Staff in Action–PRA’s Wide Reach
Fifteen Years and Counting
PRA has been a regular presence at the Hampshire College Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program annual conference since it was instituted in 1993. This year’s two-day gathering, “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice,” was free, as always, and attracted more than 1,100 reproductive justice advocates from around the country. Chip Berlet summarized “2000 years of conservative thought;” Tarso Luís Ramos spoke on “Resisting the Right;” and Pam presented a ”How the Right Took Power” slideshow, so popular in the past that it was offered twice at this year’s conference. A total of 200 participants attended the PRA presentations.
Chip and Tarso are joined at the Hampshire CLPP Conference by S Mandisa Moore of the New Orleans Womens Health Clinic and INCITE! New Orleans
Clergy for Reproductive Rights
In January, at the invitation of Concerned Clergy for Choice, a network of 1,000 clergy in New York State affiliated with the Education Fund of Family Planning Advocates of New York State, Pam Chamberlain conducted a phone seminar on “What's Next for the Religious Right? New Faces, New Tactics,” facilitated by Rabbi Dennis Ross. In discussing the continuing political power of conservative evangelicals, Pam explained how the Institute for Religion and Democracy targets mainline Christian denominations with divisive tactics to challenge their social gospel and diminish their progressive influence.
Creating Change Leaders
Pam presented at the annual National Gay and Lesbian Task Force “Creating Change” conference held in Detroit in February. She led an interactive workshop with 50+ participants on “How to Respond to the Right,” which included sharing examples of anti-LGBT activities in their communities and role playing around specific contexts and sound bites. Pam also organized a caucus of researchers and analysts (mostly students and faculty doing graduate research), which proved useful for exchanging ideas and for organizations to find newly minted researchers to work on their projects.
Hot Debate at Immigrant and Refugee Rights Conference
In the wake of the collapse of federal immigration reform and as anti-immigrant activity escalates in communities across the United States, 600 immigrant rights activists and organizers came together in Houston in January 2008 to take stock and consider strategic options. The National Conference for Immigrant and Refugee Rights featured nearly 70 workshops on topics ranging from former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer’s ill-fated driver’s license policies, to the wall being expanded along the U.S. southern land border, to the relationship between reproductive justice and immigrant rights.
Tarso Luís Ramos spoke before a large group considering next steps forward on federal immigration reform. In assessing the current political climate, Tarso identified trends requiring close attention by the movement
Several front-burner issues emerged that were hotly debated during the conference, including:
PRA at the Left Forum
Not surprisingly, PRA panelists’ answer to the question, “Is the Christian Right Dead?” was “No!” Chip Berlet and Tarso Luís Ramos talked about why to an overflow crowd at a panel at the New York City Left Forum’s annual gathering in March.
The audience learned from Chip and Tarso that: no abortion services are available in 87 percent of U.S. counties; federally funded religious charities can legally discriminate in hiring and service provision on the basis of religion, and the feds are funding groups they should assume will discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; and the Christian Right has built an enormous infrastructure of institutions that won’t disappear—even if pundits say electoral setbacks show that it is in decline.
The old guard is dying and retiring, it’s true, said Rich Meagher, Marymount professor and writer for The Public Eye. “But, who will replace Phyllis Schlafly?” Michelle Goldberg, Salon and Public Eye contributor, responded “We are seeing a changing of the guard already, with Pastor Hagee rising in prominence with his endorsement of Senator John McCain and James Dobson of Focus on the Family losing power as he refuses to play with the almost-certain Republican presidential nominee.” Goldberg mentioned televangelist Rod Parsley and former Arkansas governor and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee as intriguing leaders on the horizon.
“The Christian Right’s base has pushed their reluctant leadership to get on board with anti-immigrant politics,” Tarso noted. Nativism flows through the Christian Right, particularly through its belief that the country was founded as a Christian nation and that it must be defended against any threats to this core identity. Even though the established anti-immigrant advocacy groups tend to be pro-abortion and pro-birth control, a common nativism is proving to be a stronger unifier than abortion is a divider.
Chip Berlet observed that progressive organizers should not stereotype people of faith. For example, “While most Black evangelicals oppose abortion and gay rights,” he said, “they still vote overwhelmingly Democratic in Presidential elections. Even among White evangelicals, some 30 percent vote Democratic.”
Portions of PRA’s panel will be broadcast on Making Contact, a nationally syndicated radio show, later this spring.
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