We all count: a southern movement for justice

Friday, October 12, 2012

By Bianca Campbell

"A Black woman's body is never hers alone." - Fannie Lou Hamer

On September 21, SPARK - as part of the Southern Movement Assembly - joined a caravan of Southern activists and organizations heading down to Lowndes County, Alabama to build political power toward a future of long term systemic change in our region, beyond the November elections. Though the political discourse has attempted to divide us, that weekend, we saw the wedges dissolve. They weakened during the 4-hour drive with intergenerational reminiscing. The wedges buckled with each stake we hammered into the campsite. They wavered when Black Panther elders shared their story for a future they had envisioned 40 years ago, which turned out to be everyone’s ideal, free world. They dissolved. No one would be erased. We all counted.

Anchored by Project South, the Southern Movement Assembly is one tactic of a larger We All Count campaign. The Assembly is an effort led by grassroots organizations with the Southern Movement Alliance to increase voter education and registration in underrepresented communities, train new organizers, and create a Southern People’s Plan to activate our communities beyond the elections in November.

My organization, SPARK, sees the Assembly, the Alliance, and the We All Count Campaign, as avenues to better infuse a gender and reproductive justice politic that is often times neglected in racial and economic justice and broader civic engagement movements. No longer can we understand issues of reproductive justice as “women’s work,” but as movement work a movement towards strong families, safe communities, and whole people.

Bringing our reproductive justice lens to these venues is crucial for we cannot separate our reproductive and sexual health from our economic and racial justice work. Activists advancing contraception access, sex education, the prohibition of shackling pregnant women in jail and prison, safe abortion access, and LGBTQ justice had to fight tooth and nail this last legislative session to keep hard-earned rights and to demand new ones. Our reproductive justice issues were used as wedge issues during stump speeches and used to set political platforms to keep our communities apart. (Conversations of welfare and food stamps are as much about our reproduction as they are about our finances.) Reproductive rights advocates participated in the DNC, but they failed to demand unapologetic abortion access. What they did was demand exceptions for rape and incest, which perpetuates the notion of good abortions (in cases of rape and incest) versus bad abortions (done simply because a woman didn’t want to be pregnant). Worse, their respectability approach to abortion is no longer working on moderate Republicans: the RNC has become even more conservative and has renounced exceptions in cases of rape and incest. Not only a part of the RNC platform, this was also evidenced by a bill in Georgia passed this year that bans all abortions after 20 weeks except for severe health conditions impacting the mother. Focusing the conversation about specific abortion policies instead of coalescing around a concerted effort to achieve holistic body autonomy, wellness, and chosen families has led to this devastating loss at the legislature.

This 2012 session is neither the first, nor will it be the last that our liberties are held in the balance. Living and working in a region that has been historically and systematically denied support, the We All Count Campaign and especially the Southern Movement Assembly, provides low-income people, women of color, LGBTQ people, youth, immigrants, people with disabilities, and formerly incarcerated people an opportunity to set an agenda, a Southern people’s platform, that holds up all of our identities, struggles, and visions for a region we call home.

Fueled with inspiration from this trip, SPARK sounds the call to reproductive justice activists and organizations in the South to not only be present, but to help craft vision and action towards body autonomy, strong families, and communities free from all forms of violence. Honoring the legacy and rich tradition of Black women Civil Rights leaders like Coretta Scott King, Ella Baker, and Fannie Lou Hamer, and on the ground in historic Selma, Alabama, we demand reproductive justice for our bodies, our communities, and our futures.

100 days after the election, SPARK has committed to reunite with Project South and the Assembly for a regional week of RJ action, pushing out legislative agendas, women of color perspectives, and strategic communications that help the South solidify pro-active legislation such as prohibiting the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women and implementing the Affordable Care Act. It will bolster our defense against legislation like Personhood amendments that seek to weaken our families. With our solidified power, trust, and commitment we will collectively dissolve the wedges.

Bianca Campbell is a part of a collective of Black women bloggers supported by Strong Families. She is an Organizer with SPARK Reproductive Justice Now where she facilitates workshops and develops curricula that bring together queer theory with racial and reproductive justice movements. She lives and works in Atlanta, GA.