Meet young activists fighting for reproductive rights on the ground right now
Countless Americans have taken to the streets in recent months — to fight for equality at the Women’s March, push back on the immigration ban, show up to DACA protests across the nation, and more. But while these major events may have received the most media attention, young activists are on the ground every day, fighting for and within their own communities in ways both big and small.
Juan and Jessica are two young reproductive rights activists doing just that. Here, they tell the FBomb about their most recent experiences organizing and share advice for getting involved on the ground.
On Monday, September 18, the reproductive rights organization Advocates for Youth brought 120 activists between the ages of 16 and 24 to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. This “Lobby Day” gave these young activists the opportunity to ask their Senators to defund Title V, which has invested almost $2 billion in failed abstinence-only programs.
Juan Villela, who is 23 and attended the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, was one of those activists. Here is what he experienced, in his own words.
My Activist Background
I began organizing for LGBTQIA reproductive rights and sexual health after I noticed the erasure of queer people in the broader conversation around reproductive health — especially in conversations around safe and legal abortion access in the Rio Grande Valley. When we talk about comprehensive sex education, it's not just heterosexual sex. It’s also about LGBTQ sex. It could also be about healthy relationships, communication, and consent between anyone.
I also saw the need for HIV prevention education and health care access in the community. I'm now working on a campaign called #ImAllPrEP, which aims to get Latinx, Mexican-Americans, and Chicanxs who are at high risk of contracting HIV to begin using PrEP (anti-HIV medication). The campaign will use social media and film content to talk about safe sex education and the benefits of using PrEP as well as the process to apply for PrEP.
On the Ground
When the other young activists and I went to Capitol Hill on Monday, we split up to visit our separate senators. We shared our stories about why comprehensive sex education is important and why abstinence-only fails the community, and how they should really listen to our voices. An individual from the Rio Grande Valley shared his story: When he was 14, he became a father. When he was 17, he became HIV positive. He wasn't getting proper safe sex education at home, and was hushed when he tried to ask questions at school. He said having comprehensive safe sex education would give individuals the proper tools and knowledge to choose to have sex when they want.
The best part of being an activist has been getting to know my community — listening to their issues, to what's going on in their lives, and helping them so that their voices can be heard. People who want to get involved in activism should realize if an issue is affecting them, it’s affecting other people in this country. You’re not alone.
My advice for getting involved is to first do your research. You don't want to give out false information (like abstinence-only programs have done for years). Then find and reach out to an organization in your state that is making a difference in your community. You can make a difference just by making yourself available if you can. I’m happy to see so many activists uniting to fight for DACA, for comprehensive sex education, for all of these issues. This is our government, it's our time to make a difference.
This past weekend, 275 volunteer leaders from 18 different states gathered in Oklahoma City to attend a grassroots organizing campaign that trained participants how to organize, recruit, and lead data-driven intersectional campaigns to educate their communities about reproductive rights and counter legislative attacks on those rights.
Jessica Vazquez, who is 23 and lives in Oklahoma City, attended on behalf of the organization Dream Act Oklahoma, where she serves as Communications Co-Director.
My Activist Background
I am DACAmented, but I lived most of my life as an undocumented immigrant in fear of being ousted; I came [to the United States] when I was four years old. After years of living in the shadows, I learned about the organization Dream Act Oklahoma, and for the first time in my life I felt at ease with my status, or lack thereof. I have been organizing with Dream Act Oklahoma since I was a freshman in college, and I’ve organized everything from clinics to help with legal paperwork to rallies. Most everyone in the undocumented community is uninsured, and access to health care, especially reproductive health care, is not easy to come by. Planned Parenthood has always been a great ally of our organization and has been there to give [our community] health care resources. While I’ve been organizing for a while, I definitely don’t know it all, [and] was excited to to learn more [at this training].
On the Ground
After the first full day of the bootcamp, we had a rally in downtown Oklahoma City. It was amazing. We wore our pink Planned Parenthood shirts and talked about the importance of supporting Planned Parenthood and the impact it has had on so many individuals. I think people did not expect to see a big group of pink Planned Parenthood shirts in the middle of downtown OKC. When I walked back from the rally to my car, I got a weird look from a lady who was looking at my shirt, but rather than becoming upset, I took it as a reminder of the rampant misinformation being spread about Planned Parenthood and the need to resist it.
We had a number of valuable sessions, but one of my favorites was when we talked about how to use storytelling as a tool in our organizing. We use stories a lot in DREAM Act organizing, but it was really informative to learn how to use our own experiences to connect with other people — to really put a face to an issue. My story of self is about DACA and how the announcement about its end led me to choose to break the cycle of this tumultuous time of not knowing if you have legal status. It was also really useful to hear others frame their story by pinpointing a specific challenge they faced, a choice they made, and the outcome of that choice to persuade and connect with other people.
Another of my favorite sessions was about how to set SMART campaign goals: Strategic, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic, and Timely goals. In terms of DACA, I thought about how to work on smaller goals that are measurable and timely leading up to the greater goal of getting people status.
Throughout the whole training, we set our own SMART and used it as a real-life example to practice what we had just learned. We went through the process of building a campaign to introduce clinically accurate sex education into ten school districts in Oklahoma. The campaigns we built were hypothetical, but at the end of the training we had developed this amazing plan and decided to move forward with it. We even handed the material over to the person who is in charge of sex ed at Planned Parenthood here in OKC. Hopefully it will become a real thing we can implement and see through.
So many big activist trainings, conventions, and summits are on the east and west coasts, so I love that we got to bring all these passionate and driven individuals from 18 different states to Oklahoma City — the heart of the nation — to show Oklahoman politicians that we’re working, we’re organizing, we’re growing, and we’re committed to creating lasting change.
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