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Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening When the World Wants a Fight Paperback – June 1, 2015
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The founder of Exhale, a nonjudgmental post-abortion talkline, urges an approach toward compassionate dialogue around contentious issues that is centered on listening to individuals' stories of "nuanced, complicated personal experience." Baker expresses frustration with the polarized parameters for public discourse about abortion that are established by politicized activism on both the pro-life and pro-choice sides, and urges instead a empathetic, nonviolent "pro-voice" approach that "rehumanizes toxic dynamics" by focusing on listening, telling, and engaging with the personal accounts behind controversial issues. This method embraces the gray areas of polarizing topics, and offers respect and human dignity across the diversity and complexity of emotional experiences. Baker believes strongly in the power of narrative to communicate across conflict, opening minds and allowing people to see themselves in the experiences of others. Though the emphasis on the success of Exhale can come across as off-puttingly self-congratulatory, Baker's message to activists is powerful: when we hear one another as people and not as enemies, we create a world in which authenticity and innovation can help us find a way past entrenched obstacles to social change. (June)
“I recently learned that I already was pro-voice, and when you read this book you will likely discover that you are too. Together we can transform the ‘us versus them’ dynamic that dominates our politics and media. Together we can create a new norm of respectful, caring engagement.”
—Joan Blades, founder of MoveOn.org, MomsRising, and Living Room Conversations
“With Pro-Voice, Aspen Baker revels in the deep discomfort of ambiguity rather than the shallow, sure waters of polemic. It is a testament to the transformational possibility of exploring the neglected gray area beyond the overly traveled black and white. I've never read anything quite like it.”
—Courtney E. Martin, author of Do It Anyway
“Aspen Baker takes one of the most contentious issues of our age and pulls an unexpected magic trick. Instead of delivering up a call to arms, she opens up a safe place for empathy, caring, and transformation.”
—Glynn Washington, creator and host of NPR’s Snap Judgment
“In this wise and compassionate book, Aspen Baker makes clear how strange it is that the people who battle over abortion policy rarely hear the stories of women who have actually had abortions. With sensitivity and insight, she shows that people’s personal stories can transform the debate. Pro-Voice is smart, provocative, and, finally, heartening.”
—Francesca Polletta, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Irvine, and author of It Was Like a Fever
“Aspen Baker’s sharply insightful new book illuminates the refreshing—and groundbreaking—attitude she takes toward abortion, a stance that embraces the emotional complexity of women’s abortion experiences and reveals the discussion’s many gray areas that are so often obscured by political gamesmanship.”
—Martha Shane, filmmaker, After Tiller
“Thank you, Aspen, for asking the global community to create an environment of compassionate pro-voice dialogue around this ubiquitous, incendiary issue. May this book birth the healing we all need.”
—Deborah Santana, author, philanthropist, and founder of Do a Little
“The pro-voice movement Aspen Baker founded in Exhale is based on the idea that we are all storytellers, with the right to our own stories; specifically that every woman has the right to her own feelings about the experience of abortion, whatever they might be. As a journalist who writes about reproductive rights, I truly believe this approach is the only way to bridge a divide in this country that is putting woman’s lives in peril.”
—Liz Welch, award-winning journalist and coauthor of The Kids Are All Right and I Will Always Write Back
“We have less and less authentic space for dialogue in our country, yet Aspen Baker has taken the power of listening into the most contentious of territories, the abortion debate. She has shown that the stories that emerge when someone feels respected and safe enough to share them have the power to heal. We can choose to listen, and if we do, perhaps we can create a healthier society.”
—Joe Lambert, founder and Executive Director, Center for Digital Storytelling
“The abortion debate—or rather, standoff—is one of the most polarizing in our polarized country. Pro-Voice creates humane connections across the passion-filled gulf that divides abortion conversations; then, as Jonathan Powell has also written recently, ‘There is no conflict in the world that cannot be solved.’ If that is not a reason for hope, what is?”
—Michael Nagler, author of The Search for a Nonviolent Future and The Nonviolence Handbook and President, Metta Center for Nonviolence
“In Pro-Voice, Aspen Baker raises a bold mandate that we hear people’s abortion stories and imagines a world in which abortion is understood not through conflict but through empathy, regardless of one’s politics. Baker shows, despite the loud rhetoric, that personal experiences with abortion are rarely spoken, and even more rarely are they compassionately heard. Proudly defying political categorization, Pro-Voice challenges everyone to step away from the fight in favor of deeper understanding. This is a most courageous and necessary book.”
—Marjorie Jolles, PhD, Associate Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies, Roosevelt University
“We’ve made great progress on tough social issues by sharing our stories authentically. Pro-Voice dives into that topic and makes it actionable. If you’re an organizer it’s a must-read in 2015!”
—Raven Brooks, Editor, Netroots Nation
“In Pro-Voice, Aspen Baker shows us how to make America’s abortion wars a relic of the past. Sharing and listening can heal old wounds and generate a new understanding and respect for this deeply personal issue.”
—US Congresswoman Gwen Moore
“In a world where everyone forces you to chose a side around abortion, Pro-Voice challenges all of us to put empathy first and ideology second. Aspen Baker radically reframes our current culture war over abortion by putting stories first. By centering the voices of women, Baker clearly explains that actual conversation—not preaching or stonewalling—is the only way to move forward.”
—Latoya Peterson, feminist, activist, and owner and Editor, Racialicious.com
“The best social and policy change begins with having discussion in the real world with real people. In this book, Aspen shows us a way to listen to women in a deeper way, creating a space for us to see the complexity of experiences with abortion. This is the kind of space that will help us reach across the divisions that often separate us and see the humanity in each other. Bravo, Aspen and pro-voice!”
—Eveline Shen, MPH, Executive Director, Forward Together
Once vilified by pro-life and pro-choice supporters alike, Aspen Baker has now shown that “pro-voice” might be the best method to move past conflict and hatred around abortion. With her nonprofit, Exhale, she has demonstrated that it’s possible to get people talking respectfully even about the most polarizing topics.
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Aspen Baker eloquently describes the concept of pro-voice and how listening and ethical story sharing are the solutions to many of the political issues we face today. Imagine if we all approached debates by actually listening and with empathy instead of contempt and judgement? Well, Aspen Baker and Exhale working hard to make that a reality.
This book makes me believe in the power of peace and the good in the world. I highly recommend reading this if you're in need of some good vibes and want to know how to share pro-voice in your life.
Abortion is common and personal, yet there is a great amount stigma that surrounds the topic, which prevents women from being treated with dignity and getting the support they deserve.
Aspen Baker effectively recounts the history of the abortion discussion in America and how it became so polarized into the division of pro-choice and pro-life; a division that does not accurately describe the feelings of most individuals on the topic.
She demonstrates how Exhale, the organization she co-founded and leads, has effectively utilized Pro-Voice, a nonviolent and rejuvenating framework, to increase empathy and understanding between individuals.
If we truly take the time to listen to each other without judgement and to share our own truths, conversations naturally shift away from conflict and towards healing, care, and support.
Like abortion, there is a myriad of issues in the news, such as gay marriage, systemic racism, and immigration to name a few, that involve the complex intersections of law, morality, health, social justice, civil rights, and individual well-being. Each issue involves a group of people being stigmatized.
After reading this book I feel empowered to seek more opportunities surrounding the issues that I care about, which create spaces where people are open to listening and others feel safe to talk so that empathy can increase.
"There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you hear their story.”
So, Aspen Baker's book, Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening When the World Wants a Fight, comes as a pleasant surprise. To begin with, this book causes me to recognize another reason I've had a distaste for the abortion debate. I don't mean that there's not really any clearly desirable position to take on it; I already realized that. I mean that the abortion debate is exceptionally simplistic, dishonestly so. And the reason for this, brought out I think by Baker, is that people who have abortions do not talk about them. There is such a stigma attached to it, that the experience of having an abortion, including the decision making process gone through, including the days and years after the abortion, including the impact on other people involved, is basically unknown. And that vacuum is filled by slogans dedicated toward legislative ends.
One result of keeping abortion shameful and secret is isolation and suffering for those who have abortions. One goal of creating telephone talk-lines and websites and media coverage, as Baker's group Exhale has done, is to bring human friendship and compassion to people isolated by politics and treated as political tools by two opposing groups. Now, if you are fervently dedicated to the "pro-life" or "pro-choice" position, then the emotional state of women who have abortions may seem secondary, and how it's addressed may seem worth judging primarily in terms of how it advances or impedes another goal. But what if, without hurting your pro-choice or pro-life goal, a pro-voice approach began to create a little reconciliation between the two camps, and what if that began to create some new goals?
I began reading this book skeptically. I found myself asking why a book-length account of the value of telling specific stories didn't instead just tell a few of those stories. Eventually it did, at least in excerpt form. And what happened around those stories began to seem important as well. Exhale created greeting cards for people who'd had abortions, something now also done for queer and poor families and single moms. Creating understanding and acceptance of women who've had abortions, regardless of your view of abortion, is a valuable contribution to a discussion, a negotiation. Do you view abortion as murder? Well, murderers too should be treated as human beings, and some day we may advance our understanding that far as well.
Baker claims to have influenced the discourse so much that conservative groups have reduced their talk about "postabortive women" and "postabortion syndrome," choosing, Baker writes, to speak about "healing from grief and loss, rather than seeking forgiveness for a sin." And organizations have arisen to help women that include both pro-choice and pro-life staff people. In fact, Baker writes, most Americans are both pro-choice and pro-life. When Exhale advised an MTV program featuring three women's stories, the result was positive reviews both from serious feminists and from Fox News commentators. "It was not a cavalier decision she made," commented one Fox News host on one of the women featured by the MTV show, noting in effect that the woman's experience resembled reality more than common caricature.
What if we all read stories like these? What if the conversation became an open one? We should, I think, all have enough confidence in our political agendas to believe they would succeed in the light of day with full information. And in fact they might. The horrendously bad aspects of abortion could be made known in a real and credible way -- much more persuasive than pro-life myths. The overwhelming moral justifications for abortion in many cases, could be more widely understood.
And what if those who shout from one side or the other then began talking with each other?
And what if reading the stories of women struggling through difficulties resulted in some political awareness of the extent and nature of those difficulties and how they impact each other? Women lacking access to good education, jobs, income security, healthcare, and so on (part of only a small fraction of the stories, which really come in infinite variety -- though perhaps a larger fraction among the stories that never reach the internet) -- those are women in need of more than just common human decency. But common human decency sure is a good place to start.
A brilliant, easy read that will inform readers how to join the pro-voice revolution to better hear/share our stories and (even when it's difficult) be open to the personal pains and joys of others.