Well, Everyone, this is my final post on the CLPP’s Reproductive Justice Conference at Hampshire College. I can’t believe it’s over already! I made it home and quickly passed out, exhausted yet rejuvenated from all of the amazing and inspiring activists I heard and met. As I’m sitting here unpacking my thoughts, I wanted to share with you all the highlights of the closing plenary entitled Bringing the Revolution Home. It yielded a “discussion on how we can wage peace at home and work across movements to rebuild community and realign national priorities…building a vision for the future.” All of the panelists spoke with passion and zeal about connecting reproductive justice to race, gender, economic justice and LGBTQ rights.
Anders Wyatt Zanichkowsky discussed the fight for labor equity and collective bargaining in Wisconsin, but also questioned why this was merely a labor issue since it also links to healthcare and poverty. Wyatt Zanichkowsky connected reproductive justice, LGBTQ rights and intersectionality, asserting,
“What happens when we say, if certain bodies trigger me they’re not allowed in my movement…There’s so much potential for ally work. But is it happening?”
Andrea Richie talked about queer injustice. When law enforcement and legislation punish sexual and gender non-conformity, it connects to colonialism. Richie declared,
“Criminalization of LGBT community is a national emergency.”
Silvia Henriquez discussed the public/private sphere and roles in movement work. Many of us can’t and don’t make money advocating for the issues we’re passionate about. Henriquez said that we:
“…have to be able to step aside and let others into the movement, into leadership.”
And then the goddess that is Loretta Ross, founding member and National Director of SisterSong, spoke sweet powerful words. She wants to move away from missionary paradigm; we’re going overseas and fixing everyone else’s problems rather than our own problems here in the U.S. She questioned if this allowed us to avoid confronting the injustices here at home.
“If you don’t even intersectionalize…If you don’t care about the abortion rights of women drug abusers or women incarcerated but focus on the rights of women who can buy private insurance, then fuck you…You can’t leave people out for your convenience…If you’re going to pimp the reproductive justice framework, we’re going to call you on it.”
Using a human rights framework, we need to look at overlapping identities, in its proper intersectional way. To make a difference around the world.
“Bringing the revolution home has to be more than just a phrase. It has to be a philosophy; it has to be a practice and it means taking risks…and you might mess up…but you have to be brave enough to take that risk.”
Discussing gender, Ross said that she didn’t like the term cisgender (when a person’s gender identity matches their biological sex) as it was too medical. She also said that she didn’t appreciate that it was a term bestowed on her rather than one she chose for herself. I completely understand what she’s saying. Naming is so integral to power and identity. Another panelist said that the term was created so as not to say “non-transgender” as it’s offensive to refer to people by what they are not. Issues of privilege and gender arose amongst the panel. An audience member said that she was a trans woman and that she found being transgender to be a privilege (I was intrigued!). She went on to say that while people can oppress you for it, it’s also a privilege to be able to choose your gender. Since many reproductive justice activists discuss the power of choice, I love that idea of the power of choosing your gender.
Ross raised the issues of race and reproductive justice. Planned Parenthood has had over 90 years to message on Margaret Sanger. Why can’t they talk about racism in their legacy? How do we bring it home? She went on to say,
“Leadership of women of color is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”
Ross talked about white people who feel they can’t speak up against racism because they’re not a person of color.
“I’m going to expect any ally to speak out against racism and any other injustice…If you can’t challenge racism in your own safe spaces, you’re not an accountable ally…We need to stand up for justice all the time. We’re privileged to speak for the women whose voices may never be heard.”
An audience member raised the contentious and volatile issue of the lineage of eugenics and racism surrounding Planned Parenthood as founder Margaret Sanger supported eugenics. Ross asserted that in Sanger’s time, eugenics was public policy. She said, “That’s like criticizing her for engaging her in capitalism when it’s the public policy of the country.” But another panelist challenged this because Sanger didn’t challenge that black women weren’t allowed to control their own fertility. Toni Bond Leonard chimed in from the audience that Planned Parenthood hasn’t been an ally to the black community in speaking out against the racist billboards that assert the “most dangerous place for an African-American is the womb” and that black women are committing genocide by having abortions. She shared how both she and Ross receive hate mail and death threats. They both risk their lives to fight this oppression.
At the very end of the panel on the Politics of Population Control, this issue of Planned Parenthood and race also arose. Panelists talked about Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, as wonderful as they are as organizations in lobbying and providing healthcare, they are not invincible from criticism. It’s not always up to people of color to raise these issues and ask questions. People have to question rationales for family planning. Money and resources are seen as scarce and people compete for fundraising, at times utilizing alarmist strategies.
Panelist Paris Hatcher, Interim Director for SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW, said she felt tension about Planned Parenthood. While I’m familiar with the racist inception of Planned Parenthood, I see them as such an amazing life-saving organization…why would there be tension? After the panel, I asked Hatcher if she could elaborate. She was gracious enough to take the time to do so. She echoed the sentiments of Bond Leonard that while Planned Parenthood has done amazing work, they have not addressed their racist roots, which allows the anti-choicers to frame the debate. They have not spoken out against racism in support of black women. It’s disheartening and inexcusable that they have not been a vocal ally to women of color.
My favorite part of Bringing the Revolution Home was when Ross talked about oppression and empowerment. She declared,
“People come to the movement expecting it to heal them. That’s not the movement’s job. Its job is to liberate them…Silencing people isn’t effective. Part of oppression is to cause people to lose their voices.”
She also eloquently articulated,
“Patriarchy says that I can’t have power unless I take it from you. But the lit candle model differs. A lit candle loses nothing by lighting another.”
I love Loretta Ross’ analogy of a candle in empowering others. Our own power is not diminished by helping to uplift others; if anything it bolsters our strength. All of these thoughts swirl in my head and heart. Themes throughout the weekend continually emerged regarding power and control, choice and voice. How we must challenge assumptions and stereotypes, recognize our privilege and speak out when we see or hear injustice. We need to reject toxic media messages. We should support people’s individual choices in how to lead their lives. We must build coalitions and bridge communities. We need to stop apologizing for our gender and embrace our identities. We must share our stories and unite our voices.
Listening to all of the passionate speakers at this fantastic conference, meeting and engaging with so many amazing feminists fueled my activist fire. Activists converged at the conference, now we’ll all return to our homes and communities. A revolution has sparked, now it’s up to all of us to keep it burning.
Read my other posts on CLPP’s 2011 Reproductive Justice Conference.