#ExposeFakeClinics: Discussing Reproductive Health Care



Discussing Reproductive Health Care

In Fall 2017, the Socialist Feminist Committee of Pittsburgh DSA launched a local Expose Fake Clinics campaign to spread information about crisis pregnancy centers in the Pittsburgh area. We joined a national campaign driven by the Abortion Access Hackathon and Lady Parts Justice League, along with over 50 partner organizations across the country, ranging from Arkansas Abortion Support Network to Austin NOW to Reproaction.

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are obstacles to comprehensive reproductive health care that thrive thanks to gaps in our health care system and anti-abortion misinformation. Though they advertise themselves as locations to receive free services, they truly function as anti-abortion counseling centers. Their agenda is to pressure people to carry a pregnancy to term, and they use a number of different tactics to accomplish this goal.

CPCs open near and mirror the appearance of real abortion clinics. They perform medically unnecessary ultrasounds, and use them to coerce patients. Many are not medically licensed, and give misleading pregnancy-related information, such as telling patients to wait several weeks before scheduling an abortion, and using debunked studies on the effects of abortion services. Such practices delay access to legitimate health care, increase the cost of services, and block pregnant people from making fully informed decisions about their care.CPCs have vastly increased in number in the last twenty years, significantly outnumbering real abortion providers. Many states fund CPCs under the guise of family assistance and religious outreach, while religious programs privately fund others. Meanwhile, actual abortion and reproductive health care providers struggle to stay open.

A Reproductive Justice Analysis

As our committee explored the issues surrounding health care access, we determined a reproductive justice analysis was necessary to accurately connect the topic to every social issue that affects people seeking health care. The concept of choice alone was insufficient, and a range of social justice issues connected to the topic of reproductive health.

The SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective coined the term “Reproductive Justice” in 1994. They defined it as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” A Reproductive Justice analytical framework requires studying power systems, addressing intersecting oppressions, centering the most marginalized, and building coalitions to work across issues and identities.

We use this framework to address the topic of reproductive health care resources. CPCs impose upon and obstruct an individual’s right to maintain personal bodily autonomy. They also take advantage of many people’s lack of accessible health care options, which has a greater impact on marginalized groups, namely people of color.

Our reproductive justice analysis requires that we recognize a wide array of social justice issues and inequalities that affect access to comprehensive health care. As we engage with others regarding CPCs, we strive to move beyond the language of choice to acknowledge the interconnectedness of issues affecting people’s care. For example, racial disparities in the ability to obtain comprehensive reproductive health care are rampant across the U.S. As a result, black mothers are over three times more likely to die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth than white mothers.

Among the additional issues we address in our conversations about fake clinics are a lack of affordable child care, prenatal care, and paid sick leave; opportunities to work for a livable wage; the quality of early childhood education; freedom from personal and state violence; the availability of public transportation; and a disparity between urban and rural areas in the number of facilities offering comprehensive reproductive health services. We also discuss Medicare-for-All and the exorbitant cost of healthcare in the United States.

Exposing Fake Clinics

Our primary goal is to help people learn how fake clinics act as obstacles to comprehensive reproductive health care. To accomplish this, we spread information in several ways. Because CPCs thrive by dominating search results for abortion services, our first step was creating a website. We aimed to help local people learn what to avoid as soon as they begin seeking reproductive health care.

The more our site is shared and clicked, the higher it appears in search results, so we hosted a website launch party to kickstart traffic. The party featured a photo booth where people could dress up in disguises with a sign that read, “Fakes Recognizing Fakes.” We encouraged people to increase the site’s visibility and link our local efforts to the national campaign by sharing their photos on social media using the hashtag #ExposeFakeClinics. In the week after the party, the site received 1,500 visits. Now, when patients search for abortion services in the area, our website appears near the top of the results, alongside the misinformation distributed by CPCs.

Simultaneously, we also created pamphlets with information about fake clinics: what they are, how to spot them, and where people can go instead to get services they need. Two local artists contributed to this effort, with one designing the pamphlet, and the other creating an informational comic. At our committee and chapter meetings throughout the year, we solicited members to circulate these pamphlets around the city, including coffee shops, libraries, and residence halls. Essentially, anywhere and everywhere that people might see them.

Our next step was street canvassing, which involves standing outside CPCs and initiating conversations with patients and passersby about the reproductive health care people deserve. Our street canvassing campaign focuses on two local CPCs, Women’s Choice Network and Birthright, both of which target students at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. These CPCs lure students to their facilities by promising free ultrasounds and STD testing just a few blocks away. We combat these subversive tactics by arming people with the facts. By speaking with people on the street and sharing our pamphlet, we help them learn to identify and avoid CPCs. We also alert people to legitimate reproductive health care options, and share ideas about how to take action against CPCs in the area and support access.

Simply disrupting the quiet presence of these fake clinics has been surprisingly impactful. The CPCs we visit are located on streets that get significant foot traffic, especially from college students, but otherwise have inconspicuous signage and attract little attention. One clinic is located on the ground level of an apartment complex. After politely asking us to leave the premises, the landlord informed us that the clinic had promised it would not attract protesters as part of the unofficial terms of their lease. In fact, before our canvassing efforts, many tenants were unaware they shared space with a fake clinic. Some have since disclosed to us that the CPC has been a topic of conversation at tenant association meetings.

The other clinic we visit is located in an office complex and shares an entrance with numerous other organizations. Again, many workers were unaware they shared space with a CPC. Agitating these tenants and pressuring the landlords who allow these places to operate are part of our ongoing efforts to shut down these imposters. The fact that so many tenants who share spaces with the fake clinics are oblivious to their presence demonstrates not only how CPCs thrive in the shadows of deception and ignorance, but also our campaign’s ability to expose them and their subversive tactics.


Coalition Work

Our chapter is working with our local abortion fund and independent reproductive health clinic, as well as other medical funds in the state. Last year, our committee raised over $12,000 for Western PA Fund for Choice, whose funds go directly to patients to pay for transportation, childcare, 13lodging, and medical costs for abortion services. We gathered these funds throughout the year, namely with fundraisers in April and December. These fundraisers also provided a platform to raise awareness about the cost of abortion, how the U.S.’s lack of free childcare and paid sick time affects people, how transportation issues serve as an obstacle to health care, and how CPCs get in the way.

As we continue our anti-CPC work, we are also building Pittsburgh DSA’s organizational capabilities and relationships. Because reproductive justice is critical for the successful implementation of socialism, DSA must organize a vigorous program around reproductive health care access and the issues important to those it affects most. Our anti-CPC work is one piece of this program. Until reproductive justice is secured for everyone, we’ll continue finding new ways to fight for bodily autonomy, fully informed choices regarding reproductive health, and the freedom to parent in safe and sustainable communities.

To learn more about the campaign to expose fake clinics, contact Pittsburgh DSA’s Socialist Feminist Committee at:

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#HollywoodLabor: An Interview with Jon from DSA LA's Labor Committee

#HollywoodLabor is a project of DSA Los Angeles that played a key role in a successful campaign to expand union membership for entertainment workers in Los Angeles and helped with the campaign to boycott LA Weekly after it was purchased by a conservative investment group. C.M. Lewis interviewed Jon, a rank-and-file member of DSA Los Angeles and an unorganized entertainment industry worker, on the project’s origins, the role for Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in the labor movement, and what the project offers for other chapters.

CM: How did you first get involved in DSA?

Jon: I grew up with parents who were involved in the Left. My mom was in the Socialist Workers’ Party in the 60s and 70s and my dad was in Students for a Democratic Society in North Carolina, so I’ve always been kind of radically inclined, but I joined DSA right after Trump got elected.

Like a lot of people, I saw it on Twitter. I was semi-familiar with the organization from when I was in high school. I knew a couple of people that had joined back in D.C., but I certainly hadn’t really been a part of an explicitly socialist organization before. I’d organized anti-war events in college during the Iraq War and organized stuff around human rights issues in high school, but this was the first socialist organization I’d ever joined.

CM: What are your unofficial/official roles in Los Angeles DSA?

Jon: I joined DSA around December 2016 or January 2017. I’ve spent a lot of time in #HollywoodLabor and the Labor Committee. I’ve also done a bit of work with Agitprop directing some videos and helping produce some others. I helped start the Mutual Aid Committee back in July or August of 2017, and I’ve been involved in the Anti-Oppression Committee.

I feel it’s very important to do admin work and quality of life projects. I helped organize our childwatch program at the beginning, and I did a lot of childwatch for a very long time. Coming from D.C., I was exposed to an anarchist perspective and and I’m very big on horizontal organizing and projects that strengthen social bonds between members.

CM: #HollywoodLabor was one of DSA Los Angeles’s first big campaigns. How’d it start?

Jon: I was in a Labor Committee meeting (I say “I” just because I’m telling it from my perspective) and I’d been laid off about a month earlier from a job  for a new media digital company that made short-form video content. I was writing and directing for them. The conditions were very, very terrible: before it went out of business the production got shut down by the city for not having the correct permits, the company used scab labor on another project, and then got protested by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). I was in the Labor Committee expressing these frustrations, and we and some other folks in the industry expressed similar frustrations.

Francisco, who was one of the heads of the Labor Committee at that point, said “You know, I’m seeing a lot of folks in our meetings who are in the film industry”—and he’s an organizer for a teachers’ union, so he’d never really known any Hollywood folks. He kind of recognized there was a need for this project, that DSA Los Angeles (for a couple of different reasons) was going to attract folks in the entertainment industry, and that there was an avenue there for organizing. There are a lot of folks in the entertainment industry whose needs aren’t being served. Many of the digital and new media companies aren’t union, so there’s a whole growing segment of the entertainment workforce that isn’t unionized.

The way unions operate in the entertainment industry is unique. They’re based on the craft union model—they’re engineered in a very specific and unique way to ensure the protection of their members. But the folks on the outside don’t have someone speaking for them as well. I think Francisco saw, in that moment, an opportunity, and it was a really good organizing lesson for me, in that you don’t build a project from the top-down. You build the project from the bottom-up. You see who’s there, who’s showing up, who has a need, and you build the project that way, in a kind of organic bottom-up way.

CM: What were your first steps as a group?

Jon: The first thing was that the people interested in the project came together and we spoke, voiced our frustrations. We’re a fairly diverse group labor-wise. For example, Rachel is an actor, Isabella, Clare, and Brenden are writers and writers assistants, and Andrew is a DP and assistant camera person. So we got together, and we thought about what we could offer, because some of us are union, some of us are not, and well—let me use a story of how the union situation is.

When I was laid off, I had to apply for unemployment. When I went to the unemployment office they said, “Well, okay, you’re a writer. Have you tried joining the Writers Guild?” And I said, “I wish I could,” but that’s just not how it works. There’s a segment of the Hollywood workforce in Los Angeles that not only doesn’t have the protection, but doesn’t have the knowledge around labor protections and how unions work.

Sort of where we landed is that we could raise workers’ consciousness; not in those explicit terms, but I think that was the intent. Our first event was writer’s assistants and script coordinators were in the process of trying to unionize with IATSE. One of the main things we did at our first event was we invited script coordinators and writer’s assistants to come and see a presentation from an organizer at IATSE, we did some breakout groups so we could share stories, and we came back together and talked about how we all have similar problems, and how union organizing can address those problems. Then the people that were writer’s assistants and script coordinators could sign their union cards, so it was a way to help that effort while at the same raising workers’ consciousness.

CM: What are some challenges you see in labor organizing?

Jon: One of the toughest things about organizing in America in 2018 is that there’s a real lack of workers’ consciousness. People literally do not identify as workers, because they’re trained to see themselves like, “I work at a desk all day in an office, I’m not working on a factory floor,” right? So much of the perception of unionism is tied up in this outmoded idea that unions are for coal miners. But what it really comes down to is: if you don’t control the means of production, and you’re not extracting profit off someone else, then you’re a worker.

People get caught up in these ideas of upper class, and lower class, and middle class—and those are all really kind of bullshit. It’s about who controls the means of production, and most of us don’t. Putting that kind of discourse back into labor organizing is an important first step, and to tell people “Hey, you don’t have to take this,” right? Because a lot of what it means to work in Hollywood is to be told “Be grateful.” And we want to shatter that myth that you should be grateful for your job.

Another big thing is that we wanted to forge solidarity across industry lines. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen a lot of solidarity when it comes to different positions within Hollywood. There are weird delineations on set, like “above the line” (people like producers, cinematographers, and directors), and “below the line” (everyone else). And you see those delineations in union splits, where “below the line” folks are usually represented by IATSE, and “above the line” folks get represented by their own craft unions.

We don’t want to attack and we’re very explicitly not in opposition to those craft unions, but we do recognize that there’s a lack of solidarity between workers in different unions, and that it could be better. If someone’s being exploited on a production, everyone should be mad.

One of our best events was when we had some non-cisgender male comrades on a panel talking about experiencing sexual harassment in the industry and how to use unionizing and labor organizing tactics to combat that. So there was something really tangible people could walk away with after that meeting. And we did that right as the Harvey Weinstein stuff was breaking. We learned all these practical applications of organizing tactics to fight workplace harassment.

CM: What are some lessons for other chapters?

Jon: I don’t know if it’s controversial or not, but I’ll speak to the fact that I think organizing efforts for DSA Los Angeles and DSA National should really consider what it means to organize the unorganized. The majority of the workforce isn’t organized, and the majority of the workforce doesn’t have a developed workers’ consciousness. And I don’t say that like #HollywoodLabor and other organizations exist to, in that very old school sense, inspire the masses. We’re here to collaborate with fellow workers, we’re here to agitate them, we’re here to remind them, “You’re being exploited and it doesn’t have to be like that.”

I think there’s something very radical about getting a group of people that aren’t in a union together, and getting them to realize what it means to have the power of an organized force, when it’s not just you, ??? Telling each other salaries, sharing stories of workplace sexual, gender, or racial exploitation—I think there’s something very powerful and radical in that.

When we have our meetings, we have them very intentionally. We ask people not to take pictures or use names outside of the room, and we very specifically curate them so people feel safe. People can come, and share, and have conversations that they may not be able to have anywhere else.

I think that what’s needed now, and granted, I’m not in a union, I’m not a union steward, and my experience in labor organizing is about two years old now, is a new and exciting vision for what it means to organize in a world where a lot of people work at McDonald’s, and a lot of people work at a desk.

I think there’s room for folks in non-unionized industries to have those conversations, and I think DSA can be a part of that because we’re all workers, and even if you live in an area where union density is super low, you can still ask people “Hey, does work suck? Do you want to come talk about it?”

How We Did It: Harvey Relief Muck and Gut Project

by Tawny Tidwell and Colleen Kennedy

As a record 52 inches of rain fell on Houston during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, members of Houston DSA were online in our Mattermost prepping for the aftermath. By soliciting donations online through a GoFundMe, we raised over $120,000 in relief funds. After raising the funds, we immediately  incorporated as a 501c4 and opened an account at a local credit union to hold the money. We also learned that a comrade in Oklahoma City DSA was a disaster relief specialist, so we spoke with him by phone to learn the best ways for us to help. He told us that in the aftermath of a flood, the two most impactful ways we could help would be putting cash in people’s hands and assistance with muck and gutting.*

At the outset of our muck and gut operation, we created a spreadsheet to solicit volunteers and ask who needed help and where they were. These would have worked better as different spreadsheets, and translated spreadsheets in Spanish would have also been useful.

We borrowed tools at our local tool bank, and rented work vans to haul in all of our equipment. After several weekends of spending hundreds on rentals, we sent out an ask to our community for a cheap truck and secured a Ford Ranger for a few thousand dollars. Houston DSA hopes to eventually donate it to a family when the relief work is finished.

Respirators and similar supplies were difficult to find because the entire region had mobilized to do repair after the disaster. We created an Amazon wishlist for these supplies, other consumables like Concrobium (a mold killer to spray on the studs of a home), and tools. Given that the toolbank rentals would need to be returned eventually, having our own tools would become a necessity.

We sent out asks in our community through social media for space to store our tools and onboard volunteers each weekend. Bohemeos, a truly amazing coffeeshop and hangout in Houston’s East End, provided both. As of this writing, we still have about half of their coffee warehouse for tools and other equipment.They also provided us with keys to the shop to make coffee for volunteers every weekend and space on their outdoor patio for feeding volunteers breakfast. Breakfast tacos and kolaches, y’all!

We found most of the homes that we muck and gutted through Houston DSA co-chair Amy Zachmeyer’s connections with unions to locate union members in need, and were then asked by neighbors to assist on their homes next door or the homes of their friends. Eventually, we connected with West Street Recovery and Living Paradigm, similarly-minded groups who had links to the same community we were serving, additional volunteer resources, and time to blockwalk.

Initially, we worked two full eight-hour days on Saturday and Sunday, handling one or two houses per day. Now, the muck and gut crew only goes out on Saturdays to alleviate burnout and give crew members time off. We think an ideal situation would be having two alternating crews with overlapping leads, so Crew A is out on Day One and Crew B is out on Day Two, with at least one continuous crew lead to connect the work.

At the beginning of the week, we would call homeowners to firm up our schedule and get an idea of the work we would be doing, so we could decide if we had time for more than one house.**

Initially, we sent one or two teams out to homes in Houston, and another team on the two-hour drive to Beaumont to help homeowners we learned of through our co-chair’s union there. Eventually, however, our operation became a single Houston team.

At the outset of each day in Houston, we met at Bohemeos at 8 a.m. for breakfast tacos and coffee, introductions, and a basic safety talk with the volunteers (e.g., only walk where you can see the floor; masks on at all times inside; shut off electricity before tearing down walls in kitchens and utility rooms). Everyone helped load the truck at the warehouse, and new volunteers were fitted with personal protective equipment (PPE) and learn how to use it. After carpooling to the homes (parking is sparse on debris-laden streets), crew leads would tour the home with the owner, size up the damage, and make recommendations. Initially our crew leads were Houston DSA members who worked as contractors, but they trained up other volunteers to take their places.

We worked room by room, cleaning as we went, and always had people doing both tear down and debris-running to simultaneously ensure everyone’s safety and provide enough room to move about. We made sure people took frequent breaks for water and respirator-free outside-air, with the added bonus that this offered time for people to make connections across groups, communities, and DSA chapters. When a home was done, we would walk it with the owner, and make sure they received a $200 Visa gift card. Often we also replaced other items people had lost in the flood (e.g., car seats, water heaters). An entire other piece could and should be written by someone from our financial aid team on this side of the operation.

At the end of each day, we returned to the warehouse to wash our tools and gloves in a bleach solution, and disinfect respirators with Lysol cloths. After we were done, we would circle up on the Bohemeos patio, debrief, and relax. This was vital to building camaraderie and maintaining morale because it gave us a chance to talk through what we had seen, what was nagging at us, and build trust and friendship among our core team.

Finally, we want to note that anyone planning a program like this must think critically about the long haul. While I (Tawny) am now in New York, Colleen is still connecting with homeowners to muck houses over a year after the storm. This work will literally take years, and it is likely that we will get hit with new storms during that time. Think ahead about your limited resources (e.g., money, respirator cartridges, time), how you can make durable connections in the community or governance (for example, if you attend United Way meetings in Houston, you can get hooked into their drywall donation network), and how to maintain a volunteer base without burning everyone out. These large and thorny questions are beyond the scope of this article, but they must be confronted if we hope to continue improving the work DSA does.

In Solidarity,

Tawny (North Brooklyn DSA) and Colleen (Houston DSA)

*As this article primarily focuses on our muck and gut operation, you can read more about our three-pronged approach on the Houston DSA blog.

**Houston DSA did not work with renters because we had a policy against doing free work for landlords. We did, however, connect the few renters we encountered with pro bono legal representation when possible.