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Reflections on Stupak, the RJ Movement, and Feminism

by Bianca VelezPEP Program Assistant

This piece was originally posted on RH Reality Check

A few weeks ago, I attended the Day of Action against the Stupak Amendment with my organization, the Pro-Choice Public Education Project (PEP). We rode on a bus organized by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), with colleagues I already knew, Twitter friends whose faces were now connected to their online personas, and allies fighting for immigration rights. The atmosphere that morning was intoxicating, even at an un-godly six oíclock. As is customary within my circle of activist peeps, some great conversation incurred on the bus, mentally preparing me for the challenges I would face during the day. I was ready to rally and start some dramaÖafter a nap and food at the rest stop.

Once in Washington, DC, the day really began. It was to be a day of rallying, lobbying and networking with folks in the Reproductive Justice and Feminist movements. My colleagues and I were glued to our Blackberrys tweeting and re-tweeting the thoughts and happenings of that afternoon. There was much to be said.

We were led to the Russell Senate Office Room for the rally. Well, to watch the rally from an overflow room. Iíll start by saying that itís pretty awesome that so many of us showed up that an overflow room had to be made. But I didnít travel 4 hours from NYC at six in the morning to sit in an overflow room. As upset as I was to not physically be at the rally, there were other issues with the overflow room that were really irksome. We were surrounded by men and women who traveled with us on NLIRHís bus that did not speak English, and yet there was no interpreter in sight. Uh, BIG problem. They came to show their support, but how could they when they couldnít understand what was going on? This was an example of inexcusably poor organizing.

As I watched the rally on TV, I realized that I could count the number of woman of color I saw on the screen on my hands. Meanwhile I sat in an overflow room full of women Ė and men Ė of color. As a young woman of color whoís seen this more times that I ever wanted to, I was not surprised. But if I hadnít been upset already, I definitely was at that point. I will never feel comfortable saying that I think this was intentionally done, but the fact that only my colleagues and I could whisper about it in a corner infuriated me. If because of timing or poor organizing, it so happened that we were racially segregated, fine, but say so. Acknowledge that there werenít enough black or brown faces in that rally when there were plenty in the overflow room, and apologize.

A word on the presence of young people: great job getting them to stand there with their pink shirts and handmade signs; disaster getting their voices heard. If no one else noticed, let me be the first to tell you that there was ONE young woman under the age of 25 that spoke at the rally. Her task: to list the colleges and universities the young people present at the rally represented. Really? You donít want to talk about how Stupak utterly screws young women? Young women of color? Low-income young women? Fine, IíLL do it:

The Stupak Amendment puts young women, specifically young women of color and low-income young women, at a serious risk. It tells these young women not only that they have no control over their bodies, but that they have no reproductive choices. Because as we all know, Stupak will not change the lack of comprehensive sex education in the U.S.; it will not change young womenís inability to access contraception or reproductive services, even when they do choose to parent. No, it only continues to exacerbate the inequities young women must face when trying to care for themselves, their partners, and their families.

Being a young, Nuyorican in the RJ movement has at the very least given me the advantage over my peers of seeing how few people address our issues and needs. Even those who claim to, fail to prove to me that they do. I can say that with the allies I do have, that will change, and the RJ movement will be an inclusive space for young people.

Now to the Feminist movement: bleh. On the Day of Action, I attended the Pro-Choice Youth Space with young people from various organizations. PEP lent support to the event, so I had an opportunity to talk about PEP and what we do along with other folks who represented their organizations. It was great that this space even existed, and Iím truly thankful it did, but that didn't change my discomfort with the dynamics in the room.

It was another situation in which the number of young woman of color was disproportionate to the number of white young women. Itís something that Iím usually good at dealing with when I at least feel that the conversations taking place are relevant to me, my work, and my background as an activist. This wasnít the case. Simply put, thereís no way I can feel comfortable putting my two cents into a conversation dominated by young, white, college aged/educated, feminist women. Really, we donít see eye to eye. Iím brown, from the Lower East Side of NYC, attend a community college because my parents were too broke to send me to a university, and younger than most.

Iím 19 years old and have been working with PEP for the past 2+ years. At 19, and with the experiences I have, I already feel like I canít fully represent the young people I work for. My greatest desire is to see young women under 18 dominate both the RJ and Feminist movements. That said, I feel much more accepted as a young women of color in the RJ movement than I ever have around other feminists. I am an RJ activist. And until feminism is an inclusive movement Ė of age, race, class, sexual orientation, and education Ė I will only be an RJ activist.

Iím tired from writing this, just as I was exhausted by the Day of Action. Iím proud that my movement affected change, and that by being there I was a part of the change. But I continue to be dismayed by the lack of acceptance of young women of color, in the RJ movement, in the feminist movement, and among sisters. Someone please tell me they feel me.
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