Never Underestimate the Power of a Small Group of Dedicated People

*Image Ann Popkin, Boston Globe

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. ~Margaret Mead

It was 1969.

The women’s movement was brand new – fledgling organizations (like the National Organization for Women) were just getting their footing.

Women across the country were beginning to meet in small (and large) groups, asking hard questions and sharing difficult stories about their lives, their hopes, and their fears.

It’s in that context that twelve women met at a conference in Boston. The conference tackled women’s health – a taboo subject. In 1969, there was no text to consult, no internet to search – and women weren’t encouraged to ask their physicians (or anyone else) even simple questions about their bodies and health.

In sharing stories with one another, they discovered they had similar experiences with male doctors’ condescension and dismissive attitudes. They realized that they knew of “no good doctors,” and that meant their questions – and questions asked by other women like them – were going unanswered.

So they decided to do something about it.

They wrote down all of the questions they had – all of the women’s health-related topics they felt they didn’t sufficiently understand and wanted to know more about. They split the subjects amongst themselves, and committed to researching topics they felt passionate about, from abortion to pregnancy to postpartum depression. They shared what they learned with the group, and wrote papers putting their research into plain language, planning to create a course that could be shared with other women.

Ultimately, they compiled those papers into a booklet to distribute to other women – thereby sharing the information they had learned. They called it Women and Their Bodies.

It was an underground sensation.

Without any advertising behind it, over 250,000 copies were sold in 1971.

Those twelve women formed a non-profit, called the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, and began to revise and expand their initial text, which they published in 1973.

We know that expanded version as the groundbreaking text, Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Our Bodies, Ourselves “tackled and demystified such then-taboo topics as abortion, orgasm, the clitoris and the pill. With its frank discussion of everything from birth to bisexuality–and with its graphic diagrams of the female anatomy–it guided women through every major life change from menstruation to menopause.” It also tackled the inequality of the medical system, stating unequivocally (in 1970!!) that “health care is a human right and … society should provide free health care for itself.” (OBO at p.192.)

Since its publication nearly fifty years ago, what started out as a joint project among 12 young activists has sold over 4 million copies, has been updated every four to six years, and has been printed in 31 languagesLast week, we learned that it will stop publishing new editions (the last time it was updated was 2011).

In some ways, that marks the end of an era. And while that’s sad to consider, it also encourages some reflection of the impact this one text has had on women’s health over its nearly five decades of publication. Honestly, it’s remarkable.

Did the 12 women who met at that conference in 1969 know that their joint project would change women’s conversations about and access to health care – on not just a local – but on a global scale?

Certainly not.

Did they have some specialized knowledge or expertise that made them uniquely qualified to tackle these issues?

No – besides having female anatomy, intellectual curiosity and a passion for women’s health.

Imagine what that must have been like for these twelve women, writing these chapters in 1970, when abortion was illegal and women couldn’t have credit cards. They did research in libraries and wrote drafts in longhand – maybe after putting the kids to bed and cleaning the kitchen.

These women were not all that different from you and I. They may have lived in a different time, and had to deal with very different challenges. But they found an issue they felt passionately about. They organized, they dedicated themselves to the work that needed to be done, and even though other things almost certainly got in their way from time to time, they kept going forward.

Friends, don’t ever underestimate the power wielded by a group of passionate people who are dedicated to their cause, and won’t take no for an answer.

Let’s get to work.


Actions

Tuesday: Call to Protect Mueller

Yesterday the President of the United States of America attacked the Department of Justice and the FBI after his personal attorney’s home, office and hotel room were raided by the FBI pursuant to a valid search warrant.

Things are heating up, and unfortunately we have to rely upon a GOP-controlled legislature to protect Mueller if everything goes south.

So today, take a few moments to call your congressman/woman and your Senators to let them know that you expect them to protect Mueller’s investigation. If he does fire Mueller, folks like me will be hitting the streets in protest, and I sure hope you join us. Those marches/protests are being organized in advance; you can find a march/protest here.

In the meantime, encourage your Senators to support Senate Bill 1735, the Special Council Independence Protection Act. You can also encourage them to state publicly that firing Mueller (or causing that firing to happen) would be unacceptable.

Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling to encourage the Senator to support Senate Bill 1735, the Special Council Independence Protection Act. Trump’s comments over the past few weeks – and in the last 24 hours – suggest that he believes he’s above the law, and that he’s going to do whatever he can to shut down investigations into his conduct and the conduct of his inner circle. We need the Senator to take a leadership position, and to support Robert Mueller’s investigation by cosponsoring S1735 and publicly stating that firing Mueller would be unacceptable.

Wednesday: Oppose Pompeo for Sec of State

As you have likely heard, Mike Pompeo has been nominated to replace Tillerson as Secretary of State. As part of the nomination process, he will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this Thursday, April 12th. How terrible is his nomination? Let me count the ways… He opposes the Iran nuclear deal, is a war hawk who shouldn’t be anywhere NEAR North Korea, is an islamophobic, and has called the people who tortured detainees under Bush’s watch “patriots.” His wife has also had an unprecedented and inappropriate role at the CIA.

If you happen to be a Tennessee resident, then you’re a constituent of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) – so please call him and let him know that you oppose this nomination.

Here are the other members of the committee (and their states!). If you’re a constituent, please give them a call to let them know that you oppose Pompeo. (And if neither of your Senators is listed below, call them anyway to let them know that if Pompeo’s nomination is passed through the committee – which is likely – that you want them to oppose his nomination in the vote on the Senate floor.)

If you’d like a script, there’s a fantastic on available at Indivisible! (Hey, I have to give credit where credit is due!)

Thursday: Hey-Hey! Ho-Ho! This Guy Pruitt’s Got to Go!

Ugh. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is just the swampiest of swamp monsters. From renting a condo bedroom from a lobbyist for a fraction of market value to giving $57,000 raises to his favorite staffers (to the millions spent on travel and security and renovations and… and…), this guy takes the cake.

Shock of all shocks, Congressman Trey Gowdy (a Republican from South Carolina who will not seek re-election and therefore has the freedom that comes from having nothing left to lose) who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is going to be looking into those issues. So, if you’re from South Carolina, give him a buzz and tell him you appreciate his willingness to investigate these ethical violations.

For the rest of us, you can check the House Committee on Oversight’s membership list for our Congressman/woman. (If you’re in Missouri, MO-1 Lacy Clay is a member.) Let him/her know that you support an investigation and hope he/she will ensure these kinds of ethical violations aren’t simply swept under the rug.

Friday: Check Out the Health Care Voter Digital Toolkit

After telling the story of Our Bodes, Ourselves, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a healthcare topic, wouldn’t I?

So please go and check out this fantastic toolkit, courtesy of www.healthcarevoter.org. The folks at HealthCareVoter.org have a number of different initiatives to help spread the word about how important healthcare is to Americans. You can go to https://healthcarevoter.org/spread-the-word/ to see some sample social media messages, to download and sign a healthcare voter pledge card, or to learn how you can share your personal story.


Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together.

If you want one more quick action, make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

Lastly, if you’d like to support this work (thanks to those who have done so!), you can become a supporter here.

 

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