Pro-Choice and Penniless: Making Progressive Events Affordable for Everyone

22 Sep

Last week, I got an email from Choice USA inviting me to an event in DC to celebrate young people in the reproductive justice movement. My heart started pounding – Food! Young people! Gloria Steinem! I started thinking about how to rearrange my schedule to be able to attend until I scrolled down and saw the price tag for the evening: $75. My heart sank.  I knew that attending was out of the question when the combination of traveling to DC, missing work, and that high admissions fee were all out of my budget. How can an event that’s supposed to celebrate young people totally ignore the circumstances and realities of our lives?

Who can afford to spend $75 on an event? Not most people my age. We’re in debt from undergrad or graduate school and struggling with low-wage entry level jobs, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. According to the Pew Research Center, over the past year, 35% of people aged 18-29 had trouble paying their rent and 36% of people in the same age bracket had someone in their home who was laid off or lost a job.

But this isn’t just about young people. According to newly released Census data, 43.6 million people, or 1 in 7 Americans, are poor. Janell Ross at Change.org breaks it down:

Here are some of the most disturbing details (pdf): nearly 26 percent of blacks and just over 25 percent of Hispanics were poor in 2009. Only about 9.4 percent of white Americans were poor during that same period of time. To be fair, gargantuan gaps between white, black and Hispanic poverty rates (and income levels (pdf)) aren’t new. They just got worse — much worse — in 2009.

Having a high price tag for an event doesn’t just block access for young people with little or no income. The poverty rate rose for almost every ethnic group in the United States. How can we expect diversity and inclusiveness in the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements when we’re not catering to the economic realities of 43.6 million Americans?

I understand that awesome organizations like Choice USA need to raise money in order to do the great work they do.  Why not offer a sliding fee scale admissions fee  so that those who can pay more will, and those who can’t will still show up? How about offering scholarships or alternative ways for people to contribute to the organization, like volunteer services or time? We fail as a movement when we are unable to recognize that if we’re going to talk the talk of inclusiveness, we need to walk the walk as well.

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9 Responses to “Pro-Choice and Penniless: Making Progressive Events Affordable for Everyone”

  1. Gina September 22, 2010 at 3:36 pm #

    I am similarly not able to afford to go to stuff like this but I usually email the organizers and ask if I can volunteer to help out. Most of the time, they are very much in need of folks to help out and you usually get a cool t-shirt and (more importantly) a free way into the event. :)

  2. Sarah September 22, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

    This post is spot on. I’m in a group on Facebook for pro-choice women candidates in my state. I’d love to go to the events they are constantly inviting me to, but I really can’t afford $100 for the entrance fee. It’s really frustrating.

  3. Alicia September 23, 2010 at 6:49 am #

    I never thought of that, Gina! Great idea!

  4. Ash September 23, 2010 at 10:56 am #

    Every time we knock down a progressive organization for fundraising like this, we’re handing another victory over to the anti-choice right. Guess what? They’re fundraising, too, and they’re doing a better job of it.

    Events like this, while exclusionary in nature, are what get the job done in DC. If you want to continue to enjoy any sort of reproductive freedom, you’re going to need to accept the fact that higher end donors are going to have to foot the bill.

    I get it, $75 is more than I would spend on a night out. Ultimately, I’d have to decide against this, too. But you know what, someone else does have that money, and they’re willing to support the cause.

    So here you have to decide, are you actually committed to winning reproductive rights for every woman, or are you more committed to make sure that the price of a night out with Gloria Steinem is fair and equally priced for everyone. I can promise you, Sarah Palin doesn’t give a damn who can afford her speeches, and she’s raking in a lot more money for the anti-choice organizations, and this sort of petty bashing of fellow progressives only adds fuel to their fire.

  5. Steph September 23, 2010 at 11:23 am #

    @Ash, thanks for your comments. I understand your frustration, but if our movement is about inclusivity, if we’re truly fighting for reproductive justice for all, then an organization that touts progressive values needs to act in a progressive way. I’m not bashing CHOICE USA, I even state that I know they do good work. I’m disappointed that they don’t recognize that justice isn’t only about raising money, but also about including everyone in the conversation, even if they can’t pay $75 for an event.

  6. NYCprochoiceMD September 25, 2010 at 6:56 pm #

    Ash, I agree that pro-choice needs to raise money to keep fighting, but this post wasn’t about bashing, it’s more about a wake up call to the organizations that keep decrying the lack of ‘interest’ among young men & women. The truth is that these are the only big events these organizations have where the upcoming generation of activists could network with the current generation, and they are going to need to figure out a way to include the up-and-coming activists. If they’re going to have benefit events like this that young professionals can’t afford, they also need to have events that they *can* afford. They need to offer networking and mentoring opportunities. They need to find ways to include the very people most in need of their services: younger people and people in lower income brackets who are less likely to have access to quality, affordable health care. I really think this is part of the problem they perceive as apathy on our part; the movement needs to be more inclusive and there need to be some more low-key fun events to get more people involved and motivated.

  7. KushielsMoon September 30, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    The fact that our political world is run by money makes me depressed. The big backers behind the teaparty movement are billionaires. All I hear, all election season, is “please donate!”

    Are we worth more than our bank account?

  8. Anna October 4, 2010 at 12:39 am #

    Ash, the point is: Choice USA and other great pro-choice organizations don’t WANT to be like Sarah Palin. In fact, I think most pro-choicers would say they’re doing their best to be as unlike her as possible. We want to show that we can be inclusive AND get the work done. In fact, we can probably get the work done better. This post rings true for me and I’m sure it does for a lot of women (esp. disabled women, low-income women, women of color) who can’t afford the time or money to travel to an event like this, and pay for entry.

  9. Courtney October 5, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

    Money pays the bills and it helps get candidates elected. I’m not saying it gets them elected but every buck helps.
    Sure you can’t attend the event but in the grand scheme of things…is that really going to make a big difference?

    I somewhat agree with Ash. The only part where I find disagreement is “petty bashing.”

    I do my small part and donate to abortion funds that help women obtain abortions.

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