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Lisa and Gina on Violent Rhetoric and Violent Acts

January 11, 2011


This post is more stream-of-consciousness writing than my standard posts here.  My thoughts are jumbled, as thoughts often are after a tragic incident.  I want to contribute to a world of peace, and on a good day I believe that I do, but incidents like the shooting in Arizona this weekend leave me wondering where exactly this nation is headed.  In fact, I find myself thinking about the 1960s and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords continues to fight for her life, one person among fourteen who were injured, and another six people are dead.  Media reports all seem to agree that the perpetrator suffered from some kind of mental illness.  Yet this is not an isolated incident.  Jodi Jacobson does a much better job than I could of drawing the connections to other incidents of violence and of violent rhetoric, including the death of Dr. Tiller, and I’m sure there are others writing about this as well – you can leave links in comments if you want to share.

I keep thinking that I want to live in a world where going to see someone’s Congressional representative in a public place should not be cause for fear of any kind.  I remember attending, as a representative of Planned Parenthood rallying our supporters for health care reform, two town hall meetings in spring/fall 2009: one held by Congressman Tim Bishop and one by Congressman Steve Israel.  In both cases, I felt fearful for at least part of the rally.  That should not happen. 

And again, better than I could do it: Leslie Savan writes about the extreme rhetoric in lawmaking – using words like “killing” in bill texts and, for the first time ever, in the official “short form” title of a bill about health care reform.

The other thought in my head as I write this is that our last post was Lisa’s “War on Women” post.  And I’m remembering some of the pro-health care reform, and pro-choice, emails sent to supporters in 2009 that talked about “anti-choice forces hijacking” reform efforts.  At the time a friend of mine shared that such language made her uncomfortable – the use of the word “hijack” specifically – and I didn’t see why.  Now I think I do.

Here’s what I know: I agree with everything Lisa wrote in her post.  I know that in the health care reform debate we lost ground to anti-choice groups who used the bill for their own unjust aims.  I know that while there is violent rhetoric on the left, it’s magnitude is tiny compared to its use on the right.  I know how difficult it can be to avoid the use of violent words when one of the favorite epithets hurled at us in public is “baby killer.”  I also know that there are real lives at stake: putting aside for just a moment the extreme actions of mentally unbalanced people egged on to violent acts by the careless rhetoric of others, I know that women really do die when they can’t access medical care, whether for complicated pregnancies or for botched abortions; it happens daily around the world.

But I want to challenge all of us – not just Lisa and including myself – to find more peaceful ways to talk, write, share, and inspire action.  What kind of human beings are we if we are only moved to take action by talk of war, death, and killing?


The last post on this blog was about the “war on women”.  It’s no secret that reproductive health and rights activists view the current House of Representatives as hostile to women and, in particular, reproductive freedom. I was inspired to write by commentaries I had read on RH Reality Check and the Daily Kos.   I chose to end that post with “I am ready for battle.”  I know what I meant with that conclusion – to confront, head on, anti-choice legislation by flooding members of Congress with e-mails and phone calls.  To organize activists to visit their members of congress in Washington and in their District offices. 

As an editor and contributor on this blog, I find myself re-examining my choice of words.  And no doubt will for several months to come.  The day after the post, Gina, Trista, and I discussed whether or not to post a comment left by someone calling herself “pro-life woman”.  After much debate we decided that, based on our comments policy, we would not approve the comment.  We agreed that the constant use of “murder” in the comment amounted to “personal attacks, hate speech or offensive language” under our comments policy.  As much as I may be questioning my own use of the word “battle” I stand by the decision that any comment equating abortion and murder has no place on a blog that is “a forum for discussion among reproductive rights activists and allies, as well as for reaching people who care about advancing social justice”.    It is not “disagreement” or a “thoughtful comment that facilitates the exchange of ideas and helps create a meaningful dialogue.”    

My friends (and my family) don’t always understand what it means to work under the cloud created by anti-choice rhetoric. How the vitriol affects your world view.  And, for a woman who makes her living (at least in part) because she is good with words, I have a hard time articulating it for them.  Today, Jodi Jacobson did it for me:

“I remember that Dr. George Tiller was killed in the alcove of his church and that Congress could not bring itself to vote to condemn the act. I remember that bombs have gone off at and killed health care workers in family planning clinics and little has been done to stop this form of violence. I remember that women and doctors every day are assailed as baby-killers and few people in power appear to take this very seriously, least of all politicians. 

This is the connection between violent rhetoric and violence that I live with every day.

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