A WKU Alumni: Crosses and Condoms

When a friend sent me photos of the anti-abortion display on the Collonades at WKU, I was flabbergasted. Who the hell do these people think they are? I asked myself. I told my friend that she should cover their sign with one that said “Each cross represents a woman who was free to make her own choice” or “This is how many women will die each day if totalitarians succeed in taking away safe, legal abortion.”

I also wondered just what were these anti-choicers thinking, completely taking over a very popular gathering space for students, for an entire week. People drink coffee, study, or just soak in the sun on the Collonades. Nor is it unusual for professors to hold classes there on a nice day.

The Collonades are one of the beautiful architectural landmarks of Western. It is also affixed to the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts building, which houses the Art, Theater, Music, and Language departments.

Let me tell you something. If you believe that this ridiculous little Hilltoppers for Life group didn’t pull this stunt not merely expecting a reaction, but hoping for one, then you are a fool. Western Kentucky University has a proud history of activism. Students are very involved on this campus. Students were not going to let this stand without responding. Frankly? I was expecting more. If this had happened in my time, there would have been much more than a few condoms draped over crude popsicle stick crosses.

During the weekdays, they set up tables, along with boards. They wanted discussion. They wanted students to share their thoughts. Elaina Smith did just that. Like I said, they set up in front of the Fine Arts building. They expected some kind of art display. They expected a response, so they could throw a hissy fit. As Dr. Molly Kerby pointed out in her brilliant response to this hissy fit, the anti-choicers set up the crosses to spell out “life” on the bleachers, which could only be seen from the windows of the art department. This was provocation. This was a challenge. In my day, many, many more students would have taken up that challenge. Including me.

Now look. They’re calling for Elaina Smith to be arrested. They’re calling for the university to force her professor to give her a failing grade.

They want the police to violate Elaina’s first amendment rights to free speech.

They want the university to violate the academic freedom of their faculty.

It’s absolutely outrageous, but entirely consistent with their primary goal of calling for the government to forcibly violate a woman’s right to control her own body.

Hilltoppers for Life is no different from the man dubbed “Preacher Man” that occasionally visits campus. If you’re unfamiliar, Preacher Man sets up behind the university center during the day, insulting and provoking students in the name of the Christian god. The more students engage this man, the more insulting he gets. Meanwhile, his companion circulates throughout the crowd with a camera, snapping photos of the students who engage with Preacher Man. This man hopes to provoke the students into assaulting him, so that he may sue the student and the university. And, of course, claim martyrdom for himself and his religion.

These fools kept someone hidden at the Collonades each night, hoping to catch someone doing something to their display, so that they could claim martyrdom for themselves. Did you notice that when Elaina showed up to place her condoms, Hilltoppers for Life member, Matt Sohl, called the Students for Life for America before he called the police? Apparently their parent organization failed to instruct them properly.

(Did these student plan to skip class the next day? Or show up exhausted and unable to participate properly in their classes?)

If you still doubt that their goal was for someone to mess with their display, let me tell you something else about Western Kentucky University. Students interact with campus art on a regular basis. There is a statue of Sergeant Guthrie, in front of the Guthrie belltower, his right hand uplifted, and cupped just so. Students regularly put items in the statue’s hand. Coffee cups, bananas, ice cream cones, to name just a few. Behind McLean Hall, there is a statue of a woman, mid-stride. She is regularly dressed up with hats, scarves, and dresses. The wooden bunny, beside Garrett, is regularly dressed up as well. The students aren’t the only ones who do this–the university participates in this pastime. The abstract art affectionately dubbed the “Big Red Vagina” had bushes planted around it last time I visited campus. And I’m sorry, but that was not a coincidence.

It is shameful that President Gary Ransdell has condemned Elaina. She is a student–participating in a campus pastime, exercising her right to free speech and self-expression, and creatively completing a class project. Aside from the Hilltoppers for Life, this people crying foul are not part of WKU’s community. They all, including HFL, are part of an organized effort to curtail other people’s rights, creating controversy and provoking others to reaction. Garbear, as an alumni, I am ashamed that you are not standing by a fellow Hilltopper. I am ashamed that you, blinded as you are by your desire for good PR, turned your back on the students and faculty, falling hook, line, and sinker for their manufactured martyrdom.

Today, as a Hilltopper, I am ashamed, President Gary Ransdell, that you represent my university. I am proud, Hilltoppers for “Life” excepted, of the students and faculty. I am proud of Elaina. I am proud of Dr. Molly Kerby for taking a public stand for student’s right to free speech, and academic freedom. (Though, of course, I expected nothing less from Dr. Kerby. She is a fantastic person.)

I expect SGA to pass a resolution on Tuesday, supporting Elaina Smith, and condemning HTL and President Ransdell’s efforts to silence and punish students for expressing themselves.

I expect the Faculty Senate to rally as well, supporting their colleague’s right to grade her student’s work as she sees fit.

I expect the campus community to stand up, and call this manufactured outrage for what it is: an attack on freedom.

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Get Your Activism On: The Violence Against Women Act

The Senate has passed the updated version of VAWA, that will expand its protections to the LGBT community and undocumented immigrants. Now it goes to the House.

Here’s a message to send to your representative, urging them to pass VAWA. Get your activism on!

Blasphemous Mail!

Check out what I got in the mail today:

I have no idea what’s inside, but it’s already made my day.

Any guesses?

Why Should I Care About Politics?

When people hear that one of my majors in college was political science, I get “Oh, I’m not interested in that stuff. It’s just a bunch of people fighting about stuff that doesn’t impact me at all.” I smile and nod, or shrug, because I get it. I was there, too.

It wasn’t until my American Government class freshman year that I became interested. It fulfilled a general education requirement, it had an Honors section to fulfill the requirements for the Honors program, and my roommate was taking it. Dr. Edward Yager taught the course. I fell in love. I quickly added it as my second major, and it all went from there.

The first thing that I learned was that politics affects everyone. It touches everything in our lives. This was the same fact that I told every person who skeptically, condescendingly, asked why I was studying English. Politics was why the roof of my urban high school leaked when it rained. Politics was why gas prices were soaring. Politics was why tuition was so dang expensive. Politics was why. Politics was. I had to learn as much as I could about this thing, this entity, this institution that touched every corner of my life. I had to know.

The more I learned, the more I realized I could do something about all the stuff that made me go “What the fuck? Seriously?” when I heard about it. This was a pivotal  moment. I was no longer a leaf in a stream, getting swept along in whatever direction the current took me. I was a part of the stream itself. I could either be passive, and let all the other molecules of water move and shake, or I could move and shake myself, become part of the energy that moves the stream.

After learning that I wasn’t a leaf, I wasn’t about to be some passive molecule. The energy, the excitement, and the passion of my professors and classmates stirred me into action as well. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

What was seen, couldn’t be unseen. What was learned, couldn’t be unlearned.

I joined student government. I jumped into the feminist blogosphere that I’d been lurking in. I got involved in state-level politics. Local movements. Online movements. I began to write. Global movements. National movements. Protests. Petitions. Writing to my Senators, my representatives. Writing to Senators and representatives that didn’t even represent me. Boycotts. Rallies. Lobbying. Writing to the paper. Interviews.

What’s next? I have no idea. This thing, this entity, this institution we call politics will continue to touch every corner of my life. It always will—so I’ll always be moving.

 

 

A Glimpse into the Future?

Amanda Ching has written a brillant short story that you need to read. It’s speculative fiction, imagining what the U.S. might look like if we keep incrementally rolling back reproductive rights.

This story answers the question that the naive citizens of a free democracy always ask: how do totalitarian regimes happen?

Go read it. Now.

As a writer, I can tell you that this is one of the best short stories I have ever read. Let me tell you, speaking from experience, writing a short story is hard. Amanda makes it look easy. I am extremely jealous of her talent.

As a feminist, this story scared the ever-loving shit out of me. It provides a hell of a lot of motivation to fight every single rollback of human rights, because this story highlights how, though human rights violations may start in one area, they always spread into other areas, until everyone’s rights are gone.

Doctors Against Anti-Abortion Laws: the Beginning of a Movement?

Last week, in the midst of a heartbreaking story about a woman who fell victim to Texas’ mandatory ultrasound law, we heard about the unwilling doctor forced to do the procedure:

“I’m so sorry that I have to do this,” the doctor told us, “but if I don’t, I can lose my license.”

“When you come back in 24 hours, the legal side is over. Then we’ll care for you and give you the information you need in the way we think is right.”

Then on Saturday, PalmD at WhiteCoatUnderground posted this:

“Doctors are notoriously poor organizers.  We generally operate independently.  The AMA represents less than thirty percent of American doctors.  When it comes to protecting ourselves and our patients, we are often on our own.  When it comes to the latest abortion bills we cannot afford to remain apart.  We must all speak out against this violation of our ethics and our patients’ rights.  How this might work isn’t clear, but perhaps we need target certain states, one at a time.  When one provider is shut down for honoring their patients’ rights, another must be willing to step up, and another.  There is a nationwide shortage of abortion providers so this probably isn’t realistic, but even so, we must try, we must advocate for our patients, we must defend them from the depravities of those who would violate their basic right to ethical, respectful care.”

Finally, yesterday, Anonymous Doctor at John Scalzi’s blog called for doctors across the country to engage in civil disobedience and refuse to perform mandatory ultrasounds:

“It is our responsibility, as always, to protect our patients from things that would harm them. Therefore, as physicians, it is our duty to refuse to perform a medical procedure that is not medically indicated. Any medical procedure. Whatever the pseudo-justification.

It’s time for a little old-fashioned civil disobedience.

When the community has failed a patient by voting an ideologue into office…When the ideologue has failed the patient by writing legislation in his own interest instead of in the patient’s…When the legislative system has failed the patient by allowing the legislation to be considered… When the government has failed the patient by allowing something like this to be signed into law… We as physicians cannot and must not fail our patients by ducking our heads and meekly doing as we’re told.

Because we are their last line of defense.”

We need more doctors to take a stand–to speak out, to share their stories, to call for and organize action. While the most important voices in this struggle remain the women who are affected by this anti-choice, anti-autonomy, anti-woman legislation, we need our doctors to speak up as well. We’re in this together.

If you’re a doctor, and would like to share your story, or your own call for action, I am glad to offer this space for you to speak. Contact me at brittanyannwick AT yahoo DOT com, if you would like to share your story, or if you already have on another website, send me the link–I’d like to share it.

2012 Immigrant and Refugee Rights Advocacy Day in Kentucky

The Fairness Campaign is sponsoring Citizen Lobbying days through April 5th. Today’s focus is on Immigrant and Refugee rights.

The flier for the event is here.

Here’s what’s going on:

When: Wednesday, 3/21 at 9:00 a.m. (carpool from the Fairness office at 8:00 a.m.)
Where: Kentucky State Capitol (702 Capital Ave, Frankfort, KY)

Tell legislators why they should safeguard the rights of immigrant and refugee communities! View a schedule of events below and join the Fairness Campaign carpoll at 8:00 a.m.
9:00 AM – Participants come to Room 125 of the Capitol Annex to register on-site and/ or sign in with organizers.

9:15 – Noon – Participants will be placed in small groups and asked to go find and talk with legislators. Participants will have postcards, pens and legislative reports. The post card is to leave a message with the legislators you can’t find or to write a thank you to the legislators with whom you DO have an opportunity to talk!

Noon – 1:00  PM – When participants have talked to everyone possible, returned reports to the event organizers and left postcards with legislators/staff, there will be a lunch break in the cafeteria. Lunch will be on your own, so please plan accordingly. Prices are very reasonable in the cafeteria.

1:00 PM – 1:30 PM – The group will gather at the Rotunda for the press conference.

2:00 PM – Capitol Building – The House and Senate convene. The official Advocacy Day ends with the press conference, but participants are invited to stay and watch the full House or Senate in action. Organizers will have 20 gallery passes for those participants that want to stay after the press conference.”

The Fairness Campaign is a really awesome organization that’s working to change things for the better for marginalized communities here in Kentucky. You can sign up for e-mail updates here.

I’ve worked with them before, back in 2010 when WKU students and faculty were working to get same-sex partner benefits for university employees. We had been working, protesting, and lobbying for weeks on this campaign to get equal benefits.

Well, we got them. The protest we’d planned turned into a celebration. It was a great day.

If you’ve been looking for a progressive organization to get involved in, here in the Bluegrass State, the Fairness Campaign is one you should check out.

Late notice? Citizen Lobby days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays through April 4th. Can’t make it, or not in Kentucky? You can contact Kentucky Senators here and members of Kentucky’s House of Representatives here.