Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist is a crowd pleaser. On our first visit several weeks ago to the New Museum where her show, Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest, is up until January 15, 2017, the attendance was modest. Last week on our second visit, the line outside went around the block. Word had spread. The mostly Millennial hordes crowded the three floors of the museum devoted to the show, iPhones at the ready, posing, snapping, reviewing, re-posing, snapping again.
A viewer could walk through suspended sheets of sheer fabric on to which Rist projected videos. Or one could stick one’s head into a box to view another. Or one could lie on mattresses or cushions on the floor and take in the videos on the walls and ceiling. In another section, you had to walk through a forest of 300 glass LED light ornaments hanging from the ceiling, spaced maybe a foot apart. The idea was to slow down, be in the ornaments, observe the colors and pixels on the ornaments, make out the patterns, navigate carefully, not to disturb the hanging pendants, or, worse, crash them together. The visitors, being blithe New Yorkers and high-spirited Europeans - I heard at least a half dozen languages - were routinely knocking the glass lights into each other. A security guard told me that four pendants had been shattered that day, and it was only 2 pm. He routinely radios the curatorial staff and they come armed with replacements, stepladders and, presumably, a broom and dust pan. All part of the intended experience, I imagine. Breakable, elusive art. The fragility of life.
The Rist videos projected on walls and ceiling continue the theme and confuse. Are you, the observer, inside the body or outside? Underwater scenes, filmed in the Rhine, are surreal, bubbles and particles - of what? - abound. You are taken down narrow passages - are we in an artery, is this human skin we see and feel? Are the amoeba in the river or in us? Rist calls her art “glorification of the wonder of evolution”.
The installation envelopes with its dual screens surrounding you. You lie there not wanting to leave, yet conscious there is a waiting line. The accompanying music completes the envelopment. The experience takes you outside yourself and inside at the same time.
Audra McDonald, the star of Shuffle Along on Broadway, found herself pregnant last May, and, a month later, the show’s producers cancelled the remainder of the run, instead of bringing in another performer to take over her role. The producers had purchased an insurance policy from Lloyds, which reportedly covered them in case Ms. McDonald was unable to perform because of “accident or illness”. Putting aside whether the pregnancy was an “accident” (this will be litigated), is it an “illness”?
While there are laws and cases on this (one report says, “no“), a look back at perhaps the first case on this issue, involving my grandmother, Margaret Sanger, might be instructive.
One hundred years ago, on October 16, 1916, she opened America’s first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn. After ten days, the police shuttered the clinic as being in violation of the Comstock Law, which prohibited a person “to sell, or give away, or to advertise or offer for sale, any instrument or article, drug or medicine, for the prevention of conception; or to give information orally, stating when, where or how such an instrument, article or medicine can be purchased or obtained.”
My grandmother freely admitted violating the law, as she dispensed birth control information to the women jamming her clinic, was convicted and was sentenced to 30 days in prison.
She appealed her conviction, an unusual step since she had admitted her guilt, and argued that what she had done was within the exception to the law, which stated: “An article or instrument, used or applied by physicians lawfully practicing, or by their direction or prescription, for the cure or prevention of disease, is not an article of indecent or immoral nature or use, within this article.”
The issue came down to, what is “disease”.
My grandmother argued that pregnancy was a “disease”.
The New York Court of Appeals in 1918 in Sanger v. New York first noted that my grandmother was a nurse and not a physician and thus was not covered by the exception.
Nonetheless, obviously in sympathy with what she was doing, the Court unanimously said:
“This exception in behalf of physicians does not permit advertisements regarding such matters, nor promiscuous advice to patients irrespective of their condition, but it is broad enough to protect the physician who in good faith gives such help or advice to a married person to cure or prevent disease. ‘Disease,’ by Webster’s International Dictionary, is defined to be, ‘an alteration in the state of the body, or of some of its organs, interrupting or disturbing the performance of the vital functions, and causing or threatening pain and sickness; illness; sickness; disorder’.”
My grandmother took this to mean that pregnancy was exactly that - an alteration in the state of the body, and an “illness”. She was thereafter free to open her birth control clinics, mostly unhindered by the law, though raids happened from time to time.
While insurance law and contract law are a world of their own, public policy, and dare I say common sense, can intrude, just as the NY Court of Appeals showed in 1918. Pregnancy is no walk in the park, or on stage. If the Lloyds policy didn’t specifically exclude pregnancy, shouldn’t they be on the hook?
The outcome of last week's election was heartbreaking, devastating, and shocking. It is clear that under this new administration, we will face renewed attacks on our mission.
But mark these words: We will never back down and will never stop providing the care our patients need. We have fought back countless attacks during our past 100 years, and our survival of each attack has made us stronger. We’re going to use that strength to fight in the coming days, months, and years – for the patients who rely on us and for our allies across progressive movements. #WeWontGoBack
In addition to the threats we anticipate to access to reproductive health care, we recognize the threats to the safety and dignity of people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ people—to our patients, our staff, our neighbors, and our communities. We cannot allow the acceptance of institutionalized racism, sexism, and discrimination to become our new normal. We will do everything in our power to fight this hatred.
What can you do right now if you care about Planned Parenthood of New York City and the communities we serve?Here are 5 ways to join us in action!
1. Continue to support our work
Our doors will continue to stay open to everyone, no matter what. Your support helps so much.
Donate to support Planned Parenthood of New York City: Our five health centers—one in each borough—are open, and they are continuing to deliver vital, high-quality reproductive health care. We have already seen a huge surge in appointments as New Yorkers are worried they may lose access to birth control. We will always be here for all New Yorkers, and your support helps.
Learn about Planned Parenthood NYC Votes. There has never been a time when it's more important to elect local officials who will fight for our access to sexual and reproductive rights. Planned Parenthood NYC Votes is a non-partisan organization committed to supporting local candidates who are leaders on sexual and reproductive health.
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay in the loop on actions you can take to support us and our partners.
3. Speak Out Against Hate
Our patients include many of the groups that the Trump-Pence ticket targeted: immigrants, Muslims, and others. They are Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ. Planned Parenthood of New York City’s patients come from all walks of life, and they all deserve access to health care in a safe and welcoming place. Show that you believe every single person is deserving of respect, dignity, and equal rights under the law.
Today, we come together. Many of us with our loved ones and colleagues close wondering what the future holds. Many of us far away from home wondering if there is a place for us in the nation we love.
For more than 60 years, we have fought against discrimination, hate, and bigotry. And while that road has not always been easy, we have persevered. We have defied the odds and done the unthinkable.
Today, we feel how far we are from the world we imagine for ourselves, our communities, and our world. But we must heal because we have no choice. We must build on the work and dreams we have created together as a movement. We must recommit to our pledge to stand united, to continue to push for change and bring forward solutions.
Democracy requires our participation every single day. You stand by our side because you know what’s at stake. You stand by our side because you know women and girls deserve better. You stand by our side because you know the importance of making sure young people feel valued, loved, and supported to reach high. And now, we need you more than ever.
We are united, determined and strong. Dignity and equality must, and will, win. We can get there together.
On Sunday, Planned Parenthood celebrated 100 years since its first clinic opened its doors. That very first clinic, opened by birth-control activist and educator Margaret Sanger in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, was shut down after being open only ten days. Sanger was sentenced to 30 days in a workhouse for being a public nuisance. (She’d avoided jail only two years prior for distributing an illicit newspaper on the subject of birth control, called Family Limitation.) One hundred years later, there are 650 Planned Parenthood clinics serving communities across America — but the fight for women’s reproductive rights and access to care is not over.
Margaret Sanger’s grandson Alexander was the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood in New York City from 1991 to 2000; he’s now the chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council, a role he performs as a volunteer. Though Sanger didn’t begin his career in Planned Parenthood, once he decided to work in the field he says he was so invigorated by his grandmother’s mission that he never looked back. Sanger spoke to the Cut about the momentous anniversary, his grandmother’s legacy, and what work still needs to be done.
What was Margaret Sanger like?She was feisty. The daughter of Irish immigrants, she grew up in pretty precarious circumstances. I think they were literally shanty Irish when they were living in Corning, New York. She had an 11th-grade education, and everything after that she was self-educated. She was very ambitious.
She started out as a kindergarten teacher and then, through a friend, she decided to go to nursing school. That was going to be it for her. Then she met my grandfather, who was an architect and a German-Jewish immigrant. He was the one who introduced her to the radicals of New York. He was the entry point for her into this world of activism.
Women’s health care was so poor and precarious at the time — this was around the early 1900s. She came to this breaking point — after being inspired by the radicals and labor organizers she was associated with — where she said, “I’ve got to do something.” She was indicted on nine counts of obscenity for distributing a newspaper called Family Limitation, which was a pamphlet all about birth control. She was facing 45 years in federal prison when she was 35 years old. She had three children at that point. In order to avoid standing trial, she ended up fleeing the country. When she came back, her daughter had died. The government didn’t want to make a martyr out of her more than she was, so they dropped the charges. She went on a nationwide speaking tour afterward, and that’s where everything started.
How did you come to understand the legacy that your grandmother had built? Why did you get involved in this work?The most extraordinary memory I have is of her giving her last speech. I was 12 at the time — it was 1960. She was not well; she was then 81, and had had several heart attacks. She came out on my father’s arm. The place erupted. Everyone was on their feet, cheering. I was sitting there, realizing who she was. I kind of knew she was famous, but I’d never seen a scene like this ever. In her speech, she said, “The law against birth control was asinine, so I broke it, and I went to jail.” She was not afraid. She was in jail about a dozen times. I think everybody on this planet is glad that she went to jail.
I was in college at Princeton when my grandmother died. Because of her ill health, I never talked to her about her work, and by the time I really knew what I wanted to ask her, it was too late. I read the obituaries, which only told part of the story. For my senior thesis, I wrote about my grandmother. I was the first person into her archives after her death. I was the first person to discover all of her affairs, affairs with some of the most prominent men of the 20th century.
I was working as a lawyer on Wall Street when fate intervened. I was at the ballet one night with my wife and I saw one of my partners there and he was with this woman who was on the board at Planned Parenthood. When I told her my name, she asked, “Are you any relation to Margaret?” I said yes. “So why aren’t you on my board?” I never looked back.
What role do men play in the fight for women’s reproductive rights in America?I said to one of my children once, who had asked me for life advice, that you’ve got to wake up in the morning and bounce out of bed because you feel so invigorated about the work that you do. Planned Parenthood and this movement is part of my soul. Men can feel this just as much as women. I’m not a believer in gender specific roles for men and women in this movement. I don’t pigeonhole myself as a male spokesperson. I’m an ambassador for Planned Parenthood.
Clearly men are a major part of women’s problems, but that’s why we work very hard to bring men and boys into our movement, so that they can understand what it really is to be a man. Being a man does not mean beating a woman or treating a woman as a possession. Men have just as much to contribute to solving the problems of reproductive rights in America as women do.
What would reproductive rights look like under a Trump presidency?He’s said that he wants to defund Planned Parenthood. He’ll propose more justices like Scalia. I fear a Supreme Court being packed with people wanting to overturn Roe v. Wade. Private fundraising never makes up for public dollars; we would be faced with turning women away. The rest of the country would become Texas.
That’s why this election is so vital. The fact is, we have one party in favor of reproductive rights and one totally opposed to them. That is not a healthy future for women in this country. It’s really up to Republican women and like-minded men who are progressive thinkers on this issue to say, “Enough is enough.”
We’re celebrating 100 years of Planned Parenthood this year. What is the next frontier for the organization — say, in the next 10, 20 years? The reality of operating health-care clinics is that we’re part of a health-care system. Every state is different. It’s a very difficult environment to operate in. I have suggested on more than one occasion that Planned Parenthoods in America need to look abroad for examples on how to operate, how to be better embedded in the communities, to defuse opposition, to reach even more women who need help.
In Morocco, they not only operate a clinic, they operate an elementary school, a cooking school. They’re providing career paths for young men and women. The people view Planned Parenthood as a community center. It’s important that women and girls in America see these organizations as their allies in the pursuit of better lives.
One hundred years after a Brooklyn nurse was jailed for selling her patients an illegal pamphlet on birth control methods, Planned Parenthood is still redefining activism.
Supporters of the group saluted the organization during a City Hall celebration on its 100th anniversary Sunday, refusing to rest on its laurels.
“Planned Parenthood and New York City are aligned,” said Planned Parenthood of New York City CEO Joan Malin. “We want to be where people are in the city of New York to provide care. We are seeking to create a city where access to health care and essential human services are a reality for all people.”
Malin joined activists and elected leaders in the City Hall rotunda, which was elegantly lit in bright fuchsia lights for the occasion.
Speakers paying tribute to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger included First Lady Chirlane McCray, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and City Council Speaker Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
The national celebration included well wishes from former President Bill Clinton and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“When Trump and Pence attack Planned Parenthood, they're attacking millions of Americans,” Hillary Clinton tweeted.
With reproductive freedom in jeopardy, Alexander Sanger, grandson of renowned family planning advocate Margaret Sanger and a longtime leader in the reproductive rights movement, has taken an urgent, fresh look at the pro-choice position—and even the pro-life position—and finds them necessary, but insufficient. In Beyond Choice he offers the first major re-thinking of these positions in thirty years.
“Well researched and readable, Beyond Choice should be required reading for both pro-choice and pro-life supporters.” —Governor Christine Todd Whitman