One thing the anti-choice movement seems to do pretty well at is recruiting young people. This is not really surprising, as the anti-choice perspective on abortion can be (and often is) packaged and sold as relatively simplistic: they like babies, and don’t want them to die. It can be very difficult to be a young person, and easy to latch on to a cause that presents the world in easily discernable categories of right and wrong.
Engaging youth in the protection of their reproductive rights has been an ongoing challenge for our movement. Outside of the “second wave vs. third wave” nonsense that is continually dragged out to cause discord, there is a real issue here: the pro-choice view of the world is messier and more complex, and therefore a harder sell, than the nicely packaged anti-choice “I heart babies” view.
One thing the anti-choice movement really sucks at, though, is actually supporting these youth. They love getting them on board in order to trot them out at rallies and use them to score easy political points, but if they cared at all about the actual concerns and needs of youth, well, they wouldn’t be anti-choice. So it was with little surprise that I read about the latest way the anti-choice movement here in Canada is throwing at least two young people under the bus in order to gain a cheap victory.
The Atlantic Council for International Cooperation is running its third annual Active-8 campaign this month. This is a great campaign that encourages youth to present their best idea of how to make a positive change in the world. Allies pledge to act in a way that supports that idea, and the participant with the most pledges at the end of the campaign wins $1000. It’s a great way to support youth living in an oft-overlooked part of Canada, and to encourage them to value their ideas – and learn the skills necessary to turn those ideas into funding.
I have written before about the dismal state of reproductive rights and abortion access on Prince Edward Island. Well, one enterprising young person there, Kandace Hagan, entered the Active-8 campaign to bring attention to the problem, and hopefully to make a difference in the lives of many folks on the Island. Pretty great, right? And pretty bold, too – PEI has the kind of small-town mentality that, while it can be quite positive in some respects, generally discourages this kind of rocking the boat.
This is where the anti-choicers come in. Kandace was doing pretty well and had moved into second place, when suddenly the first place candidate, a young woman named Tara Brinston whose work centres on intellectual disabilities, jumped 100 pledges ahead overnight. Huh. This would have stayed in the realm of vague suspicion until Anne Marie Tomlins (of the PEI Right to Life Association) was found to be the source of an email urging folks to vote for Tara in order to shut Kandace down. Apparently this email was just supposed to go to a few people, but it was “leaked,” and now the antis can smell blood in the water.
So let’s take stock of the situation. Anti-choice folks are pledging their support to a campaign they didn’t give a shit about a week ago, just to make sure a young pro-choice activist doesn’t get $1000. Not only are they essentially sabotaging Kandace’s campaign, they are making a mockery out of Tara’s. Imagine how she will feel if she wins, not knowing if it was because people actually support her work in disability advocacy, or because a bunch of douche-canoes used her to claim a petty victory over reproductive rights. That sucks.
My hope in situations like this is that I’ll be able to take the high road, but really there’s no other way to go here. Anyone who pledges for Kandace – even in reaction to this latest development – is doing so presumably because they genuinely support her cause and want to make the world a better place in that regard. There’s no sabotage (counter-sabotage?) route for pro-choicers to take here, even if we wanted to. We have a candidate. The anti-choicers, if they cared at all about supporting youth endeavours, should have put up a candidate whose campaign was to continue squashing reproductive rights on PEI (what an inspiring dream! Please, take my $1000!). But they didn’t. Instead they crashed the entire campaign and sabotaged two inspiring young women, and for what?
Because that’s the best part: the anti-choicers gain nothing here. Even if Tara wins, her work is in disability advocacy – it doesn’t help their movement at all. The only benefit for them is Kandace losing, and if the anti-choice crowd celebrates every time a pro-choice activist doesn’t get $1000, they must get raging boners every time they look at my bank account. Really, all they’ve succeeded in doing is drawing media attention to three things: 1. the excellent Active-8 campaign; 2. the abysmal reproductive health situation in PEI (which doesn’t get half the media attention it deserves) and the brave activists fighting for change there, and 3. that they (the anti-choicers) are assholes who don’t care about idealistic young people unless they are propping up an exploded fetus sign.
I have already pledged for Kandace (and you can, too!), but I will make this additional pledge: if she does not win this contest, I will figure out a way to personally fundraise $1000 for her and the PEI Reproductive Rights Organization. I hope you’ll help.