I’m Just Saying You Could Do Better: What Reproductive Justice Means In Practice

I should not have to write this or perform this kind of labor at a time that is already stressful, but it is my hope that this is a moment for all involved to move forward with a better understanding of how we can be in struggle and coalition with one another. I write this, not with hopes of “calling out,” but with recognition of how important accountability and honesty is in the reproductive justice movement.

As one of two participants arrested and charged for the literature drop in the Senate Office Building, there are multiple things I have been holding since. I have offered up what I hope and believe is constructive and generative feedback to NAPAWF and All Above All about what took place and what could have been better. I believe those offerings were reflected, in part, in the statement released to the many other participants yesterday. Though I did approve much of the language, I was not made aware of the additional quotes, which I believe changed the tone of the statement. Had I known they would ask for and add quotes from other Black women, specifically, I would have been sure to provide one, as the people who came away most negatively impacted were the people who were arrested and I believe our voices should be centered. Here are some of the points I want to make clear, in speaking for myself and my experience:

  1. Women are not the only people who seek and receive abortion care. I feel I must lift this up because the language in our movement has yet to shift to being gender-inclusive and it is holding up the work and erasing experiences of many. It’s truly harmful and I know we can do better. Throughout my post, I will be using people and not women when referring to reproductive rights generally, even though the action centered on women.
  2. The connection between criminalization and abortion rights for Black people cannot be understated. It is not lost on me that although most of the participants in the action on August 23rd were not Black, 100% of the women who were arrested are. As we fight to stop Brett Kavanaugh from overturning Roe and increasing the criminalization if abortion care that already occurs, we must keep in mind those of us who are most likely to feel its impact immediately and with least pushback, namely Black people.
  3. While I know that being Black means that any and every day is a risk, but particularly a day of action, that does not erase or remove an organization’s responsibility to be ready for what that risk could look like. There was no Know Your Rights training for people to prepare to be arrested. There was no jail support number given to people who participated in the red action. Because I have engaged in direct action before, I know these things. Others may not have and that was not offered up. They were not transparent about what would happen on their end if someone was arrested and were not actively protesting or mobilizing as we were arrested. They also didn’t contact the organization I was present on behalf of (DC Abortion Fund), an organization that they contacted to be a part of this action and that I spoke with organizers about coming on behalf of. And when I exited the Capitol Police Headquarters, you were at a bar. One can imagine how jarring it is to be arrested at another organizations’ action and then, after being handcuffed to a wall for 3 hours, walk out to no one. While I understand there were extenuating circumstances that affected these decisions and we discussed this in private, these are all things that would have felt MORE supportive to me and did not occur. In addition, I have asked multiple times that they go back to reporters who covered the action and clarify that arrests happened. As an abolitionist, it is extremely important to me that we connect the violence of policing and incarceration to our reproductive rights, particularly in this political moment. This still has not happened. To All Above All’s credit, they have been the most communicative throughout this process and I do want to both acknowledge and say that I appreciate the support offerings they have made since my arrest.
  4. Given most of my previous point, I take issue with the fact that the organizations chose to open the statement with the following quote, framing the action and support given before mentioning the arrests or lessons learned: “Participating in the RJ Day of Action in DC on August 23 was another defining movement moment in my career as an RJ activist. I am inspired and encouraged by knowing that we were able to demand that our voices were heard on the hill and around the country. The thing that made me feel so comfortable about potentially putting my body on the line as a Black Woman for Reproductive Justice was that we were prepared and fully supported in this process. I feel like it is incredibly important in this political time to be able to provide people in our community with multiple points of entry to be involved in this work that is directly impacting the lives of people of color. And being able to self-select what we would do based on our level of comfort was very affirming.” -Oriaku Njoku, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Access Reproductive Care-Southeast
  5. The preceding quote reads as though it is an attempt to use one Black woman’s experience to negate or soften the experience of two others. To my recollection, Oriaku was not arrested, did not witness our arrest, and did not stay around to support after it happened. That is not her responsibility by any means, but I want to be clear about whose voices are being placed upfront. While I am unsure if Oriaku is aware of the feedback and full context this quote is situated in and I do not know her, both All Above All and NAPAWF are. I find what seems to be a very intentional attempt to control the narrative to be deeply unsettling and gaslighting behavior. Though it was clear to me there was a risk of arrest, if some felt the downplaying of that risk (by organizers noting how unlikely it is when people expressed worry or anxiety, focusing on the 3 warning needed for a demonstration charge, etc.) made them feel ill-prepared and lessened their ability to “self-select”, I will not argue that.
  6. I have not yet called for any actions to be taken on my behalf. While I recognize and appreciate the care and intent that drives people to want to call for dismissal, it is crucial that consent is confirmed before speaking or acting in the name of others. Particularly for those of us committed to radical and transformative change, such as living in a culture of consent. If, after speaking to an attorney about my case, I decide otherwise, I will make that public. Had anyone reached out to me after adding to the statement I previously approved, I would have told them this (and #4) before it went out.

Other than that, August 23rd’s RJ Day of Action was deeply moving and it was awesome to be in community with so many people who are as passionate about fighting for and building a world where justice and equity are a reality as I am. I look forward to far more direct action organizing as we disrupt the systems and institutions that continue to marginalize and oppress us all. I thank everyone who has checked up on or reached out to me since that day.