Thank you for kindly reaching out to us and suggesting a more open-door policy for what you call the “prochoice” movement and which we generally refer to as the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements. We have often discussed here how difficult it is to be a young person in the movement. Much of the money and power is concentrated in big, mainstream organizations like NARAL, Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, and many others. We grew up with, admire, and often look forward to working with these organizations. But many of us suffer a great deal of disillusionment. While our painfully cheap labor is welcome, our voices, ideas, and innovations often are not. We appreciate your recognizing this problem, and beginning to bring it to the attention of your peers and colleagues from your much higher platform.
Unfortunately, your essay serves to highlight some of the many cross-generation intra-movement issues we so often encounter as we undertake this vital work. Our profound generational differences go far beyond “Twitter and hashtags.”
First, there is the “prochoice” framework itself, which many of us find limiting. We use “reproductive justice” because our needs are so much greater than abortion, and because we recognize that choice is meaningless without access. The Hyde Amendment, and other restrictive policies, mean that abortion simply isn’t a choice for many women. In addition, people need access not just to abortion and family planning services, but also to support when they choose to become parents. This means help for young mothers with continuing their education and access for all parents to paid family leave, paid sick days, affordable child care, and high quality education for their children. It means treatment for infertility for everyone, not just families with means. These issues are as important to us as abortion access, yet we don’t see our values reflected in the work done in the past or present by the Boomer generation. And as access has become ever more restricted, mainstream orgs like NARAL, located largely on the coasts, have dug in their heels and insisted that because abortion is technically an option, the fight is still about choice. This is no longer the case.
Equally important to us is challenging the heterosexist and gender-normative framework of the language employed not only by our society but also within the pro-choice movement itself. Without meaning to, you continue to insist that this fight is about women. By women, for women. But we are a generation in which men get pregnant, in which many people in our movement do not identify as women, in which we believe that all people must fight together for us to be free. Male-identified individuals belong in this fight too. They should feel responsible, and when called for, be held responsible for making sure we have access and support.
The assumptions often made about “millenials” are not in keeping with our real, lived experiences. You assert that “Millenials have never known what it’s like to live in a country in which abortion is illegal.” This statement is based on a Boomer idealization of Roe v Wade as a vital line, a last battalion between women and the annihalation of our rights. Our generation has grown up to see Roe so stripped of significance that even though abortion is technically legal, there are now entire states where people cannot access it. Abortion has always been less accessible to those of us who are poor, young, and not white. While your generation is full of stories of women who died trying to get abortions, ours is full of those who sold all their possessions, dropped out of school, or fed their children nothing but beans for weeks to pay for their abortions, and of women who simply give up and watch their lives become even more difficult and their dreams grow ever more distant as they struggle to raise children before they are ready. Such stories are only growing more frequent in an economic downturn that has left 25% of college graduates unemployed and far greater numbers of unemployed among those without a college degree. This inter-generational disconnect leads the direction of the vast resources of the movement to issues that do not reflect the needs and realities of those of down on the ground.
You speak of “what our generations share,” but we must ask, how do you know? How many people age 35 and under sit on your board? How many hold leadership positions in your organization?
When you say we will “flock to the polls,” what makes you so sure? Many of us will be working our third job, desperately trying to make ends meet, too tired to even vote. Some of us will be denied the vote because of voter suppression laws. Many of us feel that you are no more supportive of us in many ways than people who wish to deliberately deprive us of our rights.The message you have, however unintentionally, sent with this piece, is, “We need to embrace young people and tell them what to do, and what they need to do is what we did: save all the women that count.”
We appreciate the gesture of inclusion – however tired and angry generally we may be, please, do not think we do not recognize your good intentions – but the “women’s movement” needn’t bother to bring us in from the cold, as though we have been outside the door, shivering, unsure, and in need of the warm embrace of your guidance. We are already here. We are already organizing, without you, because you have not made us welcome. We are changing the world, right before your eyes. And we think it may makeyou afraid and unsure; what is the world becoming without our rules? It is going to look very different when we are done with it. It is no longer time for you to lead us. If you want to win – if you want abortion access and birth control and choice for your daughters and granddaughters – you need to get behind us. Throw your weight and your organization and your money behind us and stop making us build this from scratch. Share the wisdom you’ve learned from the battles you’ve fought, but do so in a way that acknowledges that we live in a different world and we need a different movement. That is how you can save the movement. We say unto you all, with respect, love, and gratitude, what you said to those who came before you: “Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall.” You can obstruct or you can help, but either way, ours is the vision leading the future.