Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 4.44.18 PM

The Feministing Five: Monica Simpson

For this week’s Feministing Five, I spoke with Monica Simpson, the executive director of SisterSong, a national organization that strengthens and amplifies the collective voices of Indigenous women and women of color to achieve reproductive justice by eradicating reproductive oppression and securing human rights. Just last week, Monica traveled with a group of Southern women of color activists to DC, where they demonstrated their support for reproductive justice in front of the Supreme Court.

I spoke to Monica to learn more about last week’s events and how reproductive justice is truly an intersectional issue!


Monica Simpson at the steps of the Supreme Court

Last week, the Supreme Court listened to opening arguments of an incredible important abortion case, Whole Women’s Health. Activists from across the country gathered to show their support of abortion access, including SisterSong – one of the most important organizations when it comes to reproductive justice.

SisterSong helped to create the reproductive justice framework back in the 1990s. The founders saw reproductive justice as about more than abortion access. True justice requires access to sex education, STI prevention and care, alternative birth options, and prenatal and pregnancy care — and the end of classism and racism. We are so grateful for SisterSong’s continued amazing work,.

I was so thrilled to speak with Monica about her work leading SisterSong and to learn about her experience on the steps of the Supreme Court!

And now without further ado, the Feministing Five with Monica Simpson!

Suzanna Bobadilla: Thank you so much for speaking with us today. To begin, could you share with us SisterSong’s mission? 

Monica Simpson: SisterSong was created in 1997 as a national collective of Native American and indigenous women, African-American women, Latina women, and Asian and Pacific islander women to amplify the voices of women of color in this country to achieve reproductive justice.

At the time SisterSong was created, women of color leadership and perspectives wasn’t as amplified as we wanted them to be and we wanted to connect reproductive justice to human rights. As a national collective, we were created to do that work and to highlight leadership around that space.

SB: You were a part of a coalition that organized a group of women or color and activists from the South to be in DC last week. For those of us who weren’t there, what was the demonstration like? 

MS: Oh my god, it was one of the most memorable moments for me in my leadership so far. The South has a long rich history making bus trips to DC as well as other parts of the country to bring access to our rights, to bring our leaders, to bring our voices to issues that the most to us.

It felt very reminiscent for what I could imagine what it felt like for young Southern civil rights leaders and activists who were traveling across the country with SNCC and SVLC who were talking about different issues that were affecting their community. It felt very nostalgic to have all of these beautiful people of color driving up together. We also had allies with us who came up with us to fight for access and to encourage the Supreme Court to stop the sham.

Once we got to DC and we saw these thousands of people from all of these organizations, it was one of the most diverse crowds that I have ever been a part of. The energy was amazing; it was so big and bold. You could almost taste it and touch it! Everyone was of one accord, and everyone was directing their energy at the Supreme Court. I know the justices had to feel our energy. I know the walls are big and thick, but I know they had to feel that energy because we were on fire outside.

Just to hear women from all different perspectives, from all walks of life–it was incredible. It was super cold outside, but our hearts were on fire. But our spirit was really strong, and we were able to overcome it. All of the signs that we saw and the eggplant purple shirts.

I remember the March for Women’s Lives and while there were definitely more people then, last week felt like that moment as well. I have nothing but beautiful things to say about that day and what it meant for our work. It was just tremendous. It was a momental moment for those who us who fight hard for the human right to have access to abortion.

SB: So much of the language surrounding these Supreme Court cases has been horribly paternalistic, with mostly white, male politicians claiming that these restrictions are supposedly the best for women and their health. You spoken about why these attitudes are so insulting, could you explain more? 

MS: It’s insulting and infuriating because it makes it seem like we can’t make decisions for ourselves. It’s as if we have to have some outside party to make decisions about us. It’s asinine and it’s very disrespectful.

The language that SisterSong has used around this issues, especially in light of our Trust Black Women partnership, is that you have to listen to women of color and trust us to make decisions about our bodies and our communities. When you don’t do that, you’re making us seem less than human, less than the powerful beings that we are. We have brains just like they do.

It’s disheartening to live in a country where women are not seen as capable of handling their own decision making. If these people say that America is the home of the free and the brave or whatever it is that they say, then we aren’t even living up to those cliché phrases! It is not free for everyone. It isn’t free for people or color, especially women.

SB: Who inspires you do your work? 

MS: I answer this question in two ways. The first is the legacy of women who I know who have shaped me into the woman, activist, and organizer that I am today. I think about my grandmother and the foremothers of the reproductive justice movement like Loretta Ross who were on the front lines of saying, “We are not going to allow legislation or anything to stop us from accessing our human rights.” I think about my grandmother who was a Black Southern woman who was leading in her community and churches, against a lot of odds. I know that that energy is in me, even in my very DNA. I think back to those leaders.

I also think to the future. I think about my nephews and the young children that I get to play with and to hold. I want the world to be better for them. I don’t want them to worried about not being to access the reproductive health care that they need. I think about legacy and I think about the future. That combination really pushes me to do this work, even when it’s difficult and it’s so tiring. It’s what keeps me going.

SB: How can our readers help support SisterSong? 

MS: There are a couple of different ways. First of all, becoming a member of SisterSong is the first way. We are a national collective and we do work collectively. Collective action is so important to movement work and to act across lines of difference. As an individual or organization, you can become a member of our national collective. You can help us say that we have hundreds of thousands of voices with us.

You can also connect with us via our programmatic work. We work with artists because we believe that cultural work is so essential to movement building work. We believe that arts and culture are the heartbeat of our movement. We have Artists United for Reproductive Justice. If you are an artist, there is a home for you in reproductive justice work.

We are doing a lot of Southern movement building work. If you are in the South, you can become a part of our Southern synergy work that organizes all across the South that uplifts RJ issues and fights against any RJ injustice.

We have a Trust Black Women campaign. When we think about what’s happening in this world, we know that people of color have always had to fight for their livelihood in this country. Especially now, black lives are at stake. It is important to make a deep investment in black lives now and always. As a collective that focus on black women, we have done a lot of internal work to understand what it takes to center black lives in our work. Trust Black Women is our way of saying that we are going to center the leadership and experience of black women in our work. This includes bringing more black women in reproductive justice work, to have them understand our issues, and to deepen the bench of black women leaders. We see this giving honor to black women who founded reproductive justice.

Images provided by Monica Simpson. 

San Francisco, CA

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist. According to legend, she first publicly proclaimed that she was a feminist at the age of nine in her basketball teammate's mini-van. Things have obviously since escalated. After graduating from Harvard in 2013, she became a founding member of Know Your IX's ED ACT NOW. She is curious about the ways feminists continue to use technology to create social change and now lives in San Francisco. She believes that she has the sweetest gig around – asking bad-ass feminists thoughtful questions for the publication that has taught her so much. Her views, bad jokes and all, are her own. For those wondering, if she was stranded on a desert island and had to bring one food, one drink, and one feminist, she would bring chicken mole, a margarita, and her momma.

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist.

Read more about Suzanna

Join the Conversation