Like every organizer and activist, I have often found myself wondering if what I’m doing really matters. Recently I’ve come up with my own personal litmus test for success: If each campaign I work on or cause I contribute my time and effort to helps to inform one person, open one mind, or expand access for just one more individual, then it has been worth it. In my last semester at Stony Brook University, I was gearing up to begin an informational campaign and petition about local crisis pregnancy centers, which advertise weekly in our primary campus newspaper The Statesman. In the very same week that I was considering forgoing the campaign in the interest of my grades, the Human Life Alliance advertising pamphlet “icare” surfaced in every copy of The Statesman on October 8. It was an immediate and steadfast reminder that learning doesn’t end at a lecture hall door, and some things are more important than your GPA.
Featuring articles on such anti-choice myths as “post-abortive” stress disorder, the “link” between abortion and breast cancer, and “reproductive racism,” the pamphlet’s recyclable soy-ink paper and magazine-like style was specifically designed to appeal to and manipulate college age women. Not surprisingly, it leaves no room for women who are satisfied or comfortable with their decision to terminate a pregnancy, and only pressures them to feel shame and regret. Over the next few weeks, with the help of my spectacular mentor and fellow Stony Brook feminists, I wrote a petition and developed a fact sheet to help inform students of the dangerous misinformation in the supplement. Although I’m personally disturbed by any attempt to impede access to comprehensive reproductive health care, I felt the more important issue to focus on for my campus community was the junk science being disseminated by the newspaper of a world-renowned research university.
If women were to use this “advertisement” as a reliable source, they would be ill-informed by its misinformation, which could be potentially harmful to their own health and well-being. I have taken several journalism courses, and this scenario is fundamentally against the most basic journalistic principles. The week that my friends and I began to circulate the petition, The Statesman printed a statement about their decision to run the ad, defending the separation between advertising and editorial staff in the interest of journalistic integrity. They did not make any attempt to address, however, that they had essentially endorsed blatant anti-choice propaganda lacking any consideration of the truth or integrity they were professing to uphold.
The ad had stirred up quite a bit of buzz and several other campus publications printed stories about the ad and the petition. A couple weeks ago, I was finally putting together the petition—with 165 signatures!—when I received a copy of a letter written by the Long Island Coalition for Life (LICL) to the editors of one of those publication, The Stony Brook Press. Instead of defending the pamphlet that they paid to have distributed, LICL attacked my own personal character and questioned my right to organize within my campus community. They even went as far as to find my MySpace page, using it to further attack my position as an intern with Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic. They went on to make outrageous accusations against Planned Parenthood, which—everything else aside—has nothing to do with their use of lies and manipulation to further their anti-choice agenda at the expense of Stony Brook students’ health. Thankfully, the editors of The Press allowed me to write a response, which they published alongside the LICL letter on December 9.
So far, we have heard nothing from The Statesman in reference to the petition. I’m about to graduate in a few days, but I’m confident that my Fabulous Fellow Feminists from the Stony Brook Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance will continue the campaign when they return in the spring, and I fully plan to come back to campus to meet with their editorial staff. At this point, I can only hope that this petition has lead at least one person to question anti-choice literature, informed one person about the health and counseling services available on campus, or inspired one person to start a campaign on their own campus. Get involved now, and make yourself proud—because women’s health matters.
A few tips on starting a campaign on your campus:
. 1. Make sure you’re petitioning the right people. Do some research on the administration and take issue with the person/people who have the authority to implement the change you seek. (Or become that person!)
2. 2. Get online! Use tools like change.org to host your petition online and spread the word with Facebook events and Tweets. Almost half of our petition signatures were obtained online.
3. Offer an alternative to the information and services offered by CPCs and anti-choice propaganda. Include ways to access these alternatives on/near your campus community, including counseling services and religious perspectives.
Stony Brook University