#ImSoEstablishment: Why words (and the absence of them) matter
The meaning of the word “establishment” has taken on new life in the last 36 hours, ever since Senator Bernie Sanders suggested that my organization, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and my allies at Planned Parenthood and Human Rights Campaign, are exactly that. In determining meaning, context matters. I was among many who were unpleasantly surprised that Senator Sanders lumped our organizations (including the nation’s largest health care provider for women) in with other “special interests” he is running against. This was probably news to the millions of moms, dads, daughters and sons who collectively make up the organizations Senator Sanders named.
Context matters. So do words. And so does the absence of them.
Our organization has existed for 47 years because the issues that bring us all together — the need for women to be empowered to decide when and how and if to grow our families — has existed since the beginning of time. We know that when women get pregnant and don’t want to be pregnant, they will seek out a way to terminate that pregnancy. Everywhere that abortion is illegal, the number of abortions doesn’t go down, but the number of injuries and deaths to women go up.
This fact of life is something our one million member-activists understand, along with the vast majority of Americans. Seven in 10 Americans consistently say that abortion should be legal and accessible. Even more believe in unfettered access to birth control, which is also on the chopping block with the extreme takeover of the anti-choice GOP. NARAL exists because of the urgent need to advance reproductive freedom, and because our issue is one that transcends any one election cycle. Our members are knocking on doors, making phone calls, and voting to make sure that access doesn’t continue to be undermined by an anti-choice establishment that wants to defund Planned Parenthood, hollow out the promise of Roe v. Wade in a Supreme Court fight this year, and enact legislation on the state and federal level that erodes women’s constitutional rights to make decisions about our own futures.
Senator Sanders, who wants to be President Sanders, should be helping to lead the revolution in defense of these rights. This is a time to recognize the precarious position of the activists. Instead, too often, Senator Sanders is silent on the issue, while implying this week that the very organizations working hardest to defend our cherished liberties are part of the problem. If this was a gaffe, why not clarify instead of double-down when asked about his remarks? Words matter.
And so does the absence of them.
Senator Sanders delivers remarks multiple times a day, every day, but he has yet to make the crisis facing America’s women and families with regard to abortion access a meaningful part of his campaign. He has yet to match Hillary Clinton’s courageous, public call for repealing the discrimination against low-income women enshrined in the Hyde Amendment, despite the fact that forcing women to carry pregnancies against their will is a key determinant in their economic future or lack thereof.
These omissions matter. Senator Sanders’ health care plan does not mention women or reproductive health. We can assume women’s health services are intended to be covered, based on his past record. But in a political landscape this hostile to reproductive rights, words matter — as do their absence. If he won’t say the words now, how can we trust that he will hold the line when anti-choice members of Congress try to extend the Hyde amendment to all women — as we well know they will try to do?
We need a champion in the White House who understands the desire of Americans and activists to advance the progressive agenda that NARAL, Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign support. Our organizations and our activists play critical roles in communities, state houses, and in Congress to move this country forward and reject the status quo.
When the excitement of the election dies down and the drudgery of daily work begins to execute the slow and laborious process of drafting, defending, and advocating for legislation that advances all of our collective destinies through door-knocking, rallies and even subcommittee hearings or arcane Congressional procedure, our members in all 50 states have proven they will be there. They’ll be making the calls. They’ll be on social media. They’ll be walking the halls of Congress. They’ll be holding the feet of our opponents to the fire, day in and day out, as they have for decades. It takes months, or even years, to see the kind of progress this country needs, and it’s our members who have devoted their lives to fighting for a true revolution for women and families. There is no magic wand that the president is handed on their first day in office. There will still be a Congress, quite possibly an opposition one. We matter.
Senator Sanders is a great man. He fights for so many things we believe in, but he’s not the champion we need in this perilous moment for women and families. His voice is an important one, which is why his rhetoric matters.
Words matter. So do the absence of them. And so do we.