Abortion storytelling as artivism

by Molly Burchins, 2017-2018 Campus Leader at NC State University

This November, as a Campus Leader at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, I received an incredible opportunity to work with Poppy Liu, founder of Collective Sex, and Amelia Bonow, co-founder of #ShoutYourAbortion, on bringing their abortion storytelling program to NC State.  This program was brought to communities and campuses across North Carolina in order to bring abortion out of the political realm by starting a new conversation.  These two organizations have both done incredibly important work around destigmatizing abortion, and empowering people to tell their own stories.

#ShoutYourAbortion was founded in 2015 after the hashtag went viral and enabled thousands of people to share their abortion stories.  SYA empowers people to tell their own stories on their own terms, and aims to humanize and normalize the experience of abortion.  Collective Sex is a storytelling initiative and an all-femme production company that aims to “decolonize storytelling” by destigmatizing stories about sex, body, intimacy and identity.  Their project, the short film Names of Women, depicts a first person account of an abortion experience, produced through the lens of healing and spirituality.

Their idea for this program was to give people a chance to hear and share abortion stories, and to discuss the complexities around abortion access in a way that increases compassion and empathy.  Along with their program, I also had the idea to bring Poppy and Amelia to my campus for an afternoon discussion with a smaller group of students.  Because my awesome professor let me hijack our class for the day, this discussion ended up taking place in my Feminist Theories class, and allowed students who were studying the theory behind this kind of advocacy work to see the theory in action.  This was a really exciting opportunity for my classmates, because they were able to talk to Poppy and Amelia about their work in a more intimate setting.  I couldn’t have asked for a better discussion, and everyone was able to walk away with a new perspective on this work.

 

Molly Nov 2017 blog 1

Later that evening, we hosted their 90-minute program, in which Poppy and Amelia discussed their respective approaches to creative abortion storytelling as a form of activism.  This program included a showing of the short film Names of Women, which was produced by Collective Sex, and a few of SYA’s digital abortion stories, and aimed to enhance creative storytelling as a form of “artivism” (art as activism) that helps to depoliticize and re-humanize discussions around abortion.  Because the program was about abortion, there was a lot of hesitation from university staff members to advertise this program to their students, and this really affected the program’s attendance.  Regardless of the small audience, we were able to modify the program and still create incredibly meaningful conversations around abortion.

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This program, along with the two incredible people who created it, will be returning for another Bible Belt tour in the spring.  I’m really looking forward to hosting this program again and making sure that these conversations reach more and more students!

#BlackLivesMatter, and Black Health Matters, too: Reproductive Justice

by Anna Katz, 2017-2018 Campus Leader at Duke University

This November, I had the privilege of attending the first annual Black Health Matters Conference at Harvard University.  Given my work as a NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Campus Leader and love for all things sexual health, I was particularly looking forward to Saturday’s panel Who and How: Sexual Health Activism for Our Most Underserved Communities.  As I ponder what shape my budding career might take, I am always thrilled to hear the varying ways activists approach this critical work.  With panelists working in academic, government, and the nonprofit sector, the event promised to offer several unique perspectives on sexual and reproductive health.

But perhaps most exciting was the opportunity to attend a reproductive health event that centered and amplified the voices of four Black women leaders in the sexual health field.  Mainstream reproductive rights activism historically sidelined women of color, trans women, poor women—virtually anyone who didn’t reflect middle- and upper-class white leadership.  Frustrated with this marginalization, a group of Black women created Repro Justice Repeal Hyde Art Projecttheir own movement, coining the term “reproductive justice” in 1994.  Now a national leader in reproductive justice, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective defines reproductive justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”  To ensure that these rights are universally recognized, they believe, we must analyze power systems, address intersecting oppressions, center the most marginalized, and build coalitions across issues and identities.

In doing this work, we must first contextualize sexual and reproductive health activism within a history of reproductive oppression.  Our nation has a broad and shameful history of sexual and reproductive coercion of Black folks and other communities of color, contributing to an abiding distrust of health practitioners and organizations like Planned Parenthood.  From the forced reproduction of enslaved African and African American women to the coercive sterilizations of the American Eugenics Movement, from J. Marion Sim’s surgical experimentation on enslaved women to the non-consensual extraction of Henrietta Lacks’ cervical cells, from contraceptive pill trials on Puerto Rican women to the infamous “Tuskegee Syphilis Study,” folks of color have continuously been stripped of bodily autonomy, often for the purpose of “advancing” reproductive science.  The generational trauma of such violating practices cannot be minimized; as activists, we must acknowledge our nation’s ugly histories and recognize where the mainstream reproductive rights movement has failed the most vulnerable.  The panelists echoed SisterSong’s push for centering those who have been marginalized and emphasized that paying lip service to historically subjugated groups is not enough. “Activism is a doing, not a saying,” explained panelist Jill Smith, HIV/STI Project Manager at the Maryland Department of Health.

I am proud to be working with NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, an organization that is committed to serving all North Carolinians and prioritizing those disproportionately impacted by harmful policies.  In an attempt to echo this commitment on Duke’s campus, I am building partnerships with groups that tend to be excluded from reproductive health conversations.  I am thrilled to be kicking off next semester with a sexual and reproductive health trivia night in collaboration with The Bridge, an online community for Black and Latina women.  Through such coalition-building, perhaps we can build an on-campus reproductive justice movement that is truly inclusive and intersectional.

I remember & will vote in November

Guest post by Rebecca Mann.

This time last year, North Carolinians were gearing up for the Independence Day holiday. Certain members of the North Carolina Senate took that preparation a step further and sent their morals on vacation, as they hastily attempted to secretly add anti-choice provisions into an existing bill on Sharia Law, then vote on that bill just hours before the break. Apparently they thought we would be too busy packing our sunscreen or prepping our outdoor grills to notice. They were wrong. Although we all know the result of their actions over those two days now (not good), the reason I can look back on that time and smile is because of the outstanding organizing done by pro-choice activists across the state to show legislators that we were and are watching them.

Here’s a look back at how it all unfolded.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

5:20pm   Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, announces a recess and said the Judiciary 1 Committee would meet at 5:30 p.m. The meeting was to discuss SB 695, which—up until that point—was written to prohibit North Carolina from recognizing “foreign law” in court.

5:30pm:  Judiciary I Committee Meeting Begins

From WRAL.com: “Lobbyists with nonprofits that have religious or moral purposes, including the Family Policy Council, Christian Action League and North Carolina Values Coalition, were in the room for the committee debate and the subsequent Senate floor debate. Senators noted that those lobbyists were given notice of the bill and its contents ahead of time.”  NARAL Pro-Choice NC’s Executive Director and other lobbyists for pro-choice groups were given none. You can read more here.

6:00-7:00pm:  Word begins to leak out about the anti-choice amendments .

7:00pm:   NARAL Pro-Choice NC Speaks Out Against the Bill

“In the final minutes of marking up an unrelated piece of legislation, the Senate Judiciary committee swiftly tacked on every anti-choice piece of legislation introduced since January to this bill and sent the bill to the floor with no warning in a rare evening session,” stated Suzanne Buckley, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. … This is a cowardly move intended to silence pro-choice voices because they know that if they show their extreme agenda in the light of day, they’ll hear from us.”

7:12pm:  I send my senator a strongly worded email. (It didn’t work.)

8:12pm:  National news outlets pick up the story

“It seems to me that they’re trying to pass under cover of darkness legislation that would not otherwise be passed,” NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina executive director Suzanne Buckley said. “They’re trying to pull a Texas.”

HuffPo Reports on NCGA Sneak Attack

HuffPo Reports on NCGA Sneak Attack

 

For the rest of the evening, NARAL Pro-Choice NC and its coalition partners sound the alarm and spread the word to gather at the General Assembly the following day at 9am. Over 85,000 people across the country heard NARAL Pro-Choice NC’s call to action through social media in less than 12 hours.

NARAL Pro-Choice NC Sounds the Alarm

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

7:00am:  I meet friends at a parking lot in Greensboro and we pile into my car to head to the NCGA.

8:30am:  We arrive in Raleigh as the pro-choice crowd is gathering.  The Senate chamber is already packed, and the rotunda is filling with pro-choice North Carolinans of all ages, races, and hometowns. There are babies in strollers and seniors in wheelchairs, ladies who lunch and students subsisting on ramen. It’s exciting to be with all of these people intent on holding legislators accountable for their actions. Several older women, a college student and I crowd around my iPhone while I use it to stream the sound from the floor debate. Although there are impassioned speeches from pro-choice legislators, they are sadly outnumbered.

A view from the Gallery

A view from the Gallery

Votes are cast and decades of anti-choicers’ legislative fantasies win. NCGA security warn us to be quiet, but a chant of “SHAME SHAME SHAME” begins and quickly moves throughout the building as legislators leave. We see several pro-choice legislators outside, some in tears, hugging constituents and vowing to continue the fight. News and Observer photographers did a good job capturing the morning.

A year later, I still get emotional thinking about that twelve-hour span of time. But my strongest emotion is pride—in NARAL Pro-Choice NC and its leadership, and in the entire pro-choice movement in our state.  That day, we vowed to not forget the anti-choice legislators who put aside decency to push through measures intended to take basic, personal rights away from North Carolinians.

I remember what happened last summer, and I take those memories with me into the voting booth in November.

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