(WOMENSENEWS)–Student activism around war, peace and globalization may grab the headlines. However, campus-based organizing related to feminism and reproductive rights is also dramatically on the rise.
One indication is a surge of interest in the 17th annual conference on reproductive freedom for students and activists that will be held at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., this weekend. Conference registration is well ahead of past years andinquires are coming from as far away as Kenya and Nigeria. As many as 750 students are expected to attend.
The event has grown from 50 participants at the original gathering to more than 600 last year, says Marlene Gerber Fried, director of the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program at Hampshire College.
“It took a huge leap in attendance following the presidential election,” Fried says. And due to “the sustained attacks on reproductive rights by the Bush administration, the fragility of reproductive rights has become very clear.”
Students Transcend Old Categories of Activism
The Hampshire event follows the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Never Go Back national student conference held in Washington in January. That meeting attracted 400 students from more than 100 campuses. The event sought to engage students to respond to current threats to reproductive rights and to organize campus support for increasing access to emergency contraception.
“Young people have been framed as being completely apathetic and not involved and engaged,” says Ryn Gluckman, a member of the conference program staff and a recent Hampshire graduate, “and that’s like the farthest thing from the truth. In my experience young people are at the front lines of radical social justice organizing and issues that affect their lives.
“I think there is a huge rise in student activism,” Gluckman continues. “Young people are especially hungry for community and a feeling of support in their work–in a world that seems so out of control.”
Conference organizers credit this growing activism, along with an awareness of global issues that transcend old categories, for transforming the conference into what may well become the center of a resurgent college feminism.
The “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building a Movement for Reproductive Freedom Conference,” discusses reproductive rights in the context of such issues as racial equality, economic justice, civil liberties and immigrant and refugee rights.
“There are very few places where a young person might get a broad vision of reproductive rights,” Fried explains. “If you just focus on abortion, it not only seems so beleaguered, but it is so separated, that you feel you will never win.”
Fried says that one of the conference goals is that participants come away “feeling inspired by understanding the need for allies and to create a movement that is capable of winning and expanding women’s rights.”
“I think that the Hampshire conference is a great place to see how seemingly divergent issues are really connected,” says Eunice Cho, world conference project associate at the Oakland, Calif.-based National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Cho, a speaker at past Hampshire conferences, says issues of reproductive rights are central to her work.
“Immigrants have a different access to health care and reproductive health care,” Cho observes. “There are issues of language barriers, immigration status and race, in addition to the challenges all women face accessing reproductive health services.” These challenges are magnified for undocumented women, she adds.
Diversity of Age, Background Key to Conference’s Success
Fried, a professor of philosophy at Hampshire, acknowledges that it is very unusual for academic programs to sponsor an event that mixes choice-related organizing and scholarship. She explains that the Civil Liberties and Public Policy and the Population and Development programs that jointly sponsor the conference are, like Hampshire itself, “committed to knowledge being grounded in the world and in academic work and where the two meet each other.
“We don’t bring in the stars,” Fried continues. “We place a very high priority on diversity of voices–age and race and country.”
“For older activists, it is tremendous,” she adds. “And for young people, it’s not a place where the older people are going to tell you what it’s like. It’s a place where people’s experience is of value, whether it’s a year or 50 years.”
Says Gluckman: “Young activists are making connections that people who have been in the movement a long time have not made” on matters such as transgender rights. Gluckman, a veteran of many collegiate conferences adds, “It’s one of the few conferences that is really accessible. There is no registration fee, which is really important for students. We provide free housing and meals. We give out some travel subsidies–which is so unheard of.” The conference is wheelchair accessible. Child care and sign language interpretation are also available.
While many conference participants come from such established activist student networks as Choice USA and the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, Fried says that many others are not activists or part of an existing organization. Some, says Fried, are “from settings where there is not a lot of opportunity.”
“These are the people who often get the most out of the conference,” she says. “They come away feeling empowered, less isolated and part of a broader movement that sustains them.”
This sense of being part of something larger and greater than oneself can be as true for the speakers as it is for the students.
“I think politically it is tremendously exciting,” Fried says. A few years ago, there was a conference speaker from the Philippines, where abortion is illegal. At Hampshire, she met Laura Kaplan, author of “The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service,” about the Chicago-based network that operated before the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the U.S.
“It’s like meeting your long-lost relative,” Fried said.
Frederick Clarkson is the author of “Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy” and of the forthcoming “Profiles in Terrorism: Twenty Years of Antiabortion Violence.”
For more information:
Hampshire College–“From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom”:
Feminist Majority Foundation–Feminist Campus.org:
For more information:
Official site of Sarah Jones:
Sarah Jones’ Feminist Hip-Hop Song Back on Air
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York recently dismissed Sarah Jones’ appeal regarding the indecency of her song, “Your Revolution.” The court made its decision after the Federal Communications Commission withdrew its objections to the song being broadcast.
“My lawsuit against the FCC forced them to account for flaws in their system,” said Jones, who had originally wanted to be a lawyer.
“Your Revolution,” a hip-hop song with a feminist message, had been declared indecent in May 2001 by the FCC, thereby barring it from the airwaves. In January 2002, Jones filed a lawsuit with the help of the People For the American Way Foundation.
Larry Ottinger, a senior staff attorney for the organization, said that the agency did not make clear why it believed the song met its definition of “indecent.” He added, “The FCC cited nothing in terms of community standards or what about the song made it patently offensive.”
A few days before the FCC was required to answer in court why the song should be banned, the agency reversed its position without explanation.
In early 2001, “Your Revolution” was played on the air by KBOO, an alternative radio station in Portland, Ore. A former employee brought a complaint against it, as well as several other songs, but only “Your Revolution” was labeled indecent by the FCC’s enforcement bureau. The complainant later said that he regretted that the bureau had singled out Jones’ song, with its anti-misogynist lyrics.
Jones wrote the lyrics to “Your Revolution,” she said, as a response to misogyny in pop culture. “We know it’s in the air we breathe and the water we drink. I wanted to create empowering motifs for young women in the tradition of Queen Latifah and Salt N Peppa, who were feminists in the truest sense of the word.”
— by Sara Sezun.