My background lends nothing to this type of activism. I am a Southerner from the former capitol of the Confederacy and am the youngest daughter of Republican parents who worked hard to put me through twelve straight years of Catholic schooling. Sundays I spent as an altar server or Eucharistic minister, and once a year the Church bussed us to the anti-choice “March for Life” in Washington, D.C.
A decade later I find myself marching with the opposition group, having just completed my fourth and final year on PEP’s Young Women’s Leadership Council and embarking on a Master’s degree of Law and Human Rights. I could not say when it was I became a liberal, or a feminist, or even an agitator in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
However, I can say with definitiveness that it all started for me with the email from PEP about the YWLC. An article I wrote in the local newspaper about Bush’s slippery beginnings of restricting reproductive rights had apparently been noticed by some organization based in New York City—and they wanted me to join! Having never been to New York (or been in any organization that supports reproductive rights), I immediately accepted.
My time at PEP has been astounding. I got so much out of a group of people with vast experiences and backgrounds. Working with the PEP staff and other YWLC members also provided a space in which I could breathe and relax, without judgment, and encouraged me to find my place in the movement. I immediately connected with this amazing group of women. I also quickly decided that every time I could participate in something, I would.
The first event I was involved with was hosting a reading of “That Takes Ovaries!” (TTO). It took place in some eclectic art gallery in NYC, a fabulous setting for my foray into the world of SRHR activism. That evening, I met the editor, Rivka Solomon, and was even the first person to the mike to share my own TTO story. Being a part of PEP on that night, an eighteen-year-old with big huge eyes, I knew I had found my calling.
The rest of my time with PEP was marked by a series of other volunteering opportunities, traveling to new places, and using PEP as a resource to educate myself on reproductive justice issues. Through the Council I networked with other organizations to participate in Choice USA’s Gloria Steinem Leadership Institute; SIECUS’s international Youth Summit; and the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education’s annual conference in Washington, DC.
While doing all this, I continued to organize with PEP during our Recognize! Campaign, and also to use my new skills in coordinating the Feminist Activist Fair on my campus. This August I met with the YWLC at my last official convening, where I was both very overjoyed and very saddened. I felt overjoyed at the opportunity to meet the new dynamic members of the council but saddened that this chapter in my life has ended.
PEP has been the source through which I have learned about and organized on behalf of sexual health and rights issues. If I had not joined the council four years ago, I imagine I would have remained an apathetic woman on the sidelines of a very necessary revolution. Instead, when a line was drawn on the ground at the last convening and Council members were asked to step over it if they were confident in their role in the movement, I crossed.
Though I do not know the exact path of my future as an activist, I am fully confident in my past, and I attribute my development to PEP’s Young Women’s Leadership Council.