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


First, a message: Friends, we’re all trying to get through this time in our own ways. It’s not easy for any of us.

I’ve been telling friends and colleagues – and you – that this time is so unique, and our collective grief so profound, that we need to give one another grace and space. We just can’t expect perfection from ourselves right now.

This week I am taking some of my own advice.

My goal is always to have some newly-penned inspiring words for you on Tuesdays. Today has conspired against me, it seems. Perhaps you can relate.

So I went back to our archives, and found a story about community that I wrote two years ago. Its power still sticks with me. I hope it sticks with you, too. I’ve still included actions you can take this week for a better tomorrow, and I hope you’ll add “give myself a break” to that list of actions. You deserve it.

I hope you are taking good care. I’ll see you in a week. ~Michele

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 itover 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 languages. Two years ago 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 for the Week of April 21, 2020

Tuesday: Health Insurance Woes….

Millions of Americans are losing their employer-sponsored healthcare plans as unemployment reaches unprecedented levels across the country. And, the estimated 28 million people who didn’t have an insurance plan at the start of 2020 are still unprotected during the ongoing health epidemic.

The Trump administration is refusing to reopen the federal Affordable Care Act insurance markets on healthcare.gov for a special enrollment period during the coronavirus epidemic. 11 states (CA, CO, CT, MD, MA, MN, NV, NY, RI, VT, WA) and DC have opened their own exchanges for a special enrollment period, but other states depend on the federal marketplace or have neglected to take this step.

Here’s what you should know: Individuals filing for unemployment and losing their employer health insurance have 60 days to enroll in Obamacare on healthcare.gov. Other options include COBRA and entering individual exchange; however, both of these routes are usually more expensive than one’s prior employment coverage. Free-lance, part-time, and previously uninsured individuals may qualify for Medicaid, if their state has opted to expand Medicaid. This still leaves millions uninsured; our unemployment insurance system is flawed and unprepared for this pandemic. (sources: link, link)

Two things to do: Public Citizen has organized a petition for you to sign calling for the automatic enrollment of all unemployed Americans in Medicare. Sign here!

Second, the National Employment Law Project has published a list of helpful steps states can take to limit barriers to access unemployment insurance. They highlight policy actions some states have already taken to clear the path to insurance:
-Waive the one-week waiting period for workers to collect unemployment insurance
-Relieve employers from penalties that would increase future unemployment insurance tax rates, which could lead to employers discouraging employees from filing claims
-Extend unemployment insurance coverage to 26 weeks
-Waive requirements for recipients to actively search for work
-Expand unemployment insurance to nontraditional workers (self-employed, independent contractors)

Call your senator and representative in your STATE Legislature (found here) and ask if and when they plan to implement these policies. Before calling, click HERE to check a spreadsheet with specific state information to tailor your call.

Script: I’m calling from (district) in (state). I’d like to know what (senator/representative) has done to expand access to state unemployment insurance. Please let the (senator/representative) know that I would like the one-week waiting period for workers collecting unemployment insurance waived. Our state should also waive the requirement that recipients of unemployment insurance must actively search for work. Unemployment insurance coverage should be extended to 26 weeks and cover non-traditional workers impacted by the pandemic. Additionally, employers should be relieved of future tax penalties from pandemic-related lay-offs to limit employer intervention in employee claims.

Wednesday: support a new no-excuse vote by mail bill!

On Thursday, Senator Kamala Harris introduced a bill to expand no-excuse vote-by-mail ballots and early voting options in every state. We know that voting by mail increases voter participation and saves lives during a health pandemic. The bill, VoteSafe Act of 2020, is essential to ensure the security and safety of the election in November. Call both your Senators and your Representative to thank them for co-sponsor this legislation OR ask them co-sponsor it.

Thursday: Engage New Voters!

Have extra time during this quarantine? First, count yourself among the lucky ones! Second, use that time to engage with new voters! Rock the Vote has several volunteer opportunities tailored specifically to your interests and skills. Simply register to volunteer on their website and wait for an email! You should receive specific directions on how to help with projects that correlate to the skills you indicated (video editing, texting voters, policy research, etc).

Friday: Support Collection and Publication of COVID-19 Data!

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ayanna Pressley have introduced bicameral legislation to require the collection and publication of coronavirus demographic data. Communities of color are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic because of pre-existing inequalities and structural racism that are shaping the virus’s destructive path. The data that would result from this bill is needed to better inform our pandemic response and allocate resources appropriately.

In traditional Senator Warren fashion, she published an informative one-page summary of the bill’s highlights that I encourage you to check out! So get out your phone and call your congresspeople (Senators and Representative!) to ask for their support on this legislation.

WHEW! GO TEAM!

P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

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!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

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. Don’t you forget it.

Have a thought? A small deed to suggest? Share it here!

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