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Volunteering for Planned Parenthood

planned parenthood

Like many people, I was motivated to get more politically involved by Trump’s election and the Women’s March. In early 2017, I decided to begin volunteering for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.

One of the first events I volunteered for involved contributing to a physical presence on the day of an anti-Planned Parenthood protest. We weren’t supposed to think of ourselves as counter-protesters since we weren’t protesting anything. Our goal was to overshadow the protesters so anyone coming to the clinic felt welcomed and not bombarded, and so people driving past noticed us more than them.

planned parenthood

Standing in the line on the street was fun. I felt some of that same Women’s March excitement in the air. People talked more about Trump than about the protesters. It was clear that his inauguration had spurred people into action. Like me, many of the people there were volunteering for Planned Parenthood for the first time.

The event was eye-opening for me. Our show of support for Planned Parenthood in the face of the protesters was dramatic. We arrived before they did, stayed later, and outnumbered them by at least 3-to-1. Also, they were more pathetic than I had expected them to be. I figured I’d feel anger when facing the protesters, but I felt sad. There were some elderly men, and also families with children whose faces showed they had been forced to attend. Their signs were full of fear-inducing phrases in ugly colors and fonts, while ours were bright pink. The protesters looked miserable; the Planned Parenthood side was joyful.

planned parenthood

This event was meaningful for me in more ways than one–it was the first time I publicly showed support for the pro-choice movement. I’ve been pro-choice for over a decade, but it’s the one political issue I’ve shied away from posting on social media about, or discussing with family. I was raised in a fairly conservative Christian household. Abortion is a major issue for most of my family members. When they vote Democrat, they do so with a heavy heart because of this one issue. I know that they are not ignorant or insensitive zealots–they are caring and compassionate. They genuinely view abortion as murder, and want it to be illegal in order to save lives.

I began calling and thinking of myself as a liberal when I was around 17 years old, but for the first couple years, I’d mention abortion as the one issue I disagreed with–I thought it should only be allowed in special circumstances, such as rape or incest. At some point in my early twenties I began considering myself pro-choice, but if anyone asked about my beliefs, I’d say, “I’d never get an abortion, but I think other people should be able to if they want.”

planned parenthood

Now, at 36, over two decades after I first began developing my political beliefs, I feel comfortable standing in the street wearing hot pink and holding a Planned Parenthood sign. I can say I’m pro-choice without wanting to add a preface or any qualifications to the statement. The evolution of my beliefs helps me feel kindness and compassion toward people who believe differently, at least on this issue. It also shows me that political stances are fluid, not static, which gives me hope for our country overall.

Talking about politics is important. My beliefs on abortion wouldn’t have shifted if I hadn’t encountered so many people who were pro-choice, if I hadn’t been forced to evaluate my beliefs and why I held them, over and over. This is why I want to make an effort to speak up more. I’m still figuring out how to do so in a way that is kind and open rather than judgmental or forceful. Blogging posts like this is one of those ways.

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society

The St. Petersburg Women’s March 2017

womens march january 2017Reading “The Trump Effect, One Year Later: Thousands of Women Running for Office” in yes! magazine prompted me to think about the Women’s March that took place around the country and world last January. I’m posting the photos I took at the St. Petersburg Women’s March for posterity.

I had a lot of fun painting my sign. I procrastinated until the night before, and both Walgreens and Target were all out of white poster board, so I bought black instead. I didn’t finish painting my sign until the morning, and it was still a little wet when I met up with my friends.

womens march january 21st 2017

On one side, I put “Let’s grow like weeds.” This was my favorite side, although I don’t think many people understood it because people kept stopping me and asking what it meant. Maybe because they think of weeds as inherently bad? I liked the analogy. My focus was on growth. You try to get rid of weeds, but they just keep coming back. I dunno, it seems straightforward to me. The weed angle also gave me an excuse to paint flowers and leaves. I viewed it as a positive way of approaching resistance.

women's march january 21st 2017

On the other sign, I painted the word “LOVE” in pink, with the symbol for woman taking place of the “O.” I chose this because I like the vintage aesthetics of the woman symbol (which, I recently found out, is a symbol of Venus and the male symbol is a symbol of Mars). It’s not a secret that I’m somewhat enamored with the spirit, culture, and style of the civil rights era. I felt like I did a good job of channeling that with the “LOVE” sign.

womens march january 21st 2017

I spent a lot of time thinking about what to put on my sign, and purposely chose things that felt happy and encouraging. Even though the Women’s March was a protest, I wanted my experience at it to feel like a celebration, a moment of community and encouragement in the midst of a dark time. It felt exactly like that, which was exciting and fulfilling.

I hesitated about using the woman symbol, and about wearing pink, after reading advanced criticism of the “pussy hats” people were planning on wearing. I didn’t want a pussy hat, but only because I didn’t like how they looked. I can’t find the exact article now, but the general criticism was that the pink pussy hats and any other sort of resistance gear focused on female anatomy were excluding trans women who do not technically have “pussies.”

womens march january 21st 2017

This was a surprising argument to me, mostly because I hadn’t heard anything like it before. Being a woman and being feminist are both fairly large parts of my identity. I don’t feel like embracing my body, sex, and gender is negative in any way, and initially, even though I had no desire to wear a pussy hat, I felt a little defensive on behalf of those who were planning on it. I fell down a rabbit hole of articles and came across a term I’d never seen before–TERF. It stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism.

womens march january 21st 2017

Learning about TERFs sort of blew my mind, and was the reason I began questioning whether or not I should wear pink and paint the woman symbol. I suddenly wasn’t sure if I was making offensive mistakes I hadn’t yet realized. I definitely don’t want to be a TERF! I hope to be as inclusive as possible. I really had to sit down and reflect on the differences between sex and gender in light of this new information. The argument against pussy hats was that not all women have pussies. I was forced to confront that, prior to that moment,  I had been thinking that all women do have female genitalia, which meant I had not been thinking of trans women as “real” women.

I read quite a few other criticisms of the Women’s March. Most of them were similar to the criticisms of feminists in the civil rights era, saying those who participated were really only marching for the equality of middle- and upper-class white women. Where had they been for Black Lives Matter? Etc.

womens march january 21st 2017

Later, the Washington Post asked, “Was the Women’s March just another display of white privilege?” Marchers across the country were allowed to march without a permit (the march I took part in, in St. Petersburg, Florida was supposed to happen on the sidewalks, but of course it didn’t). The marches were peaceful, and many critics said that’s because marchers were white, so the police didn’t do anything to instigate conflict.

womens march january 21st 2017

Even though the Women’s March wasn’t perfect, and even though many of the criticisms were likely true, I am still grateful I took part. I still think it had a major impact. I think it will be taught in history books one day, and I’m glad to say I was involved. As white woman who thinks of herself as an intersectional feminist, all I can do is receive the criticism openly and try to do my best to be fair, consistent, and open-minded moving forward. I have a lot of learning to do, and so does everyone.

The energy at the Women’s March was contagious, as they say. And the people marching weren’t all women, and they weren’t all white. The crowd spanned all ages, as well. I teared up, multiple times. It was wonderful to see the sheer numbers in the crowd, to know that the narrow-mindedness, the hate, the prejudice being so openly espoused from the highest office in our country was not shared. That many Americans–people who do not consider themselves “political”–were willing to get out in the streets to show their support for a more loving, fair, and kind society. I hadn’t marched in a protest for a few years, since moving out of Chicago, and I’d forgotten what a magical experience it can be.

 

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