by Meredith Staley
Thanks to NARAL Pro-Choice NC, two members of my student organization and I had the opportunity to attend the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in Arlington, VA. It drew an incredibly diverse crowd of young feminists: women, men, gay, straight, transgender, and people of all different races and ethnicities.
The panel of speakers were equally diverse as were the topics that each of them discussed. Some of the most illustrious speakers were: Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama; Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers (and mother of eleven children!!); and Katherine Spillar, Executive Director of Ms. Magazine. It was rejuvenating to hear strong, accomplished women affirm that we are not alone in this fight for justice and we can make a difference. Here were my main take-aways from the conference:
- LGBT rights and women’s rights go hand-in-hand. We have to work as allies to achieve our common goal of equality for all.
- We need constant vigilance in our attention to legislation about women’s issues. Attempts to restrict access to abortion are happening by and large at the state level, so that is where much of our attention needs to be. At a national level, we have to speak out against budget cuts to organizations like Planned Parenthood and protest negative changes to laws that protect women (i.e. VAWA) as well as cuts to welfare programs that primarily assist women.
- I learned creative ways to support local abortion clinics. Some examples: escorting clients into the clinic when there are anti-abortion extremists harassing clients outside, or holding signs of support outside of clinics side by side with protesters.
- It is not helpful to women if abortion is legal but they have no access to clinics that perform abortions. We have to challenge those laws that have been put in place specifically to impede a woman’s ability to do what she decides is right for her.
- When women have access to abortion, maternal mortality rates decline.
- Abortion is a hot button issue, especially in the South (something I did not learn at the conference!). Being aggressive and fiery about my belief in reproductive choice will only push those who disagree further and further away from my perspective. I think for the community I am a part of, it is best to seek common ground with people when possible. By explaining that being pro-choice involves advocating for increased access to contraceptives and birth control so fewer women encounter unintended pregnancies, you can establish a common thread with those who may adamantly oppose abortion. I think it’s really important to have open dialogue with those who are pro-choice, anti-choice and everyone in between.
In addition to all of the political insights I learned, it was awesome to get out of Wilmington for a couple of days and spend some time in a slightly bigger city, among like-minded people.
Meredith Staley is the NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina campus representative at UNC Wilmington. Born and raised in Miller’s Creek, NC, Meredith will graduate this May with majors in Spanish and Social work, and a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies.