Young Activists Gettin' It Done

By Jennifer Su and Zoë Boyle, CLPP 2014 Student Group Co-Coordinators 

Almost a year ago, TIME magazine published a now notorious cover story by Joel Stein accusing millennials of being the “Me Me Me!” generation. Describing us as lazy, selfish, and glued to our iPhones, the article painted a picture of wasted youth. Since the publication, there has been no shortage of responses to the article. Yet no amount of op-ed pieces can disguise the fact that we are a generation of action. Youth activists in the reproductive justice movement have come out swinging in the last year, proving ourselves as a powerful force to be reckoned with.


Millennials, young people 30 and under, bring new passion and resources like no generation before. We’re the most racially diverse generation in U.S. history, with 39% of us identifying as people of color. Born in the later days of the women’s and LGBT rights movements, we were raised in a world that was on the verge of great social change but still had far to go. Some may believe that since we were not witnesses to the challenges faced by generations before us – like the fights to end segregation or to legalize abortion—that we don’t understand the importance of these struggles. To assume that we have not learned from our collective histories is, frankly, ignorant. Not only have we looked to the past to learn, but we recognize that many of these oppressions still exist today. In fact, we are actively working towards addressing these issues while also challenging new ones and bringing new strategies to the fight.

In fact, many of the complaints launched against us are some of our most powerful tools. While Stein may scoff at the amount of time we spend staring at screens, this time is hardly being wasted. We are the first generation of activists to grow up with social media, allowing us to connect across the globe, sharing ideas and new ways of thinking in a way that was not possible in the past. All of this and more contributes to a profound dedication to social change within many youth communities.

Still not convinced? Let us throw some examples your way! In the past year, DREAMers have risked arrest in acts civil disobedience in the name of immigration reform, high-schoolers organized protests in solidarity with transgender students, and hundreds of youth activists packed the Texas Senate building in support of Wendy Davis and her filibuster of SB 5. Across the country, thousands of youth activists are making an impact in the reproductive justice movement, from peer sex educators to feminist bloggers engaging in critical discourse.


It’s clear we have the motivation and the ability to get things done; the problem is that we are not always given the outlet. Enter Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP), a national organization dedicated to inspiring, educating, training and supporting new activists and leadership to secure reproductive freedom, justice and sexual rights for everyone. CLPP has dedicated a huge amount of energy to prioritizing youth voice and action.


Their annual conference, From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom, places students in leadership roles and offers amazing opportunities for meaningful activist and organizing work. As student leaders in CLPP, we have been given the opportunity to engage our activism with our academic work and we have been encouraged to provide our peers with the support and resources to do the same. CLPP has provided us a space to be recognized as valid and productive voices in the reproductive justice movement and to conduct meaningful work.


The conference serves as a networking ground for activists of all ages, and there are few other places that put us face-to-face with amazing veteran activists in the same way that the CLPP conference does.  From Breaking Silences: an Abortion Speak Out, to workshops and speakers that represent a broad spectrum of reproductive and social justice topics, this year’s conference not only celebrates what activists have gained in the movement, but also recognizes what challenges lay ahead.


With over 75 workshops and panels, the conference covered an incredibly broad vision of reproductive justice, but some of these workshops we’re most excited about are: Strategies for Advancing Abortion Access in the US, which will talk about current threats and barriers to access, including TRAP laws, clinic closings, and parental involvement laws; Beyond the U.S.: Dispatches of Reproductive Justice from Around the World, in which activists will share their diverse experiences and perspectives on abortion access in the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America; and Transfeminism, a panel of trans women academics, activists, professionals, and organizers that will explore feminism, gender justice, and the connections between trans liberation and reproductive rights.


The CLPP conference is not just about lending us a space that inspires us to build a better future, though it does that quite well. CLPP recognizes us as reproductive justice leaders, capable of inspiring, empowering, and making change happen. 


Zoë is now a third-year medical anthropology student at City University of New York. Jennifer graduated from Hampshire College in May 2014 with a concentration in women’s studies through a reproductive justice lens.

A version of this article was featured on Feministing on 3/31/2014 and can be found here.

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