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It was, for lack of a better phrase, a "seminal show" this past Sunday. Here is one reason why:

"If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision to bear or beget a child." ~ Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, March 22, 1972~

That quote may well perk up the ears of the Legal Eagles among us. It should. It comes from one of the landmark cases of the history of the Supreme Court of the United States. It may also perk up the ears of a few (hopefully every one) of the female Kossacks on our site. It should. Because of these words, the right to purchase birth control was established in the United States of America.

The man who, eventually, caused the words to be written into the history of America was a guest on our show yesterday. Do your homework, then follow me below the squggledoodlethingey fold, and I'll tell you about it--in his own words.

But there is yet another reason that this past Sunday's episode was "seminal". We had a second guest on our show yesterday. She was our first ever Special Guest, and now is our first ever returning Special Guest. So you can get the answer to not one, but TWO PPTS trivia questions for the price of one. Just below. (With three, ya get egg roll!)

It is the purpose of "Progressive Politics:Tennessee Style" (PPTS) to highlight the activities, activists, and activism of the Progressive Movement throughout the American South. In only 20 episodes, we are still in large part working to determine the best way(s) of doing precisely that. Ours is a new enterprise, and there is a large learning curve.

Yet, if the mission is to "give voice", I believe we have done no less than a creditable job thus far of doing that. Much of what we do at PPTS is forward looking by nature, because the guests and topics we encounter are designed for that purpose. Activism seldom has a predictable outcome. Causes may be won, or lost, or propelled in one direction or another. Elections may be won, or lost, and the cycle continues to the next season, the next candidate, the next issue. While, as Progressives, we do tend to "get it right" when discussing future possibilities, the true Progressive does not stop at the talking. There are many who would call themselves Progressives but who are, in fact, not Progressives at all.

For me, the best definition of what a true Progressive is comes from the writings of Saul Alinsky, when he definitely tells us what a true "Radical" is. For me, the terms are interchangeable. Because I alone am responsible for the outcome of each episode's "legitimacy" on-air, this is the reference point from which I begin. Our production values, shepherded by our show's Executive Producer Progressive Patty, begin from this point. Our research, which prepares, plans, and presents our episodic journey from the Gold Standard of doubly verified fact alone, has this Progressive mindset as the center of the Research Compass. This is due to the absolute requirement of our PPTS Research Director, Progressive Becky.

In this we all agree. The show needs your dollars. The show staff does not. Nor, so long as I have any word in the matter, will we ever be paid for this, our contribution and answer to the show which is the motto, we feel, for all Progressives:

"What are YOU going to do about it?"

There are two words in this motto of the gravest importance to me. "You" is a personal pronoun which is, in the singular form, specific to the reader of it.

"Do" is also definitive, as a verb which is, when allied with "YOU", in order, a personal, direct, and absolute challenge. Doing nothing is, to the true Progressive, not only completely unacceptable, but a vilification of guilt. This show, and the Progressive movement itself has little to do with those who do not have, by their footprints, an acceptable answer to this question.

I have spent most of my life "doing" those things that I believe have been necessary to bring about the change I have sought where I live. I am a writer: I write.

I cannot stand on protest lines, fly in an airplane to represent my "cause", or "issue" because of disability. I must live tethered to a home, where even visiting a doctor is an orchestrated and well-rehearsed act. To that particular regard, my staying alive IS a radical act. (Many told me, in 2006, that I should never expect to see any part of 2008, for instance! Radical!)  

PPTS is, for me, a radical's response to a perceived need, a change which needs to be made. IN fact, for me the need is so great that not doing this show simply has no reasonable explanation. But, have no doubt, I and the staff of PPTS really DO this show for many, many accumulated hours every week which result in a two hour on-air presentation to the Progressive (and other descriptions) world.

Why? By what imaginative process could doing such a thing possibly matter, to anyone--much less a collection of "someones" the likes of which could only be referred to as "Radicals" or (shun the word) Progressives?

Such things usually turn on moments for the Progressive. It is usually when, in the moment itself, that the true Progressive faces him/herself much more than any particular issue as causation. Our show Sunday presented two such persons in the same two-hour period.

In the case of our first Special Guest, we must look backward first, from the standpoint of where each of us stands today. Were it not for one such moment, our world would be an entirely different place in which to live: a place that Republicans, Conservatives, Ultra-Conservative Right Wing fundamentalists, and the Tea Party Terrorists would have us immediately return to, post haste. But for one moment in history, that truth would most likely never have been, at all.

Where were you in 1963?

What were you doing? What great thing were you giving your life energy to in the political life of America? Were you alive? (Don't feel shame if you were not. Merely realize that, but for this one man, you may never have been. Literally.)

For our first guest, 1963 was a pure heyday of possibility. As Clinical Director for EMKO, which was the only inventor and manufacturer at that time of contraceptive foam., this young man had the tiger by the tail! On one clear day, with the world as his oyster, this man went into Harlem, New York to help establish a very special medical research project at the Harlem Hospital for his employer, EMKO. Shortly after arriving, something very real happened that would forever change his life. He w...I'll let him tell you himself.


In 1963, while working at a lucrative career as the youngest clinical director of EMKO, a birth control manufacturer, Bill Baird witnessed a tragedy.

While coordinating research at a New York City hospital, he heard a woman scream.  He raced into the corridor where a young African American woman was covered from the waist down in blood - an 8" piece of wire coat hanger was imbedded in her uterus.  As she slumped to the floor, Bill caught her in his arms.  She lamented the fate of her eight children at home before dying.

Outraged that she and others - mostly low-income women - were not able to access birth control and abortion help, Baird began investigating why.  Hospital directors, health department officials and even Planned Parenthood told him that it was illegal for unmarried people to access birth control.  The National Organization for Women (NOW) and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) were as yet unformed.

Frustrated with the lack of concern for this silent epidemic, he began giving away packages of EMKO contraceptive foam and condoms to those in need.  He converted an old United Parcel truck into what he called his "Plan Van."  He and a team of volunteers drove the classroom on wheels into disadvantaged sections of New York such as Harlem and Bedford Stuyvescent to bring this information directly to the public.

In 1964, he opened the first aboveground birth control and abortion referral clinic in Hempstead, Long Island, New York.  For every woman he helped to obtain an abortion, Bill faced a 10-year prison term.  Over the decades he operated three non-profit clinics in Massachusetts and New York.

For years, women came to Bill's clinic by the thousands because they could not obtain the help they needed in their home states.  On December 11, 1968 the Washington Post reported, "It was 3a.m. in the morning before the last patient saw Baird...Nowhere is such help available in the country."  

However, such activities got him fired from EMKO.  Then on May 13, 1965 he was arrested in New York for challenging anti-birth control  law 1142 by lecturing out of his "Plan Van" about reproductive rights.  This challenge resulted in the law being changed and birth control became legal in New York.

In 1966, Bill Baird challenged New Jersey's restrictive birth control statute which resulted in his second arrest.

It wasn't until 1967 that his greatest challenge, resulting in his landmark U.S. Supreme Court victory "Baird v. Eisenstadt", was initiated.

About 800 Boston University students petitioned the young crusader to challenge Massachusetts Comstock law "Crimes Against Chastity, Morality, Decency and Good Order."  On April 6, 1967, before an overflow audience of 2,500 people at Boston University, Bill gave a speech about birth control, abortion women's rights and overpopulation.  When he gave out one condom and one package of EMKO contraceptive foam to an unmarried minor female student, he was promptly handcuffed,  arrested and ultimately sentenced to three months in prison.

"Crimes Against Chastity" carried with it a 5-year maximum sentence for each violation - a law that even Margaret Sanger and others did not dare challenge.  However, Bill's dream was that if he were successful, his case might be heard by the high court and access to birth control and even abortion would be legal for anyone who needed it.

Since then? Three successful Supreme Court Challenges later, birth control has now been legal in this country for forty years, the LGBT community has collected many (but not all) the rights of other citizens, and the world is a different place.

At now 80 years of age, Mr. William "Bill" Baird spent some time with us yesterday, urging our listeners not only to remember, but to keep going! He has finally (this year) retired his famous "Cross" for the speaking, writing, and touring circuit. He has a message as important today as it was when he held a dying woman at Harlem Hospital in 1963.

"What are YOU going to DO
about it?"

Our second Special Guest is a woman who, for the past twelve years, has been doing something very specifically about it. Sandy Oestriech is the National Equal Rights Amendment Alliance Founder and President. Her single mission? To get the Equal Rights Amendment ratified in but three more American States. To get, currently, the ERA as a supported plank in the 2012 Democratic National Convention platform. In Charlotte, North Carolina. To get the President of the United States to speak his support for the ratification of this simple, yet 90 year struggle ended with victory. Fifteen states have, as yet, refused to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Eight of those same states have active measures somewhere in their legislatures' process. Three of them are bringing the issue before their next legislative sessions.

And, on August 18th, 2012, the ERA will again make a very physical and vocal appearance on the lawn of the United States Capital Building. This radical is asking all women, and men, to come to D.C. and speak for the ERA. Every state has an activity to this end, including special accomodation arrangements, transportation, the whole enchilada! Would it be possible for 50,000 ERA supporters (1,000 from each State) gather on the lawn? Well, that is not the stated goal of the event creators and coordinators. I will tell you, however, that is a goal for me. It should be for you, as well.

Founded by only five citizens, this latest reality has been borne by an unwillingness to do nothing more than write, or speak. Sandy and her network, along with an entirely new network called "We Are Woman", are making a real, and hopefully final push for the ratification of the ERA in 2012.

You can get full details on Sandy's continuing efforts by visiting the NERAA's website, or by emailing her at I hope you will listen to her during the second hour of Episode 19, and answer a simple question for yourself.

To get the information and details on the gathering and rally in Washington, D.C. on August 18th, 2012, visit the website. And, listen in to next week's show. Two of the organization's founders will be visiting us as Special Guests during our first hour on Sunday, August 12, 2012 beginning at 2:30 PM (Central Time).

"Baird v. Eisenstadt" is one of the most quoted cases in Supreme Court history. I would dare say that there is not one Law School graduate who has not seen, studied or argued this case. Among others, it is highly used to complete the circle begun by "Griswold", and very specifically in "Roe v. Wade" (and several other decisions regarding women's rights of privacy, health care, and other important rights.

One man. One true Progressive. Mr. Baird remains passionately involved in the area of women's health rights, and is quite concerned that the issue is being killed with faint praise. We will help make sure that doesn't happen easily. Soon.

And, one woman is fighting, along with a (now) national network of help, some 916 (within the past three months alone!) pieces of legislation which would remove "Baird" and its progeny from the American landscape.

Bill Baird told us his concern was for the children and family of one dying black woman in New York. Looking back, America owes this man, a true people's Hero, an incredible debt of gratitude, and honor, and commitment to the future. He has, single-handedly, been a writer of his (and our) future history, a today we are fighting to save.

Sandy Oestreich is also working, as she has for more than twelve years, to write our future history, as well. These are two True Progressives, who should stand as beacons to anyone who would dare call themselves a Progressive.

The show was just spectacular to me, as a citizen. If you haven't, I highly urge you to read the history that has been written, listen to the episode, and seriously ask yourself the one question every true Progressive MUST answer:

"What are YOU going to DO about it?"

We're on the air!

We'll see YOU there!

Originally posted to "Progressive Politics:Tennessee Style" (PPTS) on Tue Aug 07, 2012 at 02:16 PM PDT.

Also republished by Southern Action.


I was alive in April, 1963

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