How a Gag Gift Became a National Campaign

What began as a proposal for a presidential gag gift has snowballed into a campaign that raised more than half a million dollars for family planning group Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

In her January 26 column for the Los Angeles Times, writer Patt Morrison decried George W. Bush’s decision to order a “safety” review of the abortion pill mifepristone (also known as RU-486 and Mifeprex), and his decision to reinstate the global gag rule — which denies U.S. funding to any international family planning groups that performs, counsels on, or lobbies for abortion. Morrison ended her column with a tongue-in-cheek proposal for pro-choicers wishing to take counteractive measures: donate money to Planned Parenthood in Bush’s name.

What Morrison didn’t expect was to see her suggestion pinball from coast to coast in the form of e-mail forwards encouraging women to join in the spontaneous campaign.

Almost immediately donations began to pour in by mail, fax, phone, and the Internet. Molly Smith Watson, who oversaw the national campaign for Planned Parenthood, says its success is unprecedented. “What made this unique was that it was actually a donor-inspired campaign. Donors decided they wanted to do this and started contacting Planned Parenthood,” she said.

In the first few weeks of the campaign, at least 800 donations arrived per day. By the end of February, more than 20,000 individuals had donated about $600,000 — and that’s just on the national level. Smith Watson reports that the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts has received over 2,000 donations. The average contribution on the national level was about $30, and largest gift was $1,500. Around 12 percent of the donations came from colleges and universities.

According to Smith Watson, the majority of those donating online were first-time donors. At the behest of wired, potential donors, Planned Parenthood decided to create a page on its Web site specifically for the national Presidents’ Day Message Campaign, which also allowed visitors to include a personal message to Bush. On February 1, the night the page first went up, almost 6,000 contributions came in over the Internet.

Sharon Anolik, an attorney in San Francisco, was among them. She received the e-mail several times and said she forwarded the e-mail to “about 30” people. As soon its campaign Web page came online Anolik made her first donation to Planned Parenthood.

“I was so frustrated with the election and the appointment of John Ashcroft,” she recalled. “I loved this idea because it was a concrete way to channel my frustration into supporting the issues that are important to me…It was true grassroots and not just the complaining. The e-mail provided a tangible solution.”

About 15,000 individuals messages accompanied the donations, many voicing a strong support of abortion while criticizing Bush.

Anolik’s donation message had read, “For every action you take to dismantle women’s rights in this country, I and millions like me will take action — like this donation to Planned Parenthood — to support those rights.”

Another donor, from Astoria, New York, wrote, “Hopefully my money will speak louder than my vote.”

A donor in Auburn, Maine asked, “My mother almost died from an illegal abortion; I support a woman’s right to choose. If you can’t trust us with a choice, how can you trust us with a child?”

Considering the deliberate effort their donors made to protest Bush’s actions, Planned Parenthood decided to print out all 15,000 messages and personally deliver them to the White House, which was eight blocks away from their office. On the Friday before Presidents’ Day, Smith Watson and a co-worker drove over 22 mailbags’ worth of letters, only to be redirected to a remote mail site. Officials there to



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