I wish we weren’t fighting all the time to protect women’s rights, to protect women’s health. ~Hillary Rodham Clinton
The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity. ~Amelia Earhart
Friends, I honestly don’t know what to say. It’s been a tough week.
Since Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away last year, mere days before the 2020 election and weeks after voting had already started, we knew this day would come.
With teeth-gnashing regret, we knew.
I’m still wrapping my brain around it all, and hope to have more eloquent thoughts on the horizon. But as I was thinking about all that’s happened this past week, my thoughts went back to the women … before. Before, before.
All the way back in 1969.
Back when the women’s movement was brand new – and fledgling organizations (like the National Organization for Women) were just getting their footing – women across the country started meeting 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 women’s health conference in Boston.
Believe it or not, women’s health was a taboo subject at the time. 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.
But in sharing stories with one another at that conference, these women discovered that they had similar experiences with male doctors’ condescension and dismissive attitudes. They realized that they knew of “no good doctors,” and that 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.
They then 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 it 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.
But, setting aside its success (which seems obvious now in hindsight) imagine what it must have been like for these twelve women, writing these chapters in 1970 – when abortion was not constitutionally protected – and women couldn’t have credit cards. They did their 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.
Even if sometimes it felt like they were slipping back.
Friend, we can’t be sure of much these days – but all indications are that the coming months and years will be difficult for reproductive rights. It might feel hard to keep going forward.
But when it all feels too much, I try to remember that everyday women like the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective have had enormous impact on the world – simply by focusing their energy, sharing their passion, and putting one foot in front of the other.
Today, let’s just focus on putting one foot in front of the other.
Let’s get to work.
Actions for the Week of September 7, 2021
Tuesday: Tell Corporate America That You’re Not Happy With Their Silence
I’m thrilled that Judd Legum from Popular Information has finally put out some investigative work on what corporations have made statements regarding the Texas abortion ban (not many), as well as the corporations that bankrolled its sponsors in the Texas legislature. His piece (just out this morning) follows on the footsteps of the New York Times, which last week revealed that many corporations that proudly sponsor International Women’s Day are silent on SB8. (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/03/business/companies-texas-sb8-abortion-law.html)
According to Legum: “Jen Stark of the Tara Health Foundation, who helped organize the corporate response to 2019 abortion bans in Georgia and other states, said the lack of national media attention on the Texas bill “caught companies off guard.” Further, corporations were used to courts stepping in with injunctions to block the implementation of most anti-abortion laws. But the Supreme Court, with a new conservative super-majority, has allowed the Texas law to go into effect.
Stark says that there is a “‘Don’t Ban Equality in Texas’ statement circulating that many large companies and well known brands are also intensely considering.'”
Folks, if large companies and well-known brands are “intensely considering” a statement on the Texas bill, we need to push them in the right direction.
Back in 2019, over 180 companies signed on to the Don’t Ban Equality letter opposing state efforts to restrict abortion rights. (https://dontbanequality.com) Now we need those companies to come forward. Here are the Twitter handles for the larger companies that signed onto the 2019 letter but have remained silent on SB8 so far: MAC, Bloomberg LP, Glossier, Slack and Postmates.
If you are on Twitter, tag them and say: “Back in 2019 you said you supported women’s equality. Your silence now – when your voice matters most – is deafening. I won’t forget. #DontBanEqualityinTexas”
I’m going to put my thinking cap on about how we can do more to pressure companies right now. I welcome your suggestions!
Wednesday: Stop The Recall
We’re in the final push of the California recall vote (next Tuesday is election day!). This is a MUST WIN election, folks. There are a few ways you can help out, no matter where you live.
First, there are TONS of phone banks you can participate in. Go to https://www.mobilize.us/?is_virtual=true&tag_ids=8453 and you’ll see plenty of options to choose from.
Second, go through your phone and social media contacts – who lives in California? Send them a text today. Make sure they have voted or have a plan to vote. Again, this is a MUST WIN.
Third, learn more about the recall election (including frequently asked questions about voting in California and the impact of the recall) here: https://www.nytimes.com/article/newsom-recall-election-voter-guide.html
Thursday: Help High School Students Prep for High School Voter Registration Week
Voter registration – particularly of young people – is high on my list of priority items. We need to play the long game, and helping involve young people in electoral politics is a great way to ensure the next generation can be heard. So why not help spread the word about, and help young people get ready for, High School Voter Registration week! The week is September 27-October 1.
High school students can sign up for a free training to learn how to lead a drive in their schools, receive a free Democracy in a Box toolkit, and even get a $50 gift card! (If they complete all of the action items in their planning worksheet, are 14+ and enrolled in high school, and are one of the first three from their high school to enter.) For more details and eligibility check out The Civics Center at https://thecivicscenter.org/.
OR: You can encourage students to attend When We all Vote’s My School Votes training. When We all Vote is the organization supported by Michelle Obama. From the website:
Take the first step in this school year’s civic journey with My School Votes! Join us on Wednesday, September 14 at 7:00pm ET as we embark on a path that will ensure all students obtain voter ID, register to vote, address local issues all while developing and growing student power.
This first-ever Constructive Civics training is for high school students. You will learn how to establish an MSV Club in your school (or adopt this program into an already running club), how to host your first meetings, recruit student members, and begin strategizing to run your first Voter ID campaign this Fall! Let’s make sure your class is registered and ready to vote in 2022.
Sign-up. Bring a friend. Bring three. Start a Club today and let’s get Back to School and Back to Civics.
MSV is a unique extracurricular program that offers transformative civic learning, hands-on skill-building, and lifelong empowerment experiences where students learn by doing. Through this year-long training in advocacy and organizing, high school student-leaders have opportunities to apply civic lessons to real-world scenarios. Students learn the fundamentals of campaign development and management, connect national issues to the local level, and learn how to develop highly effective student-led voter ID and registration campaigns. Establishing MSV Clubs provides an opportunity to embed civics work into the fabric of a school, allowing the shift in a school’s culture to begin and students to assume leadership roles and responsibilities.
Learn more at: https://whenweallvote.org/events/
Friday: Get Ready for the Women’s March on October 2
Get out those marching shoes! The Women’s March will be marching in every state ahead of the Supreme Court reconvening on October 4. Women’s March and more than 90 other organizations, including National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, Planned Parenthood, SHERO Mississippi, Mississippi in Action, Access Reproductive Care-Southeast, The Frontline, Working Families Party, and SisterSong, are organizing a national call to mobilize and defend our reproductive rights.
Go to https://womensmarch.com/mobilize to learn more about what events are happening in your neighborhood. No event listed yet? That’s a sign that this is the time for you to organize one with your group!
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!
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.