On the eve of the 20th Anniversary of the coining of the phrase “reproductive justice,” the Center for Reproductive Rights and Justice, or CRRJ (“courage”) at UC Berkeley presented Conversations on Reproductive Justice. The two-panel sessions comprising the event addressed the history and current challenges in the reproductive justice space. It was both impressive and inspiring to be in a room where people were engaging in the often sticky issues of race, allyship, and representation with such bravery and forthrightness.
Pat Zavella from UC Santa Cruz opened the first panel by discussing several Latina-focused reproductive justice organizations, such as COLOR (http://www.colorlatina.org/) and Young Women United (http://www.youngwomenunited.org/). In particular, she focused on Young Women United’s participation in the community-led defeat of Albuquerque’s proposed 20-week abortion ban. By dropping the usual labels of ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ and focusing on working with the Latino voters who are usually not addressed in the abortion rights movement due to perceived conservatism, Young Women United and their allies managed to win the vote with a significant margin. Professor Zavella hailed this as a model to be used in reproductive justice: organizations built from the ground up within a community are better able to take on issues at the ballot box than larger organizations and political parties with a need for broader appeal and a more narrow-issue focus.
Reverend Darcy Baxter discussed the religious ‘technology’ of storytelling. As Reverend Baxter points out, ‘technology’ is a ‘tool’, and that the primary tool in religion is storytelling. Reverend Baxter shared a story of her father and grandfather smuggling out a pew in which Susan B. Anthony had sat the night before the church was to be demolished. She pointed out that in allyship, one should “dig in one’s own garden” first – find one’s own stories, one’s own hidden damages and strengths, before you can really appreciate the stories of others and participate fully in a movement where intersections of race and gender play such an important and possibly obstacle-building role.
Abbey Marr, Eliana Rubin and Leah Weinstein closed the first panel with a discussion about their new project, the Hyperopia Zine Collective (http://hyperopiazine.tumblr.com/). All three women joined the working group at CRRJ in the fall of 2013 and discovered a common desire to find a different place for storytelling and navigating the sometimes difficult path activists might find themselves in in working in reproductive justice, such as dealing with law enforcement that some might be uncomfortable with, and/or the bureaucracy of non-profits. They chose the name ‘hyperopia’ as an alternative to what they view as the often myopic-view in reproductive rights movement on abortion solely.
The second session was a discussion between Sujatha Jesudason of CoreAlign and Loretta Ross of SisterSong and moderated by Samara Azam of ACCESS, on the past, present, and future of reproductive justice. Both Sujatha and Loretta spoke of what brought them to reproductive justice – for Loretta, it was her lived experiences as both a teen mother and the experience of sterilization, and for Sujatha, she spoke of looking for her tribe, which she found at her first Sister Song conference. Loretta spoke at length on what reproductive justice gives our society – a framework for discussing human rights, and in particular, a mature way for American society to discuss human rights with the rest of the world, which, as she notes, the United States lags on. Both Sujatha and Loretta spoke about the importance of community and the centrality of storytelling to the reproductive justice movement, and noted that one of the important and radical things about the movement is its inclusiveness with regards to race and gender and how it facilitates harder discussions about those topics. For Loretta, one of the great challenges for the reproductive justice movement in the future is how to keep its radical edge and inclusiveness while moving it into the mainstream of political discussion and life in the United States and one of the challenges with doing so is to develop the skillset to organize with not only those who agree with one’s own viewpoint, but also with those who agree to organize together.
Both noted the importance of self-care and connections outside the movement for keeping one’s sanity and strength through time and long years as an activist. As Dani McClain followed up with the article in the Nation (http://www.thenation.com/blog/179353/want-expand-abortion-rights-texas-better-talk-about-immigration-too), one of the problems with abortion as a single-focus issue is that trying to draw votes with that alone will not attract women, but if the issues that speak to their lives, especially with regards to the Latinas in Texas, immigration, access to jobs, education, health services, will draw a greater interest and voice because these are the issues that are daily a part of their lives. Abortion is also a focus because it’s one aspect of the continuing obsession with population control, so as to get white women to have more babies and women of color to have fewer. Also, it is one of the few ways in which white women feel oppression and thus it draws greater attention and fighting than other issues regarding reproductive health and justice. As Sujatha notes, the best way to reduce unintended pregnancies is to increase income and improve women’s education, but our focus and efforts are just not there.
CRRJ’s event served to highlight both the strengths and ongoing struggles in reproductive justice work, both within and without the movement. Within the movement, questions of privilege, focus, and our own personal motivations and abilities as activists are always to be examined and re-examined through time, while the fluidity, breadth, and personal engagement that are part and parcel of the reproductive justice framework gives it a strength and depth rarely to be found in other areas of social justice work.
Working toward a world in which people of all identities & families of all kinds have support in all their health care needs, with a specific focus on abortion