“Now It’s Your Generation’s Turn.”


“Now it’s your generation’s turn.”

Those were the last words spoken to me by Dr. Tiller on April 26th,
2009 in the barely audible softness of his voice. He gave me the
warmest hug, thanked me for my work with young people and I turned and
walked away. We were at a conference and we had just finished talking
about the students who were organizing in Kansas to write letters in
support of Dr. Tiller in the face of attacks from Operation Rescue. I
promised to send him copies of the letters and had no reason to believe
that he wouldn’t be overjoyed at power being exerted by young activists
and warmed by the love and support of young people from his home state
of Kansas.

“Now it’s your generation’s turn.”

It keeps echoing in my head because what began as a charge, turned
out to be a prophecy. He knew that this battle for true bodily autonomy
and self determination wasn’t over. He knew that young leaders would
have to take up this fight that had yet to be won. He knew that he
wouldn’t get to the promise land with us but with the greatest hope he
pronounced us, Generations X and the Millennials, the new stewards of
his visions and values.

He valued quality of life, leadership, advocacy, love, objectivity,
fairness and the truth. He valued the tenants of democracy. He valued
Choice. He also believed in risking everything for what you believe in
and he did just that. For decades he battled homegrown terrorists and
he endured. He experienced verbal and physical violence and endured. He
experienced a liberal and progressive community that was pro-choice but
too scared to be vocal champions and endured. And though his life was
taken on May 31, his spirit will endure. While I am saddened by the
loss of this beautiful human being, I am inspired by all of those who
were touched by him and the renewed vigor that was undoubtedly birthed
into our movement.

I haven’t been to church in a long time, but my southern roots run
deep. I know that our work is God’s work. And I know that Dr. Tiller is
an angel. I believe that a change will come and I am grateful for the
foundation that he helped to build for that change. Unfortunately I
don’t think I ever got a chance to really thank him for all he’s done
for our movement and women and their families across the country. And
so, in honor of George, my final gift to him are my many thank yous to
all of you who give your blood sweat and tears for the sake of social
change.

So to you medical students who still make the choice to put
yourselves on the front lines, I thank you. For every social justice
activist who refuses to avoid how the denial of reproductive and sexual
health information and services disproportionately impacts the women of
color, low income families, immigrants, and youth in their communities,
I thank you. To the clinic defense workers who are the everyday heroes
of doctors and patients alike, I thank you. To the counselors that
listen to women’s stories and provide non-judgmental support, I thank
you. To every person who has tried to make the world a place where
women’s decisions and experiences are valued, I thank you. To every
advocate who has put someone else’s well-being before their political
party’s platform, I thank you. To every person who has gifted a dollar
to ensure access to reproductive health and rights, I thank you. To
every teenager who makes their teachers and parents uncomfortable
because they demand the truth about sex and sexuality, I thank you. To
every student who has made activism a part of their college curriculum,
I thank you. They say that when one door closes another opens. And so,
to you that read this, consider it an open door. Come join a movement
for change, a movement for justice. We need you to raise your voices.
We need you to pound the pavement. We need you to tell your stories. We
need you to ensure that violence and intolerance is eradicated and
democracy is upheld.

I was too young to remember the bombings in the 80s. I was too
self-absorbed to remember the physical attacks in the 90s, but this
final act of cruelty against Dr. Tiller against will be impossible for
me to forget. I am so honored to have known him and I thank him for
making me a better more determined activist for justice. I look forward
to seeing you all in the streets!

Mourning and ready to continue the fight,

Kierra Johnson

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