Driving into Northfield, Minnesota, the first thing you see is a large sign declaring the town to be full of "cows, colleges, and contentment." What the sign doesn't tell you is that there is a vibrant movement for reproductive justice based at Carleton College right in their midst.
On April 28, 2012, activists and advocates from Minnesota, the Midwest, and (a few of us) from across the U.S. met up at Carleton College for their Reproductive Justice Collective's (RJC) first conference, "Sex, Lies, and Things our Mothers Never Told Us: How Reproductive Justice Fits into Every Aspect of Our Society". We spent the day together, in a building that formerly housed Northfield's middle school, and talked human rights, sexualities and native communities, supreme court cases, and art as activism. There were 13 workshops, over 20 presenters, a keynote by Loretta Ross, National Coordinator for Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, and a closing performance by Brown Girls Burlesque of New York.
With just 12 days in between CLPP's 26th annual conference and arriving in Northfield, MN, I was still reeling with conference energy -- and thrilled to be a participant (instead of an organizer) at such a synergistic event. Arriving early allowed me to connect with organizers from Carleton's Reproductive Justice Collective, a handful of whom attended our conference earlier in the month. I can't help feeling that I was part of an inter-state reproductive-justice-conference-organizers exchange program. I had been emailing with RJC members since December, sharing information about our conference organizing plans and also supporting each other around logistics for attending each others conferences. With my seven years experience organizing the CLPP conference, I was excited to offer email-mentorship to Carleton's first reproductive justice conference organizers.
Our first conference took place 26 years ago, within weeks of my own birth. Needless to say, my Floridian-infant-self, wasn't able to attend that first Western Massachusetts conference which brought together 30 activists and academics to build a stronger vision for abortion rights as they relate to many social justice issues. So to be able to support the beginnings of another campus-based activist conference -- and also attend! -- felt so right.
The insights and visions for change that were offered through out the day are still resonating with my activist self. And I was able to capture a lot of this while live-tweeting (so this might be a repeat for you, if you follow CLPPtweets).
A couple snippets from Loretta's keynote:
I also attended a deep workshop called "Decolonizing Sexualities: Feminism and Reproductive Justice, Native style!", presented by Linda Gokee-Rindal:
The connections that grew throughout the day (and throughout the planning process) is really what our movements are built on. The session that I led, "Rhymes with schmaschmortion…Can you say it? Abortion Values Exploration," is such a great opportunity to build relationships that embrace differences and appreciate similarities. I had the privilege to facilitate dialogue, on abortion values, with Carleton College and St. Olaf students, students from Minneapolis-based schools, clinic workers, and sex educators. Turns out, 3 of the 25 folks who attended the session have lived in Western Massachusetts! And everyone there was so generous in sharing knowledge, sharing experiences, sharing complexities, and moving through differences.
I had a few moments, here and there, to talk "lessons learned" with the conference organizers. I assured them that 26 years is not enough time to gain access to all conference organizing secrets. And yes - conference participants can't seem to get enough coffee and will probably complain about the 2 block walk to the nearest cafe. And yes - it's ideal to have presenters arrive the day before. But with over 100 people attending their first conference, what an awesome day.
I can't wait for Carleton's 2nd Reproductive Justice Conference, and all of the other opportunities that we will find to continue to build these movements together. (And I hear that coffee will be provided.)