Planned Parenthood usually brings to mind debates about abortion, Roe v. Wade, the Women’s March vs. The March for Life, and plenty of other controversial topics, mostly on a national scale. But the unsung victories for Planned Parenthood come at the local level, between individuals and in communities, and that’s where the focus usually slips. I had the chance to attend a local meeting of the Columbus Planned Parenthood branch at an “Action Forum” that they held recently, and see the power of local politics on these issues for myself. From the event, the most important thing I took away was this: local politics is where democracy shines.
Sure, on the national level, we see huge events every once in a while that are meant to spark change, like the aforementioned Women’s March and March for Life, or the wildfire spreading of Black Lives Matter protests across the nation, but these national events are not common. Save for the chance to vote and perhaps lobby their representatives, national politics is just simply not where the people have their power or a chance for their voice to truly be heard. But where they do have a significant amount of power and a voice is in local politics, and that is why democracy is best when it works from the bottom-up.
While at the Action Forum, we were split into four groups for more focused discussion on key pillars of Planned Parenthood’s platform, and I chose to join the group discussing meaningful sex education. The groups were meant to help members find ways they could be active in their own communities, armed with information and determination, and an excellent example of this came from a woman who had been involved with Planned Parenthood for nearly fifteen years. As a mother concerned about the sex education that her children were getting, she asked them about the curriculum they were receiving at school, and was horrified to find that the program was outdated and in some cases even factually incorrect. In response, she gathered a group of parents and campaigned the school board to change the curriculum, and succeeded. This change may seem small, but it is a testament to what can be changed with a little organizing at the local level. Frankly, I left the meeting with the desire to call my own former high school and complain about their abstinence-only policy. These parents have much easier access to the school board than they do to state and national representatives, and they were able to see the change they wanted reflected. Local politics present an opportunity for citizens to get further involved about issues they care about, and combats growing disillusion with the political process, which bodes well for the condition of democracy in America. And while their fights at the national level garner the most attention, groups like Planned Parenthood help guide this action in local communities, whether we see it or not.
Of course, there are examples of when we can see these effects. In 2017, Ohio governor John Kasich, no friend to the cause of protecting reproductive rights (while in office, he has signed 20 different restrictions on abortion access), responded to lobbying by Planned Parenthood advocates by vetoing the “heartbeat bill”, which would have banned abortions in the state after around six weeks of pregnancy. He did sign into effect a 20-week ban on abortions in Ohio, which was a loss, but it easily could have been much worse had it not been for the organization in local communities against the heartbeat bill that did end up having limited success, even if it was not completely what they were hoping for.
In addition, there is evidence that in a time of political turmoil and the resulting resistance to a new governing majority, the concept of federalism can play a significant role. When local governments stand up to state governments, or when state governments stand up to the federal government, they play a risky but potentially very rewarding game. Through what’s referred to as uncooperative federalism, they can resist national or state policies that hurt local communities. This is most effective when the community already has a strong, organized group in place, and that is what I witnessed from the Planned Parenthood Action Forum. This year, they’re celebrating their 101st anniversary, and with such dedication and determination, it is easy to see why.
These organizations take the time to reach into our communities, get us involved (including having us sign “commitment cards” at the meeting), and garner the participation that democracy is meant to be about. The political fight in our own communities might not be as attractive as the large-scale national debates, but they are just as (if not more) important. The unsung victories at the local level by Planned Parenthood and its advocates, as well as other groups like it, is where our democracy shines.