When trauma leads you to politics

Via the National Partnership for Women and Families, check out this really genuine story about how one young woman was inspired to become an activist after Dr. Tiller’s murder:

When George Tiller was gunned down in his Kansas church, it changed the course of Emily Boyer’s studies…She changed her major from music to sociology, with a minor in women’s studies. And she became an intern at Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

For one semester she spent First Fridays canvassing crowds with petitions for support of comprehensive sex education, passing out condoms on her campus and sitting at information tables…Her internship ended a year ago, but Emily never quit volunteering. Now, as the organization celebrates its 75th anniversary, she helps educate kids. She does presentations on healthy relationships, body image and sex education. She hopes to one day be a Planned Parenthood educator.

I think this was a really important inclusion for Women’s Health Policy Report this week, considering the blame-game that has ensued after this past terrible Tuesday. Some folks are intent about pointing the finger at young people, despite the fact that their was low Democratic turnout among many groups. And it’s nice to have an organization point out that there are young women who are politically active and passionate.

Taking nothing away from one woman’s journey to feminist activism, it’s curious to me that I have met so many women in the movement who were inspired to act after a traumatic event. I have heard many stories from women who had their feminist “aha” moment particularly after experiencing intimate partner violence, rape, child sexual abuse, sexual assault or other kinds of violence. After a social institution, personal  support system, or a combination of both failed them, their curiosity peaked about the scale of these failures and the rest was history.

Spending two years in Washington as a feminist organizer, I also vividly remember the testimonies of violence that would accompany e-mails for new members and the crisis calls from survivors that occasionally came through.  I remember assisting with annual feminist conferences where a majority of the workshop submissions were related to violence against women. And who can ever forget their first Take Back the Night?

It is so powerful to engage in an act of  strategic resistance once you have been violated on barbaric terms. But in a culture where becoming an adult often means displacing emotions instead of experiencing them, I wonder whether women who have this story of conversion also get to heal on an individual level. This is something I am especially concerned with because organizing is tiresome, emotionally consuming work where one’s personal and political life often intersect. In the end, I have nothing but respect and admiration for the Emily Boyer’s of the world. I just hope that if her heart is ever heavy with the weight of Dr. Tiller’s murder, that she knows that healing, grieving or reflecting is as radical an act as canvassing or petition gathering.

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