Articles this week across the internet reveal that half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, is now available for speaking events such as “conferences, fundraisers, special events and holidays, as well as women's, youth, abstinence and ‘pro-life’ programs” for the low, low price of $30,000 a pop.
Bristol is famous, of course, for becoming pregnant and having a baby as a teenager.
Initially, when Bristol Palin’s pregnancy came into the spotlight during the 2008 presidential campaign, we shied away from commenting on it. Even though it was extraordinarily tempting to point out the ridiculous hypocrisy and blatant cognitive dissonance that came from her mother’s position on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs even when faced with a pregnant adolescent, we respected the young Ms. Palin’s privacy and her personal choices. I did not and do not blame Ms. Palin for her pregnancy any more than I hold at fault the myriad other teenage girls who become unintentionally pregnant because they are failed by schools, parents, educators, and policy makers.
However, Ms. Palin’s free pass has just expired for a couple reasons. First, she is now nearly 20 years old. She was born in the same year as actresses Kristin Stewart and Emma Watson of Twilight and Harry Potter fame, respectively, both of whom are the daily subject of news stories and coverage. In other words, Bristol Palin is an adult and therefore should be treated as such.
Second, I understand that being an adult does not necessarily make you fair game for criticism if you choose to live your life in a private manner. However, Bristol has chosen to enter the realm of politics, and she has chosen to do so for profit. As soon as anyone decides to take their personal story and turn it into a career speaking on an issue of national importance, I think we have the right and, dare I say it, the obligation to question the motives and qualifications of that person. Bristol Palin wants to talk to you about abstinence-until-marriage, and man oh man, does she want you to pay to hear what she has to say. So is she worth the $30,000?
Clearly, the answer is an unqualified and unmitigated “no.” There is no reason to think that listening to Bristol Palin’s story is going to inform, educate, enrich, or stimulate you in any way. But, if you happen to have $30,000 lying around and simply insist on spending it, let me suggest ten things you could do with that money that would be more productive than hiring Ms. Palin.
10) Hire Max Siegel to speak – Max is a courageous young man and compelling speaker who was failed by abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and contracted HIV when he was 17. Listening to his story will give your audience a real understanding of the true costs of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and the damage they can cause to young people’s lives. Plus, Max is a really nice guy and could probably use the $30,000 a lot more than Bristol.
9) Hire an entry level staffer – Because of the bad economy, there are literally thousands of recent college graduates who are dedicated to the cause of sexual health and rights who are unable to find work and support themselves. For $30,000, you could hire one of these promising young people. Not only would you get a lot more than an hour's speech or a day of work out of them, you’d be giving an opportunity to the next generation of advocates to learn and grow.
8) Donate to a state organization – Many state organizations that support sexual health and rights and comprehensive sex education are also feeling the pinch of hard economic times. State governments are cutting their prevention budgets left and right. Thirty thousand dollars could go a long way toward helping many organizations keep their doors open and continue their important on-the-ground work. Don’t know where to find them? Visit www.siecus.org/stateprofiles to find organizations that support comprehensive sex education in your state.
7) Invest in your community – like state organizations, most local organizations and groups are struggling to make ends meet. After-school programs and community groups can do a lot to give young people goals and focus and to curb teen pregnancy and other negative outcomes. Similarly, a donation of $30,000 to your local Planned Parenthood would help insure that young women facing an unintended pregnancy would have the same opportunity to make choices that Bristol Palin did.
6) Donate to the One Voice: Reproductive Health and Population Summit – Every year, SIECUS, Advocates for Youth and the Sierra Club host a summit for young people across the country to teach them about sex education, environmental justice, and sustainable development. This program is the first step in training many of the leaders of tomorrow. A donation of $30,000 would allow us to bring at least 50 more young people each year to participate in the summit.
5) Bring 30 teen mothers to Congress – $30,000 would cover the airfare and hotel to bring 30 teen mothers who do not have the luxury of belonging to a millionaire family (as Bristol Palin talks about in this bizarre PSA) to speak to representatives in Congress about the support and education that they really need.
4) Pay for the first year of college or job training for 3 teen mothers – $30,000 doesn’t pay for what is used to in terms of an education, but it could still buy a year of college or job training for at least three teen mothers. This kind of sponsorship could help teen mothers gain access to some of the opportunities that are out of reach for them.
3) Update sex education curricula and provide teacher training – Teachers need training and curricula need updating. Everyone knows this, but sometimes the challenge to fund all of it can seem too daunting to even begin. But $30,000 could make a huge difference in one school, or one school district. And you know what they say about a journey of a thousand miles…
2) Donate to SIECUS – Sorry, but obviously I have to put this one in.
1) Anything – Seriously. Buy 30,000 copies of the Washington Post and throw them away. Buy 30,000 McDonald’s McDoubles © and feed them to pigeons. Literally, almost everything you do with $30,000 would be more valuable than hiring Bristol Palin for a speaking engagement.
There is no question that Ms. Palin has the right to go about making a living however she pleases. There is also no question that there are so many other valuable programs, projects and organizations that could use $30,000 that it would be perverse to spend the money paying her speaking fee. I ask only that you think about true needs before you open your checkbook. There is too much else that needs to be done for us to waste our scarce resources on such frivolity.