Tomorrow, StopPatriarchy.org’s Abortion Rights Freedom Ride comes to Minneapolis. This morning, we had Sunsara Taylor on Atheists Talk briefly to tell us about this and about why organizing people around abortion rights is important, even in a state where they’re not being immediately threatened. It’s the first segment in our show.
This afternoon, I sat down to my computer to see two very different reactions to the piece. One was on an atheist, feminist discussion group I’m part of. The other came directly through our radio show email. The difference between the two struck me as incredibly characteristic.
I don’t have permission from anyone involved to reproduce anything verbatim, but the discussion on the email list raised several good points of concern with StopPatriarchy.org in general. For example, the group hosts anti-pornography demonstrations. In those demonstrations and in the signage on the group’s page, there are claims about the effects of pornography that are–at the least–overly broad compared to what can be supported by good research. Rather than seeking to reform porn or support better porn, the group appears to be asking people to renounce porn.
The language of the current campaign is problematic. Comparing the lack of bodily autonomy women face for a period of time when denied an abortion to slavery, as Sunsara did on the show this morning is not entirely inapt, but it is hyperbolic. So is calling this event a freedom ride. These riders aren’t planning any direct action that could subject them to the same dangers that freedom riders faced. They aren’t intending to challenge unconstitutional laws by breaking them. I applaud the event, but it simply isn’t on the same scale, and it is easy to see drawing these parallels as appropriation, especially when white women are the face of the ride.
On the other hand, there are good, independent reasons to participate tomorrow when the ride comes to town. Both of Minnesota’s legislative bodies and the governor’s office are currently controlled by Democrats, which tends to invite complacency on the topic of abortion. However, any election can change that situation. With ALEC backing model legislation that threatens women’s ability to obtain abortions, our situation is tenuous. Organizing now, even without an immediate threat, is important, and with Minnesota NOW as part of tomorrow’s event, connections can be formed that may be important later.
It hasn’t been a long discussion yet, but it’s the meaty sort. People are expressing their opinions and their reasons and generally agreeing. I think everyone expects everyone to make up their own minds about attending this or other StopPatriarchy.org events based on their own priorities, to decide whether the need outweighs the problematic aspects of the situation.
Then there was the email. It said, and I paraphrase:
Leave your liberal politics out of my atheism. Don’t talk about abortion. Some atheists are conservative, you know!
It was unclear who the “you” was supposed to be, but I answered:
I’m sorry parts of today’s show were not to your liking. Unfortunately, no show is always going to agree with all our positions or make us comfortable. I’ve certainly hosted shows on which we interviewed guests with whom I disagree vehemently on some issues, even as we make common cause on atheism. For example, I disagree with Sunsara’s stance on communism, and we have hosted several guests who are far more conservative than I am personally.
However, abortion rights, and reproductive rights more generally, are a matter on which Minnesota Atheists have adopted a formal pubic policy position in response to the constant attempts by the religious to legislate their position. As George mentioned this morning, you can read more about that on our website (http://mnatheists.org/information/public-policy-positions). This morning’s segment was not tangential to our show or our mission. It was directly in keeping with the show’s goals.
I signed as both host of the show and associate president of Minnesota Atheists, copying our radio email list so everyone else would know the email had been answered. I received a response directly only to me very shortly. Again, I paraphrase (except for the emoticon):
Oh, I guess you’re only interested in liberals then.
This person didn’t tell me that abortion was an all-or-nothing issue for them. They didn’t suggest they wanted to hear more from those more conservative guests or more about other topics. They certainly didn’t thank me for responding personally, which most of our correspondents do–Minnesotan atheists are such a polite lot.
No, this person decided that if I and Minnesota Atheists were fighting religious intrusion into our legal process on this issue, as we do with others, we were excluding people who have a different position than we do. You know, just like those conservative guests I’d just told this person we have on the show. Uh-huh.
I’m flirting with confirmation bias here, but it was fascinating to get objections to the same event from atheists on the left and the right and to watch the discussions play out almost exactly as I would have predicted they would.