With the nomination of Sarah Palin to the Republican ticket, women who had scattered after Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the Democratic primary were reenergized as they coalesced in their opposition to Palin’s abortion viewpoint. Augmenting McCain’s commitment to overturn Roe v. Wade, Palin ratcheted up the discourse with her position of no abortion exceptions in the case of rape or incest. “She can’t keep the women’s vote if they actually know what she is suggesting,” was the popular wisdom. Yet, there were a lot of female voters who weren’t clear about her record. That’s when a core group of women, using new media and an approach that has defined the 2008 election, jumped in to present another point of view.
Lisa Eisenpresser, Co-Founder and CEO of SaysMe TV, had developed a platform to support “voices that don’t get represented” on either side of the political spectrum. The basis of SaysMe TV is to enable individuals to run their own 30 second ads on television, with their names attached as sponsor. This allows a whole new group of players to get into the game, from the average constituent with an opinion, to those coming from a larger playing field.
In the case of a pushback to the McCain-Palin abortion philosophy, Eisenpresser emphasized the need to “go from the gut.” She strategized with her board member, Margaret Loeb, to get the word out. Having known each other from their overlapping years at Brown University, their connectivity was in place. Eisenpresser described Loeb as the “”nucleus of what would evolve.”
Loeb, a New York City mother of two with a background in activism, became the connecting hub to various people and organizations. While studying cultural American and European history at Brown, Loeb was a founding member of a cutting-edge feminist organization called FORCE. Walking women into abortion clinics was one of their actions. Feminism was seen as a lens with which to view minority issues, gay and lesbian concerns, and AIDS. Loeb holds a Masters in Social Work from NYU, and has written on teenage pregnancy. Having worked clinically, she is now interested in policy, advocacy, and messaging. “I really feel there is an incredible moment to be a voice, for yourself and others.”
Loeb feels motivated to “protect the court because it’s not a four year issue, it’s a multi-decade issue.” However, her impetus stems from personal reasons as well. She had a friend who was raped by her father. “It’s far more common than people want to talk about,” she said. Through WAMP (Women Against McCain and Palin), which is which is housed at the SaysMe TV website, Loeb has spearheaded a movement to run independent pro-choice ads on television.
The web page showcases two ads, with a form to purchase a package that includes an ad preference, swing state, and price tag ranging from $100 to $2500. In addition, there are flashing stats, links to information, articles, and the Couric transcript interview with Palin about emergency contraception (the morning after pill) in the event of rape or incest.
Actresses enact the narratives in the advertisements, with the text based on interviews with survivors of sexual abuse. There is also a video of “Jane, a real rape and incest survivor, who speaks out on behalf of herself and others.”
Loeb’s dedication to reproductive justice has rippled out and connected her to various organizations, several of whose boards she serves on. Through the social networking advocacy system, one person creates a liaison with another. Mary Pat Bonner, president of the firm that works with the Media Matters Action Network, characterized Loeb as “one of the brightest, most passionate people we have met with.” Loeb introduced Erica Payne, a progressive who co-founded The Democracy Alliance in 2005, to SaysMe TV. Payne, who defined the Palin candidacy as “galling,” believes that SayMe TV combines the “best of individual advocacy with strategic organizational thinking.”
Cecile Richards, President of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, got to know Loeb through Payne. Richards, concerned about the McCain-Palin ticket and “how out of touch they are on women’s needs,” understood the value of reaching the greatest number of people.” Vice-President for Communications for the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Mary Alice Carr, found the SaysMe TV concept “incredibly interesting.” As part of The Messaging Project, which develops pro-choice media communication, an ad was developed that questioned how criminalizing abortion would impact women. Carr believes that the SaysMe formula “allows people to feel personally involved.”
With e-mails and word of mouth pushing the message out, 75 unique orders for spots were placed. They ran immediately after the third presidential debate. The strategy worked. In the parlance of new media, the ads went to where the “eyeballs” were. In Washington D.C. on CNN, 406,654 potential viewers were exposed to the rape ad; on MSNBC the number was 208,678. In the New York City market, on MSNBC, the commercial went out to 3,632,539 households. In the states of Ohio, Colorado, and Florida, 240 spots were run. In response, there were 61 blogs that wrote about the one-two punch of the content.
Eisenpresser contacted me in a follow up e-mail, to inform me that the work of bringing attention to women impacted by sexual trauma will proceed after the election. The site will be redirected to a new address. She wrote:
“On Nov 5th, after the streamers have all fallen, SaysMe/WAMP.com will continue to be the vehicle that gives a voice to those who have been silenced by rape and incest. The site is dedicated to the strength and determination of survivors like Jane who have come forward to share their story in the hope of breaking the pattern of abuse, to create a place of safety and healing for all women.”