Planned Parenthood seeks to educate, train community members
September 12, 2007
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Last weekend, Walla Walla’s Planned Parenthood organized its first Live Action Camp, a free weekend-long event geared at training community members to be effective activists.
“A lot of people think of PP as a place you go to get a pregnancy test or your birth control, and we do offer those services –– you know, cancer screenings, all that good stuff,” said Cora Davidson, who coordinated the camp and is Field Organizer for the local Planned Parenthood. “But we also do things like advocacy, and going out and getting support for an issue. Teaching people about an issue and really trying to protect rights so we can provide our services.”
On Saturday morning activists of all ages arrived at First Congregational Church and learned about Planned Parenthood and grassroots organizing.
Activists participated in various seminars and events, which informed them about Planned Parenthood and its goals, and more broadly taught them visibility and advocacy strategies.
Participants learned about the recent rise in birth control cost, which puts contraception out of reach for low-income women and students. Prices skyrocketed this past January when the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) took effect.
Previously, health centers serving low-income women and university health centers had been able to purchase birth control at a reduced price and sell it for a small profit.
Language in the DRA slashed the ability of these clinics to purchase discounted birth control, and as a result prices rose steeply. From about $5-10, prices have gone up to $40-50, and in some cases up to $70.
“[The raised prices] just increase unintended pregnancies and increases the need for abortion, and I think most can agree that the less abortions the better,” said Jill Laney, Whitman junior and camp participant.
After learning about this issue, activists were trained to canvass, which means to collect signatures and approach people to educate them about an issue. They also learned about other visibility tactics, such as advertising and demonstrations, and then planned a burma shave.
A burma shave is an advertising tactic that involves displaying a short message in a series for passersby to read.
“It’s been real positive, I feel good about it. Some people give you dull stares like they don’t know what to think –– Walla Walla’s kind of a conservative town,” said participant and community member Linda Robison.
Some seemed to believe they are unaffected by the issue, or that it is trivial.
“A lovely little lady told me that if college students want birth control badly enough that they’ll find a way to pay for it,” said Mandy Kay, a Western Washington University student who was home for break.
After the burma shave was over, member Annie Lierly-Robison relayed one of her canvassing experiences.
“One mother said her daughter would never need our services because we raised her with integrity, but I said well, we’re here volunteering for those who haven’t been raised by a supportive mother-and-father family,” she said.
She told the group about two young men she approached while canvassing. One said he doesn’t “do skanks,” and the other said that birth control is “a woman’s responsibility.”
“We’re still struggling to keep them informed, and I was sorry we didn’t have any young men with us today to help with that,” said Lierly-Robsion.
Others were openly opposed to the message, but not hostile.
“One guy yelled ‘abstinence is free’ from his car, but other than that we’ve had some people honking and really eager to support it. There hasn’t been too much overtly negative response,” said Whitman senior Nicole Pexton.
When participants headed back to the church to discuss the event’s outcome and to begin media training, Gina Popovic, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Central Washington, put things in perspective.
“For whatever reason, if you’re ever on a sidewalk holding a sign, you’re gonna get yelled at,” she said.
After a PowerPoint presentation on tactics for engaging and dealing with the media, participants wrote a letter to the editor about the birth control issue to a local publication of their choice, employing their newly learned lessons and looking to their complimentary folders full of information and resources for help.
On Sunday, participants were trained to table, and then headed to the Farmer’s Market for Health Day, where they solicited signatures for a petition and signed people up for the Planned Parenthood mailing list.
“It’s been more hands-on than I’ve expected,” said Pexton. “I used to be absolutely terrified of canvassing because I’m one of those people who runs away from canvassers, so it’s very good to be on the other side of that experience and to try to figure out tactics that will make people comfortable instead of afraid of me. Occasionally you get someone who bites, and it’s really gratifying.”