Reflections on Stupak, the RJ Movement and Feminism

A few weeks ago, I
attended the Day of Action against the Stupak Amendment with my organization,
the Pro-Choice Public Education Project (PEP). We rode on a bus organized by
the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), with colleagues
I already knew, Twitter friends whose faces were now connected to their online
personas, and allies fighting for immigration rights. The atmosphere that
morning was intoxicating, even at an un-godly six o’clock. As is customary
within my circle of activist peeps, some great conversation incurred on the
bus, mentally preparing me for the challenges I would face during the day. I
was ready to rally and start some drama…after a nap and food at the rest stop.

Once in Washington, DC,
the day really began. It was to be a day of rallying, lobbying and networking
with folks in the Reproductive Justice and Feminist movements. My colleagues
and I were glued to our Blackberrys tweeting and re-tweeting the thoughts and
happenings of that
There was much to be said.

We were led to the
Russell Senate Office Room for the rally. Well, to watch the rally from an
overflow room. I’ll start by saying that it’s pretty awesome that so many of us
showed up that an overflow room had to be made. But I didn’t travel 4 hours
from NYC at six in the morning to sit in an overflow room. As upset as I was to
not physically be at the rally, there were other issues with the overflow room
that were really irksome. We were surrounded by men and women who traveled with
us on NLIRH’s bus that did not speak English, and yet there was no interpreter
in sight. Uh, BIG problem. They came to show their support, but how could they
when they couldn’t understand what was going on? This was an example of
inexcusably poor organizing.

As I watched the rally
on TV, I realized that I could count the number of woman of color I saw on the
screen on my hands. Meanwhile I sat in an overflow room full of women – and men
– of color. As a young woman of color who’s seen this more times that I ever
wanted to, I was not surprised. But if I hadn’t been upset already, I
definitely was at that point. I will never feel comfortable saying that I think
this was intentionally done, but the fact that only my colleagues and I could
whisper about it in a corner infuriated me. If because of timing or poor
organizing, it so happened that we were racially segregated, fine, but say so.
Acknowledge that there weren’t enough black or brown faces in that rally when
there were plenty in the overflow room, and apologize.

A word on the presence
of young people: great job getting them to stand there with their pink shirts
and handmade signs; disaster getting their voices heard. If no one else
noticed, let me be the first to tell you that there was ONE young woman under
the age of 25 that spoke at the rally. Her task: to list the colleges and
universities the young people present at the rally represented. Really? You
don’t want to talk about how Stupak utterly screws young women? Young women of
color? Low-income young women? Fine, I’LL do it:

The Stupak Amendment
puts young women, specifically young women of color and low-income young women,
at a serious risk. It tells these young women not only that they have no
control over their bodies, but that they have no reproductive choices. Because
as we all know, Stupak will not change the lack of comprehensive sex education
in the U.S.; it will not change young women’s inability to access contraception
or reproductive services, even when they do choose to parent. No, it only
continues to exacerbate the inequities young women must face when trying to
care for themselves, their partners, and their families.

Being a young,
Nuyorican in the RJ movement has at the very least given me the advantage over
my peers of
seeing how few people address our issues
and needs. Even those who claim to
fail to prove to me that they do. I can say that with the allies I do have,
that will change, and the RJ movement will be an inclusive space for young

Now to the Feminist
movement: bleh. On the Day of Action, I attended the Pro-Choice Youth Space
with young people from various organizations. PEP
lent support to the
event, so I had an opportunity to talk about PEP and what we do along with
other folks who represented their organizations. It was great that this space
even existed, and I’m truly thankful it did, but that didn’t change my
discomfort with the dynamics in the room.

It was another
situation in which the number of young woman of color was disproportionate to
the number of white young women. It’s something that I’m usually good at
dealing with when I at least feel that the conversations taking place are
relevant to me, my work, and my background as an activist. This wasn’t the
case. Simply put, there’s no way I can feel comfortable putting my two cents
into a conversation dominated by young, white, college aged/educated, feminist women. Really, we don’t see eye to eye. I’m brown, from the Lower East Side of
NYC, attend a community college because my parents were too broke to send me to
a university, and younger than most.

I’m 19 years old and
have been working with PEP for the past 2
years. At 19, and with the experiences I have, I already feel like I can’t
fully represent the young people I work for. My greatest desire is to see young
women under 18 dominate both the RJ and Feminist movements. That said, I feel
much more accepted as a young women of color in the RJ movement than I ever
have around other feminists. I am an RJ activist. And until feminism is an
inclusive movement – of age, race, class, sexual orientation, and education – I
will only be an RJ activist.

I’m tired from writing
this, just as I was exhausted by the Day of Action. I’m proud that my movement
affected change, and that by being there I was a part of the change. But I
continue to be dismayed by the lack of acceptance of young women of color, in
the RJ movement, in the feminist movement, and among sisters. Someone please
tell me they feel me.

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  • kate-ranieri

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about exclusion. I know young women of color on our college campus who feel your pain. The college talks a good game about diversity yet it takes more than writing about it in the strategic plans, more than requiring students to take one course that is related to diversity and more than admitting more students of color.

    Many of the white, privileged students claim that they don’t know how to talk to people of color. They claim that they are afraid to offend others. Yet when there are opportunities to mix, at social events, they seldom engage. It’s frustrating for certain.

    Nonetheless, I laud your self-awareness, your fortitude and your passion for RJ. Best wishes for all the good work you do.

  • invalid-0

    Thank you for writing this. It’s shitty that the feminist movement continues in so many ways to reinforce systems of oppression. Here’s to you, to more feminists with class/race/other kinds of privilege (like me) being cognizant of their privilege on their own, and to the inclusiveness of the RJ movement.
    "If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu."

  • diana-philip

     I was in that overflow room in Russell as well and was upset that it was not a publicly displayed rally where anyone could have joined.  I heard many participants comment that they didn’t understand why they were encouraged to make rally signs when there wasn’t an opportunity to actually use them.  It seemed more like a private pep rally used as a break for those who had been lobbying all day.  I had hoped that the event would have more indicative of how far the newest framework in reproductive freedom advocacy – reproductive justice – has come.  I have been writing and speaking about this event on my campus as a graduate student and with colleagues in my advocacy work (spanning 20 years now), and am very glad you submitted your post about it. 

    I, too, was dismayed at the lack of color in the main rally room in Dirksen, especially when I saw the You Tube coverage the following day and saw the sea of white people.  You are absolutely right that the only speaker under 30 was the white female college student from Haverford, who in addition to have to announce the names of most of the college groups in attendence also stated the purpose of the rally was to fight the "middle class abortion ban".  What?  I was glad that Loretta Ross from SisterSong and Silvia Henriquez form the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health were able to speak and perhaps that is a sign of the movement evolving, but youth were not definitely not represented on the podium. Yes, it was obvious that once again the major groups working for reproductive freedom that organized the Action Day to control the messaging and further their public policy agendas have yet to fully embrace reproductive justice.  Groups like the Pro-Choice Public Education Project could have definitely identified a speaker to convey why youth care about how Congress is handling the health care reform efforts.  And you are also right, Bianca, that liberal feminists have yet to embrace the concept of intersectionality – that we experience difference forms of oppression –  and in addition to gender, race, class, nationality, ability, sexuality, education and geography, we must include age.  The reproductive health decisions of young women – especially minors – are just as important to account for when demanding access to all quality services for every individual on American soil.  That is why the reproductive justice framework includes women and girls. Yet, I also believe that liberal feminism has demonstrated the capacity to be self-reflecting and self-correcting, and that there is hope for a more inclusive movement.