Yesterday I had the good fortune to be able to attend the National Day of Action against the Stupak Amendment in Washington, DC.
When I got the first email about the event a few weeks ago, I lamented the fact the Wednesdays I have class straight from 9:30 until 3:35, and couldn't rationalize missing a Wednesday. But after receiving a few more emails, and reading up about Stupak, I couldn't rationalize NOT going down to DC. Skipping classes wasn't even a question once I thought about it. Exercising my right as a citizen, and participating in democracy is infinitely more important than one day of my classes. And what is college preparing me for, if not this? So we went. A group from my WGS 301 class with Minnie Bruce Pratt drove down with a bunch of other other students, totaling at 11!
After an eventful drive down at 4am -- I'll spare you the details, (OK I won't - we ran over a dead deer! It was so crazy! So we lost an hour off the drive waiting for AAA to come help us out. But the damage is very minor, don't worry) we made it into DC just in time for the noon rally. We were ushered to an overflow room since the main room was over capacity - and when we sat down, we noticed that our party was standing right behind the podium! Our friend Andrea was on screen the whole rally! She was directly behind so many famous and influential women, I couldn't believe it. We kept cursing that deer for making us late!
But the rally was incredible. So many women I admire so much! Cecile Richards was the emcee - it was weird seeing her right there - I'm so used to seeing her face as an icon at the bottom of all the emails I get from PPFA! Other memorable speakers were Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who got the crowd really pumped, and Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who showed us an old campaign poster, when her slogan was "Pro-Choice. Pro-Change." My own representative, Nita Lowey (D-NY!) gave a rousing call to action that made me proud to be from the great 18th district of the Empire State. She's very vocal and wonderful and I love her a lot (She also hooked me up with tickets to Obama's inauguration, back in January!).
Many other important people spoke, and one woman relayed another woman's extremely moving story. The woman was never hugely concerned with abortion rights, since she knew that if she got pregnant, she wouldn't consider getting an abortion. But when she got pregnant with twins, and they were diagnosed with a very dangerous fetal anomaly, she was thrust into the abortion debate. The odds were that both twins would die, unless they elected to abort one in the hopes that the other survived. If the Stupak Amendment passes, this procedure won't be covered by insurance. Luckily for her, 80% of it was covered, and it seemed that it went well - she just finished paying off the bills, 3 years later. She reminded us that these diseases don't choose wealthy people, and that if she wasn't fortunate enough to be covered by issuance and be able to pay for her share of the abortion, there is no way she would've been able to have it, and she would've buried both her twins, not just one. It was incredibly moving, and refocused my thoughts on abortion and why it's necessary that it be safe and legal.
Our room began clearing out for another meeting, and the main room was open, so we went down and saw the end of the rally in person, holding up our signs and waving the our party standing behind the podium. Then we met up with KaeLyn Rich, who I'd never met in person! She told us about a free youth lunch, and about our meeting at 3:15 with Senator Gillibrand.
The lunch was one of the highlights of the day for me. Everyone says that our generation is characterized by apathy and inaction, but this lunch proved that all very wrong. It was full of youth activists and feminists, all passionate and excited. The room was buzzing with excitement. And furthermore, a host of my idols were there. I had spotted Shelby Knox at the rally, and couldn't figure out where I knew her from - and then I realized she's awesome and famous and I've seen her movie! She was at the lunch, as well as Miriam and Jos - two editors from Feministing. Latoya Peterson was there too, from Racialicious and a host of other blogs and media. There were also representatives from a bunch of other organizations that cater to youth, who were willing to talk to us and make connections. It was really a power-lunch, and I met a lot of people I admire. A lot.
Then we walked back to the Senate building to see my senator - Kristen Gillibrand - I wasn't sure it going to actually be her, I heard a lot of people would be meeting with Aides - but sure enough, she walked right in. I sat in the front row, and it was really cool. I've never really seen a politician up close like that. I thought about how powerful she is and how much impact she has on my life, yet she's just a normal lady who is against the Stupak amendment like me. And thankfully, she made that crystal clear. She was unwavering is announcing her opposition to Stupak and her support of our cause. We asked her what we could be doing to help - she said to blog about it, and spread the word. So here I am.
Then Chuck Schumer walked in! I literally gasped when I saw him walk in, I'm not quite sure why. He has so much leverage in the Senate, and is so well-known, I just was so amazed that he was there. And he, too, was very firm and positive about Stupak. He loudly voiced his opposition to any healthcare bill that restricted abortion even further than current laws. He said that what we could do is call our Representatives and tell them that they should yield to the Senate wording (assuming that no Stupak-esque language makes it into the Senate version, which is not yet guaranteed…) of the bill. My friend Mary stood up and told him where our group was from, and thanked him for his work on these issues, and he said Go Orange! It was so exciting! Someone asked him what he would do if the Stupak amendment made it into the final version, after the discussions - would he vote for it? And he basically said No. He sad that he would try to get his colleagues to urge the bill to be sent back, and for that wording to be taken out, before voting yet for healthcare. That was very reassuring to me - I hope he sticks to his guns. I emailed him today urging him to be strong on that promise.
This post is getting long, let me wrap it up. All in all, it was a very cool day. Being in DC, walking around the house and senate office buildings, felt so good and right - this is what we should be doing: making our voices heard. Being surrounded by other pro-choice activists felt so right. It was such an amazing, empowering day. And I left feeling reassured by Schumer's comment - let's all urge our senators to put a stop to these restrictions. We can't let this language make it into the healthcare reform. Women's rights are human rights - it's as simple as that.
With liberty and healthcare for all,
PS - read about some of the concerns I had about the day, and some of the tension we felt, over at Conscious Media, the blog for my "Race, Gender and Media" class!
Oh! And that's me on the left!