2011, my first year immersed in reproductive justice activism, was not a year for reflection; it was an unquestionably desperate time. States enacted a record number of abortion restrictions, blowing prior records out of the water. We were introduced to the vast, sprawling results of a decade of quiet, on-the-ground dedication by the anti-choice movement to eradicating not just our right to an abortion, but our rights and access to a wide array of other reproductive options as well. “Personhood” became a thing. It was that kind of year.
In important ways, it was a year that galvanized many sane, rational people. who might otherwise avoid anything that could be construed as a political fight, to throw their collective hats in the ring. For decades, young women, poor women, and women of color especially had lacked comprehensive access to abortion services. With middle and upper-class people’s access suddenly threatened, reproductive rights were, for the first time in a long time, a perpetual front-page story.
2012 was, without a doubt, The Year They Went Too Far. While we settled into the Sisyphean grind of rolling back 2011’s anti-choice advancements, anti-choice legislators set out to make such complete asses of themselves that they did the forward-progress work we simply didn’t have the time or energy for on our behalf. 2012 was the year of “legitimate rape,” “some girls rape easy,” “emergency rape,” and, you know, “the rape thing.” In 2012, while we were desperately trying to make sure states didn’t shut down every single abortion provider within their geographical boundaries, anti-choice activists were rolling out our public relations campaign for us, revealing, as they never had before, that real, human lives were worth nothing to them in the face of their ideologies, and that those ideologies were inherently, viciously misogynistic. 2012 saw the second-highest number of abortion restrictions ever enacted – but the number was still less than half that of 2011’s staggering assault. Things went, in a year, from essentially the worst ever, to only slightly worse than average.
But really, fundamentally, 2012 was the year that the carefully invisibilized monopoly white men have held on power since the founding of our nation began to obviously, visibly slip. Money didn’t win the election. We sloowwwly rolled back the anti-choice tide. It wasn’t just ok to say that “some girls rape easy” – every member of the “rape caucus” up for re-election lost their bid. And when I went to visit a friend in a deep red state, his usually polite, white, conservative, deeply religious father veered off from what had been a casual discussion of politics and yelled at me until I cried.
One minute we were talking in their perfectly normal suburban kitchen, and the next moment I was symbol for every misplaced frustration this man was feeling. White men haven’t lost power: they still have all the money, all the corporate boards and presidencies, and almost all of Congress. But they have lost what they took for granted, what they took to be understood – that the world was a certain way, that certain things were the absolute truth, that their absolute truth was known and accepted. For years, politicians ranted that the wealthy and the white and the heterosexual were losing the country, and they loved to get everyone fired up. They’d all shake their heads and talk about the “hostile takeover” and lament that it was all slipping away and they couldn’t stop it. But it was never real; the possibility that a black man would be President, gay people would be allowed to adopt children and get married, and people would generally agree that rape really, actually wasn’t something women asked for was just the bogeyman they used to keep the donations coming in and gun sales up. They had no idea what it would truly feel like to lose. They never, ever lost. And watching the results come in election night, they knew what it meant to lose – and frankly, it’s driven a lot of them completely batty.
None of this is to say the war for equality, justice, and open access to resources, in the US or certainly world-wide, is close to over. Climate change may wipe out humanity before we achieve any of those things (I am totally serious about this). But like the anti-abortion initiatives we turned back this year, the tide on the Unquestioned Reign of White Male Privilege has, in fact, begun to turn. This is real.
I love new beginnings. I love a fresh start. I go into 2013 with enthusiasm and arms wide-open. But that doesn’t make history disappear, and we can’t leave any of the violence of recent history – mass shootings, targeted assassination attempts, subway hate crimes, mass sexual assault in war-time – behind in 2012, to simply fade into obscurity. 2013 doesn’t start clean. 2013 starts with the fight for recognition and justice for a 23 year old woman in Delhi, India, who was gang-raped so brutally that she died of organ failure in the hospital.
Her courage in speaking out about her rape and murder was the spark that lit a fire that has spread across Delhi. On the second day of 2013, thousands of women marched in silence, signs held aloft, declaring that rape-culture’s day had passed in their city. Women who live or have lived in Delhi have written fiercely enraged blog posts and made demands in The New York Times. Their story is the story of a thing gone too far, an unspeakable act that has silenced and galvanized a city. And Newtown might be the story of how a tragedy so unimaginable it still doesn’t seem real woke a nation from the cherished myths that were killing their children. And Malala might be the story of how a world realized that girls everywhere need us to pay attention and protect their right to live freely, to go to school, and to dream.
But I think there’s a chance that this is one story. There is a chance that this is the story of how people with more power learned to listen to those with less; how people accustomed to having a voice learned to listen to those who have not been given the opportunity to speak. There is a chance this is the story of how vital global conversations began, how we refused to allow the same violence to continue in perpetuity until our daughters sons daughters were marching through the streets to win for themselves what we had failed to bequeath them. There is a possibility, however slim, that 2011 was the story of how bad things can get; that 2012 was when we declared the status quo wholly unacceptable; and that 2013 is the year that we rise.
Many astrologers insist that Mayans didn’t believe the world would end in 2012; they believed the worldas we know it was coming to an end. There is a school of thought that says 2013 ushers in an age of enlightenment; there are astrological phenomena similar to those that occurred during the Renaissance and parts of the Romantic period. I don’t think everything will get better this year. But I believe this could be the year we insist things must get better, that we will make them better, and that “no” is simply not an option.