What Planned Parenthood means to my 92 year old grandmother

My grandmother came into this world in 1918, before American women had the vote. She has seen a lot of change over the years, and unlike some older people, she's not terribly nostalgic. There are good things she misses, but also bad things she's happily left behind. What's at the top of her "good riddance" list? The lack of reproductive rights for women.

Grandma was raised by a mother who did things women weren't supposed to, like smoking and driving. She was an athlete, loving every minute she could get of track, tennis and swimming. She would take the streetcar to downtown Cleveland to see vaudeville shows and movies. She had an enormous amount of freedom for a young girl.

Once she married her childhood sweetheart, however, that freedom disappeared. She had three children in four years. She loved her kids, but not being able to plan the number or timing of her children was hard on her. She's told me that once she was out with her three little girls, and a woman from Planned Parenthood approached her to talk. She really wanted to hear what the woman had to say, but as a "good Catholic" wouldn't talk to her.

Years later, things are different. You will not find a more passionate supporter of reproductive rights for women. I remember calling her from the 2004 March for Women's Lives on the National Mall so she could hear the crowd. My normally reserved grandmother sounded emotional. She wished she could be there with us all.

So after today's vote in the House to cut funds for Planned Parenthood programs that don't even include abortion, I don't look forward to telling her what's happening in Washington. My grandmother may be 92, but she's as clear as ever, and she's going to be angry.

But it's not too late to save the funding as the bill must go to the Senate. Join me in standing with Planned Parenthood. No woman in 2011 should have the same struggle my grandmother did back in World War II.

Update: My grandmother died last Thursday. Healthy to the end, she went quietly in her sleep. She'd been pleased to hear about this blog post and that it was my most popular, having been promoted online by the Detroit Free Press and by Planned Parenthood. I have added a new post about her: In memoriam: What my Midwestern housewife grandmother taught me about social justice. I'll miss her like crazy, but I'm so grateful to have had her in my life. -- Tracy, September 22, 2011

Is the US to blame for Africa's woes?

Some people in the US seem to think so. And they have plenty of things to point to, from the flow of weapons to Africa to harmful trade practices to burdensome debt. There's no shortage of analysis about what the US and other wealthy nations do wrong for Africa.

I've had the chance to talk with Africans from every corner of the continent about these matters. They've been human rights or peace advocates at UN meetings or immigrants working in a wide array of jobs in the US and Europe. When I bring up the role of the US and the West in Africa's problems, I get the same response over and over. It can be paraphrased as "we're capable of messing up our countries all on our own, thank you very much."

Africans tell me that corruption and greed are what devastate their countries. They also cite the ignorance and bigotry that ill-intentioned leaders use to divide and conquer nations. While they welcome efforts to change international sources of injustice, they see the causes of and solutions to Africa's problems as lying first and foremost with Africans.

Those conversations come to mind whenever I hear Americans or other Westerners discuss the need for debt relief or other policy changes for Africa. While some people understand that Africa's struggles are complex, others are so focused on the outside role that you'd think that what Africans do doesn't matter.

Meanwhile, within Africa, people and organizations like the thousands listed in the UN's Directory of African NGOs are working to make change from within. They may address US or Western policy, or they may not. Basically, we're not always the star of the show.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011: For a much more thorough and eloquent examination of the issues I raise, and a look at the role of outside influence and interest in political uprisings, please check out "A classy revolution: Why we cared" by Ivo Vegter for South Africa's The Daily Maverick