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Narratives vs Experiences: The Case of Jackie Speier

False narratives crumble when confronted with lived experiences, and I can’t think of a better example than the case of Jackie Speier.

Borders and barriers are thrown up to segregate people, places, and things from each other so that the privileged few with mobility are afforded a position of power — a position to influence public perceptions of the environment (see Walter Lippmann’s discussion of pseudo-environments in Public Opinion). This routinely gives way to false narratives that are communicated via various media to explain to the public what other people, places, or things are really like.

You can see this at play in the US debate over abortion and Planned Parenthood — where the patriarchal power structure gives men undue influence over shaping media narratives. We, the public, are told by Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) that abortion services are well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does when it’s actually 3%. And, we’re told that abortion procedures are gruesome acts of violence against the unborn, not by people who have performed or endured them, but mostly by men with political axes to grind.

So, why not use media to communicate lived experiences rather than to peddle false narratives — to elevate a public debate by grounding it in lived experience rather than dragging another red herring across the trail? This is what happened when Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) took to the floor of congress to challenge Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-NJ) description of what abortion is really like:

I’m one of those women [Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ)] spoke about just now.

I had a procedure at 17 weeks pregnant with a child who moved from the vagina into the cervix.

And that procedure that you just described is a procedure that I endured.

… I lost that baby.

But for you to stand on this floor and suggest that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought, is preposterous.

It is preposterous. And it’s hard to image false narratives like these gaining traction in government debates if there were real gender equality in our congressional representation (only 16.6% of Representatives are women, and only 17% of Senators are women). It would also be hard to image false narratives like these gaining traction in the daily news cycle if every time a John Kyl or a Chris Smith spewed their fact-less disembodied nonsense in front of a camera they were forced to confront the lived experiences of some one like Jackie Speier. One might even call that “fair and balanced.”

The video is more powerful than any quote. Watch it:

SIDE NOTE: Back in February 2008, Lawrence Lessig was considering a bid for the congressional seat left open by the death of Rep. Lantos. At that time, I promoted the Draft Lessig for Congress campaign. Lessig ultimately abandoned his bid and endorsed Jackie Speier, who went on to win the seat in a special election. Lessig made the right decision.