Monthly Archives: April 2017

This is the Republican Party on Reproductive Politics

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             The Republicans currently in power seem determined to end the availability of basic sexual and reproductive health services. Last week, the Senate, by the thinnest of margins, passed a bill now on the president’s desk that would allow states to defund Planned Parenthood. In many communities, Planned Parenthood the only provider of abortion (for which federal funds already cannot be used), but also birth control, pregnancy tests, free or cheap condoms, HIV and STD testing, breast/chest exams, physical exams, and a host of other health services. If the Senate confirms Neil Gorsuch and one other Supreme Court Kustice (hardly a long shot, with Ruth Bader Ginsberg in poor health at 84), Roe v. Wade is likely to be overturned, throwing abortion back to the states to decide. The various versions of the Republican health bill that failed to replace Obamacare eliminated birth control coverage and sharply limited maternity care. Women—as women—along with queer and trans folks are firmly in the Republican sights.

            What’s more, the GOP is loving the optics of white men controlling women’s reproduction. Old-school sexism is back, and it’s a political tactic to consolidate power on the right. It’s a risky strategy, because Republicans need the support of white women in particular to stay in power, a demographic that elected Trump and has leaned right in every presidential election since Bill Clinton’s. In the absence of a vigorous and effective feminist movement, though, it seems to be working.

It used to be that if you wanted to rally the right-wing troops, your misogyny had to be racially coded to mostly exclude white women. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected by campaigning against fraud by (implicitly Black) “welfare queens.” Even though white women and children were those most likely to get benefits from AFDC, Reagan’s welfare queen in the pink Cadillac who cashed her checks at the liquor store played to every stereotype white people had about “inner city” Black folks, and this racist misogyny delighted his followers, who loved to hate Black women. In 1994, California Governor Pete Wilson and anti-immigrant activists showed how very useful it could be to hate undocumented immigrant women, and a Proposition 187 campaign targeted all those pregnant women crossing the border, sucking up resources for prenatal care and then demanding seats in public schools for their children. Although 187 was ultimately defeated in court, it won with 59% of the vote, and set off a new wave of immigrant criminalization, detention, and deportation under the Clinton administration that has grown steadily since.

There have been signs for years that white women might be next. The religious right has been trying to prevent all women, regardless of race, from getting abortion or birth control, a “war on women” effort that clearly challenged the white exemption. Campaigns for “conscience clauses” that would allow pharmacists to avoid filling prescriptions for birth control have been making it very hard to get, especially in smaller towns in the South, where there may only be one pharmacy. So-called “TRAP laws”—targeted regulation of abortion providers—have multiplied in recent years, trying to put onerous restrictions on abortion clinics that would ultimately drive them out of business. Although last year’s Whole Women’s Health case seemed to put some limits on this strategy—the Supreme Court ruled that laws affecting clinics had to have some rational relationship to women’s health—countless abortion clinics have already been shut down. In a case that Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch had a bite at as a Circuit Court judge, Hobby Lobby further restricted access to birth control by insisting that corporations could have religious beliefs, and those beliefs might prevent them from allowing women to get birth control on their health insurance—though not, apparently, with their salaries.

While anti-abortion campaigns have always been couched in terms of concern about the fetus, I’ve never found these arguments persuasive. Virtually all regulation of abortion leaves open exceptions for rape and incest—that is to say, when women are “innocent” of wanting to have sex. If abortion opponents really believed that the procedure was murder, the conditions of conception wouldn’t matter—murder is always murder. But leaving the door open to these exceptions makes the purpose plain: it’s about regulating women, who are always guilty if they open their legs, and pregnancy is their punishment. If there was any doubt that this was so, the regulation of birth control makes it explicit. Women who have sex and get pregnant will raise any resulting children, whether they want to or not.

The Trump administration has taken this kind of pro-natalist control of women to the next level. One of its opening moves (alongside the ill-fated Muslim travel ban and the successful effort to restart the Dakota Access Pipeline) was to sign and expand the global gag rule, flanked by a coterie of smiling white men. More recently, Mike Pence tweeted out a photo with the same optics—a meeting with an all-white, all-male Republican “Freedom Caucus” about removing maternity coverage from the proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act. A smart analysis by Jill Filipovic made a terrifying point: this wasn’t a gaffe. This was deliberate, a strategy to whip up Republican male support for the bill. After running a campaign of aggrieved white masculinity—white men can’t count on all the good jobs anymore, throw the immigrants out and punish “the blacks” and Native people—the Trump administration is governing through explicit racism and out-and-out misogyny.

In How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics, I argue that the systematic dismantling of the social safety net—government support for families, households, and communities—of the past half-century was accomplished in significant part through holding up certain women for fear and loathing: single Black mothers as “welfare queens” and immigrant women with children as unfairly taking public benefits. The primary beneficiaries of this change were business—the largest employers after welfare reform were Walmart and the fast-food industry, paying starvation wages and offering no benefits. We have lived this political and economic realignment as ever-more stressed households and families, whether middle-class women postponing childbearing until after a long period of education and getting established in a job or queer folks seeking same-sex marriage to try to contort complex households into the shape of a “nuclear family” to replace a disappearing social safety net. The subprime lending crisis had the same dynamics: high-interest loans that disproportionately targeted unmarried Black and Latinx parents, regardless of whether they were eligible for better loans. Efforts to demand a bailout after Wall Street brought down the economy with predatory loans slammed into the Tea Party, born in a rant about “losers’ mortgages.” Again, racism and misogyny provided the political fodder to consolidate the power of Wall Street and exploitative business practices while curbing the redistributive power of government to even minimally correct the extractive power of the 1%, while mobilizing white voters (women and men) to keep Republicans in power.

While all of these kinds of misogyny have clearly affected white people, it’s been a while since they targeted white women as such, or better, targeted women broadly without focusing narrowly on women of color. The inability to prevent unwanted pregnancy clearly keeps women (heterosexual or not; rape is a great equalizer, affecting transmen as well) out of the halls of power and facing an increased likelihood of being fired, laid off or underemployed. Some of the new measures around abortion emerging in the current moment make it even clearer than usual that these controversies are fundamentally about whether women get to be full citizens and control their bodies. One proposed law in Iowa, for example, allows the parents of adult unmarried women to make abortion decisions for her. As Tina Fey recently said during an ACLU fundraiser, in remarks addressed white women (the majority of whom voted Republican in the last election): the Trump administration is coming after you next. “You can’t look away because it doesn’t affect you this minute, but it’s going to affect you eventually.”

 

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Policing Northampton

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Policing Northampton

   A month ago, a group of parents, school board members, and teachers in Northampton, Massachusetts asked for a meeting with the superintendent and the police chief about a “high-five” program that had been awkwardly rolled out. In January, without any clear explanation and only a little notice, a group of armed police officers showed up at the elementary schools to give kids “high fives” on the way into class. A flash of blue, then the officers disappeared without ever saying anything to the kids about why they were there.

By the time the meeting happened, the Chief and Superintendent had already suspended the program, citing concerns about undocumented kids in a context of massive Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids. With its future uncertain, we talked about how the program felt for our kids—mostly kids of color. A foster parent talked about her kids’ trauma after being taken from their birth family by the police. Another said that the police in a different district had violently arrested their middle-schooler when she had a mental health crisis at school, and why her first grader was then alarmed to see the police at school. A parent talked about her happy-go-lucky, goofy black boy and how hard she worked to teach him to be deferential and keep his hands still and visible in the presence of the police. “Please do not teach my kid that it’s okay to high-five a police officer. I want him to be very respectful and a little afraid.” An immigrant parent talked about the deep, everyday terror the Trump administration’s raids have produced in immigrants, documented or not.

The police chief, Jodi Kasper, spoke about Ferguson, Missouri, and the aftermath of Mike Brown’s shooting. “It was a wake up call for me, and for police forces around the country,” she said. She spoke about the report of Obama’s President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and its recommendations for improving relationships and accountability to make police seem less like an occupying force in communities of color. She talked about transparency, public meetings, and trying to think about how to follow its recommendations to institute programs with youth. She also spoke of the police’s absolute commitment not to increase the fear of kids with immigrant parents. After the meeting, she decided to continue the program’s suspension.

In pulling the police from the school, Kasper joined a growing number of city officials doing surprising things to distance themselves from the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant raids. In Santa Cruz, CA, the police chief blasted Homeland Security for conducting a secret anti-immigrant raid under the auspices of gang enforcement. In Seattle, a City Councilmember called for that city’s police department to battle ICE agents in the streets. In Los Angeles, officials asked ICE agents to stop identifying themselves as “police.” In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh said undocumented immigrants could take refuge in City Hall. In sanctuary cities around the country, even as the Trump administration threatens their federal grants (which in small towns is basically school lunch), defiant police and public officials are refusing to cooperate with ICE, saying that it threatens their relationships with the communities they serve. Churches, schools, universities, cities, and police forces are forging a language of resistance that has positioned local civic institutions against a federal anti-immigrant program.

National news stories about Northampton didn’t get discussed in that context, though. An out-of-town blogger got wind of the suspension of the “high five” program, and in a post laced with homophobia and misinformation, stripped the issue of its immigration-enforcement context, and turned it into a thing about lesbian Black Lives Matter activists, the better to rally the right-wing troops. Which it did. From mainstream national news outlets to Bill O’Reilly, the end of the program was discussed as a question of Black community policing.

Apparently we’re growing used to the remarkable Sanctuary city story about police, but find a narrative of them concerned about the sensibilities of Black youth controversial. We shouldn’t, though. The Movement for Black Lives has long talked about immigrants, and its mobilizations over the past five years have shaped the thinking of activists, police, and publics.

The de-linking of immigration and anti-Black racism in the conversation about Northampton’s community policing initiative worked to obscure how interesting the resistance to the current Republican administration is becoming. Taken together with other kinds of small town actions, like the town-hall mobilizations in Republican districts like Murfreesboro, Tennesee and Cottonwood Heights, Utah to demand accountability on things like the Affordable Care Act, we’re seeing progressive activists rallying their neighbors.

There are a lot of stories being told to try to contain the burgeoning sense of a progressive mobilization. Activists are being paid, we hear, by Obama or George Soros or someone else (a story debunked by Tucker Carlson on Fox News, no less!). Police in West Mass are being bullied by gay-married Black Lives Matter activists.

Here’s the real story: a self-described “progressive” police department, together with the mayor and superintendent of schools in a small sanctuary city, listened to parents and teachers say that their presence at elementary schools was disruptive to the education of kids with disabilities, immigrant and other kids of color, particularly the youngest ones. It meant listening the Presidential commission’s on policing’s language: “agencies should avoid using law enforcement tactics that unnecessarily stigmatize you and marginalize their participation in schools.” It was a small thing; a small-town thing, a work-in-progress about the relationship of police and communities. But it should worry the Trump administration a great deal.

A version of this post was published by the Hampshire Gazette: http://www.gazettenet.com/Columnist-Laura-Briggs-explains-why-compassionate-officials-can-see-policing-differently-8457493