By Jerusha B., KHJN Board Member
On February 20th, I embarked on a 12 hour drive to Norman, Oklahoma with three other wonderful KHJN folks (Jhalak, Lindsay, and Meg). I say embarked rather loosely because I’m still too young to help drive a rental car. I did, however, engage in lots of supportive back seat sleeping and supportive road watching! We were traveling to meet up with other reproductive justice activists for the fifth annual Take Root: Red State Perspectives on Reproductive Justice conference.
I was so excited for this conference, as Andrea Smith was speaking as the morning keynote. I was first introduced to Andrea Smith’s work in an introductory ethnic studies course. Her work completely changed my perspective and approach toward understanding and fighting against sexual violence. Aside from the opportunity to hear her speak, I was excited to learn more about how others organize across red states. I am fairly new to reproductive justice work (I focused on intimate partner violence and sexual assault work back in California - which is, of course, related). I’m also fairly new to the red state world. I moved to Kentucky from California for graduate school. I came away from this conference with a renewed passion and drive for this work. The organizing that is being done across the U.S. is inspiring. With over 500 in attendance, the support could be felt in every session.
The opening plenary on Friday highlighted the diversity of issues covered within reproductive justice, from the impact of Ferguson on Black women’s health to the importance of giving young women of color a space to develop and share their personal narratives; from understanding the need to support trans and gender creative youth to the need to pick up each others issues - such as fighting against the harmful and racist Native American mascots. Deborah Small ended the panel with an important hope - that Take Root 6 will see more people of color with no money than people with degrees. These are all reproductive justice issues, all deserving of our attention and intentional commitment. As Deborah Small stated:
“All of us, or none.”
Saturday began with a powerful speech by Andrea Smith. Smith discussed the harms of relying on the non profit system to achieve our goals, the dangers of framing those against us as eternal enemies, and the importance of building our own movement. I found the discussion of “eternal enemies” to be especially important. In a red state is is easy to assume that most people are against our goals and our movements. If we want to see change, we need to talk with our “enemies.” If we want to see change, they need to become our friends. We need to engage in discussion, we need to reframe the issue - find common ground. If the current discussion (ex. pro choice vs pro life) isn’t working, we can create our own movement and our own discussions that fit our needs.
As I was able to see in a later panel titled “RJ & Civic Engagement” this idea of engaging in one on one conversation with individuals and families was already occurring and leaving an impact. Cristina Aguilar, the executive director of Color (Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights), discussed her organizations’ use of small coffee gatherings with families to discuss reproductive rights. They were able to see the biggest Latin@ voter turnout in years, defeating a personhood amendment, as a result of their outreach efforts.
The conference was full of similarly inspiring speakers and organizations. Lindsay and Jhalak were a part of a Trans Health Matters panel and presented research findings from the KHJN sponsored study on trans folks access to healthcare in Kentucky. This panel brought forth the much needed discussion of how to make reproductive justice spaces safe and inclusive for trans people. While this point was brought up by an audience member and not fully explored, it was an important contribution that I hope will be considered as we move forward. From my own experience at the conference - when I checked in and was given my conference materials I was encouraged to write my pronouns on my name tag. Less than 30 seconds after that encouragement I was misgendered by a person who was figuring out my payment. Gender neutral restrooms were available but they were in a separate building. Only a few speakers were intentional in their language around pregnancy and “womanhood.” Change comes slow, but these conversations need to be had.
Overall, the conference was a whirlwind of excitement and inspiration. I hope I am able to attend again next year. I barely touched the surface of the conversations and panels that went on during the day, but I encourage you to explore the #takeroot15 tag on Twitter to learn more. Below I have linked a few reproductive justice organizations you should check out!
Making Herstory OKC
National Advocates for Pregnant Women
The Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center
Friends of KHJN.