Thursday, November 09, 2006

Reproductive Rights

Not sure what the etiquitte for cross-posting is to be here at FA, but here's an excerpt from my own blog, detailing some of a panel on the history and future of the fight for reproductive rights that I went to last night. Not a lot of insight, but just some disucssion about how the evening affected me. It seems somehow appropriate to post at least some of it here, nonetheless.
I should say that I'm not much of an activist. One reason is probably some laziness. Activism is work, and lots of it, generally. Another reason is that I don't see myself as either a leader or a follower--I don't feel comfortable in either role--and lots of what has to happen to get things done, at least the way things are now, requires one to be one of these two things, or both, which I don't do well either. Sometimes I lament this side of my personality, the side which talks the talk but, in some ways, doesn't walk the walk.

Of course there are all sorts of ways to walk the walk. I try to walk the walk in my personal life. And I think that talking the talk (to belabour the metaphor) is walking the walk, in many cases. I think, for instance, that, while Feminist Allies hasn't caused a lot of change in the world or even changed a lot of minds, it has (so far) been a great learning experience for me, and (I daresay) for at least a few others. Theory, meet action.

Still. I'm not a marcher. Or a joiner. I don't have a dynamic personality along the lines of the personalities that I saw on the panel last night. But, as a good friend once pointed out to me, it may be enough to be thankful that there are such people, even if I never aspire to become one. I can do what I can do; I don't have to do what they do.

And there was something remarkable about sitting in the same room with these four women (plus the people in the audience), about feeling the leadership sort of emanating from all of them (albeit in various forms) as they spoke and answered questions.
The panel was pretty amazing. Elizabeth Creely from BAACORR moderated the discussion. She had quite a task, I think, and had an appropriate amount of reverence for the speakers without making the panel too formal for those of us listening to identify with both the speakers and the ideas they were examining. The first speaker was Patricia Maginnis, who was part of the "Army of Three" in the fifties and sixties--women who not only helped other women find ways to get safe abortions, but violated federal law (and placed themselves in danger) in order to do so. It was amazing and insightful to hear what she had to say about her own beginnings and the beginning of the reproductive rights movement in California. Plus, it's always nice to hear somebody bash the Catholic church in appropriately delightful ways. The thing that struck me most about Patricia was the strength of her anger toward people who think that they can limit reproductive freedom in the various ways that they have, and continue to do. Her anger was unbridled, sincere, and somehow not righteous in the negative sense; plain inspiring, really.

Next up was Ruth Mahaney, who has done great work for reproductive rights in Indiana (among other places). She had a lot of great things to say about how it is that things can get started, with a group of women sitting in a room together talking about (say) abortion; how the connections can form and a movement can build simply from doing one of the things the religious right has tried to shame women (and us all) into not doing--talking about abortion. Ruth had a practical-ness about her that made me think that, if I ever were going to become more of an activist/leader, her example would be what I modeled my own activism on. While she was an eloquent speaker, the doing of things seemed to be part of everything she talked about.

Finally we got to hear from Norma Gallegos from Radical Women. Norma was recently doing work trying to keep abortion available for women in Jackson, Mississippi. She was, frankly, the most inspiring to me. She kept returning to the ways that reproductive rights intersect our other civil rights, and reiterating that loss of reproductive rights are tied to losses of other civil rights. She also kept pointing out the intersectionality of feminist thought--that these issues aren't just issues around abortion and repreoductive rights; they are issues of race and class and gender, too, and should be addressed as such.

I think this may be key to developing a culture in which reproductive rights are respected; once people begin to see the connections, it seems like it will be more difficult to not advocate for reproductive rights--unless one is also willing to give up other civil rights. Norma seemed to have taken on the 'larger picture' part of all of this head-on, which I don't think is easy to do. When you're aware that your struggle isn't just against right-wing nutjobs but also the very centers of our current economic and political systems (i.e. capitalism), it could be daunting. She seemed decidedly not daunted.


Years ago, when talking to an organizer at SFSU regarding the teacher's union, I found myself trying to point out that I wasn't so sure that actual, physical meetings between people were necessary for political movements. Technology, technology, technology was my cry. Email lists. Bulliten boards. That was a way to connect with more people, more easily. But I now see that it's a false dichotomy. Sitting in a room with people who are activists (or proto-activists) is galvanizing. There's something about our social-ness that kicks in; it's motivating in a way that reading any number of feminist political blogs just can't be; there's a place for all of it, of course, but I was reminded last night that sitting in a room with people is likely a necessary component of causing political change.
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