Reply To: Policy of Engaged Neutrality

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Growing up in Atlanta, GA during the Jim Crow era, I had much to learn from local faith leaders and community organizers who set the example of putting their bodies on the line and speaking into being a world committed to equal rights for those who have been historically marginalized. I took the stage as a storyteller in 1980, in part, so that another woman’s voice could be added to the fray.

My grandmother was forty-two years old before women gained the right to vote in 1920. My mother was 51 years old before birth control was legalized for all Americans. The services of Atlanta’s Planned Parenthood allowed the young women and men of my generation access to birth control so that we would not need abortion services. Now I am 65 years old with two young adult daughters. I want them to have our gender’s long awaited equal rights under the law.

Thus, I am deeply disheartened by NSN’s policy of engaged neutrality in the face of recent legislation in my home state. Bill Wight’s invitation to this forum notes: “It is from NSN’s Values — Responsive Innovation, Cultural Awareness and Engagement, Inclusion, Collaboration, and Integrity — that we draw the…policy.” Here’s NSN’s vision: “A world in which all people value the power of storytelling and its ability to connect, inspire, and instill respect within our hearts and communities.”

There is nothing connective, inspirational or respectful about saying nothing in the face of this latest attempt to legislate women’s bodies in Georgia (and elsewhere in the US). Strange to say, there is little or no mention in the recent draconian legislation across the country about punishing the men whose uncontrolled ejaculations get women pregnant in the first place.

During the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, Senator Kamala Harris asked if he could think of any law giving the government power to regulate the male body. You can see him struggle to answer before saying “I’m not thinking of any” here:

Unwanted pregnancies have been effectively reduced in other countries with comprehensive sex education, free birth control and unfettered access to abortion. With that trio of strategies in place, abortion numbers drop. But every one of those strategies is threatened in the US. I believe that by whatever small and large means at our disposal as citizens, we must push back against the legislation of women’s bodies for political gain. Here’s hoping the men in our lives and within our communities will join us in articulating the justness of our cause.

Meanwhile, I would like to see NSN pull out of its Atlanta commitment, though I love my hometown and have dear friends and respected colleagues among the Southern Order of Storytellers. In the event that the organization decides to hold the conference there, I would plan not to attend. What would change my mind?

Engaging Stacey Abrams as a keynote speaker. Offering a strand of workshops on how to educate our legislators about the hardships caused by their deeply cynical, scientifically uninformed, and discriminatory efforts to use vulnerable constituents as political pawns. These could, of course, address any number of social justice issues: immigration, climate change, mass incarceration.

Providing an opportunity to connect with local social justice organizations to offer our storytelling prowess to their tool kits. Given that GA legislators only need give an ear to those who vote in (or contribute significant dollars to) their state, interested conference attendees could volunteer to accompany GA tellers to meetings with their representatives.

Offering a field trip so that those who are prepared to do so can stand in front of the GA capitol building wearing tee shirts asking when the government intends to start legislating punishment for those who cause unwanted pregnancies: that is to say, men. In that case, I’d be happy to contact friends in the local media who could help that peaceful protest get some coverage.

So those are my thoughts, offered here with respect. When I began writing about this subject, I felt uncomfortable sharing my thoughts even in an email with a handful of beloved colleagues whom I have known for decades, much less in a public forum. What does that say about the risks involved in sharing our stories in America today?

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