Reproductive Justice Activists Organize for Access
Since October 2017, 14 youth activists have been learning and organizing as part of our Reproductive Justice Activists (RJA) program. In June, they will share their advocacy experiences and recommendations with Brooklyn Community Foundation and celebrate the culmination of their 10-month project. They have been working with program coordinator Renée Joslyn, who brings more than a decade of experience in advocating for girls and women’s rights, and our own vice president of programs, Kaberi Banerjee Murthy.
We have a great group, and each activist brings a different background to the conversation. They started the project with varying levels of experience in reproductive justice education and advocacy, but all were involved in activism or organizing of some kind. They identify as Asian, Latina, Black American, African, and Caribbean, and hail from seven neighborhoods in Brooklyn including Brownsville, Coney Island, Crown Heights, DUMBO, Flatbush, Red Hook, and Sunset Park.
Last fall, activists began meeting monthly and divided into sub-projects based on their interests and the issues affecting them—from family situations to issues at school—and organized additional meetings.
Goals emerging from their work so far include highlighting conversations about racism, trans* issues, and immigration. Safety has been a thread throughout. How people can get the services and the access they need and still be able to be safe?
Because the group is so diverse and the activists come from a place of intersectionality already, they want to talk more about racism and reproductive health and the intersectionality of gender identity and sexuality, and reproductive health access.
As young people, the activists have pinpointed access as a major issue especially for individuals under the age of 18. They are working to understand their rights in regards to accessing reproductive care, birth control, and prenatal care and ensuring that their peers understand those rights as well.
Sessions with Planned Parenthood and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (Instituta Latina) oriented the group’s conversations within the broader context of existing reproductive rights and justice movements. The activists learned about the history and problematic nature of the reproductive rights movement as well as the the contributions of organizations like Audre Lorde Project to achieve not only rights but justice for communities facing multiple challenges. These conversations inspired the activists to reach out to the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum NYC to organize a meeting last month, where they discussed the ways that Asian and South Asian Women face oppression related to reproductive issues.
This spring, the focus will turn to strategies for organizing and leading movements, learning from NYCLU and Sadie Nash Leadership Project. We want the activists to be able to go back to their homes or their communities or their schools and then be able to organize around something that’s important to them.
In order to be successful, we also recognize that funding advocacy is an important component. In May, Brook Kelly-Green of the Ford Foundation will join Kaberi to discuss grantmaking with the activists.
As the project continues, the group will work on organizing in their own communities as they also connect their activism to larger movements around the U.S. and around the world, from the Women’s March in Manhattan, to indigenous rights and access in the U.S., to activists fighting for reproductive rights abroad. First they'll look internally to see what are the issues that are happening now that might not be known or seen as reproductive rights or justice issues and then go from there. Then they can say, "Okay, I see myself as part of an international movement."
We are looking forward to hearing the activists’ recommendations to the Foundation and to learn from their experience how we might better advocate for a world free of reproductive oppression.