My feminist organizing origin story: CLPP Reproductive Justice Conference

Text logo for From Abortion Rights to Reproductive Justice Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom

As Miriam wrote on Monday, Feministing is partnering with the Civil Liberties and Public Policy program (CLPP) this year on their annual conference From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom (Remember to get those applications for travel and hotel stipends in by February 24th if you need help accessing the conference).

I couldn’t be more thrilled by this partnership, as CLPP activated me in the reproductive justice movement. I showed up to a CLPP student group meeting my second year of college at the prodding of my friend Julia, who a year before had been present in the Feminist Legal Theory class where I finally moved away from the pro-life views I was raised with. I came to CLPP with very limited knowledge about the range of issues that impact people’s reproductive health and rights. What I found in the student group was a positive, supporting community where I could gain new knowledge and deepen my understanding of issues while also playing an active role in vital organizing work.

The CLPP student group shoulders a big part of the responsibility for putting the conference together and making sure everything runs smoothly during the event. Students aren’t just doing grunt work, as too often happens when young people are involved in larger organizing projects. They take on major responsibilities like organizing and running childcare, transportation, the abortion speak-out, and entertainment, and working on accessibility issues.

Student group members have an important impact on the conference beyond logistics, too. The issues covered at the conference are always expanding and the ways they’re approached are constantly improving based on student input. Marlene Fried, CLPP’s Director, recently pointed out to me that the increased focus on gender and sexuality and especially trans issues has come primarily from the students and younger staff. The conference doesn’t lose its focus on any important topics, but new intersections are always being highlighted.

Campus organizers do amazing work and have won major victories all over. But student organizing can be frustrating, too – campaigns fizzle if lead organizers graduate without mentoring new leaders, an inadequate power analysis can result in crushing losses, and often the work, while done well, takes too long for organizers to see clear results while they are still involved in a campaign. Then there are the interpersonal issues that can arise when working closely with a range of folks on a challenging campaign.

CLPP Conference organizing was my antidote to the burn out of other student organizing. The organizers have a positive, supportive, and affirming approach. Students who have worked on or attended the conference in the past know they’re responsible for making something wonderful happen and pass on their excitement to new organizers. The responsibility student organizers are given shows them their work is valuable, and the result is high levels of commitment. When conference weekend comes around student organizers get to experience a major victory – this complicated conference actually coming together – and many smaller victories as they recognize the vital aspects of the conference they and their friends are personally responsible for. Student organizers feel a strong sense of ownership of the conference since they did the work, and this carries into the next year when organizers know it is up to them to make the next conference even better. This positive organizing cycle only builds and gains momentum each year as students build on their successes of previous generations of organizers and learn from their struggles how to continue improving every aspect of conference organizing.

I started out in the student group working on outreach. During the conference my first year I met and spoke with numerous people who found out about the event thanks to emails I’d sent out. I got to see the immediate results of my work. My second year, thanks to the leadership development work of my fellow organizers and the CLPP staff, I became the Co-chair of the Outreach Committee, helping new organizers do the work I’d done only a year before. My final year as a student organizer I was hired as a Student Conference Coordinator, a major student leadership role. Myself and my fellow Coordinator were responsible for running the entire student group, as well as other crucial aspects of conference organizing.

This isn’t a story about how awesome I am, it’s a story about successful leadership development work that made it possible for me to learn about my own power and take on more responsibility so that necessary organizing could continue. The people who activated and developed me at CLPP are doing vital movement building work, empowering the next generation of leaders on a wide range of social justice issues.

The CLPP student group is more than a bunch of workers – it becomes a community. It was within the space of conference organizing that I was first able to come out as gender non-conforming and began transitioning. I’m so thankful to my CLPP family for helping me get started on this process.

Even my presence at Feministing is thanks in a large part to CLPP. I was chosen by the organization for a Reproductive Rights Activist Service Corps (RRASC) internship at Choice USA. RRASC internships place students from eight Western Massachusetts schools with reproductive rights and social justice organizations. The internships are paid, which makes them accessible to students like myself who cannot afford to take on unpaid internships. I began my blogging at Choice USA, writing for the organization’s blog, Choice Words. I met Miriam, who was working out of Choice USA’s offices for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, during my internship. So CLPP put me in the position to make connections that led me to writing for Feministing. And my first post in the Feministing Community was adapted from my comments on a panel at the CLPP Conference.

I’m thrilled I get to continue working on outreach for the CLPP Conference by writing about it here at Feministing. I’m looking forward to bringing you more information as the conference approaches and liveblogging from the event. I hope to see you there!

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One Comment

  1. Dawn.
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Great article, Jos. I enjoyed reading about the evolution of your reproductive rights activism. Sounds like CLPP gave you an inclusive community, which we all need.
    Regarding your RRASC internship: paid internships are so important. They help address the classism and nepotism inherent in organizing and activist work. Class is king in journalism and academia as well, I’ve noticed. I was offered an internship for a small non-profit last year that was a great opportunity, but it was unpaid and I am “working poor” so there was no way I could take it.

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