This past weekend was the last of our travels for this fiscal year. We (staff, leadership group and myself) sat on a panel at the NWSA conference (National Women's Studies Association) in Ohio and talked about the leadership group, reproductive justice and grassroots organizing from the perspective of women of color.
If you've never been to this conference it is definitely interesting. Purely from a academia/research perspective - students and professors come to read their papers and talk about their latest research. Every once in a while a grassroots organization is thrown in for variety or good measure. This is where it gets interesting.
From my perspective (although our workshop had very good attendance) it doesn't seem as though people really want to hear what we have to say. Audience members want to push their own agendas (would you like to be a part of our project?), ideas or even research us! And if you say something they don't agree with - it's a problem (researchers don't have all the answers but neither do activists). Of course, not all attendees are this way because there is exception to every rule. However, there seems to be a disconnect between research and people doing the real work. A real big disconnection.
For example, one researcher talked about her work around HIV in the African American community. She wanted to know what we were doing around this issue with our leadership group. I answered that we provide a variety of health information to the women we work with and plenty of educational materials to empower them. The young lady wasn't satisfied with this answer. Yet, I'm hearing the information, statistics and numbers she has researched but not hearing concrete solutions to the HIV problem either. We all need concrete solutions to everyday problems that relate to marginalized women.
The women we serve are not interested in the latest academia research. They want support for the choices they make and they don't want to be judged for their decisions. They want healthy families too! Yet, how do they have healthy families when they don't have their basic needs met - or the privilege to get those basic needs met? With all the obstacles that poverty presents how do they make those healthy choices? A woman may want to buy a gallon of milk but does she have the ability to do so?
Yes we need research. That is a must. But we also need real work and change.