January is a month in which we celebrate the advancement of two great social justice movements – the reproductive freedom recognized in the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade and the civil rights vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. King organized around the connections between movements and the fire found in young people in his fight for justice. He understood that in seeking equal voting rights for African Americans he also needed to seek living wages, freedom from violence, and rights for women as well. King also harnessed the energy, enthusiasm, and dedication of young people across the nation to help build a foundation for change. Young people who participated in Freedom Summer or marched with King throughout the early ‘60s are leaders in social justice movements today.
The progressive movement can be guided by King’s legacy by continuing to step back from our single-issue silos to remember that those same connections exist today between civil rights, labor, environmental protection, reproductive justice, and a host of other social justice issues. We can also continue challenging ourselves to develop new strategies for working with young people in meaningful ways that incorporate their creativity, vision, and energy into long-term movement building.
Fueled by the input of the young leaders with whom we work, Choice USA has reclaimed what it means to be pro-choice. We want a world where all people – regardless of age, race, class, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability, income, or profession – have real reproductive choices. In order to achieve this ideal world and ensure reproductive justice for all people, we believe we have to empower and amplify the voices of those who often get ignored and dismissed.
It is our generation’s responsibility to ask the difficult questions and not contentedly accept the status quo. It is our duty to challenge ourselves to include a diversity of people on our staff, boards, and constituencies and to engage them through programming and partnerships. But our responsibility doesn’t end there. We must go one step further and commit the human and financial resources to develop leaders, organizers, and activists in our communities. Rather than simply offering skills training, we need to seek emerging leaders who encompass the values we wish to embody — leaders who understand the concept of inter-movement connections, the importance of diversity, and the value of shared leadership.
The far-right has long waged a war against social justice issues, and reproductive choice has been a top target ever since Roe v. Wade was decided. With the help of a growing youth constituency, conservatives have been successful at dismantling reproductive rights around the country at all levels of government, from restricting access to birth control, to closing women’s health clinics, to underfunding sex education programs. With the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, the threats to Roe and other pivotal choice issues are greater than ever before.
In this climate, it’s easy to be defensive and reactive, but there is hope in building proactive strategies for emerging leaders. We can win back lost rights and strengthen those under threat with a long-term strategy that develops our comprehensive, progressive movement. If we recognize that young people are abundant in the treasured resources of time, energy, numbers, and experience that can be employed in a long-term struggle for social change, we can then take advantage of the many opportunities for winning among the grassroots and at all levels of government.
In state legislatures, we can strengthen laws to protect funding for comprehensive health services for low-income women. On college campuses and in hospital emergency rooms, we can ensure emergency contraception is always available. In high schools, we can guarantee comprehensive and accurate sex education. These are fights we can win in our communities. Working to develop leadership skills in young people, who have a long-term vested interest in these issues, is how we’ll do it.
We propose a new world order. This new world respects the importance of youthful vision and passion. It recognizes that youthful energy is essential to forging new paths and sustaining old battles. It demands that we view life through youthful eyes that see obstacles as hopeful possibilities. Youthful vigor with the foresight, support, and guidance of the current and former bearers of this movement can only lead us in a positive and fruitful direction. Just as King marched with the young and old, black and white, the progressive movement will only march forward for justice if we are purposeful in truly embracing and engaging the communities we seek to empower and uplift.
Crystal Plati is the Executive Director of Choice USA, which gives young people the tools they need to organize, network, and exchange ideas to become leaders in the pro-choice movement.
• The Right Way to Reduce Abortion, by Jessica Arons and Shira Saperstein
• Roe v. Wade for Women in Prison, by Rachel Roth
• Global Perspective on Abortion, by Leila Hessini
• Toward a Comprehensive Movement, by Eveline Shen
• Hope in the Fight for Choice, by Crystal Plati
• The Court on Physician Aid-in-Dying, by Barbara Coombs Lee