Last week, I got an email from Choice USA inviting me to an event in DC to celebrate young people in the reproductive justice movement. My heart started pounding – Food! Young people! Gloria Steinem! I started thinking about how to rearrange my schedule to be able to attend until I scrolled down and saw the price tag for the evening: $75. My heart sank. I knew that attending was out of the question when the combination of traveling to DC, missing work, and that high admissions fee were all out of my budget. How can an event that’s supposed to celebrate young people totally ignore the circumstances and realities of our lives?
Who can afford to spend $75 on an event? Not most people my age. We’re in debt from undergrad or graduate school and struggling with low-wage entry level jobs, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. According to the Pew Research Center, over the past year, 35% of people aged 18-29 had trouble paying their rent and 36% of people in the same age bracket had someone in their home who was laid off or lost a job.
Here are some of the most disturbing details (pdf): nearly 26 percent of blacks and just over 25 percent of Hispanics were poor in 2009. Only about 9.4 percent of white Americans were poor during that same period of time. To be fair, gargantuan gaps between white, black and Hispanic poverty rates (and income levels (pdf)) aren’t new. They just got worse — much worse — in 2009.
Having a high price tag for an event doesn’t just block access for young people with little or no income. The poverty rate rose for almost every ethnic group in the United States. How can we expect diversity and inclusiveness in the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements when we’re not catering to the economic realities of 43.6 million Americans?
I understand that awesome organizations like Choice USA need to raise money in order to do the great work they do. Why not offer a sliding fee scale admissions fee so that those who can pay more will, and those who can’t will still show up? How about offering scholarships or alternative ways for people to contribute to the organization, like volunteer services or time? We fail as a movement when we are unable to recognize that if we’re going to talk the talk of inclusiveness, we need to walk the walk as well.