We ride for the South. Don't you?
Editor's Note: Oriaku Njoku is a co-founder and executive director of Access Reproductive Care Southeast.
Before November 9th, 2016, I had a different vision of what the 44th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision (January 22nd) would look like. Back then, I envisioned a new political climate where we at Access Reproductive Care Southeast (ARC-Southeast) would join with allies and supporters, and work with the new administration to put forth proactive legislation protecting the rights of those seeking abortion care in the United States. I envisioned a celebration, a new President who would listen when our communities call out for justice, and the confidence that America is ready for a cultural shift around how we approach reproductive rights.
I even envisioned a 2017 Roe v. Wade anniversary which positively challenged our allies in reproductive health to embrace the full spectrum of affirming care people need: I imagined that with legal abortion protected, we could advance maternal health for Black women, ensure gender-affirming care for transgender people, and improve sexual and reproductive health services for young people.
Instead, I find myself guiding my organization through a political climate fueled by divisive, racist, misogynistic, bigoted, anti-everything-I-love rhetoric.
While there may have been a shift in political power, I do not think I have ever been more energized and motivated to do reproductive justice work than I am now. Reproductive justice, as a framework, is centered around the idea that everyone should be able to decide if, when, and how they become pregnant or a parent without bias or barriers. It also recognizes the intersectional nature of barriers: Put simply the struggles women of color face in getting the care we need are more intense and different from the struggles white women and even men of color face. Race, poverty, gender, class, sexuality, and environment, among other things, all play a role in whether someone is able to make choices they feel are best for themselves and their families.
At ARC-Southeast, we do reproductive justice work by funding abortions; providing logistical support; and building power in communities most directly impacted by reproductive oppression through advocacy, education, and leadership development. If there were ever a time for people to work with one another to ensure that access to abortion care and reproductive rights do not get taken away, the time is now.
We know that this administration will actively try to take us back to a frightening pre-Roe place where our reproductive rights are restricted or non-existent. Yet, I know for a fact that I cannot and will not sit around for the next four years worrying about what should have, would have, or could have been.
Instead, I will work with others in Georgia, across the South, and across the country, to at the very least protect the rights that we already have.
The new administration, like those in Congress and state legislatures who share their narrow and punishing worldview, should know that people like me still believe that we live in the land of the free and home of the brave. They should get ready for the growing movements of people who will be fighting for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. They should realize that while their attacks on reproductive rights are scary, we are not afraid and we are ready to fight for the people we live with, work with, and unapologetically love.
Restrictions and anti-choice legislation will be met with a fight for freedom and justice. Attempts to silence folks sharing their stories will be met by brave souls boldly talking about abortion. Stigmatizing people in our community will be met with organizations like ARC-Southeast continuing to create safer and braver spaces for folks to work towards eliminating barriers to abortion. Shaming people by attacking their choice will be met with love and compassion.
We are ready for what's coming.
As a person of color in the South, I want Southerners reading this to realize that being from the South puts us at an advantage. We Southerners come from communities rooted in a history of resistance, base building, power, and brilliance fueled by the belief in self-determination that leads to revolutions. This is not a new fight, it's just a fight that we did not think would be this hard in 2017. But history shows that that we are trained, powerful, and ready. And justice always comes out on top.