Twenty-five years ago I began On the Issues as a newsletter of Choices Women’s Medical Center in an effort to communicate with other health care providers and pro-choice activists. The first issue in 1983 featured pieces about the early days of the AIDS crisis, the newly-named and diagnosed pre-menstrual syndrome and a report on my debate with Jerry Falwell in Detroit.
For a few years, I published OTI twice a year and sent it out free to large mailing lists of progressives, feminists and pro-choice activists. Interestingly, I began receiving donations without requesting them, and many people suggested that I turn the newsletter into a magazine. The kind of writing and topics that OTI was covering obviously were striking a responsive chord in those who were reading it.
Slowly, with the help of committed staff and editorial professionals, I created what was to become On The Issues, the Progressive Woman’s Quarterly. At the height of our readership we reported a circulation of 20,000, with additional thousands of readers from free subs to women’s studies departments, women’s centers, students and prisoners.
In only a few years, On the Issues grew from a twice-yearly newsletter to a quarterly national publication and had become recognized as a challenging and controversial magazine of ideas and action. Our reviews echoed our readers’ praises.
From 1983 to 1999, On the Issues chronicled as well as anticipated some of the key cultural and political battles and controversies of the day. It did so with incisive analysis and considerable wit. Published independently with no moneyed interests influencing editorial content, we could be, and were, impatient with politicians and pundits of any gender who urged us to settle for small crumbs instead of the dreams that had produced and nurtured feminism.
We featured daring reporting from dozens of locations, including: Buried Alive, Afghan Women Under the Taliban by Jan Goodwin; Guam – Territory in Turmoil by Amy Goodman; A Sacrificial Light: Self-Immolation in Tehran by Martha Shelley – all as relevant today as in the years they were written. In 1995; and Mary Lou Greenberg reported from Birmingham, Alabama in January 1998 the day after an abortion clinic was bombed, a guard killed and a nurse grievously injured.
I explored profound philosophical and political questions in a dialogue with Congressman John Lewis and feminist Andrea Dworkin (Towards a Revolution in Values, on pacifism and self-defense, civil rights and women’s rights); the politics and passion of resistance in an interview with political prisoner Susan Rosenberg, called by authorities “the most dangerous woman in America”; and discussed abortion, love and the holocaust with Eli Weisel.
Alice Walker wrote about spirituality and the pagan self in one of our most popular issues. Flo Kennedy and Irene Duvall considered What Women Can Learn From Malcolm X, and Mahin Hassibi explored Why Change the World When You Can Have a Prozac Moment?, in a critique of use of anti-depressants. Can We Talk? Racism and Domestic Violence featured a dialog with Tammy Bruce and Julianne Malveaux.
Full-color portfolios and essays brought the work and ideas of Louise Bourgeois, Judy Chicago, Matuschka and many others to a wider audience. bell hooks penned a surprising essay about Desperately Seeking Madonna, the Feminist. Reviews of some of the most provocative new books were in every issue, and New York Times writers Molly Haskell and Marilyn Stasio contributed their critiques of film and theater.
One of the most unique aspects of OTI was that it was published out of a women’s medical center which created its financial base. Reflecting the reality of women’s lives, OTI featured many articles devoted to abortion and other reproductive rights issues. I wrote many editorials and columns exploring the ethical, political and practical aspects of abortion, and writers reported from the front lines of the battles to keep abortion accessible.
I decided to commit revenues from Choices to publishing the magazine because I strongly believed that voices of reason, passion, vision and courage needed to be heard widely. But because our funding was dependent on the clinic, OTI also was vulnerable to what Choices was vulnerable to: the politics and attacks of the anti-choice movement. Our strength was also our vulnerability. We grew out of the voices of the developing pro-choice movement, and we were attacked through attacks on the clinic.
In 1999 Choices had to fight on many fronts: bomb and death threats, and eviction from a space that we had leased for over 20 years. At that point, in order for Choices to survive and to continue serving women in need – the first of my priorities – I had to suspend publication of the magazine.
Now Choices is strong again and in our new home – and just as in 1983, today’s political climate of crisis and uncertainty, of continuing and intensifying attacks on women in the US and around the globe, demands a voice of courage and conviction. The connections and solidarity OTI forged are needed now more than ever.
Now is the time for On The Issues to be reborn as an online presence – an oasis for women who are eager for intellectual stimulation and emotional engagement, those eager to dialogue and debate the profound issues and challenges facing women – and the planet – everywhere, and those hungry for inspiration from the examples of daring and achievement that lift our hearts.
As you read this, many past articles from On The Issues are on our redesigned website, and more are being added regularly. We are in the process of making the contents of every issue available online as a searchable resource for historians, scholars and anyone interested in provocative feminist thinking and issues.
We will offer new articles updating past reports and analyses by some of the same authors you read in our pages earlier, as well as others. In addition, we will soon host discussions, commentaries and regular blogs.
Sign up now for regular updates and alerts about our progress. (We won’t share it with anyone and you will not be solicited by advertisers.) Tell us what you’d like to see, including ideas for articles and discussions. And let us know if you’d like to write for us!
We need your input and assistance to realize all of these plans. I look forward to hearing from you.
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief