Friday, October 3, 2008

South Dakota Live Action Camp

As I noted, I spent the weekend in Sioux Falls South Dakota, working with South Dakota Healthy Families to fight Initiated Measure 11, which would ban virtually all abortions in the state.

You might remember that in 2006, anti-choicers got the legislature to pass a bill that would have banned abortion, even in cases of rape/incest, and where the health of the woman would be endangered — and when pro-choicers challenged the law and got it sent to a referendum, the ban was shot down 56% to 44%. But now the proposed ban is back in force — only this time, with entirely phony exceptions in place. In a state that is rather anti-choice, this does indeed make the task somewhat harder. And in a state with only around 500,000 registered voters, every vote really does matter. So Planned Parenthood has been sending out people to help identify supporters — meaning people who are voting “no” — and there were around 40 of us this weekend.

The goal is to get voters to realize that the exceptions will not protect vulnerable women like they are being led to believe, that decisions about abortion are left to women and their families, and that Measure 11 is a dangerous and poorly crafted law that will hurt women's health and safety.

We kicked off Saturday morning with a visibility event at a busy intersection in Sioux Falls, waving signs and drumming up enthusiasm. We got an overall really positive response -- lots of honks, thumbs ups, grins, people yelling out their windows to thank us and so on. Sure, there some negative people in support of the ban, but we made sure that they didn't get us down! Even better, when we were canvassing later on the day, we had lots of people tell us that they had seen us out there earlier -- which means we definitely accomplished the goal of visibility!

Phone-banking was next. The goal of phone-banking is both to identify supporters and to persuade those voters who are still undecided. Unfortunately, there's a lot of luck in phone-banking, based on which list you get, and I wasn't having a whole lot of it. But the good news is that other people definitely were. While I kept getting answering machines and disconnected numbers, others were ringing the little bells that let everyone else know they'd found a supporter like mad. As for me, I ended up not getting a supporter until my fifth to last call out of seventy dials total. And then I got another supporter immediately after that call . . . which made me wish that I had decided to do my list from back to front. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. The real point is that overall we identified a whole lot of supporters, which is of course the goal!

Next, we all reconvened for door-to-door canvassing, which went really well and was certainly an improvement over phone-banking on my end. It was in fact my favorite part of the weekend! There was a ton of walking involved, and the houses that were still left to canvass were all spaced out pretty far apart. That means that in two hours, my partner and I only managed to knock on a shameful 35 doors. But the good news is that we got 10 supporters out of those 35, and that’s considering the fact that about half of the doors we knocked didn’t have anyone at home.

And of course, our supporters were great! For example, we went to one house where only one person was on our list, but he was very enthusiastic about signing one of our supporter cards, and said “hey, I’ve got someone else here who I bet would want to sign one of these.” He went to go get his wife, who also signed a card and even signed up with us to go canvassing herself! Even better, this happened more than once. One man said that he wished his wife was home, because she would want to sign one. At another house, they had company and one of the women's friends asked if she would be able to sign one of our supporter cards as well (and of course we said yes).

So many voters were also really eager to talk to us. Our supporters were excited to see us standing out there in our pink t-shirts, and instead of trying to usher us away as quickly as possible, they wanted to chat about why they were voting against the bill, how frustrating it was that they had to vote on basically the same legislation for a second time, and the importance of keeping abortion safe and legal. It was extremely energizing to see all of the people we had on our side, and to see how very committed they are to women's health. I definitely have to say that personally talking to voters made me feel much more confident about which way the vote is going to go on Measure 11 this November 4.

But just because I'm feeling good about it doesn't mean there's any reason to be complacent! You can help the campaign by giving here. Remember that we’re only a month away from the election, so every dollar and minute is precious.

For more on the weekend, including a whole lot of photographs of our adventures, check out the Stand UP South Dakota blog.

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