Clinic Stories: An Interview With Robin Marty

The world of freelance can be a tricky one – constantly pitching stories, not always sure if all the hard work and effort you put in will end up being for nought. It’s even harder when the topics you write on are ones that need more of a platform. How do you find a way to do the work you love, get paid for it, and in the process help educate people about crucial topics? If you’re freelance writer Robin Marty, you get creative. Robin – someone I’m proud to call a friend – has recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to get her latest project off the ground. I had the pleasure of talking to Robin to learn more about it.

Robin Marty

Robin Marty

The Mamafesto: Where did the idea come from to raise funds for your own project versus writing for an established outlet?

Robin Marty: After about a year of freelancing, I was starting to realize that I spent more time pitching stories and searching for grants than I did actually writing articles. Online sites give you the immediacy of being able to affect a conversation or get news out quickly and to bigger audiences, but seldom financially cover all the expenses that go into hours of research, interviews, sometimes even travel for on the ground reporting. But to turn to a print publication slowed the process down and limited who would see the final work.

The more time I spent researching stories and putting them on the back burner, the more I realized that I needed to find a way that could combine the immediacy of online reporting with the reach and pay of a print publication. That in essence is what Clinic Stories is. It can allow me the opportunity to really research these stories and basically pay myself per word what a print outlet would. That doesn’t just make these stories happen, but the other ideas that haven’t gotten covered because I couldn’t afford the time to work on them because I was scrambling to pitch.

 I really like how you note in the fundraising campaign write up that by donating, it’s like you have your own personal reporter. Having people invested in that way – beyond monetarily – it’s empowering in a way current media lacks.

I love the idea of the audience picking the topic or focus. That’s actually a vision I came up with a while ago, where I would put out three topics to fundraise on, and whichever got funded first would be the one I wrote. I would set the bar based on how much I thought it would take to do the story — $100 to get a review of some anti-abortion book no one wanted to read but wanted to know all about, or $500 for a day of following around a Rachel’s Vineyard group, things like that.

My biggest frustration as a writer who focuses on areas with low abortion clinic and health care access is how often an outlet tells me what I want to cover isn’t national enough. Of course it isn’t. That’s why it needs attention. Clinic Stories is a chance for the audience to decide what they want without a publication deciding what they want to read for them.

That’s what I really like about your writing. You make us understand why it’s important. And why we should care.

-2That’s what I’ve always hoped – to be able to draw attention to what is going on in these areas, and draw the lines between their efforts and struggles, and connect them to other areas with the same issues. Looking back on 2011-2013, I wonder how many anti-abortion bills we could have stopped if we’d only seen in time that they were models happening everywhere. They began in low publicity states because that is where they could pass the most easily. By the time we recognized them as a pattern nationally, it was too late to do anything.
Now, as clinics disappear, each clinic is more vulnerable, and will be more directly targeted. By why do these particular clinics matter, beyond the fact that without access, abortion is a right in name only? That’s what I hope these historical profiles will show. This isn’t a new fight for them, it’s just the same battle coming full circle.  Also, many of the people outside the clinics have been there for decades. Many of the providers inside have, too.

 

You only just announced your campaign this week, and you’re already over $7k in to your $60k goal. What’s the plan from here? Will you wait to see how much you raise, or get going once you have enough to start?

 
I had said I would start as soon as I had the first $5000, and I meant it. It’s roughly titled “Chicago” at the moment, and looks at the abortion battle starting in the mid 70’s when the Chicago Sun Times had some reporters go under cover in the cities abortion clinics to expose the practices there. It then traces the rise of Pro-Life Action League, and how they grew as an organization and their tactics from “99 Ways to Stop Abortion,” then into the current state of one clinic in the city, which is being protested by both them and a new Chicago faction of Abolish Human Abortion. I hope to have it ready for release September 1st on the new website, where those who aren’t Clinic Stories members will be able to download a copy for 99 cents. Members will have it delivered via email a few days earlier.

Fascinating! I had no idea bout the Chicago Sun Times history – can’t wait to read more!

The Chicago Sun Times article is one of two major pieces that abortion opponents point to when they say abortion providers give abortions to women who aren’t pregnant, even though that happened over 30 years ago. Like I said, nothing changes much in the battle at the clinics, it just all comes back around. After the first piece, we’ll set up a vote for the next story, with three clinics offered as possibilities. Although I personally am rooting for the city of Fargo to win, since Personhood will be on the ballot in North Dakota in November.
 
What do you see as the long-term feasibility/sustainability for a project like this? How long do you see it carrying you & your work?
 
The full amount I’m fundraising for will pay for a year’s worth of stories at one a month, which would allow in depth research, travel to clinic sites for interviews and first hand accounts with people on both sides of the debate. I have no illusions that it will be fully funded right away, although the faster that happened the more stability there is to the project, obviously. But I’m in it for the long haul. Every $5000 results in a new story, even if it takes more than a month to make that happen. These stories need to be told, even if that takes longer than I hope. On the other hand, if it funds earlier, I’d love to be able to take any profits that come from the per article downloads and use that to fund the work of other reproductive rights reporters trying to do the same thing. Travel expenses are the biggest barrier to this sort of reporting, and the reason why mainstream publications seldom go into smaller, more rural, non-coast areas themselves but rely on re-packaging local articles. I want to break that barrier down when it comes to reproductive rights coverage.

To learn more about Robin and join me in supporting her in her effort to report on abortion, check out Clinic Stories’ fundraising page on Rally.org.

Never Forget

Today is Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day. A day to take time and recall the atrocities of the past so that it does not repeat itself.

To be honest, I don’t think I can ever forget, growing up with grandparents who were Holocaust survivors. But I look to my son who doesn’t quite grasp the horror that occurred, and wonder if he’ll connect with it in the same way I did.

G&E

My grandfather (who passed away a few years ago) and my son. I’m glad he was able to meet him and spend a few years together.

Growing up, I just knew. It was hard not to when your grandfather had numbers inked into his skin and you were a curious kid who asked too many questions.

My grandfather’s family was rounded up from his hometown of Schaulen, Lithuania. His parents, brothers and sisters all taken to concentration camps. There he wasn’t known as Feiwa Sal, but rather #85705. He was shuttled between a handful of camps, unknown horrors occurring at each one before finally being liberated from Dachau. 
Dachau Document
He was able to locate most of his family that he knew didn’t die, except for his two youngest brothers. To this day, nobody is sure whether they perished in the Holocaust or somehow made it out safely to an unknown fate…

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B&GAfter he was liberated, he met my Bubby Esther in a displaced person’s camp in Germany. Her story of survival is its own unique one – one I hope to record someday soon. She lived underground in bunkers in the woods and in barns of righteous gentiles who hid her family. She doesn’t have numbers inked into her skin, but her memories are etched in her forever. How does one forget?

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I grew up with these stories hardly talked about but still known. When I eventually learned about the Holocaust in school, I needed to know more, craved more information, but found that my grandparents didn’t want to talk about it all that much… understandable.

But we had documents, like pictures, and release papers and more, like this note my mother wrote in hopes of securing money to cover my grandfather’s medical care. She wrote this note for her parents when she was in high school.

So, I read all I could. But I needed, wanted to know more. When I was a senior in high school, I decided to take part in the March of the Living – a 2 week trip to Poland and Israel.

In 1998 I joined many other teens and adults as we traveled to Poland, taking in the country and the history.

We walked the reverse path, from the death camp of Auschwitz – which claimed 1.1 million lives – to the work camp of Birkenau, reversing the path of so many Jews before us.

The gates of Auschwitz. "Arbeit Macht Frei" Work sets you free

The gates of Auschwitz. “Arbeit Macht Frei” Work Sets You Free

 

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The local Polish people would watch as if we were some sort of macabre parade. I wondered what they were thinking...

The local Polish people would watch as if we were some sort of macabre parade. I wondered what they were thinking…

 

We also visited a number of other former concentration camps. I can’t forget Treblinka. There’s no actual camp still remaining there. Just some memorials that were created. But the grass. It was the greenest grass I had ever seen in my life. Somebody pointed out that it looked so alive because it was fertilized with the dead.

Then there was Majdanek. This camp was on the outskirts of Lublin. When I say outskirts, I mean it was jutted up right against the city.

Majdanek barracks with the city in the background.

Majdanek barracks with the city in the background.

 

We learned that the people of Lublin would complain… they would complain that the laundry the put out to dry would get dirty from the soot the wind carried over from the camp. The soot caused by burning bodies. Did they know? What could they have done?

Shoes. So many shoes. Why did they keep them?

We walked through the gas chambers of Majdanek barefoot. I can’t remember why we were barefoot so many years later. Out of a sense of respect for those who walked before us, perhaps?

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The thing about Majdanek is that since it was captured nearly intact, it’s just a few switches of electricity from being back up and full running. That terrifies me. It is also an in-your-face reminder that we should never forget.

I haven’t shared any of these pictures with my son yet. He has a vague idea of the Holocaust – in the way a 7-year-old can understand. As he gets older I’ll fill in the gaps and explain how our family factors in to this story. Like how his great-grandparents lived the stories he reads about in school. As he grows older, he won’t have the same ability as I did to ask questions of those who were there. Thankfully, many survivors are getting their stories down – recorded for posterity, so that we never forget.

 

*All historical pictures via my uncle Jack Sal and his book Re/Place. All other pictures are mine.

 

 

How to Raise a Happy Kid

I don’t have the magical solution, and to be honest, I don’t think anyone does. There are certain things that can help – sure: access to safe, outdoorsy areas, good friends, a stable home life, etc… But beyond the basic necessities, I feel like it all comes down to the individual kid and family. That being said, this infographic has been making the rounds:

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(You may need to zoom in to read it all!)

So what say you? I did happen to find the following pretty interesting:

 A mom’s satisfaction with her life is more important to a young child’s social and emotional skills than her education, income or job status.