Stateside Book Review: Undivided Rights
Book Review - Undivided Rights
J Silliman, MG Fried, L Ross, EG Gutierrez
South End Press, 2004
Of all the TV news clips over the past three days regarding the thirty-second anniversary of the US Supreme Court's opinion in Roe v. Wade, only one stood out. It was of Kamala Harris, San Francisco's district attorney, addressing a crowd of pro-choice marchers who were about to set off to line the sidewalks along the route of a pro-life march in the city on Saturday.
Harris spoke about an issue that goes beyond the pro-choice/pro-life argument and far beyond the facile debate about whether abortion is a right or a wrong. That issue is reproductive justice, and at the heart of it is a challenge to the very notion of what abortion politics are about.
If you're up to the challenge, then an excellent place to start exploring it is Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice. The four authors are all "engaged with and committed to the work women of color have been doing to realize reproductive rights" and each has brought her own perspective to the work.
The book's structure is based on four ethnic groupings, and it looks at the history of two organizations within each of those communities--one national, the other grassroots-oriented. The communities are African American, Native American/Indigenous, Asian and Pacific Islander, and Latina. Through interviews and research, the authors build a picture of how each of the organizations evolved.
That evolution is examined in the context of social movements and public policy. For example, involuntary sterilization and the use of poor women for medical research without getting their informed consent point to how inseparable reproductive rights are from human rights and from social and economic justice.
People who are uncomfortable with the notion of white supremacy as it is perceived by those who identify as non-white will probably feel uncomfortable reading Undivided Rights. But far from being negative, the book is overwhelmingly positive about the efforts being made within the different communities of color to address the institutional, systemic, and cultural biases that disempower women. And all of us can learn from those efforts.
Urging activists not to let abortion politics eclipse issues such as access to health care or racial disparities in health care delivery, the authors assert that appeasing conservative forces accomplishes nothing. "Only comprehensive, inclusive, and action-oriented agendas will redirect the reproductive and sexual rights movement in a way that is relevant and compelling to the diversity of women who constitute America today."
That message is particularly relevant in the current climate of appeasement that is influencing the election of a new leader for the Democratic National Committee and has President Bush telling Monday's March for Life that their movement, which is "based on a sacred promise enshrined in our founding document...will not fail."
[South End Press is a nonprofit, collectively run book publisher that strives "to provide a forum for a wide variety of democratic social movements, and provide an alternative to the products of corporate publishing." Find out more about them at http://www.southendpress.org]
[For some archival (2003) background on Kamala Harris--who may well be the Attorney General of the United States some day--see http://www.namasthenri.com/nrioftheweek/kamala.htm]
[President Bush's phone speech to the March for Life: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/01/20050124-7.html]