Herding activists closely resembles herding cats, or Members of Congress, except that activists are generally hungrier, more distracted, and less likely to be on drugs that help them maintain focus. As a result, our fearless leader and editor will frequently send us prompts for posts, with enthusiastic exclamation points and a spritely tone. We don’t always use them, but one has come up a few times and been gnawing at my edges lately: why do we stay in the movement?
The sidelines, where most Americans and many readers of this blog reside on the abortion issue, is both a perfectly fine and completely understandable place to be. Activists need and are grateful for your research, your thoughtfulness, your support and your engagement. For those of you who don’t know what it’s like to work actively in the prochoice and reproductive justice movements, let me tell you. It’s fucking exhausting.
On a personal level, we are frequently berated and disagreed with, politely and less politely. We receive hate mail. We get called terrible things and enthusiastically consigned to the depths of the belly of hell by sweet looking grandmothers. Even when people are polite, they frequently treat us as though we are simply misguided, and just looking to be saved. Many people stand in a middle-of-the-road place on the abortion issue – call it the safe-legal-rare place – and like to engage in what they think of as “interesting debate” and I have come to think of as “totally unnecessary haranguing by people with bare minimum information who think it is my damn job to educate them because they are too lazy to educate themselves and anyway they almost always want to bring God into it when the discussion doesn’t go their way.” The people who argue with us rarely feel the investment in their own cause that we feel in ours, and so are not worn out from endlessly repeating the same fucking arguments over. and over. again. The arguments are all new and fun to them; they think this is an interesting political game.
We don’t think this is a fucking game.
We are in this movement because we know – not believe, know, and have experienced firsthand – that people’s lives depend on it. Really, I can’t be any clearer: without access to abortion and comprehensive reproductive care, people die. People die from this lack every day, and we watch, and we can’t save them, and we hate ourselves, and then we turn back around and keep trying to save the ones we can. Lately, it’s been a losing battle. It sucks.
We are in this movement because we don’t need a weatherman to tell us which way the wind is blowing. Because many of our mainstream feminist forebearers thought that a little ground given was a compromise, a way to hang on to our basic rights, and we have seen that this is not the case. Every time we compromise we just draw a new line in the sand for governments and churches and antichoice crazy people to dance across, erase daintily behind them, and proceed on their merry way towards taking every single thing we have fought for. Five years ago it was absolutely inconceivable that abortion could be completely inaccessible in this great nation. Today that possibility is very real. And after abortion, they will come for birth control. And after birth control, well… “first, they came for abortion, and I said nothing, because I did not want an abortion…”
I stay in the movement because I believe the work I do every day makes it possible to get up in the morning. Because if I don’t, I failed.
I stay in the movement because if I don’t, one day I will wake up and I will need something – a pill, an abortion, a doctor who is adequately trained to provide comprehensive health care for women – and I will simply not be able to get it. I’m not rich and the work I do is never going to make me rich, and it is completely conceivable that if we fail, within the next decade, these things we think of as so basic will be available only to the very wealthy, the people the rules and regulations don’t apply to.
I stay in the movement because I believe, really believe, in freedom and independence and small government. These are things antichoicers think they have the market cornered on, but that’s just not true. They have the messaging down to a science, but much like squirrels are just rats with better PR, antichoice crap is just big government sitting in your damn medicine cabinet, walking you to your doctor’s office and telling you what you can and cannot do. And that is bullshit. My country, my body, my womb, bitch, and I will make what I believe are the best decisions for all three without your invasive surveillance, THANKS.
And then, probably most importantly, I stay in the movement for personal reasons. I stay in the movement because even when I don’t like the people I am working with, I respect them, and they almost always respect me. I stay in the movement because I am queer and loud and independent and frankly the religious right won’t have me. I stay in the movement because we drink and we laugh a lot and we create safe spaces that are also really a lot of fun, and they make me think that maybe people hate us because they’re just jealous that we’re so awesome.