Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Today's Rally And Lobby Day For Reproductive Health Equity

Several hundred people gathered at the State Capitol in Oregon today to lobby for reproductive health equity and in order to attend a spirited rally. The event was organized by the Pro-Choice Coalition of Oregon, a coalition of the ACLU of Oregon, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Family Forward Action, NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, the Oregon Latino Health Coalition, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, and the Western States Center.

It was heartening to hear so many speakers repeat the message that reproductive health equity and womens' health issues extends beyond abortion rights, important as they are, to a full ranges of services which are needed in working class and people of color and LGBTQIA+ communities. This message needs to be constantly communicated and refined because it changes the entire discussion which has been underway since the 1950s, and earlier.

It was also good to see so many young people engaged and to see signs and buttons which spoke to the present moment. The crowd was not going to be fooled by Trump's agenda and his apologists. And, as with the Salem City Council meeting last night, if the opposition tried to create a presence as they have in the past then they failed once more. It was just a few months ago that attending womens' health rallies often meant passing through some hostile groups.

The young people who put the rally together are still learning how to do that work, and that's fine. Perhaps they will learn about sound systems and how to position platforms and chants, or perhaps they are already finding some new ways to build action and enthusiasm. It's easy to feel confidence in their abilities and to support them. After all, they got hundreds of us to stand in the rain today for a long and good rally. The speakers were on point, brief and encouraging. For me, the best speakers came from communities of color or had personal stories to share which spoke to our collective experience.

As I was listening to the speakers I reflected on their messages and remembered a time in the late 1970s when groups like the Coalition for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse (CARASA) were most active and considered outside of the mainstream. CARASA had emerged from a difficult time for social movements, and sometimes reflected particular splits in the left and womens' movements, but its message now seems to be a core part of our work. CARASA was less of an organization and more of a movement, more a body of ideas built from engagement than a theoretical system, and it was very much the antithesis of the non-profits and NGOs which have taken over social movements. CARASA's message is now mainstream because people did good organizing work and pushed the boundaries. The success of this agenda shows us that people can be won to radical ideas. And it makes me wonder where we will be in 30 or 40 years. Which of the radical ideas we now support on the left and in the social movements will be taken as commonsense starting points 30 or 40 years from now?          

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