Never again should anyone doubt the organizing skill and agility of the pro-choice movement, at least under the right circumstances. I’m often the first to groan that the big girl organizations are so mired in bureaucracy they can’t be nimble and that we’re usually so busy playing defense that we can’t even prepare to play offense. This was not the case in Planned Parenthood vs. Komen. Planned Parenthood had a carefully thought out response to Komen’s decision that included prepping their affiliates and partners with talking points, setting up specific donation channels ahead of time, and laying out a social media strategy to aggregate online outrage and channel it into action.
And never again should it be said that online organizing doesn’t work or that young feminists don’t play a vital role in the pro-choice movement. In fact, we were so effective during the defunding battle that PPFA built us into the strategy this time around. They knew they could rely on online feminist activists, many if not most of them young women, to stoke the fires of outrage and help them once again showcase the stories of the millions of women who’ve relied on their services. Amanda Marcotte’s #standwithpp hashtag, first used during the defunding battle, made a quick reappearance. And Deanna Zandt quickly put up a Tumblr called ‘Planned Parenthood Saved Me’ to collect the stories of women and men who got lifesaving medical care from their local affiliate. Komen’s Facebook page was deluged with angry comments, with Twitter users helpfully providing the link to the page so others could pile on.
Online organizers and journalists were also instrumental in quickly exposing the extent to which Komen’s decision was the result of anti-choice pressure. Bloggers quickly connected Karen Handel, a former gubernatorial candidate who pledged to defund Planned Parenthood who was recently added to Komen’s payroll, to the decision. Lisa McIntire snapped a screenshot on Handel’s page of a retweet, which she later deleted, that read, “Just like a pro-abortion group to turn a cancer orgs decision into a political bomb to throw. Cry me a river.” Adam Serwer and Kate Sheppard reported on the online outlet Mother Jones that Penn State, under investigation for covering up child sex abuse, would have also lost funds if one of Komen’s excuses for defunding PP, that they would not give to organization under investigation, actually held water.
No, Komen shouldn’t be congratulated for doing the right thing when all they did was damage control. Their statement wasn’t a victory for Planned Parenthood or for anyone, really. But the way things went down is victory in that an anti-choice power play failed miserably in the court of public opinion. As the election season heats up, the pro-choice movement just proved that we are not a paper tiger and that the public, when asked instead of told what to think, is on the side of women’s health. The GOP and the Democrats should heed this successful mass mobilization as a warning that we’re not to be trampled on and we’re not to be underestimated.
And doubters in the pro-choice movement should never again be given airtime or column space to say that online organizing isn’t real organizing or that young people aren’t invested in the movement. We just united – younger and older, online and offline – to play offense and we just won.