Just days before the general election in Tennessee, a coalition of community leaders, clergy, and advocates led a press conference encouraging women of color to vote no on Amendment 1, a dangerous and far-reaching measure on the state’s ballot.
SisterReach, a grassroots organization focused on “empowering, organizing, and mobilizing women and girls in the community around their reproductive and sexual health to make informed decisions about themselves,” organized the press conference “to call attention to the unique concerns Black and poor communities throughout Shelby County and across the state of Tennessee face on a daily basis” and to emphasize how the upcoming election “could further limit [black women’s] reproductive, economic, political, and social autonomy.”
“We assemble today to impress upon black women and women of color, many of whom are heads of households, to get out and vote,” said SisterReacher Founder and CEO Cherisse Scott at the event.
SisterReach has been educating voters about the particularly dangerous impact of Amendment 1 on women of color. Amendment 1, a proposed state constitutional amendment, would take away the right to an abortion within the state – even in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. If passed by Tennessee voters on November 4, Amendment 1 would give politicians far-reaching power to restrict access to many forms of birth control and abortion, even for those in the most tragic circumstances. In addition, if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned, Amendment 1 would lay the groundwork to outlaw all abortion in Tennessee.
Reverend A. Faye London, the Inter-Faith Outreach Coordinator for SisterReach, told the Feminist Newswire that black women’s images are being used to bait support for Amendment 1. “People are using the idea of this irresponsible ‘welfare queen’ with the wanton sexual desire, who’s using abortion for birth control, even though that’s not the reality,” London said. “We often have to say we do love our children and want our children, and it’s sad that we have to say that out loud, but we do.”
London also highlighted how the impact of Amendment 1 could be particularly devastating for low-income women and women of color who are steadily losing access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare options. Rev. London pointed to the national reduction in food assistance for low-income families, the state’s slow crawl to Medicaid expansion, and limited sex education opportunities, despite the desires of women of color in the state. The University of Memphis Center for Research on Women – a SisterReach Policy partner – found that of all groups surveyed in 2012, black women from Shelby County were most likely to want sex education for their children that included information about birth control and contraceptives. Despite this demand, the state has restricted comprehensive sex education, giving preferential treatment to abstinence-only programs, and criminalizing teachers or outside programs that condone so-called “gateway sexual activity” like genital touching.
“There are young women who have no idea how their bodies work,” London said. “There are women who have the very basic health care, but it doesn’t offer them birth control,” she continued. “This is the state of poor women, women of color, and women who just don’t have access to resources they need – and that is the thing that SisterReach is trying to lift up.”
Part of SisterReach’s outreach has also involved challenging damaging stereotypes about black women that have traditionally worked as a tool of political gain and empowering women to vote in this election.
“(It’s important) to call to people’s attention to the historical attempt to vilify the black woman for everything that goes wrong in the African American community,” London said, pointing to the framework erected by the work of Daniel Patrick Moynihan that contributes to the political practice of discrediting black women’s decision-making. “Set in the minds of some people is this process of removing the black woman from the picture. So, she’s not a person. She’s a dangerous place for black babies. She’s the murderer that’s killing black babies. She’s not a person, she’s the woman that’s killing the man’s seed. She’s not a person, she’s being duped into stopping nation-building. In all of these things – the black woman is not a person, and therefore has no agency.”
Thursday, during a Twitter chat led by African Americans for Planned Parenthood, SisterReach was one of several organizations using the #BlackVotes hashtag to highlight the issues facing black voters and the reproductive challenges that are at stake in the 2014 election.
SisterReach isn’t the only organization opposed to Amendment 1. The Feminist Majority Foundation is organizing on the ground in opposition to this dangerous amendment, and a broad coalition of national and Tennessee-based women’s rights and civil rights groups, medical doctors, religious leaders, students across the state, and every major Tennessee newspaper have come out swinging against the measure.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 4. Click here for more information on voting in Tennessee.
Media Resources: SisterReach; Feminist Newswire 10/27/14, 10/23/14, 10/6/14, 5/14/12; Feminist Campus Blog 9/24/14; The Tennesseean 8/28/14; University of Memphis Center for Research on Women; Vote No on One Tennessee; Tennessee Secretary of State