For the past few years I’ve done a bit of cheeky prognostication on the popular culture front–picking which elected official will get caught up in a sexting scandal, which celebrity will get the most tabloid coverage, that sort of thing. But 2012 has left me with no heart for such frivolity, not with the Susan G. Komen attack on Planned Parenthood, the vitriol that spewed all over the nation through the election season, and Newtown. Now I’m left scratching my head and asking big questions about getting proactive on the issues I think are most important. I mean, I want to stay funny, I really do. I’m just having a tough time isolating my giggle button when it comes to civil rights, the lives of people on the margins, and our political atmosphere that seems hell bent to take us all down. Fiscal cliff, anyone?
Reproductive Rights and Sneaky Fake Women’s Clinics–We saw many examples of the fight against women’s health and reproductive rights this year, everything from the sound bites of the stupid (“Women’s bodies have ways of shutting that down”) to the attempt to gut Planned Parenthood funding, to new impossible regulations for abortion clinics to follow if they want to remain open. Late in the year, a woman died in Ireland, a state which doesn’t (barring new proposed rules since her death) allow for abortion except under extreme circumstances to save the life of the mother, with “extreme” being open to debate. It was a harrowing moment for abortion rights advocates in the States because so many of the GOP’s members are for just the same language and restrictions here. The forces against women’s health and civil rights continue to push; here in Washington State the legislature will be considering a bill to make fake abortion clinics (in which no prenatal care or health services are delivered) more obvious to consumers, and the rally against such transparency is already materializing. To see the laws in your state regarding “crisis pregnancy centers,” look at NARAL’s Web site.
Providing Better Medical Support to Transgender People–Far too many of us along the gender non-conforming spectrum receive poor, inadequate, or no medical care. First, medical studies are often conducted only on non-trans men and then “translated” for non-trans women. There have been no longitudinal or large studies of health outcomes or pharmaceutical effects on transfolk, or long-term effects of medical transition. I’ve personally gotten bad medial opinions instructing me to do the wrong thing because a physician was relaying the instructions for women to me, and I’ve heard stories from friends and acquaintances that range from hilariously wrong (“I still want to do a prostate exam on you”) to horrific (a friend was delayed treatment for a painful ovarian cyst that nearly ruptured while the ER searched for a surgeon who would assist him). What does it mean to pack on 20-40 pounds of muscle onto a skeletal framework that didn’t expect that? What is the likelihood of breast cancer for transwomen, and what protocols should they use for mammograms and other detection methods? Nobody knows. Beyond the political fight about covering transition-related medical services for transsexuals, we need to open up the conversation about our basic preventative medical care, and push researchers and practitioners into getting culturally competent, if not putting together a sound study to improve our future medical care.
Comprehensive Job Training–While the Republicans in Congress decry that President Obama wants to balloon government spending and declare that they will take the country over the financial cliff in order not to raise taxes on the richest Americans (be they $250,000-a-year earners or $400,000), we may all forget that there is some government spending that has helped our economy in the past. Take job training and education programs for adults. If we were to put more investment at the community college level into our younger generations of workers, we could deliver a viable alternative to unskilled labor and the increasingly bad revelations about what for-profit universities are doing to the country’s debt load and default rates. Instead of asking the now-tired question of “Where are the jobs” to our elected officials, let’s tell them more pointedly that we expect to see a comprehensive jobs training bill in the next session. Hey, Richard Nixon pushed for just such a law in 1971, and he was a Republican.
Immigration Reform that Works–We’ve talked about building walls long enough. We’ve demonized Central Americans long enough. We’ve invited migrant farmers to the US for decades, and yet we act shocked when it is mentioned that undocumented people do the back-breaking labor of harvesting crops that can’t be tended to with combines or harvesting machines alone. Alabamans discovered that the strawberry crop was left to rot in the field because there weren’t enough laborers to pick the fruit off the ground after the state rolled out harsh new laws designed to drive them out. A guest worker program, education support for the children of immigrants, access to medical and social services, as well as meal programs, Social Security earnings accrual, a path to citizenship, and a reworked permanent residency program–these are all points that should be part of the discussion. Talking about immigration only through the lens of razor-wire walls is like talking about comprehensive sex education only through the lens of abstinence. Oh, wait.
Sensible Gun Control Legislation–I wish it didn’t take 20 dead young children in the suburbs to grab national attention about semi-automatic weapons, but now that there’s a spotlight on the issue, can we all just agree that civilians shouldn’t have access to these powerful firearms? Can’t AR-15s and AK-47s and their ilk be the low-hanging fruit that we can cut out of the picture, even if we love the Second Amendment and even if they account for a small fraction of spree killing deaths? I really think we can.
I’m not sure how much hope I hold out for a conscientious debate or conversation on any of these issues, at least at the national level or as portrayed by our juggernaut media conglomerates. But I think we need to try to refuse reductive arguments when they pop up. Certainly they’ve held center stage for a while across all of these fronts, and we can all agree that they don’t result in any progress. What will really make our lives worse in 2013 is apathy, without a doubt.