Controversial billboards in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood that feature an image of President Barack Obama and the words "Every 21 minutes our next possible leader is aborted" were covered today with fabric banners that had messages scrawled in red paint.
One banner says, "In 21 minutes this sign should be gone." Another, blown down by the wind, reads, "Abort racism."
A group described as "social workers and community members" claimed responsibility for the act in a statement emailed to the Chicago Tribune. The group said the ads were disrespectful and did not represent the views of the community and that "it wanted to replace the negative, condemning message with a positive one."
We couldn't agree more with Planned Parenthood, the city's Black Women for Reproductive Justice and other abortion-rights advocates who say the ads stigmatize African-American women and exploit Obama's image. But is covering up the message the best idea? There has to be a more effective response to these troubling — and ever increasing — tactics than chasing them around and hanging sheets over them.
Concealing the message deprives the women whom these campaigns target of the opportunity to make sense of the race-baiting techniques used by people who hide their agendas behind concern for the future of black America.
How about another billboard explaining what the Daily Beast reported today?
The website of Life Always lists its founder as a Texas African-American pastor named Stephen Broden. Another African-American pastor, Derek McCoy, is listed as a board member …
But dig a little deeper, and it's clear that the man behind Life Always is Brian Follett, a white conservative activist from Austin, Texas. Follett was a major backer of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, donating more than $40,000 to the famous smear campaign. A passionate foe of abortion, in 2004 he founded a group called Majella Cares Outreach, with the goal of "reducing abortion through mass media education," according to its website. In 2009, Majella rebranded itself as Heroic Media and expanded into Chicago and then into Florida. Life Always is simply a front for Heroic Media — Texas state records list Follett as Life Always' registered agent, and both organizations have the same official address in Austin.
With information about the real identity of the forces behind this campaign, and the fact that their agenda has nothing to do with "our" future leaders (they'd probably like nothing more than to avoid another Obama), the billboards lose most of their emotional power, and the conversation about the troubling relationship between the anti-abortion movement and the black community is actually advanced. No vandalism required.