Writing and running in Austin, TX.
UPDATE: The day after I originally posted this, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation reversed their decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood clinics. Thank you to the foundation for taking this step!
The story in a nutshell: The Komen foundation — famous in the running world for its mind-bogglingly large Race for the Cure 5K series — decided to eliminate it’s support for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics. (NPR probably has the closest thing to an unbiased story that I’ve found thus far.) The best totally biased summary is this someecard:
Needless to say, the public outcry has amounted to a legitimate PR disaster for this behemoth of a charity.
I’ve been thinking about it all day.
Here’s the thing…I usually try really really hard to keep my mouth shut about my political views, especially in my running group. Let’s face it, when you’re on a long run with 200 people, there’s a good chance at least some of those people hold different opinions than you. This is generally not something you want to discover at mile 7 of a 20-mile run.
So, when politics come up, I usually just laugh and say, “Well, I’m a crazy hippy.” (Which is not really true, but is pretty effective in cutting off political discourse, at least here in Texas.)
Politics, I’ve always thought, have no place in running.
But now politics have come to my pre-dawn doorstep. I mean seriously, you can’t throw a $150 registration fee these days without hitting a race that somehow supports the Komen foundation. In addition to the Race for the Cure series, there’s now Marathon for the Cure, which partners with dozens of half and full marathons to enable runners to incorporate fundraising with the race of their choice. These aren’t “small” races, either. Just to list a few past and present Official Partners:
So now I’m torn. I don’t believe you should talk about politics while running, but I do believe you should talk about politics. You live here. It affects you. Period.
It’s my personal responsibility to sign petitions, donate to causes, and write to lawmakers when I have an opinion on an issue. How else are they going to know what their representees think or want? Engaged citizens talk.
But this is America. And even more than citizens, money talks.
If you get terrible food at a restaurant, and as a result you stop going there and tell all your friends to avoid the place, that can translate into a large monetary vacuum that speaks volumes to the restaurant’s owners.
So, when an organization makes a move that I disagree with, I stage a little personal boycott. I haven’t entered a Wal-Mart in 10 years (okay, except that one time I had to buy a fishing license in west Texas) because I believe some of their business practices are unethical. I avoid eating at the Cracker Barrel because of their history of racial discrimination. I’m a vegetarian.
You’ve probably surmised by now where I fall in this Komen debate.
Problem is, as a runner, you almost can’t boycott them. What’s more, up until yesterday, saying anything remotely negative against them was completely socially unacceptable.
*Interlude of fairness*
The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation has been hugely instrumental in many of the advances made in the fight against breast cancer. It’s highly likely that there are women alive today who wouldn’t be without efforts they supported.
*End of interlude*
But the real elephant in the room is this: What makes breast cancer so special?
Why does breast cancer deserve millions more dollars than the liver, brain, pancreatic, prostate, skin, and lung cancers that have taken the health and lives of people I know personally? (Actually, that list is covered entirely by people I’m related to.) And why do they get to call it “charity” if I buy a $300 pink handbag for which approximately $5 actually goes to the non-profit?
Liberal blogger Atrios (an actual PhD from Brown University) summed up the current state of affairs brilliantly on his Echaton blog:
…what Komen has done is made it ok to point out that they kind of suck. And they kind of sucked before all this, but not many people ever want to rain on the pink paradise parade. They managed to associate their brand with a cause, and to criticize the brand was to criticize the cause.
I know there are many people out there who for various reasons believe Komen’s decision was the right one, and I wholeheartedly support their right to believe that. Perhaps this will cause those people to redouble their efforts and raise even more money for breast cancer research, which, in the end, is still a great cause.
But as for me, my money will go elsewhere. Though I can’t avoid all Komen-affiliated events, I now know I will never participate as a Marathon for the Cure runner, nor will I take part in a Race for the Cure 5K.
And lest this result in short-changing the people who really need the aid – cancer survivors – I will instead contribute that entry fee to the American Cancer Society, an organization that supports the quest for a cure to ALL forms of cancer.
Just please, please, please, ACS, stay out of politics.