Letters

Readers question Rebecca Traister's behind-the-scenes look at the March for Women's Lives. Also: Reps from Rock the Vote and WWE Smackdown Your Vote weigh in on young voters.


Salon Staff
April 30, 2004 11:47PM (UTC)

[Read "Making Women's Issues Go Away," by Rebecca Traister.]

The saddest thing about your excellent article is that I'm so burned out on being angry at the Bush administration for so many things, not the least of which is Dubya's systematic removal of women's reproductive rights both here and abroad, that all I can do is sigh. I can't even muster any righteous indignation anymore.

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-- Laura Haywood-Cory

It's this kind of article that makes me turn to Salon again and again for information about what's going on in the world. I feel as though a war of ideas and thought control is being waged against my gender. I'm so happy to see NCRW standing up and speaking out about what is going on.

-- Kat Mitchell

[Read "Behind the Scenes at the March for Women's Lives," by Rebecca Traister.]

I loved Rebecca Traister's reporting, but I question her interpretation. Why in hell would Britney or Mary-Kate or Ashley or the cast of "Friends" want to jeopardize their comfy cash-filled celebrity to show up for a march that might jeopardize the conservative part of their fan base? And are young people really that dumb that they have to have a famous person of their own generation validate their choices -- or their choice -- before they make them?

I am a 45-year-old lifelong feminist, but I spend some time every couple of weeks teaching writing to some very savvy 17- and 18-year-olds, and trust me, they seem a lot smarter, and in many cases better informed, than I was at their age. Yes, the world is filled with trashy media, but it's also filled with C-SPAN and CNN, and even CosmoGirl, which, in its breathless way, still regularly covers issues like homeless teens and the history of abortion rights.

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I dream of a time when we don't buy into this rigid marketing crap that puts every age in a separate box -- except when we're supposedly pitted against each other. Please understand: Traister's terrific story made me kick myself for not being able to go. But keep in mind that in 1989 -- the year of the last big one -- when I was a creaky 31-year-old, I invited an 18-year-old to attend the march with me. Despite my gray hair and my uncool music, she accepted. Even if my generation and its predecessor invented it, I respectfully submit it's time to put the generation gap to bed.

-- Martha Garvey

Why would Rebecca Traister possibly take this opportunity to have a go at younger demonstrators -- who, incidentally, were nothing if not excellent examples of the species? Every generation has plenty for which to be blamed, hers included; when people turn out for a cause, give them credit, not grief. I marched with three generations of men and women; does it matter if the oldest had never heard of Ani di Franco and the youngest had never read "Fear of Flying"? Culture moves, and cultural signposts recede into history. We still keep marching.

-- Tadzio Koelb

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Thanks for an excellent article. I went to the Texas kickoff event before the March on Sunday and had a similar reaction. Sarah Weddington, Molly Ivins, and Ann Richards were great. They all remarked that they didn't expect to still be doing this 30 years after Roe vs. Wade. They recognized and applauded those of us under 30 who had come to Washington to march -- but the closest anyone under 30 got to the stage was introducing them.

Once we got to the Mall and out of range of the loudspeakers, though, what struck me wasn't the generational divide but the amazing multigenerational spirit of the rank and file. I was there with my mother and sister, and I saw more three-generation cohorts than I could count.

Hopefully the movement will eventually become as obsolete as the founders envisioned, but I am not worried about its future if that doesn't happen. We're ready to keep fighting for what is and has always been ours -- the right to determine our own lives.

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-- Cynthia Smith McCollum

As someone who traveled a few hundred miles to march in D.C. on Sunday, I feel as though Rebecca Traister and I attended radically different marches -- and mine was far more modern, young and radical. Perhaps she was saddled with her "behind the scenes" format, but I certainly didn't feel that there were "communication challenges" between the generations or that the march simply drew legions of has-beens from the '80s.

I helped 70+ women navigate over some obstacles in the march route as well as helping a man with his 5-year-old daughter while he looked for some juice boxes in his backpack. I was constantly encouraged to scream invigorating chants by women much younger than my 30 years -- though once we reached the anti-choice protesters no one needed much encouragement. There were fantastic handmade signs: "I Shaved My Pussy to Protest Bush" and "George Bush Believes in Abstinence. Lucky Laura!"

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Who will be there in 12 years to carry Gloria Steinem's torch? I will. And, I can only imagine, the other young women I saw will also be there -- with their mothers, daughters, sons, husbands, sisters and brothers.

-- Sarah Kelleher

Rebecca Traister was dead-on in her analysis of the younger activists. I went to the march because I live in the area. I knew what a coat hanger was, but I remember looking up at Gloria Steinem, thinking, "she looks familiar, but I'm not sure," then asking my friends (who also had no idea). I didn't figure out until I read this article who she was. Our generation takes feminism for granted, even if there are still miles to go.

-- Sharon Shoemake

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[Read "Rock the Vote? Maybe Not," by Anya Kamenetz.]

In an April 23 article posted on Salon.com, freelance writer Anya Kamenetz displays a profound misunderstanding of the purpose of Rock the Vote and similar youth voter registration organizations.

One of Rock the Vote's great strengths is media. As any political campaign from the national to the local level knows, a voter participation campaign needs both media and grassroots outreach. That's why Rock the Vote partners with traditional voter contact programs such as the youth-focused New Voters Project to make sure that these newly registered young voters are turned out to vote.

The author also fails to note the unprecedented level of cooperation among youth voting groups this year. The fact that everyone has come together under a single goal of getting 20 million 18- to 30-year-olds to vote this year is extraordinary. The willingness to share lists and integrate the media-driven efforts with the ground operation is unprecedented.

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Rock the Vote's media outreach accomplishes a lot more than the author, and some of the experts quoted in the story, seem to understand.

Since its inception, Rock the Vote has used a mix of pop culture and youth activists to reach its audience. Peer-to-peer contact has been integral to helping Rock the Vote register over 3 million new voters since 1990.

Since July of 2003, we've driven more than 240,000 people through our online voter registration tool and we're still more than six months away from Election Day. We feel confident that we'll register at least 1 million new voters this year.

We are able to achieve such goals based on the strength of our media and our name recognition.

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Rock the Vote realizes that celebrities don't convince young people to vote, but they do help break through the media clutter that exists in today's culture and open young people up to the message that their vote counts.

And they certainly help push our voter registration campaign, which is already driving more than 10,000 people per week to fill out voter registration forms.

We believe it is a necessary part of our strategy to reach young people wherever they spend their free time.

In the last couple of years, we have complemented our media strategy with a vigorous online effort and a more aggressive grassroots operation with the intent to maximize our reach among young people. Rock the Vote's Community Street Team operation has brought thousands of activists into the political process, many for the first time.

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Besides working with young people, Rock the Vote also engages in issue campaigns, to raise awareness among all voters on a particular concern. In the last few years, Rock the Vote has conducted campaigns on such important issues as the FCC media consolidation effort, the fight to defeat the California ballot initiative Proposition 54, and to push for strong hate-crimes legislation.

We're an organization that believes deeply in both the power of the media and in ability of young people to inspire one another through individual contact.

-- Jehmu Greene, President, Rock the Vote

We appreciate the interest that Salon.com has shown in the issue of getting more 18- to 30-year-olds to vote. Your April 23 article, however, misses a critical point, which is the unprecedented effort to encourage 18-30s to get active in their democracy, and to engage the political parties to "invite" this voter demographic to get involved in this election.

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There was no mention of the first-ever national Voter Issues Paper for 18- to 30-year-olds that was created by a partnership of nine diverse organizations -- WWE's Smackdown Your Vote!, MTV's Choose or Lose, Rock the Vote, the League of Women Voters, Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, Harvard Institute of Politics, Youth Vote Coalition, 18-to-35, the New Voters Project, and Declare Yourself. We are united in the effort to get more 18-30s to vote and to get the candidates to talk to the issues that concern that group.

Our partnership is committed to getting 20 million 18-30s to vote in the 2004 election. That is an increase of 2 million more than voted in 2000, an increase of 10 percent. To generate that type of interest, it takes a combination of strong media and interpersonal contact. The media coverage is essential to helping get young people excited about voting. Whenever our Superstars conduct Smackdown Your Vote activities, we let the media know what we are doing to help spread the word that 18-30s are going to vote in this election. This reinforces to candidates that they should keep 18-30s on their radar screens. It's the interpersonal contact that will get 18-30s to the polls. These two tactics work together, because each on their own cannot achieve our goal of increasing young voter participation in 2004. And we are going to achieve this goal.

WWE thanks Salon.com for discussing this issue with its readers, and we invite you to continue to follow our efforts to get more young people to vote in 2004. Anyone interested in viewing the national Voter Issues Paper can find it on WWE Vote, where you can also register to vote.

-- Gary Davis, Executive Director, WWE Smackdown Your Vote!

I thought your piece on the youth vote and attempts to mobilize it were particularly prescient. I'm a 24-year-old in Minneapolis, and, after hearing one too many people tell me that they don't vote at all, I, too, have decided to try to do something with a more personal touch: by asking local businesses to help me out. If they're willing to offer a small promotion to people who come in wearing their "I Voted" stickers on Election Day, I will use donated money to buy ad space (or, hopefully, have some space donated, too) for them in local papers and magazines, and I will provide posters for them to display in their establishments to promote the Election Day fun.

I just want to spread the word that there are still untapped ways for people to get out the vote in their own communities, even if they don't include knocking on doors (a personally intimidating activity) and I'd encourage everyone to try to find one that suits their preferences. It's too important to ignore.

-- Letta Wren Christianson


Salon Staff

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