Hope and rage

Here’s my speech from the Boston rally against the War on Women that happened last Saturday, April 28. Thanks to Spectra Speaks for the videography!

Transcript:

Greetings pissed off people!

As we’ve been catloguing today, There’s a lot to be pissed off about, that’s for sure.

Some Republicans have objected to calling their policies a “war” on women. They say that they don’t see women as their enemy. This may shock you, but I don’t think they do, either. They don’t see us as their enemy because they don’t see us as human. The most important word in the phrase “war on women” isn’t war. It isn’t even women. It’s “on.” As in, these unbelievably rich, privileged, almost uniformly white men are literally fighting their wars for power on us. We aren’t players in these wars. We are the field of play. Our bodies, our desires, our possibilities, our lives are being treated as a battlefield for them to tromp around on as they fight each other for power.

To say that this is unacceptable is the greatest of understatements. But it also gives us a crystal clear picture of how to resist. If we are the ground under their feet, then what we have to do to end their game is exactly what we are all here to do today: stand up.

I’m not trying to oversimplify this. It’s going to take much more than a rally, or even 50 of them, to create a true democracy in the US, one that genuinely grants all of us our full rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But this is how it starts. This is what works. If they want to control our bodies, we have to use our bodies to take control. If our desires are dangerous, then let’s be terrifying. If they want to take away our choices, then we’re going to keep making them: in our bedrooms, with our doctors, in the streets and at the ballot box.

I don’t mean to suggest that this is easy, or that many of us haven’t been standing up and getting trampled and standing up again for years. Of course it isn’t, and of course we have. And many of us — I have to assume all of us — have messed up some of the time while doing it. It’s hard, sometimes, to resist adopting the strategies that are used to keep us down, even as we’re struggling to stand. We lose sight of the fact that power doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game and seek power over, instead of power with. There has to be room for error in our movement, to be sure, but there is also enormous room for improvement. This war doesn’t trample each of us equally, and we have to stop pretending it does. I’m sure we’re all shocked by the recent, draconian efforts to deny us our right to abortion care and contraception (and, failing that, to shame those of us who seek it). But those of us who are poor have been shamed and denied access for literally decades, in ways that a lot of us just accept as status quo. We fight for our right to decide when and if we want to become mothers, but many of us fail to act in solidarity with immigrant women fighting for the right not to give birth in shackles, and to stay with and mother their children in ways many of us can take for granted. We’re justifiably outraged at recent efforts to pathologize our sexual desires, but those of us who are white can forget that women of color have never known it to be any other way in this country. Whether or not each of these are our own problems as individuals, all of these issues are ALL of our issues. They have to be. We can’t do the “easy” stuff now and come back and deal with the “other” stuff later. We all need to regularly check ourselves to make sure we’re not standing up by stepping on someone else’s head. Not just because it’s not a very nice thing to do. But because it’s going to take every single one of us standing together to create a movement that can stand strong on solid ground.

Standing up — really standing up –means going beyond responding to the terms of the debate. It means defining them. It means not struggling so hard for marriage equality that we have no bandwidth left to question the institution of marriage. For that matter, it means not putting all our eggs into the “gay isn’t a choice, and that’s why we should have rights” basket, instead insisting that those of us who do deliberately choose to live queer lives deserve rights too. While we’re shouting loudly and repeatedly that using birth control doesn’t make us sluts or prostitutes, let’s yell even louder that there’s not a damn thing wrong with being either or both. When we spend all of our time just fighting to keep agencies like planned parenthood funded, we forget to ask more fundamental questions like: why is basic health care for half the population treated as a nicety that a private charity can provide if it feels so moved? Why is “women’s health care” — and yes, I include in that abortion care and contraception access — why is it optional? Why is it a niche industry? We need to stand up and say: no more. “Women’s health care” is health care. Period. (Yes, even on our period.)

And as much as I love this action we’re all taking part in today, here and across the country, it’s because I see the potential of this gathering that I have to say: we must not get so focused on calling out the misogyny of these policies and propaganda that we erase the fact that they don’t just impact women. I’m not just talking about the ways that misogyny hurts the lives of men, though that’s certainly true. All the services we keep referring to as “women’s health care” – abortion, cancer screenings, contraception access, prenatal care, basic prevantative care, you know the list – these are fundamental health care issues for trans men and genderqueer and non gender conforming folks too. And the public health crisis that is sexual violence in this country transcends all gender boundaries. So, with all due respect to the organizers, it’s not enough to just unite women. It’s time to unite people.

Because we are having what they call a “moment” right now, and that’s great. We hold enormous power in the upcoming elections, and everyone seems to know it. We beat back Komen’s attempt to make us choose between breast health and abortion care. We’ve successfully defeated so called “personhood amendments” – bills that erase OUR personhood in favor of a microscopic clump of cells – in states as conservative as Mississippi and Oklahoma. Just this week, the Senate finally passed new Violence Against Women prevention legislation that sustains previous VAWA programs while expanding efforts to make life safer for immigrants, Native Americans, and same-sex couples. The Democrats may have introduced those new provisions for cynical reasons, hoping to make the GOP go on record against them. But I’m proud and encouraged to say that anti-violence activists do not seem to have played along. Even when the bill’s future seemed in peril, I heard no rumblings that we should ditch the quote-unquote special interests to increase odds of passage. We stood together, and we stood firm, and we won. Even in this most reactionary political climate, we didn’t just protect the status quo – we didn’t simply resist further injustice. We made this country a little more just. And that’s exactly what we have to keep doing. If we want real, sustained change – if we want this country to be our country, by and for all of us, not just rich white dudes – we need to keep putting our bodies on the line. We need to resist in every way possible those who want to save the “tatas,” but erase the inconvenient complexity of our bodies, our personhood, our lives. We need to keep standing up and taking up space where none has been made for us. We need to every day keep adding a “V” to this moment. That’s what makes it a movement.

So yes. There is surely a lot to be angry about. But there is also enormous reason for hope. And we need both. Hope without rage is a dream. And rage without hope can be destructive to ourselves and to our communities. But mix them together and they become the perfect fuel for transformative action. So if you’ve come here today full of one, I hope you’ll take with you some of the other. If you’re full of hope, take some of the glowing rage that’s been shared here today. Really listen to who’s angry, and why, and find ways to make their anger your own. You can start as simply as being angry on their behalf, then let it seep deeper.

And if you arrived here full of rage, please, take hope. Stay angry, but find in the testimony we’ve been honored with today reasons to believe that the changes you seek are possible. Then do whatever it takes to fan that spark of hope into a fire.

For me, I’ll be doing both. Every day until this work is done. I’ll see you out there.

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