Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Bigger Issues in South Dakota Than Presidential Primary

Even if you're fed up with the presidential primaries, or realize that today's contests in Montana and South Dakota are irrelevant to the Democratic nomination, pay attention to South Dakota.

There's a battle brewing out on the empty plains and in the Black Hills, and on the front lines are the women of the Lakota.

In a jujitsu move that could teach a lot to progressives of every stripe in red states throughout the country, South Dakota's women are using an anti-woman ballot issue to rally and organize the very women the issue targets, to both defeat the issue and elect progressive women to state office.

South Dakotans, I heard again and again, don't like the government telling people what to do. But does that include women who have abortions--alternately depicted as tramps who waltz to the clinic after a night on the town and as naïve weaklings pushed into decisions they will later regret? Of the prochoice activists I spoke with, only Charon Asetoyer, a Native American community activist and health advocate running for State Senate, talked directly about organizing voters around the classic feminist theme of faith in women to make good decisions, to do what's best for their families.

If "faith in women" sounds old-fashioned, maybe that's the problem. In this fight, the antichoicers have the vision, the grassroots energy and the political momentum (as well as the Catholic and evangelical churches and key legislators in both parties), while the prochoicers are left with abstract arguments and the fall-back position that the ban, if passed, will be enjoined by the courts and eventually found unconstitutional. "This could be a galvanizing moment," said one out-of-state activist. "It's outrageous that a state could even be considering a ban! Instead of thinking about the Supreme Court, the national organizations--Planned Parenthood, NARAL, the ACLU--should be mobilizing women. I don't hear anything creative coming from them." Indeed, as of this writing I haven't received so much as an e-mail about South Dakota from a national reproductive-rights or feminist organization.


But come on, South Dakota, we can't keep meeting like this! If enough progressive prochoicers could get elected to state offices, the political culture would start to change--and not just on abortion rights. A group called WomenRun! South Dakota is promoting a terrific group of Native American women candidates: Charon Asetoyer and Theresa Spry are running for the State Senate; Senator Theresa Two Bulls, the first Native American woman to serve in the Legislature, is facing a primary challenge; Diane Kastner, Lisa Cook and Caitlin Collier are running for House seats. While nationally the Democratic Party is welcoming antichoice conservative candidates, these women are committed to a broad progressive agenda on reproductive rights, education, healthcare, racial equality, economic development and local democracy. Read about them at Women Run! South Dakota, and make good use of the Donate button (checks can be mailed to WomenRun! SD, PO Box 2983, Minneapolis, MN 55402).

Yeah, yeah, we're all bored shitless with the abortion issue. And progressive boredom is precisely why women can't get abortions in 95 percent of U.S. counties. Right here in Kentucky, that percentage is 98 percent, where if you don't live in Lexington or Louisville you can find wire hangers at your local dry cleaners.

Cross-posted at Blue in the Bluegrass.