Awakening the Sleeping Giants: National Rally and Lobby Day for Planned Parenthood

I went to Planned Parenthood’s national rally and lobby day in DC yesterday. After weeks of hopeful planning and unfounded worries, I had arranged a ride to the Planned Parenthood bus, registered a seat, and prepared a bag full of snacks and a pillow pet for the eight hour ride. I was prepared.

I went into this hoping to meet new people who were enthusiastic about protecting women’s reproductive rights and access to health care, and I found them! From KaeLyn, the former community affairs coordinator at Rochester’s Planned Parenthood and current NYCLU’s chapter director for Genessee Valley, to Marisa, a frequent PP volunteer, to Laura, a mother of a thirteen year old daughter also looking to meet women’s rights activists, I met a host of interesting and inspiring people!

We left Rochester at 1:30 in the morning. Through bleary eyes and the increasingly frequent yawns escaping our lips we located “buddies” for the day and exchanged contact information. Then we slept for the eight hours there. When we finally arrived, we were excited! We were pumped! We were ready to take on the world! (Or at least the GOP…)

We were given t-shirts, posters, and buttons, and as a group we walked to the main area. There were so many people there! I don’t have the numbers, and I’m bad at estimating, but here’s a photo of some of the crowd.

A sea of Planned Parenthood pink.

We heard from a number of pro-choice senators, the leaders of Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the ACLU, as well as a few “celebrity” speakers. The only one I recognized played Steve on Sex and the City (he had a great speech. I never liked him much on the show, but now I love him as a person!). A few people commented on how they would have expect higher profile celebs to be there, but I’m fairly certain they invited people who were very active in speaking out for women’s rights, not just people who were well known. From their speeches it seemed as though they did this frequently. One woman commented on how she did this forty years ago, and there was no way in hell that she had ever expected to be doing it again today!

One of the speakers at the rally.

One of the themes heard throughout the speeches was that more and more college and high school students were present than usually seen at rallies and protests. They compared it to awakening a sleeping giant. So many of us young women and young men had been content to sit quietly and think, “Hey, things are pretty good now. There are some misogynist nutjobs out there, but things are ok. And they’re only going to get better”. How wrong we were! The recent and increasingly harmful attacks on women’s rights to choose, some states requiring ultrasounds and visits to crisis pregnancy centers before allowing women to have an abortion, banning abortion no matter the situation after 21 weeks, requiring doctors to tell patients that life begins at contraception and that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer?! Some states are trying to limit our control over our own bodies through misinformation and limiting laws and we are waking up. The sleeping giant is stirring, and I think that these attacks are creating one of the most proud, loud, and pissed off generation of pro-choice activists we’ve had in a long time!

More after the Jump!

Personally, I began reading the blogs in high school. I was introduced to feminism via Jezebel, Feministing, Feministe, a whole host of pro-women pro-choice sites. And that was where I stopped. I was happy to read, to know that things were wrong, but to remain convinced that as a teenager, as someone who wasn’t educated enough or opinionated enough or confident enough, I couldn’t change anything.

I was wrong. I can change things. I will change things. My generation is going to be strong, we are strong. We’re going to speak out for the rights of our friends, our mothers, our sisters, for ourselves. We won’t allow anti-choice bigots to control us, to control our bodies. As Anthony Romero said in his speech, “Guess what? We decide what we do with our bodies. We decide who we want to marry. WE DECIDE!”

And we will decide. I am proud to be a woman. I am proud to be a feminist. You can try to make defunding Planned Parenthood about “no taxpayer dollars for abortion” and you can try to mislead myself and my peers. But as long as you try to hold us down with your lies and your forced ideology, we will rise up and assert our rights to control our own bodies, and to access the health care we need.

I feel energized, like I’m ready to go out and start a revolution. I’m thinking of starting a VOX chapter at RIT and was heavily encouraged by the staff and volunteers on the trip. I don’t think that there are any similar groups at the school, but I’m going to find out. If there are I’m going to encourage cementing an affiliation with Planned Parenthood, because they can provide educators and free condoms (which RIT does not have strangely enough) as well as information about events going on in our community.

But back to the trip. Following the rally we were meant to go on lobby visits to several congressmen and congresswomen, but the rally ran long and many of us missed our first few visits. Luckily, these were all to pro-choice allies. The main visit was at 2:30, and we had all been encouraged to attend. Congresswoman Buerkle had promised not to attack women’s reproductive rights if elected, and had promptly changed position once in office. Her official website states that she wants health care reform that, “Ensures federal funds do not subsidize abortion coverage”. Which we all know is incorrect, as PP’s government funding does not go towards abortion, abortion is only 3% of what PP does, and the other 97% including screening for cervical cancer, breast exams, STI testing, birth control, and sex ed would be what gets cut. Federal funds have only ever covered abortion in a cases of rape and incest that were heavily scrutinized, and only a small number of those have been covered by federal funds.

So basically Buerkle is either misinformed or she is deliberately twisting the facts to support her own ideology.

Either way, we visited her office. And we filled it. There were people stuffed into the office, people filling the hallway, we were all eager to show our support for PP. And after being delayed for forty minutes due to congressional votes she was finally able to speak with us. We were shuttled outside (apparently so many people were a fire hazard) and we finally met with the congresswoman.

PP supporters filling the office. This only shows a small portion of the group.

Buerkle didn’t speak much. She mostly nodded as she listened to Cecile Richards, PP’s president, and her coworker’s points, and then to the stories of the group who spoke about their sister’s, mother’s, friend’s cervical or vaginal cancers and how PP was the only way the cancer was caught and treated. Buerkle continued to nod. Then she ran out of time and left.

Congresswoman Buerkle

I have no idea if anything that we said affected her stance on Planned Parenthood’s funding. But I hope that it did.

Following all of this we loaded onto the bus and went home. Another eight hour bus trip back to Rochester.

I have a ton images from the rally, I’ll post a few here. The rest you can view on my flickr, and you can find even more elsewhere online.

Hopefully you were able to attend the rally! If you did, I would love to see pictures or hear your stories. If not, I’d still love to hear what you think about the rally and what’s happening in the government right now. It’ll be interesting to see if everything is shut down or if another continuing resolution is passed.

Let’s close with this:

I stand with Planned Parenthood!

Do you?

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