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    A Call to Action

    By Joanie Juster–

    There were a lot of inspiring speeches at this year’s annual vigil commemorating the 1978 assassinations of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Many of the speakers urged the crowd to honor the legacy of the two slain leaders by continuing their progressive work. But, as is often the case, it was Cleve Jones who electrified and inspired the crowd with an emphatic call-to-action at the close of his speech: “If you take it for granted, they will take it away.”

    The dangers Cleve referred to became crystal clear on December 11, when the Texas Supreme Court ruled that a pregnant woman who was carrying an unviable fetus was not allowed to have the medical procedure that would not just save her life, but also possibly her future ability to bear children. Fortunately, the woman found a way to leave the state in order to have the abortion, but the sad fact is that option is not available to many women, especially since all but one of the states bordering Texas also outlaw the procedure.

    It is too easy to take for granted rights that we have enjoyed our entire lives. We can even become complacent about rights that were fought for and hard-won during our own lifetimes. Surely, we say to ourselves, now that we have this right, it’s ours forever, isn’t it? Well, not necessarily. In June 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court released the Dobbs decision that overturned the constitutional right to abortion, we saw that a right that had been hard-won fifty years before could be swept away overnight, endangering the lives of countless women across the country.

    In the blink of an eye, clinics closed their doors, women were criminalized, and doctors stopped practicing or left their practices in more restrictive states for states where they were actually allowed to perform life-saving procedures on women. Women everywhere suddenly faced impossible choices. Maternal mortality and morbidity increased, a chill of fear and hopelessness swept over healthcare providers, and access to all forms of healthcare were reduced. Even in states like California, where abortion is still legal, healthcare clinics were overwhelmed by an influx of patients from more restrictive states, making it harder for all women to access the health care they needed.

    Similarly, we have seen a steady chipping away at the most fundamental of American rights: the right to vote. In state after state, increasingly restrictive laws have been enacted to make it possible to remove broad swaths of the public from voting rosters. In other, more enlightened countries, voting is considered a fundamental right of citizenship in which everyone not only can, but also should participate. Here, there are powerful forces working to make sure that either you cannot vote, or your vote will not count. Between restrictive voting laws and ridiculously gerrymandered election maps, the voices of too many people in this country are being silenced at the polls—or even before they get to the polls.

    The good news is that there are also plenty of good people and good organizations that are working hard each day to fight for everyone’s fundamental rights—and they all need our help. Now is the time not just to be an ally, but also an accomplice. Answer their emails and texts. Pitch in as a volunteer or a donor. Spread the word so they gain new helpers. Stay informed on the issues, and speak out knowledgably to help educate others. Our voices must be heard. As Cleve said, if you take it for granted, they will take it away.

    Veteran activist Cleve Jones spoke at the annual Milk/Moscone Memorial Vigil held at Harvey Milk Plaza on November 27.

    But There Is Some Good News

    When Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022, it wasn’t just reproductive rights activists and healthcare advocates who moved into high gear. The efforts of red states to restrict women’s access to abortions also prompted an immediate response from groups that fight for privacy rights, as it became evident that tech-enabled surveillance would be used by state law enforcement agencies to target people for seeking, providing, or facilitating abortion care. An alarming case was a teenager and her mother in Nebraska who faced criminal charges based on private Facebook messages that had been obtained via a subpoena.

    Meta—the parent company of Facebook—became a focus of the efforts to protect private messages. An organization called Fight for the Future created a campaign called Make DMs Safe, demanding that major tech companies implement end-to-end encryption by default on all private messages, to ensure that they can’t be used to persecute people for a variety of issues. Meta complies with over 80% of the more than 100,000 requests for data that they receive from the government each year. People need to be able to trust that their messages will be private for any number of sensitive reasons, including interpersonal relationships, immigration status, sexual identity, healthcare, political organizing, and much more.

    Thanks to Fight for the Future and the coalition of allied groups they enlisted to help put pressure on Meta, a big victory was won: Facebook Messenger will soon become end-to-end encrypted by default. While it may take some time to roll out the technology, this is a big win for human rights and for privacy. Once default end-to-end encryption is in place, Meta will not be able just to hand over private messages when requested by government agencies.

    What’s Next

    You all know that 2024 will be a crucial election year. There will be no sitting on the sidelines. Complacency is not an option. We need every vote, and every voice, to make sure that our democracy does not continue to be eroded, and that rights are not stripped away from our most vulnerable neighbors. We are all in this together, and we need you (yes, you) to help.

    Happy Holidays, everyone. And here’s to a productive and politically active new year.

    Joanie Juster is a long-time community volunteer, activist, and ally.

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    Published on December 21, 2023