Can you envision ways a “Mothers’ Movement” might
help the reproductive rights agenda move forward?
Marlene Fried: The issue is that for women of color, their basic right to be mothers
is always undermined. You can point to any number of issues, from
poverty and welfare to sterilization and abortion; the issues aren’t
separable from one another.
Loretta Ross: Women
of color are not only undervalued as mothers, they are at times
ridiculed for being mothers, their motherhood seen as social detriment:
teenage mothers, African American mothers to African American sons.
Marlene Fried: To
create a strong mothers’ movement, you’d have to talk
about class and race, about access— focus on the right
to be a mother— and of course, this builds the reproductive
rights agenda right into the organizing. Motherhood is not single
issue or monolithic. Without class and race consciousness, a movement
specifically about mothers can’t go far, I don’t think.
To build such bridges around race and class, the bottom line would
be about access. And there would have to be a strong awareness of
how with class, the experience of mothering changes. Imagine how
amazing those conversations could be, if women crossed those chasms?
I do think there is opportunity, since for years the feminist movement
feared the ways society trashed mothers and didn’t appreciate
the role of mothering enough.
MMO: Loretta, I imagine
that as an activist you get little time to reflect upon your work
or upon the movement, to step back. If writing the book gave you
that perspective, what did you see about the movement?
I feel much better about the movement itself, simply by seeing various
groups in the aggregate. It was interesting to look at the common
things that bring people together and the common tools that keep
organizations together. Three other times, women of color organizations
have attempted to form a national reproductive rights coalition.
Sister Song, which I helped to found, is the fourth attempt. So,
by going through the history of those other three coalitions, I
got to look at what went wrong. I hope to use what I learned to
help this one stay together. The experience deepened my commitment
to making Sister Song work.
MMO: How do you remain
hopeful during these times?
Loretta Ross: The
world is definitely terrible everywhere you look. Working in poor
communities keeps me hopeful, though, because poor communities are
always ready to keep trying. It’s like sticking your finger
into the electrical socket of energy. In D.C. where I worked for
twenty years, people are weighed down by cynicism and skepticism;
they act defeated before they even try. Maybe poor people don’t
know enough to be afraid. Maybe, in poor communities there is no
other choice than to keep trying. And in those communities, already
disenfranchised, the vote didn’t matter so much. They didn’t
feel either candidate would really help them.
Having said all of that, I was surprised that another election
was stolen after the 2000 one. I think the so-called opponents to
Bush, like Kerry, have a stake in maintaining the status quo, rather
than challenging the system. It was disheartening that only one
senator stood up and questioned the results.
Marlene Fried: Part of my day job— as director for the Civil Liberties and
Public Policy Program at Hampshire College, which is a program focused
upon reproductive rights education and organizing with students
nationwide— provides me with many reasons to feel hopeful.
First of all, young women and men are taking on active roles within
the reproductive rights movement on campuses where you’d expect
them to be and on campuses where you’d be quite surprised
to find any reproductive rights activism. Each year, we organize
a conference called, “The Fight for Reproductive Freedom.”
Our first year— 1987— about twenty people attended.
These days, over six hundred people participate in the conference—
students, activists, and community people— many traveling
great distances to attend. We bring in local, national and international
speakers. In essence, through speakers, performances, films, workshops
and speak-outs, the breadth of reproductive justice is encompassed.
Each year, we reaffirm how much work is happening not only how much
needs to happen. The other thing about the conference that fuels
my sense of hope is the fact that every year I witness someone being
profoundly moved through the experience of attending the conference,
so much so that that person inevitably becomes an activist, committed
to making reproductive justice life work.
MMO: What message do
you hope people take away from reading the book?
I hope this book finally puts to rest the question: where are the
women of color working on reproductive rights? They are not in NOW
or NARAL but they are doing important reproductive rights work.
To find women of color, you have to redefine reproductive rights
past a narrow definition that some Americans have, which is to equate
abortion to all of reproductive rights. Here are some examples of
what I mean. Native American women discovered toxins in breast milk
because their babies were getting sick. Theirs is a language of
sovereignty. The womb needs to be a baby’s first safe environment.
We don’t think of protecting women’s wombs in this country,
at least not that way.
Another Native American group spoke of how the controlling of women’s
fertility is tied to controlling the destiny of their community.
This is always true, but we don’t think about it that way,
necessarily, when speaking about abortion rights. We stop at individuals’
rights. When you talk about the destiny of the community, then you
have to open your eyes to the multi-faceted assault that is taking
place on women’s rights.
throughout history, and across cultures, and in situations of unbelievable
oppression and deprivation, have waged resistance and fought for
better lives for themselves, their families and their communities.
Learning part of that history was inspiring— I’m awed
by the courage, persistence, and vision that we have documented.
MMO : February 2005