Every activist worth her hand-lettered sign knows that it takes collaboration to create change, and today (February 9) marks a linking of arms between the leaders of organizations that seek to center the rights of Black women.
Today, leaders from Black Lives Matter, Trust Black Women and New Voices for Reproductive Justice connected to discuss the intersectionality of the movements to save the lives of Black women and how activists and politicians can align and amplify the message.
Regina Mahone, the managing editor of RH Reality Check, lead a discussion with Monica Raye Simpson, executive director of SisterSong and director of the Trust Black Women Partnership; Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter; and La’Tasha D. Mayes, founder and executive director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice. In conjunction with the conversation, the Trust Black Women Partnership issued a solidarity statement, which concludes:
We seek community, fellowship, and connection with Black Lives Matter, and we know that we must stand together or fall separately. Our lives are at stake. To realize a future where Black Lives Matter, we must Trust Black Women. To Trust Black Women is to affirm that Black Lives do Matter. So we say, in the same breath, in the same freedom song: Trust Black Women. Black Lives Matter. Together we march toward justice for us all.
Here are some of the key takeaways of the discussion:
On the synergy between the groups’ missions
Alicia Garza: The conditions facing Black communities here in the United States and around the world are multifaceted and they are complex. And if you are to be able to make any successful intervention in those intersectional crises, then we have to approach it from a more comprehensive position. With that being said, I think from our perspective, reproductive justice is very much situated within the Black Lives Matter movement. And the way we that talk about that is that essentially, it’s not just about the right for women to be able to determine when and how and where they want to start families, but it is also very much about our right to be able to raise families, to be able to raise children to become adults…. And that is being hindered by state violence in many different forms. One form being violence by law enforcement or other state forces, and the other form of crisis through poverty and lack of access to resources and lack of access to health communities that are safe and sustainable. So we certainly understand that BLM and reproductive justice go hand in hand.
On fighting back against politicians using BLM language to restrict abortion access via things like the “All Lives Matter Act”
La’Tasha D. Mayes: We look at Cleveland where we see the deaths of Tamir Rice and Tanisha Anderson, and then to co-opt our language in talking about access to abortion is absolutely insulting. And so when billboards [employing negative messaging about abortion] come up in our communities, in the past what we’ve been able to do is get those billboards taken down. But we believe it’s necessary to take a proactive approach in changing the culture and stigma around Black woman and abortion, and so in that way we have used similar tactics. So we put up our own billboards with affirming messages—like we did in Cleveland—that talk about parents having the right to have children and parent their children without fear that he or she will be hurt or killed and that freedom form violence is reproductive justice. And so we can use our messaging that actually speaks to our constituents in a way that we talk about the complexity of life, the complexity of living as a Black person in America, or the complexity of the intersection with poverty and violence.
On Flint, environmental racism and its impact on Black lives and health
La’Tasha D. Mayes: The citizens of Flint, the leadership of Flint and our society are asking questions, how can this happen? And the answer is simple. If you are Black, if you’re a woman, if you’re poor, if you’re all three, our American society, it really does not value our lives in our socioeconomic and political system. And so this is why it’s critical for the reproductive justice movement and the Black Lives Matter movement to always be waging a steady resistance for our basic right to clean, safe drinking water, the right to breathe, the right to exist. And so that’s how the environment is connected to reproductive justice. … I’m sure we won’t know all the things that this lead exposure will do in the future in terms of reproductive harm and the impact on women and children specifically.
On how policymakers can respectfully leverage movements centered on Black women
Monica Raye Simpson: At the end of the day, politicians first just need to stop interfering with our decisions about pregnancy and our families and our bodies and start doing their jobs to invest in and address the concerns of Black communities. We get these constant reminders from them or all of these backlashes from them, but they really need to invest in our communities as opposed to reprimanding or trying to move forward legislation that continues to harm or limit our access. That’s number one. Also, now more than ever, Black women are standing up for the issues that matter to us and demanding change. Change in policies, change in the political discourse and change in the leadership who are needed to ensure that our communities are no longer ignored. It is time for our politicians—it is time for the masses—to understand that its time to trust Black women, and policymakers need to make real investments in Black women’s health, in quality education (including comprehensive sex education) and in faith and healthy communities. This starts by acknowledging the expertise and leadership of Black women as the agents of change in our own communities.