CARASA Organizational Proposal

September 1977

CARASA came together in the summer of 1977 out of several city-wide meetings in response to the Hyde Amendment, which removed Medicaid funding for abortion. We formed committees that sent representatives to a steering committee but it took us a while to get organized. I wrote these papers that September to put forward a position on the kind of organizational structure we needed.

I. THE PRESENT STATE OF OUR WORK

          CARASA's work to date has shown tremendous energy and growth. Our problems are due mainly to our newness, and to the fact that we have put more energy into doing things than into getting organized. This is basically good, and there is no reason to be discouraged or pessimistic. However, since we have had no organized political discussion, we have no clear basis of unity, and are failing to help educate those members who are new to politics. And we have had serious organizational problems. How are we to clean up our act politically and organizationally, so that we can integrate the new members we are bound to attract and put our work on a solid foundation?

          A) Political questions: Political contradictions have developed around: population control ideas; how feminist vs. class-oriented our line on abortion should be; and what constituencies we should emphasize reaching. Of these, the first is sharpest and most pressing. Because none of these questions have been openly discussed to the point of clarity (much less unity), many people do not understand the issues. Our line on abortion itself is so general that it is unlikely that any two members of the group would say the same thing if asked to rap it down.

          B) Organizational questions: We have no office, no staff, no phone, and have only just gotten a P.O. box and bank account. We worked on the speak-out {our first program was an abortion speakout at Judson Church] at a level of intensity that we could not sustain and consequently could not do much on Oct. 1-2. Because of its newness and rapid turnover, and the fact that most of its members work fulltime, steering committee has not given real collective leadership. Administrative work has fallen piecemeal on the shoulders of one or two individuals. Consequently, many things have not gotten done while other things have been duplicated. One person has been doing the mailings singlehanded. There have been problems in communication between steering committee and the various committees, and little overall coordination of the work.

          In the coming month, we must put more energy into consolidation. To this end, I propose:

II. A MEMBERSHIP CONFERENCE

          This would be a day long conference to make policy on the main political questions in our work (that is, decide on our platform and program), to revise our organizational structure, and to elect leadership. Only those who have signed the list at three meetings, including committee meetings, prior to the conference should be allowed to attend, to prevent packing. We must come out of the conference with answers to questions such as:

          1) How does sterilization relate to abortion? What is our view of population control?
          2) What is our approach to abortion: how feminist, how class-oriented?
          3) How and where do we build our base? How do we organize?

       Papers and presentations should be prepared on these and other key questions.

III. ORGANIZATIONAL FORM

          Should CARASA be a coalition or a membership organization? How have we actually been functioning?

          A coalition is a collection of groups who send official representatives to a steering committee and meetings. Its politics are determined by what they can all agree on. Speakers and leadership work are often done by trade-off between organizations. Individuals can work in coalitions but usually end up having little voice unless they have an organization behind them. Coalitions are most successful in planning specific actions rather than protracted campaigns. They should be as broad as possible. An abortion coalition should include church groups, community groups, women's groups, unions, Third World groups, and left organizations.

          An organization is based on individual dues-paying members, not groups, though individuals in it may belong to other groups. An organization expands by recruiting individuals, not by asking other groups to send representatives (though that can be done as well). Its leadership is elected on the basis of individual politics and work, rather than organizational affiliation. It can have local chapters. It can develop a method of orienting new members more easily than a coalition can. This is because its level of unity is higher than that of a coalition. It is therefore narrower.

          We need to have both a broad coalition and an organization in this abortion fight. But CARASA has been functioning more like an organization than a coalition to date. This is not a bad thing; it just means we need something else besides.

          We can do some things more easily as an organization than we can as a coalition. We can form groups is various neighborhoods and boroughs—chapters. We can reach the thousands of women who can be mobilized on this issue but do not belong to any group. Doing such organizing will help us build the base and the credibility we need to pull together a broad coalition around specific actions. Also, we must recognize that the disorganization and fragmentation in the women's movement and the left have created conditions for organizing that are different from those of the 60s, when large coalitions could be pulled together with relative ease.

          A key task will be reaching out to women on Medicaid who have been most affected by the abortion backlash. Since most of these women are not organized, it will be easier to bring them into an organization than a coalition. Also, if we can build chapters based in neighborhoods, including minority neighborhoods, we will not be in the position of asking isolated minority women to come to a mainly white coalition in Manhattan. This will make it much more feasible to build a really multinational organization and movement.

IV. STEERING COMMITTEE

          Steering committee needs to have a division of labor, and to be elected across the whole organization.  Election from committees was an interim solution to this problem.  It should have a chairperson elected by the whole membership.

          Steering committee needs to have at least one person responsible for overseeing these areas of work: 1) overall chairperson; 2) internal administration, coordination, mailings, etc., 3) fundraising and finance; 4) relations with other organizations locally; 5) relations with other organizations nationally; 6) communications committee; 7) mobilization committee; 8) outreach committee, and 9) a new committee for research. This means 9 or 10 people. As local chapters develop, they should send a representative to steering committee.

          The present steering committee should propose a slate at the conference.  Committees should make additional nominations, since they know best who has done good work.

                                                      Meredith Tax, for steering committee

CLARIFICATION

          With the help of discussions with many people in CARASA, I have been able to clarify the suggestions on organization in the other paper. Here they are, with the thinking behind them.

1. It will take the broadest possible movement to regain abortion rights. This movement has to include Planned Parenthood, NARAL, church groups, doctors, medical groups, Third World groups, etc. This movement has to work in coalition locally and nationally, around specific events and projects, to win its demands.

2. CARASA is, obviously, not such a coalition, representing those broad forces in reality. It is in practice a left-feminist coalition/group. It is unlikely that it can expand as a coalition to include the above type groups, because most of them will not work with us in an ongoing way but only really work on specific events.

3. The abortion movement over the years has been dominated by a population control and anti-natalist line; or else by a blanket civil-libertarian approach to "choice" that did not take into account the fact that any real choice is not equally accessible to women of different classes, minority groups, and nationalities. In the late 60s and early 70s this abortion rights movement did mass organizing work, but ceased to do so after '73. It has since concentrated on legislative work and lobbying and propaganda, much of which has included a population control emphasis.

4. CARASA has different politics from the above. We are opposed to sterilization abuse. We are opposed to linking the question of abortion rights with population control ideas. We want to connect the issue of medicaid cuts for abortions with other social problems, including the lack of decent health care in general, lack of daycare, lack of maternity benefits, sterilization abuse, unemployment, the economic crisis, and the general oppression of women. Many of us think that these factors make any startling overall achievement of reprodoductive freedom for all women impossible under this system, though we can win back the right to abortion on demand. We also stand for organizing grassroots women, not just lobbying and legislative work. We want to build the movement from the bottom up, as well as unite with other organizations.

5. It is necessary that an organization with CARASA's politics exist (within the framework of the broad abortion rights movement) in order to:
    a) do the organizing that other groups won't do, on a grassroots level;
    b) make the connections between abortion and sterilization abuse and oppose linking abortion rights with population control;
    c) link abortion with other issues affecting women's reproductive freedom.
 
6. Therefore I propose that CARASA should become an organization, with a basis of unity that is as in #5 above, and that it should have 2 main forms of mass work:
    a) grassroots organizing
    b) pulling together a broad coalition for abortion rights. Soon.  And around specific actions.
 
7. Relationship of CARASA and such a coalition:
    a) No such coalition can be built unless one organization takes consistent ongoing responsibility to keep it together and build it, does the shitwork, etc.
    b) CARASA should struggle to win people to its politics inside such a coalition. However, coalitions entail compromises and in order to build a really broad one we may have to subdue certain of our own points as far as the platform of the coalition goes. However, as long as we have our own organization, which would have the freedom to put forward its own
point of view in speeches, literature, etc. we are not in danger of seriously compromising or losing our politics.
    c) Our credibility in such a broad coalition must be based on consistent, successful grassroots organizing.

8. Whether CARASA is an "organization" or a "coalition" itself is not the main question. However, I think it is preferable for us to see ourselves as a membership organization because:
    a) clearer politics are possible.
    b) recruitment is easier.
    c) we could be better organized, with a clearer division of labor, more responsible and consistent leadership, better internal education, etc.
    d) it would be easier to have local chapters,.
    e) it would be too confusing to have two different things called a coalition.

                                                                       Respectfully submitted,
                                                                       Meredith Tax

Copyright © Meredith Tax 2010. All Rights Reserved.