Straddling the both / and experience

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

by Shanelle Matthews

Image: Kortney Ryan Ziegler, Forward Together
My work never really feels like work because it is so inherently intertwined with the way I move through the world. I communicate and create visibility for reproductive justice because my experiences as a queer woman of color, means that I don’t get to separate my race and socio-economic status from my reproductive health choices. I am both a person of color AND a woman. I am both queer AND working class. I am always both/and without having the luxury of disregarding my multiple realities, which I don’t want to nor should I be forced to.

As I left work last Friday, I didn’t leave behind my worried thoughts about whether or not Governor Brown would finally stop the shackling of pregnant women or grant domestic workers their human right to sick days and earning living wages. Whether sitting at my desk, at home or somewhere else, I am always conscious of the compromises that those of us with multiple realities have to make. We either get to keep our families together or we get healthcare. We choose between safe arrangements for our children with the risk of deportation or we are collectively uprooted from the place that we call home. Even though we live our lives straddling the both/and experience, our choices very rarely reflect it.

When I got the email Friday night that Governor Brown passed AB2530, the anti-shackling bill, which supports pregnant women in California’s prisons, I celebrated. After all, wins are so few and far between for us that it would be almost boorish to not at least share a toast or do a happy dance. And because for three years my colleagues have busted their asses to sustain basic human rights for pregnant women – an avoidable fight that we should not have had to spend any time or resources fighting. When I heard that Governor Brown signed AB2015, a bill that will make it possible for parents who are detained by the police to make safe arrangements for their children, I grinned ear-to-ear with excitement of the good news. Although my cynicism and distrust of the legislative process remains intact, these wins are smaller pieces of a very large, muddled puzzle that we are fighting both through policy change and efforts on the ground. But for the moment I smiled and shared the news with those around me, thankful for some glimmer of goodness.

Staying away from my computer for the weekend I came in to work Monday to find out that Governor Brown had vetoed both the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights bill and the Trust Act. I found myself, and the people around me, once again straddling the arduous both / and line. Happy that we had some wins and devastated, too.

We know that the same communities who will continue to live without healthcare are also under the constant threat of deportation. The same person who risks unwarranted deportation also isn’t receiving healthcare. The same person who is fighting for a living wage, also risks finding themselves in need of safe arrangements for their children should they be detained. What Governor Brown and policy makers nationwide fail to realize is that we are not monolithic in our needs. Passing a couple of bills won’t pacify us. We deserve asylum, healthcare, living wages, humane treatment, sick days and to be treated with respect and dignity – all of our basic human rights. Our families are strongest when we can be accepted as both / and.

Martin Luther King told us “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This is especially true for those us who are fighting to be our whole selves in this country. As we celebrate the victories and mourn the losses of the weekend, we urge Governor Brown to consider that denying domestic workers their rights threatens all of our rights. We hope that you’ll join us in telling the Governor that he can’t sacrifice some for the betterment of others. We are all deserving of the rights, recognition and resources we need to be our best selves and for our families to thrive.

Send Governor Brown this tweet: @JerrybrownGov We deserve all of our human rights! Reconsider the Domestic Workers BOR & Trust Act. #strongfams

Shanelle Matthews is a blogger, new and online media professional and the Communications Manager at Forward Together. Follow her on Twitter at @freedom_writer