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An End (But Not The End)

9 Jan

“The things I have invented have invented me,” wrote Dar Williams in the lyrics to her song, “This Earth.”  As the editors and writers of Abortion Gang, we feel the same – that this blog has invented us, fortified us, made us better, fiercer, louder, more strategic reproductive justice activists, and we hope that you, the reader, feel that way as well.

After the assassination of Dr. George Tiller, Abortion Gang was born. We were undergrad students, grad students, future abortion providers, and came from all walks of life. We sought to add an intersectional, multigenerational voice to reproductive justice and activism, and we did. Throughout the past 4 years, we have transitioned, added new blood, and poured our hearts and souls into this blog. We could not have done this without you, our readers.

The Abortion Gang blog is now closed.  After 4 years, almost one thousand posts, and countless lessons, we’re moving on. “Where are the young people in the feminist and pro choice movements?,” people lamented, and the answer was, and is, we are everywhere. We are in the streets, we are in health care, we are on line, we are clinic escorts, we are in red states and blue states and no states. We are fighting stigma and the Hyde Amendment and midwives and educators and lawyers and parents. We are shouty as fuck, and we will remain so, in all of these spaces and more.

Thanks for reading and shouting with us,  now and always. Keep fighting the good fight!

With peace, love, and fierce activism,

Abortion Gang

Ellen Willis on Abortion, 1968

23 May

“A young girl, a friend of some friends, comes to town to get an abortion and stays with me. Doctor is a well-known, respected abortionist. Charges her $700, which she has to borrow. I’m disturbed to learn she was given no antibiotics. Next day she starts hurting. Neither of us wants to face trouble, so we wait. But the pain gets worse. I waste an hour calling private doctors, leery of a police hassle at Bellevue. Her fever shoots up and I call an ambulance, panicked that I may have waited too long. The doctor, if you can call him that, lets her have it. While he’s examining her and giving her shots and sticking tubes in her and she’s yelling, in terrible pain and scared to death, he starts in, “YOU WENT TO A QUACK, RIGHT?” keeping at it until she says yes, and then, “That was a stupid thing to do, wasn’t it? How much did it cost you?” and on and on. She asks him if she’s going to die. The prick won’t say no. When he’s through I ask how she is. He gives me his nastiest you-East-Village-sluts-are-all-alike look and says, “She’s very sick,” loud enough for her to hear, and strides out of the ward. The nurse reassures me. She’s full of penicillin and it’s going to be all right.

She spends a week in the hospital. When she’s ready to go home one of the doctors gives her a prescription for birth control pills, but the clinic pharmacist won’t give her all the pills at once. She has to come back every month. Regulations. I argue: there’s no point to this, it’s harassment. “Don’t be smart, lady,” he says.”

From Up from Radicalism

An Open Letter of NARAL Pro-Choice America and NARAL Pro-Choice MD: Do Better

20 May

Our movement is small. You can count USA’s national organizations whose mission is to advance reproductive rights and access on one hand. NARAL is among them; NARAL is a leader in our movement.

As a leader in our movement, I am disappointed that you’ve turned your back on one of our own in the fight for access to abortion in the US.

I am referring to the news that NARAL MD has decided to endorse County Council President Craig Rice over his opponent, the fierce, well known, and unabashedly pro-choice activist, Neda Bolourian.

Neda is a vocal feminist and abortion advocate. She is a clinic defender, a natural leader, and a passionate activist and fundraiser for keeping, protecting, and expanding the full range of reproductive health options. She co-organized the grassroots movement Summer of Trust, welcoming Dr. Carhart into Montgomery County in 2011, and has not for one moment shied away from her strong belief in access to legal, safe abortion whilst on the campaign trail.

Candidates like Neda Bolourian are the future of our movement. We need actively prochoice politicians to move our movement forward so we can stop playing defense.

If NARAL MD researched the candidates for Montgomery County Council, there would be no ignoring Neda’s commitment to vocal pro-choice activism, which is clearly identifiable hereherehere, and here (to site a few of many exhibitions). Especially disturbing is that NARAL MD has a facebook album of a weeklong pro-choice Summer of Trust event Neda co-organized in Montgomery County in 2011. The album has pictures of Neda’s sisters including Lily Bolourian, her campaign manager.

NARAL MD needs to do better. NARAL MD needs to do better, more diligent research before endorsing candidates, and/or needs to do better at actively supporting upcoming pro-choice politicians. When NARAL, a pro-choice movement leader, supports the established order over a pro-choice activist, they join the patriarchal forces of oppressing feminist, pro-choice voices, rather than fight them. Furthermore, NARAL’s endorsement of Neda’s opponent sends a deeply troubling message to future pro-choice women candidates: That pro-choice leaders are more willing to support the establishment than feminist activist.

As someone who cares deeply about the future of our movement, I request that NARAL MD switch their endorsement to support Neda Bolourian and reflect core values of NARAL, and the pro-choice movement. Please join me in asking NARAL to do the same here at change.orgNARAL MD, Endorse Neda Bolourian.

16 and Pregnant, Season 5, Episode 4: The Recap

11 May

image (2)


Check out the Mama’s Day campaign at Strong Families

Also: May 12-16 is the time to action in support of the Young Parents’ Dignity Agenda. (Click to learn more.) 

This week, we have Ariana from Smyrna, Georgia. Per usual, you can watch the whole episode here.

Megan: Wow, again with the appearance related to pregnancy. Usually it’s weight, but this time it’s about skin/acne and not being able to take antibiotics. They are really selling not getting pregnant to the teens. WHOA, they mentioned abortion!

Chanel: They said it! It’s a word! It’s a thing! Ariana didn’t consider it.  but at least we’re hearing about options.

M: What is senior kidnapping?

C: I have no idea, but  it makes me think of Gilmore Girls.


M: I hadn’t thought about what my pregnancy dance was going to be when I have a baby but I am now reconsidering that life choice.

C: I think that’s wise.

Also, I love Ariana’s  friends. They are really good at being her friends.

M: Agree. Unconditionally supportive.

C:  Ariana she could still get a phd. Maybe not now (but also maybe now), but I don’t want her to think that she can’t ever do it. Making adjustments to the plan is not the same thing as lowering your standards for yourself.

I’m glad she said being in labor is really scary, bc it looks really scary.

M: I also like that she talked to her grandmother about her own birth experience, even though we didn’t see much about it here.

“Seeing him being born meant the world to me.” Even though things aren’t working out between the two of them, it’s nice that he can express that.

C: I hate that Maurice STILL thinks he didn’t do anything wrong. I feel like MTV thrives on making us think that these girls are just crazy, manipulative psychos because they want dudes to do something concrete.

M: Yeah, he also should have stopped talking after that sentence. Also, how powerless must it make you feel to be in a hospital bed with someone holding your newborn baby who won’t hand him back over to you. Trapped.

C: Everyone in this situation is terrified, but expressing it differently.

M: So true. What is the reasoning behind not dropping off the stuff? Maybe that his connection to the baby will be lost once he does that? She has no reason to contact him after that if she doesn’t want to?

C: Maybe. Ownership seems to be a big theme this season so far.

She’s not dramatic, Maurice’s mom. WHY ARE YOU DEFENDING HIM??

M: She only has one side of the story.

C: You don’t have to do it alone, Arianna. You have people with you.

Oh, enjoying it! that’s a thing I feel like we don’t talk about on this show very often- that parenting is a thing you might enjoy. Gloria Malone tweeted about that the other day.

I imagine that people are thinking A is punishing M by not letting him see the baby. And also about not breast feeding. I used to read the comments under the episodes, but i stopped because they made me want to set everything on fire.

M: I don’t know why, but I decided to look at the comments after I read that. And it just makes me really glad we are writing this.

C:   NeverReadComments-580x333

M: I really like the dramatic diaper changing music.

C: It seems like the right choice. This is pretty dramatic.

M: Stop everything. Baby Air Jordans.

C: Air Jordans are still a thing?

M: Baby Air Jordans are. You’re welcome.

C: Ugh, back to the skin again. Stoppppp.

Ariana: “It’ll make me more mature, but do I necessarily want it to be right now? No.I dont’ want to be a mom right now.” Real talk. You can have multiple feelings at the same time, people. She can be glad Aiden is alive and also wish this all wasn’t the case  right now.

Okay, I have to bring this up again- the obsession with the two parent family. It’s literally every week. I theoretically understand-like, two people makes it easier. And nuclear families are seen as “normal.” And fear. But the most important thing is not actually that a kid has two parents.

M: I agree, but I also think it’s more complicated, because for Arianna and Maurice their desire for the dad to be in the picture is based on real and hurtful losses that they have both experienced.

C: I think it mostly always is on this show.

M: I am glad that he apologized, but I also think he has a point that they both need to apologize!

C: Yes. She can be angry and not want to apologize and be a good parent, and I think that’s where people lose sight of the ball. (I’m thinking of the comments.) Again, people can be many things.

M: Word.

C: Oh, good, he gets that he wasn’t being a support system for her. That’s better than him still thinking she’s deranged. TAKE NOTES, OTHER DUDES.

Is that cake? She has a cake box. Now I want cake.

M: You seem very hungry today.

C: I’m being manipulated by MTV. As I am most days.

M: Love to Ariana and baby!




16 and Pregnant, Season 5, Episode 2: The Recap

27 Apr

This week on 16 and Pregnant, we have Autumn, from Richmond, Virginia. You can watch the whole episode here.


Megan: I just need to announce to the blog that I am 50% done with my MSW as of one hour ago and thus am depending on Chanel to carry this summary through.

Chanel: Whee!! Congratulations!  I will begin by sharing the vital information that everyone in this episode so far has very shiny hair.

M: Also,  they are really into camouflage.

C: I checked with someone who’s actually Southern, and it’s a thing, apparently.

Um…Dustin doesn’t believe in pregnancy tests? Cool.

M: It must be so tough to have you and your partner be in such different places and with drastically different interpretations and expectations for what is going to happen when the baby is born.

I love this mom, “Cool, but weird.” That seems like an accurate way to describe your 16 year old getting pregnant.

C: I get supporting your kid, but this is not the best situation.

M: Yeah, I guess because it was in reference to both doing activities together? Like, they have this thing to bond over.

C: So again this week there’s no discussion of whether or not people considered abortion or adoption. It’s making me uncomfortable that we’re not seeing that, because I think we should see that giving birth and raising the kid is a choice that was deliberately made, not the default.  But we know Autumn was on birth control, although she  wasn’t taking it correctly. That’s important. It basically doesn’t count unless you take it correctly.

M: I hear about the weight gain fears all the time from my patients when talking to them about contraception! It is such a pervasive and persistent worry for folks thinking about birth control options, but it’s important to remember that everyone reacts differently to different methods and will need to test out options to find out what works best for them. (Check out more info on this from Bedsider.)


M: While I agree that the situation dictates that Dustin will need to take more responsibility, it’s also not helpful to shame him for his decisions at this point. I’m wondering what’s going on with him that he feels the need to say that he can’t stop smoking.

C: I was thinking that too. I mean, is this an addiction issue?

Unrelatedly, Autumn just used the term “nutsack.”

M:  Most importantly, is Drake an appropriate baby name these days given the superstar?

C:  I didn’t even know about the rapper. My first thought was about cake.

M: OK, well, I didn’t know about that, so we’re even.

C: “Man up” is one of my least favorite expressions on earth. (Along with “awesomesauce” and “amazeballs.”)

I’m not sure how to process this “calling the cops on your kid” thing. Maybe it’s because I am skeptical of law enforcement, you know, given all the bullshit. By the way, if anyone wants weigh in on facts about cyber school and graduation for teen parents, we would appreciate it.

M: Also about whether these OTC drug tests work.

C: I did not need to see Dustin’s cup of pee, MTV. THANKS.

I seriously do not even believe that  anyone is ever “ready” for fatherhood, or motherhood, or parenthood, I don’t care how old you are. People need to stop acting like that’s a thing you can be. The whole idea is a trap, it sets people up to be shamed.

M: My favorite part of this episode so far is when Dustin called the doctor, “dog”. My heart went out to him though when he said that this was the first drug test he had ever passed.

C: Annnddd Drake has been birthed.

M: People had better not be taking pictures of my vag when I give birth.

C: I am sad that that is a thing that has to be said.

M:  Although that scene for some reason got my cat’s attention.

photo (5)

(this cat’s name is Bruizer)

C: Because of the screaming?

M: He just is mesmerized by the miracle of life. He’s very spiritual in that way.

insert photo of Bruizer.

M: I feel so sad for the mom who has to support both of her daughter’s babies. She is taking it so well. It must be such a stressful financial situation.

 C: Oh, Autumn. Don’t set the bar so low.  You and Drake “Maybe Named After Delicious Pastries But Probably Not” deserve so much more than a bag of diapers a week.

M: Yeah, the question is what is he currently spending the money on?

C: I think we know.

M: Yeah. It’s sad when someone who could be suffering and hurting is treated just like it’s an issue of “teenage irresponsibility”, though. I think it’s interesting that he keeps bringing up the drug use on his own too, by saying the $40 he makes could buy weed, etc. Seems like it could be a cry for help to me. But I am a social work student so I’m into pathologizing everyone.

C: Now would be a great time to remind the universe that doing drugs doesn’t not make you a bad person, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have an addiction (which also doesn’t make you a bad person). Of course, it depends on who’s doing the drugs. The consequences are different for rich white kids versus for everyone else.

M: It comes down to if it’s impairing or distressing you in your daily life. And it could definitely be the case for Dustin if he sees no other option than to spend all of his earnings on marijuana. But we are just seeing what MTV wants us to see! You are also right that smoking doesn’t necessarily imply addiction or that it’s a morally bad thing to do.

C: Which reminds me of something my therapist is always telling me that she doesn’t believe laziness is a thing- that it’s actually always about something else, usually fear. I think that’s a worthy frame for this show.

M: I agree.

C: Autumn’s mom is a boss. I’m so glad she’s pushing for child support. This  episode is another reminder of the fact that a baby plus parents doesn’t necessarily equal a family.

M: Oh,  this girl needs a hug. We are sending you a virtual hug, Autumn! You are so brave!




Abortion Gang at CLPP 2014

14 Apr



Bloggers from Abortion Gang recently spent 3 days at the radical glory that is the CLPP conference, and we tweeted up a storm! You can find the tweets by searching #CLPP2014 on Twitter.

Check out Abortion Gang bloggers @chaneldubofsky, @annapopinchalk, and at @PProvide, as well as @graceishuman,@OpinionessWorld, @AbortionChat,  @RBraceySherman@poonam_pai ,

@SisterSong_WOC@LeahDoolittle@KimberlyInezDC@aimeett and others.


Stay tuned to Abortion Gang for more blog posts on CLPP!




“She was on the side of the Lord”- Anti Choice Rhetoric, Religion, and Ownership

19 Feb

This is a guest post by Leigh Sanders. 

One thing volunteering as an escort at a reproductive health clinic has taught me is anti-choice protesters have an exorbitant amount of time to oversee the reproductive lives of their neighbors. Since they believe they are acting on religious orders to participate in this sort of secular voyeurism, they have been willing to physically and emotionally harm those that get in the way of their mission. Therefore, we are trained as clinic escorts to never engage with protesters. I am limited in my intervention to meeting patients at their vehicles and offering to shield them with my big rainbow umbrella from the unholy provocation that loudly follows us to the door. Throughout history women and girls have been subjected to this sort of harassment when they exercise self-determination.

I made the mistake of walking up to a car with two anti-choice  folks this morning and one of the women got out and righteously proclaimed she was “not one of us, because she was on the side of the Lord.” I had to wonder whether the Lord would actually claim her. I mean technically, she is saying the Lord is the kind of guy who would spend his down time shouting, criticizing and frightening the hell out of people. It would seem that the Lord would be busy on the other side of those women’s choices, the side that ensures children never go hungry, employment is plentiful, housing choices affordable and sexual violence eradicated.

So here is what working on the side of the Lord looks like to people who protest at abortion clinics. They stop cars from parking by acting official, as if they might be working for the clinic. When the unsuspecting person rolls down the window, propaganda, void of scientific fact, is shoved inside their car. For instance, the pamphlet uses the picture of a stillborn baby to depict an abortion despite the reality that nearly every single abortion in this country occurs on or before the 8th week. The clinic escort must intercede so the patient can arrive promptly for their scheduled appointment because the protester’s aim is to make them miss their allotted time.

Once the patients proceed to the front door, the protesters start yelling at them about the psychological “trauma” they will suffer afterwards, their impending status as a “baby-killer” and the many “resources” available to them that they are not utilizing. Today, one woman yelled back “Resources? What resources? You mean welfare?”  The male protesters explained they meant the resources that come from “loving Jesus.” There is a less aggressive group of protesters that arrange pictures of Jesus to face the clinic and while holding rosaries sing hymns about hell and damnation. They are the “good” ones because they do not seem motivated to physically harm anyone. Then there are the ones like the woman who specifically addressed her allegiance with the Lord; they greet the incoming cars as if in a funeral procession holding signs that presumptuously proclaim “Your Mother Kept You.”  The protesters surround the clinic until the last patient arrives and then their work is done. It is not known whether Jesus is proud of them for their stamina to harass or disappointed with them for their failure to shame. Either way they will return on Monday, ever seeking the Holy Grail of religious intolerance.

The police do not get called because the protesters are not breaking any laws. Of course, neither are the girls and women who are entering the clinic. Yet, their rights are at the mercy of fanatics who use deception, violence, judgment, intolerance and moral superiority to scar the lives of people they have never met. Because the one thing an anti-women’s health terrorist abhors more than abortion, it is a society that grants women sovereignty over their own bodies.


Q/A with The Clinic Vest Project

5 Feb
Image via The Clinic Vest Project

Abortion Gang (AG): What’s the Clinic Vest Project and why was it started?

Clinic Vest Project (CVP): The Clinic Vest Project is a project started by Clinic Escort Organizer and Pro-Choice Activist Benita Ulisano. The purpose of the project is to provide free escort vests and training materials for escort groups in need. It was started in response to escorts emailing me and asking if our program in IL had spare vests. Since our vests are Illinois Choice Action Team specific we could not give them ours, so I thought, why not have a whole bunch of generic vests printed up to give away to anyone who needed them.

AG: Why are clinic escort vests important?

CVP: They differentiate us from anti choice protesters when clients arrive at the clinic. The vest itself is a symbol of compassion, support and comfort for clinic clients.

AG: How do you get the word out about your project?

CVP: I get the word out through social media and word of mouth. You can find us at our Facebook page.

AG: Is there a part of the country that requests the most vests?

CVP: So far, no. I have sent vests to seven groups, MS, NJ, IN, PA, VA, MN and Toronto Canada. Hoping to send lots more!

AG: What advice can you give to folks who want to start an escort group in their area?

CVP: Go for it! Once a relationship and need has been established with the clinic, the best thing to do is to get a group of like minded activists together for training and dive in! If activists are interested in starting a group and need training materials and vests, they can contact The Clinic Vest Project at

How do you talk to your family about your work?

8 Jan

Whether it’s over the holidays or on an unexpected phone call, talking to family members about the reproductive health, rights, and justice work you do can be difficult.  Our bloggers give some tips, tricks, and strategies for navigating these sometimes challenging conversations.

Peggy: My suggestion to anyone navigating talking about abortion/reproductive healthcare/sexual healthcare/etc. with family is to keep yourself safe. Only say as much about your work as you are comfortable saying, and have a plan that allows you to walk away or change the subject when it gets uncomfortable – unless you are cool diving in. You don’t owe anyone a discussion, explanation or argument around your work. Be proud of what you do, for sure, but there’s nothing wrong with staying within your comfort zone when talking about it, especially around family during the holidays which is bound to be an emotionally vulnerable situation to begin with. My best advice is to set boundaries for yourself in advance and stick to them as best you can.

Chanel: I hate when people say this, but pick your battles. It often feels like there’s so much at stake, even when there isn’t, and so deciding you’re not going to keep arguing is a failure on your part. I had to end a long friendship over politics, abortion specifically, and it still haunts me, but the truth is that it was simply toxic. We have enough work to do, there’s no reason to keep that shit hanging around if we don’t have to.

Deva: My family is pro-choice; every woman I am close with in my family has told me their abortion(s) story, but talking about abortion with my family is still hard. It is hard because inevitably I am more liberal in what I think being pro-choice means. My piece of advice for discussing abortion with your family is to listen and be patient. If you listen long enough you will understand where their anger, disappointment or fear around abortion originates. Hearing awful comments about something you love, from people you love will always hurts. And that hurt is where where patience comes in. Be patient with yourself and others. Let yourself feel angry and disappointed, but try to wait those feelings out–ask calm questions and do not react from that place of hurt. Instead, breath deeply and tell them you understand where they come from (even if you don’t), and patiently explain why you believe their thought process is flawed. Some times people just need to be heard, and you giving them a chance to voice their opinion will open the door for you to voice yours. There may not be agreement, or even common ground, but I feel that if you listen and are able to be patient in your words of prochoice wisdom it will be a happier holiday for all. Also, remember to tell them you love them after a disagreement. I don’t believe in leaving or going to bed angry, and no matter how offensive their words, for me, nonjudgmental love is at the core of being prochoice.

Sara: The thing about my family is that I kind of had to create my own to feel like I was a really a part of one, but around the holidays I make an effort with the family I was born into. I come from a family that I have always thought was very progressive and liberal, but as I have become more and more active in social justice and politics, not just reproductive justice but other issues as well, I’ve questioned how my family got to where they are today. The best way to describe them isn’t just the “I’m liberal but let’s keep it a secret so we don’t alienate the neighbors” mentality, but more like “I’m liberal but I think others should do all the hard work to achieve what I believe we deserve”. It’s incredibly frustrating. I almost feel like I could handle being the black sheep liberal in a room full of conservatives better.

Now, coming from a small family, I should specify that my biological nuclear family consists only of my father and my daughter – I am the only child of two only children, only one of whom is still with us, and my daughter is also an only child. But other branches are larger, and the cousins are presumed conservative because of our environment, but who really knows? Because we aren’t allowed to talk about it.

So you can take the high road, and when your family asks what you’re doing with your life right now, you can say “I’m a community organizer” and change the subject to the weather or college basketball (because I’m from coastal North Carolina, these are the subjects we know we can all talk about with gusto – you may want to choose something else). OR, you can be me, and since I had an event prior to a Christmas family function, I drove over to the family farm to pick up my father not even realizing that I was wearing a Planned Parenthood t-shirt. Luckily I carry clothing in my car at all times for just such a situation, and I would have changed once I noticed. Except unfortunately my father saw it before I did, and he has a long history of pushing my buttons, so once he addressed it in not the nicest tones, I dug my heels in and insisted Duck Dynasty-style that I had a right to free speech and would be continue wearing the shirt I had on. Eventually the argument progressed to standing beside the car in front of the house, moving from Duck Dynasty to Jerry Springer, and whipping it off so that I was standing in my bra outside for anyone to see and announcing to my father that I AM READY TO LEAVE FOR DINNER CAN WE PLEASE NOT BE LATE.

I got to wear my t-shirt. And surprise, surprise, it didn’t start any debates and no one refused to talk to me. It was actually probably a bit of a let-down for my father as he didn’t get a chance to say “I told you so”.

I suppose the lesson here is not for you to go crazy the way I did, although if you want to know the truth, sometimes that feels like the highlight with this crew I was born into. You have to entertain yourself somehow, you know? The moral to this story is to be yourself. Don’t hide what you do and don’t hide what you feel, but do it respectfully. Okay, maybe the episode with my father doesn’t scream RESPECT, but sometimes crazy is the only way to get through to him, and it’s usually the family you aren’t quite so close to that you have to mentally and emotionally prepare for. If anyone at your family get-together chooses not to respond civilly, you can sidetrack the conversation – isn’t it wonderful that two people from the same family can have such differing viewpoints, can still love one another, and can catch up on each others’ lives every year at holiday get-togethers? Then take a slow sip from your wine (or ‘shine, if you’re from MY family – they drink sweet tea but I need something a little stronger to get through) while you let that sink in for them…and if they continue to push the issue, THEY are the ones who get the annual talking-to from the elders about their behavior, even if everyone thinks you are the one with the crazy opinions and too many hippie bumper stickers they hope the neighbors don’t notice in the driveway.

Dena: My family is mostly pro-choice, save my grandmother. My approach to conversations around reproductive rights and justice is just to be open to hearing my grandmother’s perspectives and sharing mine, even though we almost always end up respectfully disagreeing. I love having an open, safe space in my family where these debates can be had, but at the end of the day we all still love one another. And that’s what truly matters to me.

Anna: I will be the first to admit that I am overly sensitive and hate upsetting other people’s feelings, and so in the past I always went the easiest route and vaguely described the work I was doing in hopes of not ending up in a charged situation. Considering that I only see my extended family once or twice a year, this seemed like the best tactic because there was never enough time in our visits to have the space to properly talk, listen and understand each other’s thoughts and values. This worked for a while, mostly because my family is mostly pro-choice and tends to shy away from political or controversial conversations. But one day the topic of abortion came up with a close family member who is generally more conservative and I decided I needed to speak up and share my thoughts. So I listened, I asked thoughtful questions, explained my views and responded in a way that showed that I wasn’t pushing my agenda but rather curious to share our thoughts in hopes of getting to a place where both of us could try to understand where the other was coming from. And in the end while no opinions changed, we both learned something from each other because we love and respected each other enough to thoughtfully listen and have a constructive dialogue.

That experience made me realize that I need to talk openly about abortion and reproductive rights because I am proud of the work that I am doing and want to share that with my loved ones, and I also hope that if I do, more people can learn and be aware about why this work is important. So my main tactic is to do so in a way that acknowledges that it’s okay if opinions differ and that these conversations are meant to share the happenings in my life, not to directly change the views of those around me. The first way to do this is to read the situation in a “pick your battles” sort of way to make sure that there’s the space in your relationship to respectfully disagree. If there is, then listen, ask questions and take the time to explore together. And don’t be afraid! Sometimes people can surprise you and have actually been looking for a space to share their thoughts. Most importantly, always say thank you at the end because to have the chance to talk deeply with your family is a beautiful and special thing.

Emily: Since I’m on my way to medical school, I get the ‘which specialty’ question very often. My immediate biological family is very small and very close to me, but my partner’s family is huge, and many of them I don’t know very well. I feel better about myself in these interactions when I am open and honest about my interests in abortion provision and family planning, and that response usually starts the conversation. If folks want to know more, I try to highlight how incredibly varied people’s experiences with reproductive self-determination are. Every person’s choice to have or not have an abortion is as complex and individual as that person and their circumstances are. When I’m able to communicate that, it seems to break down some barriers.

What advice would you give? What are your experiences sharing your work/views with your family?

Building a Racial Justice Movement

20 Aug

By Rinku Sen. Crossposted with permission from Colorlines.

This week, the nation will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with events in Washington, D.C., and many other cities. A hot summer of race news—Moral Mondays to preserve voting rights in North Carolina, the efforts of the Dream 9 to expose the vagaries of our immigration policy, and those of the Dream Defenders to undo Florida’s Stand Your Ground law—have led many to speculate on whether we are at the start of a new civil rights movement.

We are definitely at the brink of something. I hope that it is a racial justice movement, one that builds on the legacy of civil rights while bringing crucial new elements to our political and social lives. We have a chance to explore fundamental questions like the nature of racism, what to do with the variety of racial hierarchies across the country, and how to craft a vision big enough to hold together communities who are constantly pitted against one another.

Using the racial justice frame allows us to fight off the seductive, corrupt appeal of colorblindness, which currently makes it difficult to talk about even racial diversity, much less the real prize of racial equity. Such language also allows us to move beyond the current limitations in civil rights law to imagine a host of new policies and practices in public and private spaces, while we also upgrade existing civil rights laws at all levels of government. Finally, the modern movement has to be fully multiracial, as multiracial as the country itself. The number and variety of communities of color will continue to grow. If allof our communities stake out ground on race, rather than on a set of proxies, we will more likely be able to stick together when any one of us is accused of race baiting.

The Need for Plain Speech

We cannot solve a problem that no one is willing to name, and the biggest obstacle facing Americans today is that, in the main, we don’t want to talk about race, much less about racism. Our societal silence makes room for inventive new forms of discrimination, while it blocks our efforts to change rules that disadvantage people of color. Unless we say what we mean, we cannot redefine how racism works or drive the debate toward equity.

Americans define racism as individual, overt and intentional. But modern forms of racial discrimination are often unintentional, systemic and hidden. The tropes and images of the civil rights era reinforce the old definition. People taking on new forms constantly look for our own Bull Connor to make the case. We can find these kinds of figures. But there’s inevitably debate about whether they truly hit the Bull Connor standard, as we can see in popular defenses of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Gov. Rick Scott. Politicians, employers and public administrators have all learned to use codes for the groups they target.

The notion that all racism is intentional and overt is a fundamental building block of the false solution of colorblindness.

The obsession with examining the intentions of individual actors in order to legitimize the existence of racism undermines efforts to achieve justice. This is because the discussion of racism in the U.S. is devoid of any mention of history, power or policy. The person who notices racial disparities in health care, for example, is vilified for so-called race baiting, while someone like Rep. Steve King is virtually unchallenged when he puts up a sign referring to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program as “Socialized, Clintonesque, Hillary Care for Illegals and Their Children.” Hey, he didn’t say Latino illegals, so that’s not racist.

Fifteen years of brain research have revealed that ignoring racial difference is impossible, and that most human beings are unconscious of their biases. Thus getting people to acknowledge and change their biases voluntarily is often very difficult, and if it does happen, is insufficient to address the institutional problem.

Even people who don’t dismiss the need for race talk entirely often have the wrong end goal in mind. They encourage respect for diversity, or multiculturalism. Those are both good things. But neither one is the same thing as justice. It is entirely possible to have a diverse community, city or workplace that is marked by inequity. In restaurants I’ve worked in and observed, the white workers in the dining room get along perfectly well with black and Latino workers confined to the kitchen and dishroom, but they are not in an equitable situation. In being explicit about working on racial justice, our modern movement has a chance to push past the diversity goal and define justice.

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