Monday, November 24, 2008

south dakota 2008, the conclusion (a little overdue...)

It happened three weeks ago, so this is old news, but just for the record: yes, we did win South Dakota.
Nobody thought we would -- hell, at the beginning of this fall, I was pretty sure there was a good chance we'd lose. But I, and everyone else, underestimated both the Campaign for Healthy Families and the state of South Dakota.
We identified and turned out a TON of voters for our side, winning by almost 40,000 votes. In South Dakota, that comes out to a ten point lead. Yeah. We pretty much kicked ass.

We ran an incredible field campaign, and our field organizers and volunteers and the rest of the campaign staff worked their hands to the bone to get this win.
Victory night couldn't have been sweeter. We watched the numbers roll in on SD's secretary of state website, refreshing the page about every 45 seconds, and as they came in, I kept waiting for them to turn against us. I knew we were probably going to win, but I kept expecting the other side to pull something, just like I expected the Republicans to pull something in the presidential election. But they didn't. The numbers held. The margin stayed at 55-45 the entire night.
First, my friends and I celebrated Obama's win. But then we remained tense, watching the numbers and waiting for the official results to be called.
Then, when the AP finally called our race, the campaign celebrated our sweet, righteous, well-deserved and necessary - and decisive win.

We won because South Dakotans made it clear to the country that government has no place in their family's medical decisions.
We won because it turns out that, surprise surprise, South Dakotans do in fact trust women and their families to make their own decisions.
We won because it's what had to happen.
And, of course, we won because our field campaign was tight, well-run, well-targeted, and actually focused on real voter contact, unlike VYFL.

((VYFL, of course, is not listening to the state's voters and giving up. We didn't really expect them to. I, for one, was hopeful, but I knew it wasn't a realistic hope. I don't expect them back in 2010 -- what would be the point with an Obama presidency and Obama nominees replacing the impending retirees on the Supreme Court? My guess is they'll wait until 2012, when Obama's up for reelection, and bank on the hopes of an anti-choice Republican presidential candidate.))

If you want to know why VYFL lost, here it is:

In the Argus Leader (Sioux Falls' newspaper) today, a letter to the editor was published from S.F. resident, Roger Uppman. He is still bitter over the VYFL loss, three weeks later, and can't seem to let it go. Roger identifies himself as the man who stood on the sidewalk outside our office three times, by himself, holding a sign about the "killing of the unborn." He also stood in front of the PP clinic, presumably also by himself, holding that sign up for passersby in traffic. That was his contribution to the campaign.
This is a pretty good indicator of how VYFL's campaign ran, in general.
I'll be brief, because I don't want to give away really obvious ideas, but it seems they haven't yet caught on to this campaign not-so-secret: talking to voters works. Yard signs, however, do not grow legs and walk to the polls.

The following argument, it seems, was popular with VYFL. A few days before the election, we were doing some visibility at a busy corner in Sioux Falls. A VYFL busload of people came to take over our corner, as was their desperate style in the final crunch time. A very loud, disrespectful man screamed the following in my face shortly before we left to make better use of our time (and shortly before he made an absolutely uncalled for and offensive remark about Tiffany Campbell, who somehow weathered all of VYFL's increasingly personal attacks as the election drew near, but that's another story).

Roger's argument, and the angry screaming VYFL protester's argument, is thus:
Roger: I have asked many people: "Did your Mother abort you?" Before they could answer, I answered for them, saying, "No, she did not. She gave you life."
Angry screaming VYFL protester: "STOP KILLING BABIES! YOUR MOTHER CHOSE LIFE! YOUR MOTHER CHOSE LIFE! STOP THE KILLING! SAVE THE BABIES!" (and on and on and on. you get the picture.)
At the third or fourth "YOUR MOTHER CHOSE LIFE" screamed at me, about four inches from my face, I turned to the man and said, calmly,
"Yes, exactly. She CHOSE it. And I was a wanted child. It was her CHOICE."
He didn't get it, of course. I don't think he listened to me. He didn't even let me finish my sentence before he went on with the "save the babies" chant.

But the argument is a ridiculous one. If you tell my mother that you're glad she chose to have me - well, for one, she may very well think you're crazy. But the point is that you're acknowledging that she had - and, implicitly, deserved - a different choice.
You're undermining your own argument. Which is nothing new; VYFL tripped over its words and went back on its statements and circled around and stepped on its own toes more times than I can count. They were perpetually off message, probably because they didn't really have much of a message beyond the politically stupid message of "save the babies!" It's more complicated than that, and South Dakotans get that, even if VYFL does not.

But it goes beyond abortion, as most "abortion arguments" do. It's about more than aborting fetuses; it's about being able to choose to give birth. Empowered motherhood is just as important as every other aspect of reproductive rights and reproductive justice. Yes, Roger and Mr Angry VYFL Protester, my mother did choose to have me. Because she had the right to choose to give birth. She had that power over her reproductive future.
If you get what you want, and abortion is re-criminalized in this country, or even just in the state of South Dakota, your argument - "YOUR MOTHER CHOSE LIFE!!!!!" - will be completely void and meaningless, even more so than it is now. Because a mother in that rights-deprived world won't have a choice in the matter. She may be happy she's having a kid, but she may not. Her "choice" to bear that baby will mean something very different, because she won't have had all options available to her. She won't be "choosing" life at all -- she'll be forced into it. Forced pregnancy. A lofty goal. (Somehow, I don't think that'll come out quite so bluntly in VYFL's next campaign.)

As a related point, I can't believe that the letters to the editor are STILL filled with stuff about Measure 11. I mean, really? You lost, guys. Move on. Please.

(h/t to cara)

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