Reproductive Justice 101 with SisterSong

by Marie-Antoinette Sintim, 2017-2018 Campus Leader at UNC Chapel Hill

I’ve been learning about Reproductive Justice for a while and I’ve learned a lot.  You know when you feel confident about something that you forget that there’re still a million things to know?  Well, November 12, 2017, was that day for me.  Kate, my badass feminist friend, had worked really hard for there to be a Reproductive Justice training on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus, and as the Campus Leader at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, I worked with her to get SisterSong to come and conduct this training.  It had been advertised not just to the UNC community, but to nearby communities, as well.  We had pizza and cookies!  I was very excited (I believe in food always).

Would we have students?  Faculty?  Neighbors?  A random protestor?  Luckily for us, the people that showed up were students, friends, and neighbors who were eager to learn about reproductive Justice.

Apart from a great crowd, Ash of SisterSong expanded the narrative of Reproductive Justice, choosing not to focus on just cisgender white women, but on trans people, non- binary people, and People of Color.  Attendees shared stories about their reproductive lives, in all forms.  The more I do this work, the more I am reminded that for many people these are stories that are hard to tell no matter how many times they are shared.  And that to be trusted with such a story is a privilege and should be respected.  There are never enough spaces to tell those things that we are afraid to utter ,but we had that space during this training (and because of the sacredness I won’t share other people’s stories here, but I’m sure we all have our stories or know those of our loved ones).

Founders of RJ

While teaching us about the Reproductive Justice framework, Ash allowed for questions, no matter how uncomfortable.  I learned that I won’t always be prepared for uncomfortable questions!  In my discomfort, I decided not to lead with my exasperation and anger with attendees who didn’t understand the importance of Reproductive Justice…maybe today I would lead with some compassion instead.  I started talking to myself like you do before you’re about to say something you don’t quite know how to say and told myself: “There are things that these people don’t know about Reproductive Justice and I don’t know everything, either, and I’m not right always and don’t always use the right language or phrase everything correctly.  I’m still learning, too.”  The mere fact that these folks had come to a teach in about Reproductive Justice meant something!

So, today I learned something new and so did they!

Engaging Young Voters

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Young people can be a difficult audience to reach. NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Foundation tackled this challenge by partnering with other nonprofits to sponsor a day-long Reproductive Justice Summit targeting youth ages 16-24 for a series of advocacy skill sessions. SCSJ voting rights organizing intern Xan McKnight let a session entitled “Navigating North Carolina Voting Laws,” where she spoke to young voters at a session co-taught by Trenten McNeill and Alyssa Davis of Democracy North Carolina.

Engaging young voters
Xan’s presentation focused on ways that North Carolina’s draconian new voting laws suppress the vote of youth, the elderly, women, communities of color, and other vulnerable populations. Through audience participation, a list of voter impediments was created, followed by a list of existing and proposed solutions. Trenten and Alyssa focused on the nuts and bolts of the new voter suppression law. The final segment was a collaborative discussion of best practices in nonpartisan community organizing to help young people become engaged in elections, help coordinate voter awareness on college campuses, and assist people without photo ID in obtaining free state-issued identification before the new voter ID law goes into effect in 2016.

Speakers from SisterSong, Advocates for Youth, Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!), NARAL Pro-Choice NC Foundation, Equality NC, and Third Space Studio facilitated the summit and over 100 young leaders ages 16-24 came together to participate. They discusses how to create social change in their communities, especially pertaining to issues of Reproductive Justice, which is the intersection of reproductive rights and social justice. Sessions included discussions about identity, youth activism, the impact of personal stories, health care, how to actively listen and open a dialogue with more difficult/resistant audiences, and how to create a plan for the future of reproductive justice in North Carolina. SCSJ supports Reproductive Justice issues and recognizes the important intersectionality between reproductive justice issues and other social justice issues.