The Triumph Over Racist Billboards in Oakland: We Did It Together


For extensive coverage of anti-choice billboard campaigns over the past two years, click here.

On behalf of all of us who have worked on the campaign to remove the racist, anti-choice billboards in Oakland, I want to say thank you for all you did. So many of you emailed CBS Outdoor and spread the word about the action that we were able to generate thousands of emails to CBS Outdoor insisting on the removal of the billboards.  At the height of the action, over 500 emails an hour were going into their local and national offices.

When the billboards were removed early Monday morning, all of us were relieved, and held our heads high as we walked our own streets. It is critical for us to name and claim Oakland as a place where each woman’s right to access the reproductive health care she needs is preserved, no matter her race, income, or immigration status. We are honored that several elected officials have joined their voices with ours. Congresswoman Barbara Lee reacted with a powerful statement condemning the billboards, and Mayor Jean Quan worked closely with us to ensure CBS Outdoor knew we had the full support of her administration.

Our coalition accomplished so much in a few weeks…from reaching out to thousands of supporters, to talking with local and national media, publishing our own OpEds and blog posts, and engaging elected officials. And in the final days of the billboards’ presence on our streets, we took a camera and a microphone and headed out to hear from Black women themselves what the billboards meant to them. These powerful videos were the result.

The racist billboards are part of a nationwide effort to wedge communities of color, and divide us from each other. Oakland reacted powerfully, with a unified voice to say, “Not here!”

But as we look around the country, we see a different picture. In addition to the highly-publicized attacks on reproductive and civil rights at the national level, in the first six months of 2011, states enacted 162 new provisions restricting reproductive health and rights.

Many of these laws and regulations are about how abortions are paid for, with limitations on Medicaid, insurance exchanges, and other funding sources. We all know that these limitations hit women of color and low-income women the hardest. The billboard campaign has reminded us of the myriad ways in which our opposition continues to limit access to health care, including abortion, and how these attacks deeply impact communities of color. The billboards are a visible reminder of the strategy to stir up feelings of stigma and shame, and to try to turn families, congregations and communities against each other.

But that didn’t happen here. A multi-racial coalition stood together and said no. Two of our most powerful elected officials, both women of color, raised their voices loud and clear, with no apologies, and stood up for the right for women to access all the reproductive health care they need.

Black women on the street said it, Trust Black Women said it, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, Access WHR, and Law Students for Reproductive Justice said it.  NARAL-CA, Generations Ahead, Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice and Strong Families all said it. Our allies in Los Angeles including California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, Black Women for Wellness, and California Black Women’s Health Project said it. Individuals who gave their time, energy and creativity, including Alicia Walters, Melinda James and Mervyn Marcano said it.  Allies who joined us, including California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom and the Center for Media Justice said it.

All of you who called, wrote, posted and tweeted said it. We stand together against these attacks, and we will work together to ensure that all women can access the care we need.

The billboards could have been a distraction, but our small and mighty group was able to turn them into a powerful opportunity to reach out to each other and all of you, and raise our voices in support of women, families and communities in Oakland.

Heartfelt thanks to all of you.  We are not done, but we are together.

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  • jill-stanek

    Sorry, Eveline, it wasn’t your pro-abortion groups’ huffing and puffing that brought the billboards down. They came down because the contract expired. See it here: http://www.jillstanek.com/2011/07/rh-reality-check-gloat-check-oakland-billboards-came-down-because-contract-expired/

    And I’d like to know how “Black&Beautiful” is racist in the first place? Or “toomanyaborted.com/CA”? Are you saying Black is Ugly? Are you saying there aren’t enough black babies aborted? Are you saying the Guttmacher statistics (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/gpr/11/3/gpr110302.html) indicating 5x as many black mothers abort as white mothers is a-okay?

    Again, which of our groups is actually racist?

  • jennifer-starr

    If an individual woman makes a decision to end a pregnancy how is race even relevant?  She made that decision as an individual, not as a representative of her ethnic group.  If I make a decision to end my pregnancy, the fact that I’m white with blue eyes and red hair has nothing to do with it. I doubt very much that you’ll start a campaign against aborting babies that might be ginger. Because it would be ridiculous. The charge that race is somehow involved in a woman’s personal decision is at best completely spurious. So yes, I think that to bring race into it is actually racist.  

  • jill-stanek

    Jennifer, you’re missing the point.

    Blacks are being targeted. Blacks are being decimated. The majority of abortion clinics are located in minority neighborhoods. 79% of Planned Parenthood’s clinics are. Read up on Planned Parenthood’s racist founder, Margaret Sanger.

    While blacks accounted for 14.8% of the population in 2000, according to the US Census Bureau, they were down to 12.3% in the 2010 census.

    A white woman with blue eyes and red hair is far less likely to find a local abortion clinic than a black woman with brown eyes and brown hair, sorry.

  • prochoiceferret

    Blacks are being targeted. Blacks are being decimated.

     

    Blacks are being forced to have abortions against their will??

     

    Read up on Planned Parenthood’s racist founder, Margaret Sanger.

     

    Oh, don’t worry, we have.

     

    While blacks accounted for 14.8% of the population in 2000, according to the US Census Bureau, they were down to 12.3% in the 2010 census.

    A white woman with blue eyes and red hair is far less likely to find a local abortion clinic than a black woman with brown eyes and brown hair, sorry.

     

    Funnily enough, the White percentage of the population has been going down as well lately. Are they being genocided too?

  • elburto

    Actually, the majority of PP clinics are in low income areas. The fact that these areas are mostly populated by POC is because of the endemic racism that works to keep them poor. As the rest of the world has seen only too well since the last US election, there’s nothing you godbags are more scared of than a black person with money and power. So, instead, you work to keep them poor and marginalised, you act as if they’re children unable to make decisions for themselves, and then you’re surprised when they choose not to bring children into your cess-pit of a country? Hilarious.

  • jennifer-starr

    sorry

  • ldan

    A white woman with blue eyes and red hair is far less likely to find a local abortion clinic than a black woman with brown eyes and brown hair, sorry.

    You realize that’s because a fair number of those white women with blue eyes, etc. are able to access abortions via the system they’re already in through their health insurance? Upper class privelege often means getting to have abortions at the hospital, free of picketers. Many HMOs don’t even require the trouble of a referral for women to see an ob/gyn as they would most other specialists.

     

    Clinics that offer lower cost reproductive health care are located in lower income neighborhoods, because that’s where they’re needed–where a larger percentage of the population don’t have insurance covering their STD tests, preventive care, abortions, prenatal care, etc. The fact that a diproportionate percentage of black men and women are poor isn’t something you can lay at the feet of clinics. Nothing to do with targetting a particular color so much as targeting the economic class that needs lower cost services.

  • beenthere72

    Well you just described me, except I have hazel eyes, not blue, and I found the local clinic.   This was when I didn’t have a dedicated OB/GYN because I was relatively new to the city of Boston.

  • rebellious-grrl

    Jill bullpucky!

     

    Jill you should read this article, “Billboards, Wombs and Women’s Reproductive Rights”
    http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2011/05/05/billboards-wombs-womens-reproductive-rights

    In fact there is a series of article about these racist anti-abortion campaigns. http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/tag/racist-antiabortion-campaign
    These billboards are racist and insulting to African-American women!

    A quote from an article by Loretta Ross from her article “Fighting Black Anti-Choice Campaigns: Trust Black Women.”

    We repeatedly asserted our own agency as black women who are trustworthy, informed and politically savvy. We insisted that whether black women were pro-choice or pro-life, we were united in believing that black women could reasonably decide for ourselves whether to become parents. Freedom is inherent in black women and we would let no one limit our liberty. We aggressively linked women’s rights to civil and human rights.
    Our messages: We decided to have abortions. We invited Margaret Sanger to place clinics in black neighborhoods. We are part of the civil and human rights movement. We protected the future of black children, not our opponents. We helped women. They judged them.
    ………………………………………………..

    Another anti-abortion tactic is to claim that abortion clinics are “always” located in African American communities, especially by Planned Parenthood. In Georgia, we were able to easily refute this claim by presenting demographic data, proving that only four of the 15 abortion clinics in our state are in predominantly black neighborhoods.

    We addressed the story of Margaret Sanger and her allegedly racist agenda. We documented that African American leaders had worked with Sanger in the 1930s to ask for clinics in black communities. We challenged our opponents’ historical revisionism by citing famous leaders like Mary McLeod Bethune, W.E.B. Dubois, Walter White, Mary Church Terrell, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and organizations like the NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Council of Negro Women. We dared them to call these icons of the civil rights movement pawns of a racist agenda.

  • plume-assassine

    Jill, have you ever bothered to talk to any pro-choice Black women at all? Have you ever tried talking to anyone from SisterSong?

    You know very well that the racism of these billboard campaigns isn’t about their euphemistic titles (Black&Beautiful, TooManyAborted, etc.); it’s the underlying messages.

    Let’s examine the three insulting themes & narratives that such campaigns use:

    #1 – “Black women today are like naive children and are not smart enough to realize they are being ‘targeted’ by Bad White Doctors, therefore they need to be informed by our Special Ad Campaign that they are being forced to have abortions!”

    #2 – “Black women are sexually irresponsible and are ignoring their womanly and racial duty. They owe it to their race to breed, creating more children whether they like it or not.”

    #3 – “Black women are sexually immoral because they are responsible for comitting the crime of genocide against their own race every time they decide to have an abortion.”

     

    Not all of these messages are used in one campaign, because they conflict with each other. But all campaigns have used AT LEAST ONE of the above themes.

    Next, let us examine the two important questions of these conspiracy theory campaigns:

    #1 – What are these messages designed to do? Answer: antagonize/shame (obviously they are not educational/informative: 1. because they use antagonistic language (ex. “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb”), and 2. they do not present us with any information about preventing unintended pregnancies or unsafe sex, which would in turn prevent abortion among Black women).

    #2 – Who is the target audience? Answer: women of color of reproductive age

     

    So, in conclusion, you are: using antagonistic messages that target a highly specific racial and gender group. THAT is racism. THAT is sexism.

     

    Please explain: How is it NOT racist to have billboards claiming that pregnant Black womens’ bodies are bad or dangerous, or use dehumanizing language that compares members of a minority race to an ‘other species’ (ex. “Black children are an endangered species”), or to have billboards that question the intelligence of Black women in regards to their own private medical decisions and family planning (claiming instead that they are being “targeted” or “decimated”)?

     

    The final question that I did not include above is this: What are the ultimate goals of these campaigns?

     

    Answer: To sow distrust about women of color as intelligent, independent people; To take away reproductive freedom from Black women – which would have the result of dehumanizing & objectifying Black women, as nothing but receptacles for breeding in order to fulfill an imaginary racial duty (even though the rate of fertility among POC is already higher than the fertility of whites.)

     

    Jill, if you were really concerned about the rate of abortion among Black women, then you would want to address & FIX the real problem: a higher rate of unintended pregnancies. This can be achieved by providing better sex education, more access to cheap or free contraception, and more financial resources to help women who WANT to become mothers (instead of shaming, blaming, manipulating, and coercing the unwilling). And, truly, if you were really concerned about the welfare of Black babies, then you would be outraged at the rate of maternal mortality, low birth weight, and stillbirth. Where’s the ad campaign for THAT problem?! But no, I guess it’s easier for you to shame & blame and make up ridiculous conspiracy theories about Margaret Sanger.

  • arekushieru

    And I find that most members of the ProLife persuasion oppose policies that would mitigate any of these disparities.  Of course, the reason probably is their unwillingness to accept any responsibility as they adjure anyone else to take upon themselves.  These men and women wouldn’t be able to find such fertile ground to spread their bigotry and hatred, then, after all!  Specifically, creating an environment of racism, sexism and hate, whereby they can wield the weapons (eg. Planned Parenthood) handed to them on a platter with such vitriol and hateful ignorance as to consistently pass the buck on blame.  The neatest little Catch-22 I’ve ever witnessed (and I’ve seen plenty!).  It’s really annoying that such hypocritical, racist and sexist bigots as ProLife actually exist in this world.

  • arekushieru

    There was also a good discussion about Margaret Sanger on another thread of this site.  I’ll have to see if I can find it.  Although, I think it’s highly unlikely that Jill will read anything that disagrees with her narrow-minded view of the world.  After all, she IS Pro-Life.

  • jennifer-starr

    I’m sorry, Jill, but unless you’re telling me that pregnant women are being somehow forcibly dragged at gunpoint  into these clinics and forced to end their pregnancies against their will, you’ve still failed to make your point. It still comes down to a woman’s individual decision.