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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February changed something among many young people in the United States.

First came the March for Our Lives protests on March 24, with teens around the country organizing and speaking out in favor of tighter gun-control laws.

Now those same youngsters, as they turn 18, are registering to vote—and trying to put political pressure on congressional leaders who oppose stricter gun-control laws.

Matthew Chang, a senior at Palm Desert High School, is one of those teens: He helped mount a voter-registration drive among his classmates.

“It was very successful,” Chang said. “During the days we had the drive, we registered about 35 people to vote, and then we worked in conjunction with a club that was planning a walk-out protest, and we helped them register people to vote, too.”

Robert Westwood, the president of the Democrats of the Desert, got to know Chang when the student showed up at a meeting looking for help with his voter-registration efforts. Chang isn’t alone: Westwood said students from Palm Springs High School and Shadow Hills High School have also reached out.

“We had Matthew and four young ladies from Shadow Hills High School come to one of our Democrats of the Desert meetings,” Westwood said. “They really energized our club. They gave us a lot of information about what they’re doing and their enthusiasm for getting young people registered to vote, and then out to vote—which are two very different tasks. We can’t go onto a campus, and (registration) can only be done within a campus with permission from the administration.”

Chang said the school walkouts that have been taking place throughout the country are sending a message.

“Whatever anyone’s stances are on the walkout, we can all agree that it helped to show that we, as teens, have a bigger voice than we originally thought,” Chang said. “I think registering younger people to vote comes from that. If we do things like walkouts, which shows people we have a voice, more people will want to register to vote to enhance their voice and become politically active.”

What made Chang decide to become politically active?

“During my freshman year, I joined a club called Youth in Government, and it was with the YMCA,” he said. “It really changed my perspective, because before, I was really apathetic to what was going on around me, and it showed me that I have a say in what’s going on, and if I have an opinion, I need to share it.”

What do his parents think about his political involvement?

“They’re not really into politics,” Chang said. “I don’t think they even knew that I was doing the voter-registration drive. It was just something that I took on. They’re not really into politically related things.”

Talking to other young people about political subjects is not always easy, Chang said.

“I do think that talking to young people who have not had a government class yet is difficult,” Chang said. “Not many young people keep track of the news as much as people wish that they did. … More-educated young people are easy to talk to about politics. Because of that, I think we should try harder to educate younger people.”

Westwood said Chang’s involvement with the Democrats of the Desert has been inspirational.

“He came and talked to us and led us in the Pledge of Allegiance at one of our meetings where we had 150 people, and everybody got up and cheered him—and some people were crying,” Westwood said. “He also had the student body president from Palm Desert High School come with him, and she gave a rousing talk about the importance of young people keeping this going, and asked for our help. She offered their help to register young people and get young people out to vote. Now we’re moving on projects to get people to vote by mail and show up to vote on June 5.”

Chang’s time at Palm Desert High School is about to come to a close, and he said he plans on remaining active in college.

“Next year, I am going to college at Harvard, and I want to join the Democratic Club at Harvard,” he said. “I’m going to work on some campaigns and help some Democratic candidates I support.”

While Chang is optimistic overall, he did admit he has some concerns about politics.

“I think that we are becoming increasingly polarized in politics. A lot of the exchanges I hear between different parties are often not attempts to work with the other party, but are often trying to degrade the other party as much as possible. I don’t think that’s the direction that we need to be going in. We need bipartisan proposals to make sure that all perspectives are heard, and we can all work together as a nation.”

Published in Politics

It’s difficult to find the right word to describe coming together to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade becoming the law of the land.

Celebrate? That doesn’t feel right, because even pro-choice individuals don’t think abortion should be “celebrated.” Commemorate? Yes, we do remember and memorialize the decision that affirmed women have a right to privacy regarding when and whether to bear a child. But perhaps there’s an even better word.

Solemnize? To dignify with events or ceremonies?

That works for me.

Recently, a group of local women and men gathered to solemnize the 43rd year since the Supreme Court validated women’s sovereignty regarding their own bodies, on Jan. 22, 1973. How’s the legal decision working these many years later?

The total number of abortions performed legally in the United States has steadily been declining, particularly among teenagers, largely as a result of the use of birth control, sex education and fear of disease. That’s the good news.

The bad news is a record number of restrictive anti-abortion laws and regulations passed in recent years by state legislatures, justified by the U.S. Supreme Court’s statement in Roe that although the Constitution protects a woman’s right to abortion during the first trimester, the states also have an “important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life” (however that is variously interpreted).

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the leading compiler of accurate abortion information, in about 87 percent of U.S. counties, there is no provider; 35 percent of women age 15-44 live in those counties. Some state laws require waiting periods, ultrasounds with forced viewing of results, and “counseling”—often with misleading or outright false information, designed to discourage the decision to abort.

With such limited access to providers, some women must be able to travel more than 100 miles, take time off from work, arrange child care and find a way to stay or return again to satisfy waiting periods. It’s estimated that more than 30 percent of all women will have an abortion by the age of 45, and based on Roe, it should at least be safe, legal and accessible.

In Texas, where very restrictive laws passed last year, more than 100,000 Texas women between 18 and 49 have either tried to end a pregnancy themselves, or have sought help in Mexico. (The Supreme Court has accepted a case this term to decide whether Texas created an “undue burden” on women.)

The local event, co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood, Democrats of the Desert (DOD) and Democratic Women of the Desert (DWD), featured the film Vessel, a documentary chronicling the work of Women on Waves (WoW). The Dutch organization, a pro-choice nonprofit created in 1999 by physician Rebecca Gomperts, estimates that almost 50,000 women a year worldwide die from self-induced abortions.

“Reproductive freedom should be seen as a fundamental human right, not as a benefit or privilege only available to some, but not all, women around the world,” said DWD President Amalia Deaztlan, a resident of Bermuda Dunes.

WoW took advantage of the fact that when a ship is in international waters, at least 12 miles offshore, the laws of the nation under which that ship is licensed prevail. Dutch law allows unrestricted medication abortions up to the 6 1/2th week of pregnancy. In 2002, to assist women in countries where abortion is not legally allowed, WoW raised money to charter a ship and set up a complete portable clinic. The organization got permission from the Dutch health minister, staffed the ship with medical professionals and volunteers, and set out to provide services to women in countries with restrictive abortion laws. The intention was to land, let women know the nonsurgical procedure could be provided, take appointments to bring women on board, and sail into international waters, where Dutch law would prevail.  

The first stop was Ireland, followed over the course of several years by Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Poland. In some locations, they were not even allowed to dock the ship: Loud groups of protesters, mostly men, often threatened them, but the protests and resulting publicity led to hotlines being established and, ultimately, to changes in some laws. At the very least, women became aware that there were nonsurgical means they could obtain and safely take on their own, regardless of the legality of abortion or the willingness of doctors.

According to Guttmacher, in 2008, medication abortion accounted for more than 25 percent of all U.S. abortions performed prior to nine weeks of gestation. Says the World Health Organization (WHO): “In countries where induced abortion is legally highly restricted and/or unavailable, safe abortion has frequently become the privilege of the rich, while poor women have little choice but to resort to unsafe providers, causing deaths … that become the social and financial responsibility of the public health system. Laws and policies on abortion should protect women’s health and their human rights. Regulatory, policy and programmatic barriers that hinder access to and timely provision of safe abortion care should be removed.” WHO has placed the drugs used in medical abortions on its List of Essential Medicines since 2005.

Since ships cannot reach all of the countries where women need access to safe abortions, WoW launched safe-abortion hotlines in Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, Argentina, Pakistan, Indonesia, Kenya, Thailand, Poland and Morocco. WoW trains volunteers who can staff local hotlines to give women information about how to obtain and use the drugs. They have even resorted to graffiti-tagging “Safe Abortion” with a local phone number on streets and walls so women can get the information they seek.

Seeing Vessel was a moving and inspiring experience, especially for those who often forget that what we may freely access in California is heavily restricted in places like North Dakota, and totally unavailable in places like Tanzania.

La Quinta resident Marlene Levine had a visceral reaction to some of the scenes in the film.

“I see big groups of angry men yelling at women who are trying to help each other,” she said about the film. “I keep wondering who in those gangs of protesters has ever sat up all night with their own sick child, or picked up a bottle to feed his baby, or changed even one dirty diaper. Do they even really care about a real baby? Or are they just out to show those women who is boss and let them know that their women must do as they say?”

We came together to solemnize the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, dignifying it by remembering that women all over the world deserve the human right to make decisions in their own best interest, acknowledging their sovereignty over their own bodies.

Some things should never be taken for granted.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Over the last decade in the Coachella Valley (and Riverside County overall), there has been a seismic political shift that is not related to the proximity of the San Andreas Fault.

In 2004, as the presidential election drew near, the Republican Party in Riverside County held a voter-registration advantage of 12.5 percentage points over the Democratic Party.

Four years later, that Republican advantage had dwindled to slightly more than 5 percentage points. And in 2012, as the race between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney neared its climax, the Democratic Party had narrowed the gap to just 4.5 percentage points.

According to data released on May 20 by the California Secretary of State, that differential is now just 4.1 percentage points.

It’s no surprise that many political insiders in Riverside County attribute the Democrats’ surprising wins at the polls last November—Obama actually beat Romney by almost 11,000 votes in the county, and Dr. Raul Ruiz edged out incumbent Rep. Mary Bono Mack to get elected to Congress—to the party’s effective voter-enlistment drive over the last decade.

“When we opened our headquarters five years ago (in Cathedral City), we realized that one of the most important activities we could pursue was voter registration,” explained Elle Kurpiewski, the manager of the aforementioned headquarters and a former president of the Democrats of the Desert. “Our facility plays host to 11 different Democratic clubs and organizations in the region; we sponsor a booth at the weekly Thursday night Palm Springs Village Fest; and in 2008, we had 27 semi-permanent voter-registration sites established.”

Other factors have impacted the registered-voter landscape, too. One was the California online voter registration legislation that took effect in 2012 and is credited with enabling some 800,000 new voters statewide to join the electoral rolls prior to the 2012 general election. This new registration method proved particularly effective in attracting eligible voters among the young and minority groups, favoring Democrats statewide by a 2-to-1 margin over Republicans. (There are no specific numbers for Riverside County available yet.)

“Our only concern was whether online registration would actually work: Would voters be able to navigate the system successfully to get registered?” Kurpiewski said. “What we want is that people take advantage of their constitutional right to vote. If it works and helps stop registration fraud, then we’re in favor of it.”

Another major factor is the rapid growth of the Latino population statewide. According to the California Department of Finance, by early 2014, Latinos will outnumber white people by early 2014. Along with the Latino segment’s rapid growth comes these political realities: While only 44 percent of eligible Latino voters in the state had registered, more than 60 percent of them identified themselves as Democrats; meanwhile, only about 15 percent said they were Republicans, according to the Public Policy Institute of California in an analysis released earlier this year.

Therein lies both an opportunity and a challenge for the two major political parties.

“I always say that the Republican Party in Riverside County has three ongoing and equally important goals: voter registration, fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts,” said Randon Lane, chairman of the Republican Party of Riverside County. “I will speak to any organization, representing any constituency, about the Republican Party message and values. Right now, it’s important for us to get outside the box to attract both new voters to register as Republicans, and convert those who may not completely understand our message and are registered now with other major parties.”

Kurpiewski said local Democrats have made specific efforts to reach Latino communities in Coachella, Indio and Mecca. “But our focus is not just the Latino community; we care about everyone. In all ethnic communities, we enlist participants who are members of that community and have skills and expertise unique to their community. They know their neighbors and can identify the areas where our voter registration outreach will succeed. Our whole thing is working together with the communities that make up Coachella Valley, and that has made us successful in turning this valley blue.”

All eyes are now on the 2014 Riverside County Board of Supervisors race between challenger V. Manuel Perez, a Democrat, and Republican incumbent John Benoit. Just how much of the voter-registration focus in Riverside County will be on recruiting Latino citizens?

“There are a lot of shared voter concerns that we speak to as a party in our outreach efforts, whether at meetings, via social media or direct mail,” said Lane, “but particular voter segments have their specific issues that we want to address. The Republican Party wants to speak to the Latino community’s concerns, just as we need to address concerns in the black, Asian, white or any ethnic constituency where voters will consider supporting the Republican Party.”

Kurpiewski said local Democrats are in the process of starting a major voter-registration drive this month. “I’d rather not share details, because we don’t want to give opposing parties a preview of our strategy, but we are very confident that this effort will enable us to accomplish everything we can to help V. Manuel Perez to get elected, and also to keep U.S. Congressman Raul Ruiz in office,” she said.

Published in Politics