This past weekend, I spoke on a conference panel titled “Resisting the Right,” at the always excellent, annual reproductive rights conference sponsored by the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program, and the Population and Development Program, at Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts. There were about sixty-five people in the session; mostly young; almost all women. Some worked for reproductive rights organizations around the country. As always, it was an interesting and informative set of presentations, and a thought provoking question and answer period.
But one moment stood out for me that I want to try to describe.
At the end of the program, each of the presenters was asked to take a minute for a final word.
I took my minute to observe that in our workplaces; in our political organizations, be they prochoice, LGBT, Democratic Party; whatever — there are no spaces where we can speak knowledgeably and coherently about the religious right. As I said this, audible murmurs of agreement rippled through the room, and there was a visible physical reaction among many. I was startled by this: clearly I had surfaced and identified a need people have in their political lives.
I went on to say that this general situation is one of the reasons why my colleagues and I founded Talk to Action (a national blog site on the religious right and what to do about it.) We want to have a place where certain common assumptions are not up for debate: We are prochoice, pro gay and lesbian civil rights, including marriage equality; proreligious equality and proseparation of church and state. On many blog sites, these things are nit-picked, or debated on a fundamental level every time they come up. We felt we needed a place where we could take the conversation forward in how to better take on the religious right’s attacks on these things, and agreed that the conversation cannot go forward if you have to keep arguing about settled matters. That’s why they are not up for debate on this site. (And by the way, when we say religious equality, we mean the right of American citizens to believe as they will, as is their right under the Constitution. There will be no religion bashing, and no atheist bashing at Talk to Action. Period. We have other fish to fry.)
I also went on to say that many of our conversations about these things, when they do happen, are far too parochial; focused so narrowly on aspects of choice; or faith; or non-faith; things that can become so particularized in their ideas and the language used to express them, that too often we have little idea of what each other is talking about. So at Talk to Action, we assume that we need more common knowledge, more understandings in common; more of a common language in order to take the conversation forward. That’s why Talk to Action’s featured writers include Christians and non-Christians; religious people and non-religious people; academics and people with advanced degrees, and smart people who do not have that level of formal education. And so on. We are learning to talk meaningfully with one another about matters of great importance, and modeling how it can be done, and done well.
In a movement, we need to be able to talk among ourselves knowledgeably, calmly, and coherently, about the worthy opposition. I think these ideas resonated with my fellow panelists and with the audience. It was good for me to try to succintly articulate the Talk to Action mission to a live, interested audience in this way. There is no question in my mind that we are on the right track, and hitting the right note.
I hope that more people, and more places will hear our message, and that the of the Hampshire reproductive rights conference organizers. As excellent as the panel was, it is a far away outpost of thoughtful conversation about these matters: a place where facts, history, and analysis are discussed in the context of meaningful activism. Such a setting is not generally available to people, and that is a shame. In fact, people come great distances to participate. (In my session, for example, there were several people from Mississippi.) As I wrote in promoting the conference:
It is… a rare opportunity to learn about and discuss the religious right. The conference is a model for how other organizations could and should include such information and analyses in their conferences. The organizers of the conference believe that it is necessary to have a clear grasp of the opposition in order to better defend and advance reproductive rights and related concerns.