The success of our democracy is predicated upon the civil debate and civic engagement of our people. Thus, the existence of organizations that challenge the parties and politicians in power is a vital component of a healthy democracy. But their existence alone is not enough to protect us from democratic backsliding – rather, it is their strategic resistance which acts as one of our democracy’s safeguards.
Recently, I attended the 2018 Planned Parenthood Action Forum in Columbus, Ohio. Planned Parenthood was founded in 1916 with the intention of providing healthcare, sex education, and reproductive health advocacy to people within the United States and around the world. Since its inception, it has been an organization steeped in resistance and the fight for progress, a fact which has become increasingly salient with the rise of Trump and the current Republican-led Congress. Planned Parenthood’s resistance was in full bloom at the Action Forum meeting, which was constructed to provide the organization with an idea of what type of action and change its supporters want to see in the United States.
At the beginning of the Action Forum, we heard from local Planned Parenthood leaders about what drew them to the organization and how the organization has been faring since the 2016 presidential election. Federally, Planned Parenthood has faced cuts to funding and consistent opposition from Congress, while on a statewide level, Ohio’s governor, John Kasich, has pushed 20 reproductive healthcare/abortion access restrictions since taking office in 2011.
Despite this, Planned Parenthood Ohio has continued to serve over 83,000 patients, offering services such as birth control, HIV/STI testing, pregnancy testing, abortion services, and general reproductive health care. The leaders and speakers representing Planned Parenthood at this event were very clear that they were committed to serving our most vulnerable and underprivileged communities, including people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and those living in poverty, both at a statewide and national level. Moreover, this event was centered around local voices, prioritizing their struggles and solutions.
The Action Forum and its participants continually displayed a commitment to organizing at the grassroots level, creating a movement of people from various backgrounds and communities to fight for their rights against what they perceive to be an oppressive government. This organization of diverse groups of people across the United States is incredibly important to the success of Planned Parenthood’s resistance movement, especially when factoring in the size of the population that supports the organization.
In order to best serve the various interests and passions of a very diverse community, we broke out into four discussion groups based on the four pillars of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio’s issue platform: equitable abortion access, access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, sex education, and cross-movement work. I participated in the group that discussed strategies for implementing meaningful sex education in schools across the state, but every group focused on tangible actions that their members could take to improve local communities. These techniques to improve communities varied from contacting local representatives to starting social media campaigns to organizing protests and awareness-raising meetings. This variation is a good sign for Planned Parenthood, as the flexibility and innovation of techniques used in an organization’s resistance strategies are important to the survival and success of that resistance.
Throughout the meeting and our conversations, one foundational action that we could all take kept resurfacing: voting. Planned Parenthood is very focused on 2018 midterm elections, already having endorsed candidates who support their cause. This strategy is effective because it’s tangible and proactive rather than reactive – by voting for candidates who support reproductive rights, the organization and its supporters are able to act on the offensive rather than improvise a defense. Importantly, Planned Parenthood’s persistent belief in the value of voting is a sign of a healthy democracy, as it represents a resistance organization’s commitment to the rules of the game.
Getting out the vote in 2018 could prove to be a very effective strategy for Planned Parenthood and other resistance organizations looking to make change, especially when it comes to local and state government. The influence of state and local governments is often overlooked, but they can act as safeguards against democratic erosion or unwanted policies through the use of uncooperative federalism. If the federal government remains largely unchanged at the end of 2018, resistance organizations such as Planned Parenthood can and should still use their local and state governments to their advantage.
My experience attending Planned Parenthood’s 2018 Ohio Action Forum reassured me that there are people in this country fighting against all odds for what they believe is right and encouraged me to do the same. Through continued, broad-based strategic resistance to a Republican-led legislative and executive branch, Planned Parenthood has the potential to help safeguard our democracy by encouraging diverse civic engagement and being a voice for people who feel underrepresented in the United States. Perhaps other movements and organizations should take notes.
Featured image: Photo by Vlad Tchompalov, Creative Commons zero license.