Guest Blogger: Sarah Hoover
On Saturday, September 21, 2013, CoreAlign facilitators came to Planned Parenthood of the Greater Memphis Region (PPGMR) to have a Breakthrough Conversation, inviting anyone in the area who is interested in “The Movement” to attend. What is this movement, you ask? What all does it entail? Who does it include? How do we expand and sustain it? Those were some of the burning questions discussed on that lively Saturday. The laughter and commotion echoing through the building were indicative of a seed being planted in the minds of advocates and organizers throughout the Memphis, TN area.
The participants included representatives from CoreAlign, Planned Parenthood, CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, The University of Memphis, and SisterReach, along with various other interested parties. After a provocative ice-breaker in which we each explained what the word “choice” meant to us in our lives, we found ourselves to be more alike and united than we may have first suspected. This laid the foundation for an inspiring day.
The heart of the meeting was spent in “fishbowl conversations” which centered around three red-hot questions (chosen by the participants). Through these conversations, we were able to open our minds to acknowledging the history of the Reproductive Justice movement, expanding our reach to marginalized populations, networking with others across the country to reach our goals, and rebranding the movement to encompass all reproductive choices.
Question #1: How do we build the movement and sustain it? Before answering this, it was brought to our attention that we should define Reproductive Justice. Certain members of the group emphasized that we must have a solid understanding of the history of the Reproductive Justice movement in order to avoid co-opting it from its original roots in the organizational efforts of women of color (Read more about this here.)Further discussion centered around the points of intersection between the different groups of people who we strive to empower, the aspects of the movement that we wish to encompass within our branding (sexual orientation, all reproductive choices, violence, health, women of every background, economic justice, etc.), and the materials, knowledge, access, and support we advocate for.
We then went on to list ways that we can sustain interest in the movement: center marginalized groups in the over-arching conversation, get people involved through niche issues (e.g. gay marriage, U.S. “rape culture” conversations), demonstrate progress through hitting key benchmarks, increase networking through social media, and become more proactive as we anticipate challenges.
Question #2: Where are the people of color? How can we get them engaged? This raised the question of whether or not the members of our movement are automatically for racial equality. It also made us consider different approaches to mobilizing communities of people of color who are not already active in the movement. We found ourselves asking: How can a white woman enter a community and empower women of color without seeming imperialistic? How can we avoid co-opting the term Reproductive Justice?
A decision was more or less reached: We must invite as many different people as we can to the table. We must also respect these differences. One topic raised was that many of us are paid to do the work we do, while we are asking people of color and people of lower socioeconomic backgrounds to join the discussion for free. There must be some fair incentive offered. Another red-hot suggestion was to educate white communities on the realities and histories of communities of people of color in order to dispel stigma and increase cooperation.
Question #3: How can the movement be rebranded to emphasize the multitude of reproductive choices available to women? We need to take all choices into account. This issue is not only about legal abortion access. It encompasses a woman’s choice to have sex or not, to have children or not, which type of birth control to use, at what age she wishes to have children, how she wishes to birth her children, etc. Unfortunately, funding is too often focused around abortion, so organizations get siloed into abortion-only work. Until there’s a level playing field for all choices and all people, there is no justice! It was also suggested that the current generation of high school and college students needs to be educated and included in the conversation.
Two mock debates were then held in order to give us the chance to practice facing opposition. By the end of the day, we all felt confident in the breakthroughs we had made and the networks we had created amongst ourselves. All-in-all, it was decided that we as organizers and advocates need to be flexible and open to change. We are being given an opportunity to create a brand that encompasses all issues and people throughout the country, and we must do this with the utmost respect for the history of the movement, the people we attempt to empower, and the goals we strive to reach. Thank you CoreAlign for bringing us all together to unite and creatively revamp our efforts here in Memphis!
Sarah, a native of Jonesborough, TN, is a graduate student in applied medical anthropology at the University of Memphis (U of M). Her research interests include reproductive health, women’s health, and women’s rights. She is currently completing her practicum at the U of M Center for Research on Women (CROW) as a research assistant, and she hopes to graduate with her Masters in May of 2014. Her personal feminist blog can be found at www.doormatalternative.com