Em-URGE-ing Voices

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We Won’t Go Back: Raising Youth Voices in Reproductive Justice

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October 7, 2013

History was recently made in Ohio when over 300 people rallied at the capitol in Ohio for reproductive rights.

I was fortunate enough to attend the We Won’t Go Back rally at the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio with my Choice USA chapter (and a fellow Choice USA blogger!). At this rally, I was very inspired by the high attendance, chants and calls to action to vote and change the political climate around abortion rights in Ohio. I felt lucky to be in the presence of America’s pro-choice superstars, such as Ellie Smeal of Feminist Majority Foundation. I kept thinking of how fortunate I was to be part of something so historical and important for my generation.

However, I observed something funny about the representation of the reproductive justice movement throughout the rally. Although I enjoyed the speakers and agreed with what they were saying, I was disappointed by the lack of youth representation among the chosen speakers.

In fact, several of the speakers recognized the importance and the presence of youth in the crowd, but this is not a substitute for young people speaking about their own concerns for reproductive justice in Ohio.

If young people are so imperative to the reproductive justice movement, then why aren’t our voices being highlighted during these events?

In order to lead a successful movement, we need not only young people being present at these gatherings, but our voices need to be amplified and our concerns represented. Anti-choice organizations are constantly putting young people at the front of their movement, whether it is having children protesting at clinics or having young leaders, such as Lila Rose, speak at large events. Children and young adults constantly have opportunities to voice themselves in the anti-choice movement.

I respect and admire the work of the organizations and women who spoke at the rally. They were phenomenal speakers and the work they do is vital to Ohio and the US, and I believe abortion access would be worse than it already is without their hard work and determination. And this is exactly the reason why I believe that we need to elevate the voices of the young people involved in reproductive justice. We need a sustainable movement, and the innovation of young leaders can create just that.

Millennial reproductive justice activists have a lot to say – from the Hyde Amendment to ending shame around teenage parents to exposing crisis pregnancy centers in their communities.

A significant perspective of young reproductive justice activists is a pushback against the “War on Women” rhetoric often used at We Won’t Go Back. The rally rightfully recognized that the legislation being pushed through Ohio is often based in sexist assumptions; that anti-choice movement is used to control women’s sexuality. But what this catchy, media-friendly phrase does not cover is the complexity of gender identity, class and race in the so-called “War on Women.”

The truth is that the “women” in the “War on Women” are not one dimensional. People are impacted differently depending on their identities. The legislation is not going to impact a woman living in a suburban area just outside of Cleveland with a functioning car the same way a first generation college student who lives on campus with no car and relies on their parents’ insurance at Bowling Green State University. By claiming that there is a “War on Women,” is assumes many things – that all women are impacted the same by these laws and that all people who can bear children identify as women. In reality, this “war” impacts low income individuals and people of color disproportionality, and those who become pregnant do not always identify as women. This is just one part of the conversation of identity and abortion access among Millennials.

What can be done in the broad reproductive rights movement to elevate youth voices? Student organizations at college campuses are a great way to start to gain more insight and engage Millennials, along with inviting young people to plan events, lobby and strategize. And yes, having them speak at events and rallies is always an option.  The reproductive justice movement needs to be sustainable for the next generation, and elevating youth voices will do just that.

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