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A Response to Time Magazine: Young People are Not Fragmenting the Pro-Choice Movement

If anything is strengthening the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements, it’s the people, regardless of age, who are working outside the traditional power structures.

There is a lot to be said about this week’s Time cover story, and I’m thankful that others are taking it on. I feel a little awkward about jumping into the fray, since I was quoted in the Time piece (thanks, Kate Pickert!), but there is a big misconception that needs to be corrected: young people are not causing the downfall of the pro-choice movement.

Pickert says that there is a “rebellion” between people who are now in their twenties and thirties and the boomers who are currently leading pro-choice “legacy” organizations (she names NARAL, NOW, and the Feminist Majority Foundation). This is a simplistic version of reality. There is certainly inter-generational tension, but that’s not all. There is a difference in priorities and strategy that doesn’t split evenly among age lines, but instead, often on ideological lines. Organizations like NARAL, NOW, and the Feminist Majority Foundation (not to mention Planned Parenthood) prioritize the needs of white, middle class, straight, cis-women, and work within the Democratic party politics system to achieve their goals. It’s not just young activists who reject the messaging, strategy, and focus of these legacy organizations. Anyone who is interested in working for the rights of people who don’t fit into those identity categories must find other homes for their social justice work.

While I’d love for all young people to be pressuring Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and co. to embrace a more inclusive agenda, the truth is they aren’t. Many millennials work for these organizations even while being lambasted in the media as “lacking passion for abortion rights.” Despite being castigated as ambivalent or apathetic, young people still show up in large numbers for NARAL lobby days and Planned Parenthood rallies. But that’s not the only type of activism in which young people (or anyone who doesn’t fit into the NARAL mold) are engaged. What are we doing? We’re founding, leading, and fundraising for abortion funds. We’re establishing grassroots reproductive justice networks. We’re running conferences in red states. We’re staffing post-abortion support talk-lines and becoming full-spectrum doulas. We’re mapping the intersections between our reproductive justice work, queer identities, and class warfare. We’re talking about people who have abortions instead of women who have abortions, and centering our activism on lived experience. And we’re often doing it without getting paid a single cent.

It may be true that, as Pickert claims, the pro-choice movement is “more fragmented than it’s ever been,” but this is not because young people are clamoring to overthrow the boomers who are running failing organizations. We are fragmented because we have different visions for the future of our movement. Pickert chastises young activists for abandoning “those feminist institutions that have traditionally been the headquarters for voter mobilization campaigns, fundraising, and lobbying, the lifeblood of any political movement.” And therein lies the problem. We don’t see our movement as just a political movement. We see it as a movement for culture change and social justice. We do not want to participate only in lobbying and voter mobilization. We want to be involved in organizations that create dynamic, lasting, empowering change that lift up the experiences of those with the least power. We don’t want to be involved in organizations that have pursued the same strategies for decades that lead us to the dismal place we are today. We want a bold, pro-active vision for a future of our own creation. And we aren’t getting that from NARAL, Planned Parenthood, the Feminist Majority Foundation, or NOW.

So we’re creating it for ourselves. If anything is strengthening the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements, it’s the people, regardless of age, who are working outside the traditional power structures and are pushing us to be unabashedly inclusive, radical, and unashamed.

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