I’ve got to be honest, the prospect of spending a beautiful, sunny NYC day cooped up for eight hours in a media workshop didn’t sound very appealing at first, but once Jasmine Burnett of the New York City Reproductive Justice Coalition started letting the F-bomb fly as she was explaining the day’s purpose, I enthusiastically settled in for a very powerful and enlightening day at the Reproductive Justice Media Workshop. By the end of the day, I felt reenergized and supported in my personal commitment to reproductive justice but more importantly, I was challenged and forced to check myself as an ally and a voice in this movement.
Panelists included amazing women like Aimee Thorne-Thomsen, Belle Taylor McGhee, Simone Jhingoor, Shanelle Matthews, Pamela Merritt, Jessica Danforth (Yee), Steph Herold, Akiba Solomon, and others dedicated to activism, organizing, and utilizing all forms of media to advance the cause of reproductive justice. The panels, which were more like town hall discussions, ranged in topics from framing and messaging for the reproductive justice community to best practices in working with the media to cover reproductive justice issues responsibly and accurately. We discussed feminism, the role of black men in the fight for abortion rights, respecting young parents, and telling our own stories. While this was a media workshop, I was glad to see a wide range of folks in the room – traditional media, digital media, organizers, artists, and concerned women – because the information being shared was enlightening whether you had plans to pitch a story or not.
You may be familiar with the struggle to raise awareness and support for reproductive health and related issues but not everyone is clear on what reproductive justice is all about – and there’s a difference. According to the NYC Reproductive Justice Coalition:
Reproductive rights concentrate on fighting to keep abortion a safe, legal, and accessible reproductive choice with some discussions on birth control and and family creation. It also centers the sexual and reproductive capabilities of cisgender women to the exclusion/erasure of trans people and non-binary/genderqueer people because it defines the ability to give birth as a hallmark of “womanhood.”
Reproductive justice is the theory, practice, and movement to ensure that people are supported in their decisions to create families—or not—in the most optimal situations possible.
The reproductive justice definition is shorter, but much broader. Just think about it, what must happen, what changes need to be made to our social, cultural, economic, and political ways of doing business to ensure that all people are able to create and sustain families in the absolute best way possible? Having the opportunity to revisit the basic tenets of reproductive justice, a movement birthed by women of color, was one of Saturday’s great takeaways. I hope to be exploring these issues in greater depth here at Parlour and I highly recommend that you visit NYC Reproductive Justice Coalition’s stylesheet to learn more about the reproductive justice framework.
As I alluded to earlier, I was forced to take a look at myself in the mirror and question when and where I call myself an ally, an activist, or an advocate. All of the speakers had a hand in that moment but I have to give it up to Jessica Danforth (Yee), Executive Director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and an all-around badass. Jessica called out so-called allies in Native struggle for reproductive justice who have never been to a reservation, never spoken to a Native person, never really tried to understand the people with which they were aligning themselves. Jessica asserted that there must be consent before an alliance is formed or else you could miss her with your good intentions.
Think on that a bit.
How many times have you styled yourself an ally of the LGBTQ community? The differently-abled community? The immigrant community? Now think of what you’ve done to really know and understand those groups. Is it enough to earn the mutual trust and understanding necessary for a true alliance? Can you speak on behalf of their issues competently and with their consent? I was blown because I know I call myself an ally to many causes but haven’t really done the work in every case to ensure that I’m not an ally in name only. I challenged myself on Saturday to continue holding the mirror up and to really walk the walk. I hope to challenge you all to do the same going forward. Kudos to the organizers, speakers and attendees for making the Reproductive Justice Media Workshop a dynamic experience.
You can follow the NYC Reproductive Justice Coalition on Twitter for more insights and to stay informed about upcoming events – @NYC4RJ. Photos courtesy of Arianne Benford.