Alaskan Assemblyman Takes Aim at Ms.



The Co-op Market Grocery and Deli of Fairbanks, AK, is a small local market that sells natural foods while allowing local citizens to invest in the market, financially and democratically (there are currently 2,200 invested member-owners). But this past week, those members have had to worry about more than the price of quinoa: They’ve been dragged into the middle of a political firestorm.

Lance Roberts, a Fairbanks assemblyman and co-op member, wasn’t too happy about the selection of magazines at the co-op. So he posted this newsletter on his website:

In October, I was at the Co-op Market and saw that they were carrying an extremely liberal magazine promoting killing babies. … I asked the manager at that meeting specifically that if they were going to carry them in the future to let me know so I could remove my membership. There’s a huge difference between having to shop at a store that carries genocide-promoting stuff and being an owner of it.

The “extremely liberal magazine” Roberts referred to is Ms.—specifically the Summer 2013 issue with Texas Rep. Wendy Davis on the cover. This issue not only covered Davis’ 13-hour filibuster to protect reproductive rights in Texas, but also highlighted the importance of empowering young African girls to defeat AIDS and the lack of workplace rights in Bangladesh, where 1,000 young women garment workers lost their lives.

Mary Christensen, general manager of the Co-op, told Ms. that the market has received comments on both sides of the issue but hasn’t made a final decision on whether to keep carrying the magazine on its shelves. Roberts, however, said that he was told otherwise, reporting in another newsletter,

I had brought up a few newsletters ago how the Co-op Market had some left-wing political magazines they were selling, and at that time they seemed unwilling to change that. They have now contacted me and said that they wouldn’t be carrying those extreme magazines any more (my words, not theirs).  So I’m staying as a member-owner of the Co-op Market and am shopping there again.

Christensen said that the market never pulled a single issue of Ms. from the shelves but simply had not yet received a new shipment. The Ms. Blog spoke to One Source, the magazine’s distributor, and it confirmed that it had not yet sent out the latest issue of Ms. to retailers.

On Roberts’ website, he proclaims that he’s in favor of a free market, “coupled with individual responsibility and personal freedom.” But obviously the free exchange of ideas doesn’t earn the same respect from the Republican legislator. He says, in regards to wanting to pull Ms. off of store shelves at “his” co-op,

I don’t want to be a part of a business that pushes the agenda of murder. I was going to withdraw my membership;  it’s a right everyone has to tell business what they like and don’t like. …I have a conscience and have to voice my opinion.

But doesn’t his position as an assemblyman give him more sway than most Fairbanks Co-op members? No, he insists.

It doesn’t impress or sway anybody. I am not going to divorce myself from local politics and the evils going on in my town because of my position.

Incidentally, Alaska is currently in the middle of a debate about contraceptives for low-income women being covered by insurance. A Fairbanks citizen, Avril Weirs Ester, wrote a letter to the editor in the local paper, the Daily News-Miner, defending Ms. as well as contraception coverage, pointing out that Alaska’s abortion rates are already lower than the national average (12.4 per 1,000 compared to 16.9 per 1,000) and accessible birth control would make it even lower. Moreover,

The uproar over the Co-op Market stocking Ms. is ridiculous. Just because Barnes & Noble stocks High Times does not mean that [the bookstore] advocates the legalization of marijuana, and just because my dentist has copies of Shooting Illustrated doesn’t mean he’s trying to shove his ideals down my throat. Consumers have the choice of whether they choose to purchase a good. By admitting that pro-choice people do exist in the world, I could buy my organic groceries and get a dose of much-needed feminism, which is (shhh—don’t tell the right) my freedom. …

Sounds to me like we need more people who read Ms. and stand up for women’s rights in Alaska. Women are 48 percent of the population of Alaska. We need men to respect us enough to let us stand up for ourselves. So, Co-op Market, you can stock whatever Lance Roberts wants, but could you please put Ms. back on the stands, too?

Hopefully, our faithful Fairbanks readers can raise their voices louder than that of Lance Roberts and help keep Ms. on the market’s shelves. You can also subscribe to Ms. to receive the latest issue. 

UPDATE, 3/11/14:  The Co-Op Market has posted to our Facebook page that Ms. is back on the shelves and gaining new readership. They expect to sell out. Thank you, Co-Op, for not bowing to political pressure. And thank YOU, Lance Roberts, for getting the word out about Ms.!

Photo courtesy of Flickr user USDAGov licensed under Creative Commons 2.0. 



Lindsey O'Brien is currently studying journalism at Ohio University and interning at Ms. Follow her on Twitter.