Friday, April 25, 2008

Reproductive Rights & Social Justice Conference in Amherst,MA

This weekend conference was AMAZING! I traveled all the way to Massachusetts, just to be apart of the empowering experience. I'm fairly new to the RJ movement. This conference was really informative. We were given precise information, lots of resources, and loads of hospitality.(I'm definitely going next year).Some of the workshops I attended were; Making Washington Work for You, Building the RJ Movement, Economic Justice in the U.S., Abortion Access Internationally. There were a lot of great workshops I wanted to attend (but couldn't be in 2 places at once). All the info I get I share. I'm back home now, and I gotta get to work, literally!
Stay Tuned

We're at the table,.... LITERALLY!

Whoever said that abortion was a white woman's issue lied. Every time I step into a room where concrete decisions about abortion and reproductive rights are made, faces like mine are scarce. This lets me know that the people making decisions about "our" bodies don't have "our" opinions. The Chicago Abortion Fund, through the leadership group, has afforded me a ticket to most of these meetings that average black woman can't walk into. When I'm sitting at the table with executive directors, and coordinator, my first thought is..."WOW", I'm the only person here under 30. My next thought is, "Where are all the black people"? "Did they not get the memo"? Reproductive Justice is a movement, and if people/women of color are not at the table, incorporating the voices of black youth, then we're not moving forward with the movement. So I understand greatly the impact of me being present,... I gotta represent. Then later, go back and present this info to as many woman as I can, who may never be at the meetings. My face being at the table is proof that these issues are universal. When I enter the room I'm sure they wonder who I am and who I came with, but after I speak, they are quickly impressed(which is no validation to me). I have made it a priority within the last year to be a leader, which means that I can't be afraid to go to unfamiliar places, and I can't be afraid to shine. So I'm highly educating myself to do just that.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rally for Real Sex Ed

Last week Illinois pro-choice activists held a day of action to call on the Governor to reject abstinence-only until marriage funds. It was capped off by a rally at Federal Plaza and if there's a rally, I'll try my best to be there! Here are some photos from the small, but passionate gathering.

Here we are chanting.

Here a passer-by stops to sign a postcard. WOOHOO!!

This young man and woman both performed their own spoken word pieces. They were AMAZING. I wish I had thought to click over to video on my camera. Then again, my battery was dying.

More chanting & rallying!

Now to wait and see what the Governor does....

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Food for Thought!

So I stop by one of the group members apartment last night to drop her off a bus pass and some food. I was dead tired! But I had to see her. She is really important....we all are. And that's why the women are staying connected in a way that has never been done before. I truly love these women. They are like my sisters, daughters, friends, family. I really care about them. And I want to see them do better, be better, have better. More importantly, I do accept them for who they are and where they are.

So I called her yesterday...or actually returned her call because she kept her promise and called me yesterday am. I was suppose to take her and the baby out to dinner and to talk. However, I was so tired I told her that I was still coming, but would bring her food instead. Ran by Wendy's (not the best choice, but that is what she wanted....I did get the baby (she's two) chocolate milk) and then to her place. We sat around and talked a bit. She is 23 years, a sweetheart and a young mother. The concern she has for her little girl is really evident. I'm proud of her and how she takes care of her little girl.

But do you know what was running through my mind the whole time? Some people are against this leadership group. Some people out there didn't want me to connect to the women that we served in this type of capacity. We have lost donors that don't believe we should be supportive AFTER a woman has an abortion! Some thought that we should just pay for the procedure and that's it. The typical band-aid solution - not get to the root of the issue right? So tell me how do we get these women to the table with us then? Maybe that is the point. Those that disagree don't want these young, poor women of color at the table. I just happen to be on the opposite side of the fence. I believe they should be there and have the right to be there.

And in order to get them to the table....I feed them and give them bus passes. In order for them to participate, I show them how much I truly value their time by giving them a small stipend. That small stipend may get them through payday....or help keep their lights on. That meal may be the only one they've had. But they can sit there and engage and talk about reproductive justice because they are not hungry....and they are respected!

I guess I get it because I was on public assistance receiving food stamps and surviving month to month on barely nothing. Yup, I was 21 in my own place trying to make it on my own. My son who is turning 20 years come August is my first born and we did our share of struggling. So I get it. And no this is not some sob story for the women in the leadership group. In fact, this is happy story...a living story....a truthful story. I want them at the table. They need to be at the table. So what that I have to feed them or give them a bus pass. So what that others don't get it. We are not doing this for pats on the back. We are doing this for survival. Women that have abortions....that make this personal decision....need some really concrete support after the fact. And if I want them to participate with me, I'm gonna help them......from my side of the fence.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

This is only the beginning...

I’ve had a lot of opportunities since joining the Chicago Abortion Fund. Various conferences have taken me to states I’ve never been and allowed for otherwise impossible visits for a few hours with friends new and old at those events. I’ve attended workshops on menstrual extraction, open adoption, climate justice and how it is intertwined with reproductive rights, along with many other varied topics. I’ve hung out with doulas in who were also fighting for prison abolition and mothers’ rights while imprisoned; talked with women who have disabilities fighting for inclusion in feminist events and for bodily integrity; listened to teenage mothers describing their forced abortion experiences while calming down the baby on their hip.

Sometimes the facts can be hard to stomach. Workshops, conference calls and new reports on the neglect and abuse of women, women’s bodies/health and their children can lead to bouts of sadness and even despair. Occasionally, a woman will break down crying on the phone and I’ll have to try to console her. Other times, it’s their pure will and even leveled voice while describing their situations- situations I wouldn’t wish on anybody- that hit me.

Because of these moments- moments of despair, inspiration and hope- I know how important our My Voice, My Choice project is. Too often, women of color, young women, poor women, differently bodied women, are not seen. Our voices are ignored. Both by the people who condemn us for our situation and those who claim to want to help us. We get boiled down to statistics, trends, populations. We become an “other”. And we know we are more than that.

Worldwide, 1 in 5 pregnancies end in an induced abortion. In the United States, that number is 1 in 3. Even in spaces that acknowledge these facts, we are often marginalized. But we are beginning to change that- through groups like My Voice, My Choice, we can come together, discuss our lives and educate ourselves. We need to make our voices heard, not wait for others to create a space for us to speak out. Chicago Abortion Fund’s My Voice, My Choice is using every avenue it can to make our voices heard- public access television, you tube, myspace, our website, postcard campaigns, getting us to conferences, presenting workshops, this blog… The roar gets louder with every event, every connection, every woman who agrees to join. Here’s your opportunity to be at the start to something very, very important.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Discussions - From a Grassroots Perspective!

I'm super excited about today! We will be at the RACE SEX and POWER conference at UIC! Talking about organizing young women around reproductive and social justice issues.

So I submitted my proposal and it was accepted! On the panel will be Affinity Community Services, Chicago Abortion Fund's My Voice, My Choice, Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and Mujeres Latinas en Accion. We are going to talk about why it's important to have young women at the table organizing, the challenges and of course the successes! I know this is going to be a great discussion! In fact, we need more outlets like this. We need more spaces and places where we can make our voices heard.

I'm really looking forward to it. Yesterday one of the My Voice members stated that she didn't know she was sitting on the panel. And I told her why wouldn't she think that? Oh yeah I know why....because "Others" have tended to be the mouthpieces for so long. Oh no, I told her. This is your group. You have to talk. I am not talking for you. This is the entire purpose of the group. And she was like - yeah you're right, I get it.

This is a learning process for us. We're not perfect....we are learning and growing together in this movement. My job is to find the spaces and places for these conversations to occur (our cable access show, this blog, conferences and workshops). The leadership group's job is to give voice to their own experiences! I'm not speaking for them....oh no! This is their baby and they can do it!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Our Travels!

So we're back from Amherst, Mass from the "Abortion Rights to Social Justice" conference at Hampshire College. This is my third time going...and they say the third time's a charm right? Yup! This time was truly special. Several women from the MyVoice, MyChoice leadership group were in attendance....all in the name of reproductive justice!

I'm happy! To have these sistas with us at the table is just crazy awesome! I mean how often do society...walk pass these women everyday? We don't even think of them as leaders but they are. I'm experiencing their transformation and growth every single day.

Hey my heart is kinda full. I mean when I came to the Chicago Abortion Fund I couldn't understand for the life of me why the women we serve weren't at the table with us? Were we in the movement, so power hungry and high up on egos that we couldn't share the space? I have a responsibility to reach back and pull another woman with me. Just like women have assisted me in my life's journey. But this wasn't being done. And because everything I do with the women in the leadership group is done out of love, there is truly a holistic approach to this work.

Organizing young women, marginalized women is the way we are going to move this movement forward. We have to have the women we are serving at the table participating and making their voices heard.

So that is why my heart is full right now....because I'm hearing our women loud and clear. They are not invisible. Their lives matter!