Laughing to the polls

Last Tuesday, I attended the launch of the Lady Parts Justice campaign, a newly designed rapid response reproductive rights messaging hub centering around comedy to mobilize women voters to the polls for local, state and national elections. Some weeks ago, LPJ asked women from across the country to send their stories on abortion to share. I, along with Sally Kohn and Zerlina Maxwell, read stories from women around the country at the event.

I read a story from a woman in Indiana. Her candor was compelling:

“When I miscarried, people said “god has a plan” but when I chose abortion, it was my sin. I’m agnostic, but I think if there is a god and he does have a plan for each of us, then he/she/it knew that I would choose to abort at 17. That was part of my life’s journey, and I’m grateful for the lessons I learned through the choice that every woman should have.”

LPJ’s messaging hub includes an interactive map with short videos and a cheat sheet of facts to spread the word about some of the most draconian state legislation that harms women and restricts reproductive freedom. Writer and Daily Show Co-Creator, Lizz WInstead, partnered with creatives from Revolution Messaging, comedians, writers, and actors to create LPJ in order to develop and disseminate content that subverts, entertains and informs everyone about the “war on women.”

There have been campaigns attempting to galvanize women voters – the narrow pool of women who aren’t outwardly organized under the banner of pro-choice, but certainly consider these issues from a very nuanced position. Last year, Planned Parenthood’s Not in Her Shoes campaign attempted to reach that silent majority of women with viral, narrative-based content in the form of infographics and videos, stories of individual women from all segments of the electorate, separating statistics and putting a human face with pro-choice stories. New York Magazine published a series of profiles of women of all ages, ethnicities and classes sharing their individual abortion stories.

However, LPJ’s campaign differs in many ways. It is irreverent and deliberate in its messaging – comedy mixed with righteous anger to demonstrate to as many people as possible how the narrative and policy around women’s bodies has led to some buttery bullshit. LPJ hopes that the outrage will lead to action and voting. On September 27th, organizers in several states will be hosting parties, teach ins, and events to inform folks on the ground in their various states of candidate’s records on women’s rights. Comedy may be the lede but the outcome is action – outrage channeled directly in local voting districts of every state seeking to roll back the clock on women’s rights and reproductive freedom.

The race for 2016, in these terms, is right now. What we know and often bears repeating from the 2012 elections: women voters were critical to Obama’s re-election. While the actual breakdown of the Obama coalition of 2012 included higher numbers of black women voters (as well as high ratios of Latina and Asian American women) than white women voters, we also know that young and single white women voted for Obama in high numbers. Older, married white women voted for Romney. That distinction is also critical. This grouping of women voters probably will turn out to vote in the midterm elections.

The conventional wisdom (and expectation) is that women, young women, will stay away from the polls for the 2014 midterm elections. On the national scale, this pattern of low turnout from the progressive movement has yielded unfortunate results, a shift in congressional representation ceding majority control to the GOP, who then press agendas that are anti-choice, anti reproductive rights, anti – many things. It’s why last summer’s ruling by the Supreme Court on the Voting Rights Act is still a devastating setback for electoral politics and is very much a feminist issue.

As we’ve witnessed with North Carolina’s Moral Mondays protests, a GOP controlled state legislature can chip away not only at liberties of poor, elderly and black voters of the state, but also at reproductive freedom for women. In Ohio, a ruthless set of TRAP laws embedded in a budget bill that passed through the state legislature last summer forced the closure of 5 of the 14 clinics in the state. Currently, 2 more clinics are at risk and their closure would make Cincinnati the largest metropolitan area with no access to abortion services. And a large part of west Texas is without a provider because of clinic closures.

While many talking heads continue to speculate about 2016 prospects and the inevitable candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2014 midterm elections are critical. The results could yield outcomes that not even the best ground game from the most organized national campaign or a slew of injunctions and lawsuits could stop. State house races for governor, senate, and assembly have impacts on the shape of voting districts and control the operation of elections from requiring voter IDs and early voting.

LPJ thinks we should laugh to keep from crying, use our anger as fuel and organize to vote conservative politicians out of local, state and federal offices.


sm-bio Syreeta McFadden is a writer in Brooklyn, NY.

SYREETA MCFADDEN is a Brooklyn based writer, photographer and adjunct professor of English. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches and Storyscape Journal. She is the managing editor of the online literary magazine, Union Station, and a co-curator of Poets in Unexpected Places. You can follow her on Twitter @reetamac.

Syreeta McFadden is a contributing opinion writer for The Guardian US and an editor of Union Station Magazine.

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