Reproductive Justice Organizing at the Evergreen State College
All people have stories of oppression and revolt. These stories are stitched together through the sharing and overlapping of experiences, forming a quilt of complex and ambiguous definitions of oppressor and oppressed. There is the relative source of truth, our own stories, which acts as a lens used to view the world more intimately. I aim to write with my perspective, one that carries both an objective and a subjective voice, acknowledged as present throughout this post. Remembering the importance of perspective and personal story is vital to understanding reproductive health as well as honestly delving into any conversation of ethical or moral relationships. It is impossible to holistically discuss matters of race, class, gender, et al. without delving into the experiences that shape my worldview; without bringing “me” into this post intimately and as a person who identifies as a Black feminist woman.
As a campus organizer and student at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA one of the most pertinent lessons that I’ve learned was acknowledging how systems of oppression overlap and in response systems of revolt must overlap as well. I was not a student and a reproductive justice organizer separately. These two aspects of myself and my community were interlocked. By treating them as separate entities, there formed a separation of individual and community. Within myself, I recognized this battle between wanting individuality while remaining involved as a part of this larger community.
It wasn’t until I heard Angela Davis speak, thanks to the Rachel Corrie Foundation and Students for Justice in Palestine, that I truly understood the importance of doing what you love with intention. During the school year, I found myself on the verge of being “burned out” because I’d sacrificed self care for the sake of the greater good. What Ms. Davis expressed was that what you love will replenish you and will require self care. Community organizing work requires us to be in it for the long haul so the daily practice of resting when you need to rest, doing homework when homework needs to be done, hanging out with family and friends, all becomes a part of that long haul as well. The more self care that is involved in the work, the more we can be involved in our community while still fulfilling our individual goals. With that said, I have not perfected this great balance by any means, but this past year of organizing has greatly increased my understanding of the necessity of balance. As Ms. Davis also pointed out, there is never truly a balance. There will always be one thing we tilt towards a little more. The balance is in being sure that we don’t tilt too far in any direction.
This entry could be entirely written on the importance and the struggle I faced in trying to find that balance but there were so many amazing and beautiful other lessons, experiences, and conversations had this year that deserve recognition. Students involved with S.U.R.J. (Students United for Reproductive Justice) ran a Plan B Vending Machine campaign this year. That was our major focal point. By running a specific campaign we were able to have specific numbers to follow, establish realistic goals, and have a language to use when discussing the project with various members of our community (i.e. professors, peers, administration). This idea was inspired by Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, PA that was able to establish a Plan B Vending Machine on their campus. With that knowledge brought in by fellow SURJian, Elli Kellogg, we had a strong starting point. Another SURJian, James Hibbs, was at the forefront of getting in contact with Shippensburg University to discuss their process. Several students participated in taking responsibility of a particular task in order to get this project rolling and sustained.
This was another opportunity to practice a necessary skill in campus organizing. DELEGATE. DELEGATE. DELEGATE. You do not have to do it alone, nor can you really. Without the emotional support and shared responsibility of fellow SURJians, everything would seem crushing and impossible. Delegation and planning go hand in hand. In order to delegate there has to be a collective goal or path that the group is aiming towards. It is important to plan as often as you meet. By working together, we realized that this campaign would need to be a ballot measure. This made things more tangible. We created language for the ballot measure that would be inclusive and with the help of the Geoduck Student Union (GSU), would also leave room for further editing based on the needs of students. Our language was as follows:
As a student of TESC, I support the school having a vending machine
stocked with Plan B, condoms, pregnancy tests, and other sexual health
materials - along with information on these products available in a
discreet location to any person at any time of the day.
When running an on campus campaign, being aware of the student government’s process was beneficial. Instead of having to petition for ten percent of the student body’s signature, we were able to ask the GSU to vote in the ballot measure. This saved us time, although campaigning for petition signatures is also beneficial in getting the message out to the student body. There is no such thing as tabling too much. That is your opportunity to discuss your issue with fellow students, collect information, and gauge interest. In all honesty, we could have tabled more and this falls back on delegation and planning.
Ultimately, the ballot measure passed with a ninety percent approval rating. As a full time student who is passionate about reproductive justice, I was able to do with by being sponsored at an organizer by Naral Pro Choice Washington. With previous experience as a canvassar for Naral, that gave me hands on grassroots organizing knowledge about the political sphere of reproductive justice and the support needed to organize efficiently. I can not thank Naral enough. The next phase of this campaign and implementation involves continued conversation with students, the student health care center, administration, and neighboring pro-choice organizations. Don’t be afraid if you find yourself in the mists of more questions then answers. It is good to ask for help and that is the next phase of our campaign. We will be communicating with TESC Campus and the greater Olympia community because together we know a lot.