From Abortion Rights to Social Justice

Every year we provide the opportunity for our interns to attend the Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) Conference titled “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice, Building a Movement for Reproductive Freedom.” Enjoy this post by our intern, Jessie Carignan, about her empowering experience at the conference this year. Jessie is a fourth-year student at the University of Maine studying Sociology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies. She is an active member of the Student Women’s Association and the Student Alliance for Sexual Health.

As part of my internship with Mabel Wadsworth Center, I traveled to Amherst, MA, to attend the annual  Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) Conference, surrounded by powerful activists and professionals. CLPP is dedicated to inspiring, educating and mentoring new generations to be advocates for reproductive rights and health and social and economic justice, so naturally, I was in paradise.

As a student living in Orono, Maine, it can be hard to feel like I am doing my part in making a difference in this resistance when mobilizing is not as visible/accessible as it is in major cities. Surrounding myself with over 1,000 activists rekindled the fire in me, reminding me that this is not a small movement. The opportunity to connect with activists from across the nation to learn how to achieve social justice is one of the most empowering things that I have ever done.

The CLPP conference offers over 80 different workshops throughout the weekend covering topics from abortion, immigrant rights, racial justice, queering reproductive rights, criminalized communities and more. In addition to the workshops, the first night of the conference was dedicated to an abortion speak out, an experience so moving and powerful that it enlightened my understanding of the diversity of abortion experiences.

The abortion speak out began with a listing of community agreements in order to keep the space safe and respectful for all of those willing to share their stories with us. At the beginning of the speak out it took a long time for the first person to walk up to the stage to share their story. The following speakers expressed gratitude for the bravery of speakers before them, illuminating the power of storytelling. The stories ranged vastly in experience, including but not limited to, late term abortions, gender non-conforming abortion patients, young patients, old patients, patients who faced unjust state restrictions and LGBTQ+ patients. The speak out expanded my understanding that abortions are not a universal story, and the vitalness of keeping in mind that accessibility, experience, and dialogue surrounding abortion must be mindful and inclusive.

Over the course of the weekend, I attended four different workshops; Building Intergenerational/Intersectional Campaigns with Wendy Davis (pictured above), The War on Immigration: Immigration Justice in Dangerous Times, Reproductive Justice Beyond Bars and Appropriate Whiteness with Loretta Ross. Each workshop was extremely informative and motivating, and taught me about the political process for supporting/rejecting bills, how immigrant rights are being stripped by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and they negative effects of the “good immigrant, bad immigrant” dichotomy, the reproductive rights, or lack thereof, of people in prisons and how to be an effective ally to people of color.

The conference organizers created an effective learning space for new or experienced activists. More specifically, Loretta Ross spoke about social justice arenas as a mutual learning space for all involved. She explained that we all make mistakes, and it can be hard to keep up with the correct language, but it’s more important to use your voice and make a mistake, rather than pretending issues do not exist. Ross stressed the importance of not shaming others for being “woke” at different times, rather let’s celebrate the fact that they finally woke up. These were two of the most important lessons I learned at the conference.

As a young student activist with minimal advocacy experience, it is very easy for me to get intimidated by the brilliance and bravery of activists around me, ultimately making me question my place in the resistance. However, CLPP reassured my place in this movement and empowered me to persist relentlessly. The words of Loretta Ross and other panelists made me feel welcome and encouraged me to welcome others, an important takeaway for all of us.