Life, Always?

“Life Always.” What are your first thoughts on the phrase? Feasibly, it could be construed as some slogan, found on a Lance Armstrong style bracelet, “Life Always!” – a seize the day sort of optimistic phrase, meant to remind oneself to live in the moment.

Except there’s nothing that could be further from the truth – Life Always is the pro-life nonprofit and creator of the website, currently responsible for billboards such as, “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb,” and, “Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted.”

Based out of Texas, the organization is made up of pastors Stephen Broden and Derek McCoy,  ex-director of Planned Parenthood and author of Unplanned, Abby Johnson, and Brian Follet, founder of Heroic Media, a Christian-based site based eerily on the emergency pregnancy crisis set up. Three billboards reading, “Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted” went up last week on the south side of Chicago, but were quickly covered up by handmade sheets reading “Abort Racism,” and “In 21 minutes, this sign will be gone.”  But this isn’t stopping Life Always – 30 more of these billboards will be going up in other areas of the neighborhood, through means of anonymously donated advertising space. Chicago’s south side isn’t alone either – similar billboards will go up this week in St. Louis and plans to target more low-income neighborhoods are in the works.  In a vicious attempt to drive a wedge within the most vulnerable communities, Life Always has found advertising tactic that works ““ divide and conquer.

The fact that most of these billboards are going up on public property pose some serious legal issues, however, they are still able to go up without any sort of legal ramification. But legality isn’t the largest issue here, though it is an helpful one for activists groups working around the clock to get them down. The largest issue is the impact on the community, as well as other targeted racial groups like the Hispanic and Pacific Islander community, especially when they are in a low-income setting. Private business and conservative religious groups are specifically targeting these communities and going after black women’s bodies in an attempt to spike fear and distrust and to blame them for potentially eradicating future leaders. It is an exercise in disturbing and unwarranted authority in which they believe that they know what is best for these women.

Damage is being done and will continue further. The conservative movement has always ignored those who are outside the privileged base unless they become a means to implement their own political agenda. Not only are conservative and religious beliefs being played on here, but these organizations are also using stereotypes of black women as “bad mothers,” an exploited distrust in a reproductive organization that supposedly targets black women, and racist, sexist rhetoric that is rich with elitism. One could guess that the unborn future leaders that this conservative movement is so bent on saving now, will fade back into invisibility, unless needed as a scare tactic in the future, repeating such myths like the “welfare mother” phenomenon of the Reagan years. It is at once disgusting and transparent, not only for the sudden care of people they have so long ignored, but that these special interest groups are concerned that there may not be a “future Obama” when they can’t even hide the fact they hate the current Obama.

This is about reproductive justice. Not just the right to abortion, but also about being allied and supportive of people who have children, whatever their gender identification, class, race and trusting that they, as parents, know what is best for their lives. It’s also about putting pressure on Planned Parenthood ““ yes, pressure on Planned Parenthood. The organization is being attacked as we speak, but Planned Parenthood needs to better ally itself with organizations who are directly fighting these billboards : SPARK, Pro-Choice Public Education Project , SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and Choice USA ““ with funds and with support. Why? Because Cecile Richards, in all the good she has done, cannot talk with direct experience about how these billboards affect her because they are not directed at her. But she runs an organization that can provide a huge platform and allied support to the organizations that are predominantly made up of people who are directly targeted.

These organizations and their billboards prey on people with cheap tactics disguised as sympathy and outrage. But they remain nothing more than manipulative gestures by self-proclaimed body police to push their reactionary social politics. Will the same effort and financial backing be present when these children struggle to receive an equal education, healthcare and job opportunities? Conservative politicians are actively working to dismantle access to these civil rights with the current budget cuts. And while organizations like Life Always, The Radiance Foundation, Georgia Right to Life, and get stronger, attempts to divide and conquer will only get more common, more brazen and more manipulative. If the right was so concerned about these communities and their children, wouldn’t they actively be revising the failed drug policies that disproportionately imprison the poor and people of color? Wouldn’t they be pursuing more options for public healthcare, youth development, accessible education and economic justice? Wouldn’t they be paying for billboards that speak out against the racism and classism still embedded in America instead of broadcasting it’s continued malfeasance? They would if they really cared, but they don’t. These billboards are just another all-too-familiar attempt at keeping those suffering most in the same places that the powerful have always intended to keep them: down.

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