choice, a longstanding coalition defending reproductive rights in New Mexico.

These relationships had been hard fought, coming from years of reproductive rights and health groups working alongside one another in their successful work to keep bills that would have restricted abortion access from ever leaving committees in the legislature. But this work has not been without challenge, and tensions had grown over the years when strategies and tactics would sometimes conflict.

Fortunately, a number of years ago, with the support of Strong Families, we worked actively with partners from the Coalition for Choice to address these challenges and develop a new way to work together, one that set the stage for our win this fall. This included clear agreements on how we would work together, and a commitment to prioritizing the perspectives of those most affected by our issues—particularly low-income women of color.

With our internal collaboration strengthened, and our external wins each year preventing at least six anti-abortion bills from moving through the legislative process, we were poised to take on the ballot initiative.

Shifting the Narrative on Abortion

YWU and SFNM are proud of the contributions we made to shape messages that reflected New Mexican values. While this ballot measure threatened access to abortion within and beyond the city of Albuquerque, the Respect ABQ Women campaign made a concerted effort to move framing of the issues beyond the polarizing “pro-life” vs. pro-choice language. We knew that language wouldn’t bring our communities out because it presented a falsely black-and-white portrayal of what are complex personal decisions about abortion.

Instead, the Respect ABQ Women campaign’s lead message held that “deeply personal and complex decisions about abortion should remain in the hands of women, families and their doctor without government interference.” This frame spoke directly to the real lives of people who make difficult decisions about their lives every day. The message provided an opportunity to respect the individual circumstances, faith traditions, and life challenges affecting women and families who face the decision to continue or end a pregnancy. The Respect ABQ Women campaign made this conversation ours, acknowledged and embraced the complexity of abortion, and created an opening for various communities to participate in the election.

Centering Those Most Affected

The primary goal of ballot measure campaigns is almost always to do “whatever it takes” to get the votes necessary for the win. This mentality often results in campaigns operating in a bubble, isolated from long-term social change goals and disconnected from the larger political climate.

Campaigns to defeat anti-choice ballot measures are often reluctant to engage young people and communities of color because of widely held perceptions that these voters will not turn out or that they hold opposing views on abortion.

YWU and SFNM made sure the Respect ABQ Women campaign would steer clear of tactics that would compromise or marginalize our communities, and instead in all our efforts made long-term organizational decisions to focus closely on those most affected.

For example, our campaign’s message embracing abortion as a complex and personal decision placed communities of color at the center—specifically speaking to the value our community places on respect for individual and family decisions. Ensuring communities of color were included in this election influenced decisions about what imagery to use, whose faces should represent the campaign, and how to reach folks where they were at in terms of their feelings about abortion. The campaign allowed our leadership, alongside other groups led by women of color, to guide the strategies that brought our community into the discussion. Dolores Huerta, a labor rights leader and well-respected New Mexican, supported YWU’s efforts by recording radio ads in English and Spanish ensuring Latin@ communities were hearing directly from another Latina who reflected the real lives of New Mexican families.

Communications

As one of the leads on the communications strategy, YWU maintained a constant social media presence and ensured our campaign reflected the lived experiences of our communities. YWU values the voice of culture, art, and imagery in all of our work and integrated those perspectives into the communications strategy. We did this by working with local photographers and designers to create a photo campaign uplifting the strength of Albuquerque families and neighborhoods standing against the ban. YWU centered the voices of Albuquerque’s communities by leading the Spanish-language efforts of the Respect ABQ Women Campaign.

We were so inspired by the solidarity of Dolores Huerta, who complemented our work on the ground knocking on doors, and leveraging her reputation as a trusted community leader to build an intergenerational collaboration with Young Women United. With her support, we ensured our communities could hear from us on the radio, which we know can be a more accessible medium for those who don’t have access to Internet or television.

In the Field

For decades, many in the reproductive rights movement have labeled Latina/o and Hispanic communities as inherently conservative and have chosen to ignore communities of color in civic engagement efforts.

Strong Families New Mexico led a field strategy that focused on neighborhoods that were predominantly people of color. Phone banks and canvassing hosted by SFNM and YWU not only reached out to young people, queer and trans* communities, and communities of color, but also created a welcoming space for volunteers who were active in progressive movements but had not previously worked on the issue of abortion. SFNM and YWU managed more than 153 volunteers, nearly 40 percent of Respect ABQ Women’s total volunteer base. We used this as an opportunity to engage our communities to speak about reproductive justice, the need to defeat anti-abortion measures, and the need to build more capacity to mobilize our own communities for change. Of the 153 volunteers we engaged, nearly half were people of color, a significant portion were young people, 20 percent were men (many were young men of color), and more than 30 percent were LGBTQ.

Garnering National Solidarity and Resources

The strategic direction of the Respect ABQ Women campaign was supported by the solidarity of national organizations and resources. Effective national-local partnerships are going to be key to winning other local and state-level battles, and we’re proud to be creating a model for how to do that in a way that builds power and respects local expertise.

For example, one of our campaign’s first press conferences was held by Strong Families, who joined with national reproductive justice leaders from Black, Latina, and Asian communities delivering a message of solidarity for Respect ABQ Women and connecting the local campaign to other attacks across the country.

Organizations like the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Advocates for Youth also stood in solidarity with New Mexican women of color leadership by supporting radio ads developed by YWU to engage Latina/o communities.

What’s Next?

For YWU and SFNM, the win was one moment in time in the effort to build a larger vision of reproductive justice. We know that the work doesn’t end here. Although this election is over, we are committed to continued mobilization of our communities and the resources we built during the campaign to increase access to the rights, resources, and recognition that all people and families need to thrive. While this campaign was a true testament to New Mexico’s leadership, it serves as a learning moment for our reproductive justice work. We learned that we can win if we build local leadership, while tapping national resources, focusing on those most affected, and shifting the abortion narrative.

As I came off the stage on election night, my cheeks rattling with adrenaline and emotion, I felt a soft hand squeeze mine in solidarity. Dolores Huerta, a woman who has fought many battles and celebrated numerous victories in her time, held my hand and whispered into my ear, “Gracias, our communities really needed this.”

Young Women United is a reproductive justice organizing and policy organization by and for young women of color in New Mexico working to ensure all people have access to the information, education, and resources necessary to make real decisions about their bodies and lives. YWU works with self-identified women of color ages 13 to 35 to advance an intersectional vision of reproductive justice.

Strong Families New Mexico is the first state-based action site of the National Strong Families Initiative, staffed by Forward Together. Strong Families nationally is home to more than 120 organizations across the country that are changing the way we think, feel, and act on behalf of families. A key part of Forward Together’s movement-building model is to partner with strong, local organizations, so that the local is lifted to influence the national agenda. SFNM is building a network of organizations across the state that can grow a broader social justice movement in New Mexico.

Analysis Politics

Donald Trump and Mike Pence: The Anti-Immigrant Ticket

Tina Vasquez

“My greatest fear is that this ticket doesn’t seem to realize immigrants are actually an incredible resource that fuels our country," Wendy Feliz of the American Immigration Council told Rewire.

On Friday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, giving legitimacy to concerns a Trump presidency would be anti-choice and decimate LGBTQ rights. As Rewire reported last week, Pence has voted against nondiscrimination efforts, signed a so-called religious freedom bill, opposed marriage equality, and attemptednumerous times—to defund Planned Parenthood, something Trump has promised to do if elected president.

But the two Republicans also have something else in common: They are brazenly anti-immigrant.

Despite a misleading article from the Daily Beast asserting that Pence has had a “love affair with immigration reform” and has “spent his political career decrying anti-immigrant rhetoric,” the governor’s record on immigration tells a different story.

Let’s take a look at Trump’s “xenophobic” and “racist” campaign thus far, and how closely Pence’s voting aligns with that position.

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Donald Trump

For months it seemed, Donald Trump’s talking points in the media rarely drifted away from anti-immigrant rhetoric. During his kickoff speech, he referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “killers” and in the months since, has promised to build a 2,000-mile-long wall along the United States-Mexico border to keep “illegals” out, a wall the billionaire has promised that Mexico will pay for.

Despite being called “racist” by members of his own party, Trump’s immigration plan is largely consistent with what many Republicans have called for: a larger border wall, increasing the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, requiring all U.S. companies to use E-Verify to check the immigration status of employees, increasing the use of detention for those who are undocumented and currently residing in the United States, and ending “birthright citizenship,” which would mean the U.S.-born children of undocumented parents would be denied citizenship.

Again, Trump’s proposed immigration policies align with the Republican Party’s, but it is the way that he routinely spreads false, damaging information about undocumented immigrants that is worrisome. Trump has repeatedly said that economically, undocumented immigrants are “killing us by “taking our jobs, taking our manufacturing jobs, taking our money.” 

Market Watch, a publication focusing on financial news, reported that this falsehood is something that a bulk of Trump supporters believe; two-thirds of Trump supporters surveyed in the primaries said they feel immigration is a burden on our country “because ‘they take our jobs, housing and health care.'” This, despite research that says deporting the 11 million undocumented immigrants who currently call the United States home would result in a “massive economic hit” for Trump’s home state of New York, which receives $793 million in tax revenue from undocumented immigrants. A recent report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy also found that at the state and local level, undocumented immigrants nationwide collectively pay an estimated $11.6 billion each year in taxes.

Trump has also been accused by Muslim Americans and members of the media of engaging in “reckless, dangerous Islamophobia” at every opportunity, using terrorist attacks to call for a ban on all Muslim immigration, while also using terrorism in a self-aggrandizing manner. In a statement released after the Pulse nightclub shooting, Trump said, “I said this was going to happen.”

These dangerous assertions that all U.S.-based Muslims are secretly harboring terrorists or that undocumented immigrants are killing “thousands of peoplea narrative he continued to push at the Republican National Convention by having the families of three Americans killed by undocumented people speak—can be deadly and inspire hatred and violence. This was made all the more clearer when in August 2015 two white brothers cited Trump when they urinated on and beat a homeless Latino man. According to Huffington Post, the men “alegedly [sic] told police they targeted the man because of his ethnicity and added, ‘Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.’” Trump’s response? He said that his supporters are simply “passionate” people who want America “to be great again.”

Mike Pence

Wendy Feliz, a spokesperson with the American Immigration Council, succinctly summarized Pence’s immigration approach to Rewire, saying on Monday that he “basically falls into a camp of being more restrictive on immigration, someone who looks for more punitive ways to punish immigrants, rather than looking for the positive ways our country can benefit from immigrants.”

After Trump’s announcement that Pence would be his running mate, Immigration Impact, a project of the American Immigration Council, outlined what voters should know about Pence’s immigration record:

Pence’s record shows he used his time in Congress and as the Governor of Indiana to pursue extreme and punitive immigration policies earning him a 100 percent approval rating by the anti-immigration group, Federation for American Immigration Reform.

In 2004 when Pence was a senator, he voted for the “Undocumented Alien Emergency Medical Assistance Amendments.” The bill failed, but it would have required hospitals to gather and report information on undocumented patients before hospitals could be reimbursed for treating them. Even worse, the bill wouldn’t have required hospitals to provide care to undocumented patients if they could be deported to their country of origin without a “significant chance” of their condition getting worse.

Though it’s true that in 2006 Pence championed comprehensive immigration reform, as the Daily Beast reported, the reform came with two caveats: a tightening of border security and undocumented immigrants would have to “self-deport” and come back as guest workers. While calling for undocumented immigrants to self-deport may seem like the more egregious demand, it’s important to contextualize Pence’s call for an increase in border security.

This tactic of calling for more Border Patrol agents is commonly used by politicians to pacify those opposed to any form of immigration reform. President Obama, who has utilized more border security than any other president, announced deferred action for the undocumented in June 2012, while also promising to increase border security. But in 2006 when Pence was calling for an increase in border security, the border enforcement policy known as “Operation Gatekeeper” was still in full swing. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Operation Gatekeeper “concentrated border agents and resources along populated areas, intentionally forcing undocumented immigrants to extreme environments and natural barriers that the government anticipated would increase the likelihood of injury and death.” Pence called for more of this, although the undocumented population expanded significantly even when border enforcement resources escalated. The long-term results, the ACLU reported, were that migrants’ reliance on smugglers to transport them increased and migrant deaths multiplied.

There are more direct ways Pence has illustrated a xenophobic agenda, including co-sponsoring a congressional bill that would have made English the official language of the United States and as governor, blocking Syrian refugees en route to Indiana, saying he would not accept any more Syrian refugees out of fear they were “terrorists.” The governor also added Indiana to the Texas lawsuit challenging expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). And he praised the inaction by the Supreme Court last month to expand DACA and DAPA, which leaves millions of undocumented immigrants living in fear of deportation.

According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, “when a child who is not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian is apprehended by immigration authorities, the child is transferred to the care and custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Federal law requires that ORR feed, shelter, and provide medical care for unaccompanied children until it is able to release them to safe settings with sponsors (usually family members), while they await immigration proceedings.”

The ORR added that these sponsors “live in many states,” including Indiana, which received 245 unaccompanied minors between January and July 2014. Pence was reportedly unaware that unaccompanied minors were being placed in his state by the federal government, something he said he was made aware of by media reports. These are asylum seeking children, often girls under the age of 10, escaping violence in their countries of origin who arrive at the United States-Mexico border without an adult. Many, including advocacy organizations and the Obama administration, have contended that the circumstances surrounding unaccompanied minors is not simply an immigration issue, but a humanitarian crisis. Not Pence. In a letter to President Obama, the Indiana governor wrote:

While we feel deep compassion for these children, our country must secure its borders and provide for a legal and orderly immigration process …. Failure to expedite the return of unaccompanied children thwarts the rule of law and will only continue to send a distorted message that illegally crossing into America is without consequence.

In the four days since Pence was named Trump’s running mate, he’s also taken a much harsher stance on Muslim immigration. Back in December when Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Pence tweeted that banning Muslims from entering the United States was “offensive and unconstitutional.” However, on Friday when Pence was officially named Trump’s VP pick, he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “I am very supportive of Donald Trump’s call to temporarily suspend immigration from countries where terrorist influence and impact represents a threat to the United States.”

Wendy Feliz of the American Immigration Council told Rewire that while Pence’s rhetoric may not be as inflammatory as Trump’s, it’s important to look at his record in relation to Trump’s to get a better understanding of what the Republican ticket intends to focus on moving into a possible presidency. Immigration, she said, is one of the most pressing issues of our time and has become a primary focus of the election.

“In a few days, we’ll have a better sense of the particular policies the Republican ticket will be pursuing on immigration. It all appears to point to more of the same, which is punitive, the punishing of immigrants,” Feliz said. “My greatest fear is that this ticket doesn’t seem to realize immigrants are actually an incredible resource that fuels our country. I don’t think Trump and Pence is a ticket that values that. An administration that doesn’t value immigrants, that doesn’t value what’s fueled our country for the past several hundred years, hurts all of us. Not just immigrants themselves, but every single American.”

Commentary Human Rights

Love, Respect, Accountability: What We Need in This Time of Tragedy and Crisis

Jodi Jacobson

Speaking up, speaking out, changing systems... This is not disrespect or lack of love and support. It is the essence of the struggle for the rights of all people. It is democracy.

In a time of great strife, in which those who seek to divide us have a very large platform, I remember that these things are all true:

You can oppose an illegitimate or unnecessary war, and still individually and collectively honor and love the troops that serve.

You can honor and love the troops that serve, but protest the ways in which war is waged and abhor the behavior of individual soldiers who abuse human rights and dehumanize the civilians in a population. You can honor and love and support the troops that serve but still work to change the systems, and hold politicians and individuals responsible for crimes they perpetrate.

You can honor and love any and all public servants—as I do deeply—but still abhor systemic problems in civil services that lead to racist behaviors and outcomes (or those based on class, immigrant status, gender, ability, or any other basis for discrimination).

You can honor, love, and respect police, but abhor the militarization of our police forces; racial and ethnic profiling; abuses of fines, fees, and arrests that both target and most adversely affect the poorest individuals; and the growing dependency of the budgets for police forces based on fines drawn from those who can least afford it. You can honor, love, and respect the police, but still understand why there is a great level of distrust of policing in some communities. You can honor, love, and respect the police, but still recognize real abuses of power by individuals or groups among them, and seek to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

You can honor and love police for putting their lives on the line for public safety, but recognize the very deeply legitimate concerns of movements—like Black Lives Matter, immigrants’ rights groups, women’s rights groups, LGBTQ rights groups, and others for whom policing often is not about public safety, but is itself a source of fear—because law enforcement is and has been too often used against these groups in ways that are disrespectful, demeaning, and sometimes deadly.

You can honor, respect, and love the police, but support the work of Black Lives Matter, immigrants’ rights groups, women’s rights groups, and LGBTQ rights groups, and defend them against blame for the behavior of someone acting in their name who is not actually acting in their name at all.

You can honor and respect the work of prosecutors, judges, and other law enforcement officials, but recognize when the systems in which they are working are not working for the people or to promote justice, or when individuals within those systems operate more on bias than on integrity.

You can protest and advocate for change in any and all of these systems without dishonoring the individuals within them. Indeed, by protesting and seeking to make them better, you make the world better for those within and outside of law enforcement and, hopefully, promote a more universal justice.

You can and we all must honor and treasure the freedoms of speech and of assembly, and abhor violence, while also recognizing that sometimes it is perpetrated by people, like veterans, whose own needs for health care, love, and honor have not been met by the country that sent them to war, or by people who feel so alienated that they—wrongly but nonetheless—resort to violence.

You can be confused by or even irritated by something you don’t understand, but it is on you, not others, to try to understand it. As Proverbs 4:7 says, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Read, discuss, challenge yourself. Try to open yourself up to what may seem like radical ideas. Make yourself vulnerable to learning. If you don’t understand the movement for Black lives, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, then listen to the very people fighting for their rights in order to better understand them. You may have started from a very different place than they do; you may stand in a very different place today. The issues may seem alien at first. But just because you don’t have cancer does not mean cancer does not exist. Try hard to understand why there is distance, what you don’t understand, and what you can—what we all must—do to narrow that distance in understanding each other.

We can love, honor, and respect each other and still recognize and raise awareness of our collective weaknesses. Indeed, that is the essence of progress and of democracy. Don’t fight it. Try to help it along.

People are human and therefore flawed. The systems we create also are therefore often flawed. We need mutual love and respect, along with vigorous debate and sometimes protest, to right the wrongs that are the inevitable result of our flawed selves and our flawed systems.

Love, honor, respect, and accountability: We need them all. Accountability, along with freedom, is the essence of a functioning democracy and part of the struggle for justice. The right to speak, the right to protest, the right to agitate for changes in systems that are flawed because we are all flawed in some way. The right to make things better.

Speaking up, speaking out, changing systems… This is not disrespect or lack of love and support. It is the essence of the struggle for the rights of all people. It is democracy. Some will tell you that in speaking out you are being disrespectful, but the opposite is true. You are respecting the many who have fought and given their lives—and who continue to be placed in harm’s way—on behalf of all of us so that we may all exercise our basic freedoms.

Let’s embrace the struggle. We can love, honor, respect police and other public servants, politicians, soldiers, and ourselves, and still work to hold them and ourselves accountable. These things are all true. I can hold these true simultaneously.

Can we all hold these things true simultaneously? I hope so, because I fear our failure to do so will only result in more violence and hatred.