Yesterday, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Nancy Keenan, announced that she will be stepping down at the end of the year. Sarah Kliff at the Washington Post reported:
The 60-year-old Keenan said she is leaving out of concern for the future of the pro-choice movement — and thinks she could be holding it back. In recent years, Keenan has worried about an “intensity gap” on abortion rights among millennials, which the group considers to be the generation of Americans born between 1980 and 1991. While most young, antiabortion voters see abortion as a crucial political issue, NARAL’s own internal research does not find similar passion among abortion-rights supporters. If the pro-choice movement is to successfully defend abortion rights, Keenan contends, it needs more young people in leadership roles, including hers.
So, here’s the thing. It’s true that we do need young people to step up into leadership positions in the reproductive justice movement. And Keenan is right: new leaders can’t step up until the current, older leaders step aside.
BUT, spare me on the “intensity gap.” Seriously, there is no intensity gap. The pro-choice movement, as Jessica wrote two years ago, would fail without the intensity – the enthusiasm, the passion, the commitment, and the unpaid or underpaid labour - of young people. As Jessica asked,
Where would NARAL Pro-Choice America or NOW be without the work done by younger women?
Who would do their outreach? Who would volunteer? Who would take unpaid internships? Who would carry their action items on blogs and forward them by email, Facebook and Twitter? Who would Blog for Choice?
One of the reasons Feministing began was because there wasn’t enough engagement, in traditional feminist organizations, of young people. The young feminists were wheeled out from time to time to show that they existed, but they weren’t given real power, or responsibility, or the chance to really make themselves heard. Or as Keenan put it,
“People give a lot of lip service to how we’re going to engage the next generation,” Keenan said, “but we can’t just assume it will happen on its own.”
It won’t. And it really won’t if you keep telling the next generation that they don’t care enough about reproductive rights. They care. They care enough to work their asses of for this movement. As Jessica said,
Seriously, what would happen if young women decided they had enough of being ignored and started simply decided to stop working for these organizations? Even if for a month young women boycotted the organizations that refuse to acknowledge their hard work – the movement would fall on its ass.
Now, obviously, we don’t want the pro-choice movement to fall on its ass. We want it to triumph. And it damn well better, because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in the last year or so, shit has gone totally fucking haywire in this country. I apologise for that elegant phrasing, but you know it’s true: anti-choicers are gunning harder than ever right now to take away hard-won reproductive freedoms. And so, young people will continue to work, and volunteer, and donate money. So it would be really nice, please, if the outgoing leaders would stop talking about the “intensity gap.”
And here’s hoping that we get a great new young leader to step up to run NARAL, and hopefully, to bring with them the memory of what it feels like to be told that you aren’t adequately “intense,” or worse, that you don’t exist.