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On The Issues Magazine - Fall 2008
The Dangerous Complacency of Victory

by Merle Hoffman

In the midst of my elation, shared with so many others, over the election of Barack Obama -- the transcendence of the moment, the breaking of the racial barrier and a new puppy in the White House -- I remembered that there is a complacency that can result from victory. This is the sensation that allows people to say, “I have won, job well done, now I can rest."

Since the election, I have heard many people say, "Now, I don't have to worry about the Supreme Court," as if the opposition to women's reproductive freedom will be secured because there is a "friend in the White House." But, as I noted in an earlier essay, the Supreme Court is far from the “Holy Grail” of abortion rights.

Yes, we can look forward to the potential appointment of Supreme Court justices that may not be as prone to overturning Roe as McCain’s choices would have been. But we have to be continually vigilant about the guerilla tactics that may make Roe irrelevant, if not non-existent. There can be no rest for those who work for reproductive justice and for millions of women living in terror and danger in this country and around the world.

I mark the firebombing of Bill Baird’s clinic in 1979 during Jimmy Carter’s presidency as the beginning of radical anti-abortion violence. Since then, I (and other providers) have been living in a state of existential dread because there is nothing like the threat of an unexpected, violent death to focus your mind. Since the first bombings in 1977, that’s always been possible. Some of the most difficult political times for reproductive rights, and me personally, occurred during the Clinton years. Violence of all kinds against abortion clinics was high.

While Clinton was President from 1993-2001 there were 84 bombings. The first murder occurred. Dr. David Gunn was shot to death by Michael Griffin. In fact, all of the murders of abortion clinic providers occurred during the Clinton presidency.

What the National Abortion Federation (NAF) terms as incidents of "extreme violence" reached 53 in Clinton’s tenure, while there were only six during the Bush presidency.

It was during the Clinton years that I bought a shotgun and a handgun and learned how to use them.

It was in 1994 that defrocked Rev. Paul Hill gunned down Dr. David Gunn’s successor, Dr. John Britton, in Pensacola, killing him and his bodyguard, James Barrett, and injuring Britton’s wife, June.

And it was in 1994 that federal marshals were stationed at Choices for three months and other clinics around the country in response to the Pensacola killings.

As I sat down to write this, an "alert" from NAF flashes on my screen. I haven't seen one of these in a while, but I am not surprised at its content. It states that with the election of Barack Obama, all abortion providers should immediately do the following:

         • Review security protocols with staff and make sure contact information for federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies is up-to-date.

         • Keep lines of communication open and ensure that staff members report any suspicious activity

         • Make sure staff members responsible for opening and closing know how to respond if they notice something unusual or out of the ordinary.

         • Take note of any change in protesters, including new or different protesters and any significant change in their numbers or the frequency of their demonstrations.

         • Make sure all security equipment (including alarms, cameras, lighting, recording devices, etc.) is in working order.

Why now, you may ask, while the majority of the country is awash in jubilation at the election of a pro-choice progressive president?

Because there is nothing like the feeling of resentment and powerlessness to fuel the fires of rectitude and righteousness of the right.

Because now is the time for potential aggressive and fatal activism to rise from the anti-abortion movement.

Having lost their "friend in the White House” may lead to the same ingredients that were present during Clinton's terms -- feelings of frustration, alienation, disengagement from the power structure, marginalization, anger and hopelessness. They are the perfect cocktails to drive some on the right to radical action.

Obama, being eminently reasonable, will search for "common ground" on this issue, as on others, in an attempt to bring unity. Many on the right will take some comfort in his description of sexuality as "sacred." But can there really be common ground with individuals who would deny women the right to some forms of birth control, which they continue to describe as chemical warfare and seek to criminalize doctors who perform abortions?

So as I take a moment -- just a moment -- to share the joy and expectation of this extraordinary historical time, my battles continue and, in fact, some may have only just begun.

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Merle Hoffman is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of On The Issues Magazine.

She is the Founder, President and CEO of CHOICES Women’s Medical Center.

Also See: Sarah Palin and the Apocalypse by Merle Hoffman in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See: Merle Hoffman Editorials.

See: Anti Abortion Terror Tactics Take A Toll by Eleanor J. Bader in this edition of On The Issues Magazine


Roxanne Dunbar posted: 2012-09-10 19:45:49

This is a beautiful and heartbreaking memory/eulogy. Thank you Jennifer. Shulamith was very happy that women's liberation had flourished, represented by young feminists like you.

amanda ashley posted: 2012-09-10 19:45:55

Thank you for this recollection. Great minds like Ms. Firestone's are a rare blessing. Perhaps one day, when the idealism she wrote of, has found grounding in our world, we will have what it takes to note and nurture such minds as hers for all to benefit by.

Alice Echols posted: 2012-09-12 18:39:11

Thanks for this very tender piece about Shulie, Jennifer.

Lisa Hogeland posted: 2012-09-13 22:58:42

Thank you, Jennifer. The Dialectic of Sex meant the world to me when I read it, in the late 70s, bought it at LACMA in the museum shop. Read it repeatedly. Never met her, always admired the wildness of her imagination and the courage of her vision. Couldn't we in a better world take better care of our thinkers? Isn't that one of the points of our exercise? Just -- thanks.

Cheryl posted: 2012-09-18 20:09:07

I am so pleased that a friend passed this on to me. I was profoundly influenced by The Dialectic of Sex and for many years wondered what had become of Shulamith Firestone, since I never came across anything else that she wrote despite spending years reading feminist books and articles. It is very sad that she died alone.

Heather posted: 2012-09-25 13:16:26

A resounding "yes!" to your last two questions, Jennifer. I'm currently teaching a feminist theory course (which I had to create for it to exist) and I'm struck by how important it is to ensure that the history of feminist thought lives on in print so that future feminists have a chance to encounter writers like Firestone, Millet, Dworkin, Solanas, and others. Their visions remain fierce, wild, and unapologetic; we need to be reminded of them, lest we get too comfortable.

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