Is It Time to Ditch the Word ‘Choice’?


Katha Pollitt weighs rhetorical strategies in the fight for abortion rights: is the language of “choice” still effective? On the next page, Patricia J. Williams quotes Senator George Hoar, in 1871, that people must “be as much desirous of preserving the liberties of others as their own.” [“Subject to Debate” and “Diary of a Mad Law Professor,” Feb. 4]. If people want to judge others re abortion, they fail to “preserve the liberties of others.” To awaken people to the importance of abortion rights, create a poster that says “Who should make YOUR reproductive choices?” above that grim photo of the nine Supreme Court justices. “Choice” is still effective language.



Forty years after Roe v. Wade, Katha Pollitt asks if I have a problem using the term “pro-choice.” No. I definitely do not. I will soon be 83 and long past the time I might need an abortion, but I am firmly in favor of those women or girls who for whatever circumstance feel they need one. If you feel you need to change the name “choice”—so be it. Whatever. I will still be proud to call myself pro-choice.


Act Locally

Yarmouth, Mass.

Barry Yeoman, in “Rebel Towns” [Feb. 4], describes Richard Grossman as a historian. Richard was much more than that: intellectual and writer, activist and innovator, and a superb mentor. Thomas Linzey was fresh out of law school when he met Richard, and they teamed up to devise a strategy for passing local ordinances in Pennsylvania to prohibit factory farms and toxic-sludge dumping. Richard assembled a collection of environmental activists, heads of progressive organizations, community organizers and lawyers, and we formed the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy. POCLAD’s mission continues: “to contest the authority of corporations to govern.” Several of us helped design and teach early sessions of Tom’s brainchild, Democracy School, and more recently POCLAD was among the founders of Move to Amend. Tom continues to work with municipalities through his Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). Richard died in 2011, too soon. And the work goes on.


Portland, Ore.

I was thrilled to see “Rebel Towns,” about Thomas Linzey’s inspired strategy to overturn corporate power through “rights-based” municipal ordinances. I am an active member of the CELDF-affiliated community rights group here. We are about to launch a Bill of Rights ordinance that includes clean elections, police accountability, corporate-free public education and the rights of nature. The last plank strips corporations of their illegitimate “constitutional rights” concocted by the Supreme Court. 

But I have a problem with the superior attitude that runs in the community rights movement. Ben Price is quoted as saying he “doesn’t care” that CELDF’s uncompromising style can be off-putting. I believe that alienating progressive groups will only slow us down. A little honey will take us a lot further, a lot faster. Coalition-building requires basic good manners. We in the community rights movement should start using them.


The Barbarism of Empire

Jonathan Schell’s commentary on Nick Turse’s new study exposing the systematic atrocities committed by our military in Vietnam shatters assumptions about the virtues of democracy. Although our top commanders knew the official story was a sham, the iron demands of domestic politics for high “body counts” led our forces to inflict, and our government to condone, unspeakable barbarities, while an uninformed and indifferent public ignored protesters and accepted the mendacious narrative of our elected leaders. I would like to think we will learn from this, but I know that is an idle dream. We need to take moral responsibility for our behavior to foe as well as friend. Until we commit ourselves to that goal, we must see our species as a cosmic experiment gone badly awry, fit only for extinction.



Jonathan Schell brought back a vivid memory of an experience I had when serving with the Air Force at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon in 1968. A number of us wanted to get involved in a civic action project. We were put in touch with a Buddhist orphanage with Oxfam connections several miles outside Saigon. A dozen of us made the trip in a pickup truck. It was considered a safe area, and we had no weapons or body armor—just our green office fatigues and baseball-type caps. After being introduced to the nuns we were taken to a main room, where some of the youngest children were gathered. As we walked in, the children, aged up to about 3 years, ran screaming and crying to the far corner of the room. I had no knowledge of My Lai or any other massacres then, and no real combat experience. Those children gave me a window into what was happening in the countryside. I’ve never forgotten it. 


New York City

I volunteered to fight in Vietnam, in 1964 at age 17. And there hasn’t been a day I’ve been free of that war. Indelibly seared into my soul is the knowledge that the war was wrong and that I cannot excise my participation in it from my being. I can live with this knowledge only by passing it along to others, and by doing what I can to dissuade them from making the same mistake. My antiwar cred is a direct product of the simple fact of having volunteered in the first place.


Taos, N.M.

I wonder whether there is a causal connection between the thousands of My Lais that I’ve heard about for years and the 58,000-plus suicides and the tremendous number of PTSD cases afflicting Vietnam veterans. I also wonder whether the same is true of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans. The wanton killing of men, women and children (civilians) must have an adverse impact on the minds of the perpetrators, unless they are psychopaths.


Corrections & Clarification

In David Cole’s “Torture’s Global Taint,” in the last issue, a copy-editng error caused the words “Royal Canadian Mounted Police” to be misplaced. The correct sentences follow:

“In 2004, Canada established a commission to examine its role in the US rendition of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, to Syria, where security services tortured him while posing the same questions to him that US authorities had. The Canadian commission exonerated Arar and found the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at fault for providing misinformation, among other things.” 

Ange Mlinko’s “Diagram This,” in the February 18 issue, mistakenly referred to Adrienne Rich’s “Twenty-One Love Poems” as “Twenty-One Love Songs,” and attributed the quote “A poem is not made of ideas, it is made of words,” to Paul Valéry instead of Stéphane Mallarmé. Also, Brenda Shaughnessy is Japanese-American and not Jewish. 

Some readers complained that a line was omitted from Rich’s poem “Tonight No Poetry Will Serve.” The poem, originally published in The Nation in 2008, contained the line “there are adjectives up for sale.” But the book under review, and quoted in the February 18 issue, reflects Rich’s subsequent decision to cut that line from her poem.