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Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

    In fight for reproductive justice, panel gets real

    Laney community tells personal stories, asks experts urgent questions<h3>

    The human right to have, or not have, a child; the right to raise that child safely; the right to sexual and bodily autonomy. This is reproductive justice, according to a panel of four women of color who presented on that very topic Dec. 5 in Laney College’s D-200 auditorium.
    The panel was the culmination of a semester that’s brought reproductive justice into the spotlight. A Laney student shared her powerful story about Planned Parenthood in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Oct. 15 issue of the Laney Tower. 
    Later that month, anti-choice demonstrators disrupted campus life on Oct. 26 and 27. Thus, Ethnic Studies Professor Alicia Caballero-Christenson thought it was important to put a panel together: to show the community that reproductive justice matters at Laney College. The panelists would teach the community about their work, and the community, in turn, would share its own knowledge, too.
    After the panel ended, one audience member raised her hand to tell her story. “We had an abortion together in April,” she said, acknowledging her partner, who was sitting beside her. “It was both of our decisions, and I feel very fortunate that he backed me up.” 
    Emphasizing her partner’s role in the decision reflected a recurring theme of the evening: reproductive justice isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s a human issue. “We’re in our late 20’s, so this is not something that [only] 17-and 18-year-olds are getting done,” the audience member continued. “I’m 27, and I’m not ready.” 
    Then, after a deep breath, she launched into her question: “Being women of color, is it hard not to be seen as sassy women of color?” It was an appropriate question to ask a group of women of color working in industries that have either been dominated by or perceived to have been dominated by men. 
    “I’m not afraid of what they think,” Layidua Salazar said. “At some point, you have to stop being scared of how people perceive you and realize what you’re doing is important, and it matters.” 
    What these women do goes far beyond simply providing women with access to abortions or contraceptives: Salazar is on the board of directors for Access, an organization devoted to women’s health justice, which goes beyond direct services and focuses also on community education and policy advocacy. 
    Salazar was joined by UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare Assistant Professor Gómez; Planned Parenthood Director of Public Affairs Lupe Rodriguez; and Shanelle Matthews, on the board of directors for the National Network of Abortion Funds and now working for the communications wing of the Black Lives Matter movement.
    The diverse group of women represented the idea that reproductive justice was only one small part of a larger conversation about social justice. At a meeting Salazar once attended at a previous job, “they talked about a young woman who crossed the border and was at the border, so she needed access to abortion because of this. And I was like: Well, yay, abortion. But how about we fix the broken immigration system? 
    “As an undocumented immigrant woman,” she said, “what are we really talking about when we talk about justice?” What these women talked about when they talked about justice went far beyond the binary of pro- and anti-choice, and extended far beyond debates over abortion. 
    “After Roe v. Wade,” Gómez said, “the movement for legal abortion termed itself pro-choice. But for women of color and many white women and allies who are advocates, we wanted a broader framework that more explicitly opposed population control, [for example].”
    The “we” Gómez referred was made up of all sorts of people, not just the nuclear family that many think of when they think of reproduction. “Seventy-five percent of families in the America don’t identify as hetero, with biological children, and married,” Matthews said, citing the 2010 census. “That’s everybody, basically! That’s all of us. But if you look at the way the mainstream media and the way that they portray families, the way they portray who deserves to have a family… there’s a burden placed on us to believe that we have to look a certain way to reproduce, which is inherently fucked up.” 
    Emphasizing the diversity of people affected by reproductive justice, the panel encouraged the audience — and the population at large — to see themselves in the larger debate. 
    For example, the room broke into applause after one male audience member asked how, as a Black man with two sons, he could further educate himself about reproductive justice. “I had sex education when I was their age, but they don’t,” he said. “I’m going to go talk to my sons right after I leave here tonight.” 
    Said Matthews: “The third leg of [reproductive justice] is about being able to parent. The number of Black men that are being killed by police: that’s a reproductive justice issue. We cannot raise our children if you can’t walk down the street without the fear of being shot at or being stopped and frisked.” 
    One of the keys, the panel agreed, was talking about reproductive justice, whether with our children, our friends, our families — or ourselves. “The reality is we need to stop being so ashamed of talking about our bodies, about accessing information, about seeking the things we need for ourselves,” Matthews said. 
    This kind of empowerment, the panel concurred, was crucial in the fight against groups like Project Truth, the anti-choice demonstrators at Laney a few weeks prior. The demonstration catalyzed a counter-protest, and resulted in a donation of thousands of dollars to Planned Parenthood on behalf of Laney College faculty. 
    Rodriguez, as a representative of Planned Parenthood, emphasized how important the organization was in communities like Laney’s. “The main mission of the organization is to provide healthcare services,” she said. “The folks we work with are the most affected by the issues of violence, the issues of defunding — all of the money that is looking to be taken away is money that goes to fund services for low-income individuals, low-income communities, communities of color.” 
    Criticizing both Congress members threatening to defund the organization and those who support them, Matthews was indignant: “You’re obsessed with my pussy! The government is going to shut down because you’re obsessed with my vagina,” she said.
    The panel also agreed that using words like “vagina” and “abortion” in conversations was a small but important part of the fight. By talking to friends and family about reproductive justice, people could de-stigmatize access to reproductive health services and bring these issues out into the open.
    “One-on-one conversations are so important,” Matthews said in conclusion. “So that uncomfortable conversation with your great-aunt at the table during Thanksgiving: that’s important. You need to have that.”
    With a long winter break on the horizon, and many of us gathering with family and friends, think about your own stories. Think about what reproductive justice means to you. Follow the lead of the women on the panel and the people beside you at Laney: Talk, listen, and fight for the rights of us all.

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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